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Ray Ayotte

Making World Class Drums

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Story by Joe Leary

Photos by Jacob Couture

“In my opinion, his drums are the best-sounding drums ever made by anyone”

Ray Ayotte has been playing drums since the age of thirteen. It’s been a lifelong association ever since. From performing as a musician to teaching the craft to students, Ray eventually created his own brand, providing the rock and roll world with another iconic name. Drums are the life of Ray Ayotte. Unlike most designers, who use metal rims, Ray constructs his drums with wooden hoops and has been doing so since 1982.

It was ten years after selling other manufacturers’ brands through his bustling local shop, Drums Only, he decided it was time to make his own, and the Ayotte brand was born. By year ten we had developed a sophisticated repair and drum customizing facility, says Ayotte. That was when we decided to make our drums and put the family name on them the birth of Ayotte Custom Drums. 

And the very name is legendary within the world of rock drummers. With kick drumheads in rock bands bearing the names of iconic brands like Ludwig, Gretsch, and Sonor, the Ayotte name proudly stands among them. Theatre and concert producer and promoter Bill Allman, owner of Famous Artists Limited, has been around rock bands his entire life and has nothing but praise for the brand, and the man. Ray is a master drum maker and master percussionist whose sounds have been coveted and engaged by bands all over the world, including the ‘World’s Most Dangerous Band’ on ‘The Late Show with David Letterman,’ says Allman.

I had just met Ray when I noticed his name on that kit and thought, COOL! I know him. My goal has always been to make drums that sound great at all dynamic levels, says Ayotte. The feedback certainly supports this. Ray made a unique custom set for longtime music executive Frank Gigliotti. That kit sits proudly on display in his North Vancouver winery, California Cult Classics, and is unique in the sense that the drums were crafted out of wine barrels

“My goal has always been to make drums
that sound great at all dynamic levels”

Jazz great, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, is among the local artists who have their music featured prominently on this Vancouver radio playlist. Hasselbach is heavy on musical accomplishments and honors, with gold and platinum jazz albums and charted Billboard hits. Local airplay, however, was scarce before the arrival of THE WAVE.

Canada has long been behind in the world —especially behind the US—regarding original-driven adult contemporary, jazz, and pop instrumental music and has fallen into the narrowly ned stock airplay formats that are corporate-directed and strictly sponsorship-driven, he says.

However, Mary and Doug Kirk had the vision to unearth the gems (largely under-exposed Canadian material) that typically would fall between the format cracks at ‘regular’ radio and to proudly hoist the flag for the way FM radio used to be.

Every day at WAVE 98.3 is an exciting learning experience for music lovers, bringing the hidden gems of Canadian music to the forefront and mixing them with soulful classics that people love to hear, which also tend to fall between the cracks of the increasingly more format-restricted Airscape. THE WAVE is building a long-overdue culture on the West Coast, one that perfectly matches the lifestyle and the vibe of Vancouver and that of like minded listeners on the web.

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The one of a kind Ayotte-designed drum kit made from wine barrels

California Cult Classics owner Frank Gigliotti chats with drum maker Ray Ayotte

There just aren’t any that have his sound and that look. Today’s version of Ayotte’s craftsmanship lies within the RAYA name. With his new brand, RAYA drums, Ray Ayotte continues his masterful work, adds Allman. His instruments are without parallel and his sense for performance and rhythm is that of someone who has been obsessed with music since his formative years, many decades ago. At a point in life when a lot of people start scouring the tube for ‘Matlock’ reruns, Ray continues to innovate and perfect the manufacture and art of percussion. He remains an inspiration and one of Vancouver’s worldwide achievers for good reason. Ray Ayotte is a fit 76-year-old and still plays to this day. When not handcrafting a kit, he’s sitting behind one. And the smile that he emanates when hitting the skins is clear evidence of the passion he still holds. He’s a true craftsman—at work and play!


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