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I got some more new Paiste cymbals this week… a full set of Giant Beats. They are so boss.  Giant Beats were made back in the late 60’s and used by John Bonham until they were discontinued and replaced by the 2002 line in ’71.  They were reissued a few years ago, and I’ve just now been able to get a set.  The rig is 15″ hats, 18″ and 20″ crashes, and a monster 24″ ride.  The ride is seriously one of the coolest sounding cymbals I’ve heard in a long time.

Ryan Paul and the Ardent shot some local tv stuff the earlier in the week, and I brought the hats and ride.  And then I used the full set last night at a Sanoski gig.

UPDATE: It turns out the RP&TA video shoot was actually for a website devoted to Minnesota Arts.  The stuff we filmed that night is now up and streaming.  Check it out.

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jbblurJohn Bonham’s fill at the top of the second track on Zeppelin IV has long been a point of confusion for many drummers, including myself. A few years ago I figured out what’s going on in the fill, and then it came up in discussion at last night’s rehearsal, so I thought I’d mention it here.

The trick is understanding that Bonham doesn’t start on a downbeat.  The very first accented snare and sloshy hats hit… it’s on the “& of 3” count, not “1.”  There’s no count off or anything to warn the listener that this is so, therefore many people hear the first accent as a downbeat followed by another accent on the “& of 2.”  In actuality, the fill starts with a pick-up notes and then a downbeat – so the SECOND snare/hats accent is on the “1.”

To try and play it, just count yourself in and remember to make the first few hits pick-up notes.  The fill is four bars long, but the four bars don’t start until the SECOND snare/hats accent.  So it will sound/feel like this:

1, 2, 3 PA-pa-pa-PA…”

The first “Pa” is accented (all caps) and lands on “& of 3,” the next two hits fill the gap on “4” and “& of 4,” and then the 2nd big accent is on the downbeat.  It just repeats from there a couple times and then he syncopates it a little.  The whole thing is really obvious and feels very cool once your orientation on the downbeat is correct, and the counts leading up to the hits will help with that.

Now check out Bonham doing it for real (and he’s even using the amber acrylic kit).

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.

Sorry I didn’t write much last week. Busy week.

My question for today has to do with whether you guys think fills should be consistent. By using the word “consistent” in reference to “fill,” I by no means intend to imply that your fills would ever be inconsistent in the sense of being sloppy in their execution or badly timed. I am instead wondering about whether or not the fills in a given tune (pop/rock tune, that is) should be the same in every performance of that song. For instance, it is generally expected that a rock drummer will be consistent with the GROOVES in a song (a certain groove for the verse, a certain groove for the chorus, etc). Every time you perform that song, the grooves should be the correctly played and correctly placed. But should the FILLS be that way too?

Many drummers in rock history have established themselves with “signature” fills… fills that function almost like a melodic hook in the song (e.g. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” intro fill, or the standard Motown fill on “Ain’t To Proud To Beg”). But at the same time, most of my favorite drummers seem to regard fills as an improvising moment, playing different fills at every performance (John Bonham, Steve Jordan, Stewart Copeland, Manu Katche… to name a few).

I realized a few years ago that the “improvised” approach was my default approach when I played a short tour with a band that some of my friends are in called Pivitplex. I played on all the tracks from their 2006 release “The King In A Rookery,” and about a year later they were between drummers and called me for some subbing. I re-learned all my parts for the songs and showed up to the first gig and everything went great, except afterward the guitarist was commenting that I hadn’t played all the fills verbatim from the record. I was really surprised that he had expected me to – I certainly never planned on it. He wasn’t mad or anything, because I played fills that were in the same vein as the ones from the record, so everything sounded fine. But the fact that he was so familiar with the album, combined with the band requiring their previous drummer to learn the fills exactly, meant that he had all the album fills memorized and noticed when I didn’t do them exactly the same. It turns out that he defaults to a “do-the-same-fill-every-time” strategy, while I default to a “copy-key-fills-but-improvise-all-the-rest” approach.

I have since had a few gigs where I’ve needed to do the fills EXACTLY, and it’s hard. I guess it just challenges the memory a lot more. But then again, drummers who don’t usually improvise seem to find improvised fills to be difficult as well.

So… John Bonham… drummer for Zeppelin… everybody knows and loves him. He’s the father of rock drumming as we know it, and his drum tone is one of the most sought-after sounds in studio work of every genre (his intro on “When The Levy Breaks” from Led Zeppelin 4 is one of the most heavily sampled grooves of all time).

Bonham was known for his lengthy solos, which often included 3-limb triplet patterns that have since come to be known by many as “Bonham triplets.” These patterns sound pretty cool, but aren’t necessarily very useful outside of a soloing context (in my opinion). I’ve found them more helpful as an exercise/rudiment than as a staple ingredient in my playing.

I was talking about these patterns with a student today so I thought I would post them and encourage everybody to spend some time getting comfortable with these. They’re very good exercises on many levels.

Main pattern: R-L-B, R-L-B, R-L-B, R-L-B

(note: These patterns are all triplet-based, and should be counted as “1-lah-lee, 2-lah-lee, 3-lah-lee, 4-lah-lee.” I’m inserting commas between each full triplet… aka every three notes. The “R” is right hand and should be played on the floor tom, the “L” is left hand and should be played on the rack tom, and the “B” is bass/kick. The patterns should be played smoothly with no pauses or accents).

Alternate pattern #1: L-R-B, L-R-B, L-R-B, L-R-B

Alternate pattern #2: B-R-L, B-R-L, B-R-L, B-R-L (you can also switch L and R on this)

Alternate pattern #3: L-B-R, L-B-R, L-B-R, L-B-R (you can switch L and R on this one too)

Alternate pattern #4: R-L-B, L-R-B, R-L-B, L-R-B (this one alternates as you go)

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