Monthly Archives: August 2018

Speaking Engagement


Back when I was a more active author I did many book signings and speaking engagements. I always sold out of books and I spoke to groups ranging anywhere from 5 to 500 people. I loved giving talks and I really enjoyed those opportunities. Sometimes I miss them very much. (If you are interested, here is a link to a talk I did on George Washington’s mother Mary Ball WATCH HERE) I’ve been out of the game for so long I’ve become irrelevant. I’ve been thinking about how can I incorporate speaking on the blog and the only answer I can come up with is doing a Facebook Live post. I’ve watched others do them. Some were good. Some not-so-good. I’ve decided that if I’m going to do one I need to come up with an interesting topic to present. I also need to garner an audience of a size worthy of the time it will take me to do it. Here’s what I’ve come up with. I’m going to research and write something special. Something that I feel folks will be interested in. It will likely be historical. I’ll plan for it to be no more than 10-minutes long. That will save time for interaction. Then I’ll advertise it on Facebook and the Blog far in advance and for a time I think will be convenient for folks to pop in. I believe once it’s done I can save it and link to it on the blog. Someone correct me if I am wrong. Rather than just do a casual chat I want to do something more professional and informative. If it works, I will think about doing another one sometime in the future. For now, I need to scratch this itch. Stay tuned for more info.

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There is no racism in music.

I intentionally keep this blog apolitical and steer clear of controversy. There is enough of that already going on in the world. I do look for opportunities to rise above the arguments that are dominating the public consciousness. It seems that everywhere you turn people are fighting one another over various issues. The subject of racism has become THE hot topic. Blatant displays of racism, as well as questionable accusations of it appear to be in the news every day. Instead of taking the time to talk to one another, people prefer to fight. Therefore, the argument has become the norm. I look at discussions between different races as having an opportunity to share their culture and further one another’s understanding and respect. I have made a point to post about different cultures in order to educate people and hopefully inspire them to explore other cultures on their own. One such post looked at African Drums and Drumming (Read Here). Drumming is an international language and there is so much to share. It would be nice if folks could stop throwing the race card back and forth for a minute and take a look at each other’s uniqueness. Respecting each other’s culture can be a stepping stone toward civility.

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Hit the Lights

Nowadays a lot of drummers are using LED lights to illuminate their drums. These “glow kits” have become very popular and drum companies are coming up with new ways of installing multi-color lighting systems in their drums. Would you believe the concept of multi-colored lighted drums goes way back to almost the beginning of the drum set? Early drum designers came up with a method that used a system triggered by the bass drum pedal. This changed two interior lightbulbs between two colors, red and green. As the diagram below states, the addition of lights increased the “jazziness” of the music by flashing in time with it. I think this would be a distraction but apparently the audience did not.

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Top-5 Albums Day Five

Today David and I complete our post on our top five favorite albums…

DAVID:

Led Zeppelin – “Physical Graffiti”

Led Zeppelin: Robert Plant, vocals, Jimmy Page, guitar, John Paul Jones, Bass and Keyboard and the one and only, John Bonham, bombastic Drums. I labored over “THE” Zep album to choose for this list. After much review and after getting to play these CDs I have played hundreds of times over the years, the choice came painstakingly clear: Physical Graffiti, the sixth studio album from this amazing band.

This two-record set begins with a tasty Page riff into the song, “Custard Pie.” Bonham’s groove is infectious as he skips two on the snare and hits on the and of two and four causing what seems like a pause or skip that really builds the tension. “Show the people your Custard Pie!”

“The Rover,” Another hard hitting grove by Bonham. Page comes in with a, “Phase Shifter,” effect.”Rover” is a term for a wanderer, as the lyrics attest to. This song was written in 1970 as an acoustic piece but wasn’t recorded until 1972 during the, “Houses of the Holy,” sessions. It was left off that album and included on Physical Graffiti.

“In My Time of Dying,” Wow! Just an intense song, a gift for a drummer. The opening guitar riff is slow and powerful with Bonham joining in for a couple of beats, building tension until he slaps you with the groove, four on the floor while skipping a beat before stopping to let Mr. Plant do his job. Interestingly, this is the longest recorded Led Zeppelin song, coming in at 11:06.

Once the song kicks in the guitar has a quick riff that Bonham locks into switching between the bass and snare in a broken up beat that ends with a 16th note snare beat, then repeating. The song goes through several powerful changes that make it interesting and super fun to play if you’re a capable musician. “Ohhh, Saint Peter, at the gates of heaven / won’t you let me in / I never did no wrong / I never did no wrong.” The solo makes you want to walk to the cross roads in Mississippi at Midnight, like Robert Johnson to sell his sole to the devil, to be able to play with the feel that Page has. Bonham playing a 16th note groove on the high hats. The last segment of this song is strait up power, as if Bonham was hitting the kit with elongated bricks. Joy of joys this wondrous song…..”It feels pretty good up here!”

I had the pleasure of seeing Jimmy Page on the Outrider tour in 1988. I was at the back of the Portland, Maine Civic Center when he went into this song. My clothes started to rattle from the vibration. It went through my body and right down my spine. I have never experienced anything like it at a concert, I was mesmerized by the power of that guitar riff, vibrating my shirt from across the Civic Center. The wizard was in Maine and it was a transcending experience for me.

“Houses of the Holy,” is a fun, quick and happy song, makes you want to dance around your apartment in various forms of undress. A straight ahead rock song with, “more cowbell.”

“Trampled Under Foot,” “I can’t stop talking about Love.” another straight ahead rock song, two’s & four’s. John Paul Jones gives us a great clavinet solo, really showcasing his immense talent. This song was one of Plants favorites. It charted 38 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and was played live constantly.

“Kashmir,” What a groove, in a word, this song is sexy. The guitar has a triple meter feel while the drums kick a strait and slow groove. In high school, I looped a 90 minute tape that my girlfriend and I played over and over while we taught each other, “things.” Such fond memories to such a perfect song. I think this is the song that is played in, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” The dating advice is, “When at all possible play side one of Zeppelin four.” The kid play’s Kashmir instead, good choice!

“In The Light,” This song starts out a little weird. Very slow, Page used a violin bow on an acoustic guitar while John Paul Jones comes up with a creative synthesizer intro until the drums kick in. It has a similar groove to Kashmir but they are very different songs. This song was never played live because the band couldn’t reproduce the synthesizer sound properly outside of the studio so it was scraped, although John Paul Jones wanted to do it. He said that it was his favorite song on Physical Graffiti.

“Bron-Yr-Aur,” A beautiful Page guitar solo. Very light and airy. Sweet. Bron-Yr-Aur is a Welsh country house that most of Led Zeppelin III was written. A great retreat for the band with its lush surroundings. A great place to write and record amazing music. This instrumental is the shortest recorded Zeppelin song, clocking in at 2:06.

“Down by the Seaside,” This song was also written in 1970 at Bron-Yr-Aur but recorded for this album. It’s a beautiful track. “Down by the seaside, see the boats go sailing. Can the people hear, what the little fish are sayin.” The song takes a turn, speeding up at the middle into more of a rock number but then goes back to a slow southern drawl.

“Ten Years Gone,” was intended to be a Page instrumental but Plant ended up writing lyrics to it. He said in an interview that the song was about a girlfriend he had ten years ago. Plant said, “I was working my ass off before joining Zeppelin. A lady I really dearly loved said,” “Right. It’s me or your fans.” “Not that I had fans, but I said, I can’t stop, I’ve got to keep going.” I think every musician has a story like this, I’ve heard, “you love those drums more than me!” I just smile.

“Night Flight,” I love this track. That 16th note feel with the snare coming in is just cool daddy, cool. Such a great snare sound. Plant once said that this song was about a young man avoiding the military draft.

“The Wanton Song,” Is another favorite of mine. I dig the groove on this one. That riff and Bonham just kicking it into gear, making the riff better. I also love the way he dances around the beat in this, skipping and killing those base drum fills, triplets on the foot that he always did so well. Fun to listen to, fun to play.

“Boogie with Stu,” This song was a free form jam in 1971. Zeppelin was using the Rolling Stones mobile studio when the Stones road manager and pianist, Ian “Stu” Stewart, ended up jamming with the band on piano. It’s an unlikely song that never would have been written or recorded had it not been for this free form jam.

“Black Country Woman,” Is a blues song about a woman living in an area called, Black Country, near Birmingham where Plant and Bonham grew up. It’s a pretty strait forward blues/rock song.

“Sick Again,” This ones about under age, teenage groupies that Plant felt sorry for. Bonham is favoring the bell of the ride cymbal all thorough out this track. He also kills some pretty heavy triplets on the toms and bass drum. The ending of a great Rock & Roll classic album by one of the greatest bands to ever walk the earth.

MICHAEL:

Jane’s Addiction – “Nothing’s Shocking”

There are other Jane’s Addiction albums like “Ritual de lo Habitual” that have left an indelible impression on me but their debut album is where I discovered one of the most unique alternative bands I’ve ever come upon. From the shocking album cover which features a sculpture of nude female conjoined twins on a rocking chair with their heads on fire to the vivid music within it, Jane’s Addiction pushed, and continues to push the artistic realm of music. The song that everyone knows, “Mountain Song” was dropped by MTV for a scene of nudity so the band released a 20 minute live footage video version called Soul Kiss, The video is as brilliant as the album and shows the artistic ingenuity of the band.

I was also drawn to the tribal drumming style of Stephen Perkins who has become a regular on The Drum Channel. Another highlight of this album is the variety of musical styles that are included. From hard rock to light music, the broad style of the musicians is evident. “Jane Says” is a remarkable song that tells the story of a junkie that is trying to kick the heroin habit. It features a single acoustic guitar and steel drums. I’ve never heard that combination before. It has become a favorite of mine when I listen to that album. I looked it up and Nothing’s Shocking is certified platinum with little radio airplay and no MTV support. That draws me to the album even more. Here’s my favorites:

“Mountain Song,” This is a monster song. The opening tom fills are epic and let you know that this song is going to be h-e-a-v-y. Perry Farrell’s booming voice echoes over the drums. This album was made before any of these guys (Dave Navarro, Perkins, or Ferrell) were anybody. Who knew they would grow to become some of the most successful musicians in their given field. “Mountain Song” was their first “hit.” I remember watching video of Perkins playing (naked) the intro to this song and thinking what a cool opening. I could do that. Only to find that I couldn’t quite get the right timing without a lot of practice. The drums and bass are in sync and without a bass player it was difficult to master. I eventually worked it out. This was before the Internet or Play-Alongs.

“Jane Says,” Another favorite song. This one showcases Perkins on the steel drums and was the first time I had heard an alternative rock drummer play such an instrument. I think Ferrell’s voice and lyrics are what appeals to me the most with this song. The title refers to Farrell’s ex-girlfriend who was the inspiration and the namesake of the band. The song carries drug references such as “kick” (stop using). Janes has performed different versions of this song over the years to include acoustic. Each version is great in my opinion as the song stands on its own regardless of the style it is performed in.

“Pigs in Zen,” This song is often considered the band’s “anything goes” songs. Instrumentally the song is simple. The band would frequently improve new jams when performing the song live. Ferrell also created countless memorable “perryisms” during live performances. The lyrics are outstanding: “I’m in the midst of a trauma – Leave a message- I’ll call you back – Leave it by the bed – Some people should die – That’s just unconscious knowledge” I don’t think this song influenced me specifically as a drummer but it did influence me as a musician. The idea that you could write a song that framed itself for regular improvisation stuck with me.

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Top-5 Albums Day Four

Today David and I continue our post on our top five favorite albums…

DAVID:

Queensryche – “Operation Mind Crime”

I was the first kid in Bangor to get the EP that introduced this band to the world, Queensryche. My friends and I wore it out as well as the next two full length CDs, “Warning” and “Rage for Order.” All great and all leading up to their concept album, the masterpiece, “Operation Mindcrime.” This CD has it all, great guitar work, from Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton. Tasty bass licks by Eddie Jackson. Scott Rockenfield’s amazing drum tracks and complex fills and have you heard Geoff Tate sing!? Such amazing musicians coming together for songs you can listen to over and over again. Tackling themes of religion, corruption, abuse of power, an anti-government revolution and a radical group led by a dubious leader, Dr. X. Queensryche was talking about the 3 percent of wealthiest men controlling the economy and the Nation, long before many knew what the 3% was.

“Revolution Calling,” the first song sets the stage for whats to come. “I used to trust the media to tell me the truth / tell us the truth / but now I see the payoffs everywhere I look / who do you trust when everyones a crook!” Indeed, the Revolution is Calling.

“Operation Mind Crime,” introduces us to the main character, Niki. “Operation Mind Crime / were an underground revolution working overtime.” “There’s a job for you in the system boy with nothing to sign.” Young idealism finds a purpose and moves in the shadows serving a higher movement, driving him to kill for a cause.

“Speak” This song sets the scene combining religion with revolution and telling the tale of how religion and power have served each other from before the time man recorded history on papaya, or clay tablets in the summer. “Speak the word / Revolution / the word is all of us.”

“Spreading the Disease,” begins with a wonderfully fun drum track by Rockenfield. The story of Sister Mary, a sex worker turned Nun who is connected with our main character, Niki. The subject of corrupt religion, with a helpful facade, while being dark and cancer ridden on the inside besets this track.

The theme of God for money, power and changing the world for the better are continued on the next few tracks. “The Mission,” “Suite Sister Mary,” “The Needle Lies,” “Electric Requiem,” Breaking the Silence,” all tell of an incredibly complicated story of human emotion and doing the wrong thing for what you think is the right reason.

“I Don’t Believe in Love,” was certainly one of the hits on this record. The one that got the most airplay but I kind of think if I were a DJ back then I would have been fired for playing this CD from the beginning to the end. Visions of locking the door and playing the whole thing while the station manager kicks it in, like that scene in “Shawshank Redemption.”

The record is concluded with, “Waiting for 22,” “My Empty Room,” and “Eyes of a Stranger,” the other big hit off this record. “And I raise my head and stare / into the eyes of a stranger / I’ve always know that the mirror never lies.” Great song, great CD, great band, so worthy of being heard again and again!

MICHAEL:

Prince and The Revolution –  “Purple Rain”

Prince in my opinion, is the greatest singer, songwriter, musician, performer and artist of all time. Everything he’s ever done is amazing. “Purple Rain” is a work of genius. And I say that as a stand-alone record, not as a soundtrack to a movie. Take the movie out of it and it’s still brilliant. Prince plays virtually every instrument on his albums and then he has musicians play the parts live. The Revolution was the perfect backing band for Prince and their performances on the live parts of this album are extraordinary.

Many people do not know that songs like “Purple Rain” were recorded live and then edited in the studio. The songs on this album fit together perfectly and the album flows from beginning to end. The song order is essential. I first heard this album after my sister got it as a present. At the time I didn’t think it was cool to be a Prince fan, but as time went on I slowly began to realize that Prince was a virtuoso. As I got older I started to follow Prince more closely and I bought his CDs.

“Purple Rain” stuck with me as a stunning work of art. I had the pleasure of interviewing Bobby Z (Read Here) and his drumming contributions to this album are superb. The insights I gained from that interview further proved my intuition that this album was perhaps Prince’s finest work. His untimely death has cast a shadow over the music community and left a void in the music that he could have continued to produce. Here are my favorites:

“Let’s Go Crazy,” An obvious choice out of the hit songs that came from that record. Prince’s up-tempo guitar and vocals make this song cook. The opening organ and “eulogy” for “this thing called life” contrast once the song kicks off. The song climaxes with a heavy guitar outro leads, electronic drums, bass and whirring synthesizers and a climatic drum outro. In between Prince sounds as if he is jumping between the lyrics. Throughout the album Prince gets this amazing sound out of his guitars. His solo in this song is amazing and depicts his skills as a player and producer.

“The Beautiful Ones,” Not an obvious choice. Unlike most of the album, this song is softer. Starting out with a great concert tom fill the piano and organ-sounding synthesizers in this song gradually build in volume and intensity. By the end of the song, Prince is screaming out “Do you want him, or do you want me? ‘Cause I want you.” Prince’s keyboards and drum solo serving as the closing instrumentation. As a drummer much of the Purple Rain album is a great example of what can be accomplished when combining electronic and acoustic drums. Prince and Bobby Z create an exceptional backdrop of percussion on every song that seems to fit perfectly.

“Computer Blue,” is another non-obvious choice. The song begins with spoken lyrics by Wendy and Lisa which suggest a dominatrix-type relationship. Of course Wendy and Lisa had a longtime romantic relationship and still work together as collaborators. The song is a very guitar-oriented number and the song represents Prince’s torment at the relationship between the characters played by Morris Day and Apollonia. The song was composed by Prince, with credit to his father, John L. Nelson for the guitar solo based on a piano instrumental written by Nelson and Prince. According to the song’s Wikipage it was originally conceived as a 14-minute opus but the song was edited from a fully mastered 7:30 down to its current length. On the box-set “Purple Rain  Deluxe” (2017) a different and longer recording is included.

“Purple Rain,” An instant classic and my favorite song hands down. If you ask me what’s my favorite song, that’s my answer every time. Every facet of this song is brilliant. From the opening rhythm guitar riff – to the lead solo – to the drums – to the keys – to the lyrics it all fits. “Purple Rain” opens with a lone guitar quickly followed by live drumming and a prominent grand piano, evoking images of gospel music. Many people don’t realize that there are only three verses and each are followed by a chorus, with a building emotional delivery. Prince recorded this song live and then added additional elements in the studio as part of the movie’s soundtrack. It’s also perfect for slow dancing.

Many of the songs off this album have been redone on various Greatest Hits compilation albums showing how Prince’s creativity in the studio (on any song) had no bounds.

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Top-5 Albums Day Three

Today David and I continue our post on our top five favorite albums…

DAVID:

“Rage Against the Machine” – Eponymous studio debut album

Wow! This CD came to me as if from God His/Her self. It was several months after Mt. Carmel burned to the ground that I was roaming around the country wondering what the hell to do. I was still in shock, with a million directionless thoughts running through my mind. I was on the way to Florida when I stopped at a record store and saw the shocking CD cover. A Vietnamese monk named Thich Quang Du’c’s set himself on fire in protest to the South Vietnamese Diem regime’s pro-catholic policies and discriminatory laws against Buddhists. I knew that I had to hear what was on this CD. “Rage Against the Machine”…the name couldn’t have been more perfect for what I was feeling. The CD did not disappoint. Zack De La Rocha, (vocals,) Tim Commerford, (bass,) Tom Morello, (guitar,) and Brad Will on the drums.

“Bombtrack,” starts it off innocently enough with a light guitar riff but as the drums build to a crescendo, Zack De La Rocha yells UGGGGHHHH and you get your first taste of a CD that’s gonna kick your ass all over the not-so-free world. “Landlords and power whores on my people they took turns, dispute the suits I ignite and then watch ‘em burn.” The end of the song has this amazingly fun little guitar riff that makes you want to bang your head against the President’s desk, smashing it to pieces. We’re just getting started as the band goes into,

“Killing in the Name.” “Some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses.” “And now ya do what they told ya, and now your under control” or “F*&K you I won’t do what you tell me.” Pick your favorite repetitive line. I think I have a pretty good idea of mine. I also usually don’t like overly repetitive lyrics but this song is like a commercial that wants to sell you something. You see it over and over until you buy. Rage is selling rebellion and independence from a capitalist society controlled by the Government via their favorite blow horn, the media. They use every form of mind control to get you to obey, buy and conform. This theme is visited in the next few songs as well.

“Take the Power Back,” starts with a tasty bass riff and hi hat thing that kicks in with the rest of the band. “Ignorance is taking over, we gotta take the power back,” is the anthem of the song. The band’s name really does say it all. Rise up, get educated and get organized.

“Settle for Nothing,” I love the anger of this one. It seems to be very self-reflective for Zack. An autobiography of his life without a father, taking that built up rage and assigning it to flaws in the system. I like the screaming angry part that is followed by a nice little fluffy guitar solo that’s in direct contrast to the extreme vocal. “If we don’t take action now, we’ll settle for nothing later!”

“Bullet in Your Head,” This track is one of my favorites on the CD. “Just victims of the in-house drive by / they say jump you say how high.” From the television being the greatest form of propaganda and control to using patriotism to get young men to go die in foreign wars without knowing why. Bullet in your head, controlled thought through repetition. “Standing in line, believing the lies, bowing down to the flag you got a bullet in your head!”

“Know Your Enemy.” Hell yea! This is such a great track. Blistering guitar riff and rhythm groove that makes you want to fight city hall. “Fight the War F*&K the norm.” “I’ve got no patience now, sick of complacence now.” Amazing guitar solo into the tag part of the song. Morelo makes the guitar sound like a siren as De La Rocha goes into a diatribe that I made a point to commit to memory almost 25 years ago. “Yes I know my enemies, they’re the teachers that taught me to fight me, compromise, conformity, assimilation, submission, ignorance, hypocrisy, brutality, the elite. All of which are American Dreams!”

“Wake Up.” Such a great groove. The guitar has this little waka waka sound going during the verses. Very funky, hard to keep still while you listen. Lines like, “Hoover, he was a body remover.” and “Networks at work keeping people calm, ya’ know they went after King when he spoke out on Vietnam, he gave the power to the have nots and then came the shot!” Into another sweet guitar solo that sounds like a strobe light in a dark room. Zack ends it by yelling…”WAKE UP…WAKE UP…WAKE UP!”

“Fistful of Steel,” “Township Rebellion,” and “Freedom,” complete the CD. Like I said, not a bad song on this record but I want to talk about, “Township Rebellion.” The verses have this little cowbell back and forth part that would be comical if it weren’t for the serious lyrics about seeing the problems all around us and actually doing something about them. Subjects like racism, cops who kill and apartheid are addressed in this song. The repetitive anthem in this song was going through my head all those years ago when I didn’t know what direction to turn. What would I do with my experience? “Why stand on a silent platform, fight the war F&%K the norm!” I wrote a book. Thanks guys.

MICHAEL:

Vital Information – “Fiafiaga (Celebration)”

This one’s short as I’m not worthy. As a young Journey fan I never knew that Steve Smith started out as a Jazz drummer. I also never knew that Jazz Fusion was one of the most exciting forms of music out there. One day I was hanging out over a drummer friend’s house listening to some music in between jamming. He was a far better drummer than I was. In fact, he was far better than any drummer around. He put on Fiafiaga and at first, I had no idea what the hell it was. Fusion? It sounded like a group of musicians jamming together but trading solos every eight bars or so. Everyone was killing it. As I listened more I started to get it. These cats were grooving but at an uptempo then they would suddenly drop it down. It was in an instant. I couldn’t keep up. It was amazing. I asked him who this was and when he told me that it was Steve Smith’s band I was blown away.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to play any of that stuff but I could listen to it for hours on end for inspiration. I went out and bought everything Vital Information and Chick Corea put out. I became a fusion fan thanks to that record. Today, I pop in those CD’s when I want to geek out. Unlike the other albums on my list I’m not qualified to break down each one of these instrumentals. All I can say with this album is that it touched me and had an immediate impact on expanding my tastes as a drummer. Fiafiaga opened my ears for sure. The tracks “Maltese Connection” and “50/50” are the highlights of the recording.

Steve Smith had this to say about Vital Information’s philosophy: “Our music allows for individual expression and re-invention. We thrive on swing, groove and creativity. We want to surprise each other every night on the bandstand with new ideas and in the process keep our audience ‘in the moment’ with us.” The JazzTimes said, “Vital Information is one of improvised music’s best-kept secrets, the tunes are adventurous and they always groove. The musicians shoot for, and achieve, real emotion rather than soulless fireworks.

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Top-5 Albums Day Two

Today David and I continue our post on our top five favorite albums…

DAVID:

Blue October – “History For Sale”

This one is for the dark, sultry and moody among us. A great poetic record with plenty of songs to appeal to the “other” side of the psyche. The players on this CD are Jeremy Furstenfeld (drums, percussion), Ryan Delahoussaye (violin/viola, mandolin, and piano, backing vocals), Matt Noveskey (bass guitar, backing vocals), C.B. Hudson, guitar and Justin Furstenfeld (lead vocals, guitar.) Justin, a former addict, shares his troubled past in his music he writes. The honesty he pours into his songs is refreshing and shocking at the same time. Deep is the connection the audience has with the musicians in this band and the songs they produce, with a live show among the best I have ever seen. I go every time they play anywhere near me. Everyone in the audience sings along with every song. Crazy, dedicated fans have kept this band touring for the last couple of decades. This record is my favorite because of that depth and connection I have to it, like an old friend who knows you better than anyone ever could.

“Ugly Side,” the first track, is about showing your best face to the person you love while hiding the ugly side. “I only want you to see, my favorite part of me and not my ugly side.”

The second song, “Clumsy Card House,” was one of the first Blue October songs I ever heard and I was instantly enamored with this band. The song begins with a beautiful acoustic guitar part and flowing vocal. “By your side I’ll stay…forever.” I had to hear more. “And all the kids would play a sunless day, the rain would come, the rain always brings out heroes, believe in heroes.”

“Razorblade,” is a tough, edgy song, a possible clue to Justin’s troubled past. I’m not sure if this song is autobiographical or a work of fiction but it contains a set of lyrics that jumps out and punches you in the face. “Uncle you spared not your children and while your praying hands were up, there’s no forgiveness for you, you sick F#&K.” This record just keeps getting better from there.

“Calling you,” this song hit number 35 on the Hot Adult Top 40 Tracks chart. It was included on the American Wedding soundtrack and gained a resurgence of popularity and radio play. “I will keep calling you to see, if your sleeping are you dreaming if your dreaming are you dreaming of me, I can’t believe you actually picked me.”

“Chameleon boy,” is a song I always seemed to be attached to on a deep level and a piece that has always kind of haunted me but in a wonderful way. It’s a quiet, brooding beauty. “Stand by for another break down / sound off the alarm, It’s the Chameleon boy I swore I wouldn’t become.” It is about drug addiction and in a past concert, Justin dedicates it to all the friends he has lost due to overdoses.

“Sexual Power Trip (one big lie,)” has some amazing lines lyrically. It’s a faster jam for the band, a bit harder as Jeremy really kills the drums and especially the cymbals. It’s a rocker about sex and the complications of having a relationship when you’re strung out. “I’m sorry for the way I treated you. / I’m stuck in my ways to just run, / In the opposite way when things get comfortable. / I’ll keep on licking till your flavor is gone but it’s getting more impossible to keep a straight face and be trusted with I love you.”

“A Quiet Mind,” such a great song, I love the first verse. “A slow strangle with your feet on the floor / I’ve got 14 angles and were sleeping alone in the back of a cave / where the rest of us go to feel normal.” So cool into the chorus, “You give me a quiet mind / and I, I love you.”

“Inner Glow,” An inspiring song about finding what it is you love and doing it. Creating your own thing, write your own song. My favorite line in the song is toward the middle, “So here’s a preview / shove it under old new / or call it rock or pop or Bach or F*#k / God damn where did we go wrong / Now there’s a category for every song.”

“Somebody,” such a nasty guitar riff, every time this song starts I know that I won’t skip this number and it doesn’t disappoint. In concert, Justin said that he wrote this after his record company dumped the band. It’s a wonderfully dirty little number, tune in and turn on!

“Come in Closer,” what a beauty! It’s the kind of song that takes you to another world. It’s like a dream that you don’t want to wake up from. “Come dancing with devils / need not know there name / but we’ll waltz like an army / for the fear of our pain / and our souls become useless / as the day they were born / and the rusted arm rocking chair away from your storm / but still the truth remains lethal / a lie made by man / when my shoes become hammers / and my words become sand / I’m like a sour patch a wedding batch of roses you threw across my floor / and the rusted arm rocking chair / away from your storm.” So powerful, with a great female vocal part by Zayra Avarez. The song is about the innocents of youth, the lure of temptation and the pain that comes with the loss of trust from an affair. This CD is a real find, if it’s not your cup of tea I assure you, at least one of your friends will be converted.

MICHAEL:

INXS – “KICK”

Let me preface this one by saying that INXS is my favorite band. And by favorite I mean if you looked on my iPhone you would see nothing but INXS record after INXS record after INXS record and nothing else. KICK for me, is an album where every song is a hit. Practically every song was a hit in America and the band was an MTV favorite so it wasn’t difficult for me to discover the band in my youth. There was something about their pop-rock presence that caught my attention and kept it. Michael Hutchen’s singing and stage presence was captivating and the band’s unique musical style set them apart from other bands in that genre. Jon Farris’s drumming also stood out to me and to this day he remains one of the most original drummers of that period. With songs like “Devil Inside” and “What You Need” the album produced hit after hit.

For me, KICK is an album that you can listen to many times over and never get bored of it. I regret that I was never able to see the band live. I do appreciate that they made one of the greatest live/video albums (LIVE BABY LIVE) where we can see many of these songs performed. Here are four of my favorites from that album:

“New Sensation,” One of the things that I love about INXS music is how clean it is. Each instrument is recorded equally and none overpowers the other. “New Sensation” is a great example of this. Hutchen’s opening lyric of “Live Baby Live” is one of the best of any song in my opinion. The guitar and drums on this song especially complement each other. Jon Farris’ roto toms have a neat echo effect on them in the intro. Kirk Pengilly’s sax solo is the star of this song.

“Never Tear Us Apart,” One of the best ballads ever recorded. Written in the tempo of a modern Viennese waltz, this song builds in intensity as it goes on. It is layered with synthesizers and containing dramatic pauses before the instrumental breaks. The lyrics for this song are exceptionally poignant and Hutchen’s delivery of them is almost eerie. I particularity like the use of the ride cymbal in this song. Nothing fancy. Just tasteful. The video for this song is exceptional too. I believe it was filmed in Prague. After his death in 1997, Hutchen’s coffin was carried out of St. Andrews Cathedral as the song was played in the background.

“Guns in The Sky,” One of their best songs live, this is obviously a political song aimed at nuclear war capabilities. At the time it was recorded in 1987 this was still a hot button topic. The lyrics are strong and condemn those who make war: Well I’m sick of it / It’s a load of shit / We could stop the world / And let off all the fools / And let them go live / With their guns in the sky

“Mediate,” Following “Need You Tonight” this one is more of a walking poem than a song. You may remember the video that pays homage to Bob Dylan as the members flip cue cards with words from the song on them. “Hallucinate – Dessegregate – Mediate – Alleviate – Try not to hate…” are part of a political statement that touches on a variety of topics to include racism and nuclear war. (Watch here)

KICK is filled with appropriate drumming for each song and Jon Farris remains in my top-three favorite drummers. I’ve been known to break out the roto-toms from time to time because of him. If you like pop-rock this is a must have.

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Top-5 Albums Day One

Michael: We all have our favorite albums. Some influenced us as players, some as people, and some as both. It’s easy to assume it would be easy to pick a Top-5 until it comes time to do so. Looking back so much music touched our lives. So many styles. So many genres. So many bands. If you were like me you grew up musically in the 1980’s. What an amazing time! You had classic rock, new wave, pop, rap and hair metal all competing for spots on the charts thanks to MTV. In one sitting you could see Depeche Mode, Run DMC and Motley Crue. This variety of choices influenced me to appreciate a wide range of music which guided me as a drummer. I didn’t, (and still don’t) lean toward any specific style of music when I play. I enjoy sitting down behind the kit and jamming to everything from AC/DC to INXS. My Top-5 represent what I like to call my “coming of age” albums. They are records that had an immediate impact on me when they first came out and continue to hold my attention. I still listen to these songs frequently and I play along to them as part of my practice routine. I also have maintained my affection for the artists who produced these monumental albums, some of which dominate my iPhone. (In fact, one band completely dominates it).

I thought it would be fun to share a post with a friend and put together a list of our Top-5 albums. My pal and drummer David Thibodeau rose to the challenge and put together an amazing list. We have broken it up into five separate postings to cover an entire week. These will be in no particular order. Here’s our first installment starting with David:

David: As I write this, Metal Mayhem is on MTV and I am watching videos that I haven’t seen since I was a teenager in the 1980s. I was living in Bangor, Maine and wishing that I already lived in LA. Looking back now I can say those were great years. Music was progressing from rock to heavy metal and I loved all of it. Thanks to my Father and Mother, I was raised on bands like The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, The Doors, The Eagles and Chuck Berry. At the perfect timing in my life, the music got harder, more aggressive, faster and louder, just as I was reaching puberty and learning to play drums. Beating the hell out of the kit gave me a positive outlet to deal with all the changes I was going through and the MUSIC…amazing! How great was the music that was coming out almost every day it seemed. Queensryche, Motley Crew, Van Halen, Dio, Ozzy Osborne, Def Leppard, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. I have been asked to choose five Records that inspired me over the years. What a hard thing to have to do: choose! So many great records, hours and days and months of music to share. This list is not in order. I can’t say I love one CD more than another. To me, they all stand on their own.

DAVID:

Rush – “Moving Pictures”

What a classic masterpiece. A good drummer can hear a piece of music for the first time and anticipate what fill or cymbal crash the drummer will hit next. You can’t do that if it’s Neil Peart playing on the track. This is why I spent my sophomore year learning this record from start to finish. This power trio seem to share a spirit when they play together. Geddy Lee, (bass/vocals) Alex Lifeson, (guitar) and Neil Peart, (drums, percussion and lyrics,) are the perfect combination, destined to find each other and show a whole generation what three musicians can accomplish when they work together. When you think of “Moving Pictures” you probably think, “Tom Sawyer,” a wonderful song full of poignant lyrics by Peart, drawing a parallel between Mark Twain’s visions of being a boy on the Mississippi river in simpler times to growing up in the modern age. It’s a powerhouse song featuring amazing drums track from Peart. So many changes and complex drum fills that make you listen to the song over and over and shake your head because you just can’t see how a person can be this good at their craft.

“Red Barchetta,” paints a beautiful poetic picture of another time, going to the country on the weekend to spend with family and a very fast vintage car. The song was inspired by the short story, “A Nice Morning Drive,” written by Richard Foster and published in 1973 in Road and Track magazine.

“YYZ” is probably the first song that showed me that one doesn’t need lyrics to be a kick ass jam. Instrumentals have been around forever but this one was special. The classic intro sounds like Morse Code on the bell of the cymbal or triangle. Pronounced “Why-Why-Zed,” YYZ is the IATA airport identification code of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, near the band’s hometown.

Such a rocking tune is a buffet of happiness if you’re a young man trying to perfect your craft. Guitar, bass or drums, you can’t go wrong learning how to play a few Rush songs.

“Limelight,” captures the dream of every young musician. To be…to live forever within your creation. Also, probably my first introduction to odd meter. I always loved learning and playing the 6/4 time slower part. Alex Lifeson said that, “the solo was his favorite to play, it’s a little sad and lonely.” It’s really about the scrutiny that comes with fame. Apparently, Neil was very uncomfortable about being in the spotlight.

“The Camera Eye,” is an epic eleven-minute song, very enjoyable for a drummer, (love the marching snare drum bit at the beginning.)

“Witch Hunt,” sets a somber, dark mood right away, drawing a parallel between old world fear of the unknown that leads to killing what you don’t understand and the ignorance of having that medieval mentality in a modern world where all information is a keystroke away. The song’s message about mob violence, fascism and censorship remind me of posting something controversial on Facebook and watching your Christmas list shorten before your very eyes. Just a great record, one of the best of all time.

MICHAEL:

AC/DC – “Back in Black”

This was the very first record I ever bought. I think I was probably 12 years-old at the time. My cousin introduced me to AC/DC and I think I was drawn to their dangerous song titles. Of course I was a rebellious teenager. What parent wouldn’t be shocked at songs like “Hells Bells?” Today as a parent, I can see AC/DC’s double-entendres on song titles like “Given the Dog a Bone.” What struck me back then was the groove that was driving every song. I instantly fell in love with the simplicity of Phil Rudd’s drumming and I am still enamored with it to this very day. It’s not what Rudd plays. It’s what he doesn’t.

It seemed like every song on this album had a similar backbeat but it worked so well with whatever the rest of the band was doing. Is there any groove better than “Back and Black?” The fills, as few as there were, are perfectly placed. Songs like “Shoot To Thrill” feature some brilliant breaks that accentuate exactly what the guitar is doing. Hit songs like “Shook Me All Night Long” show that AC/DC can appeal to a wide audience while not changing what they do best. The whole band knocked it out of the park on this one. No wonder it’s one of the highest selling albums of all-time. When I’m in the mood to put on a pair of headphones and jam, this is one of my first choices. Here are some thoughts on my personal favorites:

“Hell’s Bells,” What better way to acknowledge the untimely passing of singer Bon Scott than to open the record with an ominous tolling of the bells? This record came out several months after Bon’s untimely death and was a tribute to the singer from the opening music to the all-black cover representing the band’s mourning. This was also the first time we hear Brian Johnson’s voice. In an early interview with Brian he said that he was so nervous about filling Bon’s shoes he just stepped up to the mic and belted the lyrics out as loud as he could. It immediately showed that Brian had his own distinctive voice and that AC/DC had a familiar tone but new vocal sound.

“Shoot to Thrill,” This song stands out on the record drum-wise with its up tempo beat. The lyrics are great too. “Shoot to thrill – way to kill – too many women and too many pills…” Of all the songs on the record this one really showcases drummer Phil Rudd’s tasteful playing. There is a nice break in the song where Phil plays a tribal tom sequence that compliments the dynamics of the guitar perfectly. It is understandable why the Iron Man movie series uses this song in the opener of Iron Man 2. In fact I believe that the Iron Man series uses all AC/DC music.

“Back in Black,” THE quintessential hard rock groove. You can’t listen to this song without bobbing your head. Drummers and guitarists love playing this tune for its slow tempo and brilliant simplicity. The opening riff is epic and Johnson’s vocal can’t get any better. Rudd’s playing once again shines through as he mimics the guitar parts perfectly. No fills are needed and that in itself makes the song stand out among other rock songs. This is one of my all-time favorites to put on the headphones and play along to. It’s not that easy to lock into that feel as Rudd’s timing has a definite swing to it. It takes practice.

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Practice Diary

One of the biggest challenges for me as a drummer is holding myself accountable during practice time. I live in a house with five other people so I don’t get a lot of opportunities to sit down behind the kit and play. Therefore I have to maximize the time I do have and get the most out of it. I’ve been keeping what I call a practice diary next to my drums. I got the idea from JP Bouvet. In it I outline what I did over the course of a practice session. I record what works, what didn’t work, and what I need to work on the next time I sit down. This serves two purposes. First, it provides me with a syllabus for my next practice session. Second it allows me to look back and see my growth. There is a saying that goes if you sound good during practice you’re not learning anything. This is true. By maintaining a journal I keep myself focused. Here are some steps I consistently perform each time I practice:

Note: I practice with a metronome

  • Spend 25% on the pad going through rudiments
  • Spend 25% playing new beats on the kit
  • Spend 25% playing familiar beats faster
  • Spend 25% playing along to music
  • Work out of books periodically

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RIP Aretha


As I type this entry the sad news is spreading around the world of the death of Aretha Franklin. Far too often we miss the impact someone has had on the world around them until they are gone. Aretha’s impact on music is overwhelming.

We can look to those that knew her intimately to get a feel for what it was like to create music with the Queen of Soul. Bernard “Pretty” Purdie  (right) served as Franklin’s live drummer and music director from 1970 to 1975. Of his time with Franklin he once commented that “backing her was like floating in seventh heaven.”

Purdie is also the studio drummer behind dozens of Franklin’s hits to include “Rock Steady.”

In an interview for Leigh Valley Music Purdie recalled the night he was lifted off his feet when Aretha and her band were recording their 1971 live album at the Fillmore West in San Francisco.

“I never witnessed anything like that because, I’m telling you, we literally rose off of the floor. When we made that record, we were on another planet. The people could drown you out … There was nothing but pure love in that room and that house, those three nights, there was nothing like it. I don’t think I’ll ever see it again but I’ll never forget it.”

Purdie’s own claim to fame is the triplet rhythm referred to all as the “Purdie Shuffle.” He recalled for NPR how that came about during a recording session with Franklin.

“We were actually recording ‘Rock Steady.’ She’s at the piano. Chuck Rainey on the bass. Cornell Dupree. Hugh McCracken, he was there, too. But the thing that happened is that her music fell off the piano. The red light was on — the red light means you always are recording. Tape was very, very expensive. We kept the music going, and I captured the eight bars that has taken me around the world. Everybody thought it was the most phenomenal drum break in my life — and all I was doing was keeping my time. I just smile, because 98 percent of the people of the world didn’t know my drum break was an accident. I love it.”

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