It’s 2 o’clock on a muggy June afternoon in East Nashville. I’m driving my trusty, beat up S-10 with the a/c vent pointed directly at my face, keeping my eyes peeled for a vintage-inspired, cleverly-designed sign I’ve seen many times before. As I sputter my way down Gallatin Avenue, I see buildings and storefronts of every kind; modern tall and skinny homes, old run-down duplexes, colorful carnicerias, and a hip new organic deli. I notice people of every kind, too: a white woman walking out of a gas station, a couple of young african-american boys carrying a large white box, a latino guy in a work-truck, an elderly man walking his dog. There were a lot more, but those were just a few I spoke into my voice-memos. I spotted the vibey Nelson Drum Shop sign on an old brick building lined with vinyl siding near the roof and pulled in.
I sat in my truck for a few minutes reviewing the questions I had prepared for Bryson Nelson, the accomplished drum-banger and founder of Nelson Drum Shop. I figured the conversation would go as these things generally do, but I was wrong. It went better. I’ve frequented Nelson Drum Shop with our own Brett Vargason, investigating their tasteful collection of for-sale vintage drum kits, new and old cymbals, timeless snares, and quirky percussion. Brett has spent countless hours in there and has tried out and bought many of the kits Nelson has to offer. On this day, though, I was able to get to know the heart and soul of it all.
Bryson Nelson | Nelson Drum Shop
— THE INTERVIEW —
AM: Bryson, let’s start at the beginning! Tell me a little bit about what inspired you to start playing drums.
Bryson: I always just really connected with music. I grew up in a town called Placerville, California. It’s right outside of Lake Tahoe. At around 11 years old is when I started. I actually wanted to play guitar, but my homeschool co-op didn’t have a guitar. They had a drum set. So it was sort of accidental. Then I just fell in love with it! Literally all my free time was spent playing drums. Since I was homeschooled, I was able to go to a co-op for a couple of hours then come home and play drums all day. We lived in the middle of nowhere too, so you can imagine. My parents didn’t make a lot of money, but they found a way to get me weekly lessons.
AM: Tell me about some of your drumming experiences. Were you a touring drummer before starting Nelson Drum Shop?
Bryson: So… I was a touring drummer, and played for a fair amount of different artists. My main gig was for Tim Timmons, a CCM artist that I played with for 7 or 8 years. I’m very loyal, so I mainly stuck with him because I loved him and loved what he was about. I was with Tim on the road until 2015. In 2019, I went on the road with Darren King on a double-drum tour… his first solo/dj tour – but haven’t been on the road since. I also drum tech’d for him which sort of led to this opportunity! My wife actually nannies his children, so it worked out really well.
AM: How did Nelson Drum Shop come to be? What jump started this move?
Bryson: In 2015, when I first moved here, the main reason was to get off the road. But, it was actually never my intention to open a retail shop. It was never part of the end goal. I started this because I wanted a way to make friends… that sounds funny, but I would invite drummers to my house to just play and hang out. My biggest passion has always been hosting people and having community. That’s what I’m really passionate about. So the shop and drumming itself has always been extremely secondary to that passion.
AM: I love that. So, you’re saying that Nelson Drum Shop is essentially a byproduct of a desire for deeper relationships and community?
Bryson: Exactly! I mean, I tell this to everybody, but drums and cooking are my two biggest passions. This just so happened to be the thing that I do. My wife Beth and I moved to East Nashville and live just a block away from the shop. Culturally, it’s more in line with what we were looking for; progressive, open-minded, and diverse. So, the shop is here because our community is here.
AM: I’d love to see a jazz club over here in East!
Bryson: Yeah, actually that’s another dream of mine! I have too many dreams. It stresses my wife out because this already takes so much of my time and life! My dream would be to buy a place, where half of it is this shop and the other half is a jazz-club, cocktail-lounge.
AM: Tell me about the hard-working managers here at Nelson Drum Shop-
Bryson: So, our retail manager is Asa Lane and our digital manager is Lemuel Hayes. Lemuel and I both do photography for the shop, but he really handles most of that now. We all do a little bit of everything and we’re really big on equality here. We also partner with Lucas Aldridge for restorations of drums and that sort of thing. My main role right now is to just sort of host the community, envision and oversee the operations, and find drums to bring in here.
AM: Run me through a “day in the life” of owning a vintage drum retail shop. Are you scouring the internet for old awesome pieces?
Bryson: So, that’s definitely how it started. The more established the business became, the less frequent scouring became. At this point, the majority of everything we bring in comes from people emailing us directly about single pieces or vintage collections of drums they are looking to get rid of. I buy a lot from the same people. I’ll travel up to New York or Chicago and pull back a whole cargo van full of drums. It’s hard to find good prices online nowadays — this is going to sound sales-y but I’m the furthest thing from that — online prices are pretty high, and we try really hard to make great, vintage pieces affordable for the everyday player. We’re not exactly marketing to the elite.
AM: So, you bring the drums back, restore what needs to be restored, snap photos, and post them on your site and socials. Do the majority of your sales come via in-store or online? I know the pandemic had to have affected this immensely.
Bryson: Yeah, it’s very different now because of the pandemic. Going back to community and “byproducts”, I have intentionally tried to keep sales offline since the inception. I wanted to put photos of 5% of the drums in my shop online, and hope the person that saw it would pop in and see a ton more drums when they got here. It definitely goes back to the community thing. Asa and Lemuel have both been pushing me for a long time to sell stuff online, and we have a great platform for it, as drums go pretty quickly once they’re up, but yeah… I’m still very stubborn about it. I’m grateful that we’re able to keep moving forward, but I’m still community, in-store focused.
AM: So, ultimate thesis: Nelson Drum Shop needs to be community-driven first, and the drum sales come second.
After this inspiring interview, I had one thought that I believe is true: Because Nelson Drum Shop is community first, drum sales have come. Maybe they have come second. But, they’ve come regardless. And they just keep on coming… along with great relationships and a great reputation. Bryson and I both agreed that good byproducts come from putting others first. Always. You can always find soul and joy somewhere when you value integrity, honesty, and community first. And that’s why this conversation was amazing. It was refreshing. Through it all, it became clear there are still people who make these kinds of calls from their hearts. In one way or another, regardless of monetary gain or success or adoration, they win. And to be honest, success comes frequently to these types.
So, go visit these guys ASAP! The shop is open. It’s amazing! The drums are spectacular, the prices are fair, and the humans that run it are the best kind of humans. Support your local vintage drum shop, because by doing so, you’re breathing life into a community. And it’s highly likely that you’ll make some unforgettable acquaintances that turn into friends while there. Oh… and you’ll probably bang on some of the vibiest, sweetest drums you’ve ever heard. How could I forget that part?
Nelson Drum Shop
3241 Gallatin Pike,
Nashville, TN 37216