Ray Davies: Happy Mistakes That Make a Band Unique

SKF NOTE: Last year I read and very much enjoyed Ray Davies’s autobiography, Americana: The Kinks, the Riff, the Road: The Story. The book tells the stories of Ray Davies rebuilding his life, musical and personal, post-The Kinks.

In this pull quote from the book, Davies touches on a common musician’s life theme: how a musician, if lucky enough, finds a home in a great band, where the sum is greater than the individual players. And how that same musician will forever miss that band, rough edges and all.

The original Kinks band was never renowned for its great individual players. My brother, Dave, was an innovative and powerful guitar player, while I was a fair-to-middling pianist, guitar player, and singer. Drummer Mick Avory seemed to slot into Pete Quaife, who had a certain flair on the bass, but none of use were what could be considered virtuoso musicians. When we came together though, we were a great band. The players on my new demo songs played professionally, but they seemed too perfect. I was longing for those happy mistakes, those errors that make a band unique.

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Neil Peart – I Was Just Trying to Play in the Big Leagues (1986)

POV shot from behind the kit. Photo: Neil Peart

SKF NOTE: Here’s Neil Peart in 1986 answering my questions about his influence on drummers. Here’s the back story to our interview which appeared, in part, in Modern Drummer’s 10th Anniversary Issue.

Scott K Fish: Ten years ago you’d been with Rush for one year. Did you ever believe or feel that you’d be such a drumming influence today?

Neil Peart: Certainly not. I was just trying to be good, really. I think it’s common to alot of people, probably, that I had a very humble opinion of my own abilities. As far as I was concerned I was just trying to play in the big leagues. I certainly didn’t have that high an opinion of myself, especially then.

The aim for me was to try to get good, and to try to get as good as the people who I admired, and who I learned from.

So it was a process of just learning, really, and, as I said, the only standard I was working towards was a good professional standard. I certainly wasn’t trying to prove myself to be Mister Bigshot in the world or anything.

SKF: Do you remember when you first realized that alot of people were listening to you?

NP: Yeah. It was the first time I was ever mentioned in a Modern Drummer Readers Poll. When I first heard about that it spun me around. I just hadn’t expected that kind of respect of my peers. It came totally unexpectedly and totally out-of-the-blue. It unbalanced me. I think I wrote about it in the magazine in a subsequent letter; that instead of boosting my confidence in myself, it actually undermined it.

We happened to be in England on tour at the time when I heard that I was in the poll. The next gig we did I remember was in Glasgow, and I was onstage the whole night feeling like such a fraud. And every tiny little inaccuracy that I committed, or any small error, suddenly seemed gigantic in my mind.

I felt like I was cheating everyone; that any drummers sitting out there who had voted for me — they would think I was a fraud.

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Musical Trio Drumming of Gene Krupa in 1945

SKF NOTE: I love Gene Krupa’s playing in all settings, but I hold a special place in my heart for his small group drumming. Here’s a familiar swing era tune, “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” with very musical playing by Krupa in a trio of tenor sax, piano, and drums. Neat, swinging arrangement. And I love the sound here of Krupa’s calfskin drums. Can’t beat it. (No pun intended.)

This is my digitized copy of a cut-out cassette I bought many years ago. Krupa with Teddy Ventura on tenor sax and George Waithers on piano. I’m hearing the music for the first time. Great stuff. I don’t own the copyright to this cut. If the copyright owner would like me to remove this post, I’m happy to do so.

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Joe English – Seated at a Table I Don’t Cross My Hands Over to Eat

Scott K Fish, Joe English

SKF NOTE: Here’s the back story to my interviews with Joe English. In this excerpt, Joe talks about always playing a right-handed drumset without crossing his hands over.

Joe English: I’ve been playing like that all my life. When drummers see me play like that they say, “Oh, you play like Billy Cobham.”

I tell them that I’ve been playing like that since I was 14 when I didn’t even know who Billy Cobham was.

Basically I just play my hi-hat with my left hand, and my snare drum with my right [hand], on a right-handed kit.

When I took those few drum lessons early on people would say, “Match grip? No. You’ve got to use traditional grip and you’ve got to set your drums up like this.”

I said, “No way.”

A lot of people ended up playing like that. Billy Cobham. Lenny White. For me, it’s easier. I can lead with my left or my right — and I don’t have to cross hands.

When I sit down at the table to eat I don’t cross my hands to eat. When I drive I don’t take my right hand and cross it over to the left side of the steering wheel.

It just didn’t make sense to me.

A lot of people come up to me and say, “Man, I’d like to be able to do that.” It’s just as hard for me to switch back to the other way; to hold the sticks with a traditional grip and cross my hands.

I’m glad I ended up playing the way I do.

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Art Blakey — Blowin’ the Blues Away 1945

SKF NOTE: I do not own the copyright to this track and I will gladly remove it. This is track 1, Side 1, of a vinyl LP I bought called Billy Eckstine Orchestra 1945. The graphic here is from the album cover. I dubbed my LP onto a high quality cassette years ago and digitized that cassette just days ago.

This track is the first time I heard Art Blakey with a big band — and to borrow a phrase from the song title, I was blown away. Nothing here is ultra-slick, but to my ears, Blakey is playing perfect.

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Woody Herman: Davey Tough Was Magic in His Eyes

SKF NOTE: I first heard John Von Ohlen on Stan Kenton’s Stan Kenton Today: Recorded Live in London album. And, son of a gun, I happened upon a YouTube video of the 1972 Kenton band in concert in London — and John Von Ohlen is set up front and center. Nice!

I thoroughly enjoyed my October 12, 1974 interview with John. He was as genuine a human being as he was a drummer. Straight ahead.

Reading through the unedited interview transcript I find gems all over. Here’s John with insight on Woody Herman’s love of drummer Davey Tough.


Scott K Fish: Did you ever have the desire, or the chance, to speak to Woody [Herman] about any of the classic big band drummers that worked with him?

John Von Ohlen: He loved Davey Tough. That was his favorite. He wouldn’t downtrod anybody else — because he had some great drummers — but, Davey Tough was the magic in his eyes. Always was.

There’s a three- or four-record set called The Thundering Herds. Davey’s on a couple of those [tracks]. He’s playing a closed hi-hat and nothing else. The band is smoking on these fast tempos, and if you listen real close, Davey’s playing on the closed hi-hat. But it’s burning.

I’m not saying he played that way all the time, but he was just going at it on the closed hi-hat — and it was really going.

But I never nitpicked Woody’s head too much. Not like I did with Stan Kenton when I was in his band.

But, I know Woody loved Davey Tough, Don Lamond, and Jake Hanna. He loved all those guys.

Jake Hanna was probably my favorite.

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What Are Schools For?

What are schools for?
Scott K. Fish, Special to the Piscataquis Observer • June 21, 2019

In junior high school, and high school, two “guidance” counselors told me I should drop out of school. I was never going to make it to graduation, they said. Failure was inevitable. Why not just hasten the process and drop out?

Those counselors came to mind this week, ironically, in situations where I was learning new or revisiting favorite ideas about improving education in 2019 and for the future.

My grandson, Grafton, is 5 1/2 years old. He is in pre-school now. The several times I’ve walked his school halls and glanced in on the classrooms en route to picking up Grafton, I often think of my school experience and wonder what will be Grafton’s school experience?

My root frustration with school was I knew early on, starting when I was just a few months older than Grafton, what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a drummer. There was no encouragement for that at school, and not much at home either.

While some may dismiss my desire as the fanciful wishes of a kid, I did become a professional drummer. And I later combined my musical skills with a second desire to be a professional writer, by working as a music journalist.

Full column

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