Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Had to dance.

Ok. I finally gave in to the peer pressure and cranked up my copy of "Off The Wall." All the way through and LOUD. This is the part where I sound like everyone else and say how I'm reminded that Michael Jackson was a genius. His collaborations with Quincy Jones shook the world. I had the pleasure of spending an evening with John Robinson (the drummer on Off The Wall) and many scotches. He still lit up with excitement talking about those sessions, especially Rock With You. If you know John, you know he can be a little......cynical (I'm being polite) about the biz but having been on that album still makes him proud. Not of his performance, but of being part of something so outside of anything to do with himself. This is what making music should be about. Rock With You is my favorite pop drum track of all time. My wife wasn't home while I was cranking the MJ and it made me want to dance. I did. You'll never see it happen, and my beagles will never say what it looks like. When I stopped I was truly sad, not only for how Michael Jackson's life played out, but because I think he did it.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Be The A**hole!

"Dear Contractors and Agent People,

I assume you expect me to show up on time to your job, correct? I also assume you expect me to be dressed as you specify, correct? I also assume you expect me to play appropriately, not get drunk on the job, not eat the buffet, not bring my girlfriend, you know, act like a professional? Then why the fuck can't you get the check to me on time?



Sound familiar? I seem to be running into more and more contractors lately who expect perfection out of a musician and yet expect the musician to be understanding when it comes time to get (or not to get) paid.

It used to be that when the gig is over, the checks get distributed, regardless of whether or not the client has paid yet. A good contractor has enough in the bank to cover the musicians they hire. It still is this way with many reputable contractors (an oxymoron I know). The trend lately is that agent/contractors only do their payroll once a week, or twice a month. This is ok if you let me know BEFORE the gig. Many contractors won't tell you about your check coming next week until you're actually at the gig. Why? They're afraid (and rightfully so) that good, steadily working players won't take the job. The payroll thing doesn't bother me as long as you actually stick to it. I've done some work for a guy who says payroll is every Fri, but when the check doesn't come I get " Oh yeah, my wife didn't get to it yet....we've been busy...yada yada." But boy does he freak out if someone is 30 seconds late to a load-in! It's even more fun to get an email saying "oops, we accidentally sent out checks from the wrong account, they're going to bounce!"
I tried this on my mortgage company once. You can imagine how it went over!

I used feel like the asshole for asking how much a gig pays, when we get paid, is there overtime etc ... but somebody has to and if we as hired musicians don't, you can bet someone will find (yet another) way to take advantage of us! As much as we love to make music for it's own sake, this is still a business.

Be the asshole! Be the asshole!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hypocritical (sic) Oath.

My new favorite quote is from the liner notes of James Taylor's recent album "Covers" (2008). "I want to thank the cats for what they played, and for what they didn't." Great reminder for us all! but....

This next phrase keeps coming out in my blogs but...what the hell. THOSE OF YOU THAT KNOW ME, know that I'm a bit of a noodler. For sure not Vinnie or Weckl, but not exactly Gadd either. I like to sneak some weird extraneous shit in under (ok sometimes over) the radar. Those of you that know me also know that I'm a HUGE JT fan, so that quote carries some weight with me. Now with that out of the way, I'm about to go a little esoteric on y'all about the noodling. I think if it's done right, a little overplaying won't kill anyone. If you disagree, fuck you if you can't take a joke :-).

Take your hands and put them together. Now do the old "church/steeple" thing where your fingers interlock. This was the first image that came to me as I sat in the audience at a recent David Sanborn show in Las Vegas. His live show blows away the "Smooth Jazz" concept that he is associated with. Gotta love the publicists. Anyhow... the sound was impeccable so we were able to hear every level of interaction taking place on stage. The concept I referred to in my previous blog "Planet 10.." was in full force. These guys were able to keep a deep groove going and still throw great musical ideas back and forth amongst each other. Why? The antannae were up. I'm blessed to know the keyboard player so when we were hanging backstage the rest of the band confirmed what I had been thinking. They hadn't played together in a couple months so everybody's radar was way up, thereby creating an incredibly interactive (read:slightly noodly) but wonderfully musical situation. They automatically knew just when to lay back so that the audience wasn't overwhelmed with too much information, and yet played just enough to keep the listeners challenged. Perfect balance by me.

If you have the opportunity, go see a David Sanborn show. Gene Lake (drums), Richard Patterson (bass), Ricky Peterson (keys), and Nicky Moroch (guitar). These guys have their ears on!!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Is bigger better? (create your own joke here)

It seems that lately, in order to keep up with the Joneses, or the Minnemans, the Donatis, and the Langs, everyone is bringing out a kit like this. My question is, do we really make better music with this much stuff? I understand wanting to have many different sound options available at any given time, and I appreciate the skill it takes to navigate all the pedals in time etc..(let alone remember which one is connected to which thing) but come on!! Do you really need a mounted bass drum in addition to the two that you're already playing? It seems these days that people (mostly other drummers) are more impressed if you hit more stuff. I just don't think more stuff equals more musicality.
The reality is that the guys that use this kind of set up either mostly do clinics, hire a band to support their specific style of playing, or get hired to do the kind of "over the top chops" playing that they are known for. I'm not discounting the talent level of these guys, it's just that if most of us brought a kit like this to a gig we'd get fired before the first note. Here's my most recent setup.

Depending on the style of music I'll add a couple more cymbals, cowbells, and a maybe a woodblock to my palate but really, how many drums do I need to still sound like me? I can still play lots of notes (if needed) but I don't need all the extraneous stuff.

Here's a great example. Dave Weckl usually plays a kit like this (three bass drums, two snares, lots of stacked cymbals, extra percussion etc...

Check out this link where Dave is just playing a Yamaha Hip Gig kit (even using the stool) and a normal assortment of cymbals.

It still sounds like Dave, and great at that. So does he really need all that other stuff?

Here's another example of Ed Shaunessy and Buddy Rich in a great drum battle. These guys are each playing 5 piece kits (with the 2nd floor tom usually just functioning as a towel holder). Is it any less monstrous than Donati or Lang or anyone like that? I don't think so.

My rule is this. If it doesn't fit in the car (which sometimes is a Toyota Corolla) or on the Rock N Roller cart, it doesn't go to the gig. Usually I end up with a four or five piece kit, one ride, one or two crashes, and the hi-hat. If I can't make music with that, than something is wrong with me, plus I'm usually out the door before the guitar player!

Try it sometime.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

New Drummer Site

Just found a great new drummer website. drummerconnection.com Very well done, great interactivity and very intuitive to use. Check it out.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Planet 10. Real Soon...or Look at me look at me.

You 80's geeks should get the title reference. It's from the film " Buckaroo Bonzai-Across the 8th Dimension." I hadn't seen it for years but recently checked it out of the library. I also giddily sat next to Peter Weller (Buckaroo) at a sushi joint in Santa Monica recently. I dig "Buckaroo" way more than "Robocop...." My wife doesn't get it but whatever... Anyhow, reviewing " Buckaroo" helped me to define a concept I've been trying to put some language on for years. In the film, the bad guys/aliens (John Lithgow and Vincent Schiavelli) reside in what is known as the 8th dimension. Essentially a dimension unknown to humans that only exists within rock formations. The aliens' main goal is to get to Planet 10 (somewhere humans can't fathom) REAL SOON.

What strikes me about this is that this "8th dimension" is somewhere musicians are always trying to go. Somewhere beyond the actual instruments, changes, and rhythms that are actually being played. The problem I see, with myself as much as other musicians is that most of the time, players are trying to show other players (as well as the audience) how close they are to that other realm...but mostly by playing all the licks and tricks (look at me look at me look at me) they've just learned. Some of you may shoot me for saying this but I can define this difference most easily by comparing Vinnie Colaiuta with Dave Weckl. I know it's a cliche but bear with me. Honestly, I really dig, and learn a lot from both players. Both players can read flyshit, play many styles, and are SERIOUSLY talented. That said, when I look at Vinnie I can see and hear a guy with his antennae up ALL the time. Always looking at everyone else and trying to interact. With Weckl, I see a guy whose always working hard on HIS new thing and pushing it at the other players. He's come a long way in the other direction lately (and said so himself) and it shows so I'm not discounting what he does by any stretch. It's just that for lack of a better term....Vinnie plays from his balls up and it comes across. When he's on stage, he's shooting for that space where no one is thinking about their own instruments, the changes, or anything else. He says that " I hear rhythms differently than most people." I think he hears them underneath the bigger picture. Even when he's reading he's looking at the players more than the charts. He gets to that magical space (the 8th dimension) more often than anyone I've seen. It's all about interaction among musicians and connecting to the listener. I'm amazed by the technical ability of Marco Minneman, Thomas Lang, Virgil Donati, et al but they play in such a way that everyone on stage has to adjust to them. How many pedals do you need for a groove?

Another example of hitting "the 8th dimension" is this. My wife had a business in Santa Monica so during my time off from Vegas I'd hang out there. There was a great jam session (at Harvelle's on 4th St) where the house drummer was Gerry Brown (Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Stanley Clarke, Michael Urbaniak and a million more.) Lots of serious R and B/jazz guys would hang out and sit in. Many great drummers (some of whom are on major tours as we speak) would come sit in. These guys could play a nice groove but they were more interested in trotting out every trick in the book! Crossovers, blistering double bass licks etc. (look at me look at me look at me.) When I first started sitting in there, I was guilty of the same mistake. Now, when Gerry sat down to play a groove, it was DEEPNESS defined. The whole room perked up. He'd play a couple "look at me/check me out" licks just to show the other cats he could do it, and then go right back to the pocket and keep his eyes on the other band members because THAT'S WHAT IT'S ABOUT. Groove. Interaction. You can play a million notes (which I'm very guilty of) but you have to keep the antannae up. I got to know Gerry after a while so I asked him, "dude, why do you bother with this gig?" (it didn't pay much compared to his other work). His short answer? "Keeps the chops up." Chops are not only physical, but MUSICAL as well.

How are your antannae workin? Where should we all be going? Planet 10. REAL SOON!

Thanks Gerry.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Renew Your Subscription

Those of you that have been on a gig with me may have (often) heard me mutter slightly over my breath that "so and so needs to renew their subscription!" This of course refers to the age old musician joke that "Time is not a magazine." Those of you who know me well also know that even more than most drummers, I'm quite a stickler for good time. I hold myself to a pretty high standard and expect others to do the same. My friend, guitarist Matt Baldoni once called me and said "man, I just checked out your YouTube clips and the time is 98 percent right on. Amazing!" He meant this as a compliment, and I took it as such but the first thing I did was get out the metronome to make sure I "renewed my subscription" to the other 2 percent.

It's not that I think time can't be flexible. I'm a firm believer in things moving a bit as the song needs, or understanding when to play "on top," "on the beat," or "behind the beat." It's just that too few musicians are aware of where they are with regard to the time, and we ALL need to be. I don't mind if during your solo, you want to float the time to create a vibe (or for whatever reason really). Just be aware of it, and I'd humbly ask this favor. Please accompany me (timewise and formwise) during my solo! It's the one time where I get to stretch the time a little, play some weird over the barline shit or what have you, plus it gives the listener a reference point. I do it for you all night long. Do it for me. Another thing many musicians don't realize (until I point it out) is that usually the bass player and drummer never get to lay out during a tune. If a keyboard player or guitar player gets lost in the time or changes they just wait til they figure it out. If a drummer or bass player stops......MAJOR GROOVUS INTERRUPTUS.....and the band leader gives us THE LOOK!

Keeping good time is not only the responsibity of the rhythm section but EVERYONE's responsibility. The whole band sounds so much better when this is the case. The audience may not be able to tell you why something is really grooving but they know when it isn't. I can tell when a player is unsure of themselves because they always seem to wait that one millisecond to see where the rhythm section puts it.

So for the good of musicians everywhere, let's all take out the old clicker and renew our subscription to Time once in a while.