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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 (Next Up Marisa Testa and Robert Perkins)
The Rear View Mirror. Looking back with David Abbruzzese
By Michael Aubrecht
In 1991 I remember a college friend tipping me off to a new album titled Ten by a band out of Seattle named Pearl Jam. I remember how odd that band name sounded but I checked it out and was impressed. The song “Why Go,” not one of their hits, stood out to me. Another song titled “Even Flow” also stood out. I listened to the CD a few times before returning it to my friend and I moved on.
A few months later I’m sitting in the bar I frequented having a beer when the song “Even Flow” came across the jukebox speakers. This version however was live and far more intense than what was on the album. The recording featured some amazing drumming that immediately caught my attention. Unlike the original recording this drummer was playing slick hi-hat accents throughout the piece along with some hard-driving fills. I thought I even heard a splash cymbal in there. The whole band came alive and the performance was very memorable. As a drummer I wondered what had happened between the first cut and this new take. I later learned that the difference was in the drummers. It wasn’t a drummer improving on what he had recorded in the studio. It was a whole new drummer expanding the drum parts and propelling the band forward.
Once again, I appreciated the performance but moved on. Fast forward a month or so in 1992…I’m watching one of my favorite shows, MTV Unplugged where bands like Nirvana and Arrested Development put on performances that were magic. This night Pearl Jam was playing. What immediately struck me was the drum kit sitting in the shadows on the left of the stage. Previous drummers, due to the acoustic setting, used brushes, hotrods, bongos or some stripped down form of percussion. This drummer had a full set-up. Once the music began I noticed that he appeared to be jamming, yet he did not overpower the other musicians around him. It was a master class in control and dynamics.
From then on I sought out the drummer, one David Abbruzzese, who quickly became a favorite. In fact, Dave’s playing influenced my own and I strived to perform with the same skill and intensity that he did. I requested that my band cover Pearl Jam and we decided on “Alive.” I continued to be inspired by Dave’s playing throughout the band’s next two albums (Vs. and Vitalogy) and was very disappointed when his relationship with the band ended. To be honest, that was when I stopped listening to Pearl Jam. As far as I knew Dave had dropped off the face of the earth following the break-up.
Fast forward once again to 2017…Who do I discover on Facebook but one David Abbruzzese. I immediately sent him a friend request and was incredibly thrilled when he accepted. I was a bit star-struck when we communicated online and elated when he agreed to do an interview for the blog. It’s a great pleasure when you get to interview someone who had such an influence on your past. I still smile when I hear that live version of “Even Flow” as it was my first introduction to the man. It still remains one of my favorite songs.
Dave still inspires me to this day and I’m not the only one. One visit to Dave’s Facebook page shows thousands of followers who routinely post hundreds of comments. Honestly, I have no idea how he keeps up with it. His attempt to do so is a testament to the personal attention he gives his fans. From admiring drummers to Pearl Jam devotees Dave does his best to reply to them all. That effort has furthered his fan’s affections for him. It has also furthered my admiration of him. Busy with his own projects as a drummer and producer Dave took some time out of his schedule to share his story from then to now. (*Dave’s interview was conducted over a period of months via Facebook Messenger.)
MA: Let’s start with the obvious question for our readers: What brought you to the drums?
DA: I have no idea. Drums and drumming have captivated me in many ways throughout my life. In my early years it was what came natural. My mother bought me a 45 rpm record player. It ran on batteries and when you closed the lid it would play. Two of the songs that I remember being fixated on were the Beatle’s “Day Tripper” and “Birthday.” Maybe it was because it was the easiest instrument to make at home, I dunno, but I was soon banging away on everything that made any sort of percussive sounds. My first set up was a few Encyclopedia Britannica volumes of varying thicknesses nailed to a bookshelf. Drums soon became my escape, my teacher, my master and my slave. I was lucky enough to grow up in the northeast. The tonight show was alive with the likes of Buddy Rich, and it was there that I first saw how the human body could manifest the sounds. I was blessed with a mind for visualization and I remember that I developed a very keen knack for being able to see myself playing the drum parts to every bit of music that I heard. My folks had a wide range of tastes for music. Grand Funk Railroad, Sam & Dave, Sly and the Family Stone, Carole King, The Carpenters. And then my older brother Frank turned me on to Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Traffic, Genesis, Kiss…. I was hooked on music. So blessed to have grown up during the R&B, British Invasion, Rock & Roll, Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Fusion years of music. Before the mid-80’s drum machine era.
MA: Who are the drummers who influenced you growing up?
DA: One of, if not the most often asked question of me from other drummers and interviewers alike is, “What drummers influenced you? Who inspired you? …Who did you idolize? …Who is your favorite, etc.” I have never liked that kind of questioning. I know that my answer could be easily spat out and we would continue with the Q&A. Bonham. That worked. Peart. Also fully acceptable. Fact is, there are so many drummers…so much music that influenced me. The soundtrack to my childhood that made me feel an unspeakable amount of emotion…made me identify these mysterious sensations within myself in such a universal way. I learned how to understand this beautiful language on my own through those countless other drummers and all that incredible music of my childhood. Back then we really had the chance to take it all in. Music was a very personal friend to me. It was food for so many of us. Before too long, I had things that I wanted to say out loud. My language of choice? Music. My chosen voice? Drumming.
I saw Triumph on their Allied Forces and their Never Surrender tours. Gil Moore. He defined the rock band drummer with his dynamic and musical approach to songs. I was at about mid court, stage left, second level at Triumph’s Never Surrender tour. It was at the newly opened (now torn down) Reunion Arena in Dallas, TX. Gil Moore was crushing it on a very large, drum set that had a mirror ball finish. Wow! At the end of the show, he and the band broke it down to a single bass drum stomping with the beat. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. Gil told the crowd that he wanted to see some hands in the air. Up they went! There was smoke and light that illuminated the scene of 12,000 people clapping and throwing their fist in the air to the beat. I literally said to myself, this is what I am going to do.
Next? Alex Van Halen. Bobby Chuinard (Billy Squire). Dave Holland (Judas Priest). Clive Burr (Iron Maiden). Niko McBain (Pat Travers). What a time to be a young drummer! I never missed Ted Nugent with drummer Cliff Davies during the loin cloth Cat Scratch Fever, Stranglehold, Derek St. Holmes days. Cliff was a real hero of mine. They all were crushing it. To every other drummer, I say thank you, too. We all influence one another in some way and I am proud to be a member of the coolest musical fraternity that exists: Drummers.
MA: Did you formally study the instrument through school band or private lessons?
DA: Yes and no. I went to school but my head was in the clouds for sure. I had already become aquatinted with the Mel Bay beginning snare method book, so school was basically just something that I had to do. My heroes were my father and every drummer I could possibly absorb. I just wanted to play music. I wanted to be an inspiration, as I was inspired. I wanted to provide others with the soundtrack of their life, as the soundtrack of my own was so important to me.
I was an awful student. Between the ages of 7-11 my family had moved from Connecticut to North Carolina to Texas. I think the timing of these moves allowed me to slip through the cracks of academia. I never ‘got it.’ I didn’t know how to learn with the book method. I knew how to daydream. I knew how to play baseball. My brothers, Frank and Alan, are both incredibly gifted at sports. Dad coached us. Mom cheered us on and patched us up. I think my drumming style comes directly from the blend of my love of powerful music and the healthy competitive nature instilled in me through sports. Somehow along the way, I did manage to learn to read music and I spent a few years playing stand-up bass in the school orchestra and drums and percussion in the school band. Playing tri-toms in the varsity Big Blue North Mesquite High School marching band was the first experience with the direct power of making a large crowd move. I quit school right after my freshman marching season ended, and joined a band.
MA: When did you decide that you wanted to pursue music full-time?
DA: Seeing Triumph on their Allied Forces Tour. They played Reunion Arena in Dallas, TX. Gil Moore had the entire crowd pumping their fists to his kick drum. After I experienced that, it was never a choice that I made. It was just the way life was. It was always about the music. Always.
MA: When you took over the drummer’s seat in Pearl Jam you put your own spin on the songs. How did you go about making them your own?
DA: I was co-hosting a radio station when I made that call to Eddie and Jeff that would be the deciding factor for me. I asked them what they wanted sonically and scientifically…a mirror image of what had been put together on the Ten record, or what? Jeff said to not worry about it, just come up and we will jam and see how it feels. So, I stopped forcing myself to learn Dave Krusen’s parts and just approached them as I would have if they were my own. I would try to stay true to the notion of what the songs were on the Ten record, but the guys were quick to allow me to do my thing. When we rerecorded the song “Evenflow” and it became the version that was released as the single, I knew that the band approved.
I mean the guys were looking for their new drummer, not a temporary stand in. Back then, Stone had a very strong sense of the musical direction and brought a prolific amount of ideas into the fold. He and I worked a lot together. We would spend a lot of time working on music together before the rest of the band would arrive. His guitar style was uncompromisingly original and very rhythmic. Almost percussive at times. After the initial week of getting to know what I brought to their style, it became clear to me that I was going to have a more stylistic influence upon the music. The songs we were creating as well as the approach I took to playing the songs off the Ten album straddled a fine line and I knew that ghosting notes on the snare and punctuating the rhythms with percussive elements such as splash and Chinese cymbals were going to allow for a more flamboyant style of drummer to fit in without ruining the melodic sensibilities of the Pearl Jam sound. As the band started growing on tour, this new style became apparent.
MA: You played some huge festival shows. Did this affect your playing in any way?
DA: Yes. Tremendously. We went from small clubs in Europe for the first European tour in ‘91 to suddenly exploding. Next trip back to Europe. Playing a few festivals. We had played good size venues with the Chili Peppers and Smashing Pumpkins, but none of that prepared me for the energy of 65,000 people and more! It was the most unforgettable achievement. I enjoyed the big shows very much. The band was firing on all cylinders back then and I was still young enough to allow the pain to motivate me.
MA: What are some of the most memorable festival experiences that you played at?
DA: Every time we were a part of a festival production, there was an air of magic to it. Lollapalooza 1992. Wow. What can I say? It was beautiful. Travelling around the country playing music and getting to enjoy the experience of such amazing bands, all in the zone. Every band pushed each other to produce epic performances. Pearl Jam signed on to do the tour before everything ‘broke’. We had an early afternoon slot. The second band to perform for roughly 35 minutes. It was the decision of the band to give everything that we had, every time we hit the stage. There were no lights other than daylight. The entire performance had to rely solely on our energy and performance intensity. I was always proud of the fact that we set the bar pretty damn high for the other bands. It was also really amazing that the entire audience was there for us when we took the stage.
The drummers on that tour were so generous. No ego trips. Bill Rieflin was with Ministry (now REM), Chad Smith, Matt Cameron…it was a bro hang every day. We all had permission to join one another and jam along. There was one gig where, during the Chili Pepper’s set, Chad blew out his kick pedal so I grabbed a stick and laid under his floor toms and played the bass drum part. Every couple of shows, I would slide under Bill and play with Ministry. While Bill would go stand next to their singer Al, and wait for him to notice. My favorite memories were with the crew members. Amazing professionals. The true heroes of a big rock and roll circus. The biggest festival for us was the Pink Pop Festival in 1992. Sharing the stage with David Byrne, Lou Reed, Soundgarden… It was the first time the success and power of the band really couldn’t be denied. Not even by us.
MA: How did you play with such intensity and energy night after night?
DA: It was just how it was. It is the way I feel about what I am doing. The experience warranted nothing less than all I had to give to it. I never gave less than I had because I believed in the band, the music, the reasons, all of it.
MA: Most drummers on MTV Unplugged used hotrods, brushes or bongos. You used a full-on kit yet didn’t over power the other musicians, how did you accomplish that?
DA: Dynamics, I think it’s called! The kit was set up differently. I played a great DW kit and I had Jimmy Shoaf set them up with Remo coated Emperor tops and Ambassador bottoms tuned a bit deeper than our standard tuning. I must confess to the fact that we had just arrived home from Europe. I hadn’t slept in 30 hours and I had a wicked sinus infection and head cold. The band began our unplugged set sometime after midnight. Add to that we didn’t have a real sound check. The monitors and audience were in the round and I was playing with only a very minimum of monitor sound. There were long stretches of that show that I played with no audible reference to what the other guys were playing at all. I think my style of playing was the result of me just enjoying an easy night of good music with confidence in myself and in my friends to do a good job. Also, it was the timing. We never relaxed and played our music. From the very start of joining the band, we had to prove it every time…bring it every night. We knew if we were going to be successful, it was up to us. The band hadn’t even signed a record deal yet! That’s still what eats at me about the band not standing up respectfully at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for how hard we worked and what we achieved before I was fired.
MA: Let’s get technical. You often used splash cymbals, which were not popular at the time, and set up your cymbals in a unique way. Why?
DA: Because that is the way my kit needed to be for me to do what I wanted. My cymbal setup changed throughout, partly due to the effects touring was taking on my body. Also due to the stylistic changes of the parts I was playing.
On the Ten tour I was using two 12 inch Chinas, three 19 inch AA crashes, 20 inch A Zildjian ride, Paiste 14 inch 2002 sound edge hats, two Sabian 8 inch AA splashes and a 21 inch AA crash. These were all atop my big fat late 70’s to early 80’s White finish ply Ludwigs. The sizes were 26, 15, 16, 18 with a 14 inch Pearl piccolo snare.
On our first tour in Europe I was using a back line kit from Yamaha. The sizes were 22,14,16,18. Then I hooked up with John Goode from DW in Frankfurt. He came out to one of our shows with a kit for me to check out. It was a satin pink, 20 inch kick with a 12, 14, 16 tom configuration. I had a gas. It was so tiny compared to my Ludwigs. After the show, the band’s sound engineer Brett Eliason came up to me and in no uncertain terms told me that that was the drum kit for me. Also that night I met Wayne Blanchard and Bill Zildjian from Sabian. I’ve gotta say, I was already a believer in the DW drums and Sabian cymbals sounds, but that night I met the guys from those companies and we became family. And I am honored to report we still are today.
When Vs. was made, I was setting my cymbals up for the parts I was writing. I chose more of a melodic setup. I varied my sizes and the tones became very important. The Vs. setup required cymbals ranging in sizes. I used 13 inch hi-hats AAX metal top/fusion bottom with rivets, 8 inch AAX, HH and AA splashes, 17 and 18 inch AAX stage crashes, 19 inch AA rock crash, AAX 20 inch china, 14 inch HH and AAX chinas, 20 inch AAX metal and AAX stage rides.
MA: You mentioned using a piccolo snare, also a rarity among rock drummers.
DA: I chose to make a Pearl free floating 14 inch piccolo snare as my main snare when we were touring medium sized clubs and small arenas. All too often the snare drum would just be an accident if it made it into the pa. I chose to make sure the guys in the band would hear my backbeat, and that the audience would hear my drags, and the subtle articulate ghost notes that I felt were vital to the movement of the groove. Once we moved into playing stadiums and large venues, festivals, etc. I could then find my voice in the music again. It was then that I then began using a 12 inch Brady snare. It provided me with a crushing crack with depth.
MA: I’ve always been curious. What did those rats on your bass drum mean?
DA: Those were Rat stickers from Rat Sound, the sound company that Pearl Jam used back then. Karry Rat was our monitor engineer and Dave Rat was the system designer and sound engineer for The Red Hot Chili Peppers. They were both amazing people who were responsible for amazing sounds. It was my way of praising the ‘Rats.’
MA: What songs that you played with Pearl Jam personify your playing?
DA: In every way, I would have to say they all do in that they represent my opinions of what the songs needed me to do as a drummer, to achieve the best version of what my thoughts as a musician, performer, listener and band mate beckoned of me. There are some notable, moments of self-realized pride in the compositional choices that I made. “Immortality” from the Vitalogy record still resonates as one of the most soulful and melodically expressive drum compositions that I have ever heard. The song “Tremor Christ” was essentially a reactive drum composition. Stone Gossard intro riff inspired a reaction that Eddie Vedder’s vocal approach sat perfectly upon, in my humble opinion. I also have a great deal of pride and a sense of accomplishment in the songs that I had no time or desire to overthink. The rockers, “Spin the Black Circle,” “Go,” “Animal,” etc. Hell, even my re-approach to the songs from the Ten album were approached in such a manner: drive the songs, myself, the band, the crowd, etc. I love my job!
MA: There is a lot of speculation on why you left Pearl Jam. What was the real reason?
DA: I left because Stone told me that they were looking for another drummer! Ha! It’s funny because it’s true. Truth be told, I still don’t know for sure why I was fired. I’d never been in that situation before. Looking back at it, as I did for years, it had me miffed. Then one day I came across footage of the band Candlebox with the drummer Dave Krusen playing with them live and a theory formed in my head. All personality questions aside, what I witnessed was just another drummer. No spark. No fire. No rock or roll. That was what they (Pearl Jam) had wanted as their drummer? Then I looked at how, in comparison to his other work, Matt Cameron’s approach with regards to his drumming is very tame and lackluster when he is playing with PJ. It made me realize that perhaps they never intended to be a hard-driven, powerful rock band. I drove that band as a rock drummer drives a rock band. Like Matt Cameron drove Soundgarden. Mind you, I am still guessing, yet this is the only excuse that I have found that makes my firing make sense.
Other excuses I have heard such as my cymbals, political views, gun ownership, or that I enjoyed the success more readily, etc. are all laughable to me. Actually, most of the facts surrounding how that powerful version of that band was destroyed is laughable to me at this point. I still think I am a little angry at the chicken-shit way it was handled twenty plus years ago. At least Stone was man enough to show me some respect and didn’t allow it to be handled by lawyers. I will always be grateful for the day we spent together when he told me I was out of the band. It was a very emotional effort that took a lot of strength on his part. He knew that it was going to destroy a part of me that he valued. It was the beginning of one of the most challenging experiences of my life, having to let go of what could have been and witness what all of that hard work was allowed to become.
MA: How did being fired from Pearl Jam affect you as a musician?
DA: That experience began a very challenging period of my life. Being “fired” from a band. Then to be discredited and disrespected and all but written out of the band’s history. The reason for that is a grudge that formed around my participation in an authorized book that was being written as I was fired. I participated in it and it really pissed some people off. I had no idea how far the shadow of profitability extended from the band.
That said, I was able to find myself again producing the Green Romance Orchestra albums. The GRO band released an album and with no mention of a tour, and very limited details on how we planned on supporting it. We still managed to get assistance to release the album on Emperor Norton records via the great Steve Pross, in association with my label Free Association Records. Initially, the support and reviews were very pleasing, almost accurate. Then we noticed that the big players just didn’t seem to get it. Rolling Stone wrote a review that was so bizarre, I still don’t think the reviewer had the right album! The record shipped over 20,000 units and Tower records awarded us a prime spot in their listening stations during the Christmas holiday season. That was huge for us. Then the record was released and not one was put out on the shelves. Regardless, I was so damn proud to have rediscovered my love for music that l just let it go and took it as it happened.
That’s where I would spend the next few years, lost in substance miss-use and lack of sunlight induced haze…and working my ass off! Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way putting any blame on the Pearl Jam guys for what happened to that record. Although they have done remarkably well at keeping a grasp on their surroundings, the big machine still has ways of functioning to protect their interests.
MA: You’ve worked with some great artists such as Stevie Salas. Tell us about those projects.
DA: I’ve worked with a lot of talented people. Eddie Kramer, Rodger Hodgson, Andy Johns, Waddy Wachtel, Carmine Rojas, Jeff Fielder, Perry Morgan and The HABMX band (Mike Dillon, Zac Baird J.J. Jungle, Jon Spiece). With Stevie, I played some of the most powerhouse drumming I ever have. I am very proud of all of the work I did with and for Stevie Salas. The “Alternative” record was written and recorded so quickly. We had a three piece and we just laid it down. We had Melvin Brannon on bass. He is a monster. Throughout the various projects with Stevie, I played with Rick the bass player. Stevie also introduced me to singer Bernard Fowler. I recorded a track with Darrel Jones on bass and Stevie on guitar for the Nickelbag record which was titled “12 Hits and a Bump.” I went on to co-produce and engineer and mix on Stevie’s next two albums. As the producer, I allowed him to make a different type of record in “The Sometimes Almost Never Was.” The follow up, “Be What It Is” was a return to what he does so well. I used the talents of Brian Tichy and Matt Sorum for a few of the tracks. Outside of working with Stevie, I have been blessed to play with a long list of bad asses! In no particular order, I’ll try to remember and make a list! Here goes; bzzzzzzz. I haven’t written that shit down, ever. I will say to each and every person that I have ever worked and or played with; I love you. Thank you.
MA: You are now involved in producing music. How does that differ from being the drummer?
DA: Great question! I’m working on the answer! Honestly, the difference of being a drummer and my production of records is quite simply that I am a drummer. I have produced records. I am not a record producer. I am a drummer. I have engineered and mixed records. I am not an audio engineer. I am a drummer. I play many instruments other than the drums, but I am a drummer. I owned an incredibly well equipped recording facility and spent years learning and developing recording techniques and processes. Still, I am a drummer. I am a drummer and an “opinionist” with a strong love of the musical process. Dig. I have a well formed respect for music and record producers, song writers, audio engineers, musicians, players, listeners. I can say with certainty that as a drummer I have had the pleasure of working with very skilled professionals and my understanding of how I relate to all these other things are solid enough to have valid theories, opinions and techniques that can and mostly do work.
Whether I am creating, producing, engineering or mixing, I just do whatever I can, whenever I can to assist in the wonderfully challenging process of making music. I am a drummer. I have to give credit for their patience with respect to my questions and their generosity with the answers; Brendan O’Brien, David Castell, John X, EveAnna Manley, and my audio hero and dear friend Joe Gastwirt. I almost forgot Mr. Eddie Kramer! I am naming only but a few of the amazing people who have taken the time to share their gifts and knowledge with me. There are so, so many more… Kevin Smith on the early Salas records… Wow. I can’t believe I almost forgot to mention him!
I was just asked, “If you HAD to answer what would you consider your biggest achievement in music?”
My instant response was, “Never giving up!” That’s what I live by.
Here are some videos featuring Dave:
Bonus Interview! Ask Abbruzzese:
Dave shared some of the recent questions he has received online:
Brent McGuire asks: Speaking of drum festivals, do you have any footage from your Modern Drummer festival appearance?
DA: I wish! All these years and I still haven’t seen any audio or video from that 1993 Modern Drummer Festival. I have wanted to see that since the night it happened. I don’t remember anything other than I threw my entire plan out the window and performed with Yael DrumAddict, The Love Project and Jimmy Shoaf’s support. I borrowed a skirt and did a shot of scotch with the Drummers of the Black Bottle and proceeded to wing it. Modern Drummer presented me with the award for winning the M.D. Reader’s Choice Award for ‘Up & Coming Drummer of 1993. During the first handful of moments of my clinic, a kid had the balls to ask me, in front of 2500+ people, if he could have a splash cymbal. I told him that if he came up and did the clinic with me, I’d give him all of my cymbals. The grin on Bill Zildjian’s face from the side of the stage while the amazing festival audience ended my clinic with a standing ovation is probably one of the highlights of my entire career. Magic times indeed. Thanks for inspiring the memory!
Matthew Richie asks: Given that you’re a huge part of the 90’s scene, I was wondering if you could give me your perspective on how the Seattle scene influenced the youth generation of that time? For example did you see a change in the way that youth generation behaved or a change in their opinions/beliefs after the scene grew in popularity?
DA: Interesting question. In looking back to that time in my life, I found it was hard for me to answer. I didn’t even consider things like that at that time. I was travelling so much, and had so much going on. For me, the focus was on myself and my health and surroundings. I can say that there was absolutely a strong shift from what was going on when I left Texas for Seattle in 1991…It seemed that the tables turned on the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ Suddenly they had voices and were saying things, both on and off stage that empowered the powerless. As our band got bigger there was a sense of hope and people genuinely felt represented by rock music again. Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane kissed me on the mouth and thanked me and then told me that we saved rock and roll. It was the power and spirit of the music. That’s where the youth were finding the strength to feel empowered in a positive way. It was okay to be okay. But, as always, it sounded better than it was…The 80’s and 90’s were a time where the important questions weren’t asked and if they were, they went unanswered. It was a time where people wanted so desperately to have an easy, effortless and successful life. Because they felt they deserved to have it. Success was made to appear to be only a decision away. But, please know that I wasn’t a member of the generation we were affecting and influencing. I was 23 at the time…just old enough to know that they were watching and listening…and that they were just as baffled as I was in the 1980’s.
Todd Michaels asks: Dave, you’re one of the greatest drummers as far as my generation, but you let us all in and interact with you. Why? I thinks that it’s really cool and hope that you never change.
DA: I have been to the mountain, and it was good. I didn’t build the mountain. I didn’t get there on my own. Once I reached base camp, I learned so much from so many people that came before me. I didn’t climb it alone. Along the way, there were those who fed me. Healed me. Taught me. Helped me. Inspired me to continue. Pushed me. Believed in me. Allowed me to stumble and grow. Forgave me. So many people that turned back and asked me to plant a flag for them. I made it and claimed my place. From that spot I was granted a viewpoint that very few see and even fewer are able to find the words to describe. I knew then that the best part of it all, the payoff for all the hard work, sacrifice and dedication was going to take place not up there, but back down where I came from. My success is defined by what my experiences allow me to bring into the light of other people. When I am able to make a real connection and share my experience, strength and hope…That’s what I find is most fulfilling.
Kristy Kuhn asks: You played on a Jimi Hendrix tribute record, at Electric Lady Studios in NYC. Eddie Kramer was at the console engineering and you got to play with Hendrix’s bass players, Noel Redding and Billy Cox. Also Jara Harris, Carmine Rojas, Duck Dunn, Dan Rothchild, Darryl Jones, Flea, Melvin Brannon, Gary Mukler, TM Stevens, Rick the Bass player….The list goes on and on…One of your best friends is Mastering Engineer Joe Gastwirt. You’ve also written music and recorded with Rodger Hodgson from Supertramp, Stevie Salas, Bernard Fowler, Neil Young, GRO. You have the respect of Neil Peart. You were mentored by engineer/producer David Castell. You were sought after by Axl Rose and invited to be a major factor in reinventing his band, and you chose to be a musician first and a rock star second. You’ve performed Dock of the Bay with Steve Cropper. You’ve got the respect of your peers. You’ve met your heroes. Was it worth it?
DH: I should be asleep, but I am going to attempt to verbalize my emotional reaction to this question. Here goes: In a word, yes. Interesting truth of the matter is that it is a constant state of mindfulness that is needed to pay attention and embrace the lessons that are available within each experience. When I allow myself to trust in both the good and bad times to provide equally valuable life experiences, every moment is truly valuable and absolutely ‘worth it.’ When I think of how many of my friends are no longer with us, I am so grateful for the powerful gift of the music that remains. I love you, Kristy Kuhn. Thank you for posting such a thought provoking question.
Dave uses: Drum Workshop, Sabian, Brady, Pro Mark, Azturk, Remo, Greenfield, Rhythm Tech, Woods, 2112 Percussion N.C., D’Addario
Another year has come to a close. Looking back, 2017 was an amazing year. Our visitor hits set a new record. I interviewed more drum heroes, reviewed quality products, and shared historical studies. If you are interested in reading this year’s posts search for “2017.” Posts already set for 2018 include exclusive interviews with Marisa Testa, Eric Hood and Rob Perkins, as well as product reviews for Domain Cymbals, and the Ahead Wicked Chops Pad. I will reflect on my beginning with my first drum teacher and I even have a discovery that challenges one of my past postings. We will also be posting the long-awaited interview with David Abbruzzese. I’m even planning to post an audio interview and a Facebook Live broadcast. Until then, have a Merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year!
Our last history post of the year presents the story of “Little Morris” who was said to be the youngest boy enlisted on either side during the Civil War. You may recall that I’ve posted about Charles Edwin King, the youngest drummer boy killed during the Civil War. Morris survived the conflict and left behind a legacy that became a legendary story in the press.
I would like to thank our friend John Hennessy, Chief Historian/Chief of Interpretation at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park for providing me with multiple sources on several drummer boys whose experiences took place at or around Fredericksburg. This includes several newspaper clippings challenging the story of Robert Henry Hendershot (see past posts here and here) who claimed to be “The Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock.” More to come.
Titled “Drummer Boy Morris: A Lad Who Went to War When Only Eleven Years Old” this account presents Morris’ experiences at such a young age. (I am posting a period news clipping below in its entirety. It is taken from the Jed Hotchkiss Papers which are on file at the Library of Congress. I have been unable to dig up any additional source material online. I have been able to find multiple versions of “The Little Drummer Boy” sang by a variety of singers with the last name Morris).
At the tender age of 10 ½ Morris was presented to Captain J. Murray of Company D., Nineteenth Virginia Battalion. Despite his young age he was accepted to fulfill the role of a drummer boy. At the time he was the youngest enlistee on either side of the war. After being treated harshly by the men of Company D. Morris transferred to Company A., Nineteenth Virginia Battery of Artillery where he served under Captain J.F. Chalmers until the end of the war. Following the war Morris grew up to be a popular citizen around Richmond who shared his experiences from the war. His drumsticks and portrait were put on display. (Click image for full-size)
This coming year I intend to do a lot more video product reviews. I already have a few scheduled including Domain Cymbals. Here are some samples of past reviews: Bumwrap Drum Company, ProLogix, DrumkitAccessories.com, Drumtacs, TnR Products (see below). If you are interested in having your product reviewed in the coming year contact me at email@example.com. OFF BEAT routinely receives thousands of hits and is a great way to promote your product.
If you are into punk and hardcore music of the 1980’s and 90’s chances are you have heard the punk-powered drumming of Chuck Biscuits. Biscuits is a Canadian drummer best known for his work in rock acts such as Danzig, Black Flag, D.O.A., Circle Jerks and Social Distortion. With a resume like that it’s easy to see how Biscuits is a very influential drummer from that genre.
In 1982 Biscuits became a member of the budding band Black Flag, best known for backing their obnoxiously brilliant singer Henry Rollins. Biscuits toured with the band for only five months and recorded the widely bootlegged 1982 demos for the “My War” album.
Following his time in Black Flag Biscuits filled in briefly for the Red Hot Chili Peppers during their Freaky Styley tour. Soon after he was recruited by producer-genius Rick Rubin to become the drummer for Danzig. Biscuits joined Danzig in 1987 and appeared on the band’s first four albums and one EP.
In 1988, Biscuits contributed some drum tracks to Run-DMC’s “Tougher Than Leather” album. In 1990 he also recorded drums for singer Glenn Danzig’s final album with the band Samhain.
In 1996 Biscuits joined Social Distortion between the recording and release of the band’s “White Light, White Heat, White Trash” album. Biscuits is credited on the album’s liner notes, although Deen Castronovo’s playing was featured on the record. Biscuits went on to play with bands such as The Four Horsemen.
In 2009, Biscuits was the subject of an internet death hoax. A blogger received what he considered to be a legitimate death notice from someone close to the drummer. That individual had been in contact with someone he believed to be Chuck Biscuits prior to this event. The hoax was eventually debunked.
A former art student with a talent for drawing and sculpture Biscuits has pursued the creative outlet of an artist.
Here is a link to a great article on Chuck Biscuits on Modern Drummer’s website.
PS: According to his bio: Biscuits used Pro-Mark DC-10 marching sticks to drum. His drum kit at the beginning of Danzig was a black Premier Resonator, though he switched to a chrome covered 70’s era Ludwig Classic Maple kit for Danzig II, and continued with that kit to record and tour for Danzig III and Danzig IV. Biscuits was usually seen using Zildjian cymbals. His regular ride cymbal sound during his work with Danzig was a Zildjian 22” Earth Ride. Biscuits also favored Paiste RUDE cymbals. He used medium and rock ride cymbals as crashes. Biscuits mainstay snare with Danzig was a Sonor steel model, though he also used a Ludwig Piccolo snare. With D.O.A. and Black Flag, Biscuits used an older blonde maple Ludwig kit. For Social Distortion, Biscuits used a Boom Theory kit, including a Bridgedeck snare built by Al Adinolfi.
Like many of you my first musical performance came via school bands. The one band that stands out in my mind is Marching Band. No other ensemble had the same level of precision and performance as the drumline. The camaraderie that existed between the members of the drumline was exceptionally strong. Although most of the drumline participated in other school bands, there was something special that happened when we were in formation on the marching line. We practiced all the time and performed in halftime shows, band competitions, band festivals and parades. We were The Keystone Oaks Golden Eagles Marching Band.
My first year as a member the school purchased all new equipment. I remember they were Pearls with a chrome finish. They looked cool but it was a polishing nightmare. The percussion instructor they hired was exceptional and he had us crushing our rudiments and playing his original cadences in no time. The first two cadences we played were called “T.E.” (his initials) and “Africa,” a tribal piece that gave us white boys some street cred’. We also performed a cadence called “D.C.” which apparently was a school tradition. I have no idea what it stands for but it was a jam.
I played on the snare line each year. My second year we traveled to Nashville to participate in a national band competition. I think we came in second place. I was made a co-captain my senior year. I was picked to participate in Pitt University’s Senior Day where we performed the half-time show with the Pitt Drumline. Those dudes were mind-blowing. I never saw a paradiddle used in so many ways. I remember we played a medley of The Who’s Pinball Wizard. I failed and tried to keep up.
That was the good stuff. I also remember performing in sweltering heat, marching in the rain and mud, freezing my ass off in the bleachers, having burning blisters and bleeding knuckles, dodging horse shit on the parade route and hours and hours of monotonous practice to make it all possible. The title of “band buddy” topped it off. Regardless of all that, we were the coolest section of the band, maybe next to the tubas, but it was close.
After graduation I attended an art school so my marching days were over but for others it had just begun. Music majors continued their time on the drumline well into their secondary education. Take my co-author and friend Rich Redmond (pictured above with me). Like me, Rich played snare for four years in the J.M. Hanks High School Marching Band. He was also a captain for three years. Upon graduation Rich became a member of the Texas Tech University ZIT drumline. There he played snare for three years and instructed the fourth while writing all of the drumline’s music. I asked Rich what the drumline meant to him. He said, “It was a great period of time to develop my rudimental playing and chops. That time created muscle memory that will never go away.”
This proves how valuable playing in the drumline was to both of us. It shaped my high school years and Rich’s college years. It inspired us as drummers and sparked many musical memories. Today, the drumline continues to influence me as a drummer. Many of the tom fills I do around the kit can be attributed to the drumline. I often approach the kit almost like a set of quads, playing front to back instead of left to right. I still practice my rudiments although they are nowhere near where they should be. I’ve even entertained the thought of buying a marching snare or a Kevlar drum pad. I do have a huge pair of marching sticks with rubber ends that I use to practice on hard surfaces from time to time.
With that said I want to thank our percussion instructor Tom Early and my fellow Golden Eagle drummers: Eric, Tim, Keith, Gay, Chris, April, Freddie, Jason, Josh, Rob, Mike, Jeanette and Gina. We kicked ass.
This week marks the 155th Anniversary of The Battle of Fredericksburg. I live in Fredericksburg and I am surrounded by the battlefields of Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Chancellorsville and The Wilderness. I’ve written multiple books and articles on the subject and posted here about The Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock. Today I want to share a documentary that I co-wrote, co-produced, and appeared in titled “The Angel of Marye’s Heights.” This story tells of a unique event that has become the face of The Battle of Fredericksburg.
I’ve posted here promoting my book, program and philosophy. I’ve taken that one step forward and developed course curriculum (see above) and training aids. I’ve presented samples of practical instruction and I’ve shared other teaching techniques from other educators. One controversial issue I hear is that drum lessons are a waste of time, especially with kids.
This response usually comes from drummers who have played for years with no formal training. Many drummers play cover tunes in bar bands and learn songs by listening. I respect that. I also understand that rudiments and reading music are not mandatory to being a good drummer. My comments here are directly in response to the criticism I received in an email challenging my opinion on drum lessons, specifically for kids.
I will start with my own experiences. I started taking drum lessons at the age of 12. It was mandatory if my parents were to purchase me a drum set. They wanted me to prove that I was serious about learning the instrument. I started out on the drum pad and a year later I got my first kit. My passion for learning resulted in me participating in a number of in-school and out-of-school bands. This included garage bands, marching band, symphonic band, stage band, choir band, jazz and percussion ensemble. All along I took lessons to improve my playing.
In garage bands I listened to cover songs in order to learn them but my education helped me do that in a more efficient way. When we wrote original music my contributions to the song were based upon my skill set. I didn’t just arbitrarily make things up. I put thought into it. The lessons I took as a kid blossomed and I became a well-rounded drummer. No matter what the situation, I was better prepared for the performance. I played better. I sounded better. I was better.
Why would anyone not want to be better at what they do? Mike Dawson, managing editor of Modern Drummer magazine, editor of FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids and a life-long student of the drums summed up my feelings. He said, “I find zero validity in any argument that states that striving to understand more about what you’re saying, doing, or creating is a waste of time. Especially with kids. The more you know, the more you know.”
So to the individual who emailed me I say thank you for taking the time to contact me. That showed an effort on your part. I receive thousands of hits but I don’t receive a lot of email here. My response is this. I believe that kids are far better students than adults. I believe that the earlier you start teaching a child something, anything, the sooner they will pick it up and enjoy the benefits of their knowledge.
UPDATE: Here are some great sources:
Our friend Francesco Vecchio over at Francesco’s Drumming Blog has developed a wonderful book that contains 42-pages of Jeff Porcaro grooves. The book includes eight transcriptions of some of his most memorable performances, playing with artists such as Toto, Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan and Michael McDonald. A biography on Porcaro introduces the reader to his extraordinary career. The transcriptions that follow are Lido Shuffle, Lowdown, Hold the Line, Gaucho, Africa, Rosanna, I Keep Forgettin’ and Georgy Porgy (Live).
You can view a 15-page preview of the book here.