‘Don’t Tread on Me’ Inspired by Drummer’s Artwork

SKF NOTE: Reading Water Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin, I was pleasantly surprised to learn the famous Gadsden Flag (“Don’t Tread on Me”) was inspired by a drummer’s artwork. Read on.

“Back in Philadelphia, a group of Marine units were being organized to try to capture British arms shipments. [Benjamin] Franklin noticed that one of their drummers had painted a rattlesnake on his drum emblazoned with the words ‘Don’t tread on me.’ Franklin suggested that this should be the symbol and motto of America’s fight.

“Christopher Gadsden, a delegate to the Congress from South Carolina, picked up the suggestion…and subsequently designed a yellow flag with a rattlesnake emblazoned ‘Don’t Tread On Me.’ It was flown in 1776 by America’s first Marine units and later by many other militias.”

Source: Benjamin Franklin – An American Life, by Walter Isaacson, Simon & Schuster 2003

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Elvin Jones – Freethinker (1969)

SKF NOTE: How many drummers were (are?) impacted by the Elvin Jones Trio with Joe Farrell on saxophones and Jimmy Garrison on bass? I remember my first experience hearing this trio and I wrote about it here.

Elvin had variations of this trio. There’s a live album with Elvin, George Coleman on tenor sax, and Wilbur Little on bass — which is a killer too. And just as I hope we haven’t heard all the recordings of Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet, I hope there are more — much more — Elvin Jones Trio recordings to come.

Yes, I know there are several piano trio albums with Elvin on drums. As wonderful as those albums are, they are not Elvin Jones led sax-bass-drums trios.

Was I fortunate to see Elvin Jones play live? Yes, a few times. But never in a trio.

For drummers who never had, or will never have, the chance to see Elvin live? Elvin’s populated YouTube with recordings and concert footage. (I’ve watched two different Elvin Jones Trio videos.) Elvin has a discography second to no drummer.

For good measure, there are Elvin Jones interviews, profiles, and record/concert reviews such as this one from the Christmas 1969 Down Beat. I’ve included the entire interview. But, first I’ve isolated the Elvin focused parts of the review.

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Elvin Jones Trio concert review excerpts:

…quite a few voices were heard expressing surprise that the trio was not ‘further out.’

…the mighty man gives so much of himself whenever he plays….

…you will not find harder-hitting, more direct jazz anywhere today. Elvin and his two team-mates epitomize all that has been important about jazz since Buddy Bolden called his children home.

…Elvin Jones was one of the first of the free thinkers.

[Joe Farrell] Even on a tune like Stella By Starlight, when the drummer almost hammered him into the ground while trading fours with his acrid tenor saxophone, Farrell kept coming back, totally undaunted and attacking, headstrong and strongheaded.

On the opening number…Elvin charged at his drums, battering away like a demon until I thought the set would take off. Rolling from tom-tom to side drum, beating the heads into submission, he is truly deserving of every plaque and plaudit he has ever won. Yet even in the outer reaches of the maelstrom he creates, he keeps that extreme tastefulness that recalls the great Max Roach at his most commanding and undeniably masterful.

...For Heaven’s Sake…Elvin’s tasty brushwork…. Elvin, unlit cigarette clamped firmly between his teeth, grunted and grinned as he worked up his tasty brush patterns. At times like this he is not interested in hogging the spotlight or in blowing his two sidemen off the stand. He revels in showing that he knows how to slip into the role of ‘just the drummer’ — albeit a very handy one!

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The Wisdom of Buddy Rich Outfit No. 80 N

SKF NOTE: This Slingerland ad brings back memories. Pre-internet, when magazine drum ads were a key source for studying drummers’ sets, this ad was among the best. To begin with, this is a back end look at Buddy Rich‘s drum setup. How cool was that back in 1969 (possibly earlier) when Slingerland first ran with this advertisement in Down Beat magazine..

In retrospect, it’s interesting to see the rectangular moleskin pad affixed to the bass drum batter head in addition to the felt strip visible on the left inside of the batter head. Moleskin was used to protect the batter head against repeated bass drum pedal beaters striking against the head. Cheaper to use moleskin than to buy a new bass drum head.

I don’t think all the other drummers pictured in this ad used two floor toms. But, then again, this ad is showing Slingerland‘s “Buddy Rich Outfit No. 80 N.”

Buddy’s positioning of his bass drum mounted ride cymbal always puzzled me. Of course, I tried doing that with my ride cymbal, but it was uncomfortable for playing certain kinds of music. That was a bit of conflict. Yes, the great Buddy Rich positions his 20-inch ride cymbal this way. Why can’t I? What’s my problem?

As I matured, as I studied other favorite drummers’ setups, I understood drum and cymbal positioning is really a personal matter. I should use what’s comfortable for me.

I was never comfortable using drum thrones as pictured in this ad. Drum stools always worked better; were always more flexible.

At some point after this ad appeared, drum companies reversed their message. This ad tells us the world’s great drummers play great Slingerland drums. Later, ads were telling us we couldn’t be great drummers without playing a certain brand of drum.

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Ron Spagnardi – Taking a Chance on Fish

The April 1978 Modern Drummer with my first two feature interviews and cover story.

SKF NOTE: This post was first published November 30, 2018. It was my 99th Piscataquis Observer newspaper column.

Looking back almost forty years I can’t imagine not crossing paths with Ron Spagnardi, founder and publisher of Modern Drummer magazine. We were both drummers, entrepreneurs. Ron in New Jersey, me in New York. At about age 34, Spagnardi saw the success of a ten-year old magazine devoted to guitarists, Guitar Player, and wondered, Why not publish a magazine devoted to drummers?

Next, Ron bought two small subscription ads. One in Down Beat magazine, and one ad in the New York Musician Union Local 802 newspaper. Spagnardi’s ad copy was pretty basic, something like: Interested in subscribing to a new quarterly magazine exclusively for drummers? Send $10 to: Modern Drummer, 47 Harrison St, Nutley, NJ. (I don’t remember the exact amount for a subscription.)

These ads were Ron testing the waters. He told me he had a separate bank account for subscriber’s money. If at least 2,000 people subscribed, Ron said, he could afford to publish the magazine. He didn’t know what he was doing was illegal. Without a Modern Drummer product, soliciting paid subscriptions was a no-no.

Spagnardi’s said his plan was, “If I don’t get at least 2,000 subscribers, I’ll send back their money.”

I was excited to subscribe to this new magazine for drummers. More than 1,999 other drummers and drum enthusiasts felt the same. Ron’s next task was figuring out how to publish a magazine — which he did.

Fish and Spagnardi crossed paths about a year later after Ron published an in-house ad seeking drummers interested in freelance writing for MD.

I submitted my letter and resume and — to my surprise and joy — was hired as a freelancer. Ron told me later he received plenty of requests from drummers with no writing experience, and writers with no drumming experience. I was the magic combination of drummer/writer.

Freelancing for MD opened for me a door to meet my drum heroes face-to-face. It was an opportunity far beyond seeing drum heroes in concert, asking them a question or two at drum clinics. I felt as if I was holding the key to a treasure chest. And in many ways I was.

My March 8, 2015 blog entry describes my first in-person meeting with Ron.

“I first met…Ron Spagnardi probably in the summer of 1978. MD‘s office was the basement of the Spagnardi home…. MD was still a quarterly publication. Nothing fancy about the basement. I remember it as an unfinished basement with desks, tables, and lighting sufficient to produce and ship a magazine. MD Features Editor Karen Larcombe was there. Ron’s father, Leo Spagnardi, handling shipping and receiving. Carol Padner and Jean Mazza were responsible for MD‘s circulation.”

By then, Ron had published my first two freelance MD interviews, using my Carmine Appice interview as MD’s October 1978 cover story.

“Ron seemed a bit apprehensive about what I might be thinking of MD‘s office/basement. But, I thought it was all great and exciting,” I wrote in my blog.

My first freelance MD drummer interview with Mel Lewis turned inside out everything I believed about becoming a pro drummer. It literally prompted a total reassessment of my lifelong goal. Depressing, frightening, and necessary.

In October 1980 Ron Spagnardi’s hired me as MD’s Managing Editor.

The job was fun, full of opportunities, lousy pay, living in a rooming house. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

I left MD, October 1983, having written 48-percent of MD’s feature stories plus my managing editor tasks. And MD grew to 12 issues a year, from 9 issues when I was hired.

Ron, I think, would say I earned my keep. We remained friends. I am forever grateful to Ron Spagnardi, for taking two chances: One on publishing a drummer magazine, and one on hiring me to help him.

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Down Beat Readers’ Best Drummers 1969

SKF NOTE: When I was a high schooler, Down Beat was about the only available music magazine, with its focus on jazz. But that was okay. Jazz drummers were still the standard by which all popular music drummers were measured.

This list is from the 34th Annual DB Readers Poll of December 25, 1969. That banner year for rock music introduced classic albums by Led Zeppelin, Santana, The Rolling Stones, The Who, King Crimson, Flying Burrito Brothers, The Beatles, and Crosby, Stills, & Nash. We start to see a few rock drummers emerging among DB readers’ favorite drummers at the close of 1969.

In 1969 I’m sure I was listening to Ginger Baker, Bobby Colomby, Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Tony Williams, and Max Roach. I’m not sure how familiar I was in 1969 with the other drummers on this list. I knew many of their names. It’s likely, without knowing it, I heard some of them on NYC jazz radio stations. But I didn’t have much money for collecting albums in 1969.

All that changed very soon. Discovering all these drummers, playing in many musical genres, has been a pleasurable part of my life.

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