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Read Exclusive Interviews written for Drumhead, Modern Drummer and Off Beat: Troy Luccketta – Steve Goold – Daniel Glass – Garrett Goodwin – Steve Smith – Dan Needham – Kelly Keagy – Scott Pellegrom – Brandon Scott – Mike “Woody” Emerson – Ben Barter – Rich Redmond – Sean Fuller – Jason Hartless – Robert Sweet – Keio Stroud – Tommy Taylor – Frankie Banali – Bobby Z – Danny Seraphine – Dino Sex– David Abbruzzese – Marisa Testa – David Thibodeau – Robert Perkins – Sarra Cardile (Next up: TBD)
I’ve been spending a great deal of time listening to Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay). There are many lessons posted online of him teaching at the Plum Village Monastery. He relaxes me on the train ride home from work and I’ve learned some things about the practice of Buddhism that fascinate me. The practical application of the lessons are interesting.
Music is an important part of the monk’s tradition whether it be chanting, bells, or drums. One drum in particular is the Damaru, a small double sided hand drum. There is a leather string tied over the narrow middle part of it, where knotted, wooden or bone ends make of rattling sound on the drum’s membranes, when swung.
According to its description: It is a small drum with two sides separated from each other by a thin neck – like structure symbolizes the two utterly dissimilar states of existence, unamani fest and manifest. Damaru has a resonator which is anywhere from 4 – 10 inches in length and 3 – 8 inches in diameter. The resonators are laced together with cords. The knots on each end strike both heads to produce a rattling sound. This is affected by rotating drum rapidly in alternating directions. The pitch is bent by squeezing lacing. When a damaru is vibrated it produces dissimilar sound which are fused together by resonance to create to create one sound. The sound thus produced symbolizes Nada, the cosmic sound of AUM, which can be heard during deep meditation.
Like many ancient religious practices drums are commonly used for ceremonial purposes.
I’ve written extensively on the history of the Civil War Drummer Boy here before. One search for the term will bring up over a dozen posts exploring the subject. No instance however presents a story quite as remarkable as that of Johann Christoph Julius Langbein.
J.C. Julius Langbein was born in Germany in 1845. His family immigrated to the United States when he was still a young boy. Langbein grew up in Brooklyn, New York and at the onset of the American Civil War, he volunteered at the young age of only 15. With his parent’s permission Langbein enlisted with the Union Army’s 9th New York Volunteers, also known as Hawkins’ Zouaves. There he served as a drummer boy. Langbein was young and small, with feminine features that earned him the nickname “Jennie” by the soldiers in his regiment. In January of 1862 his regiment joined General Ambrose Burnside’s North Carolina Expedition.
During the Battle of Camden on April 19, 1862, Lieutenant Thomas L. Bartholomew was hit in the head by shrapnel and collapsed. Langbein ran to his aid despite continued heavy enemy shelling and rifle fire, and managed to guide the officer to relative safety. The regimental surgeon determined that the officer was too far gone to save but Langbein was determined that the lieutenant would not be left behind to die. He snuck him into the wagon of other wounded men headed to the federal hospital on Roanoke Island where he received life-saving care. After the Lieutenant’s recovery the drummer boy was subsequently recommended for the Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor is the highest award for bravery and valor that can be bestowed upon a member of the United States military. One such citation is that of the Medal of Honor for Johann Christoph Julius Langbein. It stated: “A drummer boy, 15 years of age, he voluntarily and under a heavy fire went to the aid of a wounded officer, procured medical assistance for him, and aided in carrying him to a place of safety.”
According to his bio Langbein left the regiment in 1863 and returned to his home in New York City. He took up the uniform again in 1869, this time as an infantry officer with the New York National Guard, where he rose to the rank of captain. Returning to civilian life once again, Langbein became a lawyer and then judge in the state of New York. In 1905 he was elected commander of the Medal of Honor Legion. (Drum and Drumsticks used by Langbein)
It’s easy for those of us that are “weekend drummers” to get caught up with the day-to-day responsibilities of life that limit our time behind the kit. I’ve neglected my practice time immensely over the last few months. In fact, I’ve spent more time dusting off my cymbals than playing them.
This is not to mean that I haven’t been paying attention to my drumming. Every Friday I look forward to listening to Mike and Mike’s Modern Drummer Podcast. I also spend time watching the guest lectures on Drumeo on a fairly regular basis. I read my monthly issues of Modern Drummer and Drumhead magazines as time permits. Of course blogging here keeps my mind fresh on the subject.
So although I’m not physically playing the drums I’m still immersed in them. You see drums are not just an instrument. They are a way of life. They become an important part of your being even if you can’t play them on a regular basis. Once a drummer always a drummer seems to fit. There is a great children’s book titled “Donald Loves Drumming” by author Nick Bland that I believe personifies what it means to be a drummer. The tagline goes like this:
Donald loves drumming, all day and all night. But his family all say he is too loud. So Donald tries other activities-but nothing seems right.
I’m just like Donald. I love drumming and nothing else feels right. I’ll keep finding time to play and when I can’t I’ll fill that time with other drum-related activities. That will keep my mental chops as sharp as my playing. In fact, it will likely keep them sharper. That mind-set will translate on the kit improving what I do and why I do it.
When I was looking for my first “up-and-coming interviewee” it was hard not to notice Sarra Cardile. Simply put, the girl is everywhere. From her impressive placement in the “Hit Like a Girl Contest” and participation in the “World’s Fastest Drummer Competition” at Summer NAMM, to her ongoing support of the “Breast Cancer Can Stick It Drummathon” Sarra is one busy drummer. Even more impressive is that fact that she has established herself as a highly respected musician at the age of 22. I came to know Sarra through my friend and co-author Rich Redmond who is her mentor. Anyone who watches her videos online can instantly tell that this girl is serious about pursuing her career. Sarra is one of the most active up-and-coming drummers on the scene. I got the opportunity to ask her some questions about how she got to where she is and where she sees herself going in the future.
As you can tell by now, I’m a history nerd. One of the most enjoyable things about writing history books is conducting research. That is my favorite part. The writing is just part of the process. This includes spending time exploring archives and museums. Recently I was made aware of a museum that focuses on drums and percussion. It’s called the Rhythm! Discovery Center and it’s managed by the Percussive Arts Society. The Rhythm! Discovery Center features unique, interactive exhibits highlighting a rich collection of historic artifacts and hands-on percussion instruments. It also offers a diverse array of educational programming designed to supplement its interactive exhibits, providing a place for everyone to learn about playing techniques, delve into individual instruments, and enjoy musical performances from local and national performing groups. I was impressed with their online exhibit on the history of rudiments: http://rhythmdiscoverycenter.org/its-rudimentary/. The Rhythm! Discovery Center features something for anyone interested in drums and percussion and can also be rented for special events. The museum is located in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana. For more information, visit them online at: http://rhythmdiscoverycenter.org/.
This month marks the anniversary of the death of John Bonham. He is considered by many to be the greatest drummer of all-time and the indelible mark he left on rock drumming is second-to-none. When I look at the legacy of John Bonham I can’t help but draw the conclusion of how unnecessary his death was. It was a tragedy but one that could have been avoided if not for the enabling that took place with Bonham’s drinking. Clearly he had a problem. All the members of Led Zeppelin had their issues but Bonham’s gregarious personality seemed to be dependent on alcohol. Perhaps if the people around him were more conscious of how much alcohol he had consumed that day they would not have left him unattended. Perhaps if Bonham had better coping skills he would not have consumed so much alcohol in the first place. It’s easy for us to look back and pass judgment knowing what the outcome was. Still I can’t help but be disappointed in both Bonham and the rest of the band. What a waste. Here’s a recollection of the evening leading up to Bonham’s untimely death:
In September 1980 all four members of Led Zeppelin had begun rehearsing in preparation for their first tour of North America since 1977, which was planned to kick off on October 17th in Montreal, Canada. The rehearsals took place near Jimmy Page’s Windsor home where the band was staying. It was here where John Paul Jones and Benje LeFevre (Led Zeppelin’s road manager) discovered Bonham’s body, in the morning of September 25th. Bonham had died tragically from inhalation of vomit in bed during his sleep, aged just 32. (John Bonham: A Thunder of Drums, Welch & Nicholls, 2001, pg 120)
In the day leading up to his premature death, Bonham had been on a 12-hour binge drinking session, which began at noon and lasted until midnight, when he fell unconscious. He had consumed an alarming 40 units of vodka. (Welch & Nicholls, 2001, pg 120) The UK’s recommended maximum intake of alcoholic beverages per day for men is 3-4 units. After falling unconscious on a sofa, he was put to bed by an assistant where he could sleep off his drunkenness. The assistant laid him on his side with pillows for support.
John Paul Jones: “Benje and I found him. It was like, “Let’s go up and look at Bonzo, see how he is.” We tried to wake him up… It was terrible. Then I had to tell the other two… I had to break the news to Jimmy and Robert. It made me feel very angry – at the waste of him… I can’t say he was in good shape, because he wasn’t. There were some good moments during the last rehearsals … but then he started on the vodka.” “I think he had been drinking because there were some problems in his personal life. But he died because of an accident. He was lying down the wrong way, which could have happened to anybody who drank a lot.” (Welch & Nicholls, 2001, pg 121)
An ambulance was called in the morning immediately after Bonham was discovered, but it was too late for them to do anything. The police also arrived at Jimmy’s house, but no suspicious circumstances were identified.
An inquest into John Bonham’s death was held at East Berkshire coroner’s court on October 18th where it was determined that Bonham had died from inhalation of his own vomit during sleep which led to pulmonary edema. (Pulmonary edema describes fluid accumulation in the lungs, which can cause respiratory failure.) The cause of death was put down as “consumption of alcohol”. A verdict of accidental death was arrived at and recorded.
Robert Plant describes John’s frame of mind as they drove to their last rehearsal together: “On the very last day of his life, as we drove to the rehearsal, he was not quite as happy as he could be. He said, “I’ve had it with playing drums. Everybody plays better than me.” We were driving in the car and he pulled off the sun visor and threw it out the window as he was talking. He said, “I’ll tell you what, when we get to the rehearsal, you play the drums and I’ll sing.” And that was our last rehearsal.” (Welch & Nicholls, 2001, pg 121)
John Bonham’s family funeral service took place on October 10th 1980 at Rushock Parish Church in Worcestershire. Around 250 mourners attended, made up of family, friends, band mates and other musicians including: Roy Wood, Denny Laine, Bev Bevan and Jeff Lynne. Paul McCartney left a wreath and tributes flooded in from fellow drummers including Carmine Appice, Phil Collins, Cozy Powell and Carl Palmer. After the family service, the funeral procession made its way to Worcester Crematorium where the final service was held. (John Bonham: The Powerhouse Behind Led Zeppelin, 2005, pg 199)
Swan Song Records (Led Zeppelins record label started by their manager Peter Grant) issued a statement on December 4th 1980, which addressed the many rumors regarding the bands uncertain future following the death of Led Zeppelin’s drummer John Bonham:
“We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were.” (Welch & Nicholls, 2001, pg 122)
Here’s a helpful list of 10 things to remember to take with you on your next gig:
- Drum Key: Obviously the quintessential tool. Also the most likely to get lost so bring two. Don’t be afraid to put one on a chain around your neck. It also might help to put fluorescent tape on the handle so you can find it in the dark.
- Gaffer/Duct Tape: Also a standard. This can be used for a multitude of purposes from marking out the exact position of your stands on your drum rug to muffling your drums and in some cases provide a quick fix for a broken head.
- Spare Hi-Hat Clutch: This will be the first thing to break and is usually the most worn out piece on a house or backline kit. This is a crucial part of your instrument. Don’t forget about it.
- Multi-Screwdriver: This speaks for itself. Think of this as your “ready-for-anything” tool. It’s a good idea to bring a set of different sized bits too to cover any size and situation.
- Spare Snare Drum Head: You might want to go as far as to bring a spare snare and save yourself the trouble of having to change this out on the fly. BUT if you’re trying to limit the items you have to carry make sure you bring a couple extra heads.
- Spare Drum Sticks: Bring a stick bag full and then some depending on the gig. It might also be a good idea to bring some brushes and hot rods if you might have to play quietly.
- Cymbal Sleeves, Felts, Wingnuts: Also likely to be missing. Bring a bagful to cover all sizes. Be cool. If you have a bunch of extras leave them on the kit when you leave. Make life easier for the next drummer and pay it forward. They’re really cheap.
- Black Sharpie Pen: You never know when you’ll need to write something down like the set list or some quick charts. (Or maybe even that rare autograph!)
- Small First Aid Kit: You never know when you’re going to bust that knuckle and bleed all over the place. You also might end up with a nasty blister. Bandage those wounds. No need to suffer in pain through the whole show.
- Bottled Water: No matter where you are playing you’re going to need to stay hydrated. It helps if you bring your own water. That way you won’t be dependent on anyone else providing it for you.
I’ve posted many times here about my interest in the life and times of the military drummer boy. Our friend and artist Jeff Trexler just released another extraordinary drummer boy commission. You may recall I posted about Jeff in a previous post that showcased his paintings of a Federal and Confederate drummer boy. For those interested in exploring and purchasing these and other pieces of Jeff Trexler’s work, you can visit him online at: http://www.trexlerhistoricalart.com.
Back when I was a more active author I did many book signings and speaking engagements. I always sold out of books and I spoke to groups ranging anywhere from 5 to 500 people. I loved giving talks and I really enjoyed those opportunities. Sometimes I miss them very much. (If you are interested, here is a link to a talk I did on George Washington’s mother Mary Ball WATCH HERE) I’ve been out of the game for so long I’ve become irrelevant. I’ve been thinking about how can I incorporate speaking on the blog and the only answer I can come up with is doing a Facebook Live post. I’ve watched others do them. Some were good. Some not-so-good. I’ve decided that if I’m going to do one I need to come up with an interesting topic to present. I also need to garner an audience of a size worthy of the time it will take me to do it. Here’s what I’ve come up with. I’m going to research and write something special. Something that I feel folks will be interested in. It will likely be historical. I’ll plan for it to be no more than 10-minutes long. That will save time for interaction. Then I’ll advertise it on Facebook and the Blog far in advance and for a time I think will be convenient for folks to pop in. I believe once it’s done I can save it and link to it on the blog. Someone correct me if I am wrong. Rather than just do a casual chat I want to do something more professional and informative. If it works, I will think about doing another one sometime in the future. For now, I need to scratch this itch. Stay tuned for more info.
I intentionally keep this blog apolitical and steer clear of controversy. There is enough of that already going on in the world. I do look for opportunities to rise above the arguments that are dominating the public consciousness. It seems that everywhere you turn people are fighting one another over various issues. The subject of racism has become THE hot topic. Blatant displays of racism, as well as questionable accusations of it appear to be in the news every day. Instead of taking the time to talk to one another, people prefer to fight. Therefore, the argument has become the norm. I look at discussions between different races as having an opportunity to share their culture and further one another’s understanding and respect. I have made a point to post about different cultures in order to educate people and hopefully inspire them to explore other cultures on their own. One such post looked at African Drums and Drumming (Read Here). Drumming is an international language and there is so much to share. It would be nice if folks could stop throwing the race card back and forth for a minute and take a look at each other’s uniqueness. Respecting each other’s culture can be a stepping stone toward civility.