JOHN H. EMBRY 1926-2010
John H. Embry, pioneer gay author, publisher and activist, died in his sleep at the age of 83 on the morning of Thursday, September 16, 2010 at his home in San Francisco.
After a successful career in advertising and marketing, John founded the groundbreaking magazine Drummer, which became the most successful national publication for gay men in the leather lifestyle.
John published the magazine from its inception in 1975 until 1986, when he sold it.
John and founding Editor Jeanne Barney shared a vision: To produce a magazine that celebrated the masculine gay male, while embracing the literary values of the Evergreen Review, a publication famous for content that was counter to the culture and sexy. As such, they attracted such talent as Phil Andros (Sam Steward), Scott Masters (Edward Menerth), Fred Halsted, Tom of Finland, Harry Bush and Robert Opel, among others.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of Drummer. For the first time, gay men across the country – particularly gay men in small-town America – saw masculine images of themselves and not the stereotypes presented in mainstream media. Through their encounter with Drummer, many gay men realized that there were others like themselves “out there.” At the same time, the magazine highlighted gay leather bars and businesses and gave those establishments a national venue.
The impact became even greater when, because of police harassment in LA, the magazine moved to San Francisco in 1977, generating an influx of gay Leathermen to the Bay Area.
Drummer was a significant contributor to the creation of the international Leather Community and gave birth to such famous San Francisco social events as the California Motorcycle Club (CMC) Carnival and the Mr. Drummer contest.
“Drummer presented an image of gay men previously unknown to me. When I saw the photos of the hot guys having fun at the Drummer parties in San Francisco, I gave two weeks notice and headed West.”
— Jerry Lasley, Embry’s business partner and husband
“John Embry was a pioneer of Leather who made gay male Leather/SM writing and art available to a whole generation of Leathermen. Those men were inspired and creatively brought out by his Drummer and other magazines over a 35-year period of Leather history. His influence is still felt today in gay men’s mass media, not just porn, but in mainstream gay media of all kinds from movies to art and writing!”
— Peter Fisk, longtime San Francisco Leather community organizer
“Most of us may never have had the introduction to this Leather scene had it not been for John Embry and the Original DRUMMER Magazine he started and published. I know it’s how I first realized I wasn’t alone in all my perverted fantasies. Finding that Drummer magazine on a newsstand in New Orleans in 1981 changed my life, and you can see where it all led for me. Tens of thousands of guys worldwide read Drummer every month and felt a bonding connection to each other because of it. John died peacefully last month here in San Francisco. His legacy stands for itself. I wonder if he realized what he was creating when he was in the middle of it all.”
— Richard “Big Daddy” Hunter, owner of Mr S
“When I was a young teen, my family moved to a new city (Bedford/Temperance, Michigan) in the middle of the school year (one of the worst things you can do to a kid) where I was thrust into to a very WASPy school. Yeah, it was rough. I knew nobody and they were just looking for a target. What made matters a bit worse was that I was one of those future Gay Kinsters who was discovering he was KINKY … before he discovered he liked MEN. I remember lusting over football uniforms, wrestling singlets, the motorcycle leathers in the SEARS catalog, etc.
“Since my parents didn’t pick up on how scared shitless I was to go to school each day and that I didn’t have friends (and my father could really care less), I’d go to the library after school. I tried to figure out my fascination for fetishes. This led me to books on sexuality where they always had a few pages on Fetish … and BDSM. And at the back of the book were the references. Where I found DRUMMER MAGAZINE.
“*A lot* of who I am today is by Drummer Magazine. At first, with a Post Office Box, I just ordered back issues with money orders. Got a subscription shortly after. Yes, at age 16.
“Each month that I got the magazine, I would have a masturbation marathon. Reading each magazine from front to cover several times. I’d also get on other mailing lists that I found in the advertisements. Which is where I discovered another influence, Mr S Leather (great article at that link on Drummer Magazine)
“I read today that the Publisher of Drummer, John Embry, passed away recently. While I never knew the man, I read his stuff and wish I could tell him thanks. I learned much from his magazine. I learned about HIV/AIDS prevention from his magazine wayyy before I got any kind of education at School or anywhere else. There was also many articles about the importance of respect, safe & consenting sex, roles and brotherhood.
“So, many thanks to you, John. I’ll see you later in that big dungeon in the sky.”
— Ruff, author of the popular Ruff’s Stuff bondage and SM blog
Drummer magazine publisher John Embry, who has died (1926-2010), hired me as founding San Francisco editor in chief of Drummer in 1977. Developing Drummer during the Titanic 1970s, Embry and I worked on leather articles intensely and then intermittently through 2002. He will be missed by the thousands of writers, artists, photographers, and staff who created Drummer.
— Jack Fritscher