Gifts from Unknown Drummers

SKF NOTE: Yesterday I bought Wes Montgomery’s “One Night in Indy” MP3 album. The personnel on the Resonance label album are: Wes Montgomery – bandleader, guitar, Eddie Higgins – piano, Walter Perkins – drum.

It was the date’s “unknown musician” on double bass that got me thinking — again — about all the fantastic “unknown drummers” on radio and various public sound systems who’ve improved my life.

Don’t we all have moments where a drummer grabs our attention — and we have no idea who it is?

History is full of notable drummers on records destined to forever remain anonymous. Once I had grandiose plans to right that wrong to the best of my ability. I would track down personnel on as many records as possible — especially old R&B records. But it seems a project too huge, too expensive, for one person.

Fans on the internet, I suppose, are filling adding to the history books on forums and blogs and such. Maybe that’s the solution.

But I wanted to to tip my hat and say thank you to all the unknown drummers for their never ending grooves, fills, shuffles, swing, backbeats, and their magical drum/cymbal sounds.

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Ringo Offers to Heal Max Weinberg’s Old Beatles Wound

SKF NOTE: In the Long Island, NY newspaper, Newsday, I have a 1986 review of Max Weinberg’s appearance at the Manhattan nightclub, The Bottom Line. The event is described as: “Max Weinberg, ‘Growing Up On E Street.’ An evening of anecdotes and chatter, a couple of videos and some hard drumming from the anchor of Bruce Springsteen’s band.”

The show reviewer shared this story Max told about Ringo Starr.

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It seems that in early 1965, [Max] Weinberg bought two tickets for the Beatles’ August appearance at Shea Stadium. “I gave the tickets to my girlfriend for safekeeping,” Weinberg said. “That day before the show, she broke up with e and took another guy.”

Weinberg winced. The audience sighed. “When I told this to Ringo, he said, “Max, want me to give her a call?”

Source: “Drumming Up a Night With Mighty Max,” by Stephen Williams, Newsday, Nov. 26, 1986.

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Technique is Expressing What’s on Your Mind

SKF NOTE: A DrumForum.org member recently posted a video by a champion rudimental drummer demonstrating five, I think, famous rudimental drum solos, including “The Downfall of Paris.”

The drummer was marvelous. Watching and hearing his relaxed hands-wrists-arms-shoulders produce super clean, flawlessly executed classic snare drum rudimental solos had me smiling and shaking my head. Marvelous. The video reminded me of a question I’ve asked myself forever: How much drum technique is enough?

In the early 1970s I was, for the very first time, working full-time as a drummer. Either five or six days a week in a new Davenport, IA nightclub called The Steamboat Lounge. I played on a drumset pieced together over the years: a 20″ x 14″ black pearl round badge Gretsch bass drum, a black panther 9”x 13″ Ludwig tom, a natural maple 16″ x 16″ Ludwig floor tom, and a 5 1/2″ x 14″ metal Gretsch snare.

My drumming strengths? I had good time, good ears, and I could sing lead while playing drums. My good ears were from a lifetime listening to all kinds of music.

Now that I’m working as a full-time drummer, I thought, I better keep improving as drummer, as an all-around musician. So I registered at local colleges for classes in music theory, band, and percussion ensemble.

I also signed up with a local teacher for private drum rudiment lessons. I learned from the “13 Essential Drum Rudiments and 9 Drum Solos” — that scratchy old 10″ album by the W.F.L. Drum Company — and an accompanying rudimental drum book.

My rudiment lessons came to mind while watching the DrumForum.org rudimental champion’s video. So did my ongoing questions about just how “essential” drum rudiments are to becoming a creative drumset player with a unique voice.

At one time I could play all the solos the rudimental champion was playing. Not as fast. Perhaps not as precise. But I had learned the individual rudiments — five stroke rolls, seven stroke rolls, flams, flam taps, and so on — used in these drum solos.

I had — and have — favorite rudiments I use when I play drumset, and even when I’m playing with brushes on a snare with fiddlers and acoustic guitar players. I’ve had fun creating with rudiments on the drumset. “Let’s see how it sounds if I do this.”

But I never had the burn to master the 13 essential drum rudiments to championship level.

My 1978 interview with Joe Morello also came to mind watching the rudimental drum solo champion. Joe had technique to spare and he developed a beautiful, musical style of drumming. In my experience, technique tends to get in the way of playing musically, lyrically, melodically. Joe Morello’s balancing the two – technique and heart – was remarkable.

Joe said about technique in 1978, “The more facility you have, the more broadness of mind. That’s all that technique is. It’s to play what’s on your mind.”

Listen to the audio excerpt, Joe Morello on Technique. You hear Joe cite Mel Lewis as a drummer who plays great, reads anything, place the shit out of the Jones/Lewis Big Band — all with limited technique. Using sticks and a rubber pad, Joe imitates Mel’s drumming technique very well.

Completing his lesson on technique, Joe said, “If Mel wanted to build up [his] chops, he’d still be playing as good as he plays, only he’d have more to work with.”

Technique is to play what’s on your mind. That makes sense.

Something Roy Haynes said about technique makes sense too. I had looked at a number of Roy solo/fill transcriptions drum educators used to show how Roy, on the drumset, broke up, say, triplets among his hands/feet. I could be forgiven, perhaps, for assuming everything drummers’ played was a variation of one rudiment or another.

Roy Haynes said no. I asked him if he had favorite rudiments he liked to use on the drumset. He said, “Not everything I play has a name.”

Of course! Many times, unless a drummer is playing a specific written part (i.e. a rudimental drum solo like “The Downfall of Paris”), drum solo/fill transcriptions are approximations of sound. Educated guesses.

In that same spirit, many times I’ve heard big band drummers and big band leaders advise, or tell, drummers to get their noses out of the drum charts. Learn the tunes, forget the charts.

When I listen to drummers, especially in band situations, I listen first for sound. Are they interacting rhythmically and melodically with other musicians? A musical give-and-take, call-and-response? Are they, as Thelonious Monk recommends, looking to add to the music in places no one else is occupying?

I don’t listen to band drummers primarily to hear how they use drum rudiments. I don’t listen to guitarists, or keyboard players, or horn players for their mastery of scales, arpeggios, or chord inversions.

Yes, I sometimes use written notes for analyzing drum parts. But I am more likely to work out drumming parts by ear. Sounds I hear determine technique I practice. The same principle applies when expanding my speaking/writing vocabulary. Reading books/listening to music gives me more knowledge. New books bring new words, names, concepts. New music brings new sounds, ideas for producing and using new sounds.

Technique is to play what’s on your mind. And not everything we play has a name.

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Neighbor Fred’s ‘Ludwig Universal Model’ Snare Drum

SKF NOTE: Earlier this week I was outside in my driveway opening a 40-pound bag of black oil sunflower seeds to refill the bird-feeder hanging almost empty in the nearby lilac bush.

Coming up the road behind me I heard the familiar sound of a neighbor’s 1980-something red Mercedes diesel engine station wagon approaching. The diesel sound stopped at the foot of the driveway. I turned away from my seed bag just as neighbor Fred was getting out of his car. Fred’s wife was in the passenger’s seat smiling.

“Did the car just die?” I asked. (It’s a great old Benz, really.) They laughed.

Fred said, “Hey, do you still like old drums?”

“Yeah,” I said, curious.

Fred told me he had an old drum I might be interested in. His grandfather presented to Fred when Fred was a kid. “I never did much with it,” Fred told me. “My parents kept hiding it.”

He grabbed the drum from the car back seat and handed it to me. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was a cool old well-made drum.

I thanked Fred and asked if he was sure he wanted to part with it.

“Yes,” he said. “I’m glad I found you. I didn’t know if I should just bring it to the dump or not.”

“NO!” I said. I shook Fred’s hand and carried his drum inside the house.

After some cursory research I discovered Ludwig Universal Model etched in the top rim. It’s a 6.5″ x 14″ drum with original everything on it — including two now cracked calf-heads.

Some smart people at DrumForum.org offered cleaning tips. I’ll take this apart, clean it, and see what it looks like.

But what a great gift. Good thing I feed birds.

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Neil Peart – My Writing Apprenticeship

SKF NOTE: Neil Peart is perhaps as respected as writer — lyrics and books — as much as he is respected as a drummer.

Six or seven years ago, while packing all my “things” to move out of the house I’d been in for almost 30 years, I found on a bookshelf these five books Neil sent me at the time he self-published each book.

While unpacking these books in my new home I wondered if Neil still had copies for himself. I treasure these books, but if Neil didn’t have copies, I was going to offer to send these to him for the Neil Peart Presidential Library.

I took and emailed the book cover photos posted here along with a short note.

Neil’s reply, sent the next day, is posted below mine.

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Scott K Fish
Mar 8, 2014, 4:53 PM
to Neil

howdy – sorting through a lifetime of books today. recognize these? / skf

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Neil Peart
Mar 9, 2014, 2:24 PM
to me

Yes indeedy — my apprenticeship!

I have said many times how glad I am that in prose writing I was able to have that learning period BEFORE I started publishing — and wished I could have had that in music.

I would have started Rush’s history around, say, our sixth album!

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