Start Digging Your History, and Have a Good Time Doing It!

November 25, 2009 6:24 pm in Drumset by Daniel Glass

Hey Vic Firth readers and educators!

It’s great to be on this site and have the opportunity to share and discuss ideas with you all. I am dedicating much of my presence on this forum to sharing with my fellow drummers and educators the history and traditions of our drumming artform. Whether you realize it or not, as a drum set player you have a very close connection to your past – after all the drum set is only about 100 years old. Not only that, but you (and your students) can benefit tremendously if you know even a little bit about how today’s playing styles evolved . . . . about where you came from!

I’ll explain further, but first a few words about my own history:

Since 1994, I’ve been the drummer with a group called Royal Crown Revue. We’re a seven piece horn band that focuses on classic American music styles – kind of like a big band with a lot of rock attitude. If you’ve ever seen the Jim Carrey film “The Mask,” that’s RCR in the big dance scene with Cameron Diaz. With RCR, I’ve been able to travel all over the world and play with a wide variety of folks from Bette Midler to Gene Simmons.

My work in RCR has led me into a very deep exploration of classic drumming styles, and over the last decade I’ve interviewed and befriended more than 50 legends of drumming – everyone from Louie Bellson to Earl Palmer to Hal Blaine. I’m also the “go to” guy in Los Angeles when someone needs an expert in everything from early jazz and classic swing to rhythm and blues and early rock’n'roll. I’ve published three books and many articles on drum history – I have a semi-regular column in DRUM called “Moment in History”, and earlier this year Modern Drummer ran a five part series I wrote called “Nouveau Retro.” My newest book release “The Commandments of Early Rhythm and Blues Drumming” just won the 2009 DRUM reader’s poll for Book of the Year.

As an educator, I have been presenting clinics on Drum History for the last five years or so. My clinic lays out the evolution of the drum kit, focusing on the origins of all the various elements and showing how each one of them affected popular music. Recently I presented a series of clinics with ZORO (my partner on the new Commandments book), culminating in a joint presentation on Early R&B at PASIC ’09 in Indianapolis. If you’re interested, that clinic will be posted to the Vic Firth website within a few weeks.

Knowing the future by understanding the past:

The more time I spend working in the realm of  drum history, the more I feel a sense of urgency that we must educate ourselves and future generations about where we come from. All of the great musical styles that have inspired us a drum set players – whether rock, jazz, blues, swing, funk, punk, country, hip hop, gospel, etc – were created in the last century by pioneers who “boldly grooved where no one has grooved before.” Today, the common language of grooves and fills that we speak whenever we sit down at the kit is essentially the fruit of their labor. However, as time goes by and we lose more and more of these pioneers, we run the danger of losing our connection to this common past altogether.

This desire to understand “where we come from” is what has driven me to go to the source, to really try and understand how the language was crafted. What were the first drum kits like? When did the hi hat become part of the kit, or the first ride cymbals? When did the 2&4 backbeat first start showing up? Why did straight 8th grooves replace the swung 8th feel? Most importantly, who were the guys creating these innovations that we all take for granted today? What was going through their minds and what circumstances allowed them to make these innovations in the first place?

In discovering the answers to these questions, I found that not only did my knowledge base increase, but my playing was enhanced beyond compare. Why? Because I understood the reason I was doing what I was doing. I found I could play the same grooves I’d played for years with far more subtlety and depth. I understood how to make a Chicago shuffle sound like a Chicago shuffle, or how to play a swing feel the way that Gene Krupa played it back in the 1930s. I learned about creating the right sound and balance when approaching classic styles of music, and I found that I played newer styles of music with much more of a PURPOSE. It wasn’t just notes on a page, I was “inside it.” Most importantly, I found that knowledge gave me power, and an edge when it came to getting gigs or doing recording sessions.

With all that in mind, here are:

Five Ways to Start Digging Your History, and Have a Good Time Doing It!

1. Check out “The Commandments of Early Rhythm and Blues Drumming” – Yes, it’s a plug for my own book, but you gotta understand that 8 years of work went into this sucker, and the material discussed lays out the entire foundation for ALL the important pop styles that we play today – rock’n'roll, soul, funk, hip hop, gospel, even styles like country and reggae. Every one of these modern musical styles comes directly out of the rhythm and blues of the 1940s and 50s! (Full description below).

2. Check out my website, – Yes, another plug, but again, there’s a wealth of awesome information to be found in the “DRUM HISTORY” section of the website. Wanna find out where Bonham got the opening lick for Led Zeppelin’s “Rock’n'Roll”? Wanna know what the Bo Diddley beat is all about? Wanna know why “Rock Around The Clock” is considered such an important record? These are all features in the “Drum History Minute” section. There’s also tons of photos and descriptions of the drumming legends I’ve interviewed over the last decade.

3. Grab a FREE copy of the new Vic Firth poster “We Want the Funk!” Compiled by Zoro and myself, the poster takes you on a musical journey from the 1940s-1970s, pointing out 24 super-influential grooves along the way. The poster is colorful, cool and is super-sized for your teaching/pracitice room wall. Email the Vic Firth guys and demand that they send you one today! If you and your students dig the poster, go to the Vic Firth website each week and watch Zoro doing a video demonstration of every groove from the poster. The first three are up already:

4. Go to DRUMMERWORLD.COM and check out the sections for the following five drummers:

* Gene Krupa

* Papa Joe Jones

* Sonny Payne

* Ray Bauduc

* Earl Palmer

You might not know much about ‘em, but I guarantee you’ll be blown away by what you see and hear. I wanna hear some reports back on this, okay guys! You can reach me at:

5. Find an older music fan and ask them if they ever saw Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Max Roach or any of the other drumming legends you’ve heard of but will never have the chance to see live. You will probably be surprised to find that their descriptions are very similar to the ones you give when talking about your favorite drummers of today. More proof that we have a lot more in common with the past than we might think, and we have a LOT of reason to have this same conversation with those that came before us. What we learn from them will directly impact what we are doing as musicians today!

Thanks for listening, and keep watching this site for more tidbits about our glorious drumming past!

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