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I would be remiss if I let the month of March go by without mentioning our 6th anniversary. Over the last 6 years we have posted 595 posts. Here is post #1:
I know I said I would only post every two weeks but I got a little anxious after going live today. For my first “official” pearl of wisdom I think I will keep it short and sweet. As the inaugural post I believe it is appropriate to discuss the first (and most often) thing that we do as drummers. That of course is practice. It’s a dirty little schizophrenic word in every musician’s vocabulary that means both agony and ecstasy. Who doesn’t remember sitting at a drum pad for hours on end practicing sticking exercises and rudiments? How about working endlessly at the drum set on three way independence and syncopation? “Practice makes perfect” some say. Wrong! Practice makes you better. No one’s perfect.
That said, practice is perhaps the most important thing that we do. Establishing muscle memory, maintaining consistent time and getting the proper feel is an absolute necessity. Therefore the exercises that we do over-and-over-and-over are critical. Just like an athlete must sharpen their mind and body, so too does the drummer. Many people don’t know that there is a correct and incorrect way to practice. The biggest mistake that drummers make when practicing is trying to sound good. That defeats the whole purpose and stifles any growth or potential.
If you are really trying to get better you should struggle. That means you are learning. Only by challenging yourself, exploring places you’ve never been to and having the courage to take chances can you improve as a player. There is an old saying used by ballerinas that goes “Dance like no one is watching.” What an amazing concept. Play, perform and practice like no one is watching. Be brave. Go for it. That’s how you learn. That’s how you improve.
This past weekend I was rummaging through my storage room when I came upon a box of old cassette tapes. Sitting on top were three of my favorites. Two were from the Chick Corea Elektric Band and one was from the Chick Corea Akoustic Band. I remember listening to these tapes a thousand times over and over as I was obsessed with the playing of Dave Weckl. I’ve posted here before about my dislike of long drum solos but honestly, I could watch Dave solo all day. The creativity and precision of his style is amazing, and he is one of the best in his genre.
When I was in high school, I went through a jazz/fusion phase and my friend Jeff Russell (who I have interviewed here before) turned me onto Chick who turned me onto Weckl. I must admit that I spent some time behind my own kit trying to cop sections of the easier songs that he played. No way could I touch the complicated ones. After I dug out these cassettes, I grabbed an old tape player and put it in my drum room. I plan on revisiting that challenge again.
Weckl was, and still is, an inspirational drummer who makes other drummers want to practice. Incredibly, you can now take online lessons with Dave via one-on-one sessions on Zoom. You can work on anything you want. You can have Dave assess your playing and come up with a plan or, tell him what you want to work on. It’s an amazing opportunity to get invaluable insight into improving your playing. For more on that, visit the Dave Weckl Online School at http://www.daveweckl.com/.
This got me thinking. What an amazing time we are living in as drummers. We have access to learning tools like Drumeo, and YouTube and we can take lessons from our heroes. Can you imagine Skyping John Bonham and asking him to help you with your bass drum foot? I recently got a piano and I am learning the instrument. I ordered some instructional books but I’m also looking up videos to help get me started. It’s all on my iPhone. In the palm of my hand! It can blow your mind if you stop and think about it. Musicians today have no excuse. The technology is there. Go practice!
Regular visitors know that the subject of the Civil War, specifically drummer boys, has been a regular subject here at Off Beat along with periodic promotions for Civil War books written by your host. Lately I’ve added book reviews to the blog and I’ve recently completed another review of a book on a similar subject for another page that I manage. Although this book is not specifically on the subject of drums it’s authored by an experienced Civil War reenactor who portrayed a drummer boy in the 7th PA Reserves.
His name is Chris Keller and he is now a professor of history and Director of the Military History Program at the U.S. Army War College, in Carlisle, PA. Always interested in the Civil War, he joined up with the 7th PA Reserves right after the 125th Gettysburg anniversary in 1988, and stuck with it through his college years at Washington and Lee (although he admits he drummed for the rebels a few times while in Lexington). He enjoyed marching in a Union fife and drum outfit composed of both Pennsylvania and Maryland units back then and memorized all the main cadences and tunes by heart. I asked Chris about his experience as a reenacting drummer.
“I still whistle and hum those tunes to this day,’ he mused, and while he no longer owns his old rope tension drum, he still remembers the basic hand movements and occasionally breaks out his old drumsticks to help with the stress of teaching national security policy and strategy and military history to senior officers of our armed forces. “I can trace my understanding of the average Civil War soldier to my reenacting days and all those hours playing the drum on the march and in camp,” he said.
Now an accomplished author and speaker, with six books under his belt, his latest work, The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy (Pegasus Books, 2019) clearly indicates he is still in love with the history of the Civil War.” I thought visitors here with an interest in Civil War drummers may have an expanded interest in the Civil War. Here is my review of Chris’ book:
Throughout the course of American military history there have been successful partnerships between generals that resulted in victory. George Washington and Nathanael Greene during the Revolutionary War and George S. Patton and Omar Bradley during World War Two are fine examples. No two military partners ever related to one another on so many levels as Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. Jackson. So says Christian B Keller, author of The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy.
Part biography, part character study, Keller’s book presents a sincere examination of the men’s lives together both personally and professionally. The Great Partnership reads like a history book you wanted to read in school. The reader is taken through a chronological study of the general’s shared experiences together throughout the American Civil War starting before the war’s first engagement, through their victories and defeats, to the untimely death of the books title character.
Keller outlined the vision for the book: “Although the cause for which Lee and Jackson fought failed in the end, their partnership – in all aspects – offers modern leaders’ rich food for thought. Those who command, manage, and lead in their organization at any level can benefit from a contextual understanding of the generals multifaceted relationship, but individuals and executive teams at the strategic level may profit the most from pondering their successful collaboration.”
Keller’s publisher at Pegasus Books was kind enough to send over a review copy. Here are my thoughts.
First, in full disclosure, I consider myself to be a Jackson scholar, if not an enthusiast. I’ve written about Jackson in two books of my own, give battlefield tours to the very locations mentioned in this book and even named my youngest son Jackson. I intended to examine this book with a critical eye. I must say that I am not disappointed. The author captured the essence of Jackson and Lee’s relationship from a military, emotional, spiritual, and imperfect point of view. There is no idol worship or Lost Cause rhetoric here. Keller lets the facts speak for themselves and presents each man with all their strengths and weaknesses.
Most impressively he does so within an accurate backdrop of the Civil War. It is immediately apparent that Keller did his homework, and the research effort shines through. Each battle is recounted in a way that will impress historians and appeal to novices. The trust between Lee and Jackson was remarkable and it was reinforced as the war progressed. The loss of Jackson had an immense effect on Lee and Keller does an excellent job of showing how it affected the following engagements that took place with Jackson’s absence. He also shows how Lee was never able to replace that partnership. Overall the book is a complete study of the men and war.
For anyone with an interest in leadership studies or the American Civil War I highly suggest The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy.
Here is an amazing performance by Carlos Daniel Guevara performing “Groove 84” from the book “Groove Essentials” by Tommy Igoe. According to Carlos he learned this rhythm from Afro Cuban music, sometimes called Naningo or Bembe. He adds, “I think that the main challenge is to keep the groove and make it feel alive. This groove is based on a 6/8 pattern, but to start learning this groove you can start doing a double paradiddle with your metronome set to 6/8 slow.”
[Full title: Born to Drum: The Truth About the World’s Greatest Drummers–from John Bonham and Keith Moon to Sheila E. and Dave Grohl]
“Are you a drummer?” it’s a question that is posed to the author on the first page of his book “Born to Drum.” The answer is…”No”. This is a surprise response to a book that is written about drummers from the drummer’s perspective. Even more surprising is that you would never know it as this book is about as close to a drummer’s authorship as you can get. In a book with the sub title “The Truth About the World’s Greatest Drummers” the truth is on every page. The author gets to the real insights by asking all the right questions.
Tony Barrell, a British journalist who covers pop music for the Sunday Times in the UK among other publications, simply has a great admiration for drummers. An admiration that runs so deep he decided to write an entire book about them. A talented interviewer, Barrell speaks to a “Who’s-Who” list of drumming legends as well as the up-and-coming generation of drummers. Names like Phil Collins, Nick Mason, and Bill Bruford are included along with Niko McBrian and John Densmore.
The book is divided up like an investigation in which Barrell is trying to figure out what makes a drummer tick. He explores the differences between working-class drummers and show-offs, studio and stage musicians, those in search of perfect time and those who are looking for sexual liaisons. He also includes a look back at the seedier history of rock drummers from the days of destroying hotel rooms and crashing cars to passing out on stage from too many medicines.
By including both the older and younger generation the reader gets a real impression of the differences of drummers then and now.
Barrell’s publisher Dey St., an imprint of Harper Collins, was kind enough to send a review copy to us here at Off Beat. Here are my impressions: “Born to Drum” is a fun read. I finished the entire book in two sittings and once I started I wanted to read more. As a drummer, I immediately related to almost everything in the book. Drummers will constantly be thinking to themselves, “I knew that,” and “I feel the same.” My favorite part of the book is when he talks about Ringo Starr’s immeasurable impact on the drumming community. Ringo gets a lot of credit as an influencer but not much as a drummer.
This book will appeal to drummers, and like the author, non-drummers alike.
Jeff Porcaro is still revered today as one of the most prolific studio drummers in all of music history, as well as a founding member of the epic rock band TOTO. Jeff’s work can be heard on hundreds of timeless recordings by artists such as Paul McCartney, Steely Dan, Boz Skaggs, Barbara Streisand, and Bruce Springsteen. Porcaro also contributed drums to four tracks on Michael Jackson’s Thriller, one of the best-selling albums of all-time.
His untimely and suspicious death at the age of 38 cemented Porcaro’s name in rock-and-roll lore.
Robyn Flans, a music journalist with more than 40 years working for such publications as Modern Drummer, County Weekly and People has tackled the life of Porcaro in her new biography titled It’s About Time: Jeff Porcaro – The Man and His Music (September, 2020).
Covering Porcaro’s professional career in its entirety Flans presents Porcaro’s growth from a backyard garage musician to a superstar on the world’s biggest stages.
Relying on in-depth quotes from those that worked with Porcaro or knew him best Flans paints an intimate portrait of the man both in front of and behind the drum kit. This takes the reader on a journey that follows Porcaro from his teenage days as a budding drummer all the way to his end of days as a successful songwriter and producer.
Readers may be surprised to find facts such as that Porcaro started out as the touring drummer for Sonny and Cher or that he was a very talented artist who was the Art Director for all TOTO’s imagery.
Flans shys away from Porcaro’s controversial death in August of 1992 which was determined to be a heart attack from either spraying insecticide in the yard of his Hidden Hills home or coronary artery disease which ran in his family or was caused by cocaine use. This book focuses on the positive life of Porcaro instead.
Flan’s publisher Hudson Music was kind enough to send a review copy to Off Beat. I was able to read the entire book in two short sittings as it was an enjoyable and easy read. Flan’s 40 years of writing shines through.
As a fan I had been familiar with the overall career of Porcaro from reading about him in Modern Drummer and on Drummerworld but I had no idea of the detail that Flans provided. My respect for Porcaro has deepened and I am even more impressed with his discography.
Off Beat asked Flan a couple questions about her book:
MA: What inspired you to write this book?
RF: A desire to honor my friend, keep his memory and legacy alive for generations who are yet to be born and give everyone back some time with Jeff who they’ve missed so much.
MA: What do you want readers to come away with?
RF: Just the joy of spending time with Jeff and hopefully a chance to get to know him better.
For fans of TOTO or drummers looking for inspiration It’s About Time: Jeff Porcaro gets inside the mind of a legend. The book is available on Amazon, HudsonMusic.com and where most books are available.
In recognition of Black History Month, here are some of the most influential African-American players who shaped the sound of jazz drumming: Baby Dodds, “Zutty” Singleton, Chick Webb, Papa Jo Jones, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Sonny Payne, Elvin Jones and Tony Williams. (others not pictured Big Sid Catlett, Kenny Clarke and Art Taylor)
Here are some videos (solos) featuring these amazing players:
- Baby Dodds: https://youtu.be/R6N-A3owHDk
- “Zutty” Singleton: https://youtu.be/KC7CX-ppfSk
- Chick Webb: https://youtu.be/VhSMV_Qkn_E
- Papa Jo Jones: https://youtu.be/fxtik6ektQY
- Max Roach: https://youtu.be/JTBgttPqef8
- Art Blakey: https://youtu.be/fQt2QMtDDiI
- Sonny Payne: https://youtu.be/r3Dd_Ee0k4A
- Elvin Jones: https://youtu.be/msbg4iaW5nE
- Tony Williams: https://youtu.be/RsCjeHWXiGY
Far too often we overlook certain pieces of drum equipment that we use every day. For instance, drum sleeves and felts are probably something that you don’t think about as they usually come with the cymbal stand. Sometimes the quality of these accoutrements leave something to be desired.
Earl Lemley has an answer to this dilemma. A gasket maker by trade, Earl has designed and manufactured high-quality cymbal sleeves and felts that are far above the quality that come with standard cymbal stands.
Coming as Short and Tall options Lem’s Cymbal Sleeves are made from high-quality plastic and fit any cymbal stand. Lem’s Felts are made from 100% wool and come in a variety of packages: Hi-Hat Clutch and Seat felts, The Swingers, and Standard and Thick felts. The calling card to Lem’s Sleeves and Felts is that they help drummers save their cymbals from wear and tear.
Earl sent Off Beat samples of his product and they were found to be of the highest quality. Each sleeve and felt fit on standard cymbal stands and not only worked well but also looked good in appearance.
Lem’s Cymbal Felts have been used by professional drummers who have performed with Tom Watts, Cher, Tina Turner, Los Lobos, Hall and Oates, The Cult, Alice Cooper, Steve Winwood, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Carly Simon, T Bone Burnett, Richard Thompson, Bryan Adams, Hank Williams Jr. Gary Allen, Mark Chestnut, Kellie Pickler, Aaron Tippin and Rickey Van Shelton.
If you are interested in preventing wear and tear on your cymbals with high-quality sleeves and felts visit Lem’s Cymbal Felts online at: https://www.lemscymbalfelts.com/ or call Lemley Industries at 860-584-2724.
Here at Off Beat we pride ourselves on supporting our female drummers. From interviewing Marisa Testa and Sara Cardile to remembering the legendary career of Viola Smith we love showcasing women who have, or who are, blazing the trail for their peers. Tammy Woods is such a drummer. As the founder of Drummergirls United Tammy has organized one of the largest, if not the largest, group of women drummers who inspire and support each other personally and professionally. Tammy was kind enough to answer some questions about her organization:
MA: Tell us about the vision behind Drummergirls United.
TW: The vision I had starting Drummergirls United on FB (almost four years ago) was a simple one: to have a place where I could meet with my other female drumming buddies in one place. There was only about eight of us in the beginning. Now we have over 6,300 members and the vision has changed. It’s not just a convenient meeting place. It’s a very positive, inspiring, educational, and encouraging community for female (or female identifying) drummers of any age and skill level where they can feel safe and accepted. We keep all posts free from politics and drama or any controversy. We focus on our love of playing drums, our love of our gear, and our love of learning great technique. We learn how to have better concentrated practice times and the ins and outs of the music industry and making drumming a career if that is the direction that they are going. We post lots of educational videos, live teaching videos, we have zoom hang out sessions, and now twice a week I am interviewing drum “celebrities “ via zoom and our members can log in and ask questions live. Our group very much feels like a big loving family.
MA: What are the unique challenges that female drummers face today?
TW: The unique challenges we face are many faceted. Just today I read several times where a truly gifted drummer (who happens to be female) posts an incredible drumming video and I read comments like, “Wow, she’s great for a girl”, or “She’s a great drummer but she needs to get out in the sun”, or this one to me, “You look really different than you sound”. These are so ridiculous. A truly talented male drummer would never be told he’s good for a guy or he’s a great drummer, but he needs a tan. What does that have to do with anything? Two years ago, I was asked to show up and play at an open-mic night. When my name was called I walked up to the stage and passed two guys sitting together and I heard one say to the other “Oh great, a girl drummer” in a snarky, sarcastic way as I walked past them. I played the three-song set and they both stood up and gave me a standing ovation. This is just another example of the scrutiny that male drummers are never under that we female drummers, unfortunately, face constantly. It shouldn’t matter if we are male or female, young or pretty or thin or sun-tanned. We are drummers.
MA: What does the future hold for female drummers?
TW: The future is VERY BRIGHT for female drummers!!! There are so much education out there now and on-line lessons, YouTube, masterclasses, clinics, etc…and slowly we are becoming much more accepted as equals in the industry. I am thrilled that I get to do my part to shine a light on these incredibly talented girls and women in this industry.
Drummergirls United Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/216201188860059
I went through a Doors phase in Middle School and High School. You could even call it an obsession. I read every book I could get my hands on about the band and Jim Morrison. I bought everything I could that they had put out. I still have a pile of Doors albums, cassettes, and CDs. Most of all I was captivated with the drumming of John Densmore. I think this was because he was more than a drummer. He was an intricate part of the song, often playing against or accenting the vocals and antics of Jim Morrison. Much more than a timekeeper, Densmore was an auditory performer. He often self-identified himself as a percussionist.
Doors’ producer Paul Rothchild summed up Densmore in a March 1967 interview. “John—a brilliant drummer, “The End” proved that, in my book; that’s some of the greatest drumming I’ve ever heard in my life; irrespective of the fact that I’m involved in this album, it’s incredibly creative drumming— has an instinct for when. During a very quiet part he’ll just come in with three drum shots that are about as loud as you can hit a drum, and they’re right, they’re right! Now, you can’t plan those things.”
The Door’s music is unique. You could even say one-of-a-kind and that required Densmore to be a one-of-a-kind drummer. His use of different styles of beats from jazz-to-bossa nova-to swing-to-rock showed his incredible level of diversity. He simply played for the song. Whatever it needed Densmore delivered. Live shows also required Densmore to be constantly playing off of Jim Morrison who slithered about the stage. His constant awareness of Morrison’s body language and improvisation enhanced the “Lizard King’s” performance.
Clearly Jim Morrison was the face of The Doors, so John and the others took a backseat to the rock star. This did not seem to bother them in the least as they were more concerned with focusing on the music. Densmore’s contribution is evident as his beats are so original and appropriate for each song. “Light My Fire” for instance, features a perfectly suited bossa nova beat. Sometimes the simpler beats (ala Ringo Starr) propelled the song such a “Riders on the Storm.” The Door’s drummer’s diversity clearly contributed to the diversity of the band and gave us songs that still resonate today.
Following the end of The Doors in 1973 Densmore continued, and continues, to play in a variety of musical and theater projects, all of them calling on his unique ability for improvisation and creativity. In 1990, Densmore wrote a best-selling book titled Riders on the Storm about his life and the time he spent with Morrison and The Doors. It is available on Amazon here.