b. 1 March 1914, Springfield, Illinois, USA, d. 15 September 1998, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Nicknamed Deemus. Throughout the 30s Deems worked with Paul Ash and led his own small bands. Towards the end of the decade he worked extensively with Joe Venuti, an association that lasted until the mid-40s. Thereafter, Deems played in bands led by Red Norvo, Charlie Barnet and Muggsy Spanier. Billed as the ‘World’s Fastest Drummer’, Deems had an eccentric onstage personality that was captured on film during a solo-feature in Rhythm Inn (1951). In 1954 he joined Louis Armstrong’s All Stars, touring several countries and again appearing on film, this time in a feature, High Society, and the Ed Morrow television documentary Satchmo The Great (both 1956). In the 60s he worked with Jack Teagarden and the Dukes Of Dixieland before settling in Chicago, where he played in clubs, often backing visiting jazzmen. In 1976 he toured with Benny Goodman, and in the 80s worked with Wild Bill Davison and as a member of Keith Smith’s package celebrating the music of Louis Armstrong.
Deems’ eccentricity was enhanced by his wild, bearded appearance and his offstage volubility. He referred to himself as the oldest teenager in the business and ruined countless recorded interviews with his irreverent and frequently unbroadcastable wit. Despite the flamboyance of his appearance and self-billing, Deems played with a powerful attack and his spell with Armstrong included the album of W.C. Handy tunes, which proved to be a classic of the leader’s later work.