Returning to Roots: Black Sabbath’s First Album and Its Truthful Content


I’ve been a jazz drummer forever, but rock was the foundation, back in the early 70’s. Recently, I revisited an album that transformed not only drumming but my perception of playing. It’s feeding my soul more than I expected, and I’d like to share some thoughts about that …


In 1970, and I was a kid growing up in Newark, Delaware. I had a neighbor who was a little older, and she was into the coolest music. She loaned me a copy of Black Sabbath, and I can honestly remember the first few moments of the opening track like it was yesterday.



“Black Sabbath” starts with quiet rainfall, then a distant chime … and then the metal. Three notes. Three simple notes … followed by drummer Bill Ward’s deep tom fills, and Ozzy’s unmistakable dark to the depth of your soul voice.


The unadulterated purity of musical truth, right there in your face, not racing to the next measure. Just being. A simple hi-hat pulse to carry the rest of the song, dressed with Ward’s equally understated fills. Truly musical drumming, on a level I still look back at with great respect. His use of dynamics in the fills made all the difference.




“The Wizard” lit it up with raw harmonica, then Tony Iommi’s fuzz tones from below. Ward’s rock beat had more bounce to it than just a solid slam, something I’m sure he owed to his years of jazz inspiration. His sparse use of an occasional open hi-hat was more like a scoop, but to me, it showed some intentional execution that was placed exactly where he wanted it to happen. And this in itself was a further drumming lesson.


The lengthy “Wasp/Behind the Wall of Sleep/Bassically/N.I.B.” starts with a jazz waltz! Then it transitions to a solid Ward pulse, a perfect example of how Black Sabbath could and did shift musical gears on a dime. This too was a lesson in drumming that I was really curious about as a kid. Bill Ward could play MUCH more than just a beat. He played music.


“Wicked World” … what other songs of the day began with a classic 4/4 jazz hi-hat groove? Then straight into wall-slamming backbeat? The shifts back and forth from feels were what got my attention, because you didn’t know where things were gonna go at all. And about 2 minutes in, a light jazz ride of sorts and strumming guitar, followed by Iommi ripping into his humbuckers with pure raw strings. A twenty second journey into no-frills, right in your face, be a musician bit of grind.



“A Bit of Finger/Sleeping Village/Warning” is the closing tunes, or compilation of songs, depending on you look at it. I can best describe it as Ward and Iommi letting ‘er rip in a variety of feels, from blues/rock to heavy metal shred. And by the way, throughout every track, bassist Geezer Butler is about as solid and understated a player as you’d have heard in the day. He’s so there you don’t even notice him. And that’s pretty damn there!



Black Sabbath was recorded in one day. ONE DAY. October 16, 1969. And on that day, heavy metal was born. It was released released on 13 February 1970 in the United Kingdom and on 1 June 1970 in the United States, according to a wiki article. It captured the truth of the moment, on this stuff called tape. No digital cleanup, no Pro Tools, no click track. Just four guys and a sound.


I was 11 when I heard this album, and man, did it ever imprint. I worked hard to understand Bill Ward’s drumming, and only came to appreciate and grasp it further once I got into jazz a few years later. Over the decades, I faded away from rock and metal, became more of a jazz fusion player, went to the extreme end of polyrhythms and odd meters, but sadly, lost touch with the stuff that lit the fires in the first place. You can play a lifetime and master many things, but if you lose contact with your roots, you just float.


“I was born without you, baby, but my feelings were a little bit too strong… just a little bit too strong.” These are the last lines that Ozzy sings, and for me, they mean this: I’m grateful that those feelings were strong enough to last and lead me back to the search for musical truth and roots, because this is what feeds your soul and reminds of where your path began.



As I prepare to return to my hometown of Austin, Texas, in a few weeks, I have felt an overwhelming urge – and really – a desperate need, to reconnect with such musical truth. What the guys in Black Sabbath laid down over 40 years ago remains as valid a statement of moment as any I can find.


So here’s to the boys from Birmingham, the art they created, and to doing a bunch of that – from the heart, mistakes and all – be they slips or slides. Because What they are a bigger part of is the point. And that only took 40+ years to figure out…






Virgil Donati, Camille Bigeault, Gretsch Drums, Austin Texas… and a Muscle car named Em


Howdy, gang! Well here we go with some updates about this and that, wherein I get off my overworked ass and propel ink thusly forward …


Virgil Donati


I wrote the cover story for the July 2017 issue of DRUM! magazine, featuring the incomparable Virgil Donati. What an amazing drummer all the way around! It was a real pleasure and honor to meet him, and I did the interview on my birthday no less!

We hung in his practice studio for probably three hours, hitting all the bases. And of all the thingd we talked about, I have to say, his microphone and recording set-up were a real inspiration, because he’s done several of his album projects recording remotely in a non-traditional studio environment.

It was truly educational to see how anyone can create an AFFORDABLE remote recording environment. Seriously, you don’t need to go into 30-year debt to create a place where you can record your part, export it to friends via DropBox, and have them import and add their own. Many of you already do this, but for those who don’t (raising hand here), it was eye-opening to see how relatively simple it is to do. Virgil was quite patient in explaining it to a newbie, and further on down in today’s blog, I’ll elaborate a bit…


Camille Bigeault


About a year ago, I began seeing video posts and references to a French drummer with some pretty amazing skills. No flash, no glam, just pure understated substance with a great sense of humor. Tama artist Camille Bigeault’s specialty is being about to play complex patterns with individual limbs, combining them to create a song.

This is really cool, and after watching a few of her clips, I became sincerely convinced that she would become a leading explorer in drumming. I friended her on Facebook and sent a message saying exactly that. Last month, Camille was in town, and I got to meet her briefly and hear her sit in at the Baked Potato.

It was fairly loud, as always, but the takeaway was this: after several thousand collective views of her drumming clips, she said she never expected such a response nor really intended to elicit it at that level. It began as a simple 4-limb experiment, playing first one set of notes, then another, then another, that collectively created a song of sorts.

For example, in her “Brain Work” clip on YouTube, Camille plays an 11 pattern with her right hand, kick and hi-hit play a 6 pattern, and her left hand plays a 5 pattern. When it all overlays, you hear a really cool groove, and it works. It’s not forced, strained, or contrived. It’s just cool.

Camille said she posts more stuff on FB, but I’d suggest subscribing to her YouTube channel as well. Either way, She’s got much more interesting stuff planned, and you will want to check it. I think Camille opens such an interesting door for the rest of us, a very advanced one, to explore the drum set as musical instrument capable of creating songs in a unique context.


Gretsch Drums

gretsch street club

I’ve been so utterly overloaded these past few months that I can’t remember if I posted anything about finally planting my feet behind a couple of really cool Gretsch kits. Short version: I was looking for a bop kit, and Guy Murai at Guitar Center showed me a Catalina Club Street kit tucked away in the back room.


The first drum set I ever heard and saw live was red sparkle, and I’ve always wanted one. That was 52 years ago. Well, this little kit made of mahogany stole my heart in two seconds and three taps. Sticks, mallets, brushes… every thing sounded exactly how I’ve always wanted drums to sound. I like sustain with attack at all volume levels, simple as that.

So, I took it home.

gretsch black

Then I went next door to Sam Ash and found a 7-piece Catalina Club black sparkle kit on the floor. Slightly used, but bigger (which I needed for other stuff), and again, sustain with attack at all volume levels. And good lord, when played with mallets? I couldn’t like it/love it enough. To my ear, exactly what I wanted.

I later picked up a 6.5×14” Chrome over Brass snare, a newer one, to add some oomph where needed, and last week, I went back to GC and found a 5×14 1970’s chrome over brass Grestch snare that was headed home… which leads us perfectly to the next item on our blog list…


Austin, Texas


I was born and raised in the Lone Star state, and after many years of here and there, it’s time to go home. Austin may not be as it was, but it will never lose what it is, and I will be heading there at the end of August to begin the next chapter of all things musical. This will include teaching in a private studio and recording remotely as inspired by Virgil Donati’s explorations.

I moved back briefly in the 80’s, learning how to play blues with Kathy and the Kilowatts. I also met and recorded with Arthur Brown (as in The Crazy World of…), but at the time, I felt I needed to be in Los Angeles for several reasons. Some were valid, some not so much.

In any case, the heavy lifting is done here, including writing several books, so now I want to plant myself in the middle of the country a bit south and have access to the East coast and Europe. British Airways has direct flights to Heathrow, so what more could a guy ask for? Time to reach out across the world from a friendly base, and I am looking forward to ditching the sneakers for my boots.




… and a Muscle car named Em

For you MOPAR car fans out there, here’s a couple of pics of my horse: a 2013 Dodge Challenger, 5.7l, Hemi, six-speed manual shift. It hauls ass, kids, and you can hear it doing so for many a mile. Badass and bold, is what she is. I call her Em (for muscle), and while she’s completely impractical for hauling a big kit, the little red sparkle kit fits just fine. I’ll get a van later I suppose. We’ll see … but for now, me and Em (ya like the symmetry of that phrase?) are gonna light it up and blaze across the southwest at the speed of Hemi!

So there ya go, what’s up with what’s goin’ down. I hope your summer is rockin’ along with music and mayhem, but if not, you still have six weeks to perspire and inspire. My fuse is sparkling, with dry powder at the end just waiting to make a little noise.

Meanwhile, be kind, stay focused, and make it happen. All of it. Big time.

Exploring Grooves In 7

Hiya… here’s another Periscope broadcast with some elaboration. Hope you’re enjoying this little experiment…

Short version: grooves in 7 in various musical styles have some things in common that I focus on when I play. 

– subdividing into groups of 2’s and 3’s

– singing the sound of the pulsations once the counting is mastered

– playing from the bottom up, feet first, but driving the underlying pulse with hi-hat or ride cymbal

Core stuff, the essence of making the grooves work. The real key is to make the transitions from the 2 and 3 sub groupings as seamless as possible. If you practice playing jazz, funk, Latin, whatever in 3, you’ll perfect that transition nicely.

So give it a look and listen, and I hope as always that you can grab something useful. Enjoy!

5/4 Samba Groove and Improv – Periscope broadcast

Howdy, thanks for stopping by again to see what’s cookin’ behind my kit. I’m thoroughly enjoying making the on-the-spot Periscope videos and then presenting them here with some further explanation, and I hope what I’m sharing is helpful.


I love playing sambas in 5, and I’ll tell you a little about how to make them flow. I’ll also share some simple thoughts on improvisation and fills in a 5 samba.


A measure of 5/4 can be subdivided 2 + 3, or 3 + 2, meaning where you place the emphasis on the pulse. There are actually TWO pulses within the measure that shape it and create a contour. ONE two ONE two three is the first example. ONE two three, ONE two is the second. The first flows very well and breathes, I mean it really does feel like a lung.


In the video, I explore this idea and show how to make the measures breathe.


The other component has to do with fills mostly, and some improv. With either, you want to create mini-compositions, nice musical statements. So here’s a tip I follow from something I read about Miles Davis. He said he likes to NOT complete a phrase, by leaving things out.


I love doing this. I’ll hear a longer phrase in my head but only play bits of it, kind of fragment it here and there. It lets the audience fill in the spaces. Flurry is fun, but minimal bits and pieces help decorate what you’re doing as well as what your fellow musicians are doing.


There’s other cool performance tips for slow and fast sambas that I think you’ll find conceptually useful.


Anyway, give it a look, lemme know what you think.




– David

Exercises for Well Developed Hands – Periscope broadcast

Howdy again, fellow keepers of the drumming flame. I’m gonna put up one more recent Periscope video with comment here, as I think this little experiment is actually working out pretty well. I like being able to discuss things a bit more, and, it gives you a much better idea of what’s being offered if you have a few minutes to watch.


In this video, I demonstrate exercises I’ve used to keep my hands in shape since I was around 11. I’ll hit 58 in about a week, so, I figure, something must be working with this approach. Mind you, it’s not been every single day since the early 70’s, but in the last fifteen years, yeah I’d say fairly regularly. If there have been gaps, I can literally get back up to speed in about a week or less.


Here’s the breakdown:


3 different weight sticks3 – Marching sticks, 7A’s, and Brushes

3 different grips – traditional, German and French

4 rudiments – single stroke roll, double stroke roll, six stroke roll, paradiddles

3 different volumes – Loud, Medium, Soft


I start with an exercise that Terry Bozzio taught me in the early 1980s, to develop tendon strength directly at the wrist, using German matched grip (back of palm facing up)


Then, French (back of palm facing outward) and then matched grip. All designed to loosen up my wrists and muscles.


Next, double stroke rolls, same grip sequence. Focus on loud to soft transitions with powerful intensity.


Then, six-stroke rolls and Paradiddles, played very loud and very slow to make the wrists work. Anyone can use rebound. Work the muscles and tendons to discover their finesse and limitations. Doing these exercises using brushes is especially helpful, as you’ll see.


I demonstrate some faster execution of the four rudiments, and you can appreciate their applications pretty quickly. I end the video with some timekeeping and execution of fills using combinations of the four rudiments I practice.


I hope it helps give you some tools to keep your hands in shape, but do remember: with great speed and power comes great responsibility. I’m kinda saying this tongue in cheek, but, if you unleash gratuitously and repeatedly, your phone will likely not ring very much. These exercises can be used in musical contexts with some interesting effects, if you do so musically. Going batshit crazy and hoping people will like it is more often than not a super great way to be left alone on stage… permanently.


But hey, we’re drummers. We drive the ship, and if sometimes we feel like leaving a few rooster tails and ripping up the waters, crank it up and let ‘er rip! Besides, life’s too short to just groooooooooove all the time if there’s a bit of animal in you wanting out. It doesn’t hurt to discover what’s truly under your skin now and then…


PS Please let me know if this link expires. I am still learning the in’s and out’s of making Periscope work. Thanks!







A Texas Blues Shuffle Lesson via Periscope


Hello again from the low-tech drumming cave I call home in Los Angeles. In our last adventure, I posted two Periscope links from some broadcasts I’d done recently, and they seemed to work okay. Yay for links! For our next leap into percussive abandon, we’re gonna take a look-see at another Periscope shout out I did about drumming a proper Texas shuffle.


The thing I like about being about to post these links is that I can elaborate on what was basically done on the fly, with no layout like a YouTube lesson or something more structured.


So, first thing: we can agree to disagree about what is exactly a Texas shuffle, as they may vary from place to place… and that’s okay. What I can tell you with a high degree of certainty is that you play the same beat with both hands, and this is the key.


If you keep the snare loudest, the kick second and the cymbals third in terms of volume, you’ll get a nice mix that won’t wash out the band if it’s cymbal heavy, nor will you overdo the drive by stomping the living hell out of the kick drum.


It’s about subtly. And crisp pop. More like a really quick grimace, repeated over and over and over. If you want to hear the master of this hand dance, check out Chris Layton. He was the driver behind the late Stevie Ray Vaughn’s band and does in fact know a thing or two about ba-doobah dop-ah, doobah dop-ah…


As a jazz drummer in my 20’s in Austin, I knew precious little about the aforementioned sound or how to really play a proper Texas shuffle, but thanks to a guitar player named TeePee Tom, and the patience of Kathy Murray and the Kilowatts, I got it dialed in reasonably and have been eternally grateful for their respective tutelage. Annnnd, a very big thanks to Dee Harrell, Kathy’s bass player at the time, for helping me learn how to lock it in.


By the way, Kathy Murray and the Kilowatts are still playing in Austin, so please check them out of you wanna hear it done proper. Here’s her website as well (complete with her new CD link): (


Anyway, here ya go, hope it’s useful, and remember: keep your sticks low to the surfaces to get the bar-b-cue sauce mix just right!



My First Periscope Link Test: 5-note, and 5-note/7-note Explorations

Howdy hi-tech neighbors! If you saw the short blog post I wrote a month or so ago, I shared some information about Periscope and what drummers could do with it.

Well, upon further exploration, I found a simple link to the broadcasts that you can copy and paste into WordPress. I like this because some days, I just want to sit down and play and talk, not work out a formal, flawless lesson presentation that would rival Benny Greb’s production quality. Since I’m a few light years away from his stellar stuff, you’ll have to humour me and settle for the occasional shabby tee-shirt, whatever is clean that day version of drum information sharing…

That said, I had a thought one afternoon about a simple quintuplet presentation, so, I hit Record and started rambling. The link below takes you to the Periscope post, and all you have to do is hit the Play arrow, and it’s off to the races.


Here’s the 5-note/7-note version.


I was exploring these ideas as part of an upcoming series of drum clinics I’d like to do. Things will be a bit more formal and structured so you can really sink your teeth into things, but this will give you the basic idea. Comments, feedback and suggestions are appreciated if you’d like to share a thought or two.


Thanks, and enjoy!

NAMM 2017 and What Really Mattered


Hey gang, yeah, I’ve been slacking here like a boss. A lot of stuff going on, eating my mind and time. It’s about to get busier, with more things to share. As always, I appreciate you stopping by. I really mean that.


So, NAMM 2017… I spent four days there, gathering this and that, running myself into the ground, and ending up sick for a week and a half afterwards. It drained me pretty good, but when you’re surrounded by thousands of people, sick happens.

In the end, after thinking about the whole extended weekend, I wondered, what the hell should I tell you about? Products? Meetings with old friends? Connecting with new friends? Same ol’ shit, really. Boring, filler, nothing of any real consequence. You know from reading this blog for several years that I strive not to be commercial, and that I only rarely mention products.

That’s because I’m far more interested in people. Real people, humble ones, those with integrity, often the lower key folks who run under the radar and just get shit done. Soooo… that’s what I’m gonna tell you about NAMM 2017. Two groups of people. I learned valuable lessons from both, and hopefully, you’ll benefit as well.


A Bartender Named Bobby

It’s Friday night, and I’m hanging with friends I only see once a year. We’re in the lobby of one of the big hotels, listening to live music and wanting to get our drink on. I saunter up to the bar and order a couple of shots, and the bartender looks at me like I’m a Mormon in a whorehouse. Very confused, he was. The glaze in his eyes was strange, even by my definition of strange.

No affect, emotion, juts kinda zoned out. I say, “Yes, I’d like a shot of head-whomping tequila, something to make it pound.” No smile, nothing. He pours a pathetic version of a shot, really more like half of one, in a tiny plastic cup. Just bending over like a wounded robot.


So I pay for my overpriced, under-poured drink, and off we go. I down it quickly, and we go to another bar around the corner, where a bartender with a sense of humor proceeds to fill the shots like shots were meant to be filled. “Now that’s how you do it, young lady!” I exclaimed, sharing my gripe and angst about the shortcomings around the corner. “Yeah, he’s kinda weird,” she replied, with nothing else offered. My friends and I agreed, and off we went into the loud night, buzz in hand and soon down the gullet.

The next night, Saturday, we go back to the same lobby, and I order more drinks for myself while my friends reloaded nearby. As the bartender in pouring, I say to him, “Your man Bobby doesn’t know how to pour a proper shot. Glad to see you do.”

The bartender stops and looks up at me, and says, “Take it easy on him. Bobby’s got Parkinson’s, he’s not gonna be around much longer…”

And right there, the music in my world stopped.

It felt like a freight train going full steam coming to a screeching halt, and everyone hopped off, leaving me to my stupid self, sitting in coach.

The bartender handed me the receipt, and I tripled the tip.

“This much is for you. The rest is for Bobby. Don’t tell him who or why. I’m an idiot. Let’s leave it at that, okay?”

The bartender nodded, I took my drink, and my friends and I left.

You truly never known someone’s story. The are silent struggles everywhere. I hadn’t put my foot that far into my mouth in so long I’d forgotten what the rubber on my sneakers tasted like, but I got quick reminder. The universe speaks in strange ways. It’s always talking to you, sometimes through you. Sometimes through others. It’s the real music we should be listening to.


Streetlight Cadence and their mid-day Serenade

Sunday morning, it’s pouring. Stops and starts, but it was a wet one by day’s end. I checked out of my motel and parked over at the Disney lot and hoofed it about a quarter mile to the NAMM entrance. On the way in, you pass a huge soundstage where people are playing all day.

As I walk by, I see four musicians on the large stage, getting ready to play to about seven or so people. The diehards, standing there with umbrellas, taking in every note, transfixed by the young performers. I kept walking, thinking, “Who the hell plays in the rain to virtually no one?”

And then I hear them, and I stop. Turned around, looked at four guys with no drummer, singing harmonies that painted rainbows across a grey stage and sky. I mean, it was instantaneous. Some of the most beautiful music I’ve heard in a long time, a simple love song.

The small audience remained front and center, taking in every note. They applauded strongly when the song was done and looked forward to the next one. I walked a little more, and then turned around again, this time watching the group on the larger monitor located at the back end of the audience.

Another stunning tune, performed to perfection on an imperfect day with a smattering of listeners. It didn’t matter. The musicians embodied what music was about, what it should be about, what it must be about. The performance. The moment. The presence.

Google Streetlight Cadence.

And that was part two of the universe having its say.



I’m guessing the third part would be me writing this blog and sharing the moments with you. I’ve always felt that being a writer was more like being a vessel for something larger, kind of a scribbling pack mule transporting thoughts from nether regions to the light of day. So for now, that’s what I’m going with.

Give more than you want to get. Consider the unknown stories, and play to the falling rain, like every note is the only note. Sure, music is a business and you do have to hustle to get your meaningful message out, but hustle with heart. Strike that balance, and the road will unfold in some very interesting ways.

And don’t forget to feel your feet as you walk, because remembering to play from the ground up is everything.




NAMM 2017 Periscope Broadcasting Thursday-Sunday

Howdy, gang, a short post here. If you go to Periscope and follow me on @DaldridgeDrums, I’ll be putting up clips here and there throughout the event. I’ll let you know if I see something truly interesting and unique. I’m especially interested in Zildjian’s new line of dry K’s. I’ll let ya know what else is cool. Please follow me, and we’ll see ya soon! – David
Update 3:10 p.m. Thursday: quick addition. The Zildjian’s were amazing, but pretty loud around me, hard to hear. I’m going back to see if I can get a decent sample, but believe me, these things are awesome!

Update  8:15 pm Friday I set up the live Periscope feeds to also go to my Twitter @daldridgedrums 

It’s hard to get decent sound in the NAMM hall with soooooo much noise going on around, so please bear with me. I’ll do the best I can with my trusty 6s iPhone!

When One Note Will Do: The Perfection of Weather Report’s “Milky Way”


I was in my teens when Weather Report entered the jazz world and forever turned it on its proverbial ear. I left heavy metal and prog rock for a while and opened my mind to an entirely different reality. The colors were endless, and the thought processes were unlike anything I’d ever experienced.


I can’t recall who turned me on to Weather Report, but I bought their first album to learn more about where jazz was headed. The opening track, “Milky Way,” remains one of my favorites, mostly because of the lessons offered regarding simplicity, as well as expanded thinking.



The surreal chordal beauty of the song speaks for itself, so I’ll get right to my point. At 1:12 into it, a single percussion strike occurs. The personnel for the album included Airto Moreira, and a Wiki article mentioned that Don Alias and Barbara Burton played but were not credited.


So… I can’t tell you who hit the note. All I can say is, it landed exactly where it needed to.


But it’s not THE note.


That one occurs at 1:37 into the song, and it’s played by saxophonist and weather report co-founder Wayne Shorter.


And it’s perfect.



DownBeat awarded Album of the Year to Weather Report’s inaugural effort, and it took me down a path I’ve appreciated for decades. I often cite “Milky Way” as probably the best example I’ve ever heard of simplicity, timing and unobtrusive playing.


Wayne Shorter’s terse breath is likely a lesson of great magnitude for sax players in terms of execution, duration, and phrasing, but what we drummers can take away from it is the single moment and how it could sound on so many different surfaces.


Now you might be thinking, “Well, why aren’t you singing the praises of the one percussion strike?” I suppose it’s because that’s something I would expect from percussion, hearing something struck. I think Shorter’s note was ALSO percussive in its execution, which to me says he could have been thinking of his instrument in a different context.


And this is where the door really opens.


As drummers, we strike surfaces… but how often do we listen to other instruments and then seek to mimic their phrasing and approach to their instrument? A keyboard player can’t exactly make a note whisper like a breath in the unique way a sax player can. Likewise, a sax player can’t hit a handful of keys, but they can rapidly player the notes in the keys struck. The keyboard player could then mimic the phrasing of a sax player doing runs of notes, perhaps using grace notes to simulate short flows of breath.



That was and remains the real beauty for me in “Milky Way,” how it opens my mind to think of how other instruments phrase, because – and here is some real gold – it makes me think more about the other performers and how I could strive to understand and perceive the world through their eyes/ears.


Do this, and you get out of yourself and into the process of the music being performed. Do this, and you step up your musical game considerably. You develop bigger ears, hear space more, become patient and content with letting the music evolve on the spot.


You step outside yourself, and by offering room for the perfect note to show up, you clear the way for everyone else who is doing the same thing.


Get a stage full of that going on, you have magic.