Ed Soph: The Tale of the ‘One-Arm’ Drummer

SKF NOTE: Ed Soph and I have reconnected by email — about which I am very happy. Ed is a great guy, marvelous drum teacher, a student of drum history, and a thinker. Plus, he was fun to interview the several times he and I chatted in the 1980’s over a tape recorder. The back story to all that is in this earlier Ed Soph Life Beyond the Cymbals post.

This exchange about essential and non-essential drum studies, and drummer pitfalls, took place at Ed’s home in North Haven, CT. 


Ed Soph

Scott K Fish: You’ve had a lot of legitimate drum studies. Your five-year old son is starting to play drums. Now that you’re 40, is there any part of your studies that you would tell Steven is a waste of time? And are there any parts of your studies that you would tell him are absolutely essential to learn?

Ed Soph: No. The only thing I could tell him about would be his attitude, and about how to approach the instrument or whatever he’s doing. That none of it is drudgery. That any event with the instrument can be positive — and should be positive — even if it’s an event that, once you’ve gone through it you know you never want to do it again.

As soon as that instrument becomes something that you’re going to say right, wrong, good or bad with — then, to me, it’s lost its validity. Because that instrument is neutral.

As a musician, if you take a gig, your job is to play it well. There’s nothing worse than going on a gig where you’ve got a one-arm bass player. If you get angry and say, “Oh, shit,” — first of all, that’s the most egotistical thing in the world. If you look hard enough and approach it the right way, you can make music at some level, in some form, with that person. If you give and if you take. Mostly give.

It’s like Baby Dodds said. Your job is to make everyone in that band feel like playing. It’s a very idealistic way of looking at it, but you have got to. Because that’s your outlet.

SKF: Were you ever in a situation where you were the one-arm drummer?

ES: Oh, definitely. When I was 14 I was playing with great players like Jimmy Ford and Don Wilkerson. I’d be rushing, dragging, playing too loud or too soft. And instead of going, “What the fuck are you doing?” they would take me aside on the break and say, “Listen, do you know what you were doing on that last tune? I’d say, “No.” They’d say, “Boy, you’ve got to listen. Listen to your time. You were up and down.”

It wasn’t negative. They weren’t saying, “You can’t play.”

SKF: Has anybody ever jumped on you like that?


Ed Soph

ES: Woody Herman. We came into a gig in Kansas City in a country club. The bus got in about 20-minutes before we were supposed to hit. It was one of those smash-o insta-setups.

Woody was ready to give the down beat and I was going through my stick bag getting sticks out. You reach a point where you feel real good about yourself with the band. You know the book. You can look around and scope out the ladies while you’re playing. Mr. Cool. I’d reached a point like that.

Whenever your mind’s off the music, no matter how many times you’ve played the chart, the music suffers.

So, I said, “Hey, Woody. Just a minute. I’m getting some sticks.” He says, “Oh! While you’re down there, try to find some with time on them.”

Boy! The clouds parted. The lightning bolt hit. Back to earth, folks.

It’s so easy to let yourself get into that frame of thinking, “I’m in control. I’M THE DRUMMER!”

So, attitude is the whole thing.


About Scott K Fish

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