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In keeping with the theme of my interview with Frankie Banali (see below), I wanted to share the experience of my first rock concert. As I mentioned before my very first live show was Quiet Riot when they headlined on their “Condition Critical” tour (1984). I had been a huge fan since their previous #1 album “Metal Health” and I was awe-struck by their drummer Frankie Banali. He was the reason I picked up drumsticks in the first place. If not for him, I would not be a drummer (or a blogger) today.
Three things stuck out in my mind when I watched Banali play. First, was his power. I had never seen a drummer hit as hard as he did. Second, was his showmanship. Despite being eclipsed by a 360 degree drum kit he didn’t get lost. Third, his ability to lay down a steady groove and then throw in these brilliant fills when appropriate. He definitely played for the song. Just listen to the title track on their second album “Condition Critical.” The song starts off with a simple 2 and 4 beat repeated over and over. As the song builds Banali throws in these brilliant breaks where he hits the snare, blazes down the toms, and finishes the fill with a one second open hi-hat before going back in to the original groove. If you don’t listen closely you’ll probably miss it.
When Quiet Riot came to Pittsburgh I was in the seventh grade. My father decided to take me and my friend Dennis to the show. My dad was, and still is, very much into music but Heavy Metal was not his thing. Still he agreed to take us. As we arrived at the venue we ran into a vendor selling concert t-shirts in the parking lot. We quickly grabbed one up as the prices were no doubt significantly higher inside. I wish I still had that shirt. They sell on eBay for $. Our seats were fantastic. Front row on the balcony stage-right. This gave us an unobstructed view and we were able to sit down and still see.
Whitesnake opened up. I had no idea, nor did I care who they were at the time. I was there to see Quiet Riot. I vividly remember when they came on stage. I said to myself “Oh my God! There they are!” I was giddy for lack of a better term. For the next hour or so the band put on a spectacle full of smash hits and unlimited energy. At the end of the show I was just as exhausted as the band.
I went to many concerts after that but the Quiet Riot show sticks out in my memory as a life-changing experience. It made me want to be a musician and Banali made me want to be a drummer. Over thirty years later I’m still playing the drums and I’m still “banging my head.”
Image is the actual advertisement from the 1984 Pittsburgh paper.
Not many bands from the 1980’s can boast the level of success that Quiet Riot can. No other band from the metal genre bridged the gap between hard rock and mainstream music. With catchy songs, tongue-in-cheek videos and stellar musicianship Quiet Riot set the bar for hard rock acts everywhere. Their debut album “Metal Health” hit the top of the Billboard charts, making it the first heavy metal album to go #1. Laying down the foundation for the band was a rock-solid drummer named Frankie Banali. Obviously influenced by John Bonham, Banali’s ability to create an infectious groove gave Quiet Riot a distinctive sound. Later in his career Banali stepped away from the band to play with WASP, another highly original heavy metal act. He also played with punk-pop phenomenon Billy Idol and was the touring drummer for Faster Pussycat, Australian Billy Thorpe and classic rock icons Steppenwolf. In recent years Regina (Russell) Banali produced a critically-acclaimed documentary on the trials and tribulations of reforming Quiet Riot titled “Well Now You’re Here, There’s No Way Back.”
The first concert I ever attended was Quiet Riot in Pittsburgh on their “Condition Critical Tour.” Although I was only in the seventh grade, I vividly recall the experience like it was yesterday. What I recall most was Banali’s massive black and white striped drum kit. At the time it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. As a budding drummer I was hypnotized by the sheer magnitude of the 360 degree kit that surrounded Banali. I was especially drawn to the double bass setup with the octabans and rack toms up front. (My first kit was a white Pearl Export and I seriously thought about grabbing some electrical tape and striping it myself.) Banali was a great showman who was not eclipsed by his kit. Like most drummers today, Banali has stripped down to a standard five piece in place of his signature monstrosity. Even with the minimal kit, his huge booming sound remains. Banali was my first drum hero and he is directly responsible for me being a drummer today. I thank him for that.
Despite having a rotating line-up, Banali remains as the band’s drummer and manager. Thanks to his dedication and effort Quiet Riot is still rocking out to whole new generation of fans. Their mix of classics and originals satisfy loyal fans from the past and inspire new fans for the future. Very few bands have that kind of staying power. All along Banali’s leadership has maintained the band’s foundation on the stage and off. Far more than just a drummer, he is a musician’s musician. That is why he is still considered to be one of the best from the classic metal genre. A huge thrill for me, Frankie took time in between gigs to discuss his experiences from yesterday to today.
MA: First off, congratulations on debuting your new singer James Durbin. I’ve read some very positive reviews online. People are really responding to your shows.
FB: Thank you. It felt great.
MA: I know part of this story but please enlighten our readers. What brought you to the drums?
FB: Even when I was a little kid I was drawn to the instrument. I was told by my parents that I used to pull the pots and pans out of the cupboards and start beating them with a wooden spoon. I think it was preordained because I have no real recollection of doing that. I do remember the first snare drum that I made. I took a coffee can and a piece of paper and put the paper on top of the can with a rubber band around it. Then I took every pen that was in the house and undid the little springs. I attached the springs to the bottom of the can to get a snare drum sound. There was always music in my parent’s house. Neither of my parents were musicians but they loved music. My father loved big band swing music, jazz and opera. My mother really enjoyed flamenco music. My father was born in Italy and my mother was born in Spain. Their backgrounds influenced the music we had in the house. The first three records my father gave me was a Buddy Rich big band record, not a solo album but one he performed with other musicians, a Max Roach record and a Miles Davis record. I still have all three. It all started from that. I think the reason my drum sound developed the way it did was because I got used to hearing big, loud, drums. Back in that period the big band drummers were using 24-26”even 28” bass drums. They were generally mic’d with just a single microphone so that big ambient sound was something that I was already in tune with. This was years before the similar rock and roll drum sound. Eventually I developed an appreciation for the tighter Bebop sound of the “new era” jazz via Miles Davis, Max Roach, Tony Williams etc.
MA: That makes sense as the drummers from the big band era had to project their sound beyond the bandstand and out onto the dance floor. That inspired the hard-hitting drummers that were to come.
FB: Another thing that I noticed early on was the tuning range of the drum set. Listening to all of the drummers from that era I picked up on the fact that drummers had to be tuned in between the horns and the bass. In other words, their sound had to sit right in the middle between the high and low instruments. That knowledge came to me well before I saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. My parents watched Ed Sullivan religiously every Sunday after dinner. I remember sitting there on the floor in front of the TV watching The Beatles and that was the moment that shifted what I had been listening to – to what I became obsessed with. Rock and Roll took over all of my attention. Ringo, later on Charlie Watts and Dave Clark became my main influences. Those were the drummers that taught me how to play songs. Not just drums but the whole song. Being a musician first and a drummer second. They showed me how to practice restraint and add the punctuations at the right time. To this day, they directly influenced what I bring to the table and what I have tried to do my entire career. I much prefer to play a song than a drum solo. The next change after that happened as soon as Cream came out, and Jimi Hendrix, end especially Led Zeppelin. As soon as Zeppelin released that first album in 1969 I never looked back.
MA: I heard in another interview that you made a deal with your dad to get drums.
FB: Yes. Before I discovered my love for drums I was very active playing hockey. I was a goalie and it was my whole world. I also played baseball. I was into sports. As soon as I became interested in drums that all ended. I literally put down the hockey stick and picked up the drumsticks, but I kept the baseball bat behind the front door… My father thought it was going to be some passing thing. He didn’t want to invest in something that was going to end up rotting in the basement. He told me that if I took lessons for a year he would buy me a real drum set. I got my 3F sticks and went to the DeBellis School of Music in Astoria Queens New York. I took lessons there from a drummer named Ernie Grace who supposedly was the drummer at one time with The Deuce of Dixieland. I took lessons for a year. The first song I ever learned to play was Bill Haley and The Comet’s “Rock Around the Clock.” I learned that tune inside and out, beat for beat. It was kind of out of sight out of mind for my father, but after a year of weekly lessons I went up to him and reminded him that it was time to buy me drums. I literarily had my hands out ready to collect. We went back to DeBellis which was also a music store. I wanted a Ludwig drum set just like Ringo had. I wanted the black oyster pearl finish. My dad was really big about buying New York made products so he bought me a blue-sparkle Kent drum set. It was OK, and it was my first. A year later I finally got my Ludwig in red sparkle. It was a 22,” 13,”16” and a 5×14” snare.
MA: Nice. Did you participate in any music programs at your school?
FB: Yes I did. When I was going to school there were two things that I did. One was the Navy Scouts which was a naval version of the Boy Scouts. I played in their marching band. I also took music lessons in school but they already had too many drummers so the music teacher gave me a coronet. When I was a kid I suffered from chronic asthma. At one point I hit a C-note on that coronet and turned blue and passed out. I ended up in the hospital in an oxygen tent for several weeks. When I finally came back to school they took away the horn and gave me a pair of drumsticks. I guess it was meant to be. The great thing about that was the fact that I didn’t only have to learn rudiments. I got to play the kit and timpani as well. It was a perfect introduction to percussion instruments as a whole. That skill set has stuck with me for all of these years. I own more percussion instruments than drum sets. Even as a teenager I had two timpani and seven gongs ranging from 10” to 38” most of which I still own along with the two timpani and my drums. That was directly from my exposure to those instruments in school. No question that it made me a well-rounded musician. Glenn Hughes had a piece in Modern Drummer magazine in which he discussed the drummers that had worked with him. I was one of those drummers. He said that I stuck out because I was a very “musical drummer” who was just as much a percussionist as a drum set player. It was very complimentary. I wish I still had the copy [laughs].
MA: You have said that your main influences were John Bonham and Buddy Rich. How did each drummer’s distinctive style affect how you play?
FB: I believe that Buddy Rich is the greatest drummer ever to pick up drumsticks. I’m also a huge Tony Williams fan. I like Max Roach and Joe Morello. They are all amazing but there was something very special about Buddy’s interpretation and attitude. He represented things to aspire to although I would never be able to play most of the things that he did. It was his approach to the drums and how he listened to the other instruments, the accents that he did and the attack that he played with. His drum sound was booming. When you get to a guy like John Bonham you find something that is very interesting to me. Fortunately or unfortunately, I look at it as a positive. I’ve been around so long that I was old enough to understand the concept of The Beatles when they came out. By the time Led Zeppelin came out I was already in the fast lane. The reason why I say that is that I got to see Led Zeppelin in 1969. It was the last two shows that they did on the first leg of their first American tour. I didn’t have a car or a license obviously so my father drove me to the club, bought me a ticket and sat in our Cadillac with a thermos of espresso, the New York Times and a box of cigars. When I went into the venue, it was a club called Thee Image, I noticed that the drum set that John Bonham was using was the exact kit that I had been playing for almost a year. The reason I say this, and definitely not implying that I was ahead of Bonham, but at the time we must have been both listening to Carmine Appice when he was in Vanilla Fudge. We were obviously copping his look.
I was working two jobs after school. During the week I worked in a record store and on the weekends I worked part-time in a factory. With the money I had saved from that I ordered another drum set. It was a Ludwig kit with two 26” kick drums, 15” rack tom, 16” and 18” floor toms all in maple. When I saw John Bonham playing that drum set I said to myself I must be on to something here. Of course his playing was monstrous. It was interesting that when he did his drum solo, which was before he did Moby Dick, I immediately noticed that he was copping Max Roach. I think his approach with the hand playing was more Joe Morello than anyone else. Bonham’s approach playing bare handed was very much in the style of Morello which was deliberate, not whimsical like previous drummers like Papa Jo Jones approached it. Bonham pulled the sound out of the drums.
MA: While we are talking about sound, you have always has a very distinct sound. Listening to the first three Quiet Riot records (“Metal Health,” “Condition Critical,” “QR III”), it is impossible to miss the booming snare sound. In fact, the entire drum kit sounds huge. How did you accomplish this?
FB: In regards to your question about the snare. I used a 1975 Ludwig 6.5×14” Supraphonic Snare which I still own and record with. It’s retired from touring but I did use it as my main snare on the “Metal Health” and “Condition Critical” tours. I used a 1976 version as a back-up. I still own both of those drums. The last time I recorded with the ’75 was on one of the tracks on the forthcoming album. For the drums, on the first record I used a kit I had bought back in 1969. It was a Ludwig 26” bass, 15” rack, 16” and 18” floor toms. I occasionally substituted a second 14” rack tom but very rarely then, more so now. In order to get that sound took some work. I had been listening to many jazz drummers and their tuning range. Most drummers when they have big oversized drums tend to tune them lower in order to achieve what they think is a big sound. I always pitched mine up more than most rock drummers did. I tuned the bottom heads a third up from the top heads. That gave them projection. With drums the size that I just quoted, you can get a good response if they are tuned properly. I use no padding whatsoever. I used a single felt strip on the front of the bass drum and I mounted a microphone wrapped in foam inside of it from around 1978 to 1982.
A lot of people think that the “Metal Health” record was recorded in a big room but it wasn’t. At Pasha Studios the room was very small. Live is not what you can say about it. The bottom half of all of the walls were covered in shag carpeting. It had a drop-down ceiling of acoustical tile. When I first put my drum set in there I hated the sound. Actually that was before I ever recorded with Quiet Riot. I had done session work for Pasha prior to that. I manipulated the room around the drums. First I “acquired” some sheets of plywood from a construction site and lined all of the walls in the studio. The panels covered the carpet and allowed for a reflective sound. Then I took all of the acoustical tiles from above the drums. That allowed me to raise microphones higher into the ceiling. It was all a matter of tuning and adjusting the room to produce the sound that I heard in my head.
MA: It sounds like you were very meticulous. You must have had a good relationship with the engineer to allow you to take over. He wasn’t threatened?
FB: I would come into the studio two hours early in order to do this. I know that engineers are creatures of habit. Whatever works for them they tend to repeat over-and-over. Fully knowing this and not wanting a “cookie-cutter” approach I took it upon myself to create the sound I wanted. You have to remember that by the time I did the “Metal Health” record I had already played on a hit which was Billy Idol’s “Mony-Mony.” Because of that I knew my way around the studios. I also knew the psychology of working with producers and engineers and other musicians. What I would do is go in early and set everything up so when the engineer walked into the room and looked around I could sit down and play the kit, essentially proving that my adjustments made sense. It cut out the argument and the discussion of whether I could or could not try it out. It was proof positive.
MA: I’m surprised that you used such a small drum set in the studio when the kits you used live were enormous. Obviously this had a lot to do with show but I fondly remember your set-ups. The black and white striped drum set is probably my all-time favorite kit of any player. Did you have a favorite out of all the configurations that you used?
FB: How all of that came about was that the “Metal Health” record and the “Condition Critical” record were both recorded on five piece drum sets. “Metal Health” was done with my green-sparkle 1969 Ludwig kit and “Condition Critical” was done using a Pearl set as I had gotten an endorsement with them. The touring kits came about as Kevin (Dubrow) pointed out that we had to compete with all of these other bands. He recommended that I play a huge drum set. I didn’t have a problem with it. When I was younger I looked at Ginger Baker and Keith Moon and that led me to double bass kits with multiple toms and cymbals. When I was a teenager these set-ups had two 22” bass drums, three 13” racks and two 16” floor toms. I was confident that I could work my way around a large kit. Once I got the endorsement with Pearl I literally ordered the catalog and they were kind enough to send it to me. When we did the video for the song “Metal Health,” which was actually done before “Cum On Feel The Noize” and was released first, I didn’t have a big kit to play. In my storage locker I had a couple Slingerland bass drums, two North toms, and a couple extra floor toms. So the kit that you see in the video is actually a Frankienstein drum set that was put together with unmatched pieces. Of course that was never used live. That started the development of the big kits for me. By the time we were huge and after the “Condition Critical” album Pearl was happy to send whatever I needed. They were very-very good to me.
MA: You guys had a theme with stripes, the drums, the clothes, the guitars and the mic stands. How did that become prominent with the band’s style?
FB: It actually happened by coincidence. When I saw Kevin playing in the first version of Quiet Riot he already had the striped mic stand and was wearing striped outfits. I didn’t really pivot from him. If you go back and look at the promo pictures when I was touring with Steppenwolf on the road I was already wearing black and white striped tops. We were just on the same wavelength in regards to the look and it was a natural progression. If we were all wearing stripes, why not have a striped drum set?
MA: If I recall correctly didn’t you eventually integrate Simmons electronic pads into your set-up?
FB: That just happened. Simmons got in touch with me and wanted to send me a set to practice with at home. Back in the first version it was like playing on a Formica countertop. They had great bounce but they were terrible on the wrists and elbows. Once we got big and did long shows I had to do the obligatory drum solo. Because of my background in percussion I had a lot of options. I had the big kit, octobans out front, timpani, gongs and electronic pads. I mounted the Simmons above me on an angle. Another thing that I did was to prepare for unseen incidents. I had a DW trigger pedal next to my bass drum pedal. To the left of my snare drum I had another pad. I had my studio kick and snare sampled and assigned to the pads in case I needed to switch. That way if I ever broke a head I could continue playing seamlessly for the rest of the show.
MA: A lot of Quiet Riot’s songs begin with drum parts. Was that by design or did it happen naturally in the studio?
FB: To me it’s like a race car. Somebody sets the pace for the others to follow. I was the one who usually set the pace. The interesting thing about one of my more famous intros “Cum On Feel The Noize” was that it was not supposed to be on the record. The producer wanted us to record it. I didn’t care one way or the other but Kevin despised the song. I was aware of the song’s originator Slade but they were not the type of band that I would have listened to. Kevin did not want to do a song that had been written and recorded by someone else. We all came up with the idea that we would tell the producer that we were working on that song although we never did. The inevitable day came when we actually had to record it and in theory it was supposed to be an intentional train wreck. We wanted to make it so the producer couldn’t even use it if he wanted to. There we are in the studio looking at each other and there was some arguing. I went into the engineering room and told him that we hadn’t worked on the song and that we were going to tank it. I said that he might want to record it to be funny. He said OK. The producer comes in. There is no intro. If you listen to our version of the song it doesn’t start in the same place as the original. I actually forgot a verse or chorus that does not exist in our version. I started playing that drum beat and the others joined in. Kevin of course was waiting for it to fall apart but we just kept playing. It’s in my DNA to do the best job I can so I vamped and it turned out to work within the song. When we finished playing the producer said it sounded great on the first take. The engineer happened to record it and when we listened to it back it worked. Kevin on the other hand was furious.
MA: One of the consistent things that I find across all of these songs, especially the ones you intro, is how tasteful you play. You create these solid pockets for the rest of the band to follow and then splash in these great fills that punctuate the song. My favorite, “Condition Critical” starts out with a solid two and four beat and then has these lightning fast rolls down the toms. Your intro the “The Wild and The Young” is brilliant. How did you come up what that?
FB: Again that was a song that didn’t originally have a drum into. One day I was sitting in the room thinking about how I could get a different kind of sound that would retain the tight snare and kick drum but have different toms. I wanted to create something that was completely different. I had been experimenting with the engineer and ultimately we decided to set up four concert toms, a 12”and 13”on top and a 14” and a 15” on the bottom. We used shotgun mics aimed to the absolute center of the head and that produced a great sound. The sound is more about the attack and less about the tone. That dictated where I could get away with a very staccato and non-linear approach. The result is the intro on the record.
MA: In the video I recognize a lot of the pieces of your kits strewn about. There is literally a wall of drums behind you as you play. Are those all yours?
FB: Yes, every one of them. Nothing was rented [laughs].
MA: Quiet Riot managed to bridge the gap between metal and mainstream. At what point did you realize the impact the band was having on the music scene?
FB: We didn’t come out as gangbusters. It actually took about seven months from when the record was released to when it went #1. It was a struggle because everything was New-Wave and the Punk movement was still hanging around. When you consider that by the time we found out that we were #1 on Billboard we were a supporting act on the Black Sabbath “Born Again” tour. It was an amazing experience but at the same time we didn’t have the time to celebrate because we had an obligation as a supporting act. What really impacted me was the competition that we were up against. I mean we dethroned Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” which is considered to be one of the greatest albums of all time. We also beat the Police and Lionel Richie and Paul McCartney. There was nobody on Billboard that was even close to what we were doing. We were really carrying the banner for American metal music. Consequently what happened was we went gold, then platinum. The record companies pay attention to the financial value of an artist. They stood up and noticed Quiet Riot. This resulted in tons of bands being signed. Some good. Some not-so good. That’s the way business is. I have always held the contention that not only was Quiet Riot incredibly fortunate, but I was blessed to be a part of it. I feel a sense of accomplishment for the genre as we were the ones that opened up doors for so many other bands. That said, I never take credit for those bands being successful after they were signed because that happened, or didn’t happen, on their own merit.
MA: You guys were trend setters.
FB: There is no doubt that we were setting an example for what was possible. If you just look at it from a statistical point of view, look at November of 1983 when there was no American heavy metal on the charts. We defined it.
MA: Your fan base, the people that discovered you back in 1983, have stuck with you for decades. What do you attribute this longevity to?
FB: For me personally I’ve never taken the fans for granted. They are responsible for any success that we’ve had. I’ve never believed that once the fans make you, it’s OK to forget them. Their original support back in the day, to years and years later, to today is something that I hold very dear. As soon as I finish playing a show I don’t run backstage, I go to the fans at the front line so I can interact with them one-on-one. Giving someone an autograph, or taking picture, or just chatting shows people that you really care. Some bands never get close to their fans. I enjoy it. These people have given me the life that I lead. I will never take that for granted because I know a lot of my friends, some of them better musicians than I am, never had the opportunities that I’ve had. You never forget why you’re here.
MA: Speaking of “stars” you played drums on the Hear-n-Aid “We Are Stars” project to help promote famine relief in Africa. What was that like?
FB: I was one of two drummers, myself and Vinny Appice. I got a call from Jimmy Bain and Vivian Campbell. They told me about this idea that they were working on and if I would play drums on it along with Vinny. I consider that I was in DIO for one day [laughs]. It was Vivian Campbell on guitar, Jimmy Bain on bass, Vinny Appice on drums and Ronnie James Dio on vocals. Of course I said I’d do it. They came over to my house and played me an acoustic demo. Quite a few months passed before anything happened and I got the call to do the track. They had a firm date and couldn’t change it. It happened to fall on the day I got back from a South American tour with Quiet Riot so I literally got home from South America and went straight to the studio. It was an exhausting but wonderful experience.
MA: What an honor. Think of all the drummers that they could have chosen and they selected you.
FB: It was incredibly flattering and I love those guys. The great thing about it is when you listen to the track it doesn’t sound like two drummers. It sounds like one big drummer. We both blended together seamlessly. It was a lot of fun to do. I remember when we were working on it there is a section where we trade fours at the end. I fondly remember that we would come to that point and we would trade four-after-four-after-four. Finally Ronnie came running in the room screaming “Are you two ever going to stop!” It was definitely a highlight in my career.
MA: Beyond Quiet Riot you have played with other bands such as WASP, Faster Pussycat, Steppenwolf and Billy Idol. What was it like playing for Billy?
FB: The whole thing with Billy Idol was interesting how it came about. His producer had heard that I was a solid drummer, I was no nonsense, I was a quick learner and I showed up on time and was professional. Ultimately he heard that I got the job done quickly. I got hired to do the session. I met Billy for the first time and he was really intelligent, quirky and humorous. We talked about films. When it came time to do the session it took 45 minutes to get the drum sound and it took me half an hour to cut the track. They wanted to know if I wanted to record some more and I only had enough time to do one more song as I was double booked that day. I did one more tune and then I literally packed up my gear and went to another studio to work on some production demos for an artist named JC Crowley. All that in one day. Being a session drummer is hard work. You have to go to the artist, they don’t come to you. At one point when I was couch surfing in LA I realized that the only way I could support myself was to play in as many bands as I could. Generally speaking I was usually in no less than five bands at a time. I still have all of my schedule calendar books all the way back to ’78 or ’79. When I look back at all of those entries I am still amazed at how busy I was. I have a real strong work-ethic that I got from my father.
One of the greatest experiences of my life happened after my parents and I moved from New York to Florida. I was in a lot of local bands in the Ft. Lauderdale area and I was working at a record store called Sid’s Records and Tapes. That was a fun job for a musician like me. There was a fella by the name of Lou Dickstein who worked for Concerts West. At the time in the ‘70s they were the biggest concert promoters out there on the east coast. I had met him because the record store was a ticket vendor for them and I used to get into a lot of concerts for free. One day he came in and said Listen. I’ve got a show at Pirates World which was an outdoor venue. The opening band that he had scheduled backed out so he asked me if I could put my three-piece together and take their place. Of course I said “Sure!” Next thing I knew I found myself in my unsigned trio, who played half originals and half covers, opening up a show for David Bowie on the “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” tour. I was only nineteen or twenty at the time.
MA: What a memory, especially at such a young age. So I am guessing that these types of experiences gave you an understanding of the business that benefitted you as you got older.
FB: Yes I guess you can say that I became the complete package. By the time I had gone from the east coast, first to Chicago and then eventually to LA, I had a lot of experience. After doing that Bowie show we opened up for a band called Wishbone Ash at the Miami/Hollywood Sportatourium which is another big outdoor venue where I also saw Led Zeppelin play. There was a guy named John Peal who had a record called “The Pope Smokes Dope” which was produced by John Lennon. I think he started out as a street musician. My trio backed him. So I already had large audience experience and a sense of how to behave as a support act versus the headliner. The other key thing for me, that I was not prepared for and didn’t realize until I came out to LA, is that on the east coast you are used to playing six sets a night, forty-five minutes each, covering a wide variety of styles. That was the best training I ever had. On the west coast they played one thirty minute set and ran off the stage before you could work up a sweat. It was different but I quickly adapted so yes, I had a lot of experience when I actually came into the business at the higher level.
MA: I want to make sure we have some time to talk about your DVD “Well Now You’re Here, There’s No Way Back.” The film has been critically acclaimed and has even won some awards. It shows all the issues of reforming a band, some good moments, some not-so good moments. Were you nervous about being so transparent?
FB: No. Not exactly. How the whole situation came about was the director Regina Russell and I had a conversation and I told her that I was thinking about putting the band back together. Understanding the history of the band and knowing that I possess all of the band’s archives she thought we could put together something worthwhile. I had started managing the band back in 1993 and I kept everything so she knew she would have a lot of material to work with. She was also interested in the story of the band continuing on after the death of a bigger than life personality in Kevin Dubrow. It went from there but all the credit for the film goes to her. I’ve said it time and time again that I lived it. I did not make the movie. As a matter of fact, early on in the process I stopped watching any of the footage that was done because I was just too busy trying to keep Quiet Riot afloat in the midst of so much criticism and negative opinions about me continuing the band. I really didn’t pay much attention to the film at that point. I also didn’t want it to be some kind of sugar-coated white wash version of the truth. If you’re going to make a movie then have it be real. So I stepped away from it. There are things in there that make me uncomfortable or that make me cringe. I know that even the scenes I don’t enjoy were crucial to telling the whole story.
MA: Is it true that when you were on the fence about restarting the band you went to Kevin’s mother to get her blessing?
FB: Yes. Listen, I’ve been criticized by people who believe that I turned my back on a statement that I would not carry on. I think it is important to understand that for twenty-seven years every time I stepped on a stage it was Kevin and I together. When he died and in the manner in which he did was totally unexpected. Of course I was in shock and my position was that I can’t continue, not because I didn’t think that I could do it on my own but because I simply did not want to do it without Kevin. For the next few years I was in mourning. I’m still in mourning. He was my closest friend. That’s why I made the statement that it was over. It was honest and although I was grieving I still stand by it. What happened as time continued I came to the realization that not only did I miss Kevin, but I missed what had been a huge portion of my life for so many years. I longed to play those Quiet Riot songs, on the road, in front of an audience. I had done that for nearly three decades. I have always had a great relationship with Kevin’s mother. She’s like a second mom to me. My position was that if she had any reservations with me doing anything with the band I would not pursue it any longer. I got together with her and she reminded me that after we buried Kevin and were having a family dinner she had told me that I had to continue the band because Quiet Riot represented Kevin and me. I had no recollection of that conversation I could not believe that we had to say goodbye to my best friend. I always said that Kevin lived his life larger than anyone else including me which is what makes his untimely death even more tragic. No one loved music and rock and roll more than he did. In fact I firmly believe that the person who is most surprised about his death is Kevin himself.
MA: You’ve certainly managed to keep the band alive and even thrive. Of course you’re reviving the classics but does Quiet Riot have any new material coming out?
FB: Yes. We are currently recording the vocals for a new album. We’ve just brought to the Quiet Riot family a fantastic singer named James Durban. He was on Season 10 of American Idol. I think he was fourth from the top before he was passed over. James Durbin is not only an amazing singer, but he is more importantly, an amazing person. Of course he is much younger than the rest of us but you wouldn’t know it by how much he loves rock and roll, specifically heavy metal. We are in the studio in between shows and once the vocals are completed I will go in and make sure the mixes are done. Then I will deliver it to the label so it should come out sometime in the summer.
MA: The people that I have talked to who saw you guys the other night were all impressed with James.
FB: The interesting thing is that he is as tall as Kevin. They are both about 6’4” which gives him a huge presence on the stage. He also has the same energy that Kevin had and his vocal range is ridiculous. We are very fortunate to have him.
MA: Our last question is going to be a hard one. What album or song from your entire career personifies you the most?
FB: Wow that is hard. There are so many songs that I am proud of. I really don’t think I’ve managed to do that just yet but if I had to choose one song from my past I would probably say “Metal Health.” I think that track is a perfect example of what Quiet Riot does. It also personifies what I do within the band. It has to be powerful but it also has to be in control. It needs to have solid time and no drum fills just for the sake of doing them. That song requires the drummer to be very conscious of what is going on around him. If you do it right you come across as being solid and supportive of the players around you. That includes the drum part for that song, the sound of the drums, where I played and where I didn’t play. That track is the definitive Quiet Riot song. It is the last song we play every night.
MA: That’s a great pick.
FB: I’m proud of all of our songs. I’ve never phoned in a gig ever in my life. It’s not just in my older age but I was like this when I was young. You never know if the next time you sit behind the drums it will be your last. I work hard to make every single performance count. My work ethic has so much to do with it. On the desk in my office I have a single dollar bill in a frame that is from the very first show that I ever got paid for. I was fourteen years-old and I was in a band called “A Pound of Flesh.” We played at a Catholic Church social in Queens and we each made thirteen dollars apiece. The first dollar that hit my hand went straight into my pocket. The leftover twelve went in to the other one. The next day I bought this cheap little frame and I pasted the bill inside. I did this because I saw the owner do the same thing in the corner Italian deli. To me that was the mark of being a professional musician. To this day, that one dollar reminds me that hard work pays off and to never take anything for granted. It also reminds me to always move forward whether it’s with small steps or big steps. If you live by that philosophy you’ll definitely go places.
For more information visit:
Frankie Banali website: http://www.frankiebanali.net/
Official Quiet Riot website: https://www.quietriot.band/
DVD: Well Now You’re Here There’s No Way Back: http://www.quietriotmovie.com/get-the-dvd/
Frankie Banali Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/frankiebanali
Frankie Banali You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Frankie+Banali
Frankie Banali Twitter: https://twitter.com/FrankieBanali
Current Photo: Joe Tamel
Archive Photo: Sam Emerson
“Christopher Cross” is the self-titled debut album by the Christopher Cross band, released in December of 1979. In 1980, it won Grammy Awards for Album of the Year. The song “Sailing” won Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist and Song of the Year. Christopher Cross also won Best New Artist. One of the aspects of the album that immediately stand out in my mind is the steady and smooth drumming of Tommy Taylor. Of the twenty five musicians listed as contributing to the album there was only one drummer. Tommy’s style perfectly fits the style of this soft rock gem. Taylor’s tasteful accompaniment to Cross’s sound compliment songs like “Never Be the Same,” and “Sailing” while driving songs like “Ride Like the Wind.” Amazingly Tommy was only 22 at the time. You can listen to the entire album over on YouTube. Tommy took time to share his insights on the iconic album track by track:
The first tune up is “Say You’ll Be Mine.” This was actually the tune that got the record deal in the end. It was a bit of a marriage between an old song Chris had in an old band called Flash and a new spin. He wanted to start the song with a Chorus as he’d never done that before. He knew what he wanted to say. The verses were done…but he needed the chorus. I gave him the line “Say You’ll Be Mine.” We were rehearsing at a club during the afternoon in Wichita Falls, Texas. I listened to what he was talking about and even though I was not as important of a sounding board as Rob and Andy on that level…I just blurted out, “Why not ‘Say You’ll Be Mine?’” I actually was eating those candy hearts that you get at Valentine’s Day at the rehearsal with the little notes written on them. “Say You’ll Be Mine.”….I wish I knew about publishing then I’d be rich. Haha!
So that was actually the first thing we tracked when we got to L.A. We didn’t use the track as we found the tempo a bit on the up side and re-recorded it later on down the road. It’s a throw away for me. The track is fine…but it was never much of a song. It was also my suggestion to have Nicolette sing on the record. I had discovered her first when she had the LP with Neil Young’s “Lotta Love” on it. Everyone was talking about who they wanted to possibly be guests when we kind of started musing about that kind of thing. She was a label mate so it was pretty easy. She did a great job on it. That and Jay Graydon’s lead are probably the best things about it.
The second song is “I Really Don’t Know Anymore”. This is one of my favorite tracks really. It was our pick for the second single. Warners opted out likely because of pressure from the Doobies after Michael McDonald was so prevalent on “Ride Like the Wind.” It’s a very good track and it’s straight up no chaser, no click track, just as most of the tracks are. Michael Omartian had taken over the acoustic piano duties at that point and he was really holding the groove down nicely. Drum wise it’s one of my better moments I think.
The third song is “Spinning.” Strangely, this is by far my favorite track on the LP. We had never ever played it before that day and I had only heard it on the early demos before I was involved in the group. I was a rocker and never a ballad player. I think my playing really shines on this one. It’s a very slow tempo and tough to pull off. I’m sure it’s either the first or second take. We just had it for this one that day. It was only included because it was Mo Ostin’s favorite song and he was president of the label. Valerie Carter lent a beautiful duet with Chris…it’s really wonderful. I now favor ballads over anything. I somehow mastered the pop ballad. No click track…just the band doing what we did well.
The fourth song is “Never Be the Same.” Another favorite for sure. I had to fight to keep this track. Chris was very unsure of the performance…but for whatever warts and bumps it has, I knew the vibe would carry it. We first heard this song on a gig. We used to play clubs and casuals and the like to make a living before the contract and we never mixed original and cover tunes on a date really. We would do long medleys where the drums would just keep playing as one song would end and another would start, usually with the kick drum just holding four on the floor. We might go from say “Boogie Man” by K.C. and the Sunshine band into “1985” by Paul McCartney. Keep ‘em dancin!’ The tempos are all the same. So we end a song and I’m carrying the beat over and Chris starts those Todd Rundgren changes and then sings the whole thing from start to finish. I quickly adjust the feel to basically what is on the record and the band arranges the tune on the spot. We finished likely going back into whatever song we came out of and took a set break.
I went running after Chris as he went to the bar to get refreshment during the break saying “Chris…MAN…What was that?….That’s INCREDIBLE…We’re gonna be HUGE!” I knew it was a hit…great song great track. Omartian helped with the arrangement and came up with the changes for the solo. He mused at the time that no one would likely notice it was the outro to “Layla.” Now you know.
The fifth song is “Poor Shirley.” Sadly of all the songs on the record this track is my least favorite. One of my favorite songs but we did end up cutting this one to the drum machine and it just is soul-less to me. Chris’s vocal is weak compared to the demo and it just never really did what it could’ve. So that is the end of side one when such things existed in the day.
Opening side two we have…(oooooh that) “Ride Like the Wind.” That was what Chris and I used to say…kind of like school boys involved in a scandal….and then giggle, after playing it the last song of our original sets, back before the record contract. It was a smash. We always knew. It was the first piece I ever played with the group at the rehearsal for my first demo/audition recording. This was one of the more stressful pieces to cut. It was the first time I had ever worked with a metronome or drum machine. Omartian was pushing for this, disco four on the floor feel all the way through. We weren’t having any part of it…we all had slaved through the disco era in bars and hated the effect. My original part was very simple, ala my mentor at the time Gary Osier. Kick on 1 and 3 only. The ”ba da damp” after the line “got such a long way to go” that Andy plays with me on the bass, I actually lifted from a song written by John Inmon called “Whiskey Still” that he had performed in the Austin, Texas, Progressive Rock Group Genessee. The song shared the same lyrical theme “got a long way to go” The drummer Chuck Rogers was a huge influence on me coming up and the figure he played on the kick drum was the same after they sang “got a long way to go.” I couldn’t resist taking it and putting on “Ride Like the Wind.” To me it sets the song apart and is very signature. These were the kinds of little nuances that we created together as a band that were so quickly discarded once the solo artist effect came in full swing.
There are literally reels and reels of two-inch tape, of different versions of the song where we are going back and forth with the drum part. Omartian at one point wanted me to play the four on the floor through the choruses and everything never stopping. We were mortified. We really were a rock band at heart and this was taking all the balls out of our one real rocker. At one point he wanted to assemble the drum part…starting with the kick and then adding the snare and overdubbing the triplets on the hi-hat and then the crashes. I was satisfied with what we came up with in the end and I think it speaks for itself but I’m not sure it’s as heavy as the demo. I had a very difficult time crashing a cymbal without it being supported by the kick drum I remember at first. It was just something I hadn’t ever done. The half time bit on the double chorus at the end was an accident that happened on a previous take…I thought someone stopped or something and so I just kind of went in to half time for no particular reason…the track was a dud…Omartian picked up on it and said “Hey do that like that! We’ll pick it back up and play out.” So that was how that bit of the arrangement happened.
Truly the one thing I learned from the first demo session I ever did with the guys, was that you never stop even if you think it’s a mess. So…if you were to play along with a drum machine to “Ride Like the Wind” or rather if you could hear the drum machine track, you would realize that I turned the beat around 180 degrees by rushing the tempo in the end. Omartian was not listening to the drum machine in the control room and never noticed. I brought it up because I thought it might be a problem. They looked at me like the Nipper Dog on the RCA label. It was fine. These little things don’t matter in the end it’s so minute.
So what are we up to, song number seven I guess? “The Light Is On.” This was always one of my favorites because I actually made up the figure for the main portion of the drum part. The little upbeat thing on the hi-hat is cool. Sort of a bastardized Latin thing. I was toying with it when we were cutting the demo and Chris really liked it. I couldn’t even play it at first but by the time the record came along I had it down pretty well. I like the lyric on this song. It’s a very good track of a very nice song. I don’t know that much stands out about it drumming wise except it’s got nice textures. The fills were representative of what Chris had sort of orchestrated to me. He was a drummer first before he played guitar so he had ideas…they always do don’t they?
Song number eight is the hit “Sailing.” This one was a bear. Jeff Porcaro was actually called in at one point to cut this. I was having a hard time keeping the slow tempo steady on it and the part that had been mostly what Rob Meurer had showed me for it (Rob was also a drummer first, geez I wonder how I got the gig) was not really assertive enough. Jeff didn’t fare much better. What he played…wasn’t subtle enough. So…after I saw his assertiveness, I sort of blended that with Rob’s concept and came up with what we have. We knew it was important but honestly I don’t know if any of us knew why. It was never one of my favorite songs actually. Still it nearly broke the band up trying record it. When we finally got it, it was a victory no doubt and we were all very pleased. We almost mutinied when Warner came and told us that would be the second single…after all the headway we had made with “Ride Like The Wind” we were sure they were sabotaging our career intentionally. Russ Thyret, head of promotion was a genius and he ran that ball as well as anyone I’ve ever known. I would have bet my life savings against it…but there you go.
It’s actually an edit between two takes. The string intro is really the strings from the middle tacked on to the beginning as well. This was accidentally suggested by Chris’s brother in-law at the time, Bill Harrison, who was visiting the sessions. They were listening to the strings solo’d and he assumed it was the intro and commented that he thought that was a great way to start the song. Everyone kind of stopped mid-sentence and looked at each other and the intro was born. The tom on 2 and 4 in the bridge is actually Omartian, playing an old round badge Gretsch 8×12 I shipped out to him with a CanaSonic head on it specifically for the part. What can I say…it looms high in me legend eh?
The final track is “Minstrel Gigolo.” We had never intended to cut this piece nor had we ever worked it up or even knew that it existed. I had heard the basic chord riff before once when Chris was messing with it but no song existed. We were drifting apart and losing our moorings as a band at this point, not being able to get “Sailing” and just the pressure of being a little local group from Texas in the big Warner Bros. Studio in Los Angeles. We had gone to dinner on the company tab and rather than going back to our apartments at the Oakwood Gardens we decided to go back to the studio and hang out. Omartian was a family man at that point and he was done at 7:00 PM so we were just on our own. We were just hanging out and Chris tuned to his open tuning and started playing around with that riff. Rob, who had been off of the grand piano for the sessions and on Rhodes was feeling a new direction having listened to Omartian for consecutive days. We all just started jamming the piece and Chris started singing in the scratch mic.
Luckily Chet Himes, our dedicated brother and head engineer on the sessions leapt into action and got the tape machine rolling. We had the one piece with no start as the tape wasn’t rolling…we were just sort of formulating things…but we had no intention of keeping any of it, we were just jamming an arrangement like we always did. I play that two tom hit thing at the end of the riff…I would never have jumped that far out if I thought we were serious in those days. All of that playing around after the last chorus…in the outro…I was just playing around for fun. When we listened back and realized what we had we were sort of awed by it.
There is a certain victorious aspect of the vibe. Here we are again, just like we had always been. No producer, no agenda but to make great music. Just the four of us. The triumphant little family that had come so far in the previous two years to this precipice, showing what the mettle that had made us really was one last time. We played it for Omartian the next day. You could tell he liked it. He was reluctant because he didn’t really have anything to do with it. He actually asked if we used it, if he would still be getting cred for it on the record. Of course he as the producer had the final say. We of course agreed and he added his bits in overdubs. The guitar solo debuting Eric Johnson and the saxophone solo by Tomas Ramirez were produced solely by myself and Chet Himes in Austin, Texas later in the summer.
Being that we were not essential for the overdubs, Andy and I came back to Texas after cutting the basic tracks. We really didn’t hear the finished product until the fall of 1979. There was a big listening party at Chris’s apartment with a lot of friends and local luminaries like Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, who was a big fan before we ever had a record. When they put the LP on honestly I couldn’t believe it….it was astonishing…I was really just a kid…I couldn’t believe my life’s dream was actually coming true. I looked over at Andy with eyes the size of baby moons and thought…can this be real?
Here’s the four original band members receiving their Gold Records in 1980.
L to R: Tommy Taylor, Andy Salmon, Rob Meurer, Chris Geppert
Today I had the opportunity to do something that I’ve never been able to do before…communicate with an actual descendant of a Civil War drummer boy. Richard Cole’s second great-great-grandfather Thomas Jefferson Cole (pictured above) was a musician in Company E of the First Regiment South Carolina Volunteer Infantry. This Confederate unit served in many sizes and capacities throughout the war and was present at the bombardment of Fort Sumter. After the war started they became part of the Provisional Army of the Confederate States of the Army of Northern Virginia. They participated in many of the war’s major battles to include: Second Manassas, South Mountain, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and they were present at the South’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. You can view a complete and detailed list of their engagements here. Unfortunately little is known about young T.J. Cole other than his photograph and service record. Still they offer a glimpse into the service of a drummer boy during America’s great conflict. Cole lived to be seventy-five years old. If anyone has any additional information on T.J. Cole or the 1st SCV I would greatly appreciate it. (Special thanks to Richard Cole for supplying the images)
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
Update: Richard turned out to be a successful performing and recording drummer from here in Virginia. Small World.
Over the last few months I have become a loyal listener to the Mike and Mike Podcast . The hosts of this online radio show are Mike Johnston from MikesLessons.com and Mike Dawson, managing editor for Modern Drummer magazine. Each week Mike and Mike explore drummers from the past and present, analyze drumming styles and provide gear reviews. They also have a “pick of the week” which can go far beyond the drums. As of this post they have recorded 91 episodes and every one of them is available online (web link above). The podcast is also available on iTunes. I have a particular affinity for this podcast as my book is published by Modern Drummer and I have written a feature article and interview for them. Mike and Mike have great on-air personalities and they merge together well. I find it very interesting when they begin each show by recapping the gigs they had the previous week. These guys are constantly exploring and sharpening their craft. If you are interested in the state of drumming look no further than the Mike and Mike Podcast. Each show is made available on Fridays.
UPCOMING POSTS: I am currently in the process of putting together a post with Tommy Taylor, drummer for Christopher Cross. Tommy played on one the biggest award-winning soft rock albums of all-time. He will be providing comments for each song on the LP. Next, I am in the process of coordinating an interview with Bobby ‘Z’ from Prince and The Revolution. Finally, I am working on the final edits for our exclusive interview with Frankie Banali. Stay tuned.
It’s been a while since I’ve shared an excerpt from our book. When Rich and I were discussing how to round out FUNdamentals the concept of a drum solo finale was one of the ideas. We both agreed that it was way too presumptive to expect a young child to perform a solo after 85 pages of instruction. That said, Rich took on the task of writing a solo that would be challenging but also doable. What he came up with follows. The irony of what Rich wrote was that it is enjoyable for any beginner regardless of their age. For more on FUNdamentals visit us over on ModernDrummer.com at: https://www.moderndrummer.com/fundamentalsofdrumming/.
Nashville’s Go-To Guy
By Michael Aubrecht
In baseball the relief pitcher is among the most coveted of all positions. Their ability to step in when the pressure is on makes them invaluable. In many cases, it is the performance of the reliever that determines whether a team wins or loses. The same pressure can be considered for the subbing musician. It takes a wide skill-set and a great memory to step up behind the drum kit for a previous player. Good substitutes are everywhere while great ones are a rare breed. One such drummer of the latter is Keio Stroud who has made a name for himself as the primary drummer for the Nashville duo Big & Rich and the sub for a long list of country-rock favorites.
As a go-to-guy, Keio has forged a strong reputation that makes him in high-demand. Have a tour coming up that needs a drummer? Call Keio. Have a drummer drop-out of the gig at the last second? Call Keio. Want someone who will come in and seamlessly fit within your band? Call Keio. Need a solid player for your next session? Call Keio. With endorsements with Tama, Sabian, Evans and Vater Stroud has quietly become a premiere artist both on the stage and off.
I first became aware of Keio while standing onstage at a Jason Aldean concert. Keio was shadowing Jake Owen’s drummer Myron Howell while preparing to sub for him. During sound check he beat the hell out of Howell’s kit before throwing his sticks out to an imaginary audience. It was then that I realized Keio’s great sense of humor. That personality, coupled with chops, has made him a great guy to be around. Keio took some time in between rehearsals with Big & Rich to discuss his experiences.
MA: Thanks for taking time out of your incredibly busy schedule to do this interview.
KS: My pleasure. We go to Colorado tomorrow, then Pennsylvania and then back here to Nashville.
MA: I know you come from a musical family. What brought you to the drums?
KS: As a kid I was drawn to it. My dad had bands growing up. When they would rehearse I would literally climb inside the bass drum. I also did the typical drummer thing, tapping on stuff. Eventually I started playing actual beats. I loved music as a kid.
MA: What kind of music did you like when you were young?
KS: Mostly R&B stuff. When I was a kid I grew up with my grandparents. We had a really fun house. They had built an intercom system that ran through every room. My grandmother’s record player was connected to the system. She would wake us up in the morning with records like James Brown Live at the Apollo, Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace and albums by Earth Wind and Fire. My grandfather liked country music so he would play obscure artists and all kinds of weird stuff. As I got older I really got into country music too and as a teen I found Brooks and Dunn. That’s still my dream gig.
MA: At what point did you pick up a pair of sticks and start playing drums? Did you take lessons or are you self-taught?
KS: I am mostly self-taught. I never took lessons until I got into college. I watched other drummers and there were some things that came naturally. I developed as a player by listening to drumming and copying what I heard. When I was a teenager drum videos started coming out. I would buy as many as I could and spend hours watching them. I challenged myself by trying to match my hands to what I saw on the videos.
MA: Did you have a favorite video?
KS: I loved the Buddy Rich memorial concerts. I still have all of them in a box somewhere. Carter Beauford’s “Under the Table and Drumming” was another favorite. Dave Weckl put out some great videos too.
MA: Who was your biggest drumming influences growing up?
KS: As a kid I loved Clyde Stubblefield. Bernard Purdie was another favorite. As I got older I loved Dennis Chambers and Carter Beauford for his drum sound. Then I got into Alex Van Halen who is one of my absolute favorites. His style and performance is amazing. I got hip to him later in his career during the Van Hagar days. His approach to music is very cool. After that I discovered The Beatles and Ringo, The Who and Keith Moon. All of that classic stuff. I was grabbing everything from everyone. I would put on one of those variety radio stations that play everything and drum along to that. When I loved something I would write it down and go to BestBuy and get it on CD. This was before the internet music scene took off. Then I would find out who the drummers were and research them. When I moved to Nashville I got hip to the local guys. You have guys like Greg Morrow and Shannon Forrest, Chris McHugh and Larry London, Tommy Wells. All of these guys could not have been nicer when I met them.
MA: Speaking of growing up tell us about your first drum set.
KS: It was a Lotus Japanese kit. I had 12” tom, 20” bass drum, a snare drum and a really crappy cymbal and no hi-hat. I had that kit for a year. Once I got serious my dad bought me a used Pearl kit. It was the same finish as my Lotus kit. It had a 12” and 13” rack toms, a 16” floor tom and a 22” bass drum. I had hi-hats now and another crash cymbal. The kit was pre-Export. I got that kit in 1984. The tom mounts were not circles, they were hexes. I still have the snare drum from that kit. I still track with it. In fact, when I got the Big & Rich gig it was my main snare drum. It makes its way onto demos all the time. For the longest time it sat in my dad’s trunk. When he was getting ready to sell the car he found it and asked me if I wanted it. I use Evans on it now but way back then I used those hydraulic heads. Today I’ve gone back to my roots and I’m actually using hydraulic heads with no bottom heads on the floor toms.
MA: Talk about getting your money’s worth. Or should I say your dad’s money’s worth.
KS: Oh yeah. It definitely has lived a long life. My third kit was a chrome double bass kit that belonged to the drummer in my dad’s band. Ironically today I’m using a chrome Tama classic kit.
MA: Did you participate in any school music programs?
KS: Yes. I was in marching band and symphony and jazz band all the way until college. When I got to college I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life so I wasn’t enrolled in any music classes for the first few weeks. I liked music but I was only attending college at the time because my folks said I had to. It’s actually a funny story of how I started playing music there. I was hanging around the campus and found myself outside on the humanities building where the music department was. I heard a jazz band playing inside. I was an idiot at eighteen so I just walked into their rehearsal. When they stopped the band director Dr Bakos turned to me and said “Hey man can I help you?” I told him that I heard the music and came in to see where it was coming from. He asked me if I played music and I told him I played the drums. Then he asked me if I could play and I said yeah. He asked if I could read music and I said yes again. Finally he asked me to come up and play a song with them. I sat down at the drums and read the chart. I just went for it and played the part pretty well. When we were done he took me to the head of the music department who asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I told him I didn’t know. He told me from now on I was a music major [laughs].
MA: What college were you attending?
KS: I was at the University of West Georgia. It was a great thing to happen but also in a way the worst thing that could have happened to a music lover. Because I was taught to analyze and criticize music I ended up hating it for a while. When you’re looking at music from an academic standpoint you literally rip it apart. At that age I was really into music and coming into my own. Because I was studying it at such a level I couldn’t really enjoy it anymore. Every time I heard a song I couldn’t help but overthink it. Everything was wrong. Everything was bad. I had to step away from it. I did two years as a music major and after that I didn’t take any more music classes just to get my listening life back. Eventually I got past that and moved to Nashville.
MA: Did you march in college or did you just play in the jazz band?
KS: Yes I was in the marching band. I played tenors. I was horrible [laughs]. I enjoyed it but I didn’t get into it as much as some other guys in the drum line. I was also in the school’s symphony. I played all percussion but mostly timpani. I really enjoyed playing timpani. There is something about starting and stopping the notes that I felt was very musical. I also played triangle. I was a mean triangle player!
MA: When you say you walked away from formally studying music how did you “deprogram” yourself as a music lover?
KS: I did a couple things. I started listening to simple music. That included country and everything else I loved as a child. I also went back to reading my Modern Drummer magazines. I still have all of mine.
MA: Me too. I save every one.
KS: Yeah. It was cool because it enabled me to recapture my passion for the drums too. It took me about three months until I was happy again. I didn’t end up going back into the music program at all. I made it through the third week of my third semester and then I quit and moved to Nashville.
MA: Did you play out with any bands in college?
KS: Kind of. I played in my dad’s R&B band. I would go home on the weekends and gig with him. My granddad played at church so I would go there and play too. Speaking of gigs…When I was in college there was this up-and-coming dude named Zac Brown. You may have heard of him. He would come up and play shows because some of his band members went there. All of those guys are still in the Zac Brown Band. A few times I found myself playing at Mellow Mushroom because I had a drum set. I did a lot more studying than playing in school. My professor and I bumped heads because I had been playing drum set all of these years and according to me I was really good. That said, I didn’t know anything about classical percussion which is what that school pushed heavily. It got to the point where I just didn’t enjoy it. Now I miss mallets and wish I had a marimba at my house to play around with. There is a big difference between having to do something and wanting to do it. Looking back I may have hated some of the moments but overall I can say that I liked it. I’m glad I did it. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t done it.
MA: We’ll touch on your subbing in a minute but I would imagine that the skill set you picked up in college, to include playing a wide variety of complicated music and having strong reading skills prepared you for the career you have today.
KS: Absolutely. It’s amazing that there are so many things you never think you’ll use that end up being crucial later in life. I was the guy that didn’t appreciate things at the time but came to really appreciate them later. I write charts for myself but I also rely heavily on my recall skills. I was always that guy that tended to wait until the last minute to prepare for things. That kept things fresh in my mind. I actually play better in my opinion when I use that approach. That stress level makes me more focused.
MA: When you moved to Nashville how did you spread your name around the scene and establish yourself as the new guy in town?
KS: It was kind of funny. When I moved to Nashville I already had a gig. My dad’s friend Tyrone had a cover band. His regular drummer was having some issues. One day I was back in Athens where I am from and Tyrone had to leave for a gig. He had to leave his drummer behind so he called up my dad and asked if I was still playing drums. He spoke for me and said “Oh yeah, he’ll do it.” When I moved to Nashville I was a member of Tyrone’s band. I slept on the keyboard player and bassist’s couches. The keyboard player was really into doing these blues jams and he convinced me to come along. That is where I met all kinds of players like Pat McDonald from Charlie Daniel’s band and Rich Redmond and Curt [Allison] and Tully [Kennedy] from Jason Aldean’s band. All of the pro touring guys were going to these blues jam nights on every Monday or Tuesday. I would sit in when I could. After about seven months of being there I was recommended for a club gig. I ended up playing a four-hour country gig at Fiddle and Steel.
After I established myself doing those gigs people started calling me for last-minute subbing jobs on Broadway. Many times I didn’t even know the songs but they would count me in and off I’d go. From there I met my buddy Greg Loman and he recommended me. Eventually I became the “Mikey” of drumming where they’d say “Call Keio, he will do it.” My reputation was that I was an honest person who might not know the entire song list but can get you through it. I have a skill to be able to fake my way through a lot of songs. As a last-minute call that’s valuable. When I could chart I would and I’d even research the song online but sometimes there was no time for that. One day I was playing in a bar and Dave McAfee and Rick were there and looking for a drummer to tour with this guy Wade Hayes. They came up to me afterwards to see if I was interested in the gig. This was in 2002 or 2003. I had to turn it down as I had a cover band gig. They called the next day and I finally said yes. I was that dude who would meet as many people as I could. We would play festivals and instead of going back and taking a shower I would hang out. I would watch all the bands that played after us and meet the band members. Everyone was so nice to me.
MA: The list of people you have subbed for is astounding. Here’s just a few: Richard Marx, Jake Owen, Deana Carter, Little Big Town, Emmylou Harris, Keith Urban, Roseanne Cash, Lee Brice, The Nashville Star television show, Randy Houser and Frankie Ballard. You even subbed for Tiffany. You’ve also appeared on featured recordings like “Let Us Be Americana – The Music of Paul McCartney” and “I Saw the Light” from the Hank Williams movie. What are some that really stand out in your mind?
KS: I really enjoy subbing on the Jake Owen gig. It’s been ten years of me doing that one. The Richard Marx thing was really fun. I did about fifteen shows with him and it was one of my favorites. I also like Sarah Buxton because that was when I started coming into my own. When I was about 26 that’s when I started getting called for the bigger gigs to sub for. I was subbing for Jake but he wasn’t quite there yet. Sarah always treated the guys great. Her music is really fun to play.
MA: When you were subbing for Jake where was his steady drummer Myron [Howell]?
KS: I became Jake’s international drummer because Myron for whatever reason does not like leaving the country. Anytime they leave the U.S. I get the call. His music is a lot of fun.
MA: How did you end up getting the Big & Rich gig?
KS: That gig came from a couple different things. I actually auditioned for this gig twice. I met these guys when I was subbing on the Terri Clark tour. We did a co-headlining tour in Canada for two weeks. I got to hang out and meet everybody. Fast forward seven years. I auditioned for the gig and didn’t get it. Lester Estelle got it. He’s a fantastic drummer. About two and a half years later after that Travis McNabb was playing drums but he had the leave to do something else. I had been friends with the bandleader for a long time and he told me that I was probably the guy for the gig but they had to audition other people. A couple days later I went in and played. John and Kenny were there. Both of them turned around and told me that they liked what I was doing. They offered me the job on the spot. They asked if I was available that weekend and I had to tell them no because I was set to go back out with Jake. I went out and did a couple weeks with him and then came back and had the Big & Rich gig.
MA: Those guys are brilliant entertainers. Every night on stage is a party and the audience is invited. What challenges do you experience working in that environment?
KS: Oh yeah. The best part about the gig is the atmosphere. It reminds me of the first job I had in Nashville in Tyrone’s band. The gig is literally a party. There’s a bar on stage and we have little people running around. There are fire-breathers and Cowboy Troy is there. People like Meatloaf and Ted Nugent will sit in. It’s all about having a good time. The songs are strong so they cause the crowd to have a lot of emotions and it never stops. It’s like a country band that is battling a DJ. We roll from one song to the next and it’s all high energy. Those guys give me the same energy that they want me to give them. The first gig with them I wasn’t ready for it. We played a huge festival and it was great. Everyone else on the stage was operating at fifteen and I was on twelve. I was the guy driving the ship so I had to do everything I could to make it to sixteen. They challenged me to step it up. The really cool thing about the gig now is that it allows me to be me. That’s only the second or third time that has happened in my entire career. They enjoy what I am providing and have never asked me to change anything. That to me is a huge compliment.
MA: What is it about you and your playing that has made you an artist favorite?
KS: I think it is my personality more than my drumming. I feel about myself that I am an OK drummer but I can get along with anybody. My parents taught me that being a nice person will get you far in the world. I’m speaking of a genuinely nice person not someone that puts on a front. That means caring for others, being considerate of other people’s feelings and treating people the way you want to be treated. That attitude has helped me to live on busses with people, talk with people and understand where other people are coming from. That is my ultimate talent, being a people-person.
Drumming-wise I have this whole thing where I believe that your true instrument is your ears. Your hands are simply what translates what your ears are telling you. You listen with your ears, you make musical decisions and then your brain tells your hands what to execute. That goes for any instrument and any music. I try to really listen to artists and the bands around me. I find out what is important and then don’t step on it. The singer’s voice is more important than a double bass drum solo. I try to be a musician’s musician and not just a drummer. I find out what the vision of the project is and that goes for live and in the studio. I played with this guy Rodney Crowell for about twelve years. He’s a great musician. He was the first guy to hire me to play drums and be me. We really didn’t get time to rehearse. After the first sound check I was doing a little Eddie Bayers or Larrie Londin thing. He turned to me and said that he didn’t want that. He wanted me and that was why he hired me. I said to myself “Shit…who am I?” Honestly I played the gig like I was getting fired. I played whatever I felt made musical sense and made me happy. By doing that I found myself and it’s made him happy since then.
MA: In addition to your live work you also do sessions. Tell us about that.
KS: My session career isn’t what I wish it was. It’s a lot of fun going into the studio. I’ve done more demos than records which is the nature of Nashville. There was a learning curve. I had to work on my charting chops. I had to learn how to be very quick and efficient. It is sometimes a challenge but it is still fun. Through all of that I’ve been able to play on some records from folks like Keb Mo. I just did a fun record with him and Taj Mahal called” Taj Mo.” That comes out in a month. I’ve done some movie soundtracks. I did the Hank Williams movie “I Saw the Light.” It’s funny because there are no drums. I played on different sized boxes with brushes. I do quite a bit of custom projects here in Nashville. Someone will come in from out of town and need to record something. Sometimes it turns into a full-blown record deal, sometimes it doesn’t. I now have a new home studio where I can record projects and demos. I’ve recorded some demos for FGL, Arliss Albriton, Jeremy Spillman, Randy Rogers, Dean Dillon, Scotty Emerick/Toby Keith, and Al Anderson. It’s really fun to roll out of bed and start making music. It’s good for the soul. Recording is definitely different from live because you’re under a microscope. The song is there forever and sometimes you only have fifteen minutes to do it.
MA: You have a nice collection of drums. Tell us about your current touring kit and then tell us about your favorite kit.
KS: My current set-up is a Tama Star Classic birch bubinga kit. It is custom and has a chrome finish. There is a 12×8” rack tom, 14×12” floor tom, 18×12” gong drum, 22×13” kick drum, and a Tama bronze 5×14 snare drum. I also have a 5×12 Tama birch bubinga snare drum. The cymbals are a little wacky. I use 18” Sabian HHX Studio hi-hats, a 22” Paragon crash, 22” Legacy crash and ride and a 22” HHX Ozone. I’m going to 24” on all of these soon. I’m using Evans red hydraulic heads on everything. My sticks are Vater MV10s which is a marching stick. They are 17” long. That kit is definitely my current favorite.
MA: How many drum sets do you have?
KS: I think six…three Tama kits, two Mapex kits and an older Ludwig kit.
MA: I noticed on all of your kits you use a gong drum. Not many people do. Why do you?
KS: I like the big boom that it delivers. It’s more of an accent thing. I love Billy Cobham. I love the way players like him use it as a melodic tool. When I need to make a big sound I go to the gong drum. I use it to accent crashes and for counting off…1-2-3 boom! Four is the gong drum. Right out of the gate the audience hears this big boom. It moves the PA and helps to set the tone. It works great for ballads too. I try to use it for what I call “musical shock value.” Not too much. Just enough to make the point.
MA: Do you have a favorite song that you perform with Big & Rich?
KS: I have a couple. One of my favorites is this tune called “Jalapeno.” It’s a funky song that we are bringing back this year. It’s very straight ahead…boom-bap-boom-bap. It’s four on the floor with some interesting kick drum things in it. I also love playing “8th of November.” There’s a really fun thing that happens in that song where we play it a little different than the record. We play it with a bit more intensity. There are a few parts where I use the gong drum and do these interesting fills. It starts with two guys and when the band comes in it’s like a kick to the face. We have military guys come up on stage and even they are surprised when we come in. All of the sudden we lock in and for a 6/8 ballad the energy stays up the whole time. Literally from that point on the rest of the show everyone is up. I also have to admit that I really like playing “Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy.” It’s so much fun. We do it as a medley so the song is about thirteen minutes long. I have to play four on the floor at 104 BPM for thirteen minutes. It can catch up with you later but it’s worth it.
MA: If you had to pick a gig, any gig, that personifies your playing style what would it be?
KS: I like the way I play right now. It’s real bombastic but it’s fun. It is definitely me. It’s all about driving the band and propelling it forward. I really enjoyed the music that Rodney Crowell brought out of me. I felt like he honed my musical tastes and focused me. From that we molded my current way of playing. I guess I play like a rock and R&B drummer but with Americana sensibilities while paying attention to the song. I find out what the artist wants and I deliver what they need.
MA: The last question that I am going to ask you today is what advice can you give another drummer that is looking to come to Nashville and break into the business? You have experience in all facets of the music scene, sitting in, subbing, touring, recording and producing. What would like to have known back in the day?
KS: The first thing I will say is this…you get out what you put in. You have to work at it because nothing is just going to come to you. If you don’t support the community it will not support you. Second thing is to be honest with yourself. Are you really as good as you think you are? Are you one of the best? There are people out there who think they are amazing and they suck. At the same time there are people out there who think they suck and are amazing. Both mindsets can hurt you in the long run. You have to be completely honest with yourself. Check your talent level and your personality too. Being a working musician is not like working at McDonalds. It is a career. You don’t work regular hours. You don’t leave your work at the office. The difference between having a job and a career is this: A career is a lifestyle. A job is just spending time at a workplace. You have to be willing to make sacrifices both personally and professionally. You must get out and meet people. That is crucial. Building connections will help get you work. It really is “who you know” sometimes. You could be the best drummer in your basement but that doesn’t matter. Play in front of people. Show them what you are capable of. Having a million views on a drum cover posted on YouTube video means nothing. It does not show what a person can do.
MA: So becoming part of the scene takes a lot of work.
KS: A lot and it’s all about building relationships. Nashville drummers are a real community. I’ve been lucky to have made a lot of friends with professional drummers at every level. We hang out. We text. We bounce things off of one another. We genuinely support each other. We keep each other in check. The best part about all of these guys is that we are friends first, musicians second. We want nothing from another other than friendship. What you see behind the kit is a product. When you step out from the kit you expose who you are as a person. My goal has always been to be the best person I can be and the drumming will fall into place.
For more information, visit Keio on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/blacyoda/
Today I want to talk briefly about triggers. As someone who loves the electronic sounds of the 1980’s triggers have allowed me to replicate a variety of drum kits from that era. There are hundreds of samples that are available nowadays so you can literally program drum kits from any and every era. I have experimented with several of ddrum’s triggers but have settled on their Red Shot system. As I use a smaller kit with smaller sizes (Bass drum: 16″ x 14,” Tom: 10″ x 7,” Floor tom: 13″ x 13,” and a Snare: 14″ x 5.”) the smaller triggers are a better fit. The ddrum Red Shot Trigger Kit is also an affordable alternative to the larger ddrum Trigger series, providing a full complement of triggers that provide a consistent drum sound.
The Red Shot Trigger Kit is a 5-piece set with four snare/tom triggers and one kick trigger. In fact, each trigger features the same type of sensor as ddrum’s Acoustic Trigger series, just with a less robust construction. They are perfectly designed for local and basic touring gigs. You can expect a natural dynamic response across your entire kit, with the ddrum Red Shot Trigger Kit.
I was able to assign samples to my four pieces easily and I programmed multiple kits with 80’s sounds. The triggers do not significantly affect the overall tone of the drums when I am playing them acoustically although it adds some minor tension on the head. Best of all they work with a variety of modules from ddrum and Alesis. If you are looking for an inexpensive way to incorporate triggers into your set-up look no further than Red Shots.
Here is a sample of the sounds you can get using these triggers: http://www.pinstripepress.net/Heavy_Toms.wav