Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Earl Palmer

This is where it started for me. This is where that insane desire to play the drums began to permeate my whole being. This desire has grown exponentially as I get older. Tomorrow, I celebrate my 61st birthday. I practice more than ever....I play more than ever... and it's never enough. But I'm getting ahead of myself.......

I grew up in a solidly middle class neighborhood in Chicago. My parents were not musical. The radio was always turned to the MOR station. Even here, I was fascinated by the drumming that I heard. It wasn't much, but hell, it was music.

I don't remember the circumstances or how it happened, but somehow I became aware of " the Fat Man", the great Fats Domino. This music hit me like a ton of bricks, particularly the drumming on the tunes, "I'm Walkin," and "I'm in Love again." Here was something I could sink my teeth into. From there, I became aware of Little Richard and his drummer, Earl Palmer. I soon realized that it was Earl playing on all those Fats Domino hits.

My older sister could buy 45 rpm records and I became more exposed to "the Beat." I became engulfed by it. And, in many cases, it was Earl Palmer playing the drums on the records. His list of playing credits is stunning. He's the drummer on Little Richard's "Good Golly Miss Molly", "Slippin and Slidin", "Tutti Frutti", and "The Girl Can't Help It". He's the stick man behind Shirley and Lee's "Let the Good Times Roll", Ritchie Valen's "La Bamba", and Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues". That's him playing on all of Sam Cooke's records. He's the drummer on the Righteous Brothers hit, "You've Lost that Loving Feeling". The list goes on and on.

The pictured CD is required listening for anyone even remotely interested in rock and roll and rock drumming. It shows Earl in various settings, always playing in the pocket. His sense of timing and rhythm was infectious. Even today, those songs still affect me in the way they originally did. It was Earl who started me on my life's drumming path.....Earl and his Rogers Drums.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Slingerland vintage drum sticks

It's hard to believe that, in this age of huge drumstick manufacturers, there was a time when drummers usually bought their drumsticks from Drum companies---in most cases, from the same company that manufactured their drum kit. The selection was limited and quality was questionable. But all the companies produced sticks that bore the name of their endorsers. The pictured stick is the Slingerland Louie Bellson model drumstick. It has a nylon tip and is about the size of a standard 5A. Most of the companies had 5A models, in addition to 2A's, 3A's, 8A's, 9A's,and 11A's. But the similarity stopped there. A Rogers 3A was slightly different from a Ludwig 3A which was different from a Gretsch 3A. Plus, every so often, the company would change the size of the stick or would drop it entirely. Thus, it became quite maddening when you became use to a stick and it would suddenly disappear.

With the emergence of Regal Tip and Pro Mark, the drumstick landscape began to change drastically. Options were plentiful. Different woods beside hickory were selected and tried. Drummers now had the opportunity to endorse drumsticks separately from other equipment. And new companies like Vic Firth, Vater, Los Cabos, Silverfox, and even Zildjian cymbals entered the marketplace.

Today a few Drum companies still offer sticks, but, for the most part, they've left the field to the stick manufacturers. Happily, the times have never been better for drummers. The options are endless. There are simply hundreds of styles to choose from...for any application

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dave Tough

When I started taking drum lessons as a wee lad, my drum teacher, Max Mariash, turned me on to many jazz drummers. I really knew very little about jazz. I knew about pop and rock and roll, but that was it. Max talked about Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, Jo Jones, Big Sid Catlett, Chick Webb, and, of course, Gene Krupa. But he also mentioned a drummer that, over the years, had slowly slipped from the scene. That drummer was Dave Tough.

Perhaps it was because Dave died in 1948. In any case, Max waxed eloquently about Dave. He was simply " a tremendous big band drummer" that could lift a band "like nobodies business." I had to check him out and I did. Max was right---Dave Tough could swing like a madman. His recordings with the Woody Herman band are marvelous. He had a way of ending tunes with a simple flourish of his bass drum. It was his signature and it is instantly recognizable.

Over the years, I went to hear Louie Bellson perform. I saw him perform live more than any other drummer. Consequently, Louie would recognize me and we would chat for long periods about drummers and drumming. Louie lived for a short period with Dave. Naturally, they talked about drums. Dave constantly complained about his press or buzz roll. He claimed he couldn't play one. Louie laughed this off. Dave didn't like drum solos, because he claimed he had no technique. Louie pointed out what a great complimentary player he was, but Dave couldn't accept that. He was his own worst critic.

In addition to Woody Herman, Dave played with Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, and Eddie Condon. As his career progressed, he become more and more unreliable. His feelings of inadequacy and his bouts with alcohol took their toll. He died at age 40.

In the book, Drummin' Men by Burt Korall, Buddy Rich talks about Dave Tough. Quote "His energy force was so strong that you'd think there was a 400 pound guy sitting up there." Strong praise indeed. Dave Tough was one of the greats.