Andy Newmark -The Space Between

Along with the infamous Mike Clark (standalone post will be done later), Andy Newmark is for me one of the most iconic musicians of funk discography. He’s the drummer on ‘Fresh’ by Sly & The Family Stone, a record that has made funk history.

I was never aware of his session career until I made a careful listen to Roxy Music‘s ‘Avalon’ (1982). There are numerous songs with special grooves in there but the one that really stands out for me is ‘The Space Between’.

The drumming here brings out a  darker ‘JR Robinson’ vibe with a tendency to small artistic intricacies rather than serving a strict pattern. All in a ‘one take’ kind of attitude.

Russ Kunkel #2 – Million Dollar Fills

Once you start the video you ‘ll understand the title of this post right on the spot.

Bare in mind that 1971 is still pretty early for the singer-songwriter era. Russ Kunkel is actually creating a style of playing with all the major gigs he had back then.

Russ Kunkel – Edge Of Seventeen

When it comes to major hits you can’t go much better than this. “Edge Of Seventeen” has immortal status on radio airplay. But let’face it, the true reason for this post is that verse.

Russ Kunkel is the drummer here. He was a guy deeply involved in the singer/songwriter heydays that conquered the US during the 70s.

I don’t know yet whose idea that verse beat was but it’s so odd it actually works. By accenting the offbeat he’s givin the song a sense of anticipation that really blends well with the vocal part. Needless to say, it holds a lot more the ground for that straight 16th hitmaking chorus.

Daniel Glass – A Drum Historian

There are a lot of cool things about Daniel Glass. First of all, his hair. Secondly his pure rock n’ roll energy. Lastly -and most importantly I should say- his musical history knowledge.

Being a fan of relentless cliche dropping I should now say that: knowing where you came from helps a great deal in learning where you ‘re going to. Mr. Glass wants to get that point across in every opportunity he’s given and I truly support him for that.

His Vic Firth series about History of the Drumset has been eye-opening for me. Below you can watch the first 9 parts alltogether. Then you can follow the rest from the related videos section, the series goes up to part 15.

Let me elaborate a bit with an example on what his knowledge has given me. You ‘re at a soundcheck with your band and the engineer asks for a beat and some fills in between to check his levels and kit tone through the PA.

As a cool “into now” drummer, any of us would most likely play a steady 4/4 groove with the right hand on the hat the left on the snare, a cracking backbeat, maybe some ghost notes in there and fills that go around the toms from high to low. This has been absolutely correct and useful for drummers for at least 40 years now. But was it always like this?

What about those people that didn’t have any toms to play big fills? What about the guys that didnt even KNOW what a backbeat on beats 2 and 4 is gonna sound like? What about the dudes that were playing packed 3k seaters and didn’t have a PA to get their little intricate ghost notes (???) to sound along with the rest of the kit? Daniel Glass mainly responds to all these questions in these series.

I can now understand that the instrument I’m sitting behind every day is probably younger in age than my dad. And believe it or not this has helped my mind in terms of playing more than the 6-stroke roll I so love to use.

In this Drumeo feature he really expands his concepts on teaching and playing. He explains how significant a good pulse of quarter notes is not only for timekeeping but in playing in general along with sounding good on the kit. Now, I get it maybe for most people this stuff sounds boring. But I’d like to see anyone try to lay a rock n’ roll beat without a good sense of quarters or even better try to immitate a Gene Krupa feel on the toms. He’s absolutely right when he says that pulse and natural quarter note flow is what makes people move and dance and generally relate to a bunch of guys standing some feet above them, making noise.

A small treat for me when I did some research on Daniel is that he’s somehow involved in one of my favorite films as a kid, The Mask with Jim Carey. Turns out his actual band is called the Royal Crown Revue and were the house band of the night club scene where The Mask goes on rampage. I think maybe the drum intro is still stuck in my head after almost two decades.



Some Don Henley Magic

“Well, tell me this. What does Modern Drummer want with me anyway? I’m no drummer.”

Don Henley’s question to interviewer Robert Santelli.

When you think of rock drummers, Don Henley doesn’t cross your mind early on the list. He may not even appear ever in there. That doesn’t mean you can’t remember every single fill he played on ‘Hotel California‘. A fine example of smart drumming, parts someone could actually sing and raw attitude, Don Henley is not a player to ignore.

He had a strong opinion on the sound of the instrument and that can be seen in the documentary ‘History Of The Eagles’ where he remembers the fights he had with the great Glyn Johns about the tom micing. Don wanted them to be separately mic’ed cause he knew he could really sell his minimal fills. You can witness it by the time the band started making records with producer Bill Szymczyk.

Note the simplistic 8th note fills before the choruses of “One of These Nights”. Toms baby!!

Stongly influenced by the Ringo sound in the late Beatles albums (Abbey Road and later…), his snare drum became iconic for the LA sound of the ’70s. Generally, a 14×6,5 Supra played smoothly and in a relaxed backbeat fashion was his weapon. Gearwise, as I can see in the documentary pictures he always prefered a lacquered natural finish Ludwig kit (3ply w/ reinforcement rings) and ALWAYS in concert mode. That means no reso skins at all. The resos came back when the band reunited but that era won’t concern this article.

I ‘ve delved into their discography for days now  and as I understand his laid back style really drove the band in terms of group time. At many points, it seems like he’s dragging the groove back and forth and it’s probably true. Many drummers criticise him for that in forums. I personally LOVE that. You see, many things about The Eagles had to do with personal expression of the members. Everyone sang perfectly so when it came to instruments, each one had his ‘little things’. For Don, one thing was surely loose time feel (ex. above on “You Never Cry Like A Lover).

And then he started dragging some more:

And some more:

But you see that’s the thing with “soft rock” it gotta sound soft ain’t it? Hence, the fat snare, the simple melodic fills, the careless dragging time feel. I wouldn’t imagine these songs played in any other way. And that’s enough for everyone to respect mr. Henley.

“I was definitely a “less is more” drummer, there’s no doubt about that. And that was by choice. I could have played more complex stuff. I could have been a busier player. But that’s not what I wanted to do. I played what I wanted to play. I even started out with the traditional grip. And then when Ringo came along I turned around the left hand and started playing that way. So that takes away some of your dexterity right there. When you turn that stick around, rolls and things like that become almost impossible, although I can do sort of a rudimentary kind of thing with that grip. And remember, I was singing. And that in a way forced me to be simple. But the simple drummers were always my favorite kind of drummers.”


Time for my personal favourite Don Henley recording:

I don’t know, people tell me I got the soul of an old man.. But I just can’t get enough of that verse.

And then of course there’s this live performance from 1977 that really wraps up the whole purpose of this post. Notice how he plays every fill of ‘Hotel California’ exactly like on the record (lots of songs are on YouTube from this performance).


PS. Check out the whole interview on Modern Drummer magazine here.


Worst Drum Fill in History?

Don’t get me wrong. I love him. He is brilliant, he represents what it means to be in a band and where could that take you if you believe in yourself. But… he’s lousy. Lars Ulrich, I mean.

After the Black Album, Metallica was writing some of their best stuff while Lars as a drummer was goin’ truly downhill. He embraced the business side of things and forgot all about drumming. Which is fine if you ask me. His bandmates always supported him so why should we care?

On the other hand he has some pretty amusing “jam” moments put on record. One of them -probably his worst– is the fill starting on the 2:53 mark…

I could break it down but really it speaks for itself 🙂

Modern Pop Session Thoughts | Katerine Duska LP Release

Playing simple four chord songs in a pop context should be easy right? I mean, all you gotta do is play a pattern to support the melody or something that would make people dance in general. No, no and again no.

Whoever has ears should have noticed how much drum-o-centric modern pop has become. Some would argue that it has always been that way but I would respectively disagree. Yes, it was always about the beat but i think it never was JUST the beat and vox. Let’s see some examples:

Ok, by now I really think it’s obvious where this is going. You got new age female pop stars, big chorus melodies, driving drums with tons of reverb and… three major radio hits. It is now safe to say that this has become a recipe, a very drum-o-centric one to be precise.

The thing is, most of these songs would exist and still be great pieces of music even without any drums sounding throughout them. This should be a relief for the studio session drummer but as it turns out, its not. The big question is: how can you create something useful when you job here is mostly “unnecesary”. That takes a lot of thinking.

Fistly, let me point out the importance of knowing where you ‘re getting into. In a studio session there have to be references and you have to be mostly prepared for anything that might come up. If the singer or the producer happens to quote “Lykke Li, Adele, Sharon Jones etc etc.” you better be able to translate the words into sound. Its impossible to know everything but trying to do so helps, believe me.

Secondly, you have to be very decisive on when and where is your time to lay down a beat. In most of these cases the drums are either a repetitive minimal pattern that drives the song or the bombastic element that kicks in the chorus and takes the song from a room with a piano to a theatre full o people that raise hands. So, it IS actually very important to feel the right time and place you are needed and make yourself sound necesary for that matter.

Thirdly, gear, gear, gear, gear. Your old faithfull supra and big cymbals are 100% cool but they may not be the best choice here. In some points you have to think out of the drumming box and get your hands dirty with mallets, concert toms, bigger snares, crappier (yes indeed!) snares, not using cymbals, not using a snare, play a bass drum with you hand, try various percussion fx etc etc. Sound is the key if the notes are not many so make use of it.

Lastly, cooperate. When the thinking process is so intense and the drums become so important to the structure of the whole song not just the rhythm section it’s easy to forget your role in the session and go frenzy on ideas and arguments. No. If a producer has a method and the artist chose him, you are redundant to the equation. Just try and make things easier. It doesn’t always have to be about your signature moves and shit like that. It’s possible you won’t even listen to the exact drum take you kept before leaving the session due to editing and sampling. It’s ok. It’s pop music, anything goes, if it works.

Last week, the debut of a very talented young singer was released. Katerine Duska’s Embodiment is out on EMI and I’m happy to be using all the above in the record. The sessions happened in various locations hence the tones may differ but more or less the mentality is constant. Have a listen here:




Major Influences #3: Kevin Parker

“Wait, who’s Kevin Parker? Let me check Wiki… Oh, the Tame Impala guy. But he’s not even a drummer!” Exactly…

Kevin Parker and his one-man project called Tame Impala had a serious impact on me as a musician since their beginning. It’s been almost four years since I first listened to Innerspeaker and I still carry the record everywhere I go. No, it’s not my favourite record of all time but is certainly a piece of music that I praise a lot.

Back to the “not even a drummer” thing: In my opinion, we drummers care a lot about what we do. We sweat it. Sometimes too much though… It’s safe to say that most of us have been in a situation where we bust our head off to find the right pattern to accompany a rather simple riff. You ‘re thinking:

“Yea that riff is so good but it sounds rather simplistic.. Maybe I need to spice it up”.

Enter confused bandmates: “Yo man you ‘re certain you wanna go that way? I mean, ye it’s fine but maybe we try to keep it low this time, I got a strong melody”.

You know what? Screw them.. but they ‘re right. Making music is supposed a natural procedure. I think Kevin Parker knows that.

What I’ ve learned from him:

-Keep it loose

-Let the melody breathe and speak to the listener

-There’s always a way of throwing influences in the most unexpected places

Let’s hear some examples:

1. Let loose. Almost like you dont care

2. Let the melody speak. Respect the songwriting. Hold back with you patterns.

3. You like hip hop but you ‘re playing in a psychedelic rock band. There is always a way to use that and don’t mess up. You just have to aim right and on time.

Now, soundwise you can accustom your ear to a “little” thingy called compression. If you ever had questions about heavily compressed drums look not further.

PS. Yes, of course I am familiar with Ringo Starr and I bet Kevin Parker is too. I could recite Ringo in every post I make but I wont. Different music context gives a different meaning to everything.

PS2. In many cases, the Tame Impala kind of drumming is based on looped drums. I think the same principles apply.

Thoughts on Technique

In no way I ‘m gonna imply here that I know technique. What I ‘ll do is describe how I feel about technique.

First of all, let’s admit it’s a big taboo issue among musicians. Some of us don’t wanna talk about it ever, others talk about it too much and there’s the middle ground of confused people that are trying to find themselves a sense of belonging in between.

Personaly I spent a lot of time fighting my insecurities regarding the subject. Until I started talking with local heroes of the drumming scene. People with different backgrounds, different sense of musicianship, different levels of expertise that for some reason seemed to respect each other genuinely regardless of all these differences. What binds them all together is a simple fact: they all have something specific to say with their instrument.

You see, to me music is like language. When you play a certain genre/type/song/whatever, you speak its language, you tell the story from your point of view, you ‘re a narrator.

Now, technique is actually the glue between the things you have in your head and the things you do with your body. The best word to describe is vocabulary.

In the non-music related world you have to communicate with different people. Each one of them uses his method of saying what he wants. One could be an academic with words using intricate and complex phrasing while another can be more poetic by utilising romantic words of big value. Same goes with street talk, rural idioms, inside jokes etc. These are all methods of saying something.

Back to drums now. If you can match the scenarios to any musical situation you can get a type of player that should be respected in his own field. The academic could be a clinician or a drummer who tours the world with his fusion trio. The poet could be a devoted old school jazz player. The street talker could be the world’s favourite rock n’ roll/punk rock drummer. Good session players speak the language in an understandable (for the majority) way while being able to incorporate samples of academics, poetry, idioms, street talk etc whenever they ‘re asked to.

Each and every one of them uses the words he needs to get his meaning across. For me that’s technique. The more types of people you can communicate well to the bigger your vocabulary gets. It’ s all a matter of acknowledging the things you want to express each time.

ps. in no way I ‘m gonna imply here that I know technique…