Matt Frenette: Drummer, Producer Recording Studio Relationship (1983)

SKF NOTE: The band, Loverboy, was very popular at the time of my interview with Matt Frenette for a Modern Drummer cover story. This was the second interview with Matt. The first was done by one of my all-time favorite music writers, who contributed some exceptional interviews to MD.

It wasn’t until after Matt’s initial interview that the writer discovered the tape recorder was not working. None of Matt’s interview made it to tape.

The writer really wanted to redo the interview, but Matt was hesitant, thinking a “take two” interview with the same writer would have to lack the freshness, the spontaneity of the original.

I offered to interview Matt, he accepted. It was an uncomfortable decision because I had such respect for the writer, and because I had recorders crap out like that too. But….

Matt Frenette was fun to interview. Listening to it again 35-years later, Matt has several worthwhile tips for working drummers.

In this excerpt, Matt talks about his relationship with record producer Bruce Fairbairn in the recording studio. That is, Matt describes a working relationship that works, compared to one that doesn’t work, at least for Matt Frenette.

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Buddy Rich – Folk Singer?

SKF NOTE: I knew there was a time in Buddy Rich’s life when he stopped playing drums, and tried to make it as a singer and dancer. But listening just now to Les Paul tell a story of Buddy Rich opening at The Blue Angel in NYC tap dancing on a drum and playing folk songs is news to me. Plus, there’s a guy in the audience who backs up Les Paul’s story, telling Paul he was at The Blue Angel the night Buddy Rich opened and folded his folk singer career.

Actually, on his 1999 Stick It album, Buddy and a guitarist recorded one of my favorite versions of Bein’ Green.

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If You Want to Have the Drums Sound Like John Bonham

SKF NOTE: The full story includes an interesting account of how Kiss and recording engineers, using, in part, an elevator shaft, produced Eric Carr‘s “massive drum sound” on Kiss’s [1982] Creatures of the Night album.

I almost included the essence of the “massive drum sound” story here. Instead, I opted to include music producer Michael James Jackson‘s response to founding Kiss member Gene Simmons’s eagerness “to try and find a drum sound that was as close to Zeppelin [as possible.]”

Mr. Jackson’s response is in no way meant to put down Eric Carr’s drumming. To the contrary, Mr. Jackson gives Mr. Carr high praise. I post Jackson’s remarks because they are in sync with how I have always felt about drummers trying to copy another drummer’s sound. Of course, digital sound sampling has made copying much easier. But why not strive to have an identifiable sound of your own?

Here’s what Jackson had to say:

I’m a record producer, so I know if you want to have the drums sounds like John Bonham, then you have to give me John Bonham, you have to give me John Bonham’s drum kit and you have to put me in the same room where John Bonham plays that the drums sounds like that. Nobody can turn something into something it is not….

Full story

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Elvin Jones Trio in Japan 1981

SKF NOTE: This video of an atypical Elvin Jones Trio is a welcome addition. It captures a live performance of Elvin with Richard Davis (bass), and Fumio Karashima (piano). This tv appearance includes a short Elvin Jones interview. In spite of the somewhat sketchy video quality and sound — the camera work here is very good. Enjoy.

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Alan Dawson: Innovator vs Innovative


SKF NOTE: In 1985, Alan Dawson invited me to his Massachusetts home for this interview, part of which was included in Modern Drummer‘s 10th Anniversary issue January 1986. As time allows I am converting portions of the Mr. Dawson’s interview tape into digital audio excerpts.

In this excerpt I asked Alan Dawson to clarify his remarks on drum innovators. Enjoy.

Scott K Fish: Do you feel there’s a difference in being innovative and being an innovator?

Alan Dawson: Maybe I’m splitting hairs a little bit. When I think about an innovator I think of the person who really seems to have taken something, and seems almost completely in another direction. [The innovator] bursts on the scene, and people don’t understand what he’s doing, that they have to catch up.

A person can be somewhat innovative if he can take somebody’s style and make something else out of it.

SKF: So an innovator is someone whose style can’t really be traced back to anybody?

AD: Yeah. Eventually you probably can trace it back.

When I first heard Max Roach I certainly wouldn’t have been able to say, “Well, he sounds like Jo Jones.” He didn’t. But he was still influenced by Jo Jones. So I would consider Max an innovator, yet in retrospect, I know that his style didn’t come out of nowhere.

Nothing ever does come out of nowhere, but it seems to come out of nowhere.

When somebody’s reactions to the very same things that everybody else has been exposed to turns out to be so completely different, you think that that person couldn’t have been exposed to so-and-so at the outset. Later, you find differently.

SKF: Would you consider Elvin Jones an innovator?

AD: Yeah, yet I realize — and Elvin will tell you — that he came out of Roy Haynes, among other people. Elvin doesn’t sound like Roy Haynes, but it’s obvious to me where he came from.

Jo [Jones] was one of Roy’s strongest influences in the formative stage. Roy Haynes doesn’t sound like Jo Jones, but it’s obvious to me where he came from.

In my formative stage Jo Jones had a tremendous influence on me. Max Roach had a very strong influence on me, but not as strong as Jo, because I wasn’t quite as young and impressionable.

Since then there’s been plenty of other players who I’ve listened to and admired.

If I stop splitting hairs I’d have to think that the last great drum innovator was Tony Williams.

Talking about trends and styles is hard for me to do. I’ve been pretty much doing my own thing as far as playing is concerned. My contact with what other people are doing is basically through my students.

More and more I’m appreciating the importance of historical perspective.

If a person knows where a particular thing he’s doing come from, and in turn, where that comes from, he can be much more convincing in playing whatever he’s playing. A person who plays strictly from the top tends to be playing somewhat superficially. It might not be all that evident to him, or even to people he’s playing with. They might be in the same position.

There are so many things. If you start tracing back you’ll find that there’s not too much that’s new. Sometimes, by looking back, you’ll get a glimpse of the future. If you lived long enough you could stand in one spot, and at some point in time, you would be an innovator. Of course, that might take thousands of years.

I don’t try to look too far ahead in a lot of things. There’s so much I figure I might miss that going on right now.

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DeMerle: A Band is Only as Good as Its Drummer


SKF NOTE: In 1984, when I sat down to talk with Les DeMerle, he was a superb drummer and bandleader, as comfortable with swing tunes as he was with fusion or rock-based tunes. You’ll find more of the interview back story here.

Scott K Fish: Let’s talk about jazz and rock rhythm sections. What makes for a blue ribbon rhythm section?

Les DeMerle: The most important thing is that everybody have good communication with each other. Even if you have the smallest qualm with a bass player or a drummer — you should talk about it. Otherwise, it’s like a disease that can spread through the band.

I’m very lucky. I’ve always had good rapport with bass players.

If you’ve got players with good technique it’s even more of a problem, because then you have cats who want to play busy. Then you have to talk to each other and say, “Well, if I’m going to get hot here, maybe you could support what I’m doing. And if you’re going to get hot there, then I’ll support what you’re doing.”

If you’re hot all the time it doesn’t’ make it.

A lot of drummers and bass players don’t do that. I’m just talking about the bass and drums now because they’re most important.

No matter how good the band is, if the drummer isn’t making it, it ain’t going to go anywhere. A band is only as good as its drummer.

And the bass is second. You could have Jaco Pastorius in there, but if the drummer isn’t making it, it ain’t going to go nowhere. You’re better off telling the drummer to go home, and try to swing the band with the bass alone.

The drummer and bass have really got to be in unison.

SKF: How do you function with both a piano player and a guitar player in a rhythm section?

LD: That’s important. As much as the bass and drums have to be together, the relationship between a guitarist and a pianist is even more critical. They have to, first, get it together harmonically. Then they have to be able to fit into the rhythm section.

SKF: Do you find it easier to play with a guitar player or a piano player?

LD: With a guitar, I think, you tend to have a little more room, because he’s not constantly playing chords and notes. He’s either playing single lines or chords.

But my preference would still be piano, bass, and drums.

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Fascinating Art Blakey Documentary

SKF NOTE: Fascinating snippet of Art Blakey interacting with his Jazz Messengers. Would like very much to see this whole documentary.

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