Wednesday, April 16, 2014

“Lead, follow or get out of the way”

When I first heard this expression, I decided it was a philosophy that could easily be applied to music. It means, simply, that as drummers we can lead or follow or work unobtrusively in the background.

One of the best examples of a drummer who leads is Buddy Rich. Yes, it was his own band, and of course he led it from behind the set. Another leader, oddly, is Charlie Watts. From the opening notes of any Rolling Stones tune, it's quite evident that Charlie is in charge.

Staying with our theme of ‘60s relics, two not-too-obvious ‘followers’ are Keith Moon and John Bonham. Despite all the flash and bravura, these guys sat on their band mates’ coat tails. Keith Moon followed Roger Daltry; John Bonham took his cues from Jimmy Page.

You might think that getting -- or staying -- out of the way would be a bad thing, a sort of non-performance. Again an unexpected example: Vinnie Callaiuta. Monster player, but a lot of the time he's very nearly invisible. Whether he's backing up Paul Simon or Jeff Beck, he works subtly in the background, content to let the music come first.

Of course on any given gig, the drummer can move through all three roles, depending on the music, the ensemble’s needs and, naturally, the mood. If  the band is struggling to lock things in, a strong drummer can take the lead and help sort things out. If the band has a strong leader -- the vocalist, for example -- the rest of the band can pick up on his/her direction and run with it. And when the whole band is grooving, just settle back and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Heat Shrink Solution

I dropped by a local drumstick maker to say Hi and to get caught up on recent developments. They'd added a new stick to their line-up, which I rather liked, but I thought it might benefit from a rubberized grip. Well, they had one in stock. Not one pair, just one stick -- a sample, I guess. I asked if they had any more. The shop’s owner grabbed a few sticks, sound-matched a pair for me and then had his technician put grips on them. I liked the result, and for a short time I had a pair of exclusive, custom-made sticks! 
In an unrelated excursion, I was cruising the aisles of an electronics store and came across a display of heat-shrink tubing. Now, the above-mentioned drumstick maker had switched to heat shrink grips to get away from the mess and chemicals involved in dipped type grips (kudos to John at I figured that I could use some of the tubing to bulk up a pair of brushes that I found too thin. The result was excellent, so I set about retrofitting a few sticks as well. I'm now totally addicted and have added the material to all of my sticks … even some mallets and timbale sticks.

The tubing comes in a lot of different diameters. I found the 3/4" to be ideal for most uses. The 1/2" is good for very thin sticks and/or brushes (or timbale sticks). The product comes in a variety of colours, so I've colour-coded the pairs. Just for fun, I pulled a couple of worn out sticks from the trash and wrapped these as well. Bonus: the sticks are now usable again. 

The material is easy to work with. You need to cut off a piece about half the length of your stick. Then you just slip it over the grip area and apply heat. I use a heat gun, but a candle will do. The tubes cost $4 for a four-foot length. Using a standard 8" length, I can cover three pairs of sticks at a cost of about $1.35 per pair. I’ve even made my own ‘blasticks’ and brooms.

Note that this is an electrical product. I don't know if it's hypo-allergenic, though my research didn’t point to any obvious problems. If you're sensitive to plastics, rubbers and synthetics, you may want to keep an eye out for any reactions.