Sunday, July 24, 2011

My History as an Amateur Baterista

As some of you may know, I’m a fan of drumming. My first instrument was violin. I so desperately wanted to play lovely strains like I heard on the romantic era composers like Liszt, Rossini, and Debussy. But at age eleven, after three years of lessons I became so frustrated with my ineptitude. What should be a lovely tone can often sound like a cat being skinned alive when not played well…and that was all-too-often what I heard emanating from my fingers and bow.

So, I switched to drums. Don’t ask why the transition from melodious strains to el baterista…I guess was fascinated with the percussive elements of orchestras and pop music. Starting with rulers and knitting needles, I would pound on makeshift arrangements of boxes ranging from Quaker Oats to Penny Loafers to containers for fancy hats. I then graduated to real sticks and would practice on the corner of my bed, tearing up plenty of bedspreads, sheets, and even mattress coverings along the way.

Eventually, when I was fourteen, I was given a beat-up used four piece trap set from a friend who didn’t want it anymore, and kept adding to it with other pieces along the way. It was an odd conglomeration of red sparkle, metallic silver, gold dust, and copper plated finishes from a myriad of manufacturers. The patchwork had its own personality for sure. It was not much to look at, but served as a good practice kit for years. Most of the time it was set up in an unused cottage on the side of the church property where my Dad was pastor in Decatur, Illinois. Many an hour was invested in that damp, musty wood-paneled getaway, where I would don some cheap Radio Shack Realistic headphones that were plugged into a crappy little cassette player.

I would pound away to Deep Purple, Savoy Brown, Grand Funk, Black Sabbath, Led Zep, ELP, Jethro Tull, and many more. On good days I could play Ginger Baker’s fifteen minute “Toad” drum solo from Wheels of Fire note for note. Because it was so humid, I’d often get nasty blisters on my fingers, and found that duct tape—while not particularly sanitary—was the best cure for wrapping my digits. Sometimes I would even wear fur-lined winter gloves. Man, did they emit an odor equaled only by a hockey locker room.

Right before my family moved to the Chicago area in ’75 during my sophomore year at Wheaton College, I decided to give the set away as there’d be no place to play it in our new house when I would go home on breaks. And there certainly was no place to store them at college.

But that didn’t stop me from continuing to work on rudimentary chops and practice new drum beats with a simple practice pad, or back to the corner of my bed. And of course, by simply using my hands and feet, I could practice many combinations while daydreaming during a ridiculous ROTC session, or a boring chapel sermon, or a commuter train ride into the Loop. To this day I still work out new patterns while on airplane flights or while watching TV. Despite not having an actual kit, I would contend I’m a better drummer now than I was then simply through continued learning and practice in this way. Occasionally I’m fortunate to sit at a real kit and see if I can work out some of these concepts. And while it may take a few minutes to get into the groove, I generally can do most of the stuff I’ve been pondering.

As I pontificate on these percussive forays, I can’t help but pay tribute to all the drummers who influenced me along the way. Some could swing, some could thunder, some were dizzying mathematical wizards, some were musical geniuses, some were relentlessly simple time-keepers, and others played “lead drums.” But I was inspired-by and was a student of them all. So, here are my faves, in alphabetical order. If you wonder why I chose any of these in particular, ask about them and I’ll give you my reasons.

Tommy Aldridge (Black Oak Arkansas, Pat Travers Band, Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne)

Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp, John Fogerty, etc.)

Ginger Baker (Cream, Baker’s Airforce, Baker/Gurvitz Army)

Barrimore Barlowe (Jethro Tull)

Louie Belson

Bob C. Benberg (Supertramp)

John Bonham (Led Zeppelin)

Terry Bozzio (Zappa, UK, Missing Persons)

Don Brewer (Grand Funk, Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band)

Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson, UK, Bill Bruford Band)

Matt Cameron (Soundgarden)

Billy Cobham (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jeff Beck)

Phil Collins (Genesis, Brand X)

Stewart Copeland (Curved Air, The Police)

Nick D’virgilio (Spock’s Beard)

Phil Ehart (Kansas)

Joe English (Wings, Joe English Band)

Steve Gadd (Steely Dan, Paul Simon, Al Jarreau, etc.)

Gerry Gaskill (Phil Keaggy Band, The Edge, Sneak Preview, King’s X)

Bill Glover (Petra)

Jim Gordon (Beach Boys, Derek and the Dominoes, Zappa, Steely Dan, etc.)

Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree)

Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters)

Omar Hakim (Sting, Lee Ritenour, David Sanborn, etc.)

Dominic Howard (Muse)

Darren King (Mute Math)

Joey Kramer (Aerosmith)

Gene Krupa

Mike Mead (Rick Cua Band, Chagall Guevara, Steve Taylor Band)

Keith Moon (The Who)

Rod Morgenstein (Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse Band, Winger)

Greg Morrow (DeGarmo and Key Band)

Alphonse Mouzon (Larry Coryell, Jeff Beck, Santana, Jeff Lorber, etc.)

Ian Paice (Deep Purple)

Carl Palmer (Atomic Rooster, ELP, Asia)

Neil Peart (Rush)

Simon Phillips (Duncan Browne, Jeff Beck, Mike Rutherford, Judas Priest, Toto)

Jeff Porcaro (Toto)

Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Transatlantic, Neal Morse Band, Liquid Tension Experiment, Yellow Matter Custard)

Cozy Powell (Rainbow, Robert Plant, Jeff Beck, Gary Moore)

Prarie Prince (The Tubes, Todd Rundgren, David Byrne, etc.)

Buddy Rich

Phil Rudd (AC/DC)

Danny Seraphine (Chicago)

John Sferra (Glass Harp)

Aaron Smith (The 77’s)

Steve Smith (Jean Luc Ponty, Montrose, Journey)

Chester Thompson (Weather Report, Zappa, Genesis, Phil Collins Band)

Pierre Van der Linden (Focus, Trace)

Bill Ward (Black Sabbath)

John Weathers (Gentle Giant)
Dave Weckl (Chick Corea, Dave Grusin, George Benson, etc.)

Max Weinberg (Springsteen’s E Street Band)

Alan White (Yes)

John Wiseman (Colosseum, Colosseum II)

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