Floyd Sneed: The Unmistakeable Backbeat of Three Dog Night

When I was a kid growing up in Delaware in the 70’s, I listened to a lot of top-40 radio while in elementary and middle school. Three Dog Night was one of my favorite groups, and it was the first group where I distinctly remember listening to the drummer for the feel he created. That drummer was Floyd Sneed.

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He played a clear, acrylic Zickos kit with double bass, which at the time was about as cool as it got. Floyd was built like Billy Cobham, so his physical presence behind the kit was formidable. His solid grooves and use of backbeat were what really got my attention. (Note: If you’re ever in Hollywood and want to see his kit, walk through the doors of Pro Drum and look up and behind you, on the shelf above the door…).

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Disco was about eight years away from invading the airwaves, but Floyd employed a kind of groove that clearly preceded what would become the classic sound, and he also played it in a way that Billy Cobham would later popularize on his China cymbal. “Black and White” kicks that groove in well, and I remember getting a very strong sense of feel that made me appreciate keeping time quite a bit.

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His backbeat always seemed (at least to me) to hang back just a bit, creating a very cool platform for the other musicians to contribute over. Some guys just have it in their blood, and the rest of us have to work at figuring it out. I still cogitate on it from one measure to another at times…

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Three Dog Night owned the airways for a brief period during the 70’s, delivering one pop hit after another with no Pro Tools, and I would seriously doubt any click-tracks. It was human beings playing human feel, with incredible harmonies. As disco began its insidious invasion, I lamented the loss of simple pop music, but I often thought about Floyd Sneed and his great feel. “Out in the Country,” “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” “Never Been to Spain,” “Joy to the World,” and “Mama Told Me Not to Come” are just a few that come to mind.

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Many years later, I had the opportunity to meet Floyd when I was writing for Easyriders magazine. He lived near the offices, and he was playing in a little bar around the street. I introduced myself during the break and told him how much I had loved his playing over the years, and we had a great conversation. Turns out he was as equally interested in art, and he has done a lot with it as a mode of personal expression.

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We met a few more times at the same bar, and one night, he gave me a small paperback about Three Dog Night. I have no idea what ever happened to it over the years, but it meant a lot coming from a drumming idol.

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Every generation has their music and the values they associate with it. Mine will always be the 70’s, an era that emphasized the human element of real-time performance. Floyd’s grooves, feel, and musical fills hold a special place, and if you want to hear good, solid, musical drumming, check out the streaming tunes available for a bit of old school schooling. You might just find yourself tapping your toes, bobbing your head and humming… the way you do when something works the way it should and is played as it should.

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For me, Floyd Sneed’s playing is a backbeat model for drummers, someone I will always look forward to returning to, providing reminders of when music was truly magical to me, and how to keep my own feet tapping and head bobbing…

 

For more information on Floyd Sneed, checkout his website at http://www.floydsneed.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Top Practice Areas For Increasing Your Drumming Speed

Welcome to the AfterTimes. We live in strange days and a new world as of only a few months ago. It’s filled with a great deal of uncertainty that until now we’ve only seen in movies. Kids born today will be referred as Generation WTF, I’m sure of it.

As we wait for better days, some things never change. The need to practice and improve our drumming craft doesn’t have to succumb to Covid-19 or anything else if we can stay healthy and stay focused. Since a great many drummers of all ages want to increase their speed, here are five top areas for you to work on.

  1. Use Proper Technique: Sloppy practice equals sloppy neural programming. Garbage in, garbage out. Take care of technique, and speed comes much easier. This means LEARN YOUR RUDIMENTS and PRACTICE MOVING VERY SLOWLY AND PRECISELY. Exaggerate your movements to discover the full range of motion of each rudiment you’re learning.
  2. Think Fast: You have to be able to hear the speed you aspire to. Sing patterns out loud. Doing this energizes your entire mind/body connection. Hear them in your head and re-create them, over and over and over and over. You’re priming your neural pathways by doing so. Use a metronome while you do this. You’ll be quite surprised at how effective this technique is.
  3. Relax: Part of proper technique is relaxing. This is different from executing the movements precisely, because if you stiffen up as you speed up, you’ll choke yourself out. Breathe, keep you shoulders relaxed, and the SECOND you feel your muscles tighten up, STOP. Shake your hands off, stretch your legs and calves, then get back to it.
  4. Visualize Your Performance: Close your eyes and see yourself practicing, gradually increasing your speed. This also helps develop the mind/body connection, and if you don’t believe me, ask professional athletes and coaches who’ve been using this technique for decades. See your hands starting slow with say, paradiddles, and then moving faster and faster. The same applies to your feet.
  5. Vary Your Stick Weights and Pedal Tension: Use three different weight sticks (light, medium heavy), and alternate between them as you practice. Try playing marching sticks as quietly as possible to discover the degree to which you can refine your control, then switch immediately to light sticks (7A), then medium (5A), or some similar combination. Likewise with bass drum pedals, although this does take little more work. If you can find small weight to attach to the beater stem, give that a try, or adjust the pedal distance quite a ways back form the head. This will definitely make you work harder.

Most of us have nowhere else to be right now, so give these ideas a shot and see what happens. Ultimately, we want to be able to play whatever we do musically, and there is a time and a place to unleash and make a blistering musical statement. If you put time into developing these five top areas of improving your speed, you may soon discover that your inner drummer has a Ferrari waiting to be revved and cut loose. All you have to do is turn the practice key, and you’ll be leaving these strange days in the dust before you know it.  Good luck!

Drum! magazine is closing

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As you read this, Drum!magazine is preparing to shut down. One of the longest-running drum publications will be closing its doors after a run of twenty-eight years. Originally spawned from Drums and Drumming, Drum! magazine was launched under the publishing direction of Phil Hood, his wife Connie, and editor Andy Doerschuk in September 1991.

I wrote regularly for Drum! throughout the 90’s, doing features and providing whatever ink Andy needed. I was introduced to Andy when he was editor of Drums and Drumming, where I wrote the introduction to a piece called “The Drummers of Miles Davis” (the body of the article was written by the late Adam Ward Seligman). This assignment was the beginning of my professional writing career, something I’ve always been grateful for.

Andy gave me a truly powerful lesson in writing in that article, showing me how moving paragraph three of the intro to the very beginning proved to be the perfect editorial change. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve used this writing device, but I certainly owe it to him.

Over the years, I had the opportunity to interview some of drumming and percussion’s true heavyweights, including Terry Bozzio and Chad Wackerman, Luis Conte, Bill Summers, Rick Allen, and Virgil Donati. Through Drum!, I also had the opportunity to write my dream article, “10 Billy Cobham Tracks You Must Hear.”

Phil Hood sold Drum! to Stringfellow Publishing in 2016, where it was steered by Nick Grizzle. The magazine converted to a quarterly version, but even this reduction was not enough to prevent the virtually inevitable overrun by the digital world and the reduction in demand for printed matter. In a nine-hundred mile and hour, sound byte world, waiting a few months for something to hold in your hands simply proved too much for conventional publishing.

I have little additional information to offer, but I do know that Drum! will not be forgotten. It was a magazine that wanted to always remind you that you should be playing. The title was a directive, a command, an order of the highest order, to get behind your kit and light it up. The exclamation point in the title was no accident. It was an imperative.

And it IS imperative that we continue to do exactly that.

 

 

Tourette Syndrome and Music: Discovering Peace Through Rhythm and Tone

As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve written posts about Tourette Syndrome and drumming based on my having lived with it since I was six. What I have not written about in depth until now is how for fourteen years, from six to 20, I had no idea what the problem was.

Music and drumming gave me the tools to express my energy, find relief, and stay sane while looking for the answer as to why my body would not and could not still. I owe a great deal of who and what I am as a drummer and a musician to this disorder, and I decided a few years ago that the time had come to write about all I had learned, and share thoughts on how to overcome something and turn it into a better thing.

That said, I finally finished the book that basically took a lifetime to write.

 

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The control that drumming gave me over my mind and body through the years got stronger and stronger, and I really believe it helped reduce the need for medication. I was able to earn my private pilot’s license and even go on to become an airplane flight instructor, which let me produce my books exactly as I wanted to, leading to this day.

There are so many music projects I have my fingers in, and now they can receive the full attention I’ve always wanted to give them. Besides playing, teaching, and recording, I can now tour and lecture about my rhythm books (The Elements of Rhythm Vols. I & II), and do the drum set/drum circle demos around the country and around the world that I’ve conducted in Southern California over the past three years.

A major section in this new book talks about that, and I’ll be writing another blog shortly about my most recent such performance, which was aided greatly (as always) by Remo and their hand drums and recreational music program (www.remormc.com).

I cannot adequately express my thanks to Loire Cotler (www.loirevox.com) for writing the foreword, drawing on her background as a music therapy professor and as an unparalleled rhythmic vocalist. I could think of no one more qualified to offer thoughts on the book. And over the past 22 years, Dr. Oliver Sacks (www.oliversacks.com) has graciously mentioned my playing and how drumming was served by Tourette’s in several of his publications, including his landmark work, Musicophilia.

 

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When I visited England last September and presented my rhythm books at an academic seminar (RPPW 14), the other highlight was being able to play for a group of Tourette kids in Birmingham. It showed me that I could, with the right planning, do this anywhere in the world… which is exactly what I plan on doing.

It’s a project that means a great deal to me, because the fraternity of drumming is what gave me a sense of safe belonging all my life… and so, to all my fellow drummers, I hope you will accept my ongoing thanks for your interest in my little blog and the work it hopes to achieve. This book is a part of that, along with rhythm pattern theory, polyrhythms, and everything else I can stick my rhythm fingers into.

As drummers, we KNOW the magic that comes with playing… I want to share that magic with a special group of people who need to believe there is more to the world than being teased, feeling overwhelmed, and wondering if things will ever get better.

Drumming has always answered “yes” to the last part, and as I prepare to take many things on the road, let nothing stop you from going after whatever you want to do with your own playing. Like Frank Zappa says, “Music is the best.”

Truer words, I have never heard… and now, it’s finally time to completely let ‘er rip… 🙂

 

(To purchase the book, please click on the cover images to go to Amazon.com)

Ed Shaughnessy Recovering From Back Surgery – Please Write Him

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I wanted to re-post this short note from Chicago Drum Show after seeing this on Facebook today:

 

To all friends of the Chicago Drum Show and/or Ed Shaughnessy: Ed’s back surgery was successful but the recovery is going very slowly. He does not have internet access in the rehab facility for now, and days are dragging. It would cheer him up get get cards and letters! Please send communications to: Ed Shaughnessy, Room 115A, Canyon Oaks Rehab, 22029 Saticoy St, Canoga Park, CA 91303. Thanks everybody!!

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I met Ed Shaughnessy 30 years ago when I first moved to Los Angeles. He was still the drummer for The Tonight Show, and I went to hear him play at a club in the San Fernando Valley called Dante’s. Ed was good friends with Hank Levy, my odd meter mentor in college, and we talked at every break. Imagine being a 20-year-old kid from Delaware, new to Los Angeles, and Ed Shaughnessy is buying you drinks!

 

I’ll never forget it. I saw Ed this past January at the 2012 NAMM show, and he was using a walker to get to the Ludwig booth. He had to have been in pain then, I can only imagine how his recovery is going, hopefully not too bad. 

If you’ve been laid up, you know it’s not much fun. I hope readers from all over the world will drop this drumming legend a line, even a small postcard would make his day. Let’s remind Ed what the brotherhood of drumming is all about. And don’t forget, he has a new book out called “Lucky Drummer.”

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