by Lauren Vogel Weiss
Chris Brooks, Vice-President of percussion publishing company Row-Loff Productions, passed away unexpectedly in an accident at his beloved cabin in the Tennessee mountains on October 11, 2023 at the age of 66.
Row-Loff Productions, founded in 1990 by Brooks and Chris Crockarell (RLP’s President), has hundreds of titles on prescribed music lists in ten states. Originally focusing on the marching percussion genre, Row-Loff expanded into concert percussion literature in 1993, as well as a wide selection of solos and instruction books. “We both had the desire to write and publish percussion literature that didn’t exist when we were kids,” Brooks stated in 2012. “Now I spend most of my time writing percussion ensembles.”
Known for its clever parodies of pop culture in its marketing CDs, Row-Loff was one of the first in the percussion industry to use audio examples to promote its music. “We didn’t think that band directors would sit and listen to nine percussion ensembles,” Brooks explained in 2010, “so we integrated the comedy into our recordings. And it’s worked out pretty well!”
A 1974 graduate of McGavock High School in Nashville, Brooks began playing drums professionally at age 16. “I have never played one chart on a country record,” he told Modern Drummer magazine in a January 2006 interview. “And I have made a great living as a musician in Nashville.”
From his jingle work in recording studios – including ad campaigns for Dodge, Toyota, McDonalds, Taco Bell, Almond Joy, Clorox and even CNN – to his live performances with artists such as Toni Tennille, the Smothers Brothers and Lucie Arnaz, these musical experiences influenced and inspired Brooks as he began composing percussion ensembles.
Brooks, along with partner Crockarell (who took lessons from Brooks when they were both still teenagers), wrote about two-thirds of Row-Loff’s percussion catalog. He composed over six dozen original ensembles – including Millennium, performed at Carnegie Hall in March 2013 by the Monterey High School Percussion Ensemble from Lubbock, Texas – co-written several dozen more, and arranged over 30 pieces for percussion. From Christmas music to arrangements of traditional classical pieces, Brooks’ music is known for its wide audience appeal as well as educational value for the young performers playing it.
“I’m always thinking, ‘Are the kids having fun?’,” Brooks said in the 2006 interview. “I want them to find the groove on anything I write. I want them to hear something melodically and harmonically that’s going to pique their interest.”
Brooks and Crockarell also wrote and released The Snare Drummer’s Toolbox (The Absolute Method for Snare Drum) in 2010. They have also been featured in the May/June issue of Drum Business magazine and were the cover story in the November 2019 edition of SBO (School Band & Orchestra).
Chris Crockarell and Chris Brooks at PASIC 2015. (photo by Lauren Vogel Weiss)
From wearing a grass skirt or Cupid wings in the exhibit booth, to a more “traditional” Hawaiian shirt in the office, “Brooksie” was one-half of the eye-catching duo promoting their percussion repertoire at numerous music educator conventions across the country, as well as at PASIC for over three decades. “We were considered pretty outrageous by music educator standards,” Brooks told MD. Their costumes became a tradition, as well as a pleasant diversion from the typical attire found at most of the exhibit booths.
“He was my business partner for 33 years, and friend for 50 years,” states Crockarell. “I’m at a loss for words. In all that time, I remember few disagreements on anything. We would bend and meld with each others ideas. He was such an overall sweet, generous person… and one of the most musical people I’ve ever met. What can I say? Love ya, buddy. You are already extremely missed.”
The Row-Loff catalog represents an impressive list of percussion composers, including Dan Moore, Julie Davila, Lalo Davila, Dennis DeLucia, Edward Freytag, David Steinquest, Bill Bachman, John R. Hearnes, Brian Mason, and John Wooton, to name a few.
(L-R) Lalo Davila, Chris Brooks, and Chris Crockarell. (photo courtesy of Lalo Davila)
“Two of my dearest friends, Chris Brooks and Chris Crockarell, changed the face of percussion publishing worldwide,” Edward Freytag, author of two popular RLP solo snare drum books, wrote in 2014. “Prior to these guys and the writers they brought into the arena, percussion literature possessed huge gaps in the music available for high school, young college, middle school, and even elementary school percussionists. The vision of Row-Loff filled those gaps and created a brand new body of work that significantly brought percussion and non-percussion educators into the fold of published percussion works. It was my honor to bring The Rudimental Cookbook and Just Desserts to the table to document current rudimental events and to assist in launching a new generation of young and excited rudimentalists! These guys are the ones that made that possible. The percussion community should be incredibly grateful that Row-Loff Productions set forth a frenzy of new publications and served as the inspiration for the creation of other new percussion publishing entities that continually keep our art form thriving with ever new literature. Thank you, gentlemen…from all of us!”
Dennis DeLucia, whose book Percussion Discussion was published by RLP in 1995 (complete with a cassette tape!), stated, “Chris Brooks was a talented, idea-filled person who, along with Chris Crockarell, started Row-Loff Productions as a way to create quality percussion literature at every level imaginable, and to make it available to schools’ percussion ensembles and drumlines. Brooks was an imaginative – some would say ‘wacky’! – person who loved his career. I was fortunate to be one of the early contributors to Row-Loff, an opportunity that I did not take lightly, and one that I cherish deeply to this day. I’ll miss you, my friend.”
Julie Davila, President of the Percussive Arts Society, agreed about Row-Loff’s contribution. “Brooks and Crock were pioneers in developing a percussion publishing company that has served an innumerable amount of students and elevated percussion education worldwide. Their vision, starting Row-Loff Productions, was pivotal in shaping vast libraries of percussion publications that have developed into what we enjoy in today’s market.” Her Modern Multi-Tenor and Impressions on Wood books are integral parts of the RLP catalog.
“Chris Brooks always greeted everyone with his big southern accent ‘hello’, along with a beautiful smile,” remembered Lalo Davila, Director of Percussion at Middle Tennessee State University. “He was a true friend to all. His compositions touched many great young performers. I will always remember his voice telling me, ‘Lalo, you gotta come to the mountain and hang out!’ I’m sure going to miss him.”
Freytag added, “I now have a huge hole in my heart and soul where Chris Brooks used to live. I will miss him terribly until I see him again.”
“Most importantly,” concluded Julie Davila, “Chris Brooks was a dear friend. Truly family. His humor and his genuinely caring attributes will be memories that I will cherish forever. His untimely passing will leave a significant hole in our lives, both in the percussion industry, in the Nashville community, and, personally, with my family.”
Authors note: I have had the honor of being an “unofficial” part of the Row-Loff family for more than three decades. I always looked forward to the first day of a convention to see what “Chris and Chris” would be wearing in their exhibit booth and hearing “Brooksie” say, “Well, Miss Lauren, come give me a hug!” The PASIC exhibit hall will be a little emptier than usual this year….