In 20 years of building drums, Cyrus Fillmore — aka Cy the Drum Guy — has made some pretty big ones.
American Indian grandfather drums, an Asian dragon drum, African-style bass drums, to name a few.
But the Kansas City Chiefs’ next jumbo tom-tom, which Fillmore is building at his Baldwin City home, is his biggest drum yet — and sure to be the most-heard.
Fillmore’s new drum is planned to help revive an old Chiefs tradition at 79,000-plus capacity Arrowhead Stadium.
In 1964, the Chiefs introduced an 8-foot-tall drum for gameday entertainment at Arrowhead Stadium. At the time, the instrument was believed to be the world’s largest tom-tom, at least according to Chiefs lore.
“The reverberations of the drum are rumored to have been heard from blocks away from the stadium when the drum was used to rally fan support,” according to press notes from the team. “The Kansas City Chiefs Cheerleaders, then known as the Chiefettes, were charged with beating the drum to incite excitement in fans.”
For their 50th anniversary season, the Chiefs are reintroducing the drum.
During pre-kickoff ceremonies at each home game, one honoree will bang the drum to lead fans in the Tomahawk Chop. At the Sept. 9 home opener, that was retired Chiefs Hall of Famer Bobby Bell.
Fillmore’s drum should be ready to hit the field soon.
After another drum maker referred the Chiefs to Fillmore — “I was like, ‘The Chiefs need a drum? Sweet,’” Fillmore said of getting the call — Fillmore said he communicated with the team for a few weeks, explaining the process of creating the drum and the timeline. The team approved his proposal and sent him a cattle tank painted red for the frame (he offered to carve the frame out of wood but said the Chiefs wanted a drum that looked like the old one).
While not as large as the original, Fillmore’s drum — at 5.5 feet in diameter and 2 feet deep — is still nearly as tall as he is.
The new tom-tom is an extra-large version of a traditional American Indian council style drum. Though the drum isn’t wooden, Fillmore lined the metal with foam to improve the sound. He used two full cowhides, which he stretched for almost a month, and secured the drumheads with rawhide strapping. To help its sound fill the stadium, the drum has a hole in one side for a microphone.
Fillmore was shaving fur from the drumheads on Friday and expected the leather to be dried and the tone to start developing this week, just in time to deliver it to the team.
“This is seriously the real deal,” Fillmore said. “When it dries, it’s going to be formidable.”
Fillmore specializes in djembes, goblet-shaped African tribal drums, and also carves didgeridoos. He plays, too.
Whether it be massive sporting events or a solo musician, the sound of a drum stirs people, Fillmore said. “It’s about spreading the vibrations.”
Fillmore isn’t sure whether he’ll ever see his drum played at Arrowhead. Not generally a sports fan, he said, he’s never actually attended an NFL football game.
He won’t say how much the Chiefs are paying him for the drum. But if the Washington Redskins get wind of it and happen to call him for one, Fillmore laughed, he’ll probably charge them a little more.