Tony Williams Shure Drum Mic Ad 1994

SKF NOTE: This full page Tony Williams ad is in the March 1994 Modern Drummer.

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The Purpose of Technique

Photo from David Jacobson’s website.

SKF NOTE: Reading an intriguing book, Lost Secrets of Master Musicians – A Window Into Genius. The author is a violinist, so his examples have so far been violin examples. I can apply some to my guitar playing, but others are valuable, I think, mostly to other violinists. And there are many good general thoughts and principles so far, like this one on technique.

“We all know that the purpose of technique is to have the skill, physically and mentally, to allow a player to perform without impediment. It is using only the muscles that are necessary and not more. Technique is also knowing how to learn. It is knowing how to make a piece expressive. It is the ability to control nerves in performance.

“Technique is the beauty of the sound. It is using the body effectively and naturally to master demanding physical and mental complexities with ease. Technique and musical expression are intertwined, inseparable. The end-result seems like a magic trick. But how do you get it?”

Source: Lost Secrets of Master Musicians – A Window Into Genius, by David Jacobson.

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Neil Peart – Go Ahead and Destroy Those Letters (2015)

Photo courtesy

SKF NOTE: My reaction to Neil’s reply in this email exchange (January 1-3, 2015) was surprise and sadness. Surprise because the Neil I knew was interested in history, collecting — or at least chronicling. He kept notebooks while traveling. He wrote journals. And at the end of Neil’s Rush tours or bicycle/motorcycle trips it seems he always produced a recap; a series of blog posts, a book — something.

When he responded to my offer to send him copies of his letters – his one of a kind letters – with, “You can go ahead and destroy those letters…,” I was taken off-guard, especially with Neil’s news that, with some exceptions, he had “burned or shredded all my old letters, in or out.”

Neil’s certainly not the first historic figure to destroy personal documents. As much as I understand that, that’s how much I wince at the potential loss to historians, biographers, and in Neil’s case, to musicians.

My email is edited. I removed chit-chat having nothing to do with this exchange. Except I told Neil I had recently contacted drummer Roy McCurdy and was in the process of seeing if Modern Drummer would be interested in my interviewing Mr. McCurdy.


Jan 1, 2015, 3:09 PM

Hi Neil –

Happy New Year!

…I’m revisiting boxes of my stuff; everything I took with me when moving out of the Dixmont house. One box is full of drum memorabilia, including handwritten and typed letters from you. I don’t have a total, because I’m finding your letters and postcards in many places.

Point: Would you like copies of these letters/postcards? I am finally getting off my ass and digitizing papers, audiotapes, photos, etc.

Some of these items even have historic value, I think.

Back on point: Yesterday I found two of your letters from 1986. One is a five-page handwritten letter when you were in Morin Heights, Quebec “sitting in the neighborhood cafe, about to have some supper.”

Your second letter was written in Toronto: “You will no doubt notice a new neatness to my flush right margins in this letter. This is brought to you courtesy of my new Macintosh computer….”

So, if you would like copies of your letters, I think it might be easiest for me to just scan them, save them as PDF files, and email them to you at the time of scanning.



Jan 3, 2015, 4:03 PM
to me

Santa Monica CA

Hello Scott —

Just a short note as I try to dig out from under a flurry of unanswered communications. (A lake-effect blizzard, more like.)

You can go ahead and destroy those letters, thanks. I used to keep such things, but reached a “tipping point.” (That’s good.)

Just like how at a certain point I surrendered to CDs, and kept only a few hundred precious LPs (never played since, in maybe 20 years), then again surrendered to MP3s, and kept only a few CDs, a few years back I surrendered to digital communication files, and burned or shredded all my old letters, in or out.

I just don’t care about all that anymore.

A quote from Buddy: “As Bird said, ‘Now’s the Time.”

Let me know if you plan to travel out this way for that interview — it would be fun to meet up here, show you around my “new life.”

Wishing you a great 2015!


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Fred Below – Full Interview – Tape A Side A (1982)

SKF NOTE: Among my interviews with drummers, a few are the only known interviews – at least full length interviews – with a few drummers. Jim Gordon is one. Frankie Dunlop is another. And Fred Below is a third.

Fred Below is arguably the father of Chicago electric blues drumming. Mr. Below recorded with Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, the Aces, Little Walter, Chuck Berry, and other pivotal blues musicians. The interview took place on July 9, 1982 and was published in Modern Drummer‘s September 9, 1983 issue as, “Fred Below: Magic Maker.”

I was at my MD desk in New Jersey using a suction cup mic on a telephone land line and an audio cassette to record this interview. Mr. Below was on a land line at his Chicago home.

Even the best interviews have dead air, small talk, and uninteresting talk. For that reason I’ve posted mostly excerpts from the Below interview. This is the first time I’m publishing the entire interview with all wrinkles intact.

I will publish the rest of the interview as time permits.

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Scott K Fish – Time Flies

SKF NOTE: My friend of many years, Candice Baranello, mailed this photo of me taken right around the time I started freelance writing for Modern Drummer magazine.

In good times and bad — time flies.

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Zutty Singleton – We Just Kept the Rhythm Going

SKF NOTE: Growing up, I was aware of Zutty Singleton among the drum pioneers, but records on which he played were either not on my music priority list, or they weren’t available. The New Orleans-Chicago early jazz drumming was a style I set out to study in the early to mid-1970s when I was living and playing drums in Davenport, IA. Prior to Davenport I spent most of my time and money listening to big band and modern jazz drumming, rock, and blues drumming.

Zutty is still great listening. And with the advent of YouTube and other internet platforms, there are many more opportunities to study Singleton than there were in the 1970s and earlier. This recording of Drum Face is a case in point.

Finally, here are my Zutty Single notes, slightly updated, for a history of jazz drummers I wrote for publication.


Zutty Singleton was among the first to streamline the drumset. He used a bass drum, snare drum, two old-style shallow tom-toms, and usually three cymbals. Sometimes two. Music writer Martin Williams credits Singleton with developing the modern drum solo structure. In the mid-1900s drummers rarely took solos.

“Previously drum solos had been either brief breaks — usually a couple of beats, or a couple of bars — or they were random things, in which the player would strut out his tricks until he ran out of them, whereupon the horn men would resume,” said Williams.

“We just kept the rhythm going,” said Singleton. “But when we did [solo], the drummers had all kinds of different sound effects: a bucket gimmick that sounded like a lion’s roar, skillets, ratchets, bells, everything.”

A decade later, Zutty Singleton was leading a trio in Chicago. Clarinetist Jimmy Noone and pianist Jerome Carrington would solo all night. One night Jimmy Noone suggested Zutty take some solos. “Take a chorus,” he’d say.

“Zutty would do exactly that;” said Martin Williams, “he played a chorus to the piece they were doing, humming it over to himself, and not only finishing at the end of 12 or 16 or 32 bars, but also marking off the four- and eight-bars internal phrases of the piece as they came along.”

Source: Zutty, by Martin Williams, Down Beat 11/21/1963

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What Big Sid Did with One Foot

SKF NOTE: Art Hodes wrote a Down Beat column in the mid-1960s which I enjoyed. He was a jazz pianist who knew musicians, including early jazz drummers, like Dave Tough, George Wettling, and Big Sid Catlett.

I valued Mr. Hodes’s first-hand accounts. He might devote an entire column to one musician. Or Hodes might just insert a gem like this one in a more varied column.


Does the name Sid Catlett ring a bell? What he did with one foot and one bass drum is being accomplished by very few drummers who’re using two [of each].

Source: Sittin’ In, Art Hodes. Down Beat (February 13, 1964)

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