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You know his work but not his name. As a member of one of the biggest bands to come out of the 1980’s Peter Gill’s drumming is often overlooked. Appearing on such mega hits as “Relax” and “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” Gill was the backbone of the epic and sometimes controversial band Frankie Goes to Hollywood. In a 1985 article, written by Max Bell and Paul Bursche, Gill outlined his coming of age and path to becoming an ambitious drummer. Gill’s parents reflected on their son’s drive to learn the instrument. They said:
“I remember seeing him in a school concert when he was very young,” says Kay Gill. “Of course, he wasn’t very good then but he had bags of enthusiasm.” “First he was into Gary Glitter as a kid,” remembers his dad, Ray. “Then as he got older he started getting into the older stuff. He went to see AC/DC at Knebworth once. He’d always wanted a drum kit so we bought him a cheap set for Christmas for about a hundred pounds. He was really made up. He’d set it up in the living room and drum along to Led Zeppelin records, just to pick it up.”
Gill’s sonic drumming and hypnotic four on the four is no more evident than on the 1984 mega-hit “Relax” (below). That song alone helped to define a generation and became a mantra for pop fans everywhere. T-shirts branded with the saying “Frankie Says Relax” were everywhere further cementing the band in the public’s consciousness. FGH was a major supporter of gay rights and a split between hetero and homosexuals. This furthered the band’s controversial image. (Gill was on the hetero-side). Frankie Goes to Hollywood enjoyed huge success in 1984 but had split by 1987, and then re-formed in 2004. After several years of infighting the band disbanded for good. Gill continues to play professionally and his legacy as a member of one of the 80’s biggest bands still resonates today.
Today I had lunch with two of the co-founding editors of the acclaimed Emerging Civil War blog. I regularly submit posts to them on various subjects from the Civil War. One of these included a detailed essay on the Civil War Drummer Boy (a subject that routinely shows up on this blog). Our discussion covered our first introductions to history, when it became important to us, and how we have exploited that interest into books, blogs etc. This conversation got me thinking about my newfound interest in drum history. Following in the footsteps of my friend Daniel Glass, the leading historian on the subject of drums and drum sets, I find myself eager to uncover relatively unknown factoids about the instrument and those who have influenced the evolution of it.
Being a historian requires research. I have over 10 years of research experience under my belt so it will be familiar territory to me. Moving forward I will periodically mix in a historical piece to keep things interesting. I am calling it “History Minute” as it will be a brief post on something forgotten or neglected. My timeline will cover any time and any period in relationship to the drum set. My goal is to introduce readers to something they would not have seen otherwise. First off I would like to share the catalog insert for the 1948 WFL Speed King pedal. One of the most popular pedals of yesterday and today the Ludwig Speed King is considered a classic. For over 70 years the greatest names in drumming, including John Bonham and Buddy Rich, have enjoyed the speed and precision that gives the legendary Ludwig Speed King Single pedal its name.
Recently I heard a discussion on the Modern Drummer Podcast with Mike Johnston and Mike Dawson that dealt with Peter Gabriel’s third and fourth albums. What made these two albums particularly interesting (drum-wise) is that there are no cymbals used. This was intentionally done to create a different sound unlike any of the contemporary records at the time. Several other bands had experimented with no cymbals on single tracks but none had applied this approach to entire albums. There was one near-exception: a drum machine-generated hi-hat makes an appearance on “Games Without Frontiers.”
Gabriel had developed a new interest in world music (especially percussion), and for bold production, which made extensive use of recording tricks and sound effects. As a result he requested that his drummers use no cymbals in the album’s sessions. Phil Collins played drums on multiple tracks and used a set-up that featured a reverse-gated, cymbal-less drum kit sound. This would later be used by him on some of his biggest hits with the addition of cymbals.
Collins was asked to play a simple pattern for several minutes, then build on it. The lack of cymbals created a sound of tension with no resolve. Jerry Marotta played on the remaining songs using the same approach as Collins. The cymbal-less method also led to inventive performances by both drummers. Collins’ fill midway through “No Self Control” (Listen Here) and opening to “Intruder” (Listen Here) are said to stand out among them.
Drums do not convey emotion when compared to the other instruments in a band. Collins’ and Marotta’s playing is an exception to this rule as they instill a feeling of frustration that enhances Gabriel’s intense vocal performance. The sound was significant enough and influential enough that it has been claimed by Gabriel. Other bands have used this approach on songs including King Crimson (Bill Bruford), The Beach Boys (Dennis Wilson, Hal Blaine) and Kate Bush (Stuart Elliott).
Today’s post is a series of links to what I consider to be some of the best pockets of all time. These are examples of drummers who are locked in and driving the music. To an amateur these may sound incredibly easy but they are far more complicated than they appear. The ability to play repetition without losing any timing or intensity takes skill. These are my favorite examples in no particular order:
Back in Black (Phil Rudd): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAgnJDJN4VA
Billie Jean (Leon Ndugu Chancler): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi_XLOBDo_Y
Lick it Up (Eric Carr): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gcj34XixuYg
Another One Bites the Dust (Roger Taylor): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rY0WxgSXdEE
Material Girl (Tony Thompson): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3wYIjI8WcI
Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ (Steve Smith): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTkHFQC3wow
Kashmir (John Bonham): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hW_WLxseq0o
Every Breath You Take (Stewart Copeland): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMOGaugKpzs
You Wreck Me (Steve Ferrone): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8m5p6V_NPQ
Everybody Wants To Rule The World (Manny Elias): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST86JM1RPl0
Who are your favorite pocket players? Comment below and let us know.
It is very easy to forget about the blood and carnage experienced by the Civil War drummer boy. We usually picture a young boy dressed in his pristine uniform marching at the front of a column beating out a cadence. We may even picture him acting as a stretcher bearer far from the fight. That may be true but there were boys who enlisted with romantic dreams that paid the ultimate price. There is the story of drummer boy Charles Edwin King who is believed to be the youngest soldier to die in battle during the Civil War. Others who met a similar fate are not documented. Sometimes musicians would write about witnessing such horrific sights.
Harry Kieffer, a musician for the 150th Pennsylvania, wrote about his experience at Gettysburg:
“[I am called] away for a moment to look after some poor fellow whose arm is off at the shoulder, and it was just time I got away, too, for immediately a shell plunges into the sod where I had been sitting, tearing my stretcher to tatters.”
A 16-year-old musician, John A. Cockerill, who was at Shiloh, later wrote,
“I passed… the corpse of a beautiful boy in gray who lay with his blond curls scattered about his face and his hand folded peacefully across his breast. He was clad in a bright and neat uniform, well garnished with gold, which seemed to tell the story of a loving mother and sisters who had sent their household pet to the field of war. His neat little hat lying beside him bore the number of a Georgia regiment… He was about my age… At the sight of the poor boy’s corpse, I burst into a regular boo hoo and started on.”
The trauma experienced by Civil War drummer boys, and other musicians, no doubt left them troubled after the conclusion of the war. They had served alongside adults with the same courage and distinction. Some became prisoners, some were killed and others died of disease. Today in order to properly honor these young soldiers we must remember the nightmarish conditions in which they performed their tasks. Their playing was a major contribution to the army both on the field and off. It is a shame that we often overlook that.
If you are interested in additional posts on the Civil War drummer boy visit:
Drummer Boy Photo Album Drummer Boy Medal of Honor History of Drummer Boys Drummer Boy The Drummer Boy History: Drum Signals Complete Music for the Fife and Drum From History to the Canvas 154th Anniversary A Letter Home 103rd Ohio Preserved Drum Courage and Distinction Civil War Drums “Major” A.H. Johnson Alexander Howard Johnson The Long Roll Civil War Rudiments Battle Beats Drummer Boy Monuments
Pictured: Confederate drummer boy at a re-enactment
I just locked up Dh Peligro from the Dead Kennedys and Chicago’s Danny Seraphine for my next two interviews. I also have a series of past interviews up for publication in DRUMHEAD magazine. I’ve written a series of pieces for them in the past so it’s nice to get back into their author rotation. I also have two pieces submitted to Emerging Civil War. Stay tuned for links.
Today I want to briefly discuss bass drum techniques. I use the word “discuss” because I really want to know what your preference is. Above is an old iPhone video in which I’m playing the bass drum as I usually do. You can see three things. 1. I play heel up using the ball of my foot to propel the pedal. 2. I bury the beater. 3. I’m using a standard single pedal. I think it was a cheap Sound Percussion pedal. Now to be honest I didn’t know how I used my foot until I shot this video. I know that playing in socks helped me because it made it easier to slide on the pedal. I didn’t know how far down I positioned my foot but that may have helped too. I’m not sure if my approach is efficient or not. You can be the judge of that.
I pride myself on using a single pedal. Not that I have anything against double bass or double pedals. That is what works for me. I’m not blazing with my feet. Recently I read an article online that said “At first, it may seem like you are at a disadvantage when playing a single pedal. However, I don’t look at things that way at all. The simplicity of a single pedal setup can, in many ways, allow you to achieve usable results sooner. Better still, it’s all the more impressive to play amazing hand to feet combinations using just one foot.”
I don’t know about playing “amazing hand to feet combinations” but I can do doubles well. I have a heavy foot but I can also feather the bass drum if needed. Nowadays I use a Mapex 500 pedal and it has definitely improved my reaction time. I also use the DW Black Sheep beater developed by my good friend and co-author Rich Redmond. It’s important for us to remember that it is just as significant to develop our feet as it is our hands. After all playing the drums requires four limbs, not two. So what is your style and preference? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks in advance for commenting.
Spider Rondinelli, perhaps the most influential jazz drummer in Pittsburgh, passed away this week at the age of 82 (read obituary). I was fortunate enough to take some lessons with Mr. Rondinelli and on one occasion, Jeff Watts. That’s a double threat of jazz drummers from the Steel City. I remember being enamored by his flawless playing and how he danced around the kit. There are two of his distinct patterns that I still use today.
That said I must confess that I didn’t fully appreciate Mr. Rondinelli as a drummer or as a teacher until some years later. At the time I felt convicted. I should have practiced more and stayed under his tutelage longer. He taught me how to sit within the structure of the song, knowing when to keep time and when to break away.
It’s been years since I played any form of jazz so I imagine my chops are lacking. If I look back at the training with him I might be able to fake it. I imagine that Mr. Rondinelli would be disappointed but also pleased to reinvigorate my skill in that genre.
One thing for sure, his legacy of music will not be forgotten. If you have an opportunity to listen to “Jubilee” you will hear some of the most tasteful drumming that recalls the golden days of traditional jazz. Mr. Rondinelli’s use of the hi-hat particularly stands out.
In an article from a 2007 edition of The Post-Gazette Mr. Rondinelli reflected on his life as a top musician in his field. “Jazz is going to save the world,” he said. “Jazz music has given me security. I have done nothing else in my life. My father wanted me to be a tap dancer, but I preferred to play the music that made me want to dance.”
There is an amazing video circulating across the web titled “We’re the Superhumans.”It includes 140 athletes, musicians and ordinary people with disabilities crammed into three minutes of television. The trailer opens up with some amazing big band drumming by Alvin Law.
According to his bio: “Alvin has appeared on countless telethons (well over 100 since 1976) and media features, and has been the subject of two award winning television documentaries. The first, His Best Foot Forward, was shown across Canada in 1978. The second, Broken Promises, focused on the plight of Canada’s Thalidomide victims and after its Canadian showing was seen on American Public Broadcasting’s Frontline. Re-named Extraordinary People, it was nominated for an Emmy Award. Alvin has appeared on CBC’s What On Earth and ABC’s Frontrunners. Their segment about Alvin won an Emmy Award.”
I find this man incredibly inspirational as he can do more with no hands than I can do with two. His drumming is amazing and it motivates me to practice more often.