Sometimes, the news of a former professional wrestler passing away slips through the cracks. While there is a large community of retired wrestlers who continue to be active via organizations such as the Cauliflower Alley Club and the Tragos/Thesz Hall of Fame, quite a few wrestlers from a bygone era simply saw it as a job they had for a brief time (albeit a very unique and interesting one!) and then moved on.
On July 14, 2023, Robert L. Aebi, who wrestled professionally as Bulldog Drummer and Count Drummer, passed away in Kansas City, Missouri. For many years, wrestling historians knew next to nothing about Drummer and his life before wrestling, as well as after. It turns out there was a very good reason for that.
Within the wrestling community, Robert’s real name was believed to be Robert Alebi. Whether this was due to a simple misunderstanding (perhaps he told someone his name was “Robert L. Aebi” and they heard it as “Robert Alebi”) or whether it was intentional (perhaps an inside joke since the name sounds like “alibi”) is unclear. But this discrepancy in the spelling of his last name made it virtually impossible to uncover anything about his background.
While doing research for an episode of our Charting the Territories podcast last year, Jon Boucher and I both came up totally empty when trying to learn more about him. Of course, this was because we had his name wrong. It wasn’t until I did a Google search simply for “alebi wrestling” that I found something. And from there, Jon and I were off to the races.
What I found was an excerpt from a book written by Chicago area sportswriter/broadcaster Terry Boers. An entire chapter of his book, The Score of a Lifetime: 25 Years Talking Chicago Sports, was about a high school friend of his named Bob, who Terry said was the most unforgettable character he had ever met. Terry wrote that Bob had “changed his name to Alebi for wrestling purposes.” If it hadn’t been for that one sentence, we may never have been able to uncover Count Drummer’s true identity.
Searching Google and ancestry.com using his proper surname of “Aebi”, we were able to learn more about the life of Bob. He was born in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1949 (though he was born a U.S. citizen, as one or both of his parents were in the Air Force). Passing through Ellis Island in March 1950, Bob eventually settled in suburban Chicago. He went to Bloom High School, where he befriended Terry Boers. Bob was known to “ham it up” as a teenager, and he and Terry reportedly would go around the school pretending to be The Bruiser and The Crusher.
Bob was trained by Bob Sabre, who is perhaps best known for a brief stint as George Ringo the Wrestling Beatle. His earliest documented pro bout was in November 1969 for Wrestling Show Classics, a short-lived promotion started by Mark Lewin and Bobby Davis that operated in Dayton. At a television taping in Kettering, Ohio, young Bulldog Drummer faced the future Puerto Rican icon Carlos Colon. The early ’70s saw Drummer working for promoters such as Bob Geigel, Dick the Bruiser, and Fritz Von Erich.
He slowly branched out to more territories, including stints for LeRoy McGuirk, Nick Gulas, and Lee Fields’ Gulf Coast Championship Wrestling. His ring name varied from place to place; while he primarily used the name Bulldog Drummer, he also was billed as Don Drummer, Ted Drummer, and Jim Drummer at times.
In late 1974, he added a new name to the rotation. As Count Drummer, Aebi found himself moving up the cards. He teamed with Don Kent to win the Mid-American Tag Team titles in Nashville from the team of Jackie Fargo and George Gulas. The duo only held the belts for two weeks before losing them back to Fargo and Gulas, but it was the first title of note for Drummer, and perhaps a sign there was more to come.
At some point, Drummer was married to fellow wrestler Tanya West (real name Tanya Lee Pope). Tanya may best be remembered as Stella Mae French in World Class Championship Wrestling, where she feuded first with Jimmy Garvin’s valet/wife Precious and later Nickla Roberts (Baby Doll).
Venturing out west to Washington state, Count Drummer worked for Dean Silverstone’s Super Star Championship Wrestling in 1975. In his book “I Ain’t No Pig Farmer”, Silverstone wrote about Drummer and how he drove from town to town in an actual hearse, complete with a coffin in the back! At the time, Silverstone had a good relationship with some of the TV stations in the area. Count Drummer was booked to appear on a local cooking show on one of these stations, where he apparently “instructed viewers on the proper method of barbecuing bats.”
While in Washington, Drummer formed a team with the colorful (and boy is that an understatement!) Chris Colt. When Silverstone’s promotion closed up in late 1975, the two ventured to Michigan to work for The Sheik. There, they became The Time Machine, with the vampirish Drummer being “from the past” and Colt being “from the future.” Competing against teams such as the father and son duo of Angelo and Randy Poffo and the Anoi’a brothers (Afa & Sika), The Time Machine won the Detroit version of the World Tag Team titles from Karl Von Hess and Kurt Von Brauner in March 1976.
Detroit photographer Brad McFarlin knew both Colt and Drummer, and was saddened to hear of Drummer’s death. “Colt said Count slept in a coffin. I quipped. ‘On top of his wife or what?’ Colt didn’t laugh,” recalled McFarlin, who would become manager Handsome Johnny Bradford.
McFarlin continued the recollections. “He was a nice guy. Straight edge… until Colt got his hands on him,” said McFarlin. One time, McFarlin, Drummer and Colt were at a concert at Cobo. “We went into the bathroom to look for drugs. Colt bought something from a ‘vendor’ and offered it to Drummer. He was very very apprehensive about taking it but Colt assured him that it would ‘make him feel good.’”
McFarlin had hoped to sell a story on The Time Machine to a unique publication, like Creem, since they were such a unique team. “They had this spectacular move where Colt came off the top rope with a leg drop. Man that was an ass killer.”
At some point, Drummer was injured — McFarlin recalled it as a broken ankle in Toledo, Ohio — and his wrestling career came to a sudden end (with Lanny Poffo teaming with Colt); Drummer claimed to have suffered a severe back injury when he’d fallen through the ring at Cobo Hall.
In later years, Bob and his wife (not Tanya, this wife was named Peggy) lived in Missouri and were artists. They owned a business called Lord’s Diversified and sold their art at fairs and festivals throughout the region for at least a decade, and probably longer.
Bob Aebi never sold out Madison Square Garden. His title history can be measured in weeks, and not a whole lot of ’em. But Bob Aebi was a professional wrestler, and it’s important to acknowledge not just the superstars, but the folks that are often referred to as “journeymen” or “carpenters.” Part of the reason I started Charting the Territories was to attempt to document the careers of those wrestlers for whom little was known. Bob Aebi is a perfect example of that.