Some Drummers I Love and Why.

Many who know me

know I’ve played drums since I was a kid. I still play, infrequently. Yesterday I was thinking about drummers and now I’m going to write about some of the drummers that have been important to me. Most of these guys I discovered early on, in High School or College. It’s an incomplete list, of course. Anyway, here goes.

Bill Stewart

I found Stewart by accident.. I bought a John Scofield album thinking Dennis Chambers was on it. I was wrong. After a few listens, the drumming on What We Do thoroughly broke my face. The drumming smacked of Roy Haynes. I still find everything Stewart plays impossibly fresh. He also has some really weird-sounding cymbals he’s not afraid to use- there’s something absurd about them. Stewart isn’t afraid to let it get weird- that might be my favorite thing about him.

Roy Haynes

A friend lent me Pat Metheny’s Question and Answer when I was a freshman in high school. I immediately loved the spaciousness of the record and the tones of Haynes’ cymbals. The drumming was spry and playful. The dynamics were sweeping. I kept that CD for over a year and bought a copy as soon as my friend asked for his back.

Billy Martin

Medeski Martin & Wood landed on my radar around the time I started college (’95) They were and are maybe the only Jam Band-adjacent outfit I can handle. John Medeski is a lion of the Hammond B3, which had me listening a lot. Billy’s playing is super-in-the-pocket, but it took a live performance in Philadelphia at the Electric Factory in the late 90′s for me to move into the Billy camp for good. He moved so seamlessly and smoothly between styles- within the same tune- that I remember feeling frustrated and embarrassed. Friends of mine at the concert looked at me and their eyes got big.

Billy’s got a great sense of adventure when he plays. He’s fearless about leaving mistakes on his records. It’s like he’s human and superhuman simultaneously.

James Brown’s Drummers

Chiefly Jabo Starks and Clyde Stubblefield. Discovering James Brown lifted me out of the morass of prog rock I’d been stuck in in high school. Within a year of getting a copy of Love Power Peace I’d liquidated all my prog CDs. These two defined funk drumming for me.

Stanton Moore

My introduction to Stanton was at a show in State College, PA. My friends and I drove 2 hours each way to go see Charlie Hunter at the Crowbar. We hadn’t heard of Galactic and I had no idea who Stanton Moore was. My impression that first night was- boy is that guy having a blast playing drums. It was my first ever dose of Galactic so I forgive myself for not really digesting it.

Fast forward about 5 years, to a Galactic headlining show at the Newport in Columbus, OH. I will never forget, the band was cranking. When they hit a climax Stanton stood up behind his kit, just wailing on his pies and drums. The mass of gyrating galactoids went absolutely apeshit. He was in charge and we did what he wanted. I can only imagine what it feels like to direct and control that much energy. For that moment alone I’ll always have a deep respect for Stanton.

Matt Cameron

His style is punchy and angular- I really loved the Ayotte drums he was playing in the 90s too. Badmotorfinger was a crucial record for me growing up. There’s a strangeness to his playing which I like. That strangeness really comes out when he writes- check your Soundgarden CDs for the songs he wrote- they’re usually the strangest ones. I’m glad he got that gig with Pearl Jam but I’m much happier that Soundgarden is working together now.

Scott Amendola

I got to know Amendola through the Charlie Hunter records of the mid/late 90s. His tone was rich and full. His cymbals were impossibly dry. His groove was amazing and his evil, filthy shuffles changed my life. To this day I model my shuffles after Amendola’s (and fall far short.)

Stewart Copeland

To this day hearing Copeland play makes me want to jump behind a kit and start smacking drums RIGHT NOW. I’ve never heard anyone transmit the unvarnished joy of playing so vividly through a set of speakers or headphones.

Bonham

Not much hasn’t already been said about John Bonham. What I appreciate most about him is the way he isn’t in a rush- his pocket is relaxed and all the more powerful for it. Crucial moment for me- the 8th notes coming out of the vocal/a capella part of Whole Lotta Love. A mere mortal would have sprayed those 8ths all over the place and the thing would have rushed into oblivion, but not Bonzo- he was in control.

?uestlove

Incredibly self-possessed. The deepest pockets with the most mind-bending precision. ?uestlove embodies everything hip-hop drumming should be.

Jojo Mayer

Jojo gets the nod for his playing on the first Screaming Headless torsos record. Another example of prodigious facility applied with laser accuracy and suffused with groove. All the players on that one were very chopsy, and each was responsible for pushing the group into ridiculous territory from time to time. I do admire that kind of exuberance once in a while though. Sometimes ridiculous is the pocket you’re working in.

Thanks for Reading!

Seven of the Things I Learned Making a Record: They Might Help You Too.

Or, how I got my ass in gear and made my first record in ten freaking years.

Folks who have known me for a long time know I’m a musician. I always have been. Over the years I’ve become many other things. Student. Teacher. Husband. Business Owner. Father. I’ve been bankrupt. I’ve been fired. I’ve been lucky. And for five years I made no music. None. I’d given up and moved on. This is normal for folks who get into the real world and find their passion won’t pay the bills. But it’s also a kind of betrayal.

On February 1st 2014 I stood with my friend in the back of a performance space in Baltimore. We were both in a state of semi-shock. The room was filled with friends and strangers. The second band of the night was playing. They were awesome. And we were next.

Triumph. We did it. It started from absolutely nothing. (Buy a copy here!)

How did we get here? It started by converting desire to action. Small action. Then repetitive action. Then it just grew and grew

#1 Define Success on Your Own Terms

For over twenty years, being creative in music meant long swaths of time in hot rehearsal rooms with sweaty guys and enormous chunks of time spent hauling gear in and out of disgusting rock clubs, listening to awful bands for 3 hours before I got my 45 minutes to explode. Sometimes we’d do this for many days in a row, while travelling.

It became tiring. But it was what you did.

Once in a while though, we’d do something amazing: head into a recording studio to record and hone the music to sonic perfection (as our budget would allow.) These memories rank with the births of my children as high points of my life.

Now, as a grown-ass man with a family and a couple businesses, I realized I could choose the one thing and reject the other thing. I can write and produce the music. I don’t have to enlist in the drudgery of rock band life. That’s kid stuff anyway.

So, success now means I spend my time producing. Not carrying drums up and down stairs. Not listening to a series of doomed local bands. Not seeking the approval of arms-crossed hipsters in the back of the club.

This is what I like to do.

This is what I like to do.

Because I know people are always searching for new cool music. They’re not going to find me in the clubs, but if they’re looking I can make them find me.

#2 Set Narrow Boundaries, They’re Freeing.

Now, when you’re making music you’ve got options, starting with every possible sound in the world and all the words of your language in any combination. It is paralyzing.

You have to radically narrow your options.

In this case, it meant strict guidelines on what the music would be made of. I chose a few instruments and limited them further with specific sonic descriptions. I described in detail how the vocals would sound.

Then, the scope of the project: Just three songs, with the lyrics drawn from/inspired by a book.

So instead of the giant, nagging knowledge that I wanted to be ‘making music’ with the oppression of infinite choice, I had a few sounds to work with and a very limited set of ideas to draw from for the lyric content. And I only had to do three songs. Not such a daunting task now, is it?

Limiting the input on this project brought another power into play: license to suck. The purpose of this project was to knock out and finish a project quickly. No big deal if it turned out a bit lackluster- it would be easy to discard and move on to the next thing.

#3 Get a Collaborator, You’ll do Six Times as Much.

Some people can sit down by themselves and crank out music on their own. I’ve got some kind of block- I need another person present to do this kind of work. Even if they’re just in the room reading a book.

Good that I know this about myself, elsewise I’d never have even gotten started, let alone finished. I asked a friend who I’d worked with extensively before and he jumped at the chance to work on a project of this nature.

This is how we work.

This is how we work.

Funny thing is, this guy can do it solo, and he’s done it repeatedly in the past. But over the course of the project, he told me time and again how much he enjoyed the process. He thanked me for getting the project rolling. And we both agree that the product of our collaboration is worlds better than anything we’d have been able to do alone. I know that in my case, it would most likely have been nothing.

#4 Set Appointments and Keep Them. Creation is Work.

So, getting someone to agree to a project is one thing- half the time all you’re getting is a person agreeing that a project is a good idea. Any conversation containing the words “We should…” needs to end with an appointment. We should plan the record… on Wednesday night at 6pm. And so on.

If you set one appointment and keep it, it’s powerful. If you do it a few weeks in a row, you’re starting a habit. After a few appointments you start to see something that you’re creating out of nothing.

Put it in your calendar.

Put it in your calendar.

The real wins come when you keep your creative appointments despite not wanting to. When resistance comes up (and it will!) You need to have a backbone. Make those appointments. Keep your appointments. Your creation depends on it.

#5 Once You’ve Got Momentum, Feel Free to Disregard Your Boundaries.

Within a week of getting started on this project we had started adding other sounds and instruments. Some of the original guidelines were unceremoniously tossed to the pigs. It was ok because we had our start and the project had momentum. It began to take on a life of its own and we decided to let it grow naturally from then on.

Strict adherence to our own rules could have stifled the project. Who knows, we may have lost interest and abandoned it. Our strict initial guidelines made it easy for us to get started– even totally ignored they served us well.

This was not in the original plan.

This was not in the original plan.


#6 Set a Hard Deadline That Scares You.

At first, we’d set a deadline of 2 months to finish the 3-song project. As it grew, evolved, and didn’t suck, I mentioned to my partner, “What would you think about doing a release event when we get this thing wrapped?” His eyes lit up and then it got crazy.

We booked a date less than 3 months away at a well-known club in Baltimore. It was then we decided to write 2 more tunes to fill out a proper EP-length release. It seemed a ways off at the time but we knew that time would absolutely fly (the entirety of December, disaster that it is, lay between the date setting and the date of the show.)

Not only would we have to finish the record, we’d have to assemble a band to play the music, book some other bands, and execute any number of other ideas we had to make the event a one-of-a-kind type thing.

All of these things proved stressful, and every one of them made us want to throw in the towel at some point, and a few of them up to the very date of the event. But we’d made the appointment. And we keep our appointments.

#7 The Good is the Enemy of the Finished.

Most folks are familiar with the concept that the perfect is the enemy of the good. We decided to take it a step further, as our goals were centered around completion and system building.

When we actually decided to release this project, this approach got a little bit scary, and daunting- we like things to be perfect just like anybody.  But perfection has its place, and it wasn’t here.

Not Perfect. Better: Finished.

Not Perfect. Better: Finished.


In Sum:

It takes more courage to release a flawed project than it does to endlessly tweak and polish something. And a flawed record is not the same as a flawed piece of software or lackluster seatbelt latch. Some of the most revered albums are riddled with flubs, pitchy singing and bad editing. Only really picky people notice that stuff, and to hell with them anyway.

Haters don’t matter, somebody’s going to enjoy what you made. Get it to them, flubs and all. Catalogue and learn from your mistakes and make fewer next time.

Thanks for reading. (Buy a copy here!)

Lack of Clarity is the Result, Not the Cause.

Nassim Taleb’s Bed of Procrustes  lives in my bathroom. It’s his book of aphorisms.

Now, books of aphorisms generally leave me cold. However, all of Taleb’s work is worth reading, and there’s no way to do Antifragile justice if you’re on the toilet. So.

I’ve typically found in each of Taleb’s books a single sentence or two that smites me like a garden rake handle. Serious insight. This time it was in a footnote.

 The biggest error since Socrates has been to believe that lack of clarity is the source of all our ills, not the result of them.

Ouch. I’ve been struggling with a lack of clarity for months. Probably years. Maybe forever. This was the footnote. What was the aphorism it referred to?

Mental clarity is the child of courage, not the other way around.

Most would say the opposite of courage is cowardice.

Kierkegaard defined the opposite of Courage as Angst. 

From the German, Angst describes a non-directional and unmotivated kind of fear. Angst is vague. Sounds like lack of clarity to me.

(I dug that stuff up on Wikipedia, pardon my lack of rigor.)

So, a gain in clarity will require acts of courage. I see.

I see.