Remo Belli, a musician who pioneered the synthetic drumhead just in time to help a generation of rock-and-rollers shape their sound and then saw it become standard on kits across genres, has died in California.
His death was announced in a statement by Remo Inc., the California-based drum manufacturer that Belli founded and ran for six decades. Belli was 88 and had been treated for pneumonia at a Pasadena hospital, where he died April 25, said Sue Kincade, Remo’s advertising manager.
Belli was a young professional drummer in the 1950s, backing singer Anita O’Day and others, when he grew frustrated with the limitations of animal-skin drumheads, which could wilt or expand depending on the weather.
In 1957, he and his collaborators perfected and began marketing one of the first artificial drum heads made of a resilient polyester film manufactured under various brand names, including Mylar, made by DuPont. He dubbed that first product the “Weather King,” a signal that it was durable no matter the atmospheric conditions of the gig, unlike finicky cow-skin drums.
A few years later a 20-inch Remo drumhead was seen on Ringo Starr‘s Ludwig kit when the Beatles played on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” Rockers quickly caught on and eventually even jazz purists began embracing synthetic heads, which are now standard on kits of drummers in all genres.
“My friend, Remo Belli, will be deeply missed by all of us,” tweeted Carl Palmer, founding percussionist of 1970s prog-rock innovators Emerson, Lake and Palmer. “I will always think of the good times we had and all of his great ideas.”
Matt Sorum, former drummer of Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver, said on Twitter that Belli brought “so much joy to so many listening and playing.”
Belli’s modest Los Angeles store, Drum City, grew into Remo Inc., which now occupies a 217,000 square-foot facility north of the city.
Belli and his wife Ami, a doctor, worked with neurologists and educators to incorporate rhythm into wellness regimens. He promoted drum circles and was convinced that drumming could reduce stress, improve moods, boost creativity and even strengthen immune systems. Belli later developed the Rhythm Pal drumhead, which fit on any ordinary pail or bucket, as an educational tool meant to help young kids channel their love of banging into musical drumming.
Remo Delmo Belli was born in Mishawaka, Indiana, near South Bend, on June 22, 1927. As a child he loved listening to his uncle’s polka band and he was urged by his father to learn the accordion. He chose the drums instead and began playing in jazz bands professionally at age 16, while still in high school.
Last year the Remo drumhead used by Starr on “Ed Sullivan” sold at auction for $2.1 million.