Location: 579 County Line Road (Palmer Lake)
Standing in his packed manufacturing space along the railroad tracks in Palmer Lake, Jesse Maddox recalls, as a child, receiving the just-released Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas.
He wasn’t impressed.
“The first thing I did was take it to a pawn shop and trade it for a guitar,” Maddox said.
Maddox, who now owns and operates Taikos.com with his wife, Carla, grew up in an artistic family. His parents lived on a ranch near Dallas and they would put on several music festivals throughout the year.
“The largest one we did was 150 bands, two stages back-to-back,” Maddox said. “It was a whole weekend with people camping.”
He grew up around music, thanks to his mom and dad. His father, Michael Maddox, is executive director of the Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts in Palmer Lake and, today, the whole family helps out at the company, which manufactures handcrafted Japanese-style taiko drums.
Change of scenery
Fourteen years ago, Jesse and his immediate family decided to get out of the music festival business and look for a change of scenery.
“The work involved in that was pretty significant, and we decided we wanted to move to Colorado and slow down, but that didn’t happen,” Maddox said.
He’d always been fascinated with building hybrid instruments and had an interest in Middle Eastern and African percussion.
“There were a lot of opportunities in Dallas to learn different types of percussion,” he said. “Middle Eastern percussion became a passion for a while. Rhythmically it was pretty intricate.”
At some point, Maddox attended a show at Southern Methodist University, which would frequently host world music acts.
“They brought in a band called Kodo. When I saw Kodo, they were sort of the preeminent taiko group,” Maddox said. “There were five guys in a line across the stage. They were synchronized so perfectly it could have been one guy and a mirror.
“That was my first exposure to taiko. … It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before,” he said. “It captured the rhythmic intricacies that I really liked about most world percussion styles and kind of married that with a stage presence, a form and a mastery of technique that was required to perform what they played. It set me on a different path.”
Maddox said his fascination began in a pre-Google world, but he was able to track down a couple of manufacturers in the U.S. He lost hope when they said the wait time was more than a year.
So he decided to build a drum himself.
“I made a taiko for a recording I was working on and somebody saw it and bought it when we were done,” he said. “That became an accidental business for us. Taiko chose us.
“We made one, so we made two. We made two, so we’ll make four — then 30, now hundreds. Thirteen years ago, this became our main business.”
And business is good. For the first five years, Maddox said they did about 70-80 orders a year some of which included multiple drums.
“Our last order was for 12 drums,” he said.
This year the company will manufacture about 140 orders.
“We’re on track to triple what we did last year,” he said.
Maddox attributes the steep curve to growing awareness of taiko, something his company has directly impacted.
Taiko.com has created drums for pop superstars Imagine Dragons and even manufactured an electronically triggered taiko that makes different sounds for rock legend Metallica.
Despite such high-profile jobs, Maddox said his company hasn’t really spent anything on advertising. In fact, the company just hired its first part-time employee a year ago.
Everybody at Taikos.com wears different hats. Carla sews drum heads, keeps books, helps with online promotions and answers emails and phone calls.
“There are some processes of crafting the taiko that she’s good at, so she does some of those as well,” Maddox said. “My mom, who just turned 66, helps move the drums and condition the drum heads. I can trust the work she does because she’s also an artist and values quality.
“I like the idea that my family is involved,” he said. “Growing up in an artistic household, my childhood was maybe different than most. But I have a really close connection with my family. Family is important and luckily we all thrive in an artistic environment.”
In addition to crafting drums, Taikos.com offers classes two days a week and advanced groups play shows throughout the region.
The smallest drums, at 16 inches, go for about $500, Maddox said. The largest drums, which are 6 feet in diameter, will set you back $12,000.
And while the art is about 500 years old, there’s still room for innovation, Maddox said.
“Because it’s so physical, people ask if we get hurt playing them,” Maddox said. “We say no, we get hurt moving them.
“We’re in the process of figuring out how to make them lighter and use the same materials,” he said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re hoping to cut down their weight by 80 percent.”