Monthly Archives: February 2017

Interview: Robert Sweet (Part 1)

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How Sweet it is [Part 1]
by Michael Aubrecht

In 1983 an innovative heavy metal band was formed. What made them different? They were four outspoken Christians. They called themselves “Stryper.” Nothing like them had existed on the music scene before. Based on their Christian beliefs Stryper covered themselves in black and yellow stripes and blazed the trail for rock bands who professed their faith. Isaiah 53:5 became their mission statement. It states: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” With a catalog of catchy songs and a positive message the band was able to bridge the gap between mainstream and Christian rock. Their breakout ballad “Honestly” became one of Stryper’s best-known songs, peaking at No. 23 on the Hot 100.

Founded by the Sweet brothers, Michael and Robert, Stryper went on to be a high-energy live act with several hit songs on the charts. Sitting sideways on the stage Robert, known as the “Visual Time Keeper” (now “VTK”), played with a unique and exhaustive style. His massive and highly unusual drum kits became a mainstay and part of the Stryper image. The mantra “Jesus Christ Rocks” branded the back of Robert’s drum chair. He also played a key role in the visual direction of the band itself as well as being a significant contributor to the music.

I was fortunate to have witnessed Stryper twice. I remember the black and yellow stage and how they threw bibles out into the audience during the show. As a drummer, and a Christian, I was fixated on Robert Sweet whose showmanship was unlike anything I had seen before. Playing behind his brother’s dialogue with the audience I don’t think he stopped drumming during the entire show. At the conclusion the band came to the front of the stage to interact with the audience. Robert and I shook hands. As a high-school student I never imagined that I would interview him 30 years later. Both times I attended Stryper concerts I left with ringing ears and an uplifting message. Their anthem “Makes Me Want to Sing” is still one of my favorites.

To this day, Stryper continues to spread their brand of Rock and Roll Gospel to generations of fans from the past and present. Last year they toured the states in celebration of the 30th Anniversary of their breakthrough album “To Hell with the Devil.” A huge thrill for me, Robert took time out of his schedule to talk about drums and Jesus.

MA: This is a real thrill for me Robert. Not to make you feel old but I saw Stryper perform twice back when I was in high school. They are still two of my favorite concerts. I actually shook your hand after one show when you guys came to the front of the stage.

RS: Thank you. Actually I don’t feel old. Rock and Roll is one of those things that will keep you young or kill you. At this point in life my perspective has kept me younger.

MA: Let’s start with the obvious question…What brought you to the drums?

RS: I have absolutely no idea [laughs]. I started playing when I was about five years-old banging on stuff and by the time I was eight or nine years-old the teachers were sending home report cards that said “Can you please ask Robert not to bang on the desk anymore. He’s a distraction.” It was just something that was built into me. I took a trip when I was about ten years-old to Las Vegas. We stopped at a club. I saw this Ludwig blue sparkle drum set sitting up on the stage and I just fell in love. From that point on I started playing. All these years later, I still ask myself “Why did I do it?” It felt right and was automatic. Once I started I couldn’t stop. I guess it was meant to be. You have to be dedicated to this instrument. Drumming requires a lot of work. You’ve got to be tough. A drummer is an athlete and a musician at the same time. I was both.

MA: Did you participate in any music programs at your schools?

RS: Yes and no. I was never in the marching band. I saw these guys who were blazing through rudiments on the snare but when you put them behind a drum set they didn’t sound as good. I got burned out going to school at eight o’clock in the morning, running to gym class, and then out on the field only to get wet. To get out of it, I suggested to the music teacher that we form a rock band using musicians from the school. He liked the idea. By the time I was a sophomore I was the band’s drummer. We played popular cover tunes from the 70’s. Whatever was a hit back then. We left school to perform at colleges so I thought to myself “Man, this is great. I don’t have to do P.E. anymore and I’m out of school playing gigs.” That’s about how much musical training I had in high school.

I went to college for about a month to do music and I realized it wasn’t for me so I left. I admired it but they don’t teach you how to be a rock star. That’s something that you pull out of yourself. When I was a teenager that was all I thought about. I was so driven that I could see it. My desire to be a rock star motivated me to work tremendously hard at it. That was what started my journey toward being the guy that shook your hand.

MA: It sounds like you decided that you were going to pursue music early on?

RS: Yes, me and my brother. Our first time believe it or not…I was in the sixth grade playing drums and he was in the third grade playing bass. Michael used our father’s jazz bass and it was almost bigger than he was. We entered a school contest and won first place. I remember that I didn’t even have a seat so I stood up and played. I remember holding the trophy and saying to myself, “OK. This is it. This is what I want to do.” It never stopped from that point on. We were always connected my brother and I. There was a point when I was too much older and he was too much younger but as we grew older it became just fine. By the time he was fifteen and I was eighteen that is when we got serious about working towards what we would later become.

MA: Can you tell us a little about those early bands that you and your brother formed?

RS: The first band we had was called “Firestorm.” That turned into a band called “Roxx” and that turned into a band called “Roxx Regime.” During that time we were playing out a lot and actually got signed under that name. We then changed the name to “Stryper.”

MA: By getting signed it sounds like you guys had established a public presence. What kind of gigs were you doing at that time?

RS: Yes we did have a public presence and we did what every other band back then did. We took every opportunity and played everything from dances-to parties-to clubs-to concerts and everything in between. Later on we would throw our own concerts together. When Stryper came to be we ended up headlining ourselves. We would put together our own shows. We really did the “Hollywood thing” a lot and we seemed to be a real favorite. I think we did 30 sold-out shows at one point. We were told by one well-known club owner that we had gotten too big and he told us to go do our thing. Despite all this we struggled. We didn’t have a lot of money. I was doing the band’s bookings and we took whatever we could get.

MA: At this point in time, were you a Christian rock band or did that focus come later? At what point did you incorporate your faith into the band?

RS: That all started when Stryper came to fruition. This would have been around 1983. We always maintained our beliefs as individuals. I became a Christian when I was fifteen and Michael did at twelve. It had always been in me. I just knew. I wasn’t much of a textbook religious person but I knew the reality of God. I began to see things that I thought could not just be a coincidence. One day when I write a book I will put a lot of those stories in there. You can have a coincidence three or even four times, but not hundreds of times. Even early on in my faith I began to truly understand the reality of God. I realized that my life is part of a plan that is far greater than I could ever understand. It was part of the whole band.

I knew our guitar player Oz when he was in seventh grade and I was in eighth grade. We were both Christians but we weren’t doing the Stryper thing. We were doing what every other band does. We were enjoying ourselves and having a great time. In 1983 we made the decision to give this thing to God and get serious about spreading the word. I think at the time many people misunderstood us. We weren’t fanatical. Maybe we were crazy in one sense by throwing bibles out into the audience but we were down to Earth guys. We were Rock and Roll musicians that were Christians. We were just trying to buck the trend and do something completely different. We were real and dedicated about taking this message to the world. We were out to change the music industry by doing what no one else had before us. It was so new and out of the box that people either loved us or hated us. Many of these people eventually came to respect us.

MA: So the major challenge of forming a Christian band was getting acceptance by the mainstream?

RS: You know we weren’t really unaccepted on the fact we were Christians. We weren’t accepted from a selling point. They were afraid they couldn’t market us as a Christian Rock and Roll band. They put us in the weird column and a lot of people across the whole industry refused to give us a break. Radio didn’t play us. Years later I’ve had people admit to me that we weren’t given a fair shake. Looking back it was so frustrating for us because we felt that we were just as “Rock and Roll” as any other band. Yes the lyrics are a little different, but that’s OK. Not every song has to be about something negative or violent. That’s how we looked at music.

Surprisingly, at the same time we didn’t really consider ourselves an official “Christian band.” We didn’t really want that stamp because you get your record stuck in the Christian section of the record store. It hurt what we were doing but we were not about to deny Christ. We were young and we didn’t know how tough it would be. People get the wrong idea. Jon Bon Jovi can write a song about living on a prayer and that is fine but if Stryper came out with a song on the very same subject people would laugh at us. On the flip side of that coin we had a lot of people that loved us. They were loyal and we’ve always maintained that Stryper fans are the most loyal of any fans. Because of them we began to see success and the crowds that were showing up grew every time we played. Some people wouldn’t admit that they discreetly snuck into Stryper shows.

MA: In researching for this interview I went way back and watched several interviews that you guys conducted early on. It seems that no matter what the show was, you always had to defend yourselves. I think you guys dealt with it very well. It was great to see you handle the pressure without compromising your integrity.

RS: Thank you. We tried our best. When I look back at that time, I recall that we were still young and naïve. When we got signed I think my brother was twenty and I was twenty-three. We had this innocence about us and yet I think that’s what gave us the guts to go out and do what we did. I firmly believe that God touched us and that became our mission to go out and spread his message whenever possible. I don’t think any other band at the time could have pulled that off. I’m not saying that because I think we are better than anyone else. We said, “OK God, this is different, but we will do it.” It was after that commitment the doors started flying open. It was a mixed bag. People have said that if we weren’t a Christian band we would have been a lot bigger.

In my opinion a lot of what Stryper did was what I call “Judgment Day stuff.” A lot of people don’t believe that one day they will stand before God. I do. My desire in my heart was to be a rock star and enjoy life but most importantly to store up treasure in Heaven. There’s nothing wrong with having nice things while on Earth, but you can’t take it with you. We all close our eyes for good one day. I always tell people that you only live twice. It’s that second life that really matters. To make a simple analogy…I look at people like a candy bar. Our body is the colorful wrapper on the outside. The real person is the candy bar on the inside. One day when this body is shed and we’ve lived our purpose, the real person inside of us will be revealed.

MA: The thing that I find astounding is the fact that you and Oz grew up in school together and you all, including your brother, grew up to be gifted musicians. You all shared the same drive to learn your instruments and even compose music. Even to this day your musicianship impresses me.

RS: Thanks. None of us were formally taught musicians. Everything we played was by ear. I’ve never had a drum lesson because everything I played was based on feel. Back then we didn’t have the Internet so you had to play what you heard. My desire to be a rock star made me driven to play my instrument and I was unstoppable. I learned by playing to other drummers and then coming up with my own style. There are many players out there who are far better than we are. We are certainly not the best players in the world, but we always want to put something together that had good songs. Our stuff is packaged together right and my brother has always been a real stickler when it comes to the band’s sound. All of us try to do our very best. The look has also been important to me. The entertainment-side of it really matters right down the last detail. All that said it comes down to your sound. You can look good, but if you don’t have the songs to pull it off you fail. I’ve always looked at myself as a simple player but I try to bash it into the ground and be a good showman. I’ve always wanted to take a different approach. I’ve had people come up to me and say that I influenced them and I’d be like “Really?” We’ve all worked hard at our playing.

MA: Stryper has had an impact on people since the very beginning. Your early fans believed in you. Wasn’t your first record subsidized by donations?

RS: Yes. And we did. We used to have what I like to call “Rock and Roll bible studies.” We would rehearse at our house and sometimes it would get so insane where we lived. We had a two-car garage that we turned into a rehearsal space. There would be hundreds of people there at a time. I remember nights of fifty people crammed into the garage with another fifty standing around on the lawn. We had stacks of amps and a big drum set so there was barely room to breathe. Amazingly no one ever called the cops. I still wonder about that one. It turned into a big deal really quick once the word got around.

MA: I know you must hear this all the time but…You are known as the “Visual Time Keeper” and your showmanship is astounding. How in the world do you maintain that level of energy night after night?

RS: It takes its physical toll for sure. I have no idea how it works. I feel like I have this cruise-control button. Usually before every show I get butterflies where I’m scared so I’ll down a Rockstar and get out there and go. It just kind of happens but after the show I walk off stage feeling like I can’t stand up [laughs]. I need a few minutes to recover. We just did the thirtieth anniversary of the “To Hell with the Devil” tour. In one sense it was like living it all again. I felt at fifty-six years-old that I was playing drums better than I was at twenty-six.  People always ask me where my energy comes from and I don’t know. I just think I was meant to do this. Speaking of the entertainment aspect, people have asked me why I don’t do things like twirling or flipping my sticks. I can do that, but I saw all those guys back in the day doing it. I want to be original. I do have trouble holding on to the stick so I wear Ahead gloves.

MA: Playing with as much ferocity that you do I imagine you go through a lot of heads and cymbals. Is this true?

RS: That is a yes and a no. It all depends but not like you would think. For example on this past tour we did two months across the states from September to November. I’m endorsed by Staag Cymbals and the only one I ever broke was the bottom hi-hat and that was from me stomping on it. I love these cymbals. I’ve taken them out on four or five tour dates and they sound great. I’m so impressed because I pound on them. I use the Regal Tip ‘Metal-X” sticks which is like a 2B that is an inch longer. Sometimes I played them with the butt end up and nothing would break. As far as heads go I don’t go through them either. I use Evans heads. On this last tour I bet I only changed the snare head three times. I think that has a lot to do with my style. As a teenager I didn’t have a lot of money so I didn’t want to break anything because I couldn’t afford to replace it. I think that I swing the sticks in a way that doesn’t damage stuff. There is a “super-attack” as I like to call it and a “pull-back.” It’s a feel that’s in my hands. I hold the stick angled differently in my left hand so I can get the maximum volume. I mean I hit these things hard. At the end of the last tour I had a large bruise on my left thigh where my fist was hitting my leg. I can’t explain it any more than that.

MA: Speaking about the physicality of your play that drives your showmanship…is that why you set your drums up sideways on the stage?

RS: Yes. I want to connect with the audience. I started doing that back in 1978. I wanted to be different and I had the mindset not to look like anyone else. At the time I noticed that guys were being completely covered by their drum sets. You couldn’t even see them back there. I was influenced by guys like John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, Leonard Hays from Y&T and Alex Van Halen. A lot of the guys from back in the day that were incredible players influenced me. That said, and you may have a hard time believing it, I was influenced more by singers and guitarists than drummers. I think that the drums happened to be my instrument but from a Rock and Roll standpoint, I was impressed with the guys that were up front. I’ve had a lot of people come up and ask me if I am a singer or a guitar player. Growing up I thought a lot of drummers didn’t look good and they were lacking in showmanship. I’ve always believed that everybody in the band contributes and should be recognized for it. We are all showman in our own ways. By turning my drum set it opened up a lot of doors for creativity. That’s when I started mounting chains to hold things together and putting mirrors all over so I could see the audience and they could see me. That affected my playing too. I started jumping up on my drums and kicking the cymbals.

MA: You just mentioned that you were influenced by singers and guitarists. Who are some of the ones that come to mind?

RS: I was a huge Eddie Van Halen guy. I saw his band at the Forum in 1979. I was nineteen and I almost fell over. They were so fantastic and the impression that he made on me was phenomenal. One of the big bands to really grab my attention was Y&T. I saw them when they were called “Yesterday and Today.” I was seventeen. We recently did a Rock and Roll cruise with Y&T and I was talking to their guitar player about what an influence he was. In all I’d say most of the bigger bands of the 70’s and 80’s probably had some kind of impact on me. I’m not saying that I wasn’t into drummers but as far as the more visual aspects it was the guys up front.

MA: Do you have a favorite album from that era?

RS: It’s gotta’ be the first Van Halen record. That did something to me. One of the greatest Rock and Roll stories from my experiences was this…I was seventeen and that first VH album had been out a couple weeks. I went to a Battle of the Bands by myself. They were changing bands and playing music in between while they switched out the gear. Many of the audience left the room. The song “Running with the Devil” came on and I look over and there is this guy on the dance floor all by himself. He’s got big shoes on and is dressed all in red. He had long hair and he was dancing. Suddenly I thought I recognized him. I said to myself “Wait! Is that David Lee Roth?” There were maybe five or six people nearby. I started walking towards him and as I get about five or six feet away the song ends and he lands on his feet. Then a group of beautiful girls came out of nowhere and surrounded him. They started handing him drinks and they pulled him away. I thought to myself that was one of the greatest things I’d ever seen. I mean he had the confidence to dance solo to his own song and then to be attacked by a group of girls. I thought to myself “Yes, I want to be a rock star.”

MA: You have had some amazing monstrosity drum sets over the years. Some were downright ridiculous in a good way. Do you have any favorites?

RS: Yes. I built a lot of them myself. It’s a shame because I had a lot of gear stolen. So a lot of the stuff I had back then I don’t have anymore. When I was putting it together back then we had found a financial backer to put up money into the band. But even when we didn’t have money I made it work. I remember we were playing a show with Bon Jovi and Poison at a country club. I had basically built my own drum shells. I remember that Tico Torres from Bon Jovi walked up and said “What the hell is that?” He was looking at the cymbals hanging from chains and all the other customized pieces I had on it. I had made these strange looking toms that were kind of like those North drums. I would say from the 80’s era that my two favorite kits are the “In God We Trust” kit and the “To Hell with the Devil” kit. Those kits were serious. The “Soldiers Under Command” kit was incredible too. It had four gongs on it.

The “To Hell with the Devil” kit had two gongs but I added a timpani and four floor toms, two kicks, and twenty-one cymbals. Yes, I said twenty-one. I actually bought the drum riser for that kit from Frankie Banali from Quiet Riot. I labeled and bolted everything down to the riser. If it went smoothly there would be no adjustments. I would do the design, build it, and then make it stay that way. The only downside was that you couldn’t go crazy and throw things around if you wanted to. The “In God We Trust” kit was unbelievable. That was built on stage with my brother’s eight guitar cabinets built into the front of it. It had a 5,000 watt main speaker hanging underneath the riser pointing up at me. It was a 12’x12’ riser with 6’x6’ grating underneath. My chair was bolted to the grating. I had eight kick drums. I think four floors, four racks, eight octobans, twenty or twenty-five cymbals and two sets of hi-hats. I loved the sound of those double-headed octobans. There was a pole set-up that I had to climb to get up “into” the kit. The kit was configured in both directions so I could play the verse one way and then spin around and play the chorus the other way. I’ve seen pictures from that tour. I just recently received one on my phone and I am just amazed at how huge it was.

That was the fun-era for me. I was endorsed by Pearl at the time and I loved to have the UPS truck pull up with a load of boxes full of drums.

MA: Did you ever use any triggers?

RS: Nowadays I do. On this past tour. We have triggers on the bass drum, but it’s a fifty-fifty mix. We also use triggers on the snare but it doesn’t really change the overall sound. I really like the drums to sound natural. It just adds an extra punch.

End of Part 1
Go to Part 2

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Interview: Robert Sweet (Part 2)

How Sweet it is [Part 2]
by Michael Aubrecht

Continued from above
Return to Part 1

MA: It seemed like every inch of your stage set was black and yellow. How did you guys “stripe” everything?

RS: Nothing came like that. In the early days I did it all and I was a taping monster. The guys did help me, but I’d say I did seventy-five percent of it. That included the drums, guitars, basses, mic stands, amps, you name it. We started out doing it with tape and then I started spray painting things. I had a timpani on the “To Hell with the Devil” tour. I chromed the base of it and then I spray painted the black and yellow design on the bowl. I clear coated it and it was absolutely perfect. No one ever thought it was done with spray paint. I’ve literally striped hundreds of drums and guitars. And the amps too. We used to build fake cabinets because we couldn’t afford them. I would stripe the grill cloth on them. We even striped the PA system.

MA: I remember when I saw you guys live back in Pittsburgh. The second show you played a big theater but the first show was at a ballroom beneath the theater. It was standing room only and I ended up near the left side of the stage in front of your stacks. I remember being blown away literally and being deaf for a couple days after that.

RS: Yeah. We used to turn it up. It was really loud. It’s a good thing that I still have my hearing. When the curtain went up we wanted to look big and sound bigger.

MA: We’ve talked about the gear, how did you guys get all those striped outfits?

RS: In the early days we had to make them ourselves. We went to thrift stores and discount clothing shops. Sometimes we would buy clothes and then dip them in yellow dye. In the end, I just thought the yellow and black looked cool. Of course the stripes were symbolic of scripture but it was just as much of a branding for us. To be completely honest, I’m not a big fan of yellow. But when it is striped with black it looks good. It gets a lot of attention just like the caution signs on the street. We had actually started that before we were Stryper, but once we attached that scripture Isaiah 53:5 to the name it made more sense. It says “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” That to me shows the lashing that Christ took for us to absolve us of our sins, not his. It reminds me that God loves us so much He sent his Son to stand in our place and lead us to salvation.

MA: That is a very powerful verse. I’ve always wondered what was the significance of the 777 Fireman’s helmet bolted on the side of your kit?

RS: I started doing the 777 thing way back. I probably should have had it patented. I was so tired of seeing bands using 666 so I started pushing 777 as an anti-666. As you know the number seven is very prevalent throughout the bible such as God resting on the seventh day. In the Book of Revelations there are multiple references to the number seven. I just thought it was a good answer back.

MA: Speaking of gear, can you tell us about the current set-up that you are using?

RS: I just got endorsed by Yamaha and I’m extremely excited to be with them. It’s such an honor to be included on their artist roster. I’m actually in the process of beginning to put my new set-up together. I can’t tell you any specifics because I’m not even sure at this point. I just went to the NAMM show in January and I was looking at stuff. I was really blown away by their gear. I went over to their booth’s marching section and now I gotta’ get a marching snare on the kit. In April I am supposed to turn in a list of what I want. I’ll probably get the biggest kick drums they have, preferably a 26” that is wide-open. I have so many ideas in my head. Whatever I do it’s going to look and sound great. I’m a hands-on guy so I will definitely be in on the build.

MA: You guys have played epic shows at some remarkable venues. Is there a particular show and arena that stands out in your mind? I’ve watched a few on YouTube and the crowds are huge.

RS: Yes I do. In fact there’s a whole bunch. The Budokan in Japan in 1989 stands out. I loved playing in South Korea at their Olympic stadium also in 1989. That show was filmed for forty-million people. If you go on YouTube type in “Stryper live in South Korea,” go to “To Hell with the Devil,” scroll to the last minute or so of the song and you can watch some great footage of my drum set spinning. I look at that clip every once in a while and it almost brings me to tears. To spread our message to that many people is amazing. I loved playing Red Rocks. There are so many places but those three stand out the most. I always wanted to play The Forum but I’ve never been able to do that. Maybe in the future. We’ve played a lot of places around the world. Sometimes it got so insane I didn’t know where we were. Those gigs we were up on stage performing and then off the stage and out the door.

MA: It is astounding to see thousands of rabid fans in these countries where rock concerts are not the norm. It’s like hitting the big time all over again. Your show in Puerto Rico comes to mind. The audience is right there with you singing and dancing and really appreciating the experience.

RS: That’s so true and we appreciate it too. We feed off of their energy and there really is a give-and-take. The larger the crowd the bigger the energy. The whole band feels it. No matter how exhausted we are it all comes together when we hit the stage. I remember one time we were in Brazil and we did five shows and twenty-one flights. Somehow we made it through. I am thankful and it is a real honor to have the opportunity to entertain and maybe even influence people to believe.

MA: I want to make sure we make time to talk about your faith. That subject is very important to me and I’m sure for you too. Do you have a favorite verse in the bible? Does one particular scripture stand out to you?

RS: I would say it all has an impact. It’s a book about humanity. It’s a book about God reaching out to humanity. There’s a lot of bizarre things in the bible that show human beings for what they are. I would say one of the things that really gets me of course is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world…” A lot of times we look at God as this guy sitting in Heaven who is angry, but by the time Jesus came he was the representation of God in the flesh. God is so intense that we truly cannot understand him. He is so powerful and he is the original rock star. He is so over the top that we just can’t get it. Think about it…He had to have someone come in the flesh so that we could relate and go “Oh wow! I’ve never looked at things that way.” That’s why I know Christianity is real. When I listen to the words of Jesus they change me. It’s like there is a beautiful and invisible fist giving you a “punch” of love right in the chest. I remember reading John 3:16 and I was blown away. I knew once that Jesus said to love your enemies He had to be the Son of God. You cannot be a normal human being hanging on a cross after you have been tortured and say “God forgive them, they know not what they do.” That also blew my mind. That was when I accepted that this was real. No normal man can endure what Jesus did. His sacrifice is the most selfless act in the history of the world.

MA: I’m always drawn to Romans 8:28 that says “And we know that all things in God work for the good of those that love Him and have been called according to His purpose.” I firmly believe that people who are non-Christians have a void in their life whether they know it or not. Those are the people we need to pray for. You guys are out there spreading the message and affecting people who may not have come to Christ yet. The music goes well beyond mere entertainment. It is a blessing to your audience.

RS: That’s always been the joy of it. I’ve found that in my life I don’t really have to say a lot because people walk up and ask me. Through the years it’s been a Rock and Roll experience where we can hopefully steer people towards Christ. That is the hope for me that is in my heart. It’s not necessarily a church way for me. I get uncomfortable with that at times because I don’t want people to think that Christianity is a list of “don’ts” and that you have to be at church every Sunday. It’s not about judging people for having sex or taking this kind of drug. That is not Christianity. If that was true then Islam would be the same way. Christianity is about the love of Christ shining down on us. We live in a beautiful world that is dark at the same time. I’ve always loved being able to watch people really get touched by the Holy Spirit.

I will give you an example. We had this lighting girl back in 1985. She used to razz me all the time. She wasn’t a Christian, but she was a real sweetheart. I loved her. She had this big sticker on one of her road cases that said “Good Girls Go to Heaven – Bad Girls Go Everywhere.” For about two or three weeks she would look at the sticker and say, “Hey Rob, what do you think?’ Finally I said, “Well let me redo it for you because there is something that you left out…Good Girls Go To Heaven – Bad Girls Go Everywhere Except to Heaven.” She stopped. She froze and she never brought it up to me again. Years later, I saw her and she recalled how much of an impact that had on her. She said she looked at the world differently. It’s those simple one-on-one moments when you can affect someone and watch them change their life. That only comes through the Holy Spirit. I’ve never been one to force someone to go to church although it’s a beautiful thing. It’s been more about me speaking to somebody directly and introducing them to the presence of God.

MA: Throwing bibles into the audience is a great way to introduce someone to the Word of God. Somebody who never would have opened a bible suddenly catches one at your concert and goes home and reads it. In a way you are evangelizing by giving them something physical to take with them.

RS: Yes and believe me, that is very costly. I’m talking thousands upon thousands of dollars. I can’t even begin to fathom how many we have thrown out over the years. That said, it’s never been enough. Our hope was to get it out there to the people. I’ve had audience members walk up to me begging for a copy. I have to tell them I’m sorry we don’t have anymore. I’ve heard a lot of stories like a guy put his bible in the glove compartment of his car and ten years later he opened it up while he was going through a divorce. The book gave him strength and hope to carry on. In the 80’s a lot of pastors would get on us by saying we were disrespecting the Word of God. I would remind them that the paper wasn’t holy, the words written on it are. It’s all about changing lives by introducing them to Jesus Christ.

MA: When you guys came out with the song “Honestly” it bridged the gap between the Christian genre and the mainstream scene. It seemed to break down the barriers that some people put up in front of you. It also helped to introduce new fans to your message. Why that song?

RS: That was the era of ballads. When you made a record the record company demanded that you put at least one ballad on it. My brother was working with the piano at that time. He lives and breathes music constantly. I can shut it off and do other things, he can’t. He felt that song should exist and from there it became special. It became one of our biggest hits. At the time I loved the song but I got frustrated because I didn’t want people to think we were a one-trick pony. We had so many other songs that were more Rock and Roll. There was a heaviness to our music. That said it got regular play on MTV and introduced us to a whole new legion of fans.

MA: There are so many bands, most of them in fact that have to play the same songs over-and-over-and-over. It gets stale and predictable. When you guys play a song, every time, you are spreading a positive message to different people. So playing the same songs over-and-over is very important to achieving your goals.

RS: That’s very true. God’s Word doesn’t return void. There’s a lot of conversion that we don’t realize. When we put Stryper together we had a specific goal in mind. To spread the precious and righteous Word of Christ with heavy music. Ultimately we want to conduct our mission so we can hear those words “Well done.” When you’re a teenager you think your life will go on forever. As you get older things come into perspective. You begin to think in long terms. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow but I firmly believe there is life after life. I really do. I have come to see how real faith is. I’ve had experiences that back that up. I want the Lord to be pleased with what we have done in His name. We pray on it all the time. We were anointed to do this.

MA: Evidently your mission has continued to this very day. What are you working on now?

RS: Stryper is going to be working on a new album. We are slated to go into the studio soon. I can’t wait. Writing and recording an album is so inspiring. Every time we learn something new about ourselves. The message will be the same. Come to know the love of Jesus Christ. Stay tuned for more on that project!

Finally, I want to make a point to thank everyone who has supported us and continues to support us. We do it all for the glory of God. Bless you all.

For more information on Robert and Stryper visit http://www.stryper.com.

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Go Around the Kit

13230102_10209957134024513_1041871118958202889_nLast week I announced a new partnership between Off Beat and Around the Kit, a weekly online talk show on Drum Talk Radio. Hosted by Joe Gansas, Around the Kit has conducted interviews with nearly 200 drummers (to date). The list of guests is astounding to include drummers from A-Z (Dave Abbruzzese to Bill Zildjian) and everyone in between. One of the features that sets Around the Kit above other drum talk shows is the attention to detail and originality of the questions. Joe does a tremendous amount of research prior to each show in order to gain insights and perspectives that go beyond the usual battery of questions. In addition to interviews Around the Kit features other segments such as tributes and round tables. The ability to call in and participate in the show’s dialogue gives listeners a voice too. Joe himself outlines the show’s mission, “Around The Kit is a weekly Drum Talk Radio show, that brings the drumming community together, and has captivated the audience with some of the best drummers in the business!” If you are interested in great interviews -with great drummers-led by a great host, look no further than http://www.aroundthekit.net.

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presentation2Off Beat is proud to announce an online partnership with Around The Kit, a three-hour weekly Drum-Talk Radio show that features exclusive interviews with some of the biggest drummers. Visit their website and Facebook page for information on upcoming guests.

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A Fallen Star

jim_gordon_rolling_stoneThere is a fascinating video posted over on YouTube titled “MI College of Contemporary Music: Jeff Porcaro Throwback Thursday from the MI Vault.” In it Jeff Porcaro speaks to a group of students about his experiences as a session and stage drummer. At one point Porcaro discusses who he believes to be the “best drummer ever,” Jim Gordon. Specifically citing his groove and feel Porcaro invites the audience to seek out his recordings. Second to only Hal Blaine, Gordon played on a very long list of hits for some of the biggest names in music. This included The Beach Boys, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Neil Diamond, BB King and many-many others. You can view a complete list of his tracks over on Wikipedia.

Very tall and muscular, Gordon was a strong presence on-stage. He played with a power and stamina that made him a top choice among percussionists. After fellow studio phenom Jim Keltner pulled out ahead of a tour with the band Delaney & Bonnie, Gordon took over and backed the act for two years. After that, he continued to do sessions whenever possible. Unfortunately his life would take a very dark turn.

There was a dangerous side to Gordon’s personality. This included schizophrenia and other aspects of mental illness that began to take over his psyche. Starting in 1969 he would disappear for days at a time and exhibit bizarre, self-destructive behavior. As his illness progressed he often heard voices inside of his head that directed him at various times to act out violently. While on tour Gordon punched his girlfriend (soon to be ex-girlfriend) in the face in the corridor of a hotel.

By 1981, he was unable to continue in music. In 1983, the voice told Gordon to kill his mother, which he did. He was sentenced in 1984 to a term of 16 years to life, and remains at a psychiatric prison as of 2017. Gordon explained his feelings in a 1994 interview, “When I remember the crime, it’s kind of like a dream. I can remember going through what happened in that space and time, and it seems kind of detached, like I was going through it on some other plane. It didn’t seem real.” Ironically, thanks to his composer’s credit and the continued sales in which he is entitled to royalties, Gordon is likely the richest white felon in the California (psychiatric) penal system.

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Reflection and Request

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Since March of 2015 I have worked hard at providing interesting and useful content for my readers. This has included historical, technical, instructional and educational posts. I have interviewed all kinds of drummers, reviewed drum gear and books, taught drum history, shared drum videos and offered perspective based upon my experiences as a drummer and writer. All along I have continued to be impressed by the connection that is made between blogger and reader.

Through emails and comments I can get immediate feedback on what is working and what needs work. Perhaps that is why I prefer online publishing to print. I love writing for drum magazines but traditional publishing has disconnect between the writer and reader. To hold the attention of anyone and keep them coming back for more requires effort. As a blogger I post things that not only interest me, but also the reader. This keeps a two-way street between the two.

When I interview someone I initiate the interview because the interviewee interests me, but I write the resulting post to appeal to the reader. It is my goal to inspire them to gain an interest in the person. When I post a historical piece, it is my goal to inspire the reader to do their own research. So for me, the post is not the ending to a thought, but the start of something new for someone else to explore. That is my continuing goal, to provoke thought.

In keeping with the “two-way street” that is Off Beat, I invite you to submit ideas for what you want to see next. Let me know what direction you would like me to go. Post your thoughts in the Comments below or email them directly to me at ma@pinstripepress.net. You have a direct influence on what comes next.

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Welcome to The Drum Library

One of the most talented drummers that I have had the pleasure of getting to know is Steve Goold. You may recall the feature I penned on him that ran in Issue #39 of Drumhead magazine: http://www.pinstripepress.net/Goold.pdf. In addition to being one of the most innovative drummers both on the stage and in the studio (*see his appearance on Drumeo). Steve is also a devout Christian with whom I share my beliefs. I discovered Steve after watching a church clinic that he presented on YouTube.  Not surprising he has taken his interest in educating to a whole new level. Today Steve launched his new website “The Drum Library: https://thedrumlibrary.com/” For a small fee users can access a number of features to include video lessons, live performances, a blog and Q&A. In his ABOUT section Steve sums up his intent: “My intention with The Drum Library is to share, in detail, all of what I’ve learned about being a musician that plays the drums. I hope you find it to be helpful.” For those interested in learning practical tips for improving their drumming visit The Drum Library.

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Shameless Plug

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FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids
by Rich Redmond and Michael Aubrecht

Paperback: 96 pages + 1 hour DVD (Available in print and eBook formats)
Publisher: Modern Drummer Publications; Hal Leonard Distributing
Webpage: http://www.moderndrummer.com/fundamentalsofdrumming/
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/FUNdamentalsOfDrumming

“Sharing my love of rhythm is what this book is all about.” – Rich Redmond
“As a parent, this book is written for all ages and stages.” – Michael Aubrecht

One of the biggest challenges facing teachers today is getting children excited about music. As more and more schools cut their budgets for music programs, instructors struggle to develop an interest in the arts. This is especially true for younger children who are at a ripe age to take up an instrument. Learning music accelerates educational benefits that improve comprehension skills such as reading and math. One book that is rising to this challenge by combining elementary school teaching techniques with basic music theory is FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids.

FUNdamentals is a new step-by-step program geared toward introducing drumming to young children ages 5-10 and up. The book won Best in Show at 2014 Summer NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) and has been an Amazon.com Best-Seller in four different countries including the United States, UK, Canada and Spain.

The first thing you will notice about this book is the overall quality of design and presentation. From the cartoon illustrations to the extensive photographs and typography, FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids delivers an easy to follow curriculum that builds upon itself. These exercises present drum theory in a fun and familiar way by using flash cards, counting exercises, clapping, and more.

Students begin by learning the history of drums, types of drums, proper technique, warm-ups, and basic note recognition. Next they execute counting and hand drumming patterns that later progress into sticking exercises. This evolution culminates in a specially designed music tablature that presents traditional music notation and corresponding sticking tables for three- and four-way independence exercises on the drum set. The specially designed activity book keeps the lessons fun and the hour-long DVD provides an intimate one-on-one lesson.

If you are interested in introducing a child to the drums, look no further than FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids!

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Best known for his work with country superstar Jason Aldean, Rich Redmond is a top session and touring drummer who also holds a master’s degree in music education. Michael Aubrecht is a best-selling author and drummer. Seeing a highly neglected audience, they decided to combine their talents to develop the FUNdamentals system.

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Drummer Boy Medal of Honor

img_2710Today’s history lesson is the extraordinary life of a drummer boy named William H. Horsfall. One of the most celebrated drummer boys in the American Civil War Horsfall ran away from home at age 15 to serve his country in the “Great Divide”. According to the Evergreen History Tour, he hitched a ride on the steamship Annie Laurie which was docked in Newport. Horsfall received the prestigious Medal of Honor for saving the life of Captain Williamson during the siege of Corinth. He was one of the youngest Kentuckians to receive this honor. The citation with his medal simply stated “Saved the life of a wounded officer lying between the lines.” Horsfall served throughout the war and beyond until March of 1866 when he left the army and lived the rest of his life in Newport. He died at the age of 75.

Horsfall himself recalled his wartime experiences:

I left home without money or a warning to my parents,and in company with three other boys, stealthily boarded the steamer ‘Annie Laurie,’ moored at the Cincinnati wharf at Newport and billed for the Kanawha River that evening, about the 20th of December, 1861. When the bell rang for the departure of the boat, my boy companions, having a change of heart, ran ashore before the plank was hauled aboard, and wanted me to do the same. I kept in hiding until the boat was well under way and then made bold enough to venture on deck. I was accosted by the captain of the boat as to my destination, etc., and telling him the old orphan-boy story, I was treated very kindly, given something to eat, and allowed very liberal privileges.

gravesI arrived at Cincinnati without further incident, and enlisted as a drummer boy. In the fighting before Corinth, Miss., May 21, 1862-Nelson’s Brigade engaged -my position was to the right of the First Kentucky, as an independent sharpshooter. The regiment had just made a desperate charge across the ravine. Captain Williamson was wounded in the charge, and, in subsequent reversing of positions, was left between the lines. Lieutenant Hocke, approaching me, said: ‘Horsfall, Captain Williamson is in a serious predicament; rescue him if possible.’ So I placed my gun against a tree, and, in a stooping run, gained his side and dragged him to the stretcher bearers, who took him to the rear.

According to Deeds of Honor: Drummer Horsfall was on all the subsequent marches of his regiment. During the famous charge at Stone River he presently found himself hemmed in by rebel horsemen and hostile infantry. Even the rebels took pity on his youth and one of them shouted: “Don’t shoot the damned little Yank! I want him for a cage.” The plucky little drummer made a run for his life and safely got back to his regiment.

For many more posts on the history of drummer boys search this blog using the term “Drummer Boys.”

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Gear Spotlight: Rick Allen

Everyone knows the saga of Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen. His story is one of triumph over tragedy and it inspires not only drummers, but people in general. Allen himself contemplated how his life was forever changed following his catastrophic injury. He said, “…I wouldn’t be the person I am today, I wouldn’t be where I am now, and I may not even have been here if it wasn’t for the accident.” By not allowing his injury to prevent him from following his passion Allen pushed forward and altered every aspect of his playing from tools to technique. His style is remarkable as he bridges the gap between his hand and feet to create a seamless sound. Due to his physical limitations Allen has been on the forefront of his electronic kit designs that cater to his unique situation. The compact positioning of the drums and cymbals along with the multiple foot pedals enable him to play better than many two-armed drummers. One interesting aspect of Allen’s current kit is the multiple hi-hats that are opened differently. This enables him to get a variety of responses required for different songs. Another is the intricate foot pedals that replaced the left side of the kit. Playing this configuration requires extensive coordination in order to pull it off. As one who has stood backstage beside the man and watched him close-up in a live situation I can attest to his ability to “pull it off” while giving fans an amazing performance from the stage. Proving all skeptics wrong he even does a drum solo. Here are images of Allen’s first and current set-ups:

Original Set-up

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Current Set-up

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