Thoughts on my Drumming and its History
I got to thinking today about my being a drummer. I guess a tune I heard on the radio wound me up.
Actually I’m not really a drummer, more like a ‘log pounder’. Never took the time to learn my rudiments or read music. Just had a beat inside that has driven me almost 70 years. I was, after all, banging on things since I was five or six. But I had some really fine teachers along the way.
My mother was hooked on big band jazz. She had danced to Cab Calloway, The Dorsey Brothers, Glen Miller and many others at the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, NY. Mother lived in nearby Yonkers. Her sister, my aunt, was into classical and opera. She came to live with us after my father died on Iwo Jima, and I grew up with concerts and opera on Sunday’s and the Big Bands the rest of the week as far back as I can remember. But I developed a love for it all.
But both these women had an issue with me. My aunt couldn’t understand how I could listen to all that rowdy music and later, rock and roll. My mother refused to let me have drums after influencing me for years with one of her favorites, Gene Krupa. After all, musicians were disreputable. Well, some were. Fortunately, I never went that way.
In fifth grade at military school, I would skip gym to hide in the music room and practice the drum corps riffs. Got pretty good too. Wanted to be in the drum and bugle corps more than anything. But my mother only connected drums with Krupa and drugs, of which I knew nothing. Military school also gave me very in depth Music Appreciation Classes. I almost learned to read music, but did acquire a love of music structure, the masters like Brahms, Beethoven , Schubert and many other.
Then while living in London, I finally drove my mother crazy enough to let me buy a simple, cheap, snare drum at Harrods, only a few blocks from our flat. So started my practice to records and not pots and pans. At the time, I was really into Joe “Finger” Carr, actually recommended to me by my ‘classical’ aunt.
But this, along with the soundtrack from “The Gene Krupa Story” got me really working on ‘timing’. Having only the snare and its rim to work with, it really helped my sticking.
Once back in the US and in the Air Force, I got some of the best music instruction I ever had. For a while I roomed with a guitar player from Montpelier, VT and he liked the licks I laid down on the arm of a chair and decided he wanted me to be his drummer in an off-site band he wanted to put together. The lessons he taught me were impactive to say the least and live with me to this day.
First, the drummer is there to hold the beat for the rest of the band, never incorporates variations over the vocalist, he uses fills only between vocal lines.
Second, the groups should never leave any ‘holes’. Empty space was not acceptable. The listener can loose interest if there is a hole in the music.
Third, listen to a philharmonic orchestra and selectively listen to each instrument separately. Sounds easy, is not. This helps train your ear. And it worked.
Forth, the drummer’s purpose is to supply the beat to the band, not be a front lead. Fills, variations and solos are fine, but not to overwhelm the other instruments.
So I had some great support along the years. One of the best influences was my most excellent second wife who introduced me to so much music I would have otherwise ignored. Bad Company and Fleetwood Mac to name only two of so many.
Yes, I’m just a ‘log pounder’, but after all the training, support and encouragement I’ve had from so many friends, I can still love banging on my drum set. Even if only for my own entertainment.