Neil Peart: The Fundamental Relationship of Music and Listener (1984)

SKF NOTE: This is from the transcript of one of my 1984 Neil Peart interviews. The back story is here. I remembered this exchange about drum clinics after I saw Jeff Wald’s YouTube video of a Peart clinic given eight years after this interview. (I’ve not watched most of this video.)

Neil’s points here about the music primacy of ears (audio) over eyes (visual) are timeless.


Scott K Fish: Why don’t you like giving drum clinics?

Neil Peart: Partly temperament, again. It’s uncomfortable in that context. The overriding negative is: I don’t believe in their value.

SKF: You never went, as a kid, to a drum clinic?

NP: No. I’ve done clinics a couple of times, just to say I can. I talked about influences and discussed their application and use. Then had questions and answers. I don’t think anything valuable is imparted at clinics. The maxim “teach by example” is best.

SKF: How were the [clinic] questions asked of you?

NP: Good.

SKF: So, why are clinics of little value?

NP: A good answer to a good question isn’t necessarily helpful. I see music as an inner struggle for assimilation. You can only learn so much from other musicians.

SKF: A drummer seeing you in concert might be a football field length away. That’s not the same as seeing you at a clinic.

NP: No, but our records are my ideal performance, the way I conceived the songs. Just slightly ahead of me. Justifying them after the fact is a bit redundant.

SKF: How can a kid figure out what you do with electronic percussion [just by] listening to your records?

NP: He doesn’t need to. He needs that level of understanding in 20 years. If what you need to know is how to go: bass drum, snare drum — that’s what you should be worried about. Not how to run digital sampling to eight pads, integrated with your foot. That’s not where you start.

SKF: When you see drummers play, don’t you like to be as close as possible?

NP: Seeing isn’t important either. Music is not a visual medium. I’ve seen bands from [both] a distance and close. Both are interesting and exciting, but aren’t fundamentally moving the way music is. Sometimes I hear a song live that has much more impact because it wasn’t communicated properly on record.

SKF: I asked Max Roach how he learned to play. I was asking him about stickings, because at the time of the interview, stickings were a big thing.

[Max] said he never worried about that. If he heard Papa Jo Jones play something on record, Max would imitate the sound. Very often he would see Papa Jo [live] playing the same song, and Max would see that Papa Jo got the same sound a different way.

NP: Absolutely. That’s so important. The way you interpret what someone else did sends you off into your own zone.

I grew up in a small town. It was a long way to go to see a concert. Concerts were rarer then anyway. Clinics were practically unknown in Toronto. Toronto was a long way away from where I was, for a kid who didn’t drive or have a car.

All those things were very remote. but the record store wasn’t. My record player wasn’t. And my brain wasn’t. And those were what you needed. You listened to something and tried to imitate it. Maybe you learn it your own way. So what? Maybe you learn it a harder way. But again, so what? If you’re sending yourself into more difficult areas, you’re setting yourself up for further experimentations in those areas. You’re only helping yourself.

As much as visuals are an important part of a Rush concert, it’s not just the music. With a record, it’s just the listener and the music. The fundamental relationship. I’m not convinced there’s much of a difference listening to a drummer on record, or seeing him in a drum clinic.

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Shelly Manne: A Bluish Bag

SKF NOTE: Going through my old cassettes, looking for keeper material and discarding the rest, I found a 90-minute tape of one of my Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon radio programs on WMHB at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

That day, June 18, 1989, I included A Bluish Bag among the tracks I played.

This version of Shelly Manne and His Men is one of my favorite jazz groups of all jazz groups: Shelly (drums), Monty Budwig (bass), Conte Condoli (trumpet), Frank Strozier (alto sax), Mike Wofford (piano).

What jumped out at me the first time I heard A Bluish Bag was Monty Budwig’s bowed walking bass lines through the entire song. Uptempo too.

A cool arrangement — with some tasty Shelly Manne, and strong work by all the players.

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Preserving Maine’s Country Music Legacy

It’s important to preserve Maine’s country music legacy
Scott K. Fish, Special to the Piscataquis Observer • April 14, 2018

One afternoon in 1973, legendary country musician Johnny Cash was writing to his 18-year-old daughter, Roseanne, at a table in his tour bus. When he finished, Cash handed Roseanne a song list he titled, “100 Essential Country Songs.” “Here’s your education,” he told her.

Earlier that day the two were on the bus, swapping songs. “I was on the road with dad, and we were just talking about songs. And I said I don’t know this one, I don’t know that one. Then I said I don’t know that one either. He grew alarmed,” Roseanne told an interviewer.

Thirty-six years later, 54-year-old Roseanne Cash picked a dozen songs from the 100 and recorded her album titled, “The List.”

Roseanne had learned all 100 songs, “The list was kind of a template for a personal legacy, and…for what great songs sounded like.… At this point in my life I’m not only interested in my ancestry, I’m interested in my musical ancestry. It wasn’t just a personal legacy, it’s a cultural legacy.”

Cash’s list and the importance of musical cultural legacy was on my mind this week visiting the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Mechanic Falls….

Full story

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Sandy Nelson: I Basically Had One Drumset

SKF NOTE: Let There Be Drums, Drums Are My Beat, Birth of the Beat — Sandy Nelson had a string of drum solo hit records I loved. So did lots of other drummers and pop music fans. I was glad to have the chance to interview Sandy Nelson (May 13, 1982) for my History of Rock Drumming series. After an initial rough start phone call, Mr. Nelson was very gracious with his knowledge and time.

Here’s an excerpt from the Sandy Nelson transcribed interview where Sandy describes the drumset he used on all his hit records.


Scott K Fish: Did you use the same drumset on all those records?

Sandy Nelson: Yeah. I basically had one set in those days. I wasn’t like the other session men where they had two or three [drumsets]. I had a Ludwig silver sparkle. I’m still using it now, but I’ve painted it black. In the place I’m playing, it looks good. It’s just the old Ludwig drums. I bought them in 1962.

But I have to admit — the drum world would understand this — that I’m not using the Ludwig bass drum. I’m using a Gretsch. It punches through a lot better.

Primarily, Let There Be Drums was two small tom-toms, then the regular floor tom 16-inch, and nothing special about the snare. Just a regular standard Ludwig snare about 1962 vintage.

I don’t have that snare anymore. I wish I did. But I have one like it that’s a little deeper. I think it’s 8-inches. It’s still an oldie too.

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What Freddie Gruber Made Clear


SKF NOTE: Starting with my first posting of excerpts of my interview with Freddie Gruber, skeptics came forward asking: Did Freddie ever make any records as a drummer? How could Freddie teach drums if he never demonstrated his ideas while playing on a drumset?

Well-known jazz writer Barry Ulanov wrote his “Shape of Drums to Come” column after seeing Freddie Gruber perform. In the last few months I found, digitized, and posted a phone interview with Jim Chapin describing Freddie Gruber’s drumming back in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

Personally, during our interview sitting at Buddy Rich’s NYC apartment kitchen table, Freddie gave me guidance on holding drumsticks, traditional grip, that answered a physical problem I had wrestled with for decades. I was gripping the sticks wrong. Even though I was sure I understood how to hold drumsticks — especially in my left hand — it was impossible for me to develop stick control beyond a certain level.

Much of what Freddie said that afternoon about holding drumsticks I heard before from other sources. Freddie showed me “how,” and was patient in explaining “why” — physically, mechanically — there was an optimal way to hold drumsticks. Even when I questioned him, he wasn’t insulted, he wasn’t dismissive. Freddie answered my questions. He clarified, he took aspects of holding drumsticks that most of my drumming life were muddy, and made them clear.

So, I understand the Doubting Thomas-es needing to see and hear their drum teachers. I had some of that skepticism when I asked Freddie, “Let’s say I’ve come to you for the first time for drum lessons. What happens next?” Freddie answered all my questions, and more, and I know he can teach. Because I learned a great deal from him.

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Krupa: The Sound That Launched a Million Drummers

SKF NOTE: I am among the millions of drummers first inspired by Gene Krupa’s sound to play drums and study drumming. Krupa has described his role in drum history as making the drummer a high priced guy. Others say Krupa was first to bring drummers to the public’s attention.

There’s no question Krupa’s influence is great, and cuts across many musical styles. Jazz drummers, rock drummers, country drummers — they all point to Gene Krupa’s primary influence.

This is a great movie short of Krupa fronting one of his big bands and trio. The soundtrack seems slightly out of sync with the movie, but it also appears to be a film of Krupa playing live. Unlike a few interesting Krupa clips where he is clearly mimicking, playing along with a pre-recorded song.

Notice Krupa uses his snare drum, not a ride cymbal, as his primary timekeeping instrument. In fact, he really has no ride cymbal. The year 1947 was right on the cusp of Kenny Clarke‘s innovation: keeping time on the ride cymbal.

At one point here, for a second or two, you see Krupa playing with his left (snare drum) arm held above, not below, his right (hi-hat) arm. This awkward way of playing is one reason Kenny Clarke said he first tried using a ride cymbal, liked it, and soon that way of playing drumset stuck.

Krupa’s snare drum playing here with big band and trio is exactly the sound that grabbed my attention on record more than a half-century ago. It’s very musical. Combined with Krupa’s showmanship it’s easy to see why so many people — musicians and listener’s — liked him.

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Henry Glover: Remembering Levon Helm

SKF NOTE: This is an excerpt from a 22-minute recorded interview I did around 1982 with American songwriter, arranger, record producer Henry Glover. I was, according to what I told Mr. Glover at the start of this interview, just four months into my research for the five-part “History of Rock Drumming” published in Modern Drummer.

My plan is to transcribe the Glover interview and post it on my Life Beyond the Cymbals blog.

Meanwhile, this audio clip features Glover talking about discovering The Band. Glover was an A&R man for Roulette records when Ronnie Hawkins came in to record some songs. Hawkins’s backup band was the musicians who later left Hawkins to form their own group: The Band.

A major Levon Helm fan at the time of this interview, I was intrigued by Henry Glover’s stories of Levon as a drummer, as co-founder of the RCO All-Stars, working on The Last Waltz, and producing the wonderful Muddy Waters’s Woodstock Album.

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