It's really the best '80s movie innuendo. Anyway, the meme amongst musicians for as long as I have heard talks on time and musical relationships is that the drummer is the time keeper. Well, I'm here to tell you that's a smoldering heap of crap. Sure, drummers have a unique role with time, relative to the fact that our instrument is about as staccato as it gets, therefore time is most pronounced on percussion. But good timing and feeling in music comes from the band as a total unit. If a band wants to have great feel and time, it's not enough for the drummer to be a great time keeper. EVERYONE must be a great time keeper.Read More
I see self-discipline as actively encountering and overcoming states of mind like boredom, fear, frustration, self-hate, distraction, and the myriad of other mental states that break down personal progress. In fact, I believe one cannot cultivate self-discipline without encountering these factors, failing to overcome them, recognizing failure, and then finding the willingness to re-approach them. The resulting effort of this process is the very enactment of self-discipline.Read More
So what's the deal with vintage drums vs. new drums? Some drummers swear by them, others seem to not even know or care that they exist. Like basically everything in the world of music, it's very subjective and entirely subject to taste. But over the years I've come to have a practical understanding of where and why vintage works.Read More
To touch on the oft employed analogy of the drummer being the backbone of a band, think for a moment of a ballet dancer’s physique. In their dance routine, we are often watching the arms and legs, perhaps their hands and feet, their head or face. How often are you watching the curvature of their back or spine? It may happen as they lean, bend, or crouch in a certain moment, but ultimately, it is an aspect of the physique that lends support to the features we are really paying attention to.Read More
Studying and teaching rhythm over the years has helped me see that rhythm is a part of most activities, if not in some way metaphorically or literally all. Its application can be quite tangible, but looking at it can be very abstract and confusing to the student. This is why I’ve always enjoyed seeking out new and interesting analogies to present to students when looking for ways to express the subtleties of rhythm. With one of my current adult students we are working through how to relax our time, as it is coming across very stiffly and uncomfortably. He is a jogger, so we took the time to look at jogging. Since this is an activity most of us are at least somewhat familiar with, for a moment imagine a few different scenarios:
1. You take the time to stretch your body, you feel warm and loose, and begin to jog.
2. As stiffly as possible, you try to move at a similar speed to the jog, but instead marching with your arms rigidly by your side.
3. Perhaps inhibited by alcohol, blindfolded, or as if in a dream, you are jogging barefoot on the sand of soft rolling hills.
Now consider for a moment that in each of these examples we are moving at the exact same speed. But the feeling of that movement is very different in each example. We can use this as an analogy for the expression of rhythm. Our first example is generally my target feeling for my students to acquire. The second example is a great way to demonstrate what stiff playing sounds like through the analogy of feeling. The third example is perhaps an opposite analogy for what we might sound or feel like when our sense of rhythm is unhinged and we are playing sloppily.
So back to the aforementioned student, what we are attempting to do is learn an unfamiliar and less tangible concept through something familiar and physically understood by the body, as well as conceptually easy to grasp. We know that a stiff body can make jogging uncomfortable. When the body is loose and relaxed it is easier to capture a steady rhythm and get into the groove of jogging.
Okay, now consider the breath as we jog. Over how many jogging steps do you take to inhale? To exhale? It depends a bit on our tempo, but I know for myself, at my most comfortable jog I breathe in on two and a half steps, and out the same or possibly a step more. Matching the rhythm of our breathing to our jogging step is both a way to delve a little deeper into the trance of motion and also to build consistency into the practice. This is no different with drumming.
When learning new and complex rhythms, our mind is often bogged down with various aspects of our playing. The overactive mind can sometimes interfere with steady breathing and we will suddenly find ourselves breathing erratically or holding our breath. This is something we should immediately seek to resolve when we find it, because it affects the feeling of rhythm as much as stiffness in the limbs does. So again, our analogy holds true, and we find that through the familiar we can more readily explore the unfamiliar. As a practicing drummer, one should seek to find rhythmic analogies in all aspects of life. This benefits us in both directions. From the side we have been discussing, we will find ways to more easily analyze our playing. But from the other angle, what we learn on the kit can inform and expand our understanding of how to perform other tasks in life with greater fluidity and relaxed effort.
If you'd like to dig deeper into this kind of approach to the kit, I highly recommend Billy Ward's DVD Big Time. His approach is a bit different than what I'm saying here, however he brilliantly addresses the root of feeling time while playing.
Sitting in an airport waiting for the band to pick you up is a good time to write a blog.
So although I'm primarily a drummer by trade, I also stage manage a group called the Young Dubliners. The job involves being a guitar tech, a drum tech, a monitor engineer, sometimes being a security guy, rarely being a lighting director, and always being on point to solve ANY problem that arises during their live performance. I'd say I'm a master of none of these skills, but I'm decent at all of them. In truth, the job requires a serviceable knowledge of every single thing on stage.
So, I met the Dubs years ago when I was in a band called The Janks. The two bands shared a booking agent and over the years I eventually got offered the job with them. Although I don't think of myself as the most qualified guy out there, many musicians and engineers over the years have asked me about the job or expressed wishes to have the knowledge to do my job. It's been a weird hodgepodge of collected information and experiences over years of being in music that got me to the point that I was qualified enough to get this gig, so I thought I'd talk about it from the standpoint of being a 'drummer first.'
To start with, I was a teenager when I got hired at Metro Music Center in Glendale, AZ. The place is now shuttered along with most of the other ma and pa shops of its kind, but the knowledge I gained there was indispensable. I had to tune about thirty guitars daily, as well as ensure cleanliness and order about them. Over time, I had to learn to change broken strings. The resident guitar tech Dennis taught me bits of his trade over the years and after awhile I became sufficient at making action adjustments and intonating. We also sold PA systems. I had to learn to demo them, so there I developed a basic knowledge of audio hardware and how to use it. This was the early days of digital and ProTools was yet to come out so I really was only working with analog stuff. But we did sell drum machines, so I would program those for fun in my spare time. A few doors down was a small recording studio called The Grey Room. Mark was a nice guy and needed an intern, so I interned there for a bit. I feel like I could've learned much more if I'd paid more attention, but I most certainly gained some meaningful knowledge there which helped set me up for interning at a larger studio when I moved to Los Angeles a few years later.
The trajectory of that story mostly entails me being a drummer, but always dabbling in everything else, from playing guitar and keys, to occasionally working in live or studio settings. I've never been a great engineer, but that's never been my focus. But the fact of the matter is, being okay at everything else has made me a much better drummer.
Here are some key points that I'd say are important for any drummer that is similarly interested in the world around them.
Treat the entire stage/studio as if it were your domain
Especially with drummers, we tend to just focus on our kit, and not anything else around us. "Oh, the guitarist is talking chords with the keyboardist. I guess I'll practice paradiddles," is the wrong way to go. Who cares if you don't know how to play guitar or keys and don't know chord theory? You are playing in the band. They are talking about a song you are playing. Listen to what they're saying. Besides the fact that you may pick up a bit of what they do over time, it may inform your perspective on the music you're playing. Perhaps you'll have an insight about their perspective on a piece of music that will affect your approach and make the song better.
Just as important are the engineers. What they do translates your live acoustic sound into an amplified or digital signal that is shaped as much by the work they do as the finicky selections of cymbals, drums, and drumheads you made over the years of putting your kit together. You should know what they're doing and how the set-up works. It is actually pretty easy to learn by observation how they wire up the stage. This kind of information gives you a lot of flexibility over the years. For instance, you can be in a band that sets up its own PA. You can spot a problem on stage before the show starts, ensuring your band has a better gig. You come across as more of a pro in some situations and can create new opportunities for yourself.
Always ask questions when it's appropriate
This is the pandora's box. Make sure you've got some time to spare before you ask an engineer about their console or a guitarist about their pedal board. This is nearly as good as on the job training. If you really pay attention, you'll learn a lot. I mean, sometimes you'll just learn that people really love their own opinions and like hearing themselves talk. But most of the time you'll learn something you didn't know. In fact, if you don't know anything about the gear you're looking at, you're basically guaranteed to learn something.
Most of the time I've gotten in conversations of this sort, I've learned a lot about the perspectives engendered by the other roles surrounding me. And over time, this has done a lot to make me a better player with others. Compared to when I was younger, I listen to the other instruments a lot more and pay attention to how they are approaching the song. I look at what the engineer is doing and how the room is set up, and I adjust my dynamics so that my kit isn't overpowering the PA, or on the opposite hand, that I'm not playing a lot of sensitive and subtle stuff that is going to get lost in a big and loud amplified PA system.
Never miss an opportunity to poach a lesson
The sole reason I am a serviceable guitar player and can plink around on a piano is because I took tons of makeshift lessons from great players over the years. It wasn't so much of a, "hey man, can you give me a thirty minute lesson today after practice?" It was more just like an extended version of the above point, but about playing, and with me holding a guitar in my hands or something like that. I worked with a handful of highly trained guitarists over the years that had degrees from MIT or USC and they all knew their shit. So when I asked them, "why does this sound cool," or "how do you get your hand to do the thing," they were almost always happy to take a minute to show me.
Same thing with mixing. I didn't know shit about solving feedback problems on stage at first. So I just kept asking. You're allowed to be ignorant. It's scary to show your ignorance if you're trying to learn. It's another thing to wallow in your ignorance or act out of ignorance and make mistakes. Most people appreciate the person that is working hard to learn. They might wonder how the fuck you got your job without knowing a thing, but if they see you're a hard worker and a proactive motherfucker, maybe actually they won't.
Ah, there's so much more I could write, and I could probably be more concise, but this is it. Just recognize what your comfort zone is and always be pushing yourself out of it, like getting up out of that warm comfy bed on a particularly early and chilly morning. It's fine to hang back on occasion, but you've gotta keep growing. Just remember that part of being a competent musician lies beyond your instrument and exists in everything around it. You don't need to master it all, just become intimate with it all. Know the world that surrounds you.
Having a perfectionist mentality is a double-edged sword. As a teacher, I always appreciate the student that hungers to perfect the craft. In a sense, there's nothing I desire more in a student than the drive to master their studies! Yet it fascinates me that the same impulses that drive us to get a thing just perfect often come with some reactive qualities that detract from efficiently learning.
One of the techniques I teach my students in mastering a passage through repetition is continuous playthrough. This means to continue playing without stopping the groove, short of mistakes that cause us to completely lose our place in the music. The perfectionist in us though, wants to stop at every error and restart at the beginning, or some relative point. I have found over the years that in most instances though, this approach hinders us. The primary aphorism I use to express this is that, "if you were playing a concert and made a mistake, would you stop the band and the whole song and start over?" The answer, generally speaking, is "no!" The show must go on, as the colloquialism goes. So, with the best of intentions to get a part right, what we are actually doing is training ourselves to stop at every mistake. Thus mentally, we freeze at the realization of an error. This can have disastrous consequences for a performer.
Therefore, it is necessary to train ourselves in a way where the perfectionist goes away for lunch, and comes back when we have things mostly in order. We play through a passage, get a part of it wrong perhaps, but focus on playing as much of it correctly and in time as we can, recognizing but being only softly critical of the troublesome section. Once we have the general concept acquired, then we gradually increase the intensity of our efforts to play the tricky stuff. The point that we let the perfectionist back in the room is when we have cleanly isolated the spot giving us trouble and we can freely fuck it up without utterly derailing ourselves from playing through it.
In other words, don't be afraid to screw up a tricky fill or complex beat. Just learn to do it without losing your time. If you stop yourself every time you make a mistake, you will choke yourself off from things such as the spirit of improvisation, which is the part of us that sometimes ventures into the expression of experimental musical ideas- things that maybe we'll pull off, maybe we won't. But half the fun of going for it can be the excitement of uncertainty that comes along with it. If you are obsessed with perfection, it will be hard to allow yourself to venture into the unknown, which restricts you from an entire landscape of musical exploration. Again, the key is to will yourself to play through uncertainty and unperfected passages with attention to time. Get back to the "one" and you're probably safe. Then you get to approach it all over again, without having to restart your momentum. This leads to more continuous repetitions of the problematic phrase, giving us a chance to efficiently attack it until we wear down the physical puzzle before us.
Another concern I have with perfectionism is the tendency to overly focus on technical aspects of our playing over feel and style. You can be a technically superior drummer who can diddle and flam your way all over the drum kit while being right on every beat of the metronome, but if you don't let loose, explore the unknown, or stick your neck out once and awhile, there's a good chance you'll sound really square, too. Now, there's a place for that, and there's no right or wrong to things like this. But if I had my druthers I'd go see The Ramones at CBGB's over any RUSH concert ever, is all I'm sayin'.
On the other side of the consideration, I don't encourage sloppiness and carelessness. What I appreciate about the perfectionist is the sharp attention to detail that is being constantly sought out. Indeed, "It's good enough for rock n' roll" is a phrase I've heard indefensibly uttered way too many times as a lazy excuse for unprofessionalism or some hubristic assumption that sloppiness itself translates into style. Sure, there are sloppy musicians that captured a sound and a style and it's amazing when that happens. But it's only a correlation for the most part. Maybe it's part of a mentality, but one that evolved naturally for those magical musical moments and groups in history. Mostly what I see from musicians that actively embrace that kind of attitude or mentality is that they are just way more into their pants and hair than their music.
The key is to keep perfectionism in the right view. We often must relax it for the sake of getting a general feel for a new musical idea- let ourselves be sloppy and gradually mash the thing together until it has some relatively coherent shape to it, and then progressively turn up the dial on perfecting a thing until it sounds and feels exactly like it's meant to.
I suppose this is a PSA for other teachers. Over the past year I've been re-building the years of lessons I've taught in digital sheet music. It was always a big time sink writing and rewriting, or even copying music I'd previously written. And I'll tell you, my chicken scratch ain't the best looking notation out there by a long shot. Anyway, I'd been looking into purchasing Sibelius or some similar type of software, and frankly most of it was way beyond what I needed. But I came across Musescore, which is open source and free. I tend to be skeptical of such things functioning without serious bugs or limitations, but over the year or so I've been using it I've been nothing but thrilled with it.
Here's a link to their website: https://musescore.org/
One of the hardest things to balance as a teacher of young students is bringing the inspiration and enthusiasm of the instrument to the student, but keeping them on task to practice the things that actually make you a competent player.Read More
Via WCA - Finding detailed information on Producer/Engineer/Mixer Niko Bolas is a challenge. Niko is not a publicity hound and generally avoids big star studded events. He’s a man that stays focused on the work in front of him and he puts his all into it. Looking at his discography you’ll notice a couple of things, repeat clients such as Neil Young, Melissa Etheridge, Robert Cray and the late Warren Zevon for example. The other thing you’ll notice is the large amount of records he has worked on coupled with the fact that he’s not a household name except to those in the know. He’s passionate about what he does and takes it seriously. We discuss that passion as well as Niko’s work style. Richard Dodd makes an appearance during the interview which adds a bit of laughter to the situation. You’ll dig it.Read More
I was just rolling through my Twitter feed and caught from Modern Drummer that today is the day that in 2008, Buddy Miles passed away. A lot of drummers don't know about Buddy Miles, whose claim to fame was as Jimi Hendrix's second drummer as he evolved from the Experience to the Band of Gypsies incarnation.
Buddy Miles is an important drummer to me for two reasons. One, he was one of the first drummers that really helped me see the difference between just being a drummer and being a musician. Man! Hearing him sing Them Changes while playing the kit totally blew me away. The second reason was how much soul he brought to Jimi's playing, which I had previously associated as being so much more rock. Mitch Mitchell's playing, as incredible as it truly was, also was much more busy and aggressive, so hearing how much change came to the music through Miles' deep and soulful pocket was very profound to me as a young drummer.
If you've never listened to the Band of Gypsies album, it's a must hear. And of course, if you have, now is a good time to remind yourself how much soul and groove Buddy Miles had. Rest in peace.
You can catch a great article about him on Modern Drummer's website here:
So, back in the day when I was playing with Races, we got to do a very cool show at The Echo with a band called Candy Claws. In a period of time in my life where all the shows and bands kind of bleed together in my memory, they were one of the few bands that stood out as being both very cool musically, and also really enjoyable people off the stage.Read More
I've been following Anika Nilles for awhile now. She's a super-rad drummer, and in a field so disproportionately dominated by men, I always get stoked when I see a bad-ass female drummer...Read More
So there's this thing I do whenever I notice a band I'm familiar with is coming through town on tour. I invite them to stay at my house. We give them the whole basement to themselves, let them do laundry, cook them breakfast in the morning, etc...Read More
This is a collection of artists and songs that have all, over time, had a great bearing on how I've played as a drummer. The songs aren't in any particular order, maybe just one that I thought it would sound reasonable listening to as a mix. I'll also give some commentary on the artists and how they influenced me.Read More
There is no way to measure how much influence a band like STP has had on popular rock music, but looking down my Facebook feed today, it's clear that many of my musician and industry friends were similarly influenced by Scott Weiland and STP just like I was. It's sad to me that so many great and influential musicians suffer from drug and alcohol addiction, and his death is truly a tragedy.Read More
Well, this is just the week that all the bands I used to play with are coming into Boise! So, my last post was about the band King Washington. Coincidentally, I was playing with both them and yOya around the same time, the week that I moved to Boise they were embarking on a tour together, and this week they are separately touring through Boise. Good times!
I remember that the first time I saw them was when they were sharing the stage with King Washington (whom I'd just started playing with, at the time). In fact, Alex (from yOya) ended up producing KW's album The Overload. The point there is that music is incestuous.
But anyway, the cool thing about playing for these guys was that they were 100% synthetic percussion. No drummer, but a lot of drum stuff happening. When I first started working with them, Alex sent me song files with the drums and percussion bits all exploded so I could figure out what the hell was going on in the tracks. Over a couple of weeks we reconstructed it all to figure out what I would be playing on acoustic drums, on sampling pads, and what would remain in the box to be played via tracks. It was a lot of fun going through that process.
Playing live was a great challenge. Mostly for the simple fact that, when you're hardwired to tracks, you can't stray one iota from the metronome, otherwise things sound out of time and messy- like the percussive version of being badly out of tune. I had been used to doing that with some of the past bands I'd worked with, but never on such an intense and inflexible scale. It made for a ton of fun to really make the beats come alive, without feeling too sterile and robotic.
Anyway, the guys are rolling through Boise on Thursday the 5th at Neurolux, and they just released a great single, totally worth checking out. Here's the original write-up on the single via Consequence of Sound.
A few years ago I got to do a really cool album with this band King Washington. I've been buddies with George, Tyson, and Billy all for quite awhile. Tyson and I had become friends when I was in one of my first bands in LA. I actually dated Billy's sister many years ago, and she as well as George were band members in my group RACES. So we had all been friends and musically respected each other for awhile before they invited me to come with them to Milwaukee to track what became The Overload.
I ended up not joining as a permanent member of the band because I was still active and busy with RACES, but I played several shows with them after the album, including the album release show for The Overload. It really was a great time making the album and playing with those guys!
Right now the guys are on a really cool tour opening for Collective Soul (remember them?!), and will be coming through Boise next week. Check out the album above, or consider making it out to the show to support them. They're a great bunch of guys and man, they nail those three-part harmonies like bands used to before auto-tune!
Two things I love. Drums and juggling. Now, although I meant to discuss how one relates to the other, I felt like I had to mention an old inspiration of mine who happens to do both at the same time.
Years ago, living in Phoenix AZ, I used to go to this jazz/blues hangout spot called Char's, and every so often this blues band from Tucson called the Bad News Blues Band would come in and rock the house. Now, I don't think he plays with them at this point, but at the time (this was maybe fifteen years ago) the drummer was this guy Chip Ritter. Chip is a really cool guy. Very exuberant personality, great performer, great hands, and on top of all that, he had this trick under his belt- he could juggle three sticks and play! It was always a trip to see him bust that out. In fact, a few years down the road from that time he managed to show it off on the Late Show:
Anyway, I felt like I had to throw that in, because seriously, how can you talk about juggling and drumming and not mention Chip Ritter? But I'll leave the advanced stick tricks to Mr. Ritter and discuss my initial thoughts that motivated the blog.
Last week I was teaching a younger student of mine who is working through a very common challenge musicians face, which is keeping attention on peripheral facets of playing while directly focusing on one particular aspect. Specifically this student was focusing on correctly playing what he's reading while keeping time and maintaining proper technique. This student in particular finds it more challenging to keep track of maintaining one without a significant sacrifice to the other two. We tried out a little 'attention exercise' where, through the repetition of a single phrase we bounced our attention from each object to the other at some different intervals. It was a good introspection for him to see how bouncing his object of focus changed the way things were being played. At the end of the lesson, I handed him a set of juggling balls and told him to start learning to juggle. I'm probably just being eccentric, but that was my intuitive decision about how to help him move forward outside of the practice routine.
Musicians must develop a strong 'peripheral view' of the multiple elements we have to keep track of. Time is especially important for drummers since if we lose time, every other musician in a group would be forced to shift tempo along with us. Yet, it's relatively easy to lose track of when you are singularly focused on some other aspect of playing. Technique is similar for a beginner until they develop it to a point of clockwork automation. And naturally, the material we are playing tends to take up the majority of our focus most of the time. So in this way, I imagine those three objects to be like three juggling pins being thrown hand to hand.
If you have any experience with juggling, then you will know that in general it's useful to avoid any singular focus of your attention. There may be a trick that involves an increased attention to one of the objects, but to lose sight of any other object increases the likelihood that we miss a catch or throw something wildly. In other words, the juggling is the object of focus. The greater coordinated act itself becomes a thing. I think this is a perfect analogy for what has to be done by a drummer when we are playing, or for performance in general.
On stage, I feel that I rarely am thinking about technique, but there are other elements that come into focus. Of course, there is the material at hand. There is time. There is the listening and watching of the other musicians- looking for improvisational cues, mistakes I might have to follow, or just general dynamics to make sure I'm not playing too loud in a small room. There can even be attention on how I'm performing. All these things have to happen simultaneously and consistently. If I focus too much on what I'm playing, maybe my time suffers and I drift. If I'm too externally focused on another player or something happening on stage, maybe I miss a change or hit. If I'm digging too deep into the feel of the music, then maybe I close my eyes and get all trancy vibed-out and completely miss the singer signaling me to cut the next musical section because he just broke a string. It could be nearly anything.
The last aspect I think I'd like to touch on here is how important it is to have that wide peripheral attention, but also a relaxed clarity and focus. You could perhaps refer to it as mindfulness. There are so many potential distractions that a performer can face. Some of the worst ones are purely psychologically manufactured (ie. stage anxiety), but most of the time though it's something like an equipment malfunction, audio feedback or a bad monitor mix, a crowd distraction, or even the distraction of getting stuck on the mistake I just made. It's a mark of skill when one can continue on unabated in the face of technical difficulties, or handle a show-stopping problem with grace. In a way, I think perhaps the pinnacle of being able to juggle the various aspects of performing is the ability to remain focused in the face of severe distraction. One of the raddest things I love is when I see a performer smash straight through some chaos on stage without losing their performance mindset.
Amongst today's drummers, I think that Steve Ferrone is an underappreciated player. He’s been on more hits and grooves that you know than you’d realize. To me, he’s one of those great musicians that really bridges rock and soul music. Put simply, he’s a guy that can rock, but really makes it feel great. The reason I'm writing about him today is because I was recently riding in the car with the lady and the kids, listening to Tom Petty’s album “Wildflowers” and just couldn’t get enough of Ferrone’s grooves. I realized I’d never really dug into his playing, and had missed a shining gem of a drummer for all these years.
Soul music is really where Ferrone’s works began getting recorded. After several records with the Average White Band, he was Chaka Khan’s backbone for many years and more than just a handful of albums. Both groups were very funky, and Chaka Khan is a truly killer soul singer. Though most of her stuff is that heavy stylized 80’s sound, I first fell in love with her when I heard the old school tune “Sweet Thing”, which was Rufus feat. Chaka Khan (Ferrone is not on that track, but you should dig it anyway). When she split from Rufus to do her own thing, Ferrone was there from the beginning, laying it down.
In addition to Tom Petty, Ferrone has played with rock songwriters such as Eric Clapton, George Harrison, and Christine McVie (Fleetwood Mac). These are really some of the greatest names in rock songwriting, and emphasizes what a worthwhile listen Ferrone’s drumming is.
So when you take a general cross-section of Ferrone’s musical works, you see that he’s a guy that really knows how to bridge the gap between several styles of music, and can really play at the top of his class. This is what I heard when I was listening to Wildflowers. The beauty of the drumming on that album really lies in its simplicity. Most of the grooves are beats that beginners could understand and learn, but it takes a real master to play them with the style that Ferrone brings to the table.
One of my favorite tracks on the Wildflowers is the tune “You Wreck Me”. It’s a real upbeat and straightforward tune, and there’s no enigma to the rock’n’roll happening there. The drums drive straight down the middle of the song like a fastball pitch. What I felt when I dug into this beat is that it’s machined like the engine of a top notch muscle car. There isn’t a single hesitation, question mark, or fluffed stroke through the whole track. It’s sheer precision. Every stroke is deliberate and in the pocket. But it’s not sterile, like a drum machine. To be a machine like Ferrone is on the track is not to sound like a machine. You can play with flawless execution, but the feeling and human soul that pumps life into the song is what makes it great! It’s fun, it’s confident, it’s in the pocket, and there’s really nothing more you can do to deliver a better beat for a straight-forward tune. Every drummer on earth could play that beat, but few could deliver it the way Ferrone does. That’s what makes it such a great groove to listen to. I really recommend listening to that exact same beat played by different drummers on different songs- it is amazing to hear how differently it comes across with different feels. It’s a subtlety of major importance to our art.
The big hit track off the album “You Don’t Know How It Feels” is similar, in that the beauty is in the simplicity (really, the whole album has that approach to it. Tom Petty isn’t exactly a flashy guy, and that’s one of the reasons I love his songs). One of my favorite things about the groove is how well Ferrone masks the sixteenth note on the hi-hat. You really feel it, but you hardly hear it. It’s a great subtlety that he lets pop out a little bit in the bridge/solo section (listen for those little open hat emphasises). Another great detail is how crash cymbals are mostly absent from the song in places that drummers almost always drop them. There is very little percussive punctuation to the song, so while Petty is talking about rolling things, the beat makes the whole song feel like it’s rolling right along because of that nuance.
As I’ve gotten older, listened to and played more music, these subtleties are the things I’ve come to cherish the most in music. I am still awed by great technical feats, inventive and unique approaches to playing, and all the cool flashy things that drummers can do. But to me it is truly the mark of a professional to sit behind a great songwriter and make them sound like they are a legend. I think that Ferrone’s drumming was the backdrop for Petty’s greatness on this album, and that is first and foremost what makes him a great drummer, in my humble opinion.
“Pick Up the Pieces” - Average White Band “AWB” (1974)
“Love Has Fallen On Me” - Chaka Khan “Chaka” (1978)
“Notorious” - Duran Duran “Notorious” (1986)
“Pretending” - Eric Clapton “Journeyman” (1989)
“You Don’t Know How It Feels” - Tom Petty “Wildflowers” (1994)
“Give Me One Reason” - Tracy Chapman “New Beginning” (1995)