Mel Lewis to Steve Gadd: You’re a Drag

SKF NOTE: Around 1976, Mel Lewis told me of the time he first met Steve Gadd.

In 1976 Steve Gadd was really starting to grab the attention of musicians everywhere – especially drummers. I first heard Steve Gadd in 1974 on Bob James’s One album, including his mind-boggling drumming on the track, Night on Bald Mountain.

Mel’s busy career as a studio drummer had slowed. There wasn’t as much of a demand for instrumental or singer big band dates. Steve’s career as a studio drummer was on the rise. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Steve Gadd put studio drumming as a career path on the map!

When Steve Gadd introduced himself to Mel Lewis on a New York City sidewalk, he was certainly familiar with Mel’s playing. Mel had heard of Steve Gadd as a rising star. At one point, Steve asked Mel, or commented to Mel, about cracking or breaking cymbals.

What kind of cymbals are you using? Mel asked. Steve said, K. Zildjians. Mel was beside himself. “You’re using K. Zildjian cymbals for playing rock? Oh man, you’re a drag. I don’t know if I even want to talk to you!”

But Mel did continue talking: “You don’t play rock with K. Zildjian cymbals. They’re not made for that. You use A. Zildjian cymbals.”

A tip from the veteran studio drummer to the new guy.

-end-

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Manna from Heaven: A New Coltrane Quartet ‘Lost’ Album

SKF NOTE: Well, what do you know! The classic John Coltrane Quartet recorded an album in 1963, “two years before A Love Supreme, and then stashed it away,” writes the New York Times. The family of Coltrane’s first wife, Juanita Naima Coltrane, found John’s personal copy of the recording session. It’s scheduled for release June 29, 2018 on the Verve label as, Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album as a single album and as a deluxe version with a second album of session outtakes.

Verve has pre-released on of the album tracks, 11383, with Coltrane on soprano sax, along with McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass), and Elvin Jones (drums).

This is such great news. Manna from heaven.

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Start with Curiosity

SKF NOTE: The first time a kid with the desire to learn picks up a pair of drumsticks and starts playing the most basic rhythm, he or she has the opportunity to learn from all other drummers present and past. In truth, the kid has the opportunity to learn from, to shape his drumming from, all other musicians present and past.

This is especially true of drummers playing improvisational music. I was going to say “drummers playing jazz,” but plenty of musical styles, including blues, rock, and country, make room for improvising.

In turn, the new kid has an opportunity to create drumming/music from which musicians present and past can find inspiration too.

All it takes to begin is curiosity.

Like most kids, I suppose, my first musical interests mirrored the times. But the first drummer to really grab my attention, when I was age 6, was Gene Krupa. The second drummer to do so was Ringo Starr with the Beatles when I was age 12. These two drummers inspired generations of drummers.

Which musicians inspired Gene Krupa and Ringo? My love of music, drumming, and history prompted me to ask the question. I had no idea I would spend my life looking the answer.

Last week I came across this old movie of Baby Dodds. Mr. Dodds was a major influence on Krupa, the best drummers in Krupa’s generation, and beyond. Max Roach and Philly Joe Jones talk of their sitting in nightclubs studying Dodds’s drumming. And then, how many drummers — to this day — are influenced by Philly Joe and Max?

Yes, it’s disappointing these Baby Dodds film clips were filmed without sound, and the sound of Dodds’s drums here is overdubbed. Still, it’s exciting to see Baby Dodds on film, moving, allowing us to study a little bit of his technique.

I sometimes worry that drummers are losing their curiosity, just when the digital age enables us to mine for musical treasures deep and wide. Odds are excellent we’ll strike gold much of the time.

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Fife and Drums: 18th Century Communications Tools Rattling Windows

SKF NOTE: Newspaper reporter Rodrigo Arriaza makes an important point: drums are communications tools. Not always, but most often, in all music styles, the best drummers think of their instruments as communications tools.

Think of a situation where most people around you are speaking a foreign language. Maybe you can establish basic communication through body and facial gestures, but communications in that situation would be much better if everyone spoke the same language.

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60 years of Fifes and Drums ring in Memorial Day weekend
By Rodrigo Arriaza

The…Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums celebrated its 60th anniversary with a march….

The Fifes and Drums started in 1958, when four area teenagers were recruited by Colonial Williamsburg to form a simple fife and drum unit. Since then, the group has become an area institution, with a 1,000-member-strong alumni association and some 120 former members traveling back to Williamsburg for the march.

“Today was just fantastic, I love rattling windows,” said [James] Teal, [one of the group’s two original drummers].

“If you think about it, fifes and drums were communications mechanisms in the 18th century, they could be heard over gunfire for miles and miles, so I’m sure today, people heard us all the way in Newport News.”

Full story

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Horace Silver: Highest Marks for Billy Higgins

SKF NOTE: I’ve always thought pianist Horace Silver‘s left hand comping makes great fodder for drummers’ left hand comping. That idea first came to me listening to Blue Note’s classic albums, A Night at Birdland Vols. 1 and 2. Recording as the Art Blakey Quintet, the group made up of Blakey (drums), Clifford Brown (trumpet), Lou Donaldson (alto sax), Curley Russell (bass), and Horace Silver (piano) was an early version of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

Both albums are great, but give them a listen, or another listen, and focus on Silver’s left hand.

This morning I came across a letter to the editor (Chords & Discords) from Horace Silver in the May 2, 1968 Down Beat. Silver’s reference to an earlier DB piece on drummer Billy Higgins is intriguing. I’ll have to track it down. Horace Silver, after all, recommends all drummers “read and digest that article very carefully.”

Okay. I will. Meanwhile, here’s Mr. Silvers’s letter.

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From One Who Knows

I would like to say how much I enjoyed the article on Billy Higgins in the recent drum issue, and how important I think it is that young drummers read that article. There’s a lot of valuable information there.

I meet many young drummers in my travels who ask me what they should study and who they should listen to, etc. etc. I think Billy tells them pretty much where it’s at, and I recommend that all young drummers read and digest that article very carefully.

Horace Silver
New York City

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Nice to Meet and Hear You, Smokey Johnson

SKF NOTE: There’s always one more drummer to learn about, isn’t there? This morning, scrolling through online news I stop at this provocative headline about New Orleans drummer Smokey Johnson: “His playing wasn’t just hot; this New Orleans drummer was smokin’.”

Smokey who? His name is brand new to me and I don’t recall ever hearing him on record. The news article continues with another eye-popper, one more I-played-drums-on-Motown-records claim:

This ain’t no brag: (Motown founder Berry) Gordy used to use two drummers on a recording session because them cats didn’t play no bass drum. But after he heard the New Orleans stuff I was laying down, he didn’t need but one. I’d be sitting behind the drums messin’ around and they’d be recording that stuff.”

Who knows! Years ago, interviewing several musicians, songwriters, hearing many claims, rebuttals, and cross claims about who played on which Motown records, my conclusion is with some exceptions we may never identify the players on all of Motown’s records.

That’s true of other recordings as well.

I did some extra digging and listening this morning to Smokey Johnson. As these two recordings prove — the man could definitely play drums. Here we can listen to Mr. Johnson playing straight ahead big band jazz (with NOLA spicing), and also, one his well-known NOLA drumming records, “It Ain’t My Fault.”

There’s always something to learn. That’s one of the reasons I love drumming and drum history.

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His playing wasn’t just hot; this New Orleans drummer was smokin’
Posted May 24, 5:00 AM

“This ain’t no brag: (Motown founder Berry) Gordy used to use two drummers on a recording session because them cats didn’t play no bass drum. But after he heard the New Orleans stuff I was laying down, he didn’t need but one. I’d be sitting behind the drums messin’ around and they’d be recording that stuff.” — Smokey Johnson, in a 2004 interview with Offbeat magazine

In 1963, he and a number of New Orleans musicians — including Wardell Quezerge, Earl King and George French — traveled to Detroit for what they thought was a job with Motown Records but which was in fact more of an audition. Johnson would stick around for five months, reportedly at the urging of Motown honcho Berry Gordy himself, after which Johnson said he played on more recordings than he could remember — and which some have credited with spreading the New Orleans sound to the Motor City.

Full story

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Anka: The Secret to Song Writing is Simplicity

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SKF NOTE: Paul Anka‘s autobiography had been sitting on my office bookshelf since buying the book on April 5, 2016. Yesterday I began reading it. My experience reading biographies and autobiographies of successful musicians (and other music industry people) is: there is always something to learn from them, some universal advice or principles.

At one point, Paul Anka is writing about his classical piano studies with a local teacher. After learning enough to navigate the piano keyboard on his own, Anka stops his formal piano classes, devoting his time to experimenting on his own at the piano in his basement. With a touch of the “what if?” syndrome, Anka considers his actions and, in 2013 writes:

I wish I’d gone on, though, so that I could have played better, had a better grasp of it all. But I’ve noticed a curious thing. Most singers today are stylists and, aside from the guitar wizards, not many of them are that accomplished as musicians. Conversely, virtuoso musicians and most great arrangers do not make good songwriters. They’re too complicated, they don’t write for the masses.

The secret to song writing is simplicity. You should be able to play the melody using only one finger; that’s a hit, you just bang it out with one finger.

Source: My Way: An Autobiography, by Paul Anka with David Dalton, St. Martin’s Press, 2013

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Drummers Played a Major Part Creating Motown Music

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SKF NOTE: This is part of a phone interview on May 12, 1982 with Motown’s Brian Holland. It’s important readers understand how little information existed at this time on Motown’s drummers. Their identities were not well-known. Once the principal drummers were known — Benny Benjamin, Uriel Jones, Richard “Pistol” Allen — there were no set records on who played on what song.

SKF: Do you think the drummers played a major part in the creation of Motown music?

BH: A very premier and emotional part too. I always say emotional because a couple of those guys — like Benny and Pistol — always was emotionally into it. Not like a mechanical guy just up there playing drums: “Okay. Give me a chart. I’ll play.” They was emotionally into the song. They got into it, where they really emotionally felt what you were doing. And they got into it. They were unique.

I mean, these guys today just want to get a paycheck.

It’s almost like the guy was saying on t.v. He said, “Is there anymore great baseball players?” No! He said, really there aren’t anymore really great baseball players. You can’t find no Joe DiMaggio no more. No Jackie Robinson’s. No Babe Ruth’s no more.

All these guys out there want to hit the ball for big paychecks. They’re not really in the game of baseball like them guys were back then. And I can understand that and I can relate to what he was saying.

The same thing goes for these musicians back then. Even, like, the producers. Like a Phil Spector, man. You don’t find them kind of producers who, night and day, get into it. They’re just not the same. Believe me.

Full interview

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