Monthly Archives: October 2015

“Baby” Dodds


In order to fully appreciate the drummers that influence you, study the drummers who influenced them. One individual credited with influencing some of the greatest drummers (to include Gene Krupa and Papa Jo Jones) was Warren “Baby” Dodds. Admired for the creativity of his playing, Dodds had a unique set-up and a style all his own. Considered to be one of the pioneers of jazz drumming he played for Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton and Bunk Johnson.

One unique aspect of Dodd’s approach was that he often played something different for every chorus of every tune. According to his bio: “Most of his contemporaries played a short buzz or press roll on the back beats (the 2nd and 4th beats), but Dodds played a long roll that lasted till the following beat which created a smoother time feel that he later developed into the jazz ride pattern most commonly used ever since.”

A strong example of his adventurous style can be heard on a trio performance (with Jelly Roll Morton and his brother Johnny Dodds) of “Wolverine Blues” in 1927.

Always an innovator Dodds was also said to have developed what was referred to as a “shimmy beat.” One night a gentlemen came to one of Dodd’s shows and when he heard the music he couldn’t dance to it. Instead he started to shake all over. That primal reaction affected Dodds who mimicked it. The resulting swing beat was caught by Louis Armstrong’s eye who said “To watch him play, especially when he beat on the rim of his bass in a hot chorus, he sort of shimmied when he beat with his sticks. Oh! Boy that alone was in my estimation the whole worth of admission.”

According to the Percussive Arts Society’s Hall of Fame section Dodd’s was one of the first drummers to use wire brushes: “One day Joe [King] bought me some wire brushes. It was a new thing and I was probably the first guy that ever worked with wire brushes in this part of the country. But I still beat heavy even with the brushes. I didn’t like the brushes and couldn’t get anything out of them. But I realized that I should learn to be lighter with the sticks. I worked on this and began getting very technical with the drumsticks. That’s why I can beat so light now with sticks.”

Throughout his autobiography, Dodds talked about listening to the different band members and using his role as drummer to help the band come together. He recalled “It was my job to study each musician and give a different background for each instrument. When a man is playing it’s up to the drummer to give him something to make him feel the music and make him work. That’s the drummer’s job.”

Most notable on Dodd’s set-up was the absence of the hi-hat cymbal and stands. This was ironic as he had a hand in the development of the “sock cymbal” a prelude to the hi-hat. Dodds never liked them and said “I didn’t like them and I still don’t. Some drummers can’t play without them. I can’t play with them.”

After 1949 Dodds had a series of strokes that left him partially paralyzed, but he still managed to play from time to time up until his death in 1959.

Here is a great audio recording featuring Baby Dodd’s unique style:

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I’m grateful to be a Rich Sticks artist. Check them out at

The drumstick is the only connection between me and my drums. It defines my sound. I choose to fill my bag with Rich Sticks. Custom made to every drummer’s preference, they are personalized to fit each playing style. I am very proud that my own signature stick is a Rich Stick. (Specs: 8A-style, .550″ diameter, .260x” neck, medium taper, 16.5″ length, ball tip)

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Pictures of Lily


Perhaps the most recognized drum set in rock music history is Keith Moon’s famous “Pictures of Lily” kit. Decorated with the logo “Keith Moon Patent British Exploding Drummer” and photos of a naked woman (Lily), this eye-popping dayglo kit was (and still is) a one-of-a-kind design. Using Gretsch fittings and Rogers Swiv-O-Matics tom holders three of these kits were manufactured. The artwork was pasted on to the shells by hand and then clear-coated. Bonding the finish to the shells also had to be done by hand. The two bass drums were joined with Gretsch fittings. The tom holders were Rogers Swiv-o-Matics. The drums were Premier birch shells consisting of two 22” x 14” bass drums, three 16” floor toms (two 16” x 18”; one 16” x 16”), three 14” x 8” mounted toms and a 14” x 5½” metal snare. Cymbals-wise they typically came from various manufacturers and consisted of a 20” ride, 18” crash and 14” hi-hats (usually not used on stage). The stands were Premier LokFast and the pedals were Premier 250s.

Like all of Moon’s kits this one took a beating and was used in the infamous explosion on the Smothers Brothers Show that wounded the drummer in his arm and is rumored to have permanently damaged Pete Townsend’s hearing (see here: According to the History Channel:

Keith Moon was already in the habit of placing an explosive charge in one his two bass drums to detonate during Pete Townshend’s guitar-smashing at the end of each Who performance. But for their Smothers Brothers appearance, Moon packed several times the normal amount of explosives into his drum kit, and when he set it off, a gigantic explosion rocked the set as a cloud of white smoke engulfed Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey. Though bassist John Entwistle never lost his cool, Daltrey practically flew downstage and when Townshend emerged from the smoke, his hair was almost literally blown to one side of his head. Though the incredible explosion has been rumored to have caused Pete Townshend’s eventual near-deafness, credit for that should probably go instead to the Who’s pioneering use of stacked Marshall amplifiers as a means of achieving maximum volume during their live performances.

Despite this abuse Moon had a particular fondness for this kit. In an interview he stated:

At first I wondered what to talk about, but then I realized that the obvious subject was my new drum kit. I don’t have it at the moment; it’s down at the Bristol Siddeley factory having its engines fitted. No, I’m serious. This kit has to be seen to be believed. It’s going to be called “The Keith Moon Patent British Exploding Drum Kit.” I’m having the shells strengthened and made more resonant but the drums will still be basically Premier. The drums are covered in gaudy designs painted in “Dayglo” and on stage they’ll light up larger than life. I’d like to say a bit more about the engine and what it will do but I think I’d prefer you to see the kit in action. I can promise you that it will be really worth seeing. It will give this effect of exploding, hence the name. I’m not sure what the situation is regarding copies of the new kit, but I dare say there will be a version for sale, although I can’t see everyone wanting Keith Moon designs.

In January 2006, Premier announced the release of a “Pictures of Lily” tribute kit, a replica of Keith’s “Pictures of Lily” Premier kit. The kit was only available for 14 months. One for each year Moon was affiliated with Premier.

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Hybrid Kits


Over the years I have experimented on and off with using what is referred to as a “hybrid” kit. This means a set-up that incorporates both acoustic and electronic drums. My version uses a standard three piece acoustic set (bass, snare, floor tom) with an Alesis Sample Pad and PercPad. The pads are usually set to represent two rack toms and used in place of acoustic toms. I liken this set-up to Alex Van Halen’s rig on the 5150 album and tour as seen in the video Live Without a Net. I loved the way he went between an acoustic bass, roto-toms and snare with a complete set of electronic pads up front. This allowed for a very unique sound. His solo especially exhibited the distinctive sounds that can only be found in a hybrid kit (see below). According to DRUM magazine:

Electronics have become part of what we do as drummers and percussionists. Electronics might be reinforcing an acoustic drum sound, providing some sort of backing loop to play against, or playing some effect that can’t be created in the acoustic world. Think about what you might need in your own setup to enhance the music you’re playing. Do you like to trigger a lot of loops? Do you need bigger acoustic drum sounds? Whatever you decide, there is no such thing as a wrong setup, and it’s really no longer a question of whether acoustic or electronic gear is the best tool for the job. You’ll likely need both.

There are a few things to consider when configuring a hybrid kit. First, the tuning of the acoustic drums should be somewhere in the middle, meaning not too high or low. I use DrumTacs to curb the resonance while keeping the drums wide open. I also use a very small drum pillow in the bass drum just to curb the overall ring. It may take some experimenting but the acoustic and electronic drums should complement one another. Second, you should mount the pads as if they are part of the standard kit, meaning the drum set should be assembled as one unit, not two separate entities. The goal is to keep the acoustic drums and electronic pads seamless.

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Carmine Appice signature snare

I can’t get enough of this Carmine Appice signature brass snare from ddrum. This snare features a heavy-duty 6.5mm 5″ x 14″ brass shell with ddrum’s bullet lug in a gold finish and gold-plated flanged hoops. It also features a custom engraved Carmine Appice design on the shell and is equipped with a Nickelworks throw-off. Best of all, the sheer volume and tone that you can pull out of this drum is amazing. This drum works great in both a live and studio environment and projects sheer power that can resonate above the rest of your kit. It was a gift from my pal Rich Redmond and it has completely redefined my sound. I now find myself hitting softer (which protects the hands) while maintaining that booming ‘crack’ with every strike. Most brass snares are admirable and the Carmine Appice signature snare is exceptional in every way.


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Click here to access an amazing FREE drum notation tool called the ‘Groove Scribe’ courtesy of Mike Johnston:

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Drumming with no drums

Today’s post may be a bit unusual but I’ve been thinking about this subject quite a bit lately. If you’re like me, you have more important things to do than play the drums. I’m talking about family and work commitments that should dominate the majority of your time. Family and work comes first. That said, as a drummer, or as a musician of any kind, spending time practicing your instrument is also important. With life’s daily requirements sometimes it can be days or even weeks in between practice sessions. How can you deal with this dilemma while still maintaining a proper sense of priorities? Here are five easy ideas for ‘practicing’ drums without drums:

(1) If you can say it, you can play it: It may feel strange at first but ‘singing’ drums parts whether out loud or in your head is a good way to maintain a good sense of time and rhythm. Think of a beat-boxer who actually knows how to play the drums. This can be done anywhere you can find a quiet moment, especially in the car. Try ‘singing’ along to the radio’s beat.

(2) Left foot flooring: A good way to maintain foot dexterity is to play along to the car radio while using your left foot as the bass drum. With your right foot busy driving, your left foot is the obvious alternative. This benefits left foot strength and actually makes you a better hi-hat or double bass pedal player. If you have the right floor mats, the sound can be quite satisfying.

(3) Speaking of the car: The steering wheel can also be used for drumming but I’m sure you are already familiar and quite proficient with that one. I will add that safety comes first. No need to get in a fender bender while tapping along to Tom Sawyer (although none of us can resist that monster tom fill).

(4) Read between the lines: A great way to maintain your reading chops is to read music in place of your iPhone or newspaper. Even if you only dedicate 10% of your reading time to music, that will still enable you to maintain your competency in sight reading. Try using your favorite drum books or music exercises published in drum magazines. You can even try scribbling out your own notation when time permits. Then go back and try to play it the next time you are at the drums.

(5) Anything can be a drumstick: This one is self-explanatory. Pencils, pens, straws, chopsticks, dial rods, tree branches, screw drivers, paper towel rolls, rolled up newspaper, old antennas, plastic forks, knives, and spoons, rulers, and your own fingers can be used to tap out a beat on almost any surface. Remember that coffee can drum you made as a kid? It can also be used as an adult. You don’t need drums to drum. Just something to hit and something to hit it with.

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Respecting Meg White


Without a doubt, one of the most under-appreciated drummers of the modern era is Meg White of The White Stripes. Both praised and chastised for her primal style of play, Meg White is slowly becoming highly respected in the alternative music genre. Her simplicity so complimented the dynamic guitar playing of Jack White, their performances were as brilliant as they were rudimentary. In an interview Jack White explained that he was inspired after hearing Meg “mess around” on the drums so he cultivated her into his band. A drummer himself, Jack’s intention was to use Meg for her primitive style as a technically-proficient drummer would be unable to imitate her approach. It worked. Surprisingly, when one listens to a multitude of White Stripe tracks they cannot ignore the overall complexity of Meg White’s playing. In addition to a maintaining a solid tempo, her sparse choice of fills and effective use of dynamics present a drummer with more than child-like chops. Hit songs like Seven Nation Army, Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground and Ball and Biscuit exemplify Meg White’s unique style. Four Grammy Awards testify to her highly original musicianship.

That said there have been mixed reviews of Meg White’s contributions. According to her bio:

Of a 2002 concert in Cleveland, Ohio, Chuck Klosterman said, “[Meg] never grimaced and didn’t appear to sweat; yet somehow her drums sounded like a herd of Clydesdales falling out of the sky, one after another. Clearly this is a band at the apex of its power.” The Australian called her drumming “simplistic but occasionally explosive,” and UK periodical, The Times said that she “reduced the art of drumming to its primary components, bashing the snare and cymbal together on alternating beats with the bass drum in a way that recalled Moe Tucker of the Velvet Underground.” On the other hand, The Associated Press called her playing “maddeningly rudimentary.” The satirical news site The Onion once featured the headline “Meg White Drum Solo Maintains Steady Beat for 23 Minutes.” In reference to her “primal” approach to drumming, she remarked, “That is my strength. A lot of drummers would feel weird about being that simplistic.” For his part, Jack has declared her drumming to be the “best part of this band,” and called her a “strong female presence in rock and roll.” He called her detractors ‘sexist.’

Meg White’s humility is also worth our appreciation. As a shy person, she fulfilled her role in the band and did not attempt to stand out which is difficult to do in a duo. Ultimately this broadened her appeal. Dave Grohl is quoted as saying that Meg White is one of his favorite drummers as her style ultimately changed the face of music. Other drummers are now coming out and crediting Meg White as having an influence on them. Despite the end of The White Stripes their music has remained in regular rotation on alternative radio stations and is being discovered by a whole new generation of up-and-coming musicians. Personally I have attempted to play along to The White Stripes and have found it challenging to stay in the pocket and play with such simplicity. I liken it to imitating AC/DC’s Phil Rudd who mastered the groove and depends on nothing else. With that in mind I challenge anyone to listen to The White Stripes and deny that Meg White was the perfect drummer for that band. I also challenge them to play with the same primal instincts that she mastered.

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Play what works for you

In today’s entry I want to talk about drum kit set-ups. Everyone has their own preferences that work for them. Unfortunately many people are not willing to experiment with their set-ups for fear of looking different from what they consider to be “acceptable” mainstream configurations. There are even drummers who go as far as to set up their drums in a way that they find aesthetically pleasing (i.e. symmetrical toms, high cymbals) even if it is not comfortable to them. These drummers tend to be more concerned with how they look rather than how they play. This can negatively affect both their health and sound. Another aspect of drum kit set-ups is what pieces to use. Some drummers believe you must have a certain quantity or type of equipment to get the job done. I have run the gambit in this regard. I’ve used kits that were half acoustic drums and half sample pads, another with three hi-hats and no other cymbals and even a three piece with a bass drum and two snares. I’ve also switched it up by setting my cymbals high and low, my toms slanted and flat, my toms with bottom heads and no bottom heads, and my drums muffled or wide open. I seem to be constantly experimenting and exploring my own creativity. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. My point in all of this is to convey the notion that it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it works for you. There is no acceptable or unacceptable way to set-up your drums and you should never allow anyone else to influence your choices. Don’t worry about the aesthetics or the number of drums or cymbals that you have or don’t have. Your drum kit should be an extension of your personality. Don’t be afraid to be you. (Below: Daru Jone’s unique set-up)

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Dealing with CTS

I’ve struggled on and off with hand and arm pain for quite some time. A year ago I broke both of my hands at the same time and they never quite recovered completely. This has caused my hands and wrists to ache periodically and seize up during playing. I’ve discussed this dilemma with some of my drummer friends and they too have experienced discomfort during shows. Most muscle through it despite the pain. In searching for some tips for dealing with pain management I came upon this great article by a doctor named Luga Podesta that ran in the February 2006 Issue of DRUM magazine:

Health Tips For Drummers: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
By Luga Podesta, M.D.
Originally published in DRUM Magazine’s February 2006 Issue

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common painful disorder involving the wrist and hand. The carpal tunnel is formed on three sides by the wrist carpal bones and covered by a thick band of tissue called the flexor retinaculum. Within the carpal tunnel lies the median nerve surrounded by the flexor tendons of the hand.

Carpal tunnel syndrome develops when the median nerve is compressed within the wrist. Individuals such as drummers who repetitively use their wrists are at risk for developing CTS. Carpal tunnel syndrome may also develop from pressure on the median nerve from a wrist fracture, inflammation, or swelling around the nerve as it passes within the carpal tunnel or pregnancy. Vibration may also predispose you to CTS. This occurs when the drumstick or hand hits a drumhead, cymbal, or pad. Inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, and hypothyroidism may cause CTS.

CTS symptoms include the following: 1. Pain, numbness, and/or tingling in the wrist, thumb, index, and middle fingers. Pain may radiate into forearm, arm, and shoulder. 2. Pain increases with increased use of the wrist or hand. 3. Pain worsens at night and awakens you from sleep. 4. Grip strength decreases, and you can begin to drop objects. 5. Muscle wasting in the thumb occurs in severe cases.

CTS is diagnosed by finding the following: 1. A positive Tinel’s sign, which is characterized by an electrical shock in the wrist and fingers when tapping on the palm side of the wrist. 2. A positive Phalen’s test, which occurs when numbness and tingling is felt in the thumb, index, and ring finger during wrist flexion. 3. A positive nerve conduction/electromyography test (NCV/EMG), which uses an electrical test to evaluate nerve and muscle function.

Treatment includes anti-inflammatory medication, wrist splinting at night and during periods of repetitive wrist motion, treating of underlying disease process, therapy, avoiding aggravating activities, and oral steroid medications. Surgical treatment of severe cases includes open or arthroscopic carpal tunnel release.

Make sure your hands and wrists are comfortable while playing, take regular breaks from repetitive motion, avoid resting your hands and wrists on hard or ridged surfaces for prolonged periods, make sure your positioning is ergonomically correct, maintain adequate control of any disease process, and practice daily wrist and hand stretches and exercises.

By applying these recommended treatments you can help prevent or at least decrease pain and the harmful effects of CTS.

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