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This dude was John Bonham’s drum tech during the major stage of Zeppelin’s career. He’s *maybe* a little bit of a dork, but the video is cool. I came across it earlier this week while geeking-out about my recently-expanded Bill Mike kit. The amber Vistalites sitting in the background on this vid is the kit that inspired the one I have now. I believe Bonham used those drums during Zep’s 1977 tour following the release of The Song Remains The Same.
Quick story about Ochletree’s dork factor and Bonham’s original amber Vistalites: Joel Hanson, a singer/songwriter that I play with, was in a Grammy-winning band in the 90’s called PFR. For one of their records, producer Jimmie Lee Sloas called Ochletree and had him fly out to Minneapolis with Bonham’s actual amber Vistas so the band could use the drums on the album. Ochletree set the kit up, which apparently included two hours of sitting on the ground cross-legged, methodically shredding a stack of newspapers into small strips, and filling the kick drum with them. This, according to Ochletree, was how Bonham got his famous kick sound.
I found this great article in the New York Times online last night. It chronicles and attempts to explain The Grateful Dead and the loyal/obsessive following that the band carries to this day. The article stood out to me because the subculture of “Dead Heads” so closely resembles the world of Phish that I was heavily involved in during the late 90’s.
I don’t really listen to Jam Band music anymore, but the interesting thing to me now about this article, and the Jam Band scene as a whole, is the live concert taping and analysis. Every show these guys played was different (both for The Dead and for Phish), and so the fans sought to capture the nuances of each one. This just doesn’t happen with other pop/rock artists. Perhaps Radiohead will put out a live album every now and then, but nobody tapes and circulates each individual night of a given tour.
As I was thinking about this culture of immense dissection/criticism and why it doesn’t exist in the live shows of pop/rock artists beyond just a handful of Jam Bands, I realized that it’s probably because most touring acts don’t play MUSIC as much as they put on a SHOW. I don’t mean this negatively, I’m just pointing out that an emphasis on lighting, choreography, and other special effects make for a spectacle that has amazing power and attraction – a multi-sense experience that music alone can’t quite reach. But, this experience also ends up requiring itself to be operated and performed in a very specific and precise manner, and therefore needs to be exactly the same tonight in Minneapolis, and tomorrow in Chicago, and next week in Orlando. Well, then of course acquiring tapes of each individual concert, if they are all exactly the same, ends up being pointless.
Don’t worry – I’m getting to a point, and it’s this: I’m realizing more and more each year that I’ve always been (and probably always will be) a guy who just likes MUSIC. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good show. I love U2 and Peter Gabriel, and I enjoy the incredible marriage of great music and great special effects at those artist’s shows. It’s just that I will probably always prefer a guy like Keith Jarrett, because Keith is pouring himself into the music only. There’s no frills or distractions in his performances, regardless of the pleasant experience that those extra-curricular elements might bring to an audience member. Keith is speaking the language of music alone, and in so doing he’s reaching a level of eloquence and depth that I think is unparalleled in a “show.” A great show has depth, but not as much on the MUSIC side of things, which, as I said, is where my personal interest lies. While I certainly don’t want to put Keith and The Dead in the same category, I will say that this “music-only” emphasis is something that the they share.
Again, I love a good show as much as the next guy, so don’t misunderstand me there. I’m just going on record saying that, at the end of the day, I think I’m a “music only” guy, which is probably why the Phish tape-trading scene was so attractive to me when I was younger. Ten years ago, after I finished my freshman year of college, I spent the summer painting the exteriors of houses and apartment buildings. And over those 3 months, I circulated twice through my 400-tape collection of bootleg Phish concerts. I would spend ten hours on the ladders with my brush and my walkman, just listening to tapes the whole time, and I really really enjoyed noticing the nuances and fingerprints of each show. I didn’t need the lights… or pyrotechnics… or whatever. Just the music was enough to make those ten hours go by before I knew it.
Anyway, to bring it back around, I think the above-linked article about the Dead Heads and their detail-oriented analysis of live shows reveals a cool thing about The Grateful Dead – that they were a “music-only” band. Regardless of whether you like their music, you can’t deny that those dudes played MUSIC… nothing more and nothing less.
Even though I have “moved on” in my listening, and now enjoy comparing and contrasting Steve Jordan in the 80’s vs today, and the Radiohead B-sides compared to their official releases, instead of disecting the differences between Phish shows – it is still the same deep well of MUSIC that draws me. I’m going to go listen to Keith Jarrett now.
The week’s music news thus far…
– The Flaming Lips were recently honored with the naming of their song “Do You Realize?” as the official song of the state of Oklahoma. Some political drama shadowed the decision, culminating in the state’s governor issuing an executive order on the selection of the song. pitchfork.com
– The owners of the huge Swedish Bit-Torrent/file-sharing website Pirate Bay were convicted last week in a copyright violation trial. However, a retrial is now imminent as it has been revealed that both the judge and some of the prosecutors also work for copyright protection companies, including one that was awarded funds from the sentencing. Meanwhile, Pirate Bay is still operational and has doubled in users from the publicity. WallStreetJournal
– Everybody’s favorite band, Creed, has announced plans to tour and record another record. I’m sure the reunion is due, at least in part, to the overwhelming response to this inspiring performance. Gibson.com
– The French pop machine MGMT recently settled a lawsuit against the French political party UPM for using a track without permission in some campaign ads. The band donated all the proceeds to various artist rights groups. pitchfork.com
– Wilco has a new album out soon, officially titled Wilco (The Album). The first track of the record has been similarly titled as “Wilco (The Song).” rollingstone.com
– Prince did some television interviews this week, and the bizarre factor of the ensuing quotes perhaps demonstrates why a Prince television interview is such a rare thing. rollingstone.com
– Editorial item: For those who don’t know, my wife and I are expecting our second child in November.
Here’s some footage from soundcheck at a Jeremy Sanoski Band gig the other night in Wisconsin. This was the live debut of the newly-expanded amber acrylic kit…
My friend Dayton Dodge has a son named Jack. Jack loves the drums, and has a toy “drum set” that he plays. Except, he actually PLAYS it…
Now, my daughter Betty has shown some aptitude for music, but Jack Dodge’s instincts are through the roof. The fills? The left hand 16th notes in the groove? Unbelievable.
PS. Respect the alligator xylophone.
Drummer Disease. The phrase isn’t common lingo – it’s my own term for a frame of mind that all instrumentalists fall prey to, but it seems like drummers are especially prone to it. Broadly speaking, it’s a performer’s perspective that’s so preoccupied with one’s own playing that no attention is spent on the whole of the music. The sound of the band, the feel of the pocket with the rhythm section, the context of the gig… all of these things are left in the dust while your mental energy is wrapped tightly around the immediate context of your instrument and your instrument only.
There are many symptoms of Drummer Disease (DD), and I’ve touched on some of them before, so in this post I’ll just focus on the ways DD can specifically affect fills.
A drum fill, like anything else an instrumentalist would play, revolves around two things: what you are playing and how it sounds. The majority of the labor in playing fills revolves around the first task of deciding what to play and how the muscles need to function in order to play it. However, the key ingredient in turning this labor into MUSIC is the follow-up assessment of whether the fill sounds good and is worth playing. This is where Drummer Disease sneaks in. The drummer suffering from DD becomes totally consumed with the logistics and mechanics of what he/she is playing, and is unable to accurately determine if the fill sounds cool.
Obviously a drummer’s personal bias is a factor here, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. I’m mainly referring to a drummer’s mental radar while playing a fill. The mind’s scope of awareness is large enough to track both logistics and quality. It’s not as if my attention can focus only on the fill I’m playing, and must scroll over to the other side of the brain in order to focus on how it sounds. The answer is to pan out… to realize that my brain is zoomed in on only one section of the radar. So then, a way to paraphrase the effects of Drummer Disease is to say that it causes my attention to zoom in on the mechanics and logistics of playing an instrument, instead of maintaining a full-screen view of all the factors: what I’m playing, how I’m playing it, context, execution, musicality, etc.
The best way to avoid catching Drummer Disease is to constantly look for the broader context you’re playing in. Every musical situation has a context, even if you’re playing in a room by yourself. How does this fill fit into the grooves surrounding it? How does this fill FEEL as it blends with the other instruments? Am I contributing to the song or am I just keeping myself from getting bored? Questions like these act as a vaccination against DD, and will help you to get well if you have already come down with the disease.
SUMMARY: Focus on the song. A drummer’s part is only a small portion of the whole, and the part can’t be accurately assessed unless the whole is in view.
John Mayer just posted a link to this video on his Twitter page. It appears he’s beginning work on another album this week, and it also appears that he’s doing the whole thing at his house. I have to say that I am HUGELY PUMPED that Steve Jordan is again producing and playing drums on the record. That guy rules so much.
PS. Another random John Mayer story: Monday he twittered a link to this performance of 4’33, the groundbreaking “Chance Operation” work by John Cage. Mayer comically suggested that the link was “in observance of 4/20,” but the piece itself is absolutely no joke. Cage has been hailed as the 20th century’s most influential and important Amercian composer, and is a household name among fans of the avant garde. A good documentary on his life and work can be viewed here.
This week in music news…
– Pink Floyd is suing their label, EMI, for “miscalculated royalty payments.” Floyd, whose albums Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall are among the highest selling albums of all time, will likely receive millions in the case. rollingstone.com
– Dave Grohl’s wife gave birth to their second child last week, a girl named Harper Willow Grohl. “Seven and a half lbs, 20 inches long, and loud as hell” was the statement from the family. drumnews.com
– Susan Boyle, the surprise and overnight star of Britain’s Got Talent, is on the way to holding the record for Youtube views, amassing over 100 million views in 9 days. allaboutjazz.com
– David Byrne has a concept album with Fatboy Slim due out soon. In addition, he’ll be curating a stage at this year’s Bonnaroo Festival as the first artist to ever be invited to do so. pitchfork.com
– In the ongoing saga of who will be the new Smashing Pumpkins drummer, Billy Corgan reveals that he’s leaning toward John Dolmayan of System Of A Down. rollingstone.com
I don’t normally post exercises (that’s what the video lessons are for), but this one is really good.
The “criss-cross paradiddles” exercise is built around playing the single paradiddle pattern with both your hands AND your feet. Like this…
R/K – L/H – R/K – R/K – L/H – R/K – L/H – L/H (pattern A)
The “R” stands for right hand, and the “L” for left hand (both on snare). The kick and hihat foot are represented with “K” and “H.” So, “R/K” means right hand with kick, and so forth. The above pattern is the main deal, so spend some time practicing that.
Next, try this…
L/K – R/H – L/K – L/K – R/H – L/K – R/H – R/H (pattern B)
In this instance, the feet have remained in the same pattern as the first example, but the hands have inverted themselves, so the right hand now locks up with the hihat foot, and left hand with kick. Now your limbs are “criss-crossing” your body as they pair off.
In the final pattern, the hands are the same as the very first pattern, with the feet inverting…
R/H – L/K – R/H – R/H – L/K – R/H – L/K – L/K (pattern C)
This pattern, like the one directly above it, has the limbs crossing each other and lining up in an inverse relationship of hands and feet.
Practice each of these three lines to get comfortable with them, but the real exercise is when you flow from one to the next consecutively. Do each one two times, in this order: A > B > A > C… repeat. The transitions will pose the most difficulty. The flow from A to B means that your feet will remain constant but the hands will invert, then revert back as you return to A. Going from A to C means the hands will stay constant but the feet will invert.
The goal of the exercise is limb independence. It won’t produce specific independence like the Ted Reed stuff, but it will accomplish a ton of the compartmentalizing that your brain needs to do in order to gain independence.