SKF NOTE: This is the fourth and final installment of the complete transcript of my 1983 interview with Dave Weckl for Modern Drummer. MD published a much shorter version of this interview in April 1984 as an Up and Coming profile of Dave Weckl, which still holds up well. Here’s the back story.
I am surprised to learn, while posting this final interview installment, that this interview took place after seeing Dave Weckl perform with Simon and Garfunkel at Giants Stadium. At one point here I ask Dave about his solo at Giants Stadium on Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.
This interview closes with Dave and I discussing “characteristics of successful people.” Around 1976 I wanted to learn more about business, and how business works. I began reading popular books about successful businessmen, which led me to Napoleon Hill and his 17 Success Principles.
I used Hill’s Success Principles as topics for questions in several Modern Drummer interviews, and I still have a book manuscript I wrote on that subject. The photo here showing the Success Principles is of the photocopy I had hanging on my office wall at MD.
Scott K Fish: Did Gary [Chester] teach you about the music business too?
Dave Weckl: Oh yeah. Any question I ever had about the business, he would always answer it for me, and try to direct me in a way that was good for me, based on knowledge he’s acquired from mistakes he’s made. There were things [Gary] told me he’d do over again if he had the chance.
One of the aspects we covered was money management, and what to do with your money as you make money. I was never into spending it foolishly. I don’t have to worry about having a drug habit, because I’ve never done any of that stuff. I don’t have to worry about spending 50 grand a year on cocaine, even if I had [the money].
Cocaine seems to be the new thing nowadays with musicians coming up. It always seemed ridiculous to me that the big deal was, “Wow. He cleaned up his act. He’s not taking drugs anymore.” It never made sense to me, any way. I never had any desire to do any of that. And the thing that’s happening now is that a lot of musicians coming up now are not into drugs at all. I’ve met so many people who are just real straight ahead. They’re into making music.
I really want to stress that for younger players coming up. You definitely don’t need that. And you don’t have to worry about the social scene end of it, too, and whether you’re going to fit in.
That’s one thing that always kind of bothered me: Am I going to be able to hang out with everybody? I doesn’t work that way. You’re there to do your job. That’s always the way I thought it was, and that it should be. You’re there to play. You’re there to make music, and you’re there to do it to the best of your ability. And you’re respected for that.
You can still be a normal person, and hang out, and have a good time without getting wasted off your gourd so that you can’t get up the next morning.
All of a sudden, right now, I’m getting drum endorsements, cymbal endorsements. My parents were always behind me to help if I needed the help. I was real against that. I wanted to do it on my own. If I had $1,000 dollars in the bank, I was cool. I could keep that where it was, and still pay the bills.
But now, all of a sudden, I don’t have to pay for any equipment. I’m making more money than I made in the last two years with this [Simon and Garfunkel] tour. And I have no desires to go out and buy drugs.
SKF: Do you feel pressure on this tour?
DW: Not at all. It’s what I want to do. I’ve wanted to play with people of this caliber for a long time. Now that I’m getting the opportunity, and I’m learning so much from doing this, I’m not going to run out and try to buy everything that I want.
SKF: How far ahead do you usually think?
DW: I usually don’t think that far ahead. This business is unpredictable. Who knows what’s going on in anybody’s future in the business?
But, generally it’s been said that you last 10 to 15 years in the business. It’s just a cycle. Somebody’s always coming up. So, I just want to start it right.
That’s where Gary’s advice starts coming in. He told me that when he first started hitting it, and making it, that he went crazy and spent it all.
I just get such a natural high from doing what I want to do, and playing with these people. So, I don’t know where the self-destructiveness comes from in so many musicians. But, I’ve never really known guys like that. I’ve always associated myself with, or been associated with, non-self-destructive people. That’s real important. You’ve just got to make up your mind what’s right for you. I’ve never been the type of person who has to do what somebody else is doing, or be influenced by that.
SKF: What do you like to do when you’re not playing music?
DW: Sleep. I have hobbies, too. I’ve always loved cars. I always said that if I don’t make it in this business I’m going to be a race car driver. I’ve got a picture of a Porsche 944 on my bedroom wall. My dream Porsche would probably be black.
I’m into sports, too, and I love to work out. I think that’s important, too. Not to be a weightlifting contender or anything, but just to stay in shape. I don’t run. I don’t like to run. I work out on the Nautilus and then some weightlifting things.
There’s this aerobic bicycle program that I like to do. But, I don’t like to run because I’ve had a bad knee from an old football injury. I’ve re-injured it a couple of times by running too quickly. Like, up stairs. So I’ve kind of taken it easy on the legs.
I also enjoy spending time with friends.
SKF: Do you read?
DW: Not heavily. If there’s something I want to learn about something — I will. I was really into learning about recording studios for a while, and the frequency response of different drums, and learning about different drum heads. I’m really into sound.
I carry my own sound system when I play in town because I’m so into the drums sounding good. I use Shure 57 mics, and my own little sound system — which is compact, but it works great. Now that I’m using the Simmons drums I’m going to need it any way.
SKF: Why did you decide to use the blue Evans Hydraulic heads on your drums?
DW: I don’t use Evans heads. They’re clear Remo Emperor’s.
SKF: Do you place any importance of the spiritual side of your life?
DW: None, other than having someone there to really be able to talk to who know you real well. I have a real special lady that does that. That’s important to me.
I’ve never really gotten into the per se spiritual end of it. In talking to Sammy Figueroa, and Michel [Camilo], that’s a very heavy thing in Brazilian drumming. That’s a big part of the whole thing. Some of the beats are actually calling to the spirits to make sure everything is cool.
I want to learn about it just to see what it is. But, it’s not something I think about a whole lot. And if I do, it’s not consciously.
You’ve always got to have the faith. What that faith is, I’m not sure. That’s one subject I was always kind of weird about. Who knows? I never knew what that was supposed to be, or what you’re supposed to believe in. I just figured… to do the right thing.
SKF: Can you give me a rundown on your current drumset?
DW: I just became connected with Yamaha before the tour, which I’m very happy with. As of right now, my toms are 8×8, 8×10, 10×14, and 12×15. The 10×14 is on my left side near the hi-hat. A lot of my setup was based on Gary [Chester’s] teaching, because he teaches a lot of left hand floor tom things.
At the moment, I’m using a 22-inch bass drum, and a 7-inch snare drum — which is wood.
I’m using 3 different crashes, and they are all Sabian cymbals. They’re dynamite cymbals. Two of my crashes are the AA model: 15-inch and 17-inch. I’ve got an 18-inch HH ride, and a 16-inch crash with a rivet in it. That’s for this band because Paul [Simon] tends to like that sustain.
I’ve got a regular set of hi-hats on my left, and a set of heavier rock hi-hats on my right. It’s basically set up on a boom stand with a little device that I had a friend of mine engineer to screw on top of a cymbal stand. This is kind of neat because it’s on a boom, and I can angle it whichever way I want.
So, it’s a closed hi-hat stand over the right hand floor toms — which I think is going to be standard equipment in the future. It just doesn’t make any sense to me to play with your hands crossing over. It’s like putting yourself in a straight jacket. If you’re playing with your right hand over your left [hand], you’re constantly, like, putting yourself in handcuffs. It limits the stroke of the backbeat.
For some things I still use that: a cross-stick thing, and if it’s real light, and I have to use a lot of little hi-hat things.
But for just loud playing with a backbeat and a hi-hat ride, this way [not playing with hands crossed over each other] your left hand is free to do whatever it wants. You have the left hi-hat free to do whatever you want with it with your foot or your left hand. It opens up a lot of things.
I really think one day it will be a customary standard setup.
SKF: Jack DeJohnette was the first drummer I ever saw use two hi-hats. That was back in the ‘60s when he was with Charles Lloyd. [SKF NOTE: What I said here about Jack DeJohnette’s use of two hi-hats is based on a Charles Lloyd album photo, either In Europe or Love-In, neither of which I have now. So I’m still looking for verification on DeJohnette’s hi-hats with Charles Lloyd.]
DW: No kidding?
SKF: Given the opportunity to interview your favorite drummers, what would you ask them?
DW: I like to talk to different players about how they approach time and feel.
SKF: Is that something that can be discussed? How do you [Dave Weckl] approach time?
DW: That’s a good question. Come to think of it, I guess that’s something I wouldn’t ask. But it’s always on my mind. When I hear someone playing good, I wonder what’s going through their mind when they think about time.
It depends on what style of music I’m playing. It has to be natural, to a point, but there are instances where it comes across different than you are feeling it at the time. [That is], to the listener as compared to the way you’re feeling it. A lot of times it’ll sound great to you, but when you listen back it’s got too much of an edge on it, or it’s laying a little bit too far behind, and it just doesn’t sit right.
It takes a lot of listening to yourself to know what you have to do to make it sit right.
SKF: If you had a student who had a tendency to rush or drag the time — could you help him correct that?
DW: Well, I’d try to find out what was making that happen, if there was a technical reason. Most of the time it all leads back to coordination problems. It’s because they’re trying to do other things, and the main ingredient of time doesn’t keep happening. What they’re trying to do in-between that messes up the continuity. It doesn’t keep the flow going.
I do have a few students now. But that’s something that I don’t want to do yet on a constant basis. After seeing Gary [Chester] teach, I realize that it’s a professional thing. It’s a whole other league. I just try to go through whatever teachers have taught me so far. I use the things they’ve taught that have helped me, and whatever I’ve done that can help somebody.
SKF: Have you ever gone through studies that, in hindsight, you feel were a waste of [your] time?
DW: No. You can probably capitalize on anything somebody tells you. I’ve always had good teachers — or I’ve made it good. I’ve always tried to see what they have to say, and then take the best from it. Most of the time it has all been very helpful.
Most young kids have pretty decent technique these days, and most everybody’s playing matched grip. I play both ways, because I grew up playing the traditional way, and I practiced that way for years. Certain things feel better and, for me, the time seems to lay better if I play certain things the conventional way. But, I play matched grip probably just as much.
About 5 or 6 years ago I started practicing to develop my matched grip techniuqe to the same level as my traditional technique.
SKF: What’s the finger control you’ve been mentioning? How did you develop it?
DW: That came from Jim Peterczak, and I think Roy Burns uses pretty much the same method. Basically, it’s a two finger technique. It only gets up to a certain speed, because I never sat down and wanted to develop a one-handed roll.
I use that two finger technique during single-stroke rolls, or if different patterns call for it on the snare drum, or for a left hand thing on the hi-hat if I’m playing conventional grip. I probably don’t use it as much as I did when I was first learning it.
After a while, technique becomes something that you’ve been through, and worked on, and then that’s what you use. Then you just apply what you already know, and your mind’s thinking music. It’s not thinking chops and technique.
SKF: How much knowledge do you have of melody and harmony?
DW: When I was going to Bridgeport University I studied that, and I studied mallets when I was in St. Louis, too. Not extensively. I have a set of vibes. I like to read chord changes, and play them over things, playing jazz tunes.
I never got into the serious or classical music end of it. I never really spent the time to learn tunes. But, I know enough about chord structure to be able to play chords. I can’t do it real fast. But, on drums, I played a lot of jazz standards when I was younger. I’ve probably played most of the ones that everybody’s played at one time or another.
SKF: Do you know the lyrics to a lot of tunes?
DW: That’s one thing I never got into until just now, especially with Paul’s tunes. It’s real neat to sit back and listen to the lyrics.
SKF: Do you find that knowing the lyrics affects how you support that tune?
DW: the words affect textures and sensitivity. But moreso, it depends on how the words lay rhythmically with the song. That sometimes helps the feel, or in finding a tempo, in the first place. You have to be able to feel what the music is saying even without words. That’s sensitivity, and that’s very important. I’ve always put a lot of weight on that, being very sensitive to what’s going on around you, almost before it happens.
SKF: Have you studied brushes or worked much with brushes?
SKF: How do you feel about yourself as a drum soloist? At the [Simon and Garfunkel] Giants Stadium concert you took a 4 chorus solo on Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.
DW: That’s really an open-ended solo. Solo playing all depends on context. In Fifty Ways there’s a phrase that sets up what’s going on. I’m always thinking of a counter-phrase underneath it, that I just play phrases over the top of, and just try to build in a form.
You’ve got to remember that you’re playing for 40- or 50-thousand people, and they don’t want to hear how fast you can play single stroke rolls. They want to feel what’s going on. They have to hear a pulse going throughout the solo.
When I’m playing in a club with French Toast, for instance, I’m a lot freer to stretch out and play more complicated phrasings.
SKF: That opening drum figure to Fifty Ways is a 2-bar phrase. Are you likely to stretch over the bar lines when you’re soloing on that song?
DW: Eventually. At first I try to stick to 2-bar phrases. And it can’t be too long because we go back into the opening 2-bar phrase — or drum riff — at the end of my solo.
SKF: Are you thinking melodically during that solo?
DW: My drums are tuned so that I’m always thinking of a melodic structure of some sort. But in that song, it’s not like you’re playing over the form of a tune where you’re thinking of the song melody, and playing something else that makes sense melodically. It’s more phrasings, playing rhythms along with tonalities.
SKF: If you were soloing in a 32-bar tune with the standard AABA form, would you be following the song form and melody line?
DW: Oh yeah. Of course. I don’t like to play solos where everybody stops, and looks at me and says, “Okay. It’s your turn.”
You can play phrases and licks, and that’s cool. Everybody likes to see that. When you think about it, drummers spend half their time comping for soloists. Then, when it comes time for the drummers to solo, nobody wants to play. Everybody stands there, and looks at you, and expects you to create the comp while you’re playing too.
I like to get complimented when I’m soloing because it gives me some space to let the solo happen. I like to play a duet solo with the percussionist. It’s fun to play with either piano, bass, or guitar keeping a steady thing going. That allows another musician to keep the time, so that the audience can hear what’s going, and [also] let’s you stretch out a little bit.
If you stretch out on your own [with no other musician complimenting you], you’ll know where you are, but if you take it too far out, people aren’t going to understand what’s going on.
In French Toast, we’ve gotten into doing percussion duets with me and Sammy. It’s a lot of fun because we just play all these phrasings which are really hip. Then we stretch them out, and come back in. But it’s more of a groove that way. It’s neat to create the space, and change the tension, rather than just playing by yourself. Because [in just playing by yourself] space is okay, but there’s nothing else to carry it on after that.
SKF: I’m going to name some characteristics of successful people. You let me know how, and if, they apply to you and/or anyone else wanting to become a successful musician. The first characteristic is Definiteness of Purpose.
DW: That leads back to what I was saying about knowing what you want to do, and then you’ve got to go out and get it. And, not making any adjustments towards what you want to do as far as changing your mind, and saying, “Well, I think that’s what I want to go after.”
You’ve got to know. That’s got to be in you that you want to do it, and nothing’s going to stop you.
SKF: The next one is Going the Extra Mile.
DW: You do that every time you get onstage, or every time you sit down behind your instrument. You can apply that in a lot of different ways. You can apply it to practicing, in your mental attitude.
You’ve got to go the extra mile in meeting people, and making sure that you’re doing the right thing attitude-wise. And every time you’re onstage you’ve got to either give it more than you’re physically capable of, by trying to really make it happen.
SKF: Accurate Thinking, meaning that once you’ve decided on where you want to go, that you [also] know what’s involved, and you’re not just guessing at it. And you’re seeking the advice of knowledgable people, rather than the advice of people who really don’t know.
DW: You could look at that in two ways. From the business sense, and from a playing sense.
From a playing sense, I’ve more or less taken what I’ve heard on record album, and have done what I’ve thought I had to do to progress, and get where I want to be.
In a business sense, that’s where advice comes in from somebody who really knows what’s happening. I don’t trust this business as far as I could throw it. I don’t believe things until I’m sitting there in the middle of it.
Of course, you always have to have the faith that it will happen. But, as far as putting too much weight on something, and relying on it? Never.
That’s not to say that I’m going to give up on it, or that I don’t care about pursuing it. My dad always said, “Don’t build something up so much that you get so excited about it, and put so much weight on it, that if it doesn’t happen it really throws you for a loop.”
I always try to play everything down and say, “If it happens, great.” Of course, I always have that underpinning of excitement that something will happen.
I didn’t tell anybody about the Simon and Garfunkel tour until I was called the second time.
SKF: Self Discipline.
DW: When I was teaching, [self discipline] seemed to be a problem with a few. If you really want to do it, you don’t really need a teacher after a while. You do for some things, but you know what you have to do. I mean, I’ll be learning from Gary [Chester] for a long time. All you have to do is listen to yourself on tape and, basically that will tell you what you need to do.
SKF: The next principle is called The Master Mind, which simply means that you have a group of two or more associates who are empathetic with what you’ve set out to do with your life.
DW: My roommate, Al Caldwell, is a phenomenal bass player. He had a lot to do with me actually going out and making some connections. He came to visit me in February and, we stayed up for hours and hours talking about the business. What you have to do to get in.
He was really the reason that I started going and hanging out more than I normally did. Conversing with each other and creating that third sense of, “Well, why don’t we go and do this?” He was like a battery charger for me. He’s moved up here now from St. Louis, and we’re trying to do the same thing all over again for him — because he’s something else.
SKF: Personal Initiative.
DW: Sometimes that’s hard to do because it’s hard to go and sell yourself. It’s hard to go and say, “I’m good. I can do this.” I’m not the type of person who can do that, and most people aren’t. That’s where your talent has to speak for itself, and it has to be out in a position where it can speak for itself.
But you do have to have the initiative to go out and try to make contacts. You’re selling yourself every time you talk to someone.
DW: You’ve always got to have it. It’s very easy to get depressed, or bummed out sometimes when nothing’s happening. But, I’ve always said that you can do anything you really want to do, if you really put your mind to it. If you stop talking about it, and just do it.
There’s a lot of people who say, “Yeah, man. Tomorrow I’m going to practice 10 hours.” It might be too late by then. You’ve got to have the enthusiasm, and the confidence that it will happen. It’s just a matter of time. And don’t waste any of the time that you have. You have to be enthusiastic about your own progression, even when nothing’s happening.
SKF: Controlled Attention.
DW: I’d put that in the same category as self discipline, because you have to be able to focus, and control what you’re going after. And then have the discipline to keep doing it.
DW: Obviously, that’s the most important thing in a band situation. In a football team, the objective is to play together to win the game. And to do the right thing for everybody involved, so that you can make the whole thing come off.
The team in a band is everybody doing what they’re supposed to do, not to make themselves shine so much, but to make the whole thing come out right.
Steve Gadd was the first one I heard say, in his first interview in Modern Drummer, that you have to play for the music. And a lot of time you’re not an important part. Sometimes you’re not even there, and it sounds better without you. You’ve got to play what’s needed.
SKF: Learning from Defeat.
DW: Figure out what happened. Being confident of the situation before you get there can sometimes prevent that. Everybody always says that you can learn from your mistakes, or somebody else’s mistakes. You can learn from someone else’s defeats by making sure that it doesn’t happen to you — whether it be in a playing situation or a business situation.
SKF: Creative Vision.
DW: Again, you can take that so many ways. Creative vision of the music, of what you want to do in the business, of what you want to be. I constantly apply creative vision to my career and life.
SKF: The last characteristic is simple: The Golden Rule.
DW: It gets back to acting toward other people the way you’d want them to act toward you. It’s basically common sense.
SKF: They should call it uncommon sense because so few people have it.
DW: That’s true.
SKF: Any closing comments?
DW: Yeah. For any parents that might be reading this article: If you have a kid who’s talented, and wants to pursue the [music] business, or even if he wants nothing to do with the business — support is the number one thing.
Without the support and help of my parents…. Not many parents that I know would let their only kid, at age 19, leave home to travel 1,000 miles away to be a drummer. Every once in a while, when I was younger, my mom would sort of suggest that I go out and get a job. When other kids were out working, I wasn’t making any money, and [I was] staying home practicing.
My dad would say, “Leave him alone. Let him practice.” Pretty soon my mom started catching on to that too. I’d drive them nuts. It got to the point where my dad couldn’t go to sleep unless I was banging on the drums. And I always tried to do the right thing. I didn’t take advantage of the situation and abuse them.
SKF: What about the kid that wants to begin playing drums in his late teens or early ‘20s? Is it too late?
DW: One other drummer who helped me a lot was Gary Hobbs. He was the drummer in Stan Kenton’s band when I started going to the clinics. He told me he started playing when he was 18. He had a lot of catching up to do, and he’d practice eight to ten hours a day after he got out of school. So, I guess it can be done. It just takes a lot of dedication.
SKF: How did you do in high school?
DW: I never put any weight into high school at all. I took the easiest courses I could so that I could get out quick. I started playing drums six nights a week when I was 16 or 17. The only thing I was really interested in was the band.
I never went to the guidance counselor’s office for advice, because I made up my mind when I was 12 what I wanted to do. And I never had any lack of confidence about going this way because of the support of my parents.
They always had the courage to let me do what I wanted to do.
— end —