Derek Hess: Rossington Collins Band 1981


Derek Hess Circa 1981

SKF NOTE: Well, what do you know? Reading this morning through transcripts of my two interviews with Rossington Collins Band drummer Derek Hess, I also find out the band’s September 5, 1981 concert at Garden State Arts Center is now an album as Alive – Live at the Garden State Art Center, Homldel, New Jersey Sep 5th 1981.

Derek Hess and I met at that concert. I liked the Rossington Collins Band songs — the band was tight and swinging. And Derek played loose, musical, creative. Assuming from what I was hearing and seeing onstage, Derek was a schooled drummer, his answer surprised me: “If you laid [a drum method book] out in front of me, a basic rudiment pattern, or a school book, I’d have no idea what was going on. I swear. I could not do it,” Derek said.

“I guess, to categorize, my playing would be, in some instances — [drum] fill-wise — melodic. There’s music going on besides pounding. That’s what I’ve been told, and I guess that kind of makes sense, because I had a lot of music training,” he said. In his full interview, Derek details his music experience with piano, alto sax, listening to all kinds of music, from Glenn Miller, to Joan Baez, to Jeff Beck. In brief, Derek Hess had a great ear, which showed in his drumming.

Our second interview took place by phone, January 8, 1982, and Modern Drummer ran Derek’s feature interview in May 1982. Here’s a snippet from the transcript on Derek’s drum and cymbal setup at the September 5, 1981 Rossington Collins concert — which you can now hear for yourself!

And thank you, Eclipse Recording Studio in St. Augustine, Fl for the updated studio photo here of Derek Hess.

Scott K Fish: You’re endorsing Slingerland now, right?

Derek Hess: Yeah.

SKF: And your cymbals are Paiste?

hess_derek_mdDH: Just the hi-hats. The rest of them are Zildjian Brilliants. I’ve got one Ride and four Crash. My ride cymbal’s a 21″ Medium weight. They’re real pingy sounding. They don’t swell up and sit there and roar while you’re doing a ride. I like a lot of close-to-the-bell playing, anyway. So it’s really pingy — like a San Francisco trolley car.

The Crashes are 15″, 16″, and two 17″. The little [Crash is] over the hi-hat, one [is] over the floor tom, and the other two in the midst. I like that explosive, realy quick bash that quiets right down. That’s what smaller cymbals are good for.

I’ve got a 15″ pair of Sound-Edge hi-hats, and I’m probably going to have to use something else. They’ve got too top-endy for me. I like a fatter sounding hi-hat.

SKF: What do you look for when you’re choosing your cymbals?

DH: I think the only time you’re going to hear any contrast between cymbals is in the studio, because live, it ain’t going to make much difference. Under all that volume and miking, you might hear a little pitch difference, but a cymbal’s a cymbal when you’re running live, and there’s no way I could be convinced otherwise. That is, outside of a Pang cymbal or something special.

I just mainly go for small sizes, and have maybe a two-step difference in pitch, and that’s about it. Nothing fancy. I don’t try to hear notes in them because it’s important. But, maybe in rock-and-roll [distinct cymbal sounds] can be captured how you want it [by the recording engineer] at the [mixing board] knob.


Derek Hess at Eclipse Recording Studio, St. Augustine, FL

SKF: Why are you playing Slingerland drums?

DH: That’s a combination of two things. I started out, and we were going to do a deal with Ludwig. And then, because the band was new — and Ludwig is a pretty together company. I like their drums for the most part. I guess, in the beginning I preferred having their [Ludwig’s] stuff. But they damn horsed around, wish-washed back-and-forth about whether they were going to do an endorsement deal or not.

They turned me on one time, then turned it down. I had to go out with a borrowed set of drums, about the first three months the band was touring.

SKF: You didn’t want to take your Gretsch drums?

DH: No. They’re a wood finish, and they’re, like, six years old. I still like a real impressive stage look. I just like a mean looking stage. If it’s too empty or barren, it takes away. I know I’ll probably get a loot of objections to that, because bands like Journey, and Heart, are going for a cleaner stage look. Heart has the best looking empty stage there is.

Our assistant engineer on the first album knew some guys at Slingerland. And he helped, I think, Dennis St. John….

hess_derek_flAnd I sold drums at the music store for eight years, and I always thought Slingerland’s toms sounded good. Real resonant, and easy to tune. I think they were ready to jump on a half endorsement deal.

See, my Gretsch drums fall short of making an impressive appearance. I pretty much made these Slingerland drums like I wanted them. The company was real cooperative. There’s nothing to look at on them other than the color. There’s nothing that really looks any different from any one of [Slingerland’s] catalogs.

I’ve got a longer kick drum. The power toms are longer. I’ve got a 16×24 kick drum which sounds great. The toms are all equal in depth. My 12″ and 13″ are both 10 inches long. The 14″ and 15″ [toms] are 12 inches long.

The floor toms are standard siz, and the cutaway toms are catalog items — except I got them in chrome.

People ask, “God! What are those?” They’re just a lot of drums that look sassy. My only dissatisfaction is that I’m having some hardware problems, mainly with the tom stands and cymbal stands where they clamp down. They’re too hard to work.

: You were using Aquarian cymbal springs, weren’t you?

DH: Yeah.

SKF: What do you like about the cymbal springs?

DH: They just have enough rock about them. They don’t sustain the cymbal so much, where it bangs up against those little washers. They look sturdy, and they move right. When you hit them [cymbals], they come back, and get in place quick enough so that you can get at [the cymbal] again.

The whole concept of [Aquarian cymbal springs] is real clever. I just like them. They way the cymbal gets protected.

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