I have been asked on occasion what led me to become a drummer. I assume that my story is pretty common. My first formal introduction to the drums came in the 7th grade when I began taking lessons at a nearby drum shop. My initial interest in the instrument was inspired by MTV and the growing genre of hard rock. Watching drummers like Frankie Banali (Quiet Riot), Alex Van Halen (Van Halen) and Stewart Copeland (The Police) made me want to follow in their footsteps. I started out air drumming to cassette tapes (yes I said cassettes) and later, I beat on Tupperware with my first pair of drumsticks. Like many young drummers I constructed a make-shift drum set out of plastic and pillows.
Soon after, my parents got me a drum pad to see if I was serious about learning the instrument. I also got an electronic Synsonics drum console for Christmas. Proving my desire to play I begged my parents for a real drum set. A year or so later I got my first kit, a beautiful white Pearl Export which I miss to this day (pictured above, how about that gap between the toms!). This led to some opportunities such as accompanying our middle school choir and forming my first garage band. There was something about playing with other budding musicians that resonated with me. I quickly became known throughout the school as the drummer boy.
Once I got to high school I joined the symphonic band, marching band, stage band and percussion ensemble. During that time I participated in marching band competitions as well as countless halftime shows, national band festivals and school concerts. My senior year I became co-captain of the drum line and was selected to participate in Pitt University’s Senior Day and the Mellon Jazz Festival. I also played in a basement band and continued to take lessons on and off until I graduated. During this time I became enamored with players such as Jon Farriss (INXS), Steven Adler (GnR) and Steven Perkins (Jane’s Addiction), three players that I remain infatuated with to this day.
When I went to art school I fell out of drumming for what ended up being 17 years. At the time I turned my priorities away from music and focused on establishing a career. I never lost my interest in rhythm though and often tapped along to the radio. An impromptu New Year’s Eve jam session with my old band mates rejuvenated my passion for the drums and I haven’t looked back.
Since then I published a successful drum book and have written for two of the major drum magazines. I have also fostered relationships with many of the drummers that influenced me growing up. If you had told that 13 year-old kid that someday he would see his name in Modern Drummer and be friends with the guys he emulated he would have laughed out loud. Today I can say that I am truly blessed to be able to play the instrument I love and share that passion with others. What’s your story? Share in the Comments below.
Lately I’ve been on a Jojo Mayer kick. A friend of mine casually commented that I had exhibited a smidge of his flavor after watching a video of me playing some unorthodox bass and snare combinations. I believe his exact words were “That sounds like something Jojo Mayer would play.” I assume the motivation behind his comment was simply due to the fact that the odd-time sequences I came up with were meant to coincide with a DJ. As much as I appreciated that complement I know that I am light-years away from being anywhere near Jojo Mayer in any sense of the word. I would even venture to use the term “infinite” to describe the vast difference between myself and the master. That said I was motivated to take a closer look at this amazing player whom I had shamelessly neglected up until now.
First I viewed some of his videos on YouTube. This included both live performances and drum clinics. I was immediately blown away. Not only is Jojo Mayer a great performer he is also a veritable encyclopedia of drum history. One trip to his website (http://www.jojomayer.com/) reveals a bio that describes his band’s contributions and diversity: Within that format, NERVE [his band] assimilated a wide spectrum of electronic styles from old school Jungle, Dub Step and Glitch beats to Minimal and Tech House and anything that could escape the confines of genre. In the process, the group managed to acquaint a new audience with improvised music for the first time and ultimately bring the Jazz tradition of improvisation, innovation, driving rhythms and stylistic evolution to the digital age.
It would seem that Jojo Mayer and his band NERVE are pioneers in bridging the gap between the nuances of traditional jazz and the heartbeat-driven pulse of club music. This is a highly original approach to either genre. In any (and every) video Jojo Mayer’s chops are immediately evident when watching him perform. Blazing precision and a brilliant sense of groove are clearly the fundamentals of his style. He is also a fine teacher whose philosophy can be utilized by drummers at any level. His sound advice of “Practice what you can’t play. If you sound good while practicing you’re not getting any better” resonates.
As an author Jojo Mayer has published a 2-disc set titled “Jojo Mayer: Secret Weapons for the Modern Drummer, Part I and II.” One DVD presents tips for hand techniques and the other focuses on the foot. Both are Amazon Best-Sellers. Perhaps it was Modern Drummer who summed up the genius of Jojo Mayer when they wrote that he was quote “…destined for ‘Drum God’ status.” Even if it’s totally off the mark it is a privilege to be mentioned in the same sentence as such a highly regarded drummer. Now I’m headed back to the practice room to earn a smidge of justifiable respect.
I am privileged to have been accepted as an artist endorsee for several drum products. The first company to support me was the Bum Wrap Drum Company (http://www.bumwrapdrumco.com/). They are an exceptional company run by exceptional people and make the best drum wraps on the market today. In fact, my drum set’s before-and-after photos were featured in the NAMM issue of Drumhead magazine. Murray Gornall has created a first-rate design company that can create any custom finish that you can think of. There are also dozens of pre-fab wraps that you can choose from. Players well beyond me in notoriety such as Chris Worley of Jackyl and Jimmy Chalfant of KIX swear by Bum Wraps and so can you. I was so impressed with their product and service I filmed a testimonial:
Featured in Drumhead magazine’s Jan/Feb NAMM issue:
For those of you that are interested in my other efforts I have a two-part essay on Civil War-era baseball published over on the critically-acclaimed site Emerging Civil War. My study presents the origins of the game and its implementation during the War Between the States. Periodically I enjoy taking off my drummer hat and putting on my Civil War historian hat. I have written multiple books on the subject. You may recall that my two-part article on Civil War Drummer Boys was published on ECW and received some excellent feedback. That led to a condensed version appearing in Modern Drummer. Here’s the links to both parts of my new piece: Part 1 – Part 2. (I just submitted my third article for consideration that presents the disparity of restitution between Fredericksburg’s white and black churches who filed claims for damages after the war. Stay tuned.) Now back to drums…
Your host (right) judging at the Fredericksburg, VA Guitar Center
This year my schedule wouldn’t permit me to participate as a judge for the 2016 Guitar Center Drum Off. It’s always nice to be asked but my kid’s after school activities take precedent. Last year I had a great time sitting in and evaluating all of the talented players that participated. It takes a lot of guts to get up in front of a room full of strangers, not to mention three judges, and show off your chops.
There were some current themes that ran throughout all three of the rounds I judged. Some were good and some were not-so-good. The vast majority of participants brought their own double bass pedals and tended to over use them. In their effort to play mind-numbingly fast they often lost the groove.
It was refreshing to see players that stuck with a single pedal and went for a simpler and locked in approach. I often scored those players higher because they composed a solo that was structured with a beginning, middle and end. The other participants went blazing through their turn with no discernable arrangements. I’m not rejecting double bass altogether but it should fit within the solo’s structure. My advice to those participating in future Drum Offs is this:
Be prepared. Improvisation often betrays you. Appear to be comfortable.
Plan your adjustments to the kit in advance. You only get five minutes.
Try to incorporate a variety of groove, chops and showmanship.
Do not be dependent on any single aspect of your solo.
Find your pocket and groove. Then incorporate the wild stuff.
Be yourself. Originality is what makes the Drum Off special.
Use your feet sparingly. Let them complement the performance.
Speed isn’t everything. Feel free to blaze but do so appropriately.
Ask the judges for feedback. They are happy to give advice.
Be proud of yourself. Win or lose take pride in what you’ve done.
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I am very fortunate to be an artist endorsee for several products. One that has had a major impact on my sound is Drumtacs. Unlike other products such as moon gels and mutes, Drumtacs are consistent, reusable and aestetically pleasing. I was turned on to Drumtacs by my friend and co-author Rich Redmond who uses them on the road and in the studio. The Drumtacs family features a long list of highly successful and respected players and it is an honor to be counted among them. The mission statement of Drumtacs is “Assume Control” and they definitely live up to that claim. Unlike other dampeners on the market Drumtacs work on cymbals just as effectively as they do on drums. I use them both on my snare and toms and my kit has never sounded better. Ultimately Drumtacs enable users to control the ring of their drums without losing the tonal quality. For more information, visit http://www.drumtacs.com.
NOW IN ITS FOURTH PRINTING!
“FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids” uses a variety of fun, unique teaching techniques that mimic the curriculum used in the elementary school classroom. Each step in the program is designed to build upon itself to provide young children with practical and applicable skills for playing the drums. Published by Modern Drummer and distributed by Hal Leonard the book and DVD combo won ‘Best In Show’ at Summer NAMM 2014 and is an Amazon Best-Seller in four countries. It is available on Amazon.com, Modern Drummer.com and MusicDispatch.com.