". . . a meticulously crafted memoir . . . an exceptional look back at the unique lifetime of a humorist who also happened to be one of the most outstanding musicians of his time."
     - Sam Denov, author of Symphonic Paradox–The Misadventures of a Wayward Musician


Barbara Brabec's memoir about her life 
with legendary Chicago Symphony percussionist Harry Brabec.

Paperback, 6x9 in., 296 pgs., $14.95; Kindle edition, $2.99

The Beat of a Legendary Chicago Percussionist Goes on in His Widow’s Memoir

Available on

Paperback & Kindle Editions

Paperback Edition

Nook Edition

Click here to read excerpts from a few of the many five-star reviews THE DRUMMER DRIVES! has received on Amazon. (You can preview the Preface and two chapters of the Kindle edition there.)

Drama, Love, Laughter, and a World of Music

EXCERPT from Chapter One, "Beginning Again"

I GOT MY FIRST GLIMPSE of how Harry operated as a jobbing musician the day we went downtown to pick up our marriage license at City Hall. Afterward, Harry stopped off to see Bill Walker, a music contractor he had gotten jobs from in earlier years, just to let him know he was back in town and available for work. The guy was so busy he practically shoved Harry out the door. We had no sooner left his office than he hollered out, “What is it you play?”


"Got four timps?"


"Okay, be at Universal at nine on Monday."

Wham bam. Just like that. "But you don’t have one drum, let alone four," I said with pre-wifely concern.

"Yeah," he grinned, "but I know where to get them. If I’d been totally honest, I’d have lost the job."

SO BEGINS BARBARA BRABEC’S MEMOIR of her unusual musical life with Harry Brabec, an extraordinary musician and percussionist who was best known for his virtuoso snare drumming, but could expertly play every percussion instrument and every kind of music. As he put it in one of his letters, "Through the years I have played every type of music imaginable, from burlesque to ballet, from circus to symphony."

THE DRUMMER DRIVES! Everybody Else Rides is the story of Harry’s musical life and times, and much more. It’s the up-and-down life story of a man whose accomplishments went well beyond the field of music; a remarkable man who got knocked down many times but kept bouncing back time and time again.

Harry J. Brabec (1927-2005) was a Chicago percussionist and virtuoso snare drummer greatly admired by his peers not only for his exceptional music talents, but for his keen sense of humor and gutsy approach to life. Harry's reputation as a drummer in high school was legend, but his name became legend among symphony musicians and percussionists when, at the peak of his career as Principal Percussionist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1956—after five years of exemplary performance with the Orchestra—Fritz Reiner dismissed him for purely personal reasons.

This conductor’s selfish act literally destroyed Harry’s professional life, devastated his ego, shattered his personal life, and ultimately led to the failure of his eight-year-old marriage and the loss of his six-year-old daughter. So despondent at that point, Harry simply gave up and left music for awhile to do menial work.


BARBARA MET HARRY IN 1961, two years after his divorce, and it took only three days for them to realize they were soul mates. Always a man of action, Harry proposed then and they were married two weeks later. Newly encouraged and ready to take another chance on love and music, he began his career all over again.

Beat by beat in this autobiographic narrative and biography, Barbara tells Harry’s comeback story as a freelance percussionist in Chicago in the sixties, then flashes back to his highly successful music career in the forties and fifties before going on to tell how her career path, and their marriage, changed when life prompted Harry to move in new directions in the seventies and beyond.

THE DRUMMER DRIVES! Everybody Else Rides offers a unique view of a colorful period of Chicago's musical entertainment history that is spiced with romance, drama, and Harry's wit and humor. Its content revolves around both the author’s lifetime of journals and Harry’s scrapbooks and nostalgic letters, which were filled with historical "music biz" stories and nostalgic remembrances of the days when he was playing with the big bands and doing recordings in Chicago; his comments about many of the musicians, entertainers, conductors, and band leaders he worked with; his thoughts on being Czech; his love of good food, fine books, record collecting, band music and the circus; and how he felt about getting old and being forced to lay down his sticks because of ill health. The book also includes colorful anecdotes shared by many musicians who knew and worked with Harry.

REVIEW by Rob Cook, Rebeats Publications:

"As a publisher specializing in percussion history, I regularly receive drummer biography manuscripts. More often than not, they either do not have much of a story to tell or do not tell it very well. It is very refreshing to see one that made it to print that not only has something to say, but says it well. For folks who knew either Harry or Barbara, are gigging musicians, or are interested in the music business, this book is a must." (More reviews here.)

No Ordinary Joe

THERE IS MUCH TO ENJOY in this informative and humor-laden memoir, but you may also find yourself tearing up at times as you read this honestly told story of the author’s unusual life journey with a man who was “no ordinary Joe,” an individual so complex that she was still trying to figure him out after nearly 44 years of marriage and five years as his widow.

As she says in the Preface of the book, “Harry remains the most complex, frustrating, interesting, and amusing person I’ve ever known, and the excitement, color, and drama he brought to my life cannot be conveyed in mere words.”

As reviewer Sam Denov has written on Amazon:

"The love that this couple had for each other is evident throughout the book. It is almost palpable. One can't help but be warmed by the relationship they shared. This book will take you through the whirlwind life that was shared by the author and her soul mate through more than four decades of the nostalgic pinnacle of musical times in America. Every reader of this book will be as entranced as I was."

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LOOKING FOR TheDrummerDrives.com website?

SORRY . . . this companion website to my memoir was closed in November, 2014 after four years of publication because I could no longer justify the time needed to keep this nostalgic endeavor going.

The site, which one reviewer said was "the chronicle of an entire musical age," featured many historical music photos and stories that could not be included in the book, along with several articles by other musicians who knew or worked with Harry and told me stories about him that I'd never heard before.

If time allows, I may republish the site's rich music history content as an eBook companion to The Drummer Drives! book. It could also include other material that never got posted to the site.

Join my mailing list to receive an email announcement whenever I publish this or other new books or add content to this website.

Related Articles

Published Articles about Harry

The Handwriting and Humor of Harry Brabec

Harry Brabec, Bibliophile

Show Drumming: Learning the Trade, Designing Your Setup. An article Harry wrote in 1985, discovered among his papers after his death.

HAVE YOU EVER CONSIDERED how some of the decisions you made in your youth dramatically affected your adult life?

I’ve always been fascinated by how the threads of my life and Harry’s seemed to be tied together so many years before we met. Harry was ten years older than I, and it was only during the writing of my memoir that I began to think about what he was doing at different stages of my musical life and how our paths seemed destined to cross.

In the article, "My Brief Career as a Musical Entertainer," I reflect on these things and suggest that others might want to contemplate how they "just happened" to meet and marry the love of their life.

WHEREAS I'VE SPENT most of my life working in a homebased office dressed in comfy old clothes with slippers in cold weather and bare feet in the summer, in my glory days as a musical entertainer, fancy dresses and three-inch rhinestone heels were the norm when I was playing recitals and entertaining at weddings, women's clubs, and a supper club in Chicago.

Barbara Brabec, musical entertainer
in Chicago in the fifties and sixties.
Barbara Brabec, musical entertainer
in Chicago in the fifties and sixties.

CLICK HERE for a PDF document of interest to women who appreciate vintage gowns and dresses of the sixties. Freelance musicians may also appreciate seeing a copy of the brochure I designed to promote myself as a musician. Also included are additional photographs, newspaper clippings, and other remembrances of what my life as a freelance musician was like in the fifties and sixties in Chicago.

Copyright © 2014 by Barbara Brabec. All rights reserved.