Eddie Locke: Consummate Tasteful Drumming

SKF NOTE: This week I bought the MP3 version of Coleman Hawkins Today and Now album I first bought in the early 1970s as a vinyl LP cut-out for about 79-cents. Working at the time as a store salesman in Sam Goody’s record department, a couple of times, Rose, my co-worker in charge of music played on the store PA system, played Today and Now. Always, that music caught the ear of a customer or two who then asked Rose, “What’s that music you’re playing?” And we sold a few Today and Now albums.

I’ve thought about re-buying this album a long time, always buying albums I hadn’t heard instead.

How many times did I listen to – even play along with – drummer Eddie Locke on this record? Along with Connie Kay on Paul Desmond’s Easy Living, and J.C. Heard on John Wright‘s Nice ‘N’ Tasty, and a few others — Locke on this album is the consummate tasteful drummer. No flash, no whiz-bang. But it’s hard to find a spot on this album where a busier Locke wouldn’t be overplaying.

This group — Tommy Flanagan on piano, Major Holley on bass, Eddie Locke on drums — was Coleman Hawkins‘s working quartet, and you can hear that on this album. There’s serious playing throughout, mixed with humor, reflection, and always swinging. The Love Song from ‘Apache’ may be my favorite track from this album, which is not to suggest the other tracks are less than excellent.


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Beyond Traditional Grip


SKF NOTE: I grew up believing traditional grip was the gold standard of drumset players. There was a best way, if not the right way, for drummers to hold drumsticks: traditional grip.

Traditional grip functioned like a fine-tuned machine. Not every drumset player had the skill or discipline to master traditional grip. The right combination of finger, hand, wrist, and arm movement; of drumstick weight, and the best distance between drumstick and drumhead, are all part of the mastery. Having control of the drumstick bounce at all volume levels, from very loud to a whisper — this too needs mastering.

In my life the living drumset masters of traditional grip were Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson, and Joe Morello [RBM]. Yes, there were traditional grip drumset players with almost, but not quite, the mastery of RBM. But these three drummers had taken traditional grip where no man had gone before.

There was always an aura of mystery around traditional grip, as if mastering the grip involved secrets passed on to a select few pupils from a few elder drum masters. Billy Gladstone’s technique was spoken of and revered by RBM. But ask any one of those drummers to describe Gladstone’s technique, to tell you what they learned from Gladstone? Their answers were always vague.

It’s odd now to realize all my life I have been judging drumset players’ technique against RBM.

For example, the first time I heard Art Blakey drumming was on record. It was many years before I had a chance to see Blakey play live. He was with his Jazz Messengers at The Five Spot in NYC playing a white four-piece Pearl drumset. Art played great. I studied his drumming the whole night: his press roll, how he sat at the drumset, his volume in relation to the rest of the band, his hi-hat playing, how his drums were tuned — everything. And somewhere in there I was thinking, “Art plays so great. Imagine if his mastery of traditional grip was at the BRM level?”

I don’t think that way anymore. Most important is what drummers are communicating, what they are saying on their instruments. If their sound reaches us on some level, if we can identify with a drummer’s sound — who cares how close their mastery of traditional grip is to Rich, Morello, or Bellson? If a drummer’s saying something, who cares if he’s using traditional grip at all?

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Mel Lewis: Pearl Drums, Al Duffy, Tours & Clinics 1982

SKF NOTE: This is an updater from Mel Lewis in 1982, probably for Modern Drummer magazine. It’s great hearing Mel’s voice again. Historically, there are some interesting moments here.

Mel has just endorsed Pearl Drums. He gives the company high marks, and he credits Al Duffy at Pearl as the deal cinch-er for Mel.

Also, Mel mentions he just finished a tour with Benny Goodman, has upcoming dates with the Mel Lewis Orchestra at the Village Vanguard, Arizona, Australia, and other places. The tape ends mid-sentence with Mel talking about working again with Lionel [Hampton?].

As I’ve said before, I’m finding this and other excerpts on one cassette I used many times to tape brief conversations with drummers and drum industry people. Sometimes — like this time — one conversation was recorded over with another conversation.

If you listen carefully you will hear, near the end of this tape, we end and restart our conversation. After we stopped the tape, I think Mel remembered a couple of dates he had forgotten to mention, so we fired up the ol’ recorder and added that info to the mix.

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Sam Ulano – He Makes Me Look Like a Jerk

SKF NOTE: Sometimes feedback at Modern Drummer was negative. But in my experience, such feedback was a good way to learn and, when necessary, to correct the record.

This is a brief, partial exchange I had with Sam “Mr. Rhythm” Ulano who was not happy with a review of one of his method books in a Modern Drummer column. The column writer, Sam said, “makes me look like a jerk.”

Sometimes when calling noted drummers or drum industry people, I taped the calls, if I knew for sure, or if I thought it was likely, I would be using our conversation in Modern Drummer. Taping allowed me to focus on the caller. I would still take notes, but the tapes really ensured accuracy.

After about a minute into my call with Sam I stopped the tape. This conversation is one of a series of my short conversations — almost like a cassette used in old telephone answering machines — with drummers and drum industry people.

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Mel Lewis – Best Beat of a Lifetime


SKF NOTE: This 1968 Gretsch drum ad with Mel Lewis — and other great drummers in the series — need to be kept in the public eye, IMO. As I’ve said before, pre-internet, these ads gave young drummers one our few chances to see and study our favorite drummers’ drumset set-ups. That was especially true of aspiring drummers in rural areas where well known drummers visited rarely, if at all.

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The Beat Changes the Entire Style


SKF: Researching for my History of Rock Drumming series, Robert Palmer’s book, Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta, was quite helpful. This morning, leafing through a few pages from Deep Blues I had photocopied in the 1980s, I was interested to see those parts I had underlined.

This excerpt is interesting because in it, Mr. Palmer quotes Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon in describing the evolution of Chicago blues drumming from it’s original, random format, where today’s 12-bar blues was just as likely to be an 11-bar blues or an 11.5 bar blues, to the influence of the 2-and-4 backbeat on blues and rock.

Also, Willie Dixon here echoes a point Max Roach made during one of our interviews. That is, rhythm determines music styles. Max said an A-Major chord is the same whether it’s played in jazz, classical, or any other style of music.

In Robert Palmer’s book Willie Dixon says, “The beat actually changes the whole entire style.”


“Stop-time wasn’t Muddy [Water]’s only rhythmic innovation during the mid-fifties.

“‘I had to find me a drummer that would drive,’ he says. ‘My drummer [Elgin Evans] was straight right down — bop bop bop bop. I had to part from him ’cause he just couldn’t hit the backbeat. The blues do have a backbeat to it, you know, today.’

“Muddy found a solid backbeat drummer in 1954 in Francis Clay, who stayed with him until the early sixties. Again, putting a backbeat (heavy emphasis on the second and fourth of every four beats) behind the blues didn’t originate with Muddy, but once he made the move, other musicians followed, and the sound rapidly filtered into the emerging rock and roll idiom.

“‘You know,’ Willie Dixon reflects, ‘when you go to changin’ the beats in music, you change the whole style. The difference in blues or rock and roll or jazz is the beat. The beat actually changes the whole entire style.'”

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Neil Peart: ‘Oh, Great. Time to Practice.’


Photo courtesy TheFamousPeople.com

SKF NOTE: This is from the transcript of one of my Neil Peart interviews. The back story is here. In answer to a question, Neil described his typical day when not touring with Rush. His typical day showed a man with many interests, so I asked Neil if he always had a variety of interests.


Neil Peart: My interests became like an hour glass. As a kid my interests were wide. As a teenager my single focus was drums. A few years later my interests spread out the other way. I became interested in reading, for instance. I never read as a teenager. Just drums, drums, drums.

Scott K Fish: Were you a lousy student in school?

NP: After drums, yeah. Before, I was a great student. I was a voracious reader as a young kid. Then drums just took over when I was 13. I was well into my 20s before my life opened up with other interests.

SKF: Were those years, 13 into your 20s, years of heavy drum practice?

NP: Oh yeah. Mentally and physically.

At school I played on the desk. I got home from school and went on to the drums. I’d be thinking about drum beats lying in bed.

It wasn’t discipline, because I was so willing. It was more like an addiction. I think discipline is temperamental. I have the kind of discipline that brings the will that make you want to do it. There’s a difference. You’re not saying you should practice your drums. You’re saying, “Oh, great. Time to practice.”

It was a real desire. I don’t remember ever feeling forced to practice.

My parents were great. They started me at it so they had to put up with it. I could usually play for two or three hours a day between school and supper — and longer on weekends.

The neighbors were really understanding too. We lived where the houses were close together.

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