Today I want to introduce you to one of the most insightful drum blogs on the internet today. This week I was thrilled to get a comment from Scott K. Fish, former managing editor of Modern Drummer magazine (1980-1983) and drum blogger extraordinaire. Scott’s unique blog “Life Beyond the Cymbals” (https://scottkfish.com/) features his collection of taped interviews for Modern Drummer featuring some of the most renowned drummers in the history of the instrument. He also features audio performances of equally famous drummers that make you think about what the instrument is capable of.
I particularly like the comments that Scott adds to every post that provides the reader with insights into each individual. He began blogging in 2014 and has maintained fresh content on a regular basis. I particularly enjoy Scott’s interviews with drummers who didn’t do a lot of press. Somehow he was able to convince them to spend some time sharing their intimate experiences for the most well-respected drum magazine on the newsstand, in fact…the only drum magazine on the newsstand at the time. Scott started freelance writing for MD in 1976. When he left the magazine in October of 1983 he had written almost half MD‘s feature articles.
According to his bio Scott fell in love with music and the drums after hearing Gene Krupa’s rendition of “China Boy.” He spent the first half of this life playing, teaching, studying and writing about music. Drummers were his main subject. Nowadays Scott is back to sharing his love of the drums with an online audience. If you’re looking for a blog that introduces you to all kinds of drummers and drumming from days gone by visit “Life Beyond the Cymbals” (https://scottkfish.com/)
Today I was doing some research when I came upon something that caught my curiosity. It was the grave of Buddy Rich, or should I say the crypt of Buddy Rich that is buried in a mausoleum wall at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. It is a modest grave that simply says “One of a Kind.” Although this inscription is appropriate, the overall grave seems modest. It is classy nonetheless but I’m still curious as to why this burial approach was chosen. After all, he was arguably the greatest drummer of all-time and he toured the world, performing for millions of adoring fans.
It must be said that other celebrities like Marylin Monroe are buried in the same location and manner so perhaps this is appropriate for someone of Rich’s stature. A gravestone may have attracted too many visitors wanting to pay their respects and the result would have meant turning a sacred place into a tourist trap. In that case, I can understand completely why this approach was taken. Having tourists take selfies at a nameplate is less intrusive than having them tread on a plot.
If there was any question whether Rich was remarkable right up to his death, here is a performance shot in early 1987, two months before he died of heart failure following surgery for a brain tumor. Here is his version of “Hawaiian War Chant,” performed with the Tommy Dorsey Band, led by Buddy Morrow. Rich himself complimented this and every band he ever played with when he said, “I mean, I think I liked every band I ever played in because each band was different, each band had a different concept, and each band leader was different… different personalities and musical tastes.”
Well it always happens. As soon as you publish a book you come upon something that you wish you had included. Here is a photo of particular interest. It depicts a drum and fife corps. leading a line of troops on the march in 1863. This is the 9th Vermont Infantry in New Bern, North Carolina. The 9th Vermont was captured at the Battle of Harpers Ferry during the 1862 Maryland Campaign, but later fought well with the VII, XVIII and XXIV Corps in eastern Virginia and North Carolina, and was one of the first units to enter Richmond, Virginia, in April of 1865. The regiment lost 2 officers and 22 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 3 officers and 278 enlisted men by disease. Total loss: 305.
Pictured here is a preserved drum for the 9th Vermont. The drum is marked with 9 VT INF in blue paint on old red surface. It has been repaired and restored by Charles Soistman of “The Rolling Drum Shop” The drum retains early paint, one original hoop and canvas hanger with two period correct drumsticks.
One of the more interesting aspects of drummer boy history that I found while researching material for The Long Roll was the experiences of African Americans. To my surprise, I found examples of black drummers on both sides who had unique stories and survived the war.
One individual however is a mystery. In fact, I was unable to come up with any detailed information other than a name and regiment. We know that his name is Jackson and he is a runaway slave. He appears to be around 12-13 years-old and he enlisted in the 79th U.S. Colored Troops in Louisiana. There is however, one source that names him as Taylor and serving in the 78th regiment of the USCT. There is also some speculation that he is the son of his master and that he was contraband in the Confederate Army.
Looking at his clothes in the left photo he does not appear to be well taken care of. These before and after photographs depict the remarkable transformation that took place when a runaway slave joined the ranks of the Union Army. I was unable to find a “Jackson” or a “Taylor” (as a first name) on the roster of the 79th USCT. Perhaps as a young boy he did not merit an entry. It appears his story has been preserved only in a photograph and first name with the rest of it shrouded in mystery. If you’re interested in learning about drummers whose stories we can tell download your copy of The Long Roll above.
Cympads claim that they are “advanced cymbal washers that provide greater consistency, a more comfortable feel and a better sound from all cymbal types, sizes and brands!” I had the pleasure of trying out the whole Cympad line and I can say without a doubt that this declaration is true. In fact after using several different sizes of Cympads on several different size cymbals I was more than impressed. Cympads are not a gimmick.
Founded in Switzerland by drummer and instructor Reto Hirschi, Cympads were designed to counter the sound level of cymbals that were found to be too loud in a variety of situations including performance, recording, rehearsals and even teaching. In order to counter this recurring problem Hirschi came up with a unique and yet simple solution, replace the bottom felt on the cymbal stand with a larger one. This enabled him to control the volume without losing the natural sound of the cymbal. He later swapped the traditional felt washers for ones that were made of foam. The result was an invention that spawned a company and in 2005 Hirschi produced what he called his “Moderator” models numbered 50-100mm. Eventually Hirschi produced a whole line of foam washers designed to replace felt washers entirely. He called this group of cymbal sound enhancers “Optimizers.”
My evaluation of Cympad’s line was executed using a set of Meinl MCS baseline cymbals. First, I used a set of Moderators on a 20” Ride. I wanted to see if they would have a noticable affect on a heavy cymbal. I was surprised that they seemed to reduce the overtones and tame down the volume as projected. My second test used an 18“ Crash and Optimizers on the top and bottom. This also had a positive affect. I went back and forth between the felt and foam washers and there is a distinct difference. Both products delieved on their claims. I was so impressed that I am replacing the felt washers on the two cymbal stands that I use with Cympads. Don’t just take my word for it. Listen to my friend and co-author Rich Redmond’s testimony in this video available on the Cympad website:
For more information visit: https://www.cympad.com/
“Convenience” is a big word in my book. Especially when it comes to drumming. Drums are the only instrument that requires all four of your limbs so what do you do when you need to play that fifth piece of percussion? What fifth instrument comes to mind? Chances are the shaker is at the top of your list. How many times have you had to play that tight Brazilian groove with one stick while trying to manage the accompaniment with a shaker? It sucks doesn’t it? You never quite get that smooth transition between stick and shaker, or that perfect balance in dynamics. Most of the time you fake it and then move on to the next song part. The folks at Shakerstix™ recognize this problem and have come up with a great solution. Why not combine the drumstick and the shaker to create a single instrument. The idea is so simple and they have executed it perfectly. I had the pleasure of trying out the entire Shakerstix™ line and I was extremely impressed.
The SSRT1 was the first style that was designed by the company and is their flagship stick. It is similar to a 5A and the shaker is located a few inches up the 16” stick from the tip. Contrary to what you would think the stick isn’t too top heavy. The drummer can still use the tip or strike with the shaker itself. I found the response and rebound to be good regardless if you were hitting a drumhead or a cymbal.
The SSDR1 is a rod style stick that I found very interesting. The shaker sits in the same location as the SSRT1 and adds strength to the tightly wrapped rod. I found that you can strike hard with the rod or use a lighter technique and still get the benefit of the shaker. This would be perfect for a gig that requires low volume. The rods look very durable and should last a long time.
The SSMT1 has a felt mallet on the back end and a shaker in the same location as it is on the SSRT1. This makes the SSMT1 a three-in-one stick as a standard 5A, shaker, and mallet. The felt mallet on the end is hard. The rest of the stick has the same balance and response as the SSRT1. With one of these in your bag you’ll be ready for a variety of playing conditions.
The SSBE1 has its shaker on the butt end of the stick making it similar to a maraca. The drummer that uses this would likely hit with both ends based upon the playing situation. It is probably the most evenly balanced of all of the sticks and would probably take the most beating. I tried it using both ends on drums and cymbals and the response was loud. These sticks would also be great if the situation called for maracas. I wouldn’t see a drummer using these all the time but they are a great option to replace faking it with a shaker. If the song called for maracas I would definitely use these.
According to Robbie Destocki, President & Creative Director of Shakerstix™: “There is no other stick on the market like ours that adds that smooth, rhythmic shaker sound without sacrificing creativity. We’ve given drummers the freedom to play as they would with traditional drumsticks while adding that shaker sound all in one stick! No more taping egg-shakers to your sticks or playing with an egg shaker in one hand and a drumstick in the other, those days are over.”
When I was growing up I played in the Symphonic Band. This gave me an opportunity to play a variety of percussion instruments including concert snare, bass drum, timpani, marimba, glockenspiel, and auxiliary instruments like shaker, cowbell, triangle and go-go bells. I favored the timpani and concert snare, sucked at the marimba, and had too big of an ego to respect any of the other instruments. We performed at school functions and concerts. I was also in the marching band, stage band, and percussion ensemble but the Symphonic Band was the most challenging.
It was also an actual class that I took each and every day. It was considered an elective course so I practiced more for that band than any of the other bands that I played in. Symphonic Band required the most reading too. That was when my reading chops where at their strongest. One of the songs that we performed every year was Tchaikovsky’s famous 1812 Overture. That song was a lot of fun.
The required percussion for that composition includes: timpani, orchestral bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, tambourine, triangle, carillon, and a battery of cannons. Our bass drum player nearly broke a head while simulating the cannons being fired 16 times. Originally Tchaikovsky used actual field pieces. During a live performance precision in placement of the shots required either well-drilled military crews using modern cannon or the use of sixteen pieces of muzzle-loading artillery. The time lag alone required sixteen 1812-era guns.
According to the meaning behind the cannons “Tchaikovsky’s 1812 was written for the consecration of the Kremlin’s Cathedral of the Redeemer, which had been built in the early 1880s to celebrate the 1812 victory over Napoleon. The music of the overture is supposed to depict a culminating battle between the opposing armies, and it includes special effects such as church bells and cannons because Tchaikovsky had been asked to make the finale as thrilling as possible, and knew that he would have access to those resources because of the location and nature of the intended event.”
With all of the controversy surrounding Civil War monuments here is a great story that is inspiring. A group of students from a fifth-grade class from Waggoner Road Middle School in Reynoldsburg, Ohio raised $5,000 to restore the damaged drummer boy which is part of the Ohio Monument atop Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They also raised another $7,000 for the 475-mile trip to attend a rededication ceremony.
Several years ago, when students Derek Hinkle and twin brother Doug traveled to Missionary Ridge to retrace the steps of their great-great-great-grandfather they came upon the area where Pvt. George Hinkle of the 98th Ohio Regiment lost part of a hand while charging up the ridge against Confederate fire. While visiting the park, the twins also came upon the Ohio Monument, which features four statues: an infantryman, a cavalryman, an artilleryman and a drummer boy. In 1977, the drummer boy had been vandalized, restored, then damaged again in the late 1980s. Since then, he had been missing his right hand and the drumstick in his left.
Upon their return to school the twins and fellow students started a drive to earn enough money to fully repair the statue. By March 31, 2014 they had raised the $5,000 which amazed the nonprofit Friends of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. After their donation the drummer boy’s missing pieces were restored.