Spend an hour with a living legend.
Spend an hour with a living legend.
Today’s post is a little off-topic as far as our usual ones go but it is still “drum” related. You’ll understand as you read this. I thought it might be fun to go back in time and recall our childhoods when playing with toy soldiers was a great source of amusement. I for one grew up a student of the Civil War. I think you can tell that from my frequent posts on the subject of drummer boys. I remember entertaining myself for hours upon hours in my basement recreating battle scenes. I believe this early fascination with drummer boys led to my interest in studying the history of the drums. Although it would be several years until I pursued an instrument myself, the seed was planted. In other words, playing with toy soldiers led to pursuing the antiquity of the drums. It peaked my interest and I vividly remember singling out the drummer boy figures in my collection. As non-combatants they stood out among the other pieces.
Now a published historian I can look back with a sense of fondness for playing with these toys. Perhaps I would not be a historian otherwise. I’m not the only one who took this path. Mannie Gentile is an avid collector and historian on many topics. Toy soldiers is one of them. Mannie’s collection is extensive and his knowledge goes far beyond anyone I know. I asked Mannie to share some drummer boy figures from his collection and they are pictured above. I also asked Mannie how he felt about these pieces in particular. He said, “On my toy soldier battlefields the drummers, some of whom are boys, are never far from the fray. My toy soldiers find their drummers an indispensable part of their efforts in endless little wars.”
Looking back I can clearly see my childhood path to becoming an adult historian. I will continue to present that topic here. It is my hope with these historical posts to introduce an interest in the history of our instrument. For more on Mannie’s collection visit: http://toysoldiersforever.blogspot.com/
If you are interested in previous posts on the Civil War drummer boy visit: Drummer Boy Photo Album Drummer Boy Medal of Honor History of Drummer Boys Drummer Boy The Drummer Boy History: Drum Signals Complete Music for the Fife and Drum From History to the Canvas 154th Anniversary A Letter Home 103rd Ohio Preserved Drum Courage and Distinction Civil War Drums “Major” A.H. Johnson Alexander Howard Johnson The Long Roll Civil War Rudiments Battle Beats
Today’s post is about humility. When I started playing the drums, actually when I started getting serious about the instrument, I developed an ego. Like many middle-schoolers, I was immature and conceited. Very few kids were playing instruments at the time and that set me apart from them. While they were goofing off I was going to weekly drum lessons and spending time practicing my rudiments on the pad. While they were watching MTV for fashion tips I was observing the drummers. While they were emulating their favorite athletes I was mimicking my favorite players.
As I moved onto eighth grade I got my first drum set, a beautiful white Pearl Export kit with Paiste 505 cymbals. It quickly became my most prized possession. After starting high school I became friends with all the other drummers in the various band programs and we all lifted each other up while maintaining a healthy sense of competition. As high school progressed I started cutting school in favor of hanging out with older drummers and playing in garage bands with my friends. This led to summer school in order to graduate. I had chosen drums over education. All along I felt I was better than I was and it was only after college that I realized I had a chip on my shoulder.
As I grew into adulthood I began to gain a sense of humility that overpowered my sense of pride. I felt grateful to be able to play an instrument and be a part of the drumming community. I also realized that every drummer and musician I had ever played with had gone on to record their own CDs. Bands like Grapevine, The Drowning, Hepcat Dilemma and New World Trio all put out tremendous albums. Recording in a studio is still an accomplishment I have yet to experience. I do produce my own drum tracks but that is a solitary affair. So today I come to you with a deep sense of unpretentiousness. I feel a sense of accomplishment with my books and blogging but my ego remains in check. What did I learn from all of this? Work hard but keep in mind there is always someone better. All you can do is be the best drummer you can be. Have pride but don’t be prideful and above all else, play your instrument for all the right reasons. Play for the joy of playing, not for bragging rights.
As my last post was about my own drum set I thought it would be a cool idea to briefly share my all-time favorite drum set. It belongs to Ginger Fish and was used during his time with Marilyn Manson. As you can see the configuration is quite odd. The enormous 40+” bass drum is the stunt centerpiece to this contraption that appears to use floor toms and bass drums as the primary toms. Notice the placement of the cymbals hanging off the bass drum and the center-to-left-hand position of the hi-hats. I believe Ginger is a left-handed player who uses a right-handed kit but I may be wrong. I know he plays open-handed quite a bit. I’m not sure what tour this was used on but I have seen a video of him jumping up and down on it (see below). That’s a testament to the durability of this kit. As Manson was known to throw things at Ginger his drums had to be able to stand up to the abuse. Ginger is a Premier artist but I believe this particular kit was built by a very talented gentleman named Bill Detamore. Bill is currently the owner of Pork Pie Percussion. (I am not sure what company he was with at the time of the build.) Ginger used a lot of set-ups after this one but it remains one of the most original configurations that I am aware of. It’s both impressive in form and function and remains my favorite drum set to this day.
UPDATE: You can see a video of Ginger playing this kit on YouTube: Video
Photo by Bob Mussell
Today I want to talk about relationships. That is, the relationship a musician has with their instrument. It has been my experience that most musicians have a personal connection to the tools of their trade. This comes from two things:
First, the extensive amount of time and dedication that a musician spends practicing their craft. Second, the sheer joy they experience as a result of their tireless preparation. Whether a cello player in a symphony or a bass player in a bar band the emotional attachment remains the same.
Personally I have a love affair with my instrument. It’s always there for me. It brings me a sense of fulfillment unlike any other possession in my life. There are times that I simply sit and stare at it. The distinctive wrap, shiny chrome and cylindrical shapes are striking. I love tuning, polishing and reconfiguring my setup. It keeps things fresh and new. As a drummer it seems ironic that I find pleasure in beating the hell out of an object that I care so dearly about.
Known as the “Father of the Blues” William Christopher Handy summed up the relationship between a musician and his instrument when he said “Setting my mind on a musical instrument was like falling in love. All the world seemed bright and changed.” No matter what the type be it horns, strings, percussion or piano the feelings remain the same, most musicians feel a deep connection to their instruments that is translated into their music.
Last week’s appearance on Around the Kit gave me an opportunity to talk about subjects that rarely come up. One of the questions Joe Gansas asked was in regards to the origin of “FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids.” For a project that has been so successful, the story behind it is surprisingly simple. Five years ago my son Jackson (left) showed a casual interest in playing my drums. Seeing an opportunity to pass on my interest I began looking for teaching aids in print and online. As Jackson was going on five at the time I was hoping to find something for his age group. I did not. In fact I was unable to find anything even close to a five year-olds comprehension level.
During my research I came upon a YouTube video of a drum clinic. In it, an intense looking guy in black was playing along to “She’s Country.” At the time I had absolutely no idea who Rich Redmond was but the song was vaguely familiar. Seeing that Rich was an educator I decided to reach out to him. I was able to find Rich’s email address on his website. I sent him a short message that described my dilemma and asked if he was aware of any teaching tools for younger kids. He was not. During our conversation it came up that I was a writer. Ever the entrepreneur Rich saw an opportunity.
After a short discussion and meeting the two of us decided to write our own book dedicated to the 5-10 year-old range. The result was “FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids.” After shopping the draft around to several publishers the manuscript landed on the desk of Mike Dawson, managing editor of Modern Drummer magazine. Mike saw the value of the book and decided to publish it. The book would then be distributed by Hal Leonard. After winning a Best in Show award at NAMM, reaching the Best-Seller list on Amazon and currently in its second printing FUNdamentals continues to thrive. Rich and I are grateful for the continued interest in what started out as a whim. Ironically my son lost interest in the drums in favor of playing baseball.
Bass drum head design courtesy of Woodshed Stage Art: http://woodshedstageart.com
Here is an informative video on Civil War–era drums from Outlaw Drums. Titled “Drums of War: On the Ropes” expert Brian Hill presents the history of several marching drums. As I have researched and written multiple posts on the subject this video is of particular interest to me. Hill does an excellent job bringing the stories of these drums to life: https://gem.godaddy.com/p/63144a?fe=1&pact=39420-139758137-8338237541-e395f75e54e66f1dc9fabed33d89be7413321864.
I have been very fortunate to have experienced some wonderful opportunities for playing the drums. From parades – to festivals, competitions – to concerts my hard work and dedication has paid off. I have been very lucky to have the support of my family and drum instructors. One memorable moment for me came my senior year of high school. That was the year (1990) that I was selected to audition for the Mellon Jazz Festival in my hometown of Pittsburgh. In order to participate students were required to submit a drum set and a snare drum piece. I did an improvisation for the drum set portion and I believe I played something from “Fundamental Studies for Snare Drum” by Garwood Whaley (I may be wrong).
After I was selected I received three songs in the mail to prepare for. I remember they were more complicated than I was used to. On the day of the tryouts I took my own drum set to the venue. We started out with a solo, then a jam session and finally one of the musical pieces we had prepared for. I did fairly well and made it through the day. Hometown hero Jeff Watts (Brandon Marsalis) and Steve Turre (Saturday Night Live Band) worked with us and their tutelage was priceless.
I will never forget performing in a theater at the Carnegie Museum. Although the crowd was small everyone played as if they were at Carnegie Hall. The second round of auditions followed that. Unfortunately I did not make the cut for the evening performance. Despite my disappointment the experience was something that I learned a great deal from. The Mellon Jazz Festival is still a staple in the music scene in Pittsburgh. It was a privilege for me to participate and I still cherish that day.
I had a great time appearing on “Around the Kit with Joe Gansas” last night. My segment lasted about 20 minutes and came in the second hour (I start at 1:29:20). Joe’s questions were very thought-provoking and went well beyond the drums. You can listen to the show on Drum Talk Radio here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/aroundthekit/2017/06/05/3-excellent-drummers
This past week I drove myself nuts by trying to emulate one of the most distinctive snare sounds from the 1980’s. I am speaking of Alan Jackman’s snare. Alan is the drummer for The Outfield. Their break-thru song “Your Love” from the album “Play Deep” was a top ten hit and the sound of the snare is, in my opinion, extraordinary. In fact, it’s one of the most original sounding snares that I am aware of. Now I will be the first to admit that the snare sound on the album divides people. Some love it. Some hate it. If you’re unfamiliar with the sound or the song you can check it out here:
In my quest for defining this sound I first contacted my friend Mike Dawson, the managing editor for Modern Drummer magazine. Mike has a lot of experience recording different kinds of drums. His take on it was that the snare sounds like its tuned pretty high (just below the choking point), muffled with a zero ring, and the wires are pretty tight. The rest of the sound Mike believes is a gated reverb or gated room mic that’s been overdriven a little bit. I think he’s on to something.
I also wondered if there was any manipulation on the production of the sound. After some searching I came upon a post written by William Wittman. He produced and engineered The Outfield’s first two albums, “Play Deep” and “Bangin.’” Wittman, also engineered Cyndi Lauper’s hit record “She’s So Unusual.” He posted:
That is great information but it doesn’t speak specifically to the snare drum. I want to know What kind of snare? What were the heads? How was it tuned? What makes it sound so original? At this point in my investigation I decided to go to the primary source. After doing a little research I found The Outfield’s official Facebook page which has a press contact email. I sent a message to Alan asking if he would be interested in doing an interview. Hopefully he will reply and I can ask him directly. Until then…the mystery continues.