Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Do You Lend Out Drum Gear? | Do You Risk The Breakage?

Lending out drums
I had a drummer watch me play my entire set the other night.  This was at a rehearsal, and I have known this drummer for over 30 years.  Still, it can be a bit unnerving to have a colleague watch you work, staring at your every move.  We were kids when we met, and he didn’t play drums at the time.  Soon after, he started playing music, and that meant we would most likely never be in a band together.  After all, how many bands have two guys on the drums at the same time?  Watching him watch me, took me back to the night that he broke some of my drum gear. 

I do recall that night where I lent him my kit.  Their band opened for ours. When they finished their show, I noticed that he had broken my ride cymbal, and my drum pedal.  $400 dollars damage, to be exact, and there was no way he could afford to pay me back. That’s when I learned the lesson that most drummers should know without it costing them money.  “Do not lend out your snare, cymbals, or drum pedals.” Why? Because, those items are the ones that receive so much force and pounding from drummers.  You reduce the risk of that drummer breaking something when you eliminate those items from the “lend out” mix.  Rarely do I break that rule.  Sure, someone can ruin the skins on your toms, but that risk is pretty low.

My current Milwaukee band played a show last month in a very tiny club.  The place was so small that it was vital that both bands use one drum kit.  I lent the “opener” my drums, but kept my rule, mostly.  He used my drum pedal, and my sticks. (What drummer comes to a show without sticks? A bass player that was forced into playing drums for a few gigs, that's who.)
This guy was a light touch on the drums, and it was amusing to watch him play.  When he hit the skins, he looked “like someone doing a dog paddle, while sitting upright.”  He had obviously taught himself how to play. It almost worked.  Sadly, the band had some talented members, but the drummer dragged the whole thing down a notch or two. So did this guy break anything? No. What he did do was totally rearrange my drum kit, and that’s also a huge pain in the butt.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I’m an open handed drummer. For me, that means my ride cymbals are placed in the opposite spots where most right handed drummers would have them. That also means that my second rack tom is usually taken down if another drummer uses my kit.  That’s where they tend to put the ride cymbal.  Not only did this “dog paddling drummer” put his ride over there, but he pulled apart the tom holders and repositioned the rest of the kit to his liking.  What does that mean to me? It means that it’s going to take just as long to get the kit back to the way I like it, as compared to having that drummer bring up his own drums and strike them after they are finished. I forgot about that, and it took 15 minutes for me to get my kit back in place, about 10 minutes longer than it should take to do a set change.

So that’s lesson number two. Avoid lending out a drum kit, if the first person using it is going to completely dismantle the darn thing! This brings me to another point.  If the opening band’s drummer plays a modified drum set, where half of the kit is set up for left hand drumming, and the other half is set for a right handed drummer, let that person use their own kit.  My old band opened for a (crappy) cover band back in 2009, and the club owner insisted that all the drummers on the bill use the house kit.  When I explained that it would take longer for me to rearrange that house kit to my liking, compared to letting me bring my kit up for our set, he said no.  So there I was, after my set, watching the next drummer fiddle with all the stands and toms.  He was not happy. I had no problems, because we were first on the bill, so the kit was a mess for the next guy, not me.

Finally, have you ever played someone else’s drums and that drummer told you that you couldn’t arrange them to your liking?  I did.  Way back in the 1980’s we were opening for a pretty big local act.  Their drummer didn’t want to break his kit down, and there was only room for one set on the riser, with no room in front.  He insisted that I use his kit, but I couldn’t change anything.  That meant that I couldn’t even move the stupid Roto-Toms that he had in place of rack toms! The ride was on the right, opposite of how I play, and the snare was nearly impossible to adjust to my desired height. It was possibly my worst night of drumming in a long time.  When it was over, he came up to me and gave me one of those “good show kid” compliments.  I often wonder if he did that just to make sure that he was the better sounding drummer for the evening. After all, the band took over 30 minutes to get up and play after we finished. What was the point of making me play his drums, if there was all the time in the world to strike my kit?  It was to make me look bad. (I’m kidding here.)  By the way, that drummer who watched me play, we did end up in a band together.  It was a “four drummer” band.    

Monday, October 28, 2013

Eating Good Food While On The Road | Digging Deeper To Avoid Junk Food

Eating on the Road
Our van pulled into the parking lot of the bar we were scheduled to play in.  We had just arrived in the teeming metropolis of Rockford Illinois. It was another band road trip, and it started with a show in northern Illinois. Actually the suburban Rockford outskirts were more "teeming" than the downtown club we just rolled up to.  It was warm for a mid October evening. We had the windows rolled down, so it was easy to hear the woman standing against the building when she said "Oh no, a van full of f-ing hippies!"  It's never good when the first patron of the club you are about to play in has something really bad to say about you. Still, we laughed it off and started to unload our instruments.

Rockford happens to be the home town of our guitar player, although he had not been back for many years.  He was surprised at the amount of development out in the suburbs, but not surprised to see that the metro area was dark and quiet. We got to the club with plenty of time. Once we unloaded our gear, we went off to find food. Once again, we found ourselves in a pizza joint. It's become the norm for our band to eat pizza. I wonder why that is? I must say that my other bands would find themselves in the same situation. What town doesn't have a thriving pizza restaurant downtown? Even the most desolate of city centers seem to support at least one Italian restaurant.

Our guitar player had been in this place before.  In fact, he remembered it well, and told us a few childhood stories as we waited for our food. But this post isn't so much about food, as it is about being on the road. One thing that I have come to realize is that the food you eat can dictate how you perform. Yes, pizza is just bread, cheese, meat, and a bit of sauce. It's not the best food for energy, but I have had far worse. These days, I actually bring along some cooked pasta. It can hold up pretty well for at least 12 hours without refrigeration.  It's got just what you need for energy too. When in doubt, boil some noodles! It may be boring food-wise, but the rest of the band will be jealous when you find yourself without enough time to find food in the neighborhood.

Avoid The Junk Food Before Performing

I had a drummer friend tell me to "Look for the second place" when it comes to food while on the road. What that meant was that it's easy to find the junk food.  It's very easy in fact. But it can be worth the effort to dig deeper, to take another 10 minutes to find a much healthier alternative.    


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Yes Without Jon Anderson On The Road In 2013

I was excited to see that Yes was coming to the Wisconsin State Fair this summer. Would this be the time that I finally see them perform live? After all, they aren't getting any younger.  Most of the band was born in the 1940's.  In fact, Jon Anderson will be 70 years old next year.  But wait, Jon Anderson isn't in the current lineup.  How could that be? The voice of Yes is sitting out this current tour? Is this another case of the band waiting for the singer to get around to playing live, like Journey did with Steve Perry? No, this is not the case. Let's take a moment to see why the band is on the road with another "Jon." This time it's Jon Davison taking the role of lead vocalist.

Davison is 41, and was singing in a Yes tribute band back in 2005. He has the vocal chops to pull off those high notes, and found his way into the "real" band without a true "tryout."  That was 2012, and the touring members of Yes were a hodgepodge of accomplished musicians, but only one true original member was on the list.  That was Chris Squire. This go round, Steve Howe and Alan White make up part of the band.  Having three original members on this tour will certainly bring out a few more die hard fans. Will they warm up to Mr. Davison?  Here is a clip of his handiwork. You decide.

 What happened to Jon Anderson?  Anderson suffered from a pretty serious respiratory illness starting in 2008.  The band just couldn't wait for Anderson to get well.  In their defense, Anderson was out of commission for nearly four years. Prior to that, Yes was on the road more than one would think.  Those aged rockers were keeping up a tour schedule better suited for musicians 25 years younger.  Anderson wasn't really thrilled with that.  His last project was a duo affair, featuring Rick Wakeman on keyboard. That was back in 2012.  Anderson hasn't completely shut the door on future reunions.  He would love to be standing on stage with Yes when (or if) they ever get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Until then, we Yes fans will have to make due with guys like Jon Davison, a man who can certainly hit the high notes.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Vintage Ludwig Snare Drums | Painted Interiors And Dating The Drum

WFL Symphonic Snare Drum
For a few years, I got caught up in the vintage drum craze. Acquiring old Ludwig snare drums was my thing. It took me some time to learn about them, mostly through trial and error.  I should have gone right to this vintage drums book for starters. 

The book gives the reader a solid base of information on most of the larger or more popular drum companies of the 20th century. It was in that book where I found out about the WFL Symphonic snare, a drum that has been in my possession for nearly 20 years now.  I love that drum, and I try to take great care of it. When I took it on tour in 2000, I made sure to bring it in from the van every night. 

I have found just one other Symphonic, and that one was a couple years younger than my first, with extra holes drilled into it.  Someone had replaced the Ludwig Classic snare throw off with a cheap Japanese throw. The interior of that “newer” snare has a coat of interior paint. That was a common thing to see on the early 1960’s models. It was done at the factory. Some say that they were painted to hide the lower quality of wood in use at the time.   They sound very different from each other.  The painted snare produces fewer overall tones when compared to the 1959 Model.

I feel that I was one of the lucky ones who got into Ebay early enough to grab some pretty nice snare drums and parts before things got out of hand, and opening bids went through the roof.  Finding a good deal on a vintage drum on EBay seems to be a thing of the past. Prior to that change, it wasn’t unusual to find a Ludwig Supraphonic available for just over $100. At one point, I managed to snag a pair of vintage Supraphonics for $75 each. When I log on to an auction site now, it’s easy to see that the public at large has been educated. At least I made my splash early.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Gogol Bordello With Bombino At The Pabst Theater | A Bit Of World and Gypsy Punk Music At Its Finest

Gogol Bordello Pabst
What can I say about Gogol Bordello that hasn't already been said. Are they a Gypsy, punk, reggae-dub band? Yes, the band is a mix of all three. One thing that they certainly convey is pure musical energy. Just when you think that you have the band pegged, they riff in a direction that you just didn't expect. Last Saturday was my first time seeing the band, and I was not disappointed. I can appreciate them on so many levels. Let me take the next few paragraphs to describe that in better detail.

It's fitting that the band formed on the East Coast.  I'm certain that it helped. With NYC hosting a large Ukrainian and Russian population, it's not hard to fathom that there were plenty of musicians to choose from. If you watch an early Gogol Bordello documentary, you can see that the band was first made up of Russians and other so called "immigrants" who played a rough version of Gypsy pop/punk with Ukrainian twists. As the years have passed, it seems that the sound has become more polished, but still has a driving edge that maintains the punk and Gypsy origins.

I can also appreciate the fact that the band has members from many parts of the world.  Starting with Elizabeth Sun, who is of Chinese descent, but raised in Scotland.  Sun sings, dances, and plays the bass drum. Sergey Ryabtsev is a key member of the band, providing violin and vocals.  He's quite the Russian performer. Add performers from Ethiopia, The United States, and Ecuador, and you have a true melting pot of musicians.

Last but not least, these musicians are truly talented.  They dance and sing at the same time. That can't be said for modern pop stars who just dance to a prerecorded vocal track. Does that mean the vocals are a bit sloppy at times? Yes, it does.  Does that matter to the fans? Not at all.  When you watch them perform, it's like the wheels are just a few mistakes away from coming off, but the group has been through that so many times before.  The wheels managed to stay on at the Pabst last weekend.

If I was to say anything about the founding member Eugine Hutz, I would say that he seems like a man who's always looking to the horizon, while standing right in front of you. He has a pure energy about himself. It comes across in the way that he performs on stage. He might riff off the members playing right next to him, but it surely seems that he's in his own world. If I learned anything from reading about Hutz, it's that he's turned his travels into an opportunity to bring odd music to the masses. Some folks might not understand or appreciate those odd sounds. He once said in an interview that Americans tend to have an "imaginary barrier" to being open minded about all forms of music.  If Gogol Bordello continues to perform here, that barrier will be broken down.

Bombino opened the show.  Bombino is well known in his country, and his world music album has touched the hearts of many. The volume for Bombino's show was too low.  He has a way with the guitar, but next time they have to turn up the volume!