Friday, February 24, 2012

Inside the drummer's studio, Installment 7!

Hey all,
Today I'm talking with Paul DeLong. A great drummer who has been inspiring me for a long time.

Here he is (at least in virtual form)....

...And here's a short bio for those of you not familiar with his work.

Best known for his multi-platinum success with rock artist Kim Mitchell, Paul has forged a career which encompasses funk, fusion, jazz and latin, working with such diverse artists as Tom Scott, Domenic Troiano, David Blamires, Lawrence Gowan, Carlos Del Junco, Carol Welsman, Dave Restivo, Nick "Brownman" Ali, Colm Wilkinson, Doug Riley, Hilario Duran, David Clayton Thomas, Roger Hodgson and The Canadian Tenors to name a few. As a Juno award winner and respected session player Paul has performed at P.I.T. and the N.A.M.M. shows in L.A., twice at the Montreal Drumfest and at the Cape Breton Drumfest. He is one of SABIAN cymbals most popular and effective clinicians. Always active on the studio scene, Paul has recorded numerous jingles and worked on TV shows such as Degrassi Junior High, Top Cops, Counterstrike, E.N.G. and more recently, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?

Paul has taught part-time at Humber College in Toronto for the past 24 years and written several articles for Modern Drummer magazine. He also taught and performed at KOSA 2010. His book "DeLong Way" To Polyrhythmic Creativity On The Drumset is now being distributed worldwide by Hudson Ltd. In 1994 Paul became involved in musical theatre, first subbing on shows such as Tommy, Joseph and Rent in Toronto, and then touring across Canada and the U.S. with those same productions. He was the first sub on the Toronto production of The Lion King for three and a half years and in 2004 was first chair for the musical Hairspray. Next came Hair in 2006 and Peter Pan in 2007.

Paul's fusion band The Code has 4 CDs, the last release being "Dreams Speak Song". Paul has recently been involved with various tribute acts including Heavy Weather (Weather Report tribute), Brass Transit (Chicago tribute) and You Can Close Your Eyes (James Taylor tribute). For the past few years he has also performed with Jeans 'n Classics, which pairs a rock band with a symphony orchestra.

Current endorsements include Yamaha drums, Sabian cymbals, Remo drumheads, LP Percussion and Vater sticks.

Paul was kind enough to answer some questions about music and drumming for me. He is as articulate and intelligent when dealing with words as he is with sounds!

1. Can you name a particular live performance and/or recording that had a profound influence on you?

Without a doubt it was seeing the Mahavishnu Orchestra live at Maple Leaf Gardens, May 4, 1973. I didn't know that music could have such a powerful effect on me, but by the middle of the first tune I was shaking and crying! It felt like an out of body experience and they did not seem like mortal men to me. I was 20 at the time so it had a huge impact on me. I have a recording of that show and it's still the most amazing music and performance that I've ever heard.
No matter what gig I'm doing I always carry that memory with me and try to instill some of that intensity...... which was difficult when I was playing with Sharon , Lois , and Bram!

2. In your excellent book "DeLong Way to Polyrhythmic Creativity" you mention times when you were younger where you might have not "played the gig" as much as you needed to. As someone who now definitely plays appropriately for every situation you are involved in, how did you work on this?

I didn't work on it. I had enough people tell me that I was ruining their day by playing that stuff, so finally I got the message! A certain amount of it is just growing up and wanting to sound like a pro instead of like a little kid practicing on stage. I'm still learning how to edit myself and I think that's a life long process. You learn to see the beauty in simplicity and the beauty in getting to the heart of the music. Someone like Steve Gadd or Peter Erskine exemplifies this to a tee. And from what I've read they both went through a process of realizing that they needed to address this problem. Some people never get it, and those people don't work too much!

3. As someone who plays in a Fusion environment frequently, you always seem to play so warmly, and with a lot of personality and soul, factors I sometimes find missing in that style of music. Do you have a particular way you approach this music to keep it from being stiff and cold?

Thanks for the compliment. Lenny White was my main fusion hero and he always made everything feel great. Billy Cobham always had a bad ass groove too and he applied that to odd time playing as well. But I think it's all about phrasing. Tony Williams was the master of that and I wore out several copies of Believe It checking that out. Also Gary Husband's playing with Allan Holdsworth really exemplified phrasing and musicality to the max for me. That first I.O.U. album has some beautiful drumming on it. But getting back to Tony, everything he played was always so clear and you could sing the phrases as opposed to someone who might play a lot of notes without any shape or form. There's a tune on Allan Holdsworth's album Atavachron, called Looking Glass, that demonstrates this to a tee. I've heard Vinnie and a few other drummers play that tune, but nobody ever captured the beauty and elegance of Tony's version. So that's what I try to emulate, to play with feel and musicality. I think also that because I've played so much commercial music, it's had a good effect on my fusion playing!

4. You've played in many sonic environments over the years, including stadiums and hockey arenas in your days with Kim Mitchell. Did playing in these spaces create any specific issues that are different from playing in clubs and small concert halls?

It was quite an adjustment at first. Everything, including the count-ins had to be larger than life. Early on I would listen to live tapes after the gig and realize that a lot of the stuff I was playing wasn't coming through. I realized that ghost notes had to be louder than I would normally play them and I really had to lay into the toms more...particularly the floor toms. I would start off a tour feeling a little weak but after a few gigs I would really be feeling strong. I had muscles back then!
When we were opening for Bryan Adams across the US in the summer of 1985 I got to watch his drummer, Pat Steward, every night. His nickname was the Axe, and I learned quite a bit about playing arenas and stadiums from watching him. He played loud but with finesse and great feel. Not unlike John Bonham who I saw with Led Zeppelin in 1971. He hit the drums hard, but was loose and had a beautiful swing to his playing.

5. As well as your busy playing schedule you also do a lot of clinics and teaching. Do you find there are elements of music that are getting ignored by the current crop of young players?

Well, I think because of youtube, and the gospel chop guys, and fastest drummer contests, a lot of young drummers are missing the boat entirely. If you took one of these guys and said to him, okay let's hear you play The Weight by the Band, and make it feel great and play tasty fills like Levon Helm did, they wouldn't have a clue. Don't get me wrong, I'm very entertained by the gospel chop guys, but just visualize one of them on a Rickie Lee Jones or Steely Dan session and they start whipping out those chops.....obviously they wouldn't last too long. I try to play a lot of music for my students at lessons and always include Little Feat, The Band, The Average White Band, Steely Dan etc. so they can hear the artistry of the perfectly orchestrated drum part.

6. In your book you do a great job of taking an idea and exhausting most of it's possibilities. Is this a similar approach you take when you're practicing and did you always approach material this way?

Thanks again! I used to transcribe a ton of stuff when I was younger and I think writing things down is what made me think of other variations and possibilities. What if this triplet lick was played as sixteenths, and what if we picked a different starting point? And how about changing the original voicing? So that got ingrained in me and now I always ask myself those questions. You can get a lot of mileage out of one idea and also you can steal someone else's idea and make it your own.

7. Finally, what are you currently working on and what are your plans for the future?

Well, we have a new Code CD out, so we're going to start rehearsing and attempt to play some of it live! I seem to be the tribute king these days, so I'm very busy with Brass Transit (Chicago tribute), You Can Close Your Eyes (James Taylor tribute), Heavy Weather (Weather Report tribute) and I'm still playing with Pretzel Logic (Steely Dan tribute). Still playing with David Clayton-Thomas too, and now I'm involved in a newly reformed version of FM with Cam Hawkins. I also work for Jeans 'n Classics which pairs a rock band with a symphony orchestra. I'm trying to get my own band going again too. We play our favourite fusion covers.
But my main goal is to try to get my theory stuff together enough to try to write one good tune before I die!! Kind of like the guy in RENT.....
I'm thinking about a new book too, but that's a huge mountain to scale!

Wow! Thanks Paul.
I'm just going to add a couple of things.
You can buy Paul's excellent book here.
Also, I think it's telling that so many of Paul's responses reference great players that inspired him. He's obviously checked out so much music and used it to forge his own thing.

Here's a great videos of the man in action,
Here he is playing the drum solo at the coda of "Aja" with Pretzel Logic

...and this is audio Paul playing the tune "Kids in Action" with Kim Mitchell from his first solo album

Rock n Roll that kills indeed!

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