Gary Chester: Studio Recording with Ashtrays and Thimbles

SKF NOTE: I found the full transcript from my 1983 interview with Gary Chester, published that year in the April Modern Drummer. The transcript is about twice as long as a typical MD feature interview at that time, suggesting Gary shared words of wisdom beyond those in his interview.


Gary Chester: …I played ashtray on a lot of tunes. A lot of Garry Sherman‘s things. You couldn’t really tell it was an ashtray. It was one of those ashtray’s with the sand on the bottom of it. I found mine in a doctors’s office.

I have a feeling about music, Scott, about being feminine and masculine. Powerful and light.

If I wanted a light sound, and the lows were rolled off it — like Phil Ramone use to do — the ashtray would sound like a very controlled maraca. It wouldn’t sound like an ashtray. I wouldn’t use it if it sounded like an ashtray.

The beads always roll in a maraca. But, in an ashtray, you have complete control in it. The beads only move when you hit it.

So, I said, “Alright, I’ve got the feminine part of it. Now where’s the masculine?” I went out and bought thimbles. And I used this on a lot of country dates. I would put my metal thimbles on – I did this on a couple of John Denver‘s albums – and I’d play in the center of the ashtray, which is where all the pebbles were. Rather than let the pebbles roll I made a direct contact between the little metal piece and the pebbles.

I’d sit the ashtray on either a timpani or a snare drum and I’d get down into the sound chambers.

Don’t ask me how I know these things. Don’t ask me how I found them. It just came out of me.


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