My Father Sam was a top drummer in Northern Ireland. He told me this story of when I was about three years old. I guess I crawled up onto his kit at a rehearsal and started tapping a cymbal in tempo. He quickly had his band mates join in and play along to see if I was actually playing in time or if it was only beginners luck. Well it seems that I was in time so he had them change from 4/4 time to 3/4 time to see if I could hear the difference. Now I don’t remember any of this at all but he claims I stopped for a moment, listened and then started playing again accenting the 3/4. Needless to say, he was pretty happy and he knew that sooner or later I would end up on the drums one day. Obviously I wouldn’t be a musician if it weren’t for my Dad’s influence (and my Mother Mai never taking away the sticks). He taught me from the start and ingrained in me the basics that would forever shape my playing. I even started off left handed (I am right handed) because he was a lefty. That crucial element opened up my mind to being aware of keeping a balanced approach to using both hands equally around the kit.
So thank you Dad.
I jumped in at the deep end. I started practicing drums at the age of 12 in Florida and then got serious at 13 when we got home to Toronto, Canada. After learning my rudiments and various beats, the first recordings that I played along to were the Buddy Rich – “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy – Live at Caesars Palace”, Gino Vannelli – “Powerful People” and Tower of Power’s “Live in Living Colour”.
We lived in an apartment so the practice pads definitely got a lot of stick time due to volume constraints. My dad believed in getting me into the advanced stuff as soon as he saw my potential. Anyway, hearing and then eventually seeing Buddy live was an incredible experience because he was such a powerful player. He was a major lesson in being physically relaxed when you play and having good technique to facilitate your way around a kit. Very special memories.
Thank you Buddy.
David Garibaldi – “Tower of Power”
A new school of thought…David Garibaldi’s playing with incredible Soul/Funk Horn band, Tower of Power, was a lesson in playing super tight and funky and a serious study in syncopation. I just ate that stuff up and it would prove to be a big influence on my style.
Thank you David.
The drummers of Gino Vannelli
One other record that I had in my early collection was ‘Powerful People’ by Gino Vannelli with the amazing Graham Lear on drums. I studied the drumming on that record for a very long time and my friends used to make fun of me because I could sing almost all the drum fills from all my Vannelli records! Gino, who was also a drummer himself, had a great ear for players and also for getting their drums to sound fantastic in the mix! (I now became more aware of actual drum sound). Thank you Gino, Graham Lear, Casey Scheuerell and Mark Craney. Your drumming will always be with me. Groove…. until you drop!
1979/1980 – I went to see Earth Wind and Fire at Maple Leaf Gardens. WOW!! Talk about a defining moment in one’s life. I’ll never forget that experience. Freddie White’s drumming along with everyone else’s (especially Verdine on bass) playing just floored me. People were dancing everywhere. This kind of intensity and groove was something new and I wanted more. Just go and get ‘All ‘N’ All’ and ‘I Am’ and you’ll understand.
Thank you E.W.F.
A Bernard “Pretty” Purdie drum clinic next only reinforced in me about the importance of playing solid and making it feel good. In fact, I didn’t really understand what he was doing at that time. I just knew that it had my head bopping to the point of almost breaking my neck! Okay, I’m kidding but you get the point.
Steve Gadd & Steve Jordan
In my last year of High School my music teacher Lou Bartolomucci let me hear a Chick Corea record entitled “Friends” with some guy named Steve Gadd on drums. Initially I didn’t like it. Hard to believe huh? The drum sound was different, the style totally foreign to what I was used to and the snare was tuned too low for my liking. This album and it’s drummer was about to open up a whole new world of playing to me. It sure didn’t take long to get into it either. As it was for anyone of my generation, Steve Gadd was THE drummer. He did it all so well and it was nearly impossible to avoid his influence. A Killer feel, impeccable time, taste, musicality, sound, chops, versatility, he could play soooo simple and yet could still amaze anyone with his technique. I wanted to do what he did which was play lots of different musical styles and do it all convincingly! I never heard him play a bad note ever…okay so he drops a stick in the middle of ‘Blue Rondo ala Turk’ on Al Jarreau’s ‘Breaking Away’ CD and I believe there’s one cymbal mistake on ‘Aja’…but he’s pretty much flawless on all the rest of the 4000 recordings he’s on! Steve Gadd is the perfect example of being a musician first and a drummer second. Words to live by! When the Late Night with David Letterman TV show first came out, everyone was talking about the drummer Steve Jordan. At last, I didn’t have to argue with people about getting a strong backbeat with the traditional grip! The proof was there to hear every night. The crack of Steve’s high tensioned snare ripped through even the worst sounding television set. More respect for the traditional grip finally!
Thank you Steve.
Mr. Steve Ferrone. I say ‘Mr’, ’cause he’s such a badass. Here was an example of another drummer who could play all sorts of crazy stuff but opted to play for the music first. After studying his unbelievably funky grooves with the Average White Band, Chaka Khan and numerous other recordings, I noticed one important fact. Steve was always in demand on sessions! He was on tons of recordings of varying different styles. He never sounded out of place and he was always slipping in some neat “Ferronism”, as he calls it, throughout the music. I understood more when I realized that when practicing I was always playing fills where he wasn’t (translation = Too Busy!! ) That was an important lesson. One of my favourite quotes by Steve is “When I think of a really great fill…I don’t play it!”.
Thank you Steve!
The musical drummer…Peter Erskine has always been one of my favourite musicians. From Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson to Weather Report, Jaco Pastorius Joni Mitchell and then his trio work, Peter has remained one of the most consistently musical drummers that I have ever heard. I have seen him live, heard him speak and heard him on many recordings and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I have learned so much about the art of cymbal finesse and playing with dynamics/intensity from this man. (I won’t talk about my cymbals being high over my head in the 80’s because I thought it looked so cool though ha ha ha). A consummate musician all the way.
Thank you Peter.
The whole family agreed on this one…When the Police hit the scene in the late 70’s it was the first time my mother, father, sister and myself all liked the same band which at the time was very odd. It was the only time that ever happened in our family. Stuart Copeland’s incredibly innovative and unique drumming moved me immensely. Talk about cool drum parts to great songs! I was immediately grabbed by his tight snare drum sound and the sporadic use of splash cymbals and his all out, go for it, attitude.
Thank you Stewart.
The African – Irish connection…
Originally from Northern Ireland, I grew up with a love for the 6/8 Irish Jig. After seeing and hearing Brice Wassy (originally spelled Wouassi) play drums with Salif Keita in 1991, I was stunned by his mastery of 6/8 and 12/8 rhythms. I was consistently trying to find the ‘one’ while simultaneously trying to stop myself from dancing. The grooves were very intense and the music was played with a very serious emotional level. It didn’t matter to me at all that it was all sung in a foreign language either. After hearing Brice play, I embarked on studying everything with Brice on it and African drumming in general. Talk about going back to the roots! It has been an exciting learning process. Remember, music should move you!
Thank you Brice.