SKF NOTE: Thinking back on my years as a professional drummer, there were very, very few times I snapped in anger at customers. The common thread involved someone mistreating my drums because they were drunk, showing off, or just lacked respect.
One quiet weekday night I was sitting alone at the rear of the Steamboat Lounge, Davenport, IA on a band break. The lounge was a rectangular building with a raised platform stage for the Millard Cowan Trio near the dance floor.
The upper floor offered customers tables and chairs with an open view of the dance floor and bandstand. But, as I said, this was a slow night – possibly a Monday – and the Steamboat Lounge was almost empty. That’s why I wasn’t certain I heard a short metallic ping sound from one of my cymbals onstage.
From my seat at the back of the club the stage lights were dimmed. Nobody was onstage, and no one was near my drumset. A moment later I heard a second short metallic ping and whispering from the balcony.
Walking quietly toward my drums, still looking for the the ping source, I spotted a well-dressed adult couple standing above my drumset, a short distance from the white balcony railing. We made eye contact.
I can’t remember our specific conversation, but I do remember the man telling me, in his very nonchalant manner, that he had been dropping pennies from the balcony onto my cymbals.
“How would you like it if I went to your office and dropped stuff all over your desk?” I asked. I told the couple the drums and cymbals were my work tools, which I had worked years to buy, always treated them with great care, and what in the world made this pair think it was okay to drop pennies on someone else’s musical instrument?
I was angry. The couple apologized. Later, the club owner, Millard Cowan, told me the way I handled that incident “wasn’t cool.” I deferred to Millard, but I didn’t fully agree with him, and I was disappointed Millard didn’t also see my side of the story.
I was 23-24 years old. Maybe it was the tail end of a bad day, and strangers dropping pennies on my drumset was the straw that broke the Fish’s back.
In hindsight? I would be angry, but I would first try handling the situation more diplomatically. My behavior reflected on Millard’s club — which I wasn’t thinking about at the time. And perhaps I could have turned the situation(s) into a teachable moment.