Joseph “Joe” D. Calato, founder of the drumstick company Regal Tip, died on September 1, 2023, at age 102.
Born in 1921 in Niagara Falls, New York (where he lived his whole life), Joe D. Calato followed in his father's footsteps. "My father was a pit drummer in the days of vaudeville,” he said. “I started to play when I was 13 years old.” He studied engineering at the University of Buffalo and then joined the Air Force in 1942, serving as a lieutenant and navigator on a B-17 bomber. Stationed mainly in England during World War II, Calato found many opportunities to play drums in military jazz groups and dance bands.
Joe was not only a talented drummer, but also a skilled cabinet maker. He invented the nylon tip drumstick, which led to the founding of the Regal Tip brand. "At that time, I couldn't afford to buy drumsticks,” he recalled. “Top [ride] cymbals would wear out the tips of the sticks. I used to keep a piece of sandpaper handy to sand the tips down and then dip them into fingernail polish to put a coating on them. When they were dry, I'd use that pair again. One day I thought I should try to put a plastic tip on the stick. So I got a screwdriver with a yellow plastic handle, cut out a piece, whittled out a tip, and stuck it on a stick."
Brushes became another of Regal Tip's innovations. "In my early years," Calato recalled, "brushes were a big part of drumming. I never thought there was a good brush on the market, and I always wanted to make brushes. So I acquired the brush equipment from C. Bruno & Son in exchange for selling them sticks. We turned the brush business around. The brushes we developed and perfected have been copied even more than the nylon-tip sticks."
The first Regal Tip brushes with a wood handle were introduced in 1962, and the company patented retractable-handle brushes in 1975. Blasticks was added to the line in 1982.
Calato was the recipient of many awards, including the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame, Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, and Niagara Falls Hall of Fame, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Read Joe Calato’s PAS Hall of Fame profile at https://www.pas.org/about/hall-of-fame/joe-calato.