Monthly Archives: April 2015

o·rig·i·nal·i·ty; noun; the ability to think independently and creatively

No history lesson today. This post is a personal one. I want to talk about drum setups. This topic was instigated by an individual who emailed me about my unique kit and shared that he had been scoffed at by some other musicians for quote: “setting his drums up wrong.” This statement is so ludicrous I had to respond publicly…

I am constantly rearranging my drums and most of my setups are very unorthodox to say the least. My kit usually revolves around a three or four piece configuration with a minimal amount of cymbals. In fact I rarely use a ride. As you can see in the video below I use a PDP kit with an 18” bass drum, 14” floor tom (in place of a rack tom), two 14” snares (one in place of the floor tom), two hi-hats (14” and 16”), an 18” Sabian crash, a Meinl 18” trash stack, an auxiliary tambourine, and a sample pad with triggers. Sometimes I will use three hi-hats, a 10” popcorn snare and a single roto tom in place of rack toms. Unlike most drummers I intentionally use unmatched heads (Evans and Remo) and I sit very high over the drums. Ergonomically this looks like a nightmare but it really works well for me. This setup may change again at any time depending on my mood. The only consistency is that I never use a traditional arrangement. As a pocket-player, I rely on my snares and hi-hats more than any other part of the kit hence why I tend to use dual setups.

If you think this is strange, check out my friend Garrett Goodwin’s drums or Daru Jones’ setup. Both have minimal kits slanted away from them and practically sitting on the floor – its genius and madness all at once. Unique may be an understatement when describing Garrett’s gear. According to him, “People may think I had some brilliant concept for this rig, but to be completely honest, I simply didn’t know any better. I never had anyone show me how to set up a drum set, so I just did what felt right. Someone else may think I’m nuts, but this is what works for me.” The number of slanted pieces is the only thing small about Garrett’s kit. He plays a massive DW Collectors Series with a 26” bass drum, 14” and 18” floor toms, and a 14” snare. Most notably are the monstrous Sabian cymbals that he employs. These include 22” and 24” crashes, a 24” ride and 18” hi-hats.

Jones’ severely slanted kit takes it one step further with his DW Classic Series drums featuring a 26” bass drum, 12” rack, 18” floor, and a 16” VLT snare with chrome finish. He also employs 13″ Dark Crisp hi-hats, 18″ Mellow Crash, 21″ Dark Dry Ride. According to him, “I’m always experimenting with my sound and the look of my set-up. I started playing the snare drum tilted first and then decided to tilt the floor tom because I wanted it to line-up symmetrically with the snare. I like to dominate the drums so I sit really high and come down hard.”

Both of these heavy hitters personify the fact is there is no “right” or “wrong” way to set up a drum set. N-o-n-e. Each and every drummer has their own preferences that support their style of play. The key is to not get caught up in speculating about what other people think. I know a drummer who would setup his kit so that it “looked good” regardless if the placement was uncomfortable. He would literally walk around his drums from afar, then make adjustments solely based on the aesthetics. His priority was misguided and it negatively affected his performance. My configuration fits how I want to play, not how I want to look. My recommendation is simply this: don’t give a damn about what other people think. Setup your drums YOUR way and remember that it matters more what you sound like than what you look like. Everyone has their own style, don’t compromise yours for anything. Just look how weird I am…



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Material Man


“I’ve played with just about everybody.” –Tony Thompson, 2002

Without a doubt, one of greatest ‘groove’ drummers of all-time was Tony Thompson. From his work in the early days with Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, and Chic – to his later contributions with Madonna and The Power Station, nobody came across with more soul than Tony. With a resume that is second to none, some of the most noteworthy tunes to feature Tony’s playing are “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross, “We are Family” by Sister Sledge, “Le Freak” and “Good Times” from Chic, “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl” from Madonna, “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie,” “The Fragile” from Nine Inch Nails and “Some Like it Hot” from The Power Station. Tony also held the prestigious drum chair for the Led Zeppelin reunion at Live Aid. Every one of these performances exhibit how a sideman or session artist should play by always complimenting the artist, never outshining them.

Style-wise I was always impressed with Tony’s signature snare which often pushed the music with its echo and intensity. His drum sound was so distinctive; people are still trying to sample or reproduce it today. According to him, “All it basically was, was a brand-new Yamaha kit (which I still play) in a very live, brick, recording studio in London called Mason Rouge. I hit the drums very hard. That’s it!” Tony also used one of the coolest cymbal configurations I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately he left us far too early after dying at the age of 38 from kidney cancer. Still, the legacy Tony left behind still resonates to this day as you can hardly turn on a radio without hearing at least one of the songs he contributed to. Here’s the instrumental backing track for Madonna’s “Material Girl.” Listen to the solid groove and interesting colors Tony paints with his snare fills and tom accents.

(You can read the transcripts of an interview Tony did for Modern Drummer at

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The King of Swing


No one studying the history of drums could dispute the remarkable influence and legacy left behind by the amazing Chick Webb. According to a blog post at titled “Chick Webb the Savoy King” Chick was probably the first real drumming star to be promoted as a Gretsch artist. The 1939 Gretsch catalog features a great photo of Chick—touted as “the king of the drums”—enthusiastically swinging behind a Gretsch-Gladstone drum kit.

“If Gretsch-Gladstone drums were unusual, Chick’s kit was downright unique. It was a combination of drums and “traps”—percussive sound effects including temple blocks—all mounted on a rolling console frame. The bass drum was 28” in diameter; the “rack” tom was 9×13, and the floor tom was 14×16. Zildjian cymbals–one large on Chick’s right and one small on his left–were hung on loop hangers from gooseneck stands attached to the bass drum. The drums were covered in a striking oriental pearl finish inlayed with contrasting green sparkle “chicks” around the center of each drum.”

This configuration enabled Chick to swing like no other despite having physical limitations from contracting spinal tuberculosis shortly after his birth. Anyone listening to Chick’s playing would never know otherwise. His keen ability to swing in a way that truly complimented the other musicians or singers around him was second to none. Chick knew when to play time and when to stand out. Many drummers today could take a lesson from listening to the remarkable “Stomping at the Savoy” or “Blue Lou.” The Savoy regularly featured battles between the name big bands of the day, with Chick Webb’s band taking on the likes of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. Chick usually came out on top and is said to have put Gene Krupa in his place.

Over the course of his career Chick spread the popularity of contemporary big band music among the black community by becoming their champion. Unfortunately Chick passed away on June 16, 1939, at the age of thirty-four. His last words reportedly were “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go.”

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Sustainability in the Drum Industry

In honor of Earth Day here is a video on conservation starring my writing partner and dear friend Rich Redmond and produced by yours-truly. This interview was shot at the House of Blues studio in Nashville.

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Favorite Fill

This post I would like to share my all-time favorite drum fill courtesy of Mel Gaynor from Simple Minds. The song, “Don’t You Forget About Me,” is perhaps the band’s most popular thanks to the film The Breakfast Club. In my opinion a good drum fill should elevate the song but not detract from it. It should flow as an extension of the song’s foundation. This is a perfect example of that approach  (3:42 into the song). Gaynor’s incorporation of the snare and toms before slipping right back into the groove is flawless. Below I share the notation and original video for your reference.


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The First One


Your Host, 1989

Today’s post is a very personal one. That said, I will venture to guess that many of you have had a similar experience. In fact, if you’re reading this blog I would be willing to bet that you can relate. The subject that I am speaking of is the memory of your very first drum set. I was very fortunate to have parents that not only supported my drumming by paying for, and driving me to lessons, but also had the financial means to make my dream a reality. I remember going to my lessons at the local drum store and staring at every display in the place. Those shiny drum sets were the most beautiful things I had ever seen up to that point and I often pretended that one of them was mine. For Christmas one year I received the Synsonic Drum Machine and a new rubber practice pad. Although I appreciated those gifts they paled in comparison to an actual drum set.

The following year (1985 or ’86) I was surprised with a drum key that belonged to a beautiful white Pearl Export kit that they hid downstairs. That holiday surprise became the best Christmas ever and I still recall my excitement and gratitude. I used that kit for many years in various bands and school-related performances. It was my pride and joy and I cared for it like no other possession. Cleaning and polishing it became a routine that I immensely looked forward to as it enabled me to take it all apart and then try a new configuration when I reassembled it. Today I use the same philosophy with my custom PDP kit.

It’s very easy for a drummer to become attached to his/her instrument and drummers seem to be especially enamored with their gear. Why? Is it the physical size that surrounds you? Could it be the endless variations of setup and tuning that makes it the most versatile instrument? Or is it simply the primal release that happens when you beat on them? Maybe all of these reasons apply. Regardless as in most things, your first of anything can often be the best. I miss my first kit immensely.

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Album Spotlight


I know this is my third Gene Krupa post this month (See and but I can’t help acknowledge the vast legacy he left behind. 

Today (instead of posting a Friday drum solo) I want to briefly talk about one of the best Gene Krupa compilation albums of all-time, “Gene Krupa and His Orchestra.” By 1938 Krupa had left the drummer’s chair in Benny Goodman’s group and formed the Gene Krupa Orchestra featuring trumpeter Roy Eldrige and singer Anita O’Day. This album was released some time later in 1947 and highlights the brilliant playing of Krupa and an excellent backing orchestra. Krupa himself was once quoted saying “Yes, I’ve had some pretty good luck finding wonderful talent.” The tracks include: Tuxedo Junction, Boogie Blues, Drum Boogie, Leave Us Leap, Let Me Off Uptown, Drummin’ Man, That’s What You Think, and Knock Me A Kiss. These recordings represent some of the best boogies played by Krupa and personify what made him special. Jim Flora’s artwork also stands out and captures the spirit of the record. *An updated CD version was released in 1999 with 24 songs. Listen here:

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Less is More


Today I would like to discuss the theory of ‘less is more’ in drumming. This includes playing less as well as using fewer drums. Although these characteristics go together they can also be mutually exclusive. There are plenty of drummers out there who rely on a solid pocket as opposed to Gospel Chops. Many of them play a standard size or larger kit. Similarly, there are plenty of drummers out there who can shred for days on smaller drum sets.  The notion of getting back to the basics can influence these approaches but it can be more complicated than that. In fact, it’s not always what you play that matters but rather what you don’t play that can set you apart.

Let’s look at two drummers who intentionally play less. This includes some of the greats like Phil Rudd and Charlie Watts. Each one of these players serves the song. They are musicians first who understand the role of their instrument in the overall scheme. Every beat they play fits within the structure of the composition and they waste no energy. Both drummers have had amazing careers and played on countless classic songs, songs that would not be the same if you swapped them out for another drummer. Their signature style has put a distinctive stamp on each one.

Fans and noteworthy drummers alike have praised Phil Rudd’s playing for years. Many have referred to him as THE quintessential rock drummer and stated that his feel was the heart and soul of AC/DC. It has also been said that no Rolling Stones song ever starts until Charlie Watts says so. These drummers brilliantly personify the theory of less is more. Rudd’s performance on AC/DC’s classic ‘Back in Black’ album is some of the greatest  groove playing ever recorded. Watts provided an equally epic performance on the Rolling Stone’s album ‘ Let  It Bleed.’

In regards to using fewer drums, two players that stand out in my mind are Daru Jones (currently touring with Jack White) and my friend Garrett Goodwin (Carrie Underwood). These players personify the notion of providing a big sound with smaller kits. Daru generally plays a 3-piece, sometimes with a couple toms off to the side, and Garrett plays a four piece. Both drummers curiously slant their drums away from them adding to their originality. They are timekeepers who play what is necessary not what is extravagant. There is no ego influence here. They serve the song, every time.

It is my belief that creativity can be pushed by having fewer distractions and fewer choices. Just as an artist must modify his approach when painting with fewer colors so must a drummer who is presenting ‘musical art’ to an audience. This streamline approach forces the drummer to rely heavily on the pocket and jam only when it fits within the confines of the song. Both of these guys are monster players and their decision to use a minimalistic kit speaks volumes about their confidence and character. They serve the artist and consistently prove that less is definitely more.

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Troy Luccketta: The Untold Story


Growing up in the 80’s one of my favorite rock bands was Tesla. I have many fond memories of listening to their acoustic album over-and-over and playing ‘Little Suzi” with my own band. A few years ago I had the privilege of interviewing Troy for a cover story in Drumhead Magazine. Since then I have communicated with him frequently and I am proud to call Troy a friend. I look forward to hanging with him when the Tesla, Def Leppard, Styx show comes to town. Here is an excerpt from the article:

Perhaps no one can more eloquently sum up the extraordinary career of drummer Troy Luccketta than the man himself. “I never wanted to be just a rock ‘n’ roll drummer,” he said. “For me, it’s always been about the music and diversity.” With a career spanning three decades on the stage and in the studio, Luccketta has more than lived up to that mantra. From routinely filling the roles of drummer and producer, teacher and activist, the diversity of his experience rivals that of many of his peers. Best known as the hard-hitting timekeeper behind the ‘80s mega-band Tesla, Luccketta has quietly assembled a body of side work that may surprise even his biggest fans. An incredibly humble musician, he admits that he is only now beginning to comprehend the influence that he has had on an entire generation of drummers. Many of these drummers are now full-fledged professionals who routinely make it a point to credit the man who inspired them to pursue their craft.

A native Californian, Luccketta’s journey began like many drummers, in a garage with a snare drum. What made his experience unique was his innate talent for playing it. “I can’t say that I had always wanted to be a drummer, but once I played that snare drum, I knew,” he recounts. “When I was about ten years old, a couple of friends and I were standing around this old snare drum in a buddy’s garage. We were just staring down at it. My friends in the room knew that I wanted to play, so one of them handed me a pair of spoons, and I immediately starting playing ‘Wipeout.’ I played it nearly spot on. My friends looked at me in amazement. There was something special about the expressions on their faces and the feeling that I got from playing that drum that struck me. From that day forward, I was a drummer.”

Following this newfound instinct, Luccketta immediately set about to get himself a proper drum set. One paper route led to a second and eventually to a third, marking the start of a workaholic mentality that has become a balancing act throughout the drummer’s career. He eventually saved up a precious $55 to purchase a used three-piece Crest drum set in faded marine pearl. Luccketta recalled the tremendous sense of accomplishment that he felt after purchasing that kit. “I loved those drums! It was a beginner’s set and only had a bass drum, rack tom, snare and a ride cymbal. My mother eventually got me a hi-hat later for a birthday present.”

As a member of a family of music enthusiasts, Luccketta credits his mother, sister and brother with introducing him to a wide variety of genres by sharing their eclectic record collection that spanned everything from Motown to Led Zeppelin. “‘Proud Mary’ [Ike and Tina Turner’s version] was the very first song that I ever played,” he said. “I remember how it started out kinda slow, then built up and changed tempos to a fast, rockin’ jam. That was my first introduction to dynamics and tempo changes. The break at the end of that song was explosive and very cool!”

Shortly after obtaining his kit, Luccketta started a two-man band. Their first gig was a performance in front of the sixth-grade class. He said, “My friend, who had a guitar, and I wrote two little funky jams, a total of two riffs, and the talent show was our first concert performance. We played both numbers and the kids seemed to enjoy it.” Although he didn’t realize it at the time, this inaugural event foretold an illustrious stage career that would see the drummer playing to millions of fans around the world. “That day was really my first step. Since then, my journey has taken me from the classroom, to the club, to the arena.”

Read the complete article at:

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Booty Shakers

I’m not into posting online banners or ads but every once in a while I will be posting a video for one of my endorsements. I am very fortunate (and grateful) to work with some amazing companies run by extraordinary people. Here is my testimonial on an amazing product you may not have heard of. This video was featured at the TnR booth at NAMM.

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