Hey Drummers, Compose Your Musical Future!

Howdy again from ATX, home of SXSW and some very entertaining bats who erupt from underneath the Congress Avenue bridge. I moved back home two years ago to regain some perspective on a lot of things, including music and drumming. I wanted to share a few thoughts with you about both in this piece, focusing on how we create our true musical future.

Many years ago, a friend of mine from high school (guitarist Chris McDermott) said I should write my own music to showcase myself and my style of drumming. I’ll never forget that conversation, a brief phone call that changed everything. I was heavily into odd meters at the time (1979) and had been since high school, when composer Hank Levy came up from Baltimore on a government arts grants to teach us his style of music. Hank was writing for Don Ellis and Stan Kenton at the time, and he believed a rhythmic revolution was long overdue.

I had very little music education and did not really think I could write my own music. There was no Garage Band, no Pro Tools, no laptops to help you construct music one step at a time on an electronic grid. There was blank sheet music, pencils, and inspiration. For someone with my level of ADD, learning how to read music was agonizing. The symbols barely made sense, and it was extremely frustrating to even think about following my friend’s suggestion of somehow showcasing myself…

But… there were cassette recorders…

I started singing my ideas into a cheesy-assed Radio Shack cassette recorder, hoping that some day, I could find the focus to write the notes down and bring things to life. I dreamed of there being technology like we have today, which probably seems impossible to imagine that it was not around. Every couple of years or so, I’d go back East to Delaware and be fortunate enough to spend a day in the recording studio of another high school friend (keyboardist Paul Harlyn), who’d let me tinker and explore. We’d capture the ideas on tape, and I continued to dream of the day when I could buy all the equipment I needed to spend hours diving into the sonic palettes that awaited.

It would be many years later that I’d finally acquire some equipment and begin my own electronic explorations. I bought a TEAC 4-track from Paul Harlyn in 1987 and started making my very first actual compositions, and here’s one that I wrote in a Washington D.C.

“Morning Walk Through Tibetan Gardens”

I used an Ensonique sampling keyboard, layered a few tracks, and BOOM! I was a composer! It was pure magic to bring these sounds in my head to life and actually MAKE something happen, taking charge of my music and life for the first time. I could finally combat my ADD and be patient enough to take the small steps necessary to bring the ideas out and make them happen. It was a game-changing moment.


Now, fast-forward to today. I’ve accomplished a lot outside of music, written books, screenplays, learned to fly and teach flying, traveled the country as a writer for a Harley magazine… but cranking out my own CD of original compositions still remains unachieved. It’s really the last big goal, because it’s the one I’ve had on my mind forever but had to put behind some of the other larger goals.

And here’s my point. Well, two actually. One… as drummers, if you aspire to lead your own band, to create your own music, know that this is the best time in history to do so, because you have incredible tools at your disposal, more powerful than is sometimes believable. Learn them, use them, and do it TODAY.

Second point… Don’t ever tell yourself you aren’t a composer. Every time you create a beat for a song, you ARE COMPOSING. You can learn the basics of song construction, simple music theory, and you can noodle around with the endless sound possibilities on a synthesizer until your fingers fall asleep. You’ll hear cool sound here and there, learn to cut and paste loops, add some effects here and there, and make music that YOU enjoy playing.

Here are a few samples of explorations from 1987 to 2020, to give you an idea of how things evolved. I hope they give you some inspiration to explore, and to reach out to musicians from around the world to collaborate with. I hope to do this in 2020, as I’ve seen a great of it being done lately and know just how possible it is.


1987-1990: Still living in Washington, D.C., aching to get back to California. I had a one of the original square Macintoshes, with Mark of the Unicorn software that I never fully mastered. Most everything else was just multi-tracked onto my faithful TASCAM 244. I still have those tapes, and I found a newer version of the 244 in a pawn shop for $50!

 

“Go Dog Go”

 

“Funk 5 Dub”

 

2004-2007: I was living in San Luis Obispo and had a Roland TD6, a Korg keyboard (model unknown), and a Fender Squire Strat and Precision Bass set-up. I was using Cubasis, running into a big blue Mac desktop that surely weighed 100 lbs. I used a TASCAM analog to digital converter to bring all the sounds into the Mac, and it was a lot of fun to see where things could go.

 

“The Crawl”

 

“Ghost 23”

 

“Some Thunk Funk”

 

“Nature Boy”

 

2017-2019: Between my last few years in L.A., and then once in Austin, I could more fully dive into ProTools, my Roland Handsonic, and a handful of other Roland synths to discover some cool sounds.

 

“10-4 Tribal Groove”

 

“27”

 

“Chasing Mr. Z”

 

“The Hunt”

 

“Madge Likes Mars”

 


 

I play all the instruments on these clips, trying to lay down ideas that I’ll share with like-minded and more skilled musicians to help bring them to life. I hope you’ll do the same with your music, and compose your own future. Drummers lead, we don’t follow. We drive the band and energize the music. There’s no reason we can’t do it for ourselves if we so choose.

And there’s no better time than now to do so.

– David Aldridge

 

 

 

 

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.

 

musictouretteCover-teal-front.indd

 

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.

 

musictouretteCover-teal-back.indd

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

Image

 

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!!

————————————————————————————-

 

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.”

Image

Chad Sexton’s Drum City – Yes Google, We’re Open!

Once upon a time, there was a large drum store in North Hollywood filled with stacks of drums, cymbals, awesome snares, and plenty of practice rooms for teaching. Then the complete and utter financial collapse of 2008 came along, and a lot of drummers had to seriously tighten their belts. Sadly as a result, the large drum store closed permanently… at least according to Google.

But in reality, Chad Sexton’s Drum City re-opened in 2010, not far from its original location. It was scaled down considerably, but sometimes this is a really good thing, because it became an even more personal environment, and that’s why I’m writing about it today.

As some of you know, I work as a flight instructor in Los Angeles, and the fog was far too thick today to get anything done… so, I decided it was going to be David’s drum day. I hit the Guitar Center in Pasadena, and then wanted to follow-up on something I’d read recently in Modern Drummer. There was a short article about Chad Sexton, and what caught my eye was the odd reference to Chad often spending time at Drum City…

I knew it had closed at the original location, and I had been past the empty building several times since. No information was available about a new address, so, when I read that mention, I Googled the name, and did indeed find a new address, a Facebook page, the whole deal.

Cool. Time for a road trip.

I headed over, walked inside, bought some Regal Tip nylon 7A’s to keep my finesse in shape, and started talking to Mac Sexton, the store’s owner and manager. Yes, he is Chad’s brother. Mac has run everything from a Godiva chocolate store to a Barnes and Noble, so he knows his way around a shop. He and Chad grew up around drums, since their mom worked at Joe Voda’s Drum City, in Nebraska. Mac and Chad studied with Joe, and Mac even remembered hearing his mom doing business by phone with Mrs. Vic Firth… which pretty much speaks to the depth of human contact Mac and Chad were imprinted with, and which drives their business model today.

(The Drum City crew: Mac, Chad, and Linda)

What does any of this have to do with Google? Well, Mac told me that after they moved, Google had not updated the new address. People didn’t know where the store was, and after a few requests, Mac started getting a little stressed from it. He sent Google an e-mail once again asking them to change the address… and with that stress followed the very simple comment, “Are you guys trying to put me out of business?”

Boom. Goodbye Google e-mail address.

And when Mac searched again for Chad Sexton’s Drum City, he saw the message, “This business permanently closed.”

So, one day not long after, when the Google photo-mapping car just happened to be cruising through the neighborhood, Mac saw it, went outside, and flipped it the bird, with both hands. He then sent Google another e-mail, saying, “Hey guys, if you’re wondering who flipped you off, it was ME!”

As Mac was telling me this story, I mentioned that I write a little blog about drumming and wanted to let people know that the store WAS still open. After he told me the Google tale, I asked him directly, “Are you’re sure you don’t mind me mentioning this?”

“Nah, go ahead.”

Which is great, because it would be a sin not to share it.

But it would be an even bigger sin if I didn’t tell readers how much I enjoyed visiting this scaled-down version of the previous store. Why? Because the minute I set foot in the door, I was transported back to my teen years, where I formed my love of drumming at The Percussion Center, in Wilmington, Delaware.

Chad Sexton’s Drum City felt exactly like the small shop where Dick Kenny offered drum sales, drum repair, and lessons. Guys would come in, hang out, and form a community. THIS is what is missing in the big chains, and THIS is what every drummer needs to feel in their lives if they really want to know where the heart and soul of rhythm comes from.

Mac told me that they obviously can’t compete with the big chains, don’t want to sell cymbals over the Internet, and unfortunately don’t have the room to hold clinics. But let me tell you what this place DOES have to offer: old school, real deal, one-on-one contact that formed the foundation of everything that I am as a drummer today.

As we talked, Mac, showed me his Regal Tip Combo stick, and I fell in love with it. I swapped it out for the 7A’s and we just stood there, trading stories about out mutual love of Ludwig, while we played rolls on a practice pad on the counter.

Yes! Yes Yes Yes! THIS is what makes drumming cool! It’s the sense of community and the connection to history. And this is what made my day and reminded me what I needed to get a lot more of.

(Daniel Glass, from Royal Crown Review, and Chad)

Several customers came and went during my visit, and Mac gave each one of them the sincere time of day. This was in stark contrast to my visit to a large store the day before in Los Angeles. The guy behind the counter didn’t engage me in any way beyond, “Will that do it?”

No, no actually, that won’t do it. In fact, it does nothing. And I don’t want to feel like that when I go into a drum store. Ever.

So, if you happen to be in the Los Angeles area and want a dose of humanness with your drumming, you know where to go:

10424 Burbank Boulevard  North Hollywood, CA 91601
(818) 762-6600

It’s ironic that I did find Chad Sexton’s Drum City on Google (I guess they got the two-handed message!), but I don’t suppose Mac has had much reason to go back and check it lately.  He’s just a guy running a business that, like most small businesses today, are still feeling the hit (okay, more like a nuclear blast) from 2008.

And so, I would like to ask you readers a small favor: if you can’t stop by the shop in person, drop them a line at nohodrumcity@mac.com  and say hello. Let them know you support small drum shops, visit their Facebook page (chadsextonsdrumcity), or swing by the website (www.chadsextonsdrumcity.com)

Those of you who are regular viewers of this blog know that it is commercial-free, no ads, no e-mail collecting, etc. I just write what I believe in, and human contact is at the top of the list, particularly in a soulless city like Los Angeles. I also like stories with happy endings, and it’s ones like this that help me forget the stress of my insane day job and make me want to get back behind a drum set for a living like I dreamed of doing when was a kid, once upon a time…

Keith Carlock Drum Clinic, Los Angeles 4-17-12

The word “strange” is relative in Los Angeles. For example, tonight on my way to Musician’s Union Local #47 Hall to check out Keith Carlock’s clinic,  I’m sitting at a light, and look over and see a guy walking along with a three-foot iguana on his shoulder.

Yep, sure enough, that was an iguana on his shoulder.

I get to the hall, walk in, take a seat, and I look at Carlock’s Gretsch, Brooklyn drum set, and that’s when I see strange. The snares and floor toms were tilted forward and down.

Yep, sure enough, those drums were definitely tilted forward and down.

But for Steely Dan’s latest driver, this is absolutely normal. And when he got his “Moeller method wide-open fluid rebound damn Keith you sure do make that look easy” flurry of chops into high gear, it all made plenty of sense.

Keith’s clinic was supported by many vendors (Gretsch, Zildjian, DW, LP, Remo, Vic Firth), and the room was packed. He opened with a very gracious thanks to Stan and Jerry from Professional Drum Shop, who hosted the event with an all-day sale and then the main event in the Musician’s Union hall.

Image

Okay, so Keith gets down to business with an improv solo that had something called “musical composition” to it. You may have heard of this term: it’s what real musicians do when they play. He didn’t just sit down and say, “Blazing chops time, ohhh, check this out….” and then proceed to make his hands invisible at the highest volume possible he composed on the spot, and it worked out nicely.

And lemme tell ya, that guy has a right foot. It sounded mighty powerful pumping through the open-tuning kick. His open-handed left hand on the snare was equally impressive played against a stick in the right hand. Very interesting…

Next up was a play-along to some music he recorded in New York with a group of guys he hangs with when their schedules mesh. The guy truly loves to groove, and I have to say, he really is as interesting to watch as he is to listen to. The way Keith moves is very different from most drummers, and you might want to catch a few YouTube examples to really see what I mean.

A question and answer session followed, focusing on the usual content of grooves, improvising, some talk about the Gretsch kit and K Zildjian cymbals, and the introduction of his new signature stick. All of that tech information is available on his web site (www.keithcarlock.com), so head there for the details.

The raffle give-aways included a Professional Drum shop 50th Anniversary video and coveted hoodie, an 18” K Zildjian crash, two pairs of Keith’s Vic Firth sticks, a small LP drum, and the grand prize, a Gretsch snare drum right off Keith’s kit.

But the real highlight was when Stan and Jerry invited everyone up on stage for a group photo, a tradition that Professional Drum Shop has maintained since forever. THAT was truly cool!

If you get a chance to catch the rest of Keith’s now 12-city clinic tour, you will see and hear a very different kind of player. His hands are all about the rebound, and watching his right hand pump a solid groove was a lesson in how to get the most out of your movement. And yeah, it does look kinda strange, but it’s not like he’s showing up with an iguana on his shoulder…

How Jazz Drumming Helps All Styles: Just Watch Buddy Rich

If you are not a jazz drummer or have not really listened to it much, you might want to give it some practice time. Why? Because the control and finesse you’ll develop carries over into every kind of drumming when it comes to volume, four-way coordination, speed and power.

When I was a kid, it was rock drumming all the way. I thought jazz was my parent’s and even my grandparent’s music. I pictured Benny Goodman playing a clarinet, or a Dixie land band, and that was all I needed to quickly head in the other direction.

But in 7th grade, I stated taking lessons with a guy that all the drummers in the neighborhood were studying with, and the lights really came on. Dick Kenny owned The Percussion Center, near Wilmington Delaware, and he sat me down for some proper schooling. I had my rudiments going on, which helped greatly with hand control, but Mr. Kenny introduced me to four-way limb control, via jazz drumming.

Getting Jim Chapin’s independence concepts under my belt took a great deal of work, but suddenly, I had four limbs that were becoming four separate instruments. The control I developed carried over into volume, which is critical to creating your actual sound. When you think about it, you are ultimately your own sound man, establishing the volumes between limbs that either balance with the other players or do not.

Of course it almost goes without saying that if you want fast hands, jazz is where you begin. You can develop very musical speed if you study the masters and incorporate rudiments into a music style that demands thinking and precision. Once you get the speed and control under your belt, you can apply to metal or anything else and shred the living daylights out of your kit. Believe me, it’ll happen.

As with most of these small posts, I just want to introduce an idea and hopefully inspire drummers to carry it far beyond. Watch this Buddy Rich video a few times to see the most amazing drummer the world has ever known tap into an energy that could be applied to any musical style. Listen to the single strokes on the bass drum, or the left hand/right foot insanity. The single strokes on the snare about half way through will have you shaking your head.

Buddy was 53 when he recorded this solo…

And that’s the real lesson: grab that Third rail on the subway track and feel a gazillion volts surge through your body. With jazz drumming, you can learn to control and direct that energy, and once you understand how, your musical world will never be the same.

Dame Evelyn Glennie: The First Lady of Percussion

(Photography by James_Wilson-©_Evelyn_Glennie)

I’ve heard of this renowned Scottish percussionist for some time, and recently, I decided to learn a little more about her. If you have a few minutes after reading this blog, I highly recommend that you do the same.

Dame Evelyn Glennie holds over a dozen honorary doctorates, has earned Grammy’s, has been bestowed a title, has been inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame, and has worked tirelessly to change the way the world listens. She is an extraordinary percussionist who has played for royalty as well as for children on Sesame Street, and her hands are a ferocious display of mastery to be reckoned with.

Oh, and, she usually plays barefoot.

There’s a reason, but I will leave it you to find out why on your own.

However, I will tell you this: when you watch her videos, hear her speak, or read her words, you are receiving the energy of someone who has a very interesting take on vibration. She literally uses her whole body to perceive sound. For Dame Evelyn, hearing is “a specialized form of touch,” a fascinating idea she discusses in her Hearing Essay, found on her website under the “Literature” button.

There is no one in the world quite like Dame Evelyn Glennie. The trill of her Scottish accent is punctuated much the same way she plays, with precise articulation and exactly placed intention. She raises the bar high into the rarified air for anyone who picks up a pair of drum sticks or mallets, and I believe that among her many honors, she has hands-down earned the title of first lady of percussion.

And what amazing hands they are…

(For more information on Dame Evelyn Glennie, visit her website at http://www.evelyn.co.uk)

Vinnie Colaiuta Is Now with Ludwig and Paiste

The Earth just tilted. Vinnie has switched to Ludwig and Paiste.

Unreal.

Ludwig could not have possibly landed a bigger name in their esteemed stable of players. The new line of Atlas hardware rocked the NAMM show, but can you imagine the insanity going on in Monroe, NC right now? If every employee over there is not beaming from ear to ear, they should be. Their stock just went UP.

Same with Paiste. Rock drummers have long gravitated to this Swiss cymbal maker’s excellence, owing largely to John Bonham, Ian Paice, Carl Palmer, and a host of European drummers. I strongly suspect that jazz drummers will find a very renewed interest in the line, something I too am going to check out. Their darker jazz rides do have an amazing sound…

My real excitement is, however, in seeing Ludwig get a HUGE shot in the arm. Last year, I made a decision to invest in the drums I loved as a kid, because it took me back to that special time. All my heroes played Ludwig (Bonham, Palmer, Paice, Don Brewer, and even Buddy Rich), and I regretted getting rid of a couple of classic kits more than once.

So, one very rainy day. I paid off the vintage 70’s green sparkle Bonham-sized kit I’d put on layaway and drove it home, amazed at the leap and feeling of elation. Six months later, I bought a beautiful 5-piece Centennial kit, made of North American maple. The 6.5 x 14 maple snare has a ringing crack that has redefined my small kit sound and musical vocabulary.

I watched Ludwig for many years through their ups and downs, the evolution of their website, their whole product line… they got hit hard when Yamaha, Pearl, and Tama kicked it in during the 80s, and the road back has not been easy. A lot of name artists left Ludwig, but the faithful stayed. I remember a salesman at West L.A. music pointing to a 100-year celebration kit on the shelf and telling me the price. I bluntly told him I thought it was insane, to which he replied, “Ludwig drummers are fanatics. Someone will buy it, because it’s Ludwig.” A week later, the kit was gone.

Ludwig’s marketing theme is that the company is a family, and that it is the hallmark of drumming tradition in this country. They patented the first bass drum pedal, so there’s quite a bit of truth here. When they put Vinnie’s picture up on Facebook behind a beautiful natural wood finish kit, they only needed a two-word caption to send a message that has just rocked the drumming world: Welcome home.

And as Late, Late Show host Craig Ferguson is fond of saying, “It’s a great day in America.”