A jazz drummer, Belli saw the coming of rock ’n’ roll — and realized that the supply of calf skins (the material to make drum heads) wouldn’t be able to keep up with demand. Plus, he didn’t like the animal skins much anyway: they stretched or sagged depending on the weather, so drums had to be tuned to be played. Determined to come up with a synthetic skin, Belli started with Mylar, after seeing another drum manufacturer trying to figure out how to use it. “But they didn’t know what to do with it,” Belli said later. Belli did: he recruited a chemist to help refine it, figuring out how to bond the material to an aluminum head frame. In 1957, he succeeded, and went into the business of making and selling the synthetic heads.
While jazz purists looked down on the synthetic skins, other drummers liked them, including Buddy Rich, who endorsed the new “Remo” skins. Belli dubbed them “Weather King” since they didn’t stretch or sag due to humidity, and they took off. The Remo skins really gained traction when a British band drummer was seen using one of the synthetic skins on his kit on the Ed Sullivan Show — Ringo Starr of The Beatles. The skins are now also used on banjos and tambourines, too. Today, it’s rare to find professional drummers using calfskins. Belli “really didn’t know how important what he did was,” says Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. “He knew it was important, but I don’t think he understood how far-reaching it was, and how far-reaching that legacy is and how many ways it will go on into the future.” Remo, the company he founded, still makes drums. Belli died April 25, from pneumonia. He was 88.