When I first caught wind of Skins 'n Tins closing up shop as a result of Terry and Liz Hawkins retiring, my first inclination was to post the news to this magazine, and lament it with the rest of those that cared on social media. That’s how it works these days, by and large.
But this place — this unbelievably well regarded and legendary drum shop — deserves a bit more than a quick pop about its impending closure. I stopped in to say thank you and had a nice chat with Terry about it, and simple truth here is that it’s time for him to retire. He had a few bites from some folks who were interested in buying it, but ultimately, the numbers didn’t work out. So next week on January 31st, Champaign-Urbana loses yet another piece of its rich and illustrious music scene: the one and only true drum shop to exist in these parts; one of the last three in Illinois.
My own history with the shop is basically the same as so many others. It was here that I bought my first cymbals, my first sticks, my first drum pad, and eventually, my first new — brand new — drum kit: a five piece shiny silver Tama Rockstar with new hardware and a fucking IRON COBRA kick pedal. My early identity was shaped by all of this. I took drum lessons from Ian Shepard in the back for two credits at Parkland College, but I mainly just made him teach me different techniques he used on the Swoon album he played on that I was (and still am) so fond of.
Skins 'n Tins was a place you could truly fall into a new paradigm of thinking: you could buy a Zildjian drum key that would attach to your keychain. You could argue the merits of Sabian versus the aforementioned Turkish cymbal as well. You couldn’t buy Paiste, but honestly, why would you want to play Paiste? You could watch better, more seasoned drummers play for a bit, and blow your mind. They would wax poetic, talk to one another, encourage, and tease: “Don’t play barefoot” and “You aren’t Neil Peart, stop it with the china and splash cymbals” and “Where do you think you are gonna set up that drum rack, your band can’t draw shit”.
It was a comic book shop or a record store, but for drummers, and only drummers. You could dream inside that shop. I know I sure did.
Image: REO Speedwagon drummer Brian Hitt gives a thumbs up behind the red van owned by Skins n' Tins. Photo provided by Skins 'n Tins.
I emailed Terry a few questions about its history and his plans moving forward. Below that, I’ve asked for some words from some of the best drummers and dreamers around, who feel the same way about Terry and Liz and what Skins 'n Tins meant to them. If you are reading this and on one of those social media sites, give them some love. They certainly deserve it.
Smile Politely: What year did the idea for Skins 'n Tins materialize and how long until you opened the shop? What was the official opening date, and has it always been at the corner of Walnut and Main?
Terry Hawkins: Opened August 20th, 1989; One and only location.
Image: Exterior view of Skins 'n Tins, view from across the street looking at the south end of the building. There's a red and brown stripped awning. Two traffic light posts are in view, as well as a street lamp. Photo by Patrick Singer.
SP: You've seen it all over the past 35 years inside of this music scene; any particular years that you were most excited about from a fan / player perspective?
Hawkins: I can still remember the day I went to C.V. Lloyd’s in Downtown [Champaign] to purchase my first drum set 1968. I always wanted to make that a memorable time for everyone that purchased their first drum set at Skins 'n Tins. It’s so sad that kids first starting out will miss that moment.
SP: Of all the drummers you've served, any memories that stand out as being "Holy Shit!" moments?
Hawkins: Meeting Mitch Mitchell, the drummer for Jimi Hendrix, was one moment that I’ll never forget. I was in 7th grade when I first heard Are You Experienced?, the first Hendrix album and I wanted to play like Mitch. Still can’t, but I’m working on it.
SP: What are your plans beyond the shop? Anything we should look forward to, as a player at all?
Hawkins: Liz and I would like to thank the loving community for all the support. We are very happy that we could, in turn, put some of that back in the community. I will continue to play with King T’z as often and as long as possible. We love music! At the end of the day we feel good about what we set out to do and accomplish. The first and only drum shop ever in Champaign. And (it) was the oldest one in Illinois; only three in the entire state.
Image: Terry Hawkins (right) wearing a blue jean jacket poses with Foo Fighters' drummer, Taylor Hawkins (left), wearing all black and a grey beanie. Terry Hawkins pointing his index finger at Taylor Hawkins. Photo provided by Skins 'n Tins.
Josh Quirk; drummer for Duke Tomatoe, Brat Pack, Surreal Deal, and more:
I’ve been going to Skins 'n Tins since the day it opened. There aren’t many locally owned drum shops left in the country. Their ability to stand the test of time is a testament to a tight run ship and a willingness offer real hands-on drum service. While doing this they created an environment that drummers just wanted to hang out in and talk about drums. And old-school drum shop feel. If you needed a lug nut for a 1980s Gretsch kit, Terry had one. If you needed a specialty piece of hardware, Liz got it for you. Thank you Terry and Liz for your dedication and support to the drumming and music community.
Ian Shepard; drummer for Sun Stereo, Funky Butt Drum Club, Swoon, and more:
Terry and Liz have been family to me for 30 years and that shop has been my second home as well. They have supported me and so many other drummers throughout our careers and I’m eternally grateful for them and their endless contributions to the music scene in Champaign/Urbana and beyond. Their kindness, generosity, and commitment won’t be forgotten. They’re the best and I will miss that shop terribly. I’m incredibly happy for them and wish them all the best.
Mark Rubel; owner, engineer, producer at Pogo Studios:
We will probably never know how many people were put on their musical path by walking into the Skins ’n Tins Drum Shop, a living and breathing music oasis filled with cool, creative and talented people, a percussion petting zoo. There are no human cultures without drums, and C-U has had its own source. Many thanks to Liz and Terry for creating a musical incubator, and being a positive influence on the Champaign-Urbana music community through their presence, knowledge and encouragement.
Angie Heaton; drummer for Liquorette, Corndolly, Tractor Kings, and more:
When I was playing drums in Corndolly, Liquorette, Angie Heaton & the Gentle Tamers, and Tractor Kings in the 90’s and early 2000’s I always bought my gear at Skins 'n Tins. I loved that they kept notes on stuff I usually bought, and for which kit, so I didn’t have to measure every-time I went in to get heads, sticks, etc. and that they would order Gina Schock Super Slammers (Go-Go’s) even though I was probably the only person who wanted them!
Terry and Liz were so supportive of what I was doing musically and never made me feel like a “girl drummer” during a time when female drummers were few. I always felt comfortable at Skins and Tins to ask questions even if it was something I “should” know!
One time I went in to get my cymbals cleaned, and Liz sold me a bottle of cymbal cleaner and told me that it would do the trick but it would take some “elbow grease”... I can’t remember if I actually said “do you sell that here” or if I just thought “what I’m the world is elbow grease and where do I get it.” I have told this story often. Terry, and Liz, I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. Thank you for your love and service to the drummers of the CU! I love you both so much!
Rick Scholwin; Director of Audio Services; Krannert Center for the Performing Arts:
I've known and respected Liz and Terry's drumshop Skins'n tins for many years, my wife Elle and I lived here in Urbana for awhile in the nineties. She was taking lessons at the time and we attended their fantastic workshops when we could. So when I moved back into the area 5 years ago to take my current position of Audio Director at the Krannert Center, I was delighted to know Terry would be providing me my drum kits. Terry exudes cool...and he knows his drums...and has a litany of them... which for me was perfect. If I had a persnickety drummer who was unhappy with his snare sound... I call Terry and he hand delivers a world class sounding snare that he has lying around. I'm gonna miss that kind of dedication and expertise... and I will miss Terry. Just a humble all around great guy who I am proud to say I know and call a friend.