If You Want to Have the Drums Sound Like John Bonham

SKF NOTE: The full story includes an interesting account of how Kiss and recording engineers, using, in part, an elevator shaft, produced Eric Carr‘s “massive drum sound” on Kiss’s [1982] Creatures of the Night album.

I almost included the essence of the “massive drum sound” story here. Instead, I opted to include music producer Michael James Jackson‘s response to founding Kiss member Gene Simmons’s eagerness “to try and find a drum sound that was as close to Zeppelin [as possible.]”

Mr. Jackson’s response is in no way meant to put down Eric Carr’s drumming. To the contrary, Mr. Jackson gives Mr. Carr high praise. I post Jackson’s remarks because they are in sync with how I have always felt about drummers trying to copy another drummer’s sound. Of course, digital sound sampling has made copying much easier. But why not strive to have an identifiable sound of your own?

Here’s what Jackson had to say:

I’m a record producer, so I know if you want to have the drums sounds like John Bonham, then you have to give me John Bonham, you have to give me John Bonham’s drum kit and you have to put me in the same room where John Bonham plays that the drums sounds like that. Nobody can turn something into something it is not….

Full story

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Elvin Jones Trio in Japan 1981

SKF NOTE: This video of an atypical Elvin Jones Trio is a welcome addition. It captures a live performance of Elvin with Richard Davis (bass), and Fumio Karashima (piano). This tv appearance includes a short Elvin Jones interview. In spite of the somewhat sketchy video quality and sound — the camera work here is very good. Enjoy.

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Alan Dawson: Innovator vs Innovative

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SKF NOTE: In 1985, Alan Dawson invited me to his Massachusetts home for this interview, part of which was included in Modern Drummer‘s 10th Anniversary issue January 1986. As time allows I am converting portions of the Mr. Dawson’s interview tape into digital audio excerpts.

In this excerpt I asked Alan Dawson to clarify his remarks on drum innovators. Enjoy.

Scott K Fish: Do you feel there’s a difference in being innovative and being an innovator?

Alan Dawson: Maybe I’m splitting hairs a little bit. When I think about an innovator I think of the person who really seems to have taken something, and seems almost completely in another direction. [The innovator] bursts on the scene, and people don’t understand what he’s doing, that they have to catch up.

A person can be somewhat innovative if he can take somebody’s style and make something else out of it.

SKF: So an innovator is someone whose style can’t really be traced back to anybody?

AD: Yeah. Eventually you probably can trace it back.

When I first heard Max Roach I certainly wouldn’t have been able to say, “Well, he sounds like Jo Jones.” He didn’t. But he was still influenced by Jo Jones. So I would consider Max an innovator, yet in retrospect, I know that his style didn’t come out of nowhere.

Nothing ever does come out of nowhere, but it seems to come out of nowhere.

When somebody’s reactions to the very same things that everybody else has been exposed to turns out to be so completely different, you think that that person couldn’t have been exposed to so-and-so at the outset. Later, you find differently.

SKF: Would you consider Elvin Jones an innovator?

AD: Yeah, yet I realize — and Elvin will tell you — that he came out of Roy Haynes, among other people. Elvin doesn’t sound like Roy Haynes, but it’s obvious to me where he came from.

Jo [Jones] was one of Roy’s strongest influences in the formative stage. Roy Haynes doesn’t sound like Jo Jones, but it’s obvious to me where he came from.

In my formative stage Jo Jones had a tremendous influence on me. Max Roach had a very strong influence on me, but not as strong as Jo, because I wasn’t quite as young and impressionable.

Since then there’s been plenty of other players who I’ve listened to and admired.

If I stop splitting hairs I’d have to think that the last great drum innovator was Tony Williams.

Talking about trends and styles is hard for me to do. I’ve been pretty much doing my own thing as far as playing is concerned. My contact with what other people are doing is basically through my students.

More and more I’m appreciating the importance of historical perspective.

If a person knows where a particular thing he’s doing come from, and in turn, where that comes from, he can be much more convincing in playing whatever he’s playing. A person who plays strictly from the top tends to be playing somewhat superficially. It might not be all that evident to him, or even to people he’s playing with. They might be in the same position.

There are so many things. If you start tracing back you’ll find that there’s not too much that’s new. Sometimes, by looking back, you’ll get a glimpse of the future. If you lived long enough you could stand in one spot, and at some point in time, you would be an innovator. Of course, that might take thousands of years.

I don’t try to look too far ahead in a lot of things. There’s so much I figure I might miss that going on right now.

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DeMerle: A Band is Only as Good as Its Drummer

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SKF NOTE: In 1984, when I sat down to talk with Les DeMerle, he was a superb drummer and bandleader, as comfortable with swing tunes as he was with fusion or rock-based tunes. You’ll find more of the interview back story here.

Scott K Fish: Let’s talk about jazz and rock rhythm sections. What makes for a blue ribbon rhythm section?

Les DeMerle: The most important thing is that everybody have good communication with each other. Even if you have the smallest qualm with a bass player or a drummer — you should talk about it. Otherwise, it’s like a disease that can spread through the band.

I’m very lucky. I’ve always had good rapport with bass players.

If you’ve got players with good technique it’s even more of a problem, because then you have cats who want to play busy. Then you have to talk to each other and say, “Well, if I’m going to get hot here, maybe you could support what I’m doing. And if you’re going to get hot there, then I’ll support what you’re doing.”

If you’re hot all the time it doesn’t’ make it.

A lot of drummers and bass players don’t do that. I’m just talking about the bass and drums now because they’re most important.

No matter how good the band is, if the drummer isn’t making it, it ain’t going to go anywhere. A band is only as good as its drummer.

And the bass is second. You could have Jaco Pastorius in there, but if the drummer isn’t making it, it ain’t going to go nowhere. You’re better off telling the drummer to go home, and try to swing the band with the bass alone.

The drummer and bass have really got to be in unison.

SKF: How do you function with both a piano player and a guitar player in a rhythm section?

LD: That’s important. As much as the bass and drums have to be together, the relationship between a guitarist and a pianist is even more critical. They have to, first, get it together harmonically. Then they have to be able to fit into the rhythm section.

SKF: Do you find it easier to play with a guitar player or a piano player?

LD: With a guitar, I think, you tend to have a little more room, because he’s not constantly playing chords and notes. He’s either playing single lines or chords.

But my preference would still be piano, bass, and drums.

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Fascinating Art Blakey Documentary

SKF NOTE: Fascinating snippet of Art Blakey interacting with his Jazz Messengers. Would like very much to see this whole documentary.

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Jason Bonham: The Making of Jimmy Page’s ‘Outrider’ Album (1988)

SKF NOTE: Jason Bonham was kind enough to say yes to an interview back in 1988, published in Drums & Drumming magazine. Much of our interview was never published because of the magazine’s space constraints. But I think Jason’s recollections are well worth publishing. Here, for example, are Jason’s recollections of recording what was to be Jimmy Page’s Outrider album. Prior to my opening statement here, Jason and I were talking about his recording with his bands Virginia Wolf and Bonham.

I was at home in Oxford, Maryland and Jason was home in England for this phone interview.

Scott K Fish: The adventurism in drums, especially on records, has really diminished.

Jason Bonham: Oh yeah. Nowadays you’ve just got to play the drums, and you come out sounding like everybody else on the charts. You don’t sound like anything different. Then again, the radio programmers will play it because it doesn’t stand out. It fits in with everything else. Which is a pile of shit to me.

This thing that I did with Jimmy [Page] was great. I came in and said, “Here. Try these. I’ve got a couple of great [drum] samples.” I came up to Jimmy and said, “Listen to this snare drum.” And I will not disclose where I got it from, but I borrowed it properly from somebody who borrowed it off my dad, in the background anyway.

jason-bonham-06I’ll give you a clue. It was on the Robert Palmer album, played by Tony Thompson. It was a huge snare drum sound.

So, I said [to Jimmy Page], “Listen to this. We’ve got to use this sound for this one track.” So what we did, we got my snare drum sounding really shit hot as well. And it’s in this really live room, and we whacked this snare drum on top of it as well. It was huge. And it went really, really well.

With Jimmy,. the drum sound was different in each song, because he wanted that type of atmosphere every time we did something. Instead of, “It’s got to be perfect,” we didn’t care. It’s like, you can tell that it’s real drums, and you can tell when I slowly hit the drum lighter than the other one.

And I think that’s what a lot of the pop stuff misses today. There’s no feeling anymore.

On those blues tracks that we did you can hear it where we come down and then we go back up again. You can always tell by the power the drummer puts on the stroke. And then we go back to the light [playing] and the side [cross?] stick — and we build it up. And all of a sudden…. You can tell when you try to record the damn thing because the [volume meter] levels are going off at the right center. Then you come back down again and the level is right at the red.

To be [a recording] engineer you’ve got to be really on your toes.

The project with Jimmy Page is all finished. It started about 12 months ago. [No,] longer [ago] than that. We started at the end of October ‘86. I had gone on holiday with my girlfriend to a place. Jimmy was over there. We did a gig over there, and we played, and we were talking.

[Jimmy] said, “Listen, when I get back home I want to start recording a solo album. Would you be interested in playing the drums?”

I said, “Fantastic, yeah, I’d love to.”

So we got back home. A couple of weeks later [Jimmy] calls me up. I go down to see his manager. We worked out a deal. Then we started playing.

It was fantastic. The first week was just jamming, really. He’d play a riff and we’d play around it; work on it a little bit and see what else we could do with it.

Then we’d come out a week later. Jimmy would have listened to the tape and added a bit more to it. And then we’d start playing that. We virtually wrote all the material when we got together. It was like, he’d have an idea and we’d just play it to work it out, really.

And we were jamming Zeppelin songs. Occasionally I’d start Rock and Roll and then, “Okay. Hold it. HOLD IT! No, no. Get back to what we’re supposed to be doing.” And then we’d go back again.

SKF: So, in the beginning of this project it was just you and Jimmy Page?

JB: It was myself and Jimmy, yeah. Then he got a bass player in, now and again, and we’d try and put stuff down. Then eventually we did start going for it seriously. I think some of the best tracks were done earlier on when we just were jamming them, really. For playing-wise you couldn’t better it.

When we finally did it properly it was hard, I suppose, to compete with the original one.

But they sound amazing because it’s so free. It’s like, nobody told me what to do. No one was telling Jimmy what to do. And nobody was telling the bass player what to do. So it was like, “Okay. Let’s play. Let’s really go for it [and] show people that we’re really enjoying ourselves on the record.”

And it really was a fantastic atmosphere. When he goes really quiet you can actually hear people breathing. Most records are missing out on that nowadays.

But, it’s like a compilation, I suppose, of Jimmy’s versatility. That “A” side is like a 1988 Jimmy Page today, on his own without the influence of Paul Rodgers — or whatever. And kicking out some really good rock type material.

And I don’t think Jimmy would mind me saying, but Robert Plant sang on the track — and Robert’s actually on the album as well, which will be great for America. Because over there they’re going to go, “Madonna’s over.” Because it’s a real Zeppelin type of song. It’s like a Rock and Roll drum part, and there is Jimmy giving loads of guitar parts. Robert’s really going for it all the time.

So it’s going to be like home from home for them.

John Miles sings three tracks on the “A” side. [SKF NOTE: John Miles sings two tracks on the “A” side of the CD release.] He was with the keyboard player with Tina Turner at the moment. He’s got an amazing, really high voice. It’s a great voice. He’s from up north in Newcastle in England.

And we’ve done two great tracks from there. One is called Wasting My Time. Another is Wanna Make Love.

Then there’s an instrumental which is like a 1988 instrumental for Jimmy — which is amazing. There’s like 15 different guitars on it doing different things. I listened back to that track today. I hadn’t heard it in a long time. I just couldn’t believe it. I did this one drum fill and I went, “How the fuck did I do that?” [It was] one of those really off-time things that really worked. You try to do it again and you can’t do it.

SKF: Will any of the original track from when you and Jimmy were first together survive on the album?

JB: The instrumental track. I was just playing a drum beat, just when I got there, like a shuffle-type thing, but doing pumps with the bass drum, and straight on the bell of the cymbal. I was really going for it. And, Jimmy, all of a sudden just started playing along.

In the end he just kept the drum part and put loads of guitars on it. And the bass player came down — and it was fantastic.

SKF: You mentioned a tour.

JB: I think it will be in the summer. We start rehearsing now. As far as dates go it looks like the end of June, July, August. So that will be something to look forward to.

SKF: Who do you think will be in the touring band?

JB: I don’t know, really. Hopefully the people who worked hard on the album. Obviously, Robert [Plant] is going to be doing his own thing. Robert’s new single just came out over here [England] and it’s quite good. It’s called Heaven Knows. It’s quite a modern song, actually, but Jimmy plays on it. And I think you can tell that when you hear the solo on the album.

There are two tracks on Robert’s [Now and Zen] album that Jimmy actually plays on.

SKF: What drum kit were you using on the Jimmy Page project?

JB: Well, I should say Tama, but I was using a Ludwig. It’s funny that I haven’t recorded with a Tama kit yet. My last endorsement kit with Ludwig was a Chrome-O-Wood, and I used that on the album, but I used an old Green Sparkle bass drum.

Put it this way: Jimmy wanted me to use the old classic Ludwig kit because my dad did. It was a kit he had that he said my father gave to him. Because it was the classic old green bass drum. The Green Sparkle 26”x14.” He toured that in 1971, I think. That was one of the first kits [John Bonham] ever used from Ludwig.

Yeah, because the first kit [my father] had was a maple… no! The second kit [my father] had was a maple shell. The first kit he had was this Green Sparkle — which is quite funny. But it was a great bass drum. It sounded really good, and it was used on In Through The Out Door, because the guy who worked on this album with Jimmy was the engineer on In Through The Out Door of Led Zeppelin: Leif Mases. It was fantastic working with him because he was telling me some of the things my dad did.

There’s a great story. You must print this. It’s fantastic.

They had this huge, huge rubber plant in the Abba studios in Stockholm, and they set my dad’s drum kit up in the corner next to it in this big stone room. My dad came in, he played for 15 minutes.

The next day the plant was dead.

They tried to revive this plant for weeks while they were there, and it just died instantly. It was so loud. And [my dad] was using the famous steel drums, like stainless steel shells. Stainless steel bass drum, stainless steel shells.It was just totally awesome loudness.

And this plant, this poor thing, just next day was keeled over in the corner of the room.

I thought it was quite amusing.

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Ed Soph: Playing Drums is No Different Than Opening a Door (1985)

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SKF NOTE: Here’s the back story on this Ed Soph interview circa 1985. And here, for the historical record, is Mr. Soph describing his drum clinics in the mid-1980s. Readers should remember this exchange took place more than 30-years ago. Soph may have evolved his thinking since, but maybe not. Either way, please take this exchange as representing one moment in time.

Scott K Fish: I’ve never been to an Ed Soph [drum] clinic. What’s it like?

Ed Soph: I come out and play a short solo. A solo, hopefully, with some content, not just a bash, bang.

Then I say, “I just tried to play a musical solo. I was actually playing on the form of a tune. How many of you could hear any repetitive figures, recurring figures, etc.?”

Invariably, some hands go up and I think, “Thank God.”

And I start out with brushes because that’s the quickest way to get people’s attention: with brushes. What’s the great cliche of the day?

SKF: Brushes are a dying art.

ES: Yeah. What a bunch of bullshit.

Next, I ask, “What are some musical elements that a drummer must use in order to make music? Think like a musician, not like a drummer.”

I’ll see blank stares for a minute. I say, “Let me give you a hint. What are some of the things that I used in my solo to catch your attention?”

A guy will go, “You used dynamics.” Someone else will say, “It had form.” Another guy will say, “You used different accent patterns.”

The thing that they never say, and it’s the last thing that any of us think about, is the use of space: what you don’t play. Space is mentioned eventually, and I say, “Okay, what’s the equivalent of space on the drumset? What, mechanically, is equivalent to space? [The answer is] strokes.”

Then I get into a whole motion thing about how the only rule, as far as I’m concerned — on the instrument — is that you sound the way you move. If you move jerkily and out-of-time, you sound jerky, and you play out-of-time. If you move with big motions you make big sounds. Small motions make small sounds.

All of a sudden, literally, you see lights go on, because you, me, and everyone else has been conditioned for years to deal with only one aspect of the instrument — and that’s the sound. And if something’s out-of-time you don’t think about the stroke, or the silence, the space that’s producing the sound. You try to rectify it from the sound standpoint.

Then I go into a whole rap about basic coordination. Not between the hands and the feet, but coordinating the whole arm. Just like you coordinate your whole leg when you walk. You’ve got three joints: ankle, knee, and hip. You’ve got: wrist, elbow, and shoulder. You don’t walk stiff legged, but when some people sit down at the [drum]set, [they] play like they were walking on wooden legs.

Playing drums is no different than opening a door or anything else.

I also burst some balloons that have cropped up because of military influence on the instrument. The idea that control means tightening up rather than relaxing.

Another opening question I ask is, “What’s a drummer’s most important asset?”

The answers I get will be “keeping time,” and “speed,” and then someone — usually an older cat, will say, “His ability to listen.” And then you see some more lights go on.

Then [I] get into a little rap on improvisation, explaining how that’s just like holding a conversation with somebody.

In a nutshell, what I try to do in a clinic is to break down some very common physical barriers which every player goes through unless they’re extremely fortunate to be a natural on the instrument: [Those very common physical barriers are] developing natural hand grips, posture behind the drumset, and set-up.

And then some very basic, but very difficult — because they require a great deal of concentration — some very basic coordination exercises dealing with quarter notes.

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