How Buddy Rich Started in Vaudeville

Check it out! I never would have pegged swing drummer and bing band leader Buddy Rich (Bernard Rich, 1917-1987) for a vaudeville veteran, but there you go! He started out at the age of two in his parents vaudeville act. He sang, tap danced, and, yes, took up the drums, billed as “Baby Traps, The Drum Wonder”. He never stopped performing, he just began to focus exclusively on drums as he got older.

Raised in Brooklyn, Rich was a cousin of Jonathan Haze, Seymour in the original Little Shop of Horrors (1960). For a few months in the late ’30s he taught drums to a neighborhood kid who would come to be known as Mel Brooks. At the age of 20 he began playing in important jazz bands, including those of Bunny Berrigan, Artie Shaw, Benny Carter, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Les Brown, and Charlie Parker, among others. He had friendly rivalries with the likes of Gene Krupa and Max Roach. He recorded with Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, etc. And he headed his own big band for decades. Charlie Callas started out as a second string drummer with his band! And naturally he appeared on variety television starting in the ’50s, on the shows of Ed Sullivan, Milton Berle, Joey Bishop, The Tonight Show (under Steve Allen, Jack Paar, and Johnny Carson, all three), the Colgate Comedy Hour, Kraft Music Hall, etc. In 1981 he engaged in a drum battle with Animal on The Muppet Show!

To find out more about the history of vaudeville, please see my book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,