Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Power of the Backbeat!!!!

The other day I had an incredible experience. In fact, it's hard to describe so I hope I can do it justice.

As some of you can tell from the blog. Sometimes I work on rather "brainy" stuff at the drums.
There's nothing wrong with this necessarily but a lot of this material is long term. I can't use it tonight on a gig.
Also, I would never want anyone to think that I think this stuff is more important than some of the basic tenants of drumming. Dynamic control, good feel and tempo, pleasing sound, good balance of the limbs, appropriate stylistic choices are just a few of the immutable elements of playing that I try to work on continually and bring to any musical situation I'm in.

Anyway, when I'm feeling like my playing in general is sounding "brainy" I'll play along to recordings. This is always a good way to get me back focusing on what's really important.

I did this the other day. I played along with 3 tracks. Although I don't think it's all that important what they were, I'll mention them just the same.

1. Wah-Wah- George Harrison (Loose Classic Ringo.)

2. Lazy Susan- Sweet Thing (Tune by a current Canadian band. Drummer Tyler Kyte basically plays a Disco beat in the chorus that's tricky to get to sit exactly right, at least for me!)

3. I'm the Flyer- Saga (Canadian 80s art rock.)

When I was playing along to these recordings that I knew quite well, I just concentrated on keeping the groove as tight with the recordings as possible and playing with a very consistant sound. What's hard to describe is that because I was just concentrating on these elemental things rather than worrying about being more complex or the next difficult thing I was going to practice is that I could feel the drums getting more and more powerful. I felt like I was putting every bit of my soul into every back beat. Every time I had my heart broken, all joy, all sorrow, was being channeled into the drums. It was like playing those back beats was the reason I was put on this earth for.

I was playing the little drums I'm usually playing on the video but I swear they sounded like big huge Rock type drums from the amount of intent I was putting into it.
Definitely a mind over matter situation.

..and now my goal is to make everything feel that way and hopefully reach people the way I think it will.
Someone on CBC recently said something like "Music from the heart touches the heart."

Unfortunately for 37 some years now I have been playing a lot of music from the head, the ego the fear, and the jealousy, to name a few not so good places.

I'm attempting to leave that all from now on.

I don't think one can do this only with Pop or Rock Music. I certainly hear this whenever I hear Tony Williams, for example. In fact I noticed on the live Miles from '67 I've been checking out I swear I can hear Tony's later set-up with the black dot heads and the 24" bass drum. He was hearing that sound and was able to produce it almost 10 years before he used that gear!!!!

Anyway, Rock and Pop work really well because if we're confident that we can physically play the grooves we can concentrate on playing the drums like it's the only thing we've ever wanted to do in our life. Also the very elemental way of playing in Rock (sometimes) where details like how open the hi-hat is or trying to play the time on an almost microscopic level gets us to focus on just playing. I think it also helps us get there if it's music that we have an emotional connection to. You know, not just "I like this because it's complex and shows how smart I am". Stuff we REALLY DIG. THAT GIVES US GOOSEBUMPS. It doesn't matter what it is. Don't be ashamed.

There was a time when I was into flash and would mock players like Phil Rudd. It's now with a mix of wonder and horror that I can ever imagine thinking that way. He's a heavy as any of the "cats" because he plays perfectly for the music!

One more thing. (I can't remember if I've posted this before. Bear with me if I have.)
Some years back I was with a band that played in Vancouver at the Cellar and a great piano trio from Seattle (with special guest Joe LaBarbera) actually opened for us. Joe didn't want any hassles at the border so he brought his stick bag but used all my gear otherwise.

When Joe got up to play, he didn't move anything one INCH from where I had left it.
He sounded as if he had been playing those drums his whole life and played so musically and beautifully as always.

Then we went on and actually were recorded for the gig. I played okay but was having a lot of trouble focusing and certainly didn't play my best by any stretch of the imagination.
Afterwards the bassist came up to me and said. "Joe f*cked you up, didn't he?" I said something like "It was that obvious, huh?" and his reply was, "Oh yeah!"

Why did Joe mess me up? Which actually was me messing myself up.
Well besides making my drums and cymbals sound way better than whenever I played them, he also played just the music. No empty flash, no "Look at me". Everything he played (again, he always does this) was for the betterment of the music, not for his ego.

So when I go on my mind was filled with thoughts such as. "Man Ted you play a lot of B.S." or, "That thing you just did, how does that have ANYTHING to do with the tune we're just playing?"

It was sort of like seeing monster chops player at a drum festival, except in reverse!!!!

Obviously, this is a lesson I keep getting taught over and over. Hopefully I'm internalizing it more as I mature.
I think if I can get my intent/ears chops together I can start to become the player I've always wanted to be!!!!!



Oh, just for fun, here's the Saga tune.


  1. Great post, Ted. Joe is a great drummer and friend. He plays himself, honest, humble, sensitive. He gets right into the heart of the music.

  2. Absolutely Steve! I remember that evening with Joe very clearly as a lesson in how musically selfish I often am!