Category Archives: Drums and Drumming

All Hail Jizmak Da Gusha

There is only one band like GWAR. In fact, there may never be another band like GWAR. Known for their outrageous costumes and prosthetics, GWAR is as much a theater group as they are a rock band. For over 30 years, GWAR have put on performances that make KISS look like clowns. Jizmak Da Gusha (aka Brad Roberts) has been the drummer for GWAR since 1989.

Although his character’s costume has undergone many changes over the years his on-stage identity always resembles a monstrous fang grinning dog. Beyond the drums he can be seen wielding a large war hammer as part of his act. Behind the drums he is as good as any other drummer in his genre. Jizmak is the only central GWAR character who has been played by only one person.

In an interview with Drummer Zone Brad recalled his beginnings. According to Brad, “At the age of ten, I wanted to quit playing drums, almost as soon as I had started. It was my mother’s encouragement to make me finish what I started, that made the difference and allowed the learning and discipline of playing music a passion for me. In an interview for CDN he recalled his first drum set, “It took four years to get the trap kit and started playing seriously at 14. I had to mow a lot of lawns, cut a lot of grass, save up some money and then my parents agreed to go halves with me. So, if I saved up half of it, they’d chip in the other half. That’s how I got my first drum set.”

Besides Buddy Rich, Brad is influenced by artists like Alex Van Halen, Bill Stevenson, Dave Lombardo, Mikkey Dee, Bill Ward, and Billy Cobham. He recalled, “You name it, I listened to it. I wanted to study everything. For sure I like Billy Cobham! I think the most important quality a drummer should have is to not just be, ‘Oh, I’m so great and I can do all this stuff,’ but he should play within the context of the song. The drummer’s job is to make that song swing.”

According to his gear breakdown: Jizmak’s drums have been painted to resemble distorted eyes or skulls, adding to GWAR’s distinct visual appearance. Currently, his drums are unpainted except for the words, “F@@K”, “OFF”, “YOU”, “C@@T”, “COCK” and “BLOW” scribbled on some of the drums. This might be a reference/tribute to Stewart Copeland, the drummer for the new wave band The Police, who had the similar phrase written on his drum heads circa 1982 during tour. On stage the entire drum kit fits underneath a large arch-like structure.

Brad’s appreciation for his career is evident. In that same interview for Drummer Zone he was quoted saying, “Today, I find it odd that I’ve managed to carve out an enjoyable career as a musician over the past fifteen years performing as a prominent creative member of GWAR.”

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Remembering Freddie Crump

Sometimes when you are conducting research into a particular subject you come upon somebody that’s already done it for you. Sometimes that person writes about their findings better than you ever could. This is one of those times. I have had a fascination with Freddie Crump ever since my pal Daniel Glass (Royal Crown Review, Brian Setzer Orchestra) introduced him to me on Facebook. Crump was a showman and innovator who started back in the 1920’s. He continued to perform all the way up into the 60’s. Only a few of his early performances are still available on film but they do a great job of presenting the drummer’s creativity. Crump played everything from the drums to the floor and beyond. I was intending to write a full feature on the man but the Music For Drummers blog has already done an outstanding job chronicling him:  Freddie Crump – another forgotten genius. In addition, here are a couple 1920 videos featuring Freddie Crump:

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Drums on Stage

Our friend Dominic over at “Drums on Stage” produces very informative videos on a variety of drumming topics. I’ve found a lot of useful information for the professional and amateur drummer. Sign up here to receive exclusive emails and links to more videos.

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Respecting the Polka

Last week my aunt and uncle went on a trip put together by Tady Bear Tours. The Tady Bears are a popular Pittsburgh Polka band led by award-winning drummer and vocalist Jack Tady (left-video).

The definition of Polka music is: “a Czech dance and genre of dance music familiar throughout Europe and the Americas. It originated in the middle of the 19th century in Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. Polka remains a popular folk music genre in many European countries, and is performed by folk artists in the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Poland, Croatia, Slovenia, Switzerland, and to a lesser extent in Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Hungary, Italy, Ukraine, Romania, Belarus, Russia, and Slovakia. Local varieties of this dance are also found in the Nordic countries, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Latin America and the United States.”

There is a large population of these ethnicities in Pittsburgh and the Polka has been a staple at local weddings and festivals for years. The Polka gets a bad rap as it is not respected like mainstream traditional music. Perhaps this is due to the simplicity of it. Polka music is usually played in twos. It also takes a discerning ear to appreciate accordions. I have been listening to a lot of Polka music in the last week and I am coming to respect it. In fact, I think it would be a lot of fun to play drums in a Polka band. There is certainly a responsibility to maintain the down beat for people to dance to. You could even work in some four-on-the-floor and buzz roll fills. For more on Jack Tady visit:

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Lesson #1

Welcome to the inaugural lesson here at Off Beat. Our first example comes via Richard Jackson from the Advanced Drum Lab:

Hi Drummers,

Thanks for checking out this quick lesson on this fun chop. The two simple elements of this chop are Bass, Right, Left (represented by BRL) and Right, Left, Left (represented by RLL). Combine and move them any way you like. Then move them around your kit. Below I’ve written some combos but don’t stop there. Try to play them in any style you like. Hope you enjoy!

For more lessons, check out the Advanced Drum Lab and my book Drum Kit Steps Beyond.

Combination Examples:


These patterns should get you started. Try moving them around the kit and combining them any way you like.


Download a PDF of this lesson

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Exclusive Interview with Danny Seraphine

Drumming in the Windy City
By Michael Aubrecht

As a Gen-Xer my original introduction to Chicago came courtesy of Peter Cetara’s hit “The Glory of Love” from the 1986 film The Karate Kid Part II. As a singer and bassist, Cetera left his original band in order to pursue a solo career. Despite his departure Chicago was still respected as one of the top bands of the 1970’s. Being a budding drummer with an interest in unique 70’s music, I examined this rock/jazz fusion band. I was instantly drawn to their classic hits including “25 or 6 to 4” and “Make Me Smile,” as well as their more recent and softer recordings “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” and “You’re the Inspiration.” Satisfying my curiosity I moved on. Like many things experienced in our youth I did not fully appreciate Chicago until many years later. This was especially negligent as the band was second only to The Beach Boys in terms of Billboard singles and albums chart success among American bands.

Fast forward thirty years. I’m driving in my car and the oddly familiar groove of “25 or 6 to 4” comes across the radio. I find myself tapping along on the steering wheel and as soon as I walk through the door I’m upstairs, scrolling through YouTube, looking up Chicago songs. I’m particularly searching for live performances. I find several videos of the band jamming on stage playing all sorts of odd time signatures. As a much older and mature drummer, I try to play along. It’s a lot harder than it looks. The band’s drummer immediately stands out to me and I quickly look up a drum solo that is a flawless mix of rock and jazz. I then move onto a more recent performance of the classic Chicago song “I’m a Man.”  Next I discover a teaching video from Drumeo called “The Art of Jazz Rock Drumming.” Finally I find the drummer’s biographical and instructional DVD produced by The Drum Channel. All four instances showcase a monster player that was the backbone of a band that is still immensely respected.

A little while later I’m on Facebook. Due to my writing ventures I have online friendships with all kinds of drummers both professional and amateur. I do a search for that drummer from Chicago who had impressed me. I type in “Danny Seraphine” and there it is…his Facebook page. Looking at an opportunity I “Like” his page and send a “Message” to see if he would be interested in doing an interview. Usually it takes a few days, or weeks, to get a reply. Danny answered the same day. This prompted me to dig in deep to Chicago’s catalog in preparation for the interview. What I found was a unique band that rode a powerful wave of music much different from other groups of that era. Think adding a horn section to a rock band makes it strange? No way. Can a band play in odd time and still hold the audience’s attention? Absolutely. Unlike many of their peers, Chicago did things their way and assembled a legacy of music that is still relevant today. Danny took some time out of his schedule as a drummer and producer to discuss his experiences as a founding member of an epic band.

MA: I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today Danny. I’m a big fan of your work.

DS: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.

MA: Starting with the obvious, what initially brought you to the drums?

DS: I started really young and I think I was a natural candidate. I had a lot of energy and fire coming out of the womb. My uncle Dominic was a drummer and I remember watching him play. He only played weekends because in those days it was difficult for drummers to make a living as musicians. He was a part-time drummer, but he was very good and serious about it. After watching him play it lit a spark and I started banging on pots and pans, the usual drummer story. My mom recognized my passion for hitting things and signed me up for drum lessons. The rest is history. From there I stayed with it and grew as a player. That was the initial spark, but then I saw “The Gene Krupa Story.” The soundtrack to that film really stuck with me. Gene’s influence really affected my playing. Later it was Buddy’s [Rich] and Elvin’s [Jones] and Tony’s [Williams] playing that changed my entire approach to the drums. All the jazz greats. Then Ringo came along, then Dino Danelli, Mitch Mitchell and the great rock drummers. They all had a profound impact on me. Looking back, they were great influences and they rounded out my playing.

MA: It sounds like you started very young. Did you participate in any school music programs?

DS: No. It is ironic. I did study privately. My first teacher was very good. He really cemented the fundamentals, like traditional grip, technique and the rudiments. He recognized that I was a natural. Later on I went over to matched grip. After Ringo hit the scene everyone wanted to play like him. Ironically it sounded like my playing was related to marching band and school band but I didn’t play in either.

MA: I understand that you studied music frequently as you got older. Can you tell us about that education?

DS: I started to study drums at the age of 16. I had plateaued. I had a teacher early on that was very good and then he moved out of town. Unfortunately the next teacher that I had was not inspiring. I went on my own for a few years. I was cruising along pretty good. Again I had plateaued at a certain level. It coincided when I first started playing with Walt Parazaider and Terry Kath. That was the first real serious band that I was ever in. It was a horn band and Walt was studying at DePaul University. The head of percussion there was Bob Tilles, a renowned educator and session player in Chicago. He told Bob about me and he came out to one of our gigs. Bob actually transcribed a drum part I was playing. During the break he came up and showed me the sheet music. He said “Do you know what you are doing?” I said “no,” I didn’t think about it while I was playing. Bob told me that I could be very special which of course was a huge compliment. He said I’d like to take you on as a student. I had already quit high school so I was a drop-out. There was no way that I was going to go to college, but he took me on as a private student. After he was done teaching for the day at the university he would teach me. Bob was a game-changer. He really elevated my playing. He basically turned me from a drummer into a complete musician. That changed me entirely and really molded my style.

I also studied with a big band drummer named Chuck Flores and I did two years of study under the great jazz drummer Jo Jones. Talk about an remarkable experience. Both of those drummers were brilliant. That’s when I really dug in and began the process of fusing jazz and rock together. That was my goal. It was very clear to me that you could successfully fuse the two together. There were other drummers that were trying to do it. Jazz drummers at the time were trying to play rock but there was no pocket. Rock drummers were trying to play jazz but it had no swing. It was my goal to do both, play in the pocket and swing. That’s been my legacy. I’m a good rock player and a pretty good jazz player so consequently I play both. Quite often I have to play both at the same time.

MA: Do you have a preference between the two?

DS: [long pause] No. I really don’t. I like them both equally. Absolutely not. I have no favorite because when I play “straight rock” like in R&B I enjoy that. When I’m playing “straight swing” with a be-bop feel I really like that too. I really enjoy creating one feel out of the two. It’s become so much a part of me that it’s my thing. That’s my style.

MA: You’ve been able to successfully bridge the gap between the two. Was it difficult?

DS: It took a lot of work. For all the years coming up in Chicago and playing clubs and doing shuffles. You can’t play a good shuffle unless you can swing. Once I could play that it was simple. There are so many elements that cross barriers, especially in music today. Before it was really bad, like when jazz guys tried to play rock, it was terrible. There was no pocket at all and vice versa. It is so gratifying when I can hear players today that can swing. Of course there are many others who can’t. There is so much emphasis today on chops. So much of today’s drumming is focused on playing as fast and as hard as you can. That part disturbers me a little bit. The state of the art of drumming is pretty interesting. Some of the things I see are really great but most of these flashy drummers can’t play in the pocket. There’s no groove. That worries me. You’ve got to remember it’s all about time. That’s our job as drummers.

MA: So it’s fair to say that the level of diversity or well-rounded playing is often overlooked. The focus is elsewhere.

DS: They’re learning on YouTube. There certainly is value to that but the downside is that you have no idea where it’s really coming from. Who’s providing this? Is their technique wrong? Do they have bad habits that you can pick up on? There is also a disconnect from the past. Kid’s today have no idea about the history of drums, the great players, the great performances. Make no mistake. Players like Ringo were a game changer. There are no Ringos around today. I look at Modern Drummer’s Readers Poll. These are all great drummers, but there is no way they are better that the Krupas and the Richs. When I see things like that I scratch my head because there is so much you can learn from those early players. You gotta’ look up to them too.

MA: Drummers today don’t look back far enough. They like a particular drummer, but they don’t research who influenced them, and so on and so on. Kids will look up to someone like Alex Van Halen but they won’t discover Gene Krupa who influenced him.

DS: I wish they would because I think it is important for them. Maybe someday they will because they need to. You see all of these drummers becoming famous on YouTube, but none of them have ever played with a band. That means they never get to play with other musicians. That’s the big disconnect today that bothers me. I don’t dwell on it, but I still recognize it. The lack of pocket, the lack of diversity and the lack of knowledge, that’s what needs work.

MA: Speaking of diversity you have a background of playing all kinds of music, especially with Chicago. I think that approach is what made the band stand apart from its peers at the time. Can you tell us about the founding of Chicago?

DS: The band was made out of musicians that I had played with before. Chicago Transit Authority was formed in ’67. Going back, the band was actually my idea. Walter at the time was working toward getting his degree in clarinet and being groomed for the Chicago Symphony. And Terry had played bass but we knew what a great guitar player he was. He was going to join a band called “Rovin’ Kind.” Their name was changed to “The All Night Steam Press” who were signed to a producer out of Chicago that was a friend of ours named James Guercio. He had produced The Buckinghams and Chad and Jeremy and later became our manager. At that time I was scared that I was going to lose my musical soul mates. Those guys helped mold me into the drummer I was at the time. I went to Walt and said “Let’s do this one more time.” And “I really don’t want to lose you as a collaborator. Let’s put together and all-star band with horns.” Both of us had missed playing with horns because the first band we had played in together had a horn section. He agreed and it took us about five minutes to talk Terry into not going to LA. That was really the beginning of Chicago, which was formed by the three of us. That was the beginning of the band.

MA: Looking back, you had played with horns, which was different from most other bands in the rock genre. What was it like to play for a band that had a rhythm and horn section?

DS: First you have to remember who my first drum hero was in Gene Krupa. Right? I learned to play with “The Gene Krupa Story” LP which was already big band music. It moved me. Of course Bob Tilles turned me onto Buddy Rich. Soon after I became a “Buddy Apostle.” I loved how Buddy musically kicked the band. He set up the horn hits and solos. I tried, and still do, apply that approach to my drumming and the band that I was in. It worked and the guys wrote material that I was able to implement that style for. I like to believe that my playing influenced how they wrote. I don’t think they give me much credit for that but that’s the way it goes. It was like a rock big band. That was my vision and my goal. Obviously the band was deeply seeded in R&B. It was a great combination of players and vocalists that truly, to this day, are members of one of the greatest bands of all time. The original line-up of Chicago was put together that way. It wasn’t formed by accident. We came together to be a machine. A force to be reckoned with of which it was.

MA: You guys formed a cohesive unit. I think everyone who ever heard Chicago’s music would agree. It’s very impressive that a large of a rock band would be able to sound so tight.

DS: We really became close friends as well as band mates. Being in a band requires friendship. That in my opinion is what makes it work. It’s not a perfect relationship. There’s friction, but that makes it work too. Like a family, sometimes you get along and sometimes you don’t. Friction creates tension which drives the music. The friction was not as strong as the friendship. When you have a band that big, you naturally have a lot of referees in your fights. They can step in and put an end to it or call someone out on their bullshit. Back in the day it was truly a together band and there is nothing like that. When you have the collaboration of seven guys in sync with one another it makes for a powerful statement.

MA: In regards to the music, you guys composed songs that used some really unusual time signatures. Other than the “Frank Zappa and Prog bands” of that period, no other rock bands were doing that. Was that intentional or did it just manifest itself in the music?

DS: That was intentional. I mean the writers would do that. Sometimes it would evolve and sometimes it was written right on the spot. For the most part the writers put in the time changes because we listened to so many different kinds of music that used them. As you correctly said, we were influenced by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. His use of odd times was inspiring. It made its way into the music and I liked the challenges of playing them. I lived for the pocket, but liked stepping out and exploring other paths. That probably made me stand out from other players at the time.

MA: I listened to a lot of Chicago’s music in preparation for this interview and some of that stuff just confounds me. Your ability to manipulate time signatures is very impressive. The one thing that struck me was that you never went so far as to lose the listener.

DS: Thank you. I appreciate that. The one thing I always tried to do was to make it feel like 4/4. You can’t always do that, but making it feel in a way the audience can still understand works better than going way off on some tangent. My challenge was to make it swing. That is something that I am really proud of and hopefully people see that.

MA: Was there any songs like that which stick out in your mind as being particularly challenging?

DS: Yes. There was a song called “Hit By Varese” off the fifth album I think. There is another song off that same album called “Now That Your Gone” that has a really great Gene Krupa’ish jungle intro. It’s in 5/4 then 3 goes into 3. The introduction off the first album probably has the most recognizable odd time part that starts off in 4/4, the goes to 3/4, then goes to 19/8, then back to 4/4. That is all a direct influence from Don Ellis. His orchestra played in incredibly unusual time signatures. Honestly being able to play odd time signatures is an important part of drumming especially if you have the opportunity to do so. Play in 5. Play in 7. Seven is something that I have always liked playing in. The challenge of playing in odd time is something I really enjoy. Making it so people can still feel the pulse is the challenge. I’m not one of these guys that likes to get so far out that nobody knows where one is. There may be instances where there is value to that but I like to keep the pulse pretty obvious so people can groove. Play across the bar, but keep the band together. You gotta’ be able to make them dance.

MA: You mentioned that some players today are lacking in some areas. Most rock players today wouldn’t even attempt to play that way. Odd time seems like a thing of the past. You have fusion players and guys like Stewart Copeland keeping it alive but it’s not too prevalent in mainstream music.

DS: The problem is that they don’t have the opportunity. There is so much performing going on YouTube with drummers playing along with somebody else’s track. They are getting millions of views but they never played with a band. There are lessons being posted out there by very technical drummers but they tend to be narrow in their scope. Don’t get me wrong. There are tons of great drummers and teachers out there that are doing great things and providing valuable information. Many are teaching the classics like the half-time shuffle, which is now the “Purdie Shuffle,”and the Moeller Technique. They are spreading the story. You have to carry the torch and it is important to carry on the legacy of guys like Max Roach and Jo Jones and the list goes on. Those guys have to be remembered and honored for their contributions. Guys like Joe Morello who had great chops, but knew when and when not to use them. I want to see drumming taken to a whole new level, but still hold on to its past.

MA: I agree that those player’s legacies have remained in the minds of those who have studied them. I wonder how many of the drummers today will be remembered with such reverence years from now.

DS: The one problem that I perceive is that the music business has become somewhat dysfunctional. It doesn’t allow them to be in situations where they can collaborate and create their music. There aren’t very many bands left out there. Musicians now support artists. Being an accompanist is the gig. That is important, but it doesn’t give the drummer room to participate in the process. You just have to hope that these guys start bands of their own. I don’t know the answer to that question. Maybe a lot of them will emerge and create their own following and build a legacy of their own. Nature has a way of correcting itself. You have to believe that the idea of a band, not just a band, but one that lasts comes back. I’m not all doomsday. I am hopeful for the future. There are good musicians out there that no one even knows about.

MA: You co-wrote several songs, including a Top-20 Hit. Where did you find your inspiration for song writing?

DS: Well, most of my musical inspiration, even though I had a lot of ideas, came with a partner. I didn’t play a melodic instrument, so I was dependent on someone with a keyboard. The beginning of my creativity for songs came out in lyrics. I used life experiences about my life and about other people’s lives. That’s where it would start. Of course my strong musical background had a big influence on the musical direction. Especially with time changes and groove. A hit song like “No Tell Lover” was one that I didn’t originally write, but was brought in to do the lyrics. We had done a poor job with the melody and the lyrics weren’t coming out right. I redid the lyrics and Peter rewrote the melody. That was my contribution to that song. After we redid it, the song came out great

Now I had other influences in songs like the background vocals. Peter was such an amazing singer he could pretty much sing anything you could hear. “Take Me Back to Chicago” was written about a friend of mine who was with that band the “Rovin’ Kind.” They were next door to us in LA when we both came out from Chicago. He and I became dear friends and he died very young. No one knew from what, but it was a rare blood disease. That song was written about him. “Street Player” was autobiographical. That was written about me and my experiences growing up on the street. It was about me surviving the trials and tribulations. I probably don’t write enough, but I’m really more of a player than a composer. I’m very proud to have written some things that have turned out really good. Of course that has helped enable me to live because of the royalties.

MA: Speaking of accolades…you have been ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the top 100 drummers of all time. You received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Cape Breton Drum Festival and a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Montreal Drum Festival. In 2015, the City of Chicago dedicated a block on Chicago’s northwest side as “Honorary Danny Seraphine Way.” And perhaps most importantly, you’ve been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What does all of that mean to you today?

DS: It means a lot. Obviously it is very gratifying to be recognized for your contributions. The Cape Breton was the very first one they had given out. That was a great honor. It was special as it is given by your peers. The same thing with the Montreal award. To get the respect of Bruce Aikens and Ralph Angelillo means a lot to me. Being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a great moment. It’s a great night. It’s a bit of a crowning achievement to a great career. I think I’ve got a Hall of Fame award from Drumhead Magazine too. Being recognized for your drumming is more than I could have ever hoped for. I’m very proud of every award the band and I have received. I’m very lucky to have been a part of all that. I still have ambitions. I’d love to get another cover in Modern Drummer, but in reality I’m not as active as I used to be. They did a nice write-up on my work with Chicago which is really great. The new re-mix of Chicago’s music really brings my drums up front and center. I’m really proud of my performances. Chicago 2 was so conceptually right on the money and well executed. On the first album I was a scared kid. I’m surprised it came out as good as it did. On the second album I came into my own. I figured it out. Sometimes I listen to some cuts across all the albums and I’m pleased to hear some really good drum parts. You can tell I’m embracing the recording studio. Chicago 5 and 7 were also on the mark.

MA: Is there a particular song on any of those albums that personifies Danny Seraphine?

DS: I really have a hard time focusing on one song. If you go to the second album, “In The Country” is one that really stands out in my mind. On the first album “Introduction” really brings alive my playing. There is another one called “Movin’ In.” It’s jazzy and has a half-time shuffle on it. It’s got swing and time changes. I feel like I really nailed it and did something unique. They all kind of personify me. There are some hits and some deep cuts. That’s a rough question.

MA: Looking at the 80’s how did you feel when the band turned toward a lighter direction?

DS: That was an entirely new challenge for me. Playing minimalistic parts can be just as hard as playing the complex and more technical ones. It took a while for me to really embrace and master it. I’m very proud of the drum parts on those lighter songs like “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.” I think the drums still remained important parts of the songs. They are very simple. I think it is very important for all musicians, not just drummers, to play for the song. Taking the approach of having your voice heard appropriately to the composition makes for better music. That comes from listening to all of the great session drummers. Ringo is the perfect example. He played each and every beat that was needed. No more. No less. Charlie Watts is another great example. That’s what makes those guys so great. When you are doing a project like that you need to tap into those drummers. Playing simple beats instead of intricate drum parts worked at that time. Was it as much fun? No. Listen to a song like “Goodbye” or “If You Leave Me Now” and you’ll hear that approach. Once I did it I was very satisfied with it.

MA: Taking a different direction, tell us about your gear. Past or present.

DS: I’ve always been a gear head. I grew up close to the Slingerland factory. My first recording drum kit was a set of Rogers and they were great. I wish I still had them. I’m pissed that I let them go. The first two Chicago albums were recorded using a Rogers kit with a dynasonic wood snare. Sometimes I would also use a piccolo snare. I also used calf heads on the first two albums. That really gave the drums a beautiful tone. I’ve always been a guy that really went after tones. I spent a great deal of time finding that special sound. Back then, if I was going for a deeper sound I would use bigger drums. If I wanted a tighter sound I’d use smaller drums. I’d use different drums for ballads than for up tempo songs. I’d loosen my snare almost to the point of buckling in order to get that huge back-beat. For the third album I started using Slingerlands and I loved it. I would also use Gretch from time to time but those Slingerlands were exceptional. Today I am playing DW which make incredible sounding drums. I’ve been with Drum Workshop since 1987. I absolutely love their snare drums. I still have a couple old Slingerlands that I’ve held on to. They are in great condition.

MA: Did you tour with the same kits that you recorded with?

DS: Sometimes I did. I toured with the white Rogers kit and the copper Slingerland set. I also toured with the black Slingerlands. In the 1970’s I had some white Slingerlands that I used. I had one set-up that had all of the concert toms. So the answer is yes.

MA: You have your own signature drums sticks. What is unique about them?

DS: They have a recessed area in the balance point of the stick. That feature is to help with the grip when your hands are sweating. They were designed for traditional grip but they are almost better for matched. It just keeps your grip on the balance point of the stick.

MA: What kind of projects are you working on now?

DS: Right now the project that I’m working on is on hold. We have a band member who is having some health issues. It’s called “Chicago’s Finest.” It’s me, Bill Champlin, Ray Parker Jr. and Rob McDonald and Bill’s son Will. It’s going to be celebrating the music of the City of Chicago. Obviously there is going to be a lot of Chicago the band in it, but there is also going to be music from all of the bands of Chicago. And the legends. There will be a Gene Krupa cut in there. Sam Cooke and Muddy Waters too.

MA: Is there any chance of the original line-up of Chicago getting back together?

DS: No. I don’t think so. The closest we came to that was at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. We haven’t been together since and no one has talked about it. It’s unfortunate. I’m really excited about what I’m doing now. It should be really interesting as it is combining music and history. Like I said before, you have to carry the torch. I’m carrying on.

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“Pretty” Purdie

This week I finished reading a recent issue of DRUMHEAD magazine (#61) that featured Bernard “Pretty” Purdie on the cover. I read it in anticipation of Purdie’s appearance on Around the Kit. Respected as one of the best, Purdie is among other things a teacher, author and session player. His resume reads like an all-star line-up card and his smooth style and infectious groove is the envy of all who witness it.

I first became aware of Purdie after seeing a Jeff Pocaro video in which he described the origins of his opening to the Toto song “Rosanna.” The intro was a crossbreed between John Bonhams’s “Fool in the Rain” and the “Purdie Half-Time Shuffle.” After watching that video I spent a great deal of time researching the man who had a shuffle named after him. What I found was an amazing player with an amazing story that put him among the top studio players.

His official website presents a song-list in the hundreds where Purdie claims background appearances for such legends as Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan and Miles Davis. Never forgotten, Rolling Stone voted him #20 out of the Top 100 Drummers of All-Time.

One of my favorite episodes on features Purdie playing through a series of styles and genres. His level of dynamics, control and execution is remarkable. Purdie is known as a groove drummer with immaculate timing and makes use of precision half-notes and backbeats. His flawless technique is front and center on the video:

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Exclusive Interview: Bobby Z

Photo by Joshua Pickering

Prince’s Percussionist
By Michael Aubrecht

It is the dream of every professional drummer to play on a hit record that reverberates forever. Some drummers wait their entire career to achieve such heights. Other drummers find themselves in the right place at the right time. One drummer in particular, performed on a multitude of classic songs that are still resonating to this day. His name is Bobby Rivkin (aka “Bobby Z”) and as a member of The Revolution, he backed one of the most celebrated songwriters of all time. Prince was an innovator and an accomplished drummer himself. He created multi-layered drum parts that revolutionized the way drums were recorded. By pushing the limits Prince needed an equally passionate drummer to perform the complex parts live. Bobby Z was that drummer. Bridging the gap between acoustic and electronic playing Bobby was able to create a wall of unique sounds behind the band. His tasteful style allowed him to punctuate the beat while maintaining time. Playing behind a legend, Bobby Z played the perfect role as a musician. Play what is needed – when it’s needed.

Like most fans I first saw Bobby Z in the Academy-Award winning film “Purple Rain.” Although the stage lighting makes it difficult to see, you know he is there. Presented as “The Revolution” Prince’s band was the perfect complement to his transforming stage presence. This was a role that they fulfilled both on the screen and off. I was immediately taken by Bobby’s performance as he was able to pull off intricate drum parts while participating in the choreography with the band. I was also fascinated with his drum sound. It was so unique I couldn’t tell how it was accomplished. (Thanks to this interview) I learned that it was an experimental bridging of drum machines and triggers. Whatever it took I am still in awe of it. Equally impressive was the style in which Bobby used it. From the splashes of color in “Purple Rain” to the infectious groove in “Pop Life” the drums were spot on. In 2015 I found myself experimenting with sample pads and triggers after being inspired by Bobby. Nothing I programmed even came close to the sound they were able to capture back in the early 1980’s. It had already been done. Following the untimely death of their leader The Revolution is still touring while bringing the sounds of the past into the present. Bobby took some time away from his touring schedule to discuss drums and drumming with us.

MA: I know that you have done a lot of interviews over the last couple months promoting The Revolution’s tour and I thought it might be refreshing for us to focus on the drums.

BZ: Sounds great.

MA: For our reader’s sake, can you tell us what brought you to the drums?

BZ: In the 1960’s my brother David, who we consider the “Godfather” of the “Minneapolis Sound,” was a producer early on. The Minneapolis scene was thriving at that time and a lot of records were being distributed here. Amos Heilicher had a label called SOMA which was his name spelled backwards and they had all kinds of successful groups. My brother David was in one of them. The drummer in that band called the Chancellors was John Hughes and he happened to be a real serious drummer. He had done some studies and knew the proper rudiments. Now Ringo was the next huge force for all of us but John was a very technical drummer. That got me interested in real drumming by watching a real drummer. That is why I first started. I was six at the time. I played professionally at the age of eight and never stopped. I played with my brother Steve, imitating bands while working all the way up until high school where I got a break playing with Kevin Odegard & The KO Band. He played on Dylan’s “Blood On The Tracks.”

MA: That is amazing that you were successful at such a young age. Who would you say were your main drumming influences when you were coming up?

BZ: As a young kid your influences are obviously different than when you grow up and begin to learn more. Ringo and the British Invasion had a huge impact on me. The Dave Clark 5 was very influential. That was because Dave Clark was the leader of the band as well as the drummer. That had a special meaning for me. To this day I still look back on that band performing on Ed Sullivan when I identified with Dave as the drummer. Of course there was John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, Bill Bruford of YES. The art rock music hit me pretty hard. Bruford’s style of playing with YES and beyond is still something of legend to me. Bonham taught me what he taught us all…power, control and that booming sound. The goose-bumps that his intros and fills give you still stick with me. The production on Led Zeppelin records is a testament to what can be done with the proper drum sound. Deep down in my soul I wanted to play those kinds of fills. I practiced and practiced and practiced and fortunately I got to make my version of some of those fills in songs like “Purple Rain.” I am forever grateful for that journey as it was a big reason why I was able to get to that moment.

MA: I absolutely agree. I’ve done a lot of interviews with a lot of drummers and the name that always comes up is John Bonham. His influence goes well beyond his style and play but also his sound. No one had a sound like he did. His tuning and recording techniques definitely set him apart.

BZ: Jimmy Page as the producer had a lot to do with that too. All of those Led Zeppelin albums sound amazing. Those experimental techniques remind me of what Prince did. They were putting aluminum foil inside the kick drum. They learned how to compress the cymbals so they have that ring out like in “Stairway to Heaven.” Prince was always experimenting with unorthodox ways of recording too. That was especially evident in the drums all the way up to the drum machine. He was using tools like that when nobody else was. Prince was a huge innovator in the drum world pushing the boundaries right when it was turning. Right when Simmons and the LINN were coming out he took that technology and made it happen for his music.

MA: How did you become the drummer for Prince?

BZ: I was working in a studio at Moon Sound. He was recording in Studio A when I first heard him. I heard glorious sounds coming out of that room when he was in there working. It immediately had an impact on me. The vocal range he had and his ability to play the piano was amazing. I became friendly with him when I walked by every day. He wasn’t the most personable guy at first. I had to break the ice with some jokes. Eventually I got him to loosen up and I would watch him record. He would lay down a drum track first all by himself. I was like “What is going on here?” He is hearing breaks and he is stopping and starting on time. Then he would pick up the bass and that would make sense. Next he would grab the guitar and then a keyboard and end it all with singing. Within an hour or so he would have a finished song. It was mind boggling. I was blown away and I knew I wanted to be his drummer. By the time it got to that point he had gone through the whole Champagne band with Morris Day as his drummer and Andre Cymone and the whole north side of Minneapolis.

The way I look at music is if you’re a musician after high school you’re in a different group. I consider myself as a musician…a serious musician and I know he did too. That is what takes you to studios like Moon Sound where you gravitate to where you can record and be with other musicians. That was the melting pot of music. The other side of that is I was working for Owen Husney as a runner and Owen became his manager. He had an advertising business and I did all kinds of runs of proofs around town. Later my job became to drive Prince around town. I was with him morning, noon and night. There was a six to seven month period where we were inseparable. I don’t think it ever occurred to him to hire me on the drums so I kept pushing it and pushing it and eventually got him to see that I was potentially right for the job. He would talk about Mother’s Finest and Drumsticks on Fire and all this stuff. It took a while for him to see that the Mick Fleetwood-Charlie Watts style was what he really wanted. Then it was “bam” I’m the drummer. Once he committed I was committed and we stayed together for close to twelve years.

MA: When you talk about Prince’s recording techniques you illustrate that you were ahead of the curve, especially when it came to the drums. You were trend-setters. Did you have to find ways to develop your own technology?

BZ: Yes. We did. There were components but it was like they were just lying around. Simmons was just coming on the scene. We even had that prototype pad. LINN of course had come out. It was extremely smart in building all those outputs. By having all those outs in the back we gave our brilliant tech at the time Don Bats the ability to create an interface that ultimately allowed us to hook up early triggers to the back of the LINN drum machine. That created the ability to strike an object, activate the trigger and then the drum machine would fire. That kind of technology did not exist at that time. It was one of those unbelievable “Radio Shack” projects that was wired up. By doing it that way it became unique and for a while there, certainly on the Controversy Tour, no one had ever seen anything like that. It started out there and then the interfaces started being produced and the machines started showing up on the shelf. There was a short period of time when we were alone in the desert but then the whole drum world turned to electronics. Everyone was experimenting then.

MA: You were definitely breaking new ground and had such a unique sound. I’ve always been interested in those four drums that you used in place of a rack tom. Did you have to physically build those?

BZ: No. That already existed. That was one of the “secret sauce” products which was the Pearl Syncussion. Those little pads hooked up to the drum synthesizer. It was absolutely fantastic. One of the best uses of it was on “Sexuality.” Those sounds were uniquely created from those pads and the brain of that drum synthesizer. It was total genius that in its scope and algorithm literally allowed you to have a full drum synth at your fingertips. You could sweep on the fly. The cymbal crashes on “1999” were open sweeps. The bombs all came from that box. In “Little Red Corvette” the back-and-forths were coming from this Syncussion device. The combination of the LINN and the Syncussion was the sound for me. I just really took to it and some of those live shows in those days were electronic. Some of those fills were incredible. When I hear “Electric Intercourse,” the live ’83 version, I hear some of the coolest electronic drum fills I ever did. It was just part of the kit and I really embraced it. To this day there are similar products but there is nothing like it.

MA: I also love the opening fills that you guys did on “Take Me With You.”

BZ: That’s Prince in there using his ability for “trick photography” which is what we called it back then. He dragged a set of roto-toms to the mastering session to record that part. There were no limits to him. He loved to incorporate percussion and he was a very accomplished drummer.

MA: I would imagine that when you guys were in the studio you had a unique hybrid set that was a cross between the acoustic and electronic drums. Can you tell us about that?

BZ: The hybrid part of it was there. The first part was the acoustic drum set with a couple pads. Then it became all pads. And then it became a combination of both. It was a little unplayable when it was all pads, especially with the snare being a pad with triggers. It had kind of a double trigger and an awkward feel. When we put the real snare in its place with a trigger that was it. We got the sound and playability that we were searching for. When we did “Purple Rain” live on the American Music Awards (Watch Here) I used a black Pearl kit with a Ludwig Black Beauty and the proper electronics. That was the set that was comfortable and effective. You could do fills on top of the LINN pads. I could get “Purple Rain” to really move every night because it was playable. At that point everything had come together quickly.

MA: I think it is amazing how you were able to mirror the studio sound while playing live on stage. How was that accomplished?

BZ: It was conscious. With everything Prince, not only do you mirror the studio sound but you take it up a notch live. He would never be satisfied with just a beat alone on the record. He wanted full percussion and another pattern on top so he created intensity with the live arrangements that even brought them with more heat and if you watch some of those old videos you can definitely see that. His drum parts were layered and when you get in a live situation he wanted more action on them.

MA: I remember seeing some film where the band was doing a lot of choreography on stage. This required you to play the drums standing up while making the syncopated moves with the rest of the band. How was that?

BZ: Yeah…playing while standing was part of the choreography, similar to the movie that we did. I could play some of it live if I let the pattern go on the foot for a minute I could stand up and participate. Some of that stuff required me to do choreography while sitting down. That was really the amazing stuff. He would get us to do all kinds of movements. In the Syracuse video (This video is available in the Purple Rain deluxe package) that came out years ago we were playing and he calls out “Move it from side to side!” and the whole band breaks into a left-right motion that is just perfect. It’s hard to believe that a band would be that tight but we rehearsed that much and were that cohesive. With Prince’s choreography we could break out at any moment in any song.

MA: I saw a very rare video online of the actual show when the band recorded “Purple Rain” (Watch Here). I believe your brother was the engineer on that recording. Can you tell us about that moment?

BZ: That is correct. It felt so right…like it had a real impact. Prince was so convinced that we were going to create history that night. I drank a lot of Kool-Aid with Prince and I believed that moment was special. It was. You can hear it in the performance. It’s one of the most confident performances I’ve ever done. I played what was in my heart against that amazing guitar solo. It’s just one of moments when you’re truly alive.

MA: Your tasteful placement of the open hi-hat in that song is brilliant. I know that Prince was interviewed one time and he stated that no other drummer could capture the essence of “Purple Rain” like you did. What a great compliment.

BZ: It really is and he was kind enough to tell me that often. I’m extremely grateful that I was part of that song and film. The high point of that movie was a down tempo ballad called “Purple Rain” and the drumming in that song is what really makes your heart beat. It’s a privilege to have played that for the listener and I appreciate you saying that.

MA: Some of the songs from the soundtrack were recorded live. What was it like to be in an environment that required that kind of performance?

BZ: All I can remember is that was so hot and smokey. People could still smoke back then. It was like 89 degrees in the venue. When I got to the mobile truck with my brother, I remember opening the doors and getting hit in the face with the air conditioning. At the time that was all I cared about [laughs]. We were so exhausted and we gave away everything that we had. The look on his face when he said “You guys were really great.” tipped me off that something was up. We had captured it. We played with a special kind of passion that night. When we played the American Music Awards a year later (Watch Here) we were able to recreate that feeling. That song “Purple Rain” belonged right where it sat. For me, everything drum related, the drums, the hats, the cymbals fit seamlessly and that is where it still sits today. It is an incredible feeling as a drummer to play on a piece of music like that.

MA: The film is one amazing musical performance after the other, by both Prince and the band. When you worked with Prince both on film and in video it always seemed like you were doing something creative. In “Raspberry Beret” you have a Simmons pad mounted directly behind your head that you trigger claps with. How did The Revolution fit into Prince’s artistic vision?

BZ: I think The Revolution fit into that role perfectly. I can tell you because I was in every Prince band up until that. It was always a plan to go in many different directions. We were a rock band. Then we were different with Wendy and Lisa. We were like a Fleetwood Mac. We had a Joni Mitchell influence. He was always inspiring us to be band he was looking for. We were the people that were hand-picked by him to become The Revolution. His lead up to the movie was part of his legacy. It almost felt like he was doing all of this in a pre-ordained manner like it was supposed to happen. It was an incredible feeling to watch this man close-up creating this world. It’s a world that we are still talking about today.

MA: Prince had the reputation of being a perfectionist, how did you, as his drummer, handle it?

BZ: He had perfect pitch, perfect tune, perfect time on all instruments. It was astounding. It was pretty hard top compete with that. Especially with him being such an accomplished drummer. We were always wrong. His musicianship was impeccable. He would put his parts down and then work with you on them. That was the process. Some of those arrangements, especially the live ones, were absolutely amazing. People would always perceive us as being so spontaneous when we had so many options at any given measure. I would liken it to a professional sports team where you have different options to use. At any given moment we were there. We had worked so hard it looked natural. He made us perform perfect because he set the example.

MA: Do you have a favorite song that you performed live that personifies you as a drummer?

BZ: Of course “Purple Rain” for the reasons we discussed. It is the dream of every musician to play on a song that becomes a standard. Some of the early songs like “Let’s Work” was always fun to play. “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” was another one. That was really good for me as a drummer. “Uptown” too. There are so many that have such great drum parts and great fills. He definitely knew what each instrument needed to do for their parts on these songs. Drums were very important. He was a beat master. It was incredible to play those parts.

MA: Prince and The Revolution created a unique sound that was copied all over Minneapolis and beyond. When did you realize the influence you had on other drummers?

BZ: That whole part of it is hard to believe that you influence anybody. It is so wonderful and gratifying to know that someone, anyone, was touched by your playing. I know that the shows that Prince put together were designed to take no prisoners and smash everyone’s hopes and dreams because he wanted to have the baddest band in the land. He worked us hard to get it. I can understand Prince’s influence on the world and I’m just a cog in that wheel.

MA: I think that you are an important cog. Prince had several other bands (New Power Generation, Third Eye Girl) that were very good but no band backed him better than The Revolution.

BZ: Thank you. I appreciate that.

MA: I want to be sure to talk about your foundation. It’s a very important cause. Tell us about “My Purple Heart.”

BZ: It started with some serious heart issues that I had in 2011. I had a pretty severe heart attack. I learned a lot after that scare. Some misconceptions are how you react to a heart attack. Most heart attacks are not like a “Hollywood style” grab your chest experience. My heart attack signals were in my elbows. It was completely easy to miss and I am sure that many people have died missing it. Education was the idea that spawned things. I recognized the need to teach people to recognize their symptoms. Also to maintain your health by getting your blood and cholesterol checked. The main education is to present the two aspects of heart disease which is the “plumbing” and the “electrical.” The plumbing is the heart attack because the arteries can’t pump because they are clogged with cholesterol. The electrical is the cardiac arrest when out of the blue anybody at any time has electric impulses that cause the heart to difibulate. There really is no explanation for it and it is very hard to prevent. Family history is also a warning. That is why it is essential to keep an eye on things.

MA: Let’s talk about the tour and any other projects.

BZ: I still have a label distributed through Entertainment One, a Toronto-based company. I have a band that is coming out on July 28th called Moonrise Nation. They are from Chicago and very talented. I’m playing with The Revolution and of course I’m very excited doing that. I have some blues stuff coming up in the future.

MA: How does it feel to be out on the stage performing Prince songs with The Revolution?

BZ: It feels great to be on stage with them. There is a lot of trust and it’s a safe place to be if that sounds strange. It’s an escape from everything else. It’s creating that music with them and presenting it to the people. When you hear “Let’s Go Crazy” or “Baby I’m A Star” or “Purple Rain,” even without him you can feel a little of what it was like to hear these songs live. It is a very rare thing to do in the history of Prince. It was a very short time that these songs were played live by The Revolution. It’s a lot of fun and it’s our way of both mourning and celebrating the life and legacy of Prince. As Wendy has said, we all need a place to land.

The Revolution Instagram page:

The Revolution Facebook page:

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Drumming and the Environment

Although I don’t consider myself a “tree hugger” I do respect our planet. By practicing a green philosophy I have combined drumming and my environmental awareness into the following videos. The first video (below) I co-produced featuring my friend Rich Redmond. It was filmed at The House of Blues studio in Nashville and presents the sustainability efforts of REMO, Pro-Mark, DW and Sabian. The interview is conducted by Rebecca Rubin, founder of the environmental consulting firm Marstel-Day. The second video is an introduction to a product called “Eco-Toms.” This drum is made from 100% recycled materials. Available as a snare or tom configuration the sound is impressive and I highly recommend that you look into the product. You can visit their Facebook page here. These two videos are my effort to promote sustainability in the drumming world.

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Working Out for Drummers

Thanks to my daughter I have been on a health kick for the last month. I try to go to the gym three-four days a week and exercise at home one-two days. I’m channeling all of my OCD into losing weight. So far it is working and I’m still inspired. It will take a very long time to get where I need to be. I’m a cardio addict. I have a love-hate relationship with the elliptical. Last year I was on a roll. I lost over 20 pounds.

Unfortunately I took a few months off, ok five months off, and obliterated my accomplishments thus far. I’m fat. Starting over sucks but I have no one to blame but myself and milkshakes. This experience got me thinking about exercises for the drums. Playing the instrument requires a certain level of strength and stamina. Of course it is important to warm-up before playing but I’m more interested in what to do when you’re not playing. Here is a series of good references on exercises for drummers:

DRUM! magazine published a useful article on Upper Body Workouts that outlines a series of recommendations for building strength. They state:

Drums are one of the most physically demanding of all musical instruments. By playing them, we use the body’s muscle groups to deliver power, speed, endurance, and coordination over long periods of time. If your muscles become fatigued during a show or session, it can cause your drumming to be inconsistent or your groove to sound forced or uptight. published an article titled Good Exercises For Drummers that also outlines some exercises designed specifically for drummers. They state:

Drumming is a deceptively challenging physical activity that requires excellent posture, muscular endurance, strength and physical stamina. Exercises for drummers should target the muscles that are most vulnerable during a prolonged drumming session, including your neck, shoulders and lower back.

Monster drummer and fitness guru Bobby Rock has a section on his blog called Drumbell Training for Drummers. Using gym photographs Bobby presents several doable weight-exercises. He states:

These exercises really work!  And for all you non-drummers, this concept of training is excellent to adapt to whatever your athletic endeavor might be.  Just create custom movements with light dumbbells that emulate the various motions you perform.

There are a couple books/DVDs out there: Fitness for Drummers by Arlen Del Castillo and Fitness for Drummers by Justin Spencer.

That’s about it. A Google search on the subject turned up very few hits on fitness for drums and most of them were “exercises” in the sense of exercises for building techniques not muscle. A quick search on YouTube for “Fitness for Drummers” turned up nothing of value. This surprised me. Well, as I tell myself when I hit that painful breaking point “There aint’ nothin’ to it but to do it.”

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