Interview: Robert Sweet (Part 2)

How Sweet it is [Part 2]
by Michael Aubrecht

Continued from above
Return to Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

robert

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Go Around the Kit

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

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

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A Fallen Star

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

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

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

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

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Reflection and Request

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

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

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

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

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Welcome to The Drum Library

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

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Shameless Plug

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FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids
by Rich Redmond and Michael Aubrecht

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Drummer Boy Medal of Honor

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

Horsfall himself recalled his wartime experiences:

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

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

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

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

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Gear Spotlight: Rick Allen

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

Original Set-up

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Current Set-up

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History Mystery

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Here’s something different. This looks like a racey advertisement in a men’s magazine, perhaps from the 30’s or 40’s. I’m trying to identify the drums by just a snare and bass drum. I think the block says “A DOLL WITH A DRUM ‘N’ DAZZLE TAKES BROADWAY.” Any ideas feel free to email me.

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