Monday, October 1, 2012


 ...just call it one or more of the following: make-up; dancing lessons; a mullet; rehab; a pastel blazer.

TOPIC: 1980's video breakthroughs by artists who debuted in the 1960's.

The irony is not lost on me.
Had I posted this blog entry, oh, six weeks ago, I could have afforded to bring the snark. As in, "here's your super productive music blog guy back again, and this time, we're here to look back in amusement at the period in a certain generation of artists' careers in which they, despite having more than proven their artistic merit for the previous 15-20 years, found themselves bowing to the cheeseball conventions of the time. Pastels, drum machines, dancers...MTV and 80's pop culture...blah blah.."

Then I'd possibly riff about these legends having to play the MTV game if they were to keep their mansions, antique cars and pay their lawyers, rehab bills, etc.

But here I am, the one recently so bereft of inspiration, who hasn't posted in, what, two months? And finally returning with a fluffy, obvious topic, and one which,  I'm sure, has been done before, and better, by other writers.

I am Robert Plant, and this is my new single,  "Tall Cool One".
(stay tuned for why "Tall Cool One" isn't on this list after all). 

Whatevs. The point is, these artists did come back.
And so have I..

..And in my defense, I was actually writing, but in other areas. Like new songs and stuff.
But what I will plea guilty to is chipping away at this entry over the course of the last six weeks, and completely losing focus, as you may notice below. Wait--Who am I apologizing to?

As I state in the title of this entry, DON'T call it a comeback. I should say that, to their credit, these artists didn't resist the times. A good portion of their generation were also proudly donning mullets and Don Johnson duds to keep them feeling young. Those who didn't want that still had Family Ties' Steven Keaton (played by Michael Gross) to have as a role model.

Don Johnson. 80's archetype for Jagger, Winwood, Daltrey and Robertson.
Michael Gross. 80's archetype for Crosby, Garcia, Dylan and Davies.

I will now say that I don't presume that most baby boomers were looking to prime time TV to guide their fashion choices. It's just that I was watching a lot of TV in the 80's, and my own parents were too old to be baby boomers. Thus my view of what boomers were up to in the 80's was/ is completely informed by what I saw on TV. Not even cable TV. We didn't get that until 1990. So to be honest, when I mention seeing these videos as a youth, I was actually seeing them on either V66 or daily afternoon shows like Hot Hit Video with Bill Smith. MTV was only seen when I was over a friend or band mate's house. 

For every one of the below examples, there was another artist who would have killed to have successfully crossed over from FM to MTV, but was relegated to nostalgia shows or mid-sized clubs. For every Eric Clapton, there was an Eric Burdon. For every Monkees, there was a Turtles. For every Stills, there was a Furay. For every Robbie Robertson, there was a Richard Manuel.

Management, luck, discipline, desire, willingness to kiss butts and play the game...there's kind of no one definitive reason why those who weathered the 80's, did. But they did, and at the time,  I was at an age where they seemed old, but not embarrassingly so. 

And in many cases, they crossed a necessary--if sometimes embarrassing in retrospect--bridge that afforded them a very nice artistic license as they cruised toward the sunset in the 21st century. They were just doing what it took to survive. Plant had to experience "Tall Cool One" to get to his Grammy in 2008. Paul McCartney had to do "Broad Street" to get to his amazing revival in his last several albums. For these artists, the 80's was their mid life crisis. The generation that thought they'd change everything was now being told what to do by RISDi grads half their age (if they were lucky).
How did they weather it?

Criteria: Song+Video: where does it stand in the artists' greater work? What did I think of it at the time and what do I think of it now?

Rating System: 1 to 5

A "1" means it DEPENDS on the past/the artists' legacy and/or FORCEFULLY/SELF CONSCIOUSLY EMBRACES the 80's. (Don Johnson/Miami Vice mid life crisis.)

A "5" means the song stands up and the artist is fully aware of the fact that this bizarre video is just how the game is played now. They aren't trying to fool anyone. (Michael Gross/Family Ties dad who has happily changed with the times, but still embraces his 60's values.)

note: as the writing of this dragged on, the above criteria began to get a bit slippery...

Santana-Hold On (1982)
song: 4
video: 5

We all know that "Santana" is basically a name brand. Any song with a cowbell and Carlos Santana playing a guitar solo means that the song can be on a Santana album. Doesn't matter who wrote it (probably not Santana). Doesn't matter who's singing (definitely not Santana). It's Santana nonetheless. I don't know how that all works, but it must be some karmic reward for something. I will not listen to any of the formula crap he's been doing since the 90's. Who am I kidding? I don't listen to Santana, period (though I do like "Hope You're Feeling Better" from Abraxas.)
But I do think that this song has a killer chorus, and is early-80's enough that despite its undeniably 80's video, the song could be from 1978. And Carlos maintains his dignity in the clip.

The Rolling Stones-Under Cover of the Night (1983)


Oh my. Just to let you know how sporadically I've been chipping away at this entry, I'll tell you that before settling on this video as the definitive representation of The Stones' entry into the MTV era, I had 1989's "Mixed Emotions" (too "comeback"-ish), then 1986's "One Hit to the Body" (too....not really The Stones), and 1981's "Waiting on a Friend" (too not-quite-80's). But "Under Cover of the Night" has it all: a bit of acting, a plot, and the song has some 80's dance music quality to it. Listening to it now, it still stands up. It's really an anomaly in the Stones catalog, sort of how "2000 Light Years from Home" is.
When I was 11, the fade out/fade in bits of this song kind of scared the crap out of me, particularly while laying in bed listening to the clock radio late at night on the weekend (ahhh...WBCN late night in the early 80's. Now that was Rock School.) The video is still kind of scary, though it was years before I saw the "unedited" version.

Bob Dylan-Sweetheart Like You (1983)
song: 3
video: 4

High grades all around for boring the crap out of me when I was 12. I knew he was a legend and was supposed to be bowed down to, but I just thought, "he probably smells bad and is mean to kids and boring to be around.".
As an almost 40-year old musician, if I appear cool to a 12 year old, lord knows it's not because I'm trying. Now I see that they got the right guy to make the video.

Yes-Owner of a Lonely Heart (1983)

song: 5
video: 5

The aging nerd-herd also score aces.  I LOVED this song and video as a 12 year old.
They were wise to get an actor to be the main focus of the video, because Yes has never been a pretty sight.
And the song--perhaps the poppiest in their catalog? Plus, the samples and drum machine patterns etc were totally state of the art. You can tell that this was a very rewarding song for Yes--a lot of hard work, and yet fun as hell to work with all that new technology. And it came out perfectly.

Robert Plant-Big Log (1983)


I admit, I had 1988's horrible (though I liked it at the time) "Tall Cool One" all set to go, when I remembered, "Planty actually had a couple of great singles and weird videos in the early 80's!".
This song and "In the Mood" were both more "vibes" than songs, and yet both made the top 40. In 1983. That kind of rules, doesn't it? When you think of it, 1983 was a pretty great year for pop music. Human League? Eurythmics? New Wave was old, but this was the year it broke! And Robert Plant's hits were kind of New Wave, weren't they? He cared not at all that Def Leppard etc were the new cocks of the walk.
Especially since in 1983, "Led Zep Rules!" was the rallying cry for pimply teens working at the mall, wearing acid wash denim, and this song bears none of the Zep vibe.
"Zep Rules!" was also the rallying cry for the handful of older kids from the Catholic school who occupied the back of my 5th-8th grade school bus, and who, every morning, would BLAST Zep, Aerosmith and Floyd from the last couple seats, exhaling their Marlboro Lights out the open windows, and taunting the bus driver.  Didn't matter that it was different kids each year--they all had the St. Michael's uniform, brought a huge boom box onto the bus, smoked cigarettes and taunted us kids and poor ol' Mrs. Potter the driver.
Anyway, I hadn't watched this video in decades, but it's great.
Plant stares, perplexed, at a pinwheel for an awfully long time. And writes on a chalkboard. A bit "Man Who Fell to Earth".
I may give The Principle of Moments a spin soon. 

Lou Reed-I Love You, Suzanne (1984)

song: 3
video: 3.5

Well, this song is kid of boring, isn't it? Especially when one knows what Lou can do. I didn't love it then, or now--and in 1984, my sister was loaning me Transformer and VU, so I was no Lou novice.
In retrospect, I'll give it an extra .5 because it sounds like mid 80's Feelies sounding like Lou Reed.
The video....Lou, Lou, Lou.
Really? Bad acting, and a stunt double dancing? (that is a stunt double, right?)


It seemed perplexing and weird when I was 12, but I had my sister to explain why it was funny.
Still, in retrospect, it seems like a newly-sober Lou doing whatever it takes to project a cartoon image of himself for the MTV.

Tina Turner-What's Love Got To Do With It? (1984)


Because you really can't diss Tina Turner. 

CSN-Southern Cross (1984)


The other day I was in a CVS and this song was playing. I totally dug every minute if it. CSN in CVS.
There's nothing "eighties" about this song. It's pretty classic. The video...well, it's hard to diss. Because it shows the three guys pretty accurately. Stills was a living, breathing "Yacht Rock"-er. Crosby is firmly in freebase-land. He and Jerry Garcia were on parallel paths throughout the 80's. But Crosby was into guns and that's why he served--and quit the hard stuff and is still alive. More about Garcia later. he's the one who embraced the 80's, with his mullet and aerobics-instructor stage demeanor. One point off because of his solo song "Innocent Eyes" with a video featuring John Ritter. I'm not gonna link to it.  Why a point off for a song that C+S had nothing to do with? It's that bad.

Paul McCartney--No More Lonely Nights (1984)

song-4.5. Wait. Take 1.5 off for his embarrassing dance version and even more embarrassing video for it where he's wearing a Bill Cosby-esque sweater and stiffly dancing in a disco surrounded by real dancers. Add .5 because this is classic McCartney.


--Linda's gifts were photography and cooking. Shame on Paul for encouraging her to sing and act. I think her legacy would be a lot cooler had he not.
--It's from a horrible movie.
--I love seeing Ringo do anything--he's got great stage and screen presence. But it's sad to know that this was in the years where he (and Elton and Clapton) was the last guy at the booze n' blow rock and roll party--all his mates were dead or in rehab. A few years after this, he finally rehabbed and this is why he is still kicking today.

The Kinks-Do It Again (1985)


I loved it then and I love it now. This may be the last perfect Kinks song?  I think so.
Kudos to Ray Davies' production. Especially compared to the average 1985 fare, this sounds like a 4 piece rock and roll band playing together. The snare drum sound is sweeeeet. As is Dave's solo.

Pete Townshend- Face the Face  (1985)


I was way into The Who when this came out and this seemed pretty cool. I didn't buy White City,  because I didn't really get the concept. But I dug the single, and I remember thinking the distorted harmonica solo was a guitar.
The video was fun and fitting and not embarrassing, then or now. Seeing Townshend's daughter Emma in the video was a bit puzzling at the time, but now it seems quite cool. 

Roger Daltrey-After the Fire (1985)


I know Pete wrote this song, but there seems to be an obvious reason why he gave it to Roger for his solo album. Daltrey's not a songwriter nor a visionary in any way. After the "fire" (The Who's break up), Pete could still write, record and perform as a solo act and sell records, tickets and get good reviews. All Roger could do (and still does) is rest on the legacy of The Who. This song seems like Pete letting Roger be his mouthpiece one last time. But for me, it doesn't work. Because it's not The Who, because Pete's not there hearing Roger sing his words and so the words don't ring true. To hear fit 'n trim Roger in 1985 belt "I gotta stop drinking, I gotta stop smoking" just sounds like a Broadway actor portraying a rock star. If you've ever heard Pete's demo for this song--much like hearing his demos of any Who tune--you hear the truth from the horse's mouth (or horse's neck, ho ho). Roger's album's title track, "Under a Raging Moon" was a tribute to Keith Moon--with several drummers playing solos on it. So, yeah. Only three years post Who, and Roger was already clinging to nostalgia to sell himself. When that song came out, as I said above, I was way into The Who and worshiping the Moon, and thought, "5 session guys soloing (with horrible 80's reverb) doesn't create 1/5 of the excitement of Keith". 

Eric Clapton-Forever Man (1985)


Not a bad song, and a great video to present Eric Clapton to the MTV generation. Here's this guy everyone says is God, on this cold looking sound stage, in an overcoat and not playing at all to the camera. He seemed God-like enough to me--a distant and cold God, but that was cool.  Plus, I was just getting into Cream at the time, so I knew his best work.
Unfortunately, a couple years later came "It's in the Way That You Use It", beer commercials,  sobriety, that annoying one-length haircut and all the jocks and cheerleaders in my school becoming huge Clapton fans. Blechh.

John Fogerty-The Old Man Down the Road (1985)


1985 was when I was getting into anything Classic Rock, and so it was great that everyone I dug (I was on a CCR craze at this time) was coming back, bright and shiny for the MTV (or whatever video show/channel I was watching.)
I never bought any of these artists' new stuff, because I already knew that there was no beating what they'd done in their youth. This song was great because it sounded like CCR (that would have been a 5 when I was 13, but is a 3 now--thus, the 4).  Fogerty was (and still is, albeit, quite well), rehashing his three-year creative CCR blast. This was the start of that. This video is all about the bayou, and Mr. Oakland still being sold as Mr. Louisiana. It's a bit boring (conceptual and bayou don't mix well) and the pay off at the end? Hey, there's old John, smirking at the camera, looking a bit not ready for prime time.

The Moody Blues-Your Wildest Dreams (1986)


This song is actually what birthed the idea for this entry. I don't normally partake in tributes, but within the same 3 week period, I found myself partaking in a Jerry Garcia tribute and a Moody Blues tribute. In each,  I got to play the big 80's song they each had, along side their more classic, vintage stuff. And in both cases the 80's hits stand up because they really could have come out at any time in their respective careers. 
In 1986, I wasn't crazy about this song. Now, I appreciate it. It's classic Moodies, and, yeah, you can complain about the cheesy space synth or the new age cosmic lyrics, but they were ALWAYS about that.  But, yes, you can complain about the hair and wardrobe. But no points off because the Moodies know they aren't trying to fool anyone (like the aforementioned Garcia/Dead). They are who they are--weird middle aged dudes-- and that's refreshing. 

 Paul Simon--Call Me Al (1986)


Hammy and not-trying-to-be-hip. And so, it's pretty hip. Maybe the last cool thing Chevy Chase was ever involved in. And anything associated with Graceland gets aces.

UPDATE: I said that thing about Chevy Chase before I'd ever seen an episode of Community.
So, I take it back. He's awesome in Community.
Carry on.

Steve Winwood--Back in the High Life (1986)


A Baby Boomer anthem for the 80's. A supermarket anthem for all eternity. Great to hear Winwood's ageless voice, but ugh. When this came out I was just getting into the awesomeness of Traffic and this was really kind of gross. Synth-y, targeted to the boomer generation, plus Stevie's been totally remade. The mullet, the dancing...if you've ever seen, say, Traffic Live in Santa Monica, 1973, that's vintage Winwood, singing and playing his heart out, and yet, seemingly broadcasting from another planet. Here, he still seems distant, but it comes across as a guy not totally convinced of "the new Steve". Still, the yuppies bought it and at the very least, it's better than 80's Joe Cocker (what isn't?).

Grateful Dead-Touch of Grey (1987)


This sure surprised....I guess everyone who was paying attention, which apparently was a lot of people. The Dead had been performing this song since 1982, but before this video, not too many non-Deadheads were going to their shows, so it was new to the world. What the recording did was force the Dead to settle on a tempo and a feel and Jerry to settle on the order of verses. How did this become a hit?  Did Jerry lose 50 lbs, wear something besides his t-shirt and jeans and learn some dance steps? Nope, still the same Garcia.
Did he go for a Steve Vai tone for his solo? Nope. Clean and noodly. In fact, at the time, I had a hard time convincing my Van Halen-loving friends that Garcia was, in fact, a great guitar player. Did the band undergo a makeover? Nope, still a ragtag bunch wearing the same Goodwill wardrobe.
Well, ok, drummer Bill Kreutzmann seems to have dyed his greying hair brown, but that was probably an attempt to make up for his rapidly receding hairline (and perma-mustache).
You mean the Dead were presented, in sound and vision, as they really were, and the song became a top 10? You mean "straight folks" were drawn by the thousands to their shows (and either were scared and bored and said "well, that was...interesting", or found a new religion), thus creating a big problem for the band and their fans? Yup.
Mullets and MIDI, rehab and embarrassing videos followed, but it didn't really matter. The Grateful Dead were still The Grateful Dead, jamming and forgetting lyrics and doing drums and space at every show. Deadheads got younger and thought that the horrible 90's were good, but after this song's moment in the sun, the Clapton/Winwood contingent stayed away.

The Monkees- That Was Then, This is Now (1987)


I don't really have to explain why, do I?

George Harrison-Got My Mind Set on You (1987)


It was so cool to have George back. Yes, the production is very 80's, and the album cover of Cloud Nine could have been a bit--well, a lot--cooler, but if you listened to the album, you could tell that George was still George. Philosophical, funny, biting, and pining for simpler, more psychedelic times--and not caring (he was already dismissive of new music by 1974).
The song loses a point just because George didn't write it, and because it's kind of repetitive.
The video loses half a point because Lou Reed had already done the stunt dancer bit. Otherwise, it was awesome to see George in a somewhat trippy video, totally poker faced--but with those ancient wise man eyes that let you in on the joke.

Robbie Robertson-Somewhere Down the Crazy River (1987)


I don't like this song very much at all, but how it came about gives it an extra point. According to producer Daniel Lanois, he secretly recorded Robbie while he was telling a story about hanging out in Arkansas with native guide and Band mate,  Levon Helm. But otherwise, out of that context, it's annoying and pretentious.
The video doesn't help matters. Lip syncing to spoken word is always a dicey business. Plus Robbie has a mullet, overacts and there's that whole steamy, sweaty Cinemax After Dark vibe to the song.

 Pink Floyd-Learning to Fly (1987)


I'm gonna cop out because I don't really speak Floyd post-72. I guess it's all fine if you're into that sort of thing. I remember hearing this a few times on WBCN but wasn't a Floyd fan (a couple years later I'd become obsessed w/ Syd Barrett, but never got into the famous mid/late 70's Floyd stuff). And I vaguely remember seeing this video at a friend's house.  "Eh" then and "eh" now.

We'll end this with two bummers.

If this was actually a fair and balanced blog entry, you know what video would go here, don't you?
Yes. "Kokomo" by The Beach Boys.
Not that any of the songs above and below represent the pinnacle of any of these artists' careers, but that song was a crime against society, and thus, will not be featured here.
Plus, my typing teacher in high school used to put it on to get us to "get into the rhythm of typing".
And, Fucking Stamos. And Mike and Bruce breaking up The Beach Boys mid-reunion.

And by the way, why isn't there a video for Brian Wilson's "Love and Mercy"? I'd put that here and give it a 5. No, a 4.5 for the use of the word "crummy", which musn't ever be heard in a pop song again. 

(fail) Jefferson Airplane--Planes (1989)

I  won't bother grading this. Most of you probably forgot that the original Jefferson Airplane--no, not Jefferson Starship, and no, definitely not Starship--reunited in 1989. My sister and I saw them at Great Woods. It was good. Unlike their comeback album or this video, which were both sort of a failures on all fronts. And I really loved the Airplane at this point. But at this point, they were a mish mash of: Grace Slick still radiating Starship (though she totally quit music shortly after this), a newly sober Jorma (and Jack?), a totally "oh, right! That guy!"-worthy Marty Balin, who seemed to be taking Davy Jones lessons, and most importantly of all, Mr "I Love Drugs", Paul Kantner (who actually did utter those words at the Great Woods show we saw. We repeated that many times afterwards. It seemed to be some sort of fightin' words to the sober contingent. Sad and bizarre).
Ok then. I cannot wait to hit publish. I have no closing words because I have no editor. And you just came here for the videos anyway. Goodnight.

Friday, June 29, 2012

JG70--In the End There's Just a Song. And a Show!

What are you doing July 27 at 10pm? If you live within striking distance of Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, MA, you may want to check out what will hopefully be a pretty neat show that I dreamed up, pitched and organized (that's less of a pat on the back than a "so you can blame me if something goes awry").

It's a celebration of what would have been Jerry Garcia's 70th birthday. I'm calling it "In the End, There's Just a Song: Happy 70th, Garcia!".

Or, code name: "JG70".

It's also a benefit for a great guy. 

Details below.

It will be a night where a series of well known area musical figures (many of whom you wouldn't expect to be part of something like this) will each take a turn on stage to sing one Garcia-penned song with the "house band". There are a lot of performers and only so much time, so this will insure that the night is long on songs, and short on jamming. Things may well get weird, but they won't test your attention span. We'll keep it interesting.  I want this to be a night for music lovers--not just Deadheads. 

The above graphic is a cropped and zoomed image of Garcia from the back of the Mars Hotel album (1974). Unlike the images that are often associated with Garcia (older, heavier, not at the top of his game, a victim of cultural icon-making by the press), I chose this one to promote the show. 1974 was just about the peak of an extremely productive and ambitious decade for Garcia. No, he didn't go around dressed as a cartoon space-reptile, but he was clean-shaven (for part of the year anyway), thin and bursting with energy and ideas. 

In real life, at that time, he looked like this:

Yale Bowl, July 31, 1974

 Anyway....What's the deal with the show? Well, I thought of it in a flash, driving one evening. When I got home I got right on the computer and emailed the Iron Horse people with the concept, before I could talk myself out of it. I of course knew that I was setting myself up for being known as "That Grateful Dead guy". But hopefully people, in this city at least, know that, depending on which way the wind is blowing, I can also be "That Smiths Guy", "That Pavement Guy", "That Bee Gees Guy" etc. But there's a bottomless pit of Dead lore, so many interconnections with other artists,  and I'm a pop music/pop culture history junkie, so I keep diving back for more and coming back up with more. (some Deadheads would cringe at my calling the Dead "pop". Pop is short for popular. The Dead sold out stadiums. Bam. This is Pop!).

Anyway....So, uh..Wot's the deal?

July 27 at 10pm at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton (a few days ahead of the actual JG birthday)

House band:

Bruce Mandaro (Bruce Mandaro Band, The Knot): Guitar
Peter Sax (Mobius Band, Conjure Beat): Bass
Joshua Sitron (composer of some famous television show music!) : keyboards
Brian Marchese (here) : drums

Of the four of us, only Bruce has extensive experience playing these songs. The rest of us know and love Jerry G, but have spent our careers playing different stuff (indie pop, electronica, new wave, punk, children's music, ambient, alt country...). So together, we should get an interesting and fresh take on things.

I won't give away the songs (which will be only Garcia/Hunter songs..), but the performers (and I think this is the confirmed list) are:

Jim Armenti (Lonesome Brothers), Jason Bourgeois (Bourgeois Heroes, The Novels), Thane Thomsen (The Figments, Goldwater), Jason Johnson (National Carpet), Terry Flood (Drunk Stuntmen),  Lesa Bezo (The Fawns), Zip Cody aka Scott Lawson Pomeroy (Orange Crush),  Henning Ohlenbusch (School For the Dead, Aloha Steamtrain), Stephen Desaulniers (Scud Mt. Boys), Kevin O'Rourke (Lo Fine), Mark Mulcahy (Miracle Legion, Polaris, solo artist), Alex Johnson (Drunk Stuntmen), Katy Schneider (Katyland), Ray Mason (Ray Mason Band, Lonesome Brothers), Matt Silberstein (Flashbangs, Salvation Alley String Band) Scott Hall (Drunk Stuntmen, Burn Pile), Dave Houghton (Fancy Trash), Ryan Quinn (Salvation Alley String Band) and Tony Westcott (School For the Dead, Humbert).

And, doncha know, proceeds for this show will go to help with our musician brother Kevin Smith's enormous medical bills. Kevin's been undergoing treatment for cancer for a couple years now, and doing well enough that he's returned behind his drum kit, gigging and recording with his band National Carpet.  However, a genetic heart defect (unrelated to the cancer) caused him to lose consciousness during a recent show--luckily his band mates and a medically-inclined fan or two were able to keep him alive while the paramedics were on their way. More time in the hospital, more tests and procedures, and more mounting bills. He's out and about now, but could use a bit of help in the bills department.

Come, do!

Ticket Info Here:

Two Great Quotes by Garcia:

"You have to get past the idea that music has to be one thing. To be alive in America is to hear all kinds of music constantly--radio, records, churches, cats on the street, everywhere music, man. And with records, the whole history of music is open to everyone who wants to hear it. ... Nobody has to fool around with musty old scores, weird notation, and scholarship bullshit: you can just go into a record store and pick a century, pick a country, pick anything, and dig it, make it a part of you, add it to the stuff you carry around, and see that it's all music." 
--The Rolling Stone Rock 'n' Roll Reader. Edited by Ben Fong-Torres. New York: Bantam, 1974.

"I’ve got nothing but limitations! I mean, I’m limited by everything. I’m limited by my technique. I’m limited by my background. I’m limited by my education. I’m limited by the things I’ve heard. I’m limited by all that stuff. I’m limited by being a human being. Yeah. I think in a way that a musician – and particularly a musician with a distinctive style – is, in fact, a product of their limitations. What you’re hearing is their limitations, really. I assume that almost everybody plays at the outside edge of their ability, so that’s usually what you’re hearing – as good as they can do."
-- Frets Magazine 1985

Extra Notes: 

Why "In the End, There's Just a Song"? 

Short answer:  Because songs are a tangible thing that a songwriter can leave behind. Because it's a night that's all about the songs the man wrote. Not the jamming or the hundreds of cover songs in his repertoire.
The line comes from one of the best loved (and darkest) songs from the Garcia-(Robert) Hunter canon, "Stella Blue"; a song Hunter wrote the lyrics to while staying in the Chelsea Hotel in 1970. Garcia eventually put music to it, and the studio version appears on 1973's Wake of the Flood LP.

And in the end, there is in fact just a song--or rather 70 or so songs--that Garcia wrote in his lifetime (music only--he wasn't a word guy except for a couple clumsy early efforts).

Garcia had other talents, but you can't leave behind a bunch of improvised guitar explorations. Well you can, but those weren't meant to be set in stone. Songs are. Plus, it's hard to immediately impress upon a lot of people what was special about his unique playing style. I want those who only think of Garcia as "that guy who jammed a lot" to know that he was a songwriter that was--especially between 1969-1979--every bit as original as contemporaries Robbie Robertson, Neil Young, Elton John (another music-only guy) etc. It's just that because The Grateful Dead were such a circus with no focal point and a lot of obnoxious, culty fans with few social graces (I'm saying SOME, not all), it's sometimes hard to remember Garcia's songwriting talents.

Modern day jam bands can jam til the cows come home, but how many have well written SONGS? The things with verses, bridges, choruses, hooks, melodies? That people will want to cover 20 or 50 years later? Garcia understood what makes a timeless song, having great admiration for songwriting greats from Irving Berlin to Chuck Berry, Jimmy Cliff to Warren Zevon, and of course, Beatles/Stones/Dylan. 

Random Thoughts Regarding Why I Wanted to Put This Gig Together:  

The more I read and get into Garcia's fascinating life, the more I'm afraid that his legacy will be (or already is) that of an overweight, white haired, lethargic addict who forgot lyrics and played meandering guitar solos to stadiums full of tripping folks who had not a critical bone in their semi naked bodies (what did the Deadhead say when he ran out of drugs....yadda yadda)

You can't have a super-successful 30 year career based on conning your drugged fans with crappy songs, sub par performances and interminable space jams. Sure, they were there, but there are a lot of great, well-written songs that Garcia and Hunter came up with over their 25 year partnership. Those (as well as a handful of Weir songs and a lot of covers) are the foundation upon which all the rest was built.

Not that I'm a shill for the Grateful Dead's big corporation, but I am for the slightest re-branding of the Dead/Garcia for a new generation that either never saw them, or only saw the sad final years. People's final impressions of Garcia while he was alive had nothing to do with all the hard work he put in during his prime. Like how, at age 11, I thought Bruce Springsteen was just "Born In the USA" and "Glory Days" because that was my first exposure to him (and thus, I was turned off for a long time), many folks born in the last 30 years have a skewed idea of what Garcia was all about. And most won't be interested enough to correct their misconceptions. And misconceptions burn me up!

Neck tie designer?
Ice Cream flavor?
"The Fat Man"?
Benign Santa Claus with a damaged voice?
Guy with too many quibbling wives?
Burnt out junky figurehead?

Well, kind of yeah, but also a whole lot of NO!

For the first, say, 15 years of The Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia was a healthy (as any rocker in those days), clear-voiced, animated presence on stage. Not motionless and shoegazing, but roaming the stage, gesturing,  making eye contact with the whole band as well as the audience. He was the proud Leo, king of this musical jungle leading his pack (as opposed to the aged, tired, wounded lion of his final years).
A Dead show during that first decade and a half was like an unpredictable music lesson. Country, motown, disco, space, jazz, reggae, noise, pop, blues and of course, rock and roll all swirling in and out of the mix.
Jerry could have focused this mess, born leader that he was, but he never wanted that responsibility. Never wanted to be the one to determine Good from Bad, Right from Wrong. *

(*For a brief time in '68-69, Garcia and Phil Lesh wanted to cut Bob Weir and Pig Pen out of the band, thus eliminating the white boy blues and the prep school cowboy elements out of the band. 
But Bob and Pig refused to acknowledge their walking papers and the rest is history, for better AND for worse--hard to think of the Dead without Weir, as spotty as his output was).
As a result, there's always some crap one must wade through to get to the good stuff.

When not playing with the Dead, Jerry had his solo career. His first four solo albums are all full of great moments, excellent players, and classic songs.
Add to that his lending a hand to his bluegrass projects (Old and In the Way), ambient noise projects (Seastones) AND guesting on albums by such varied folks from Link Wray to Art Garfunkel, and (later) Warren Zevon to Thomas Dolby.
This is why I get upset when reading, say, YouTube comments by clueless folks who will just say "fat hippie sux" or something else along those Doctorate-level lines.

We love to reduce artists to just an image on a dorm room poster. And it's easy to forget why that person gained fame in the first place. They CREATED STUFF. They CHANGED STUFF.

Many old school Deadheads like to hold fast to their belief that "you can't know if you weren't there".  That's true, and it's fine to hold to that subjective opinion...if you want the legacy of the Grateful Dead to be that their fans clung so tightly to their exclusivity that they scared off anyone from future generations from wanting to find out what the hubbub was about.

Yeah, I too wish that I could have caught 50 Dead shows between 1967-83. (I could even probably list which 50!) I also wish I could have seen Charlie Parker, Coltrane with Elvin Jones,  The Velvet Underground, Jimi Hendrix, The Who with Keith Moon, Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett, Led Zeppelin, The Stones in '72, Television,  XTC, The Clash and The Smiths. But the point is, I can't.

It may have been nice if you were there, but soon, all there will be is an image. And you need something substantial to have there be more than just the superficial stuff. So...SONGS! They are the voices from the past. The windows to the soul. (when eyes are on vacation, at least)

Many people I know who under normal circumstances would enjoy a lot of Grateful Dead music would rank finding themselves in the middle of a throng of dancing Deadheads somewhere between french kissing a llama and waking up hungover in a dumpster behind a seafood shop on a 95 degree afternoon.
I know that, while I can name 25 awesome "Dark Star"s, I still would feel much more at home at a Morrissey or Cure show circa 1989. It's just my personality. I'm not very communal. I do my Dead listening alone. I get uptight at semi naked, bare flesh dancing in front of me. (This is probably why I'm a drummer. I can make people dance without having to deal with them coming too close).
For the record, I also don't like mosh pits. 
So, since there is no "being there" these days (unless one wants to go to see a tribute band), what do the kids do today to be turned on to the music? Oh! I know! Listen to the music. And I'm talking just starting with the album versions of the songs. At its best, it's unique and unlike anything else before or since.

"Doin' That Rag"? "Wharf Rat"? "Eyes of the World"? "Bird Song"? "Blues for Allah"? "Terrapin Station"? How the hell do you define those? Neither derivative nor contemporary nor ahead of their time. They just exist in their own time and space. And totally original.

This is what seems to have gone on lately among the indie "hipster" crowd, with the recent acceptance and embracing of the Dead. They're not interested in jamming, or foregoing bathing, tripping for weeks on end, growing dreads or following a band for a month or two. They are interested in songcraft, and the Dead, especially Garcia, had a very unique take on it (to be fair, Weir and to a lesser extent, Lesh, each have a few examples of songwriting genius.).
And they're interested in where Garcia's songs stand in the fabric of late 20th century popular music. 

This is what I want to be on display at this show.
I hope you can come.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Demo-itis! And an ode to the joy of creation.

I. Your Newborn Baby is Perfect to You and You Alone. To Everyone Else, it's Just a Noisy, Incomprehensible Mess.

Have you heard the term "demo-itis" before? If you're not a recording artist, there's no reason why you should have. It refers to when an artist begins to fall in love with his or her demo--or recorded rough draft--of a song; when the artist might start to think, "I should keep that wrong bass note/messed up harmony/missed snare hit when I/we record the real version of this song". That's when you know you've caught it. You fall in love with your mistakes.
What it really is, is endorphins. When one records a demo of a new song, there is a high one gets, like (what I imagine would be) seeing your child for the first time, or seeing it walk for the first time. It can do no wrong. It pukes on you/you hit a horrible clam in the guitar solo, and you look skyward and crow, "Wow! Isn't life amazing!". Meanwhile, your more objective cohorts are looking at you with a mixture of pity, exasperation and outright disgust. What you need to do in this situation (if you are in a band, and if you can be sure that no one in the band has any personal issues with you) is listen to your band mates. They really don't care how you raise your real baby, but they definitely do not want wrong notes or embarrassing silliness in the grooves of a record with their name on it.  See, no one could tell that to Paul McCartney  in the 70's. There was too much weed, too much fame, too much money and too many kids tied up in the equation.

"Your kid's lisp and talent for belching at the dinner table are very, erm, cute, but do you want that to be the impression he/she makes on the world?". Ask yourself that and it's that easy to cure one's self of demo-itis. You know the potential of your innocent creation. You hear the genius in the goo-goo-ga-ga, but it's hard for others to hear it.

II. Tangent: Perfection? 

Let's get more complicated. Perfection is impossible in real life. There are just too many variables and too many points of view. But, it IS possible in art. Or is it?  Do you want your art to reflect real life, or reflect your idea of perfection? What IS perfection? Why is it so important for you to obtain it and impose your idea of it on everyone? Aren't you just gonna get mad and disillusioned when the world doesn't also see your creation as perfect?  Good questions with no correct answers.

I've used the metaphor before of something being perfect in a natural, unplanned and random way--a shooting star, a rainbow, the sound of wind through a dead tree; or in a totally planned way--a building or a statue. Thus, an inspired, improvised John Coltrane solo is as miraculous as a written out symphony.

I can say that Echo and the Bunnymen's song "The Killing Moon" is the most perfectly recorded/arranged/produced song in pop history, or that George Harrison's solo in The Beatles' "Something" is the most perfect guitar solo ever played, but 99% of people are going to disagree with me. And I'll most likely disagree with their arguments. "There's no accounting for taste" is so true and yet sometimes so hard to accept. 

IIIa. There's no "me" in "Demo", unless you look at it in the mirror.  
IIIb. There's no real meaning behind that last sentence except that it sounded clever. But perhaps I shouldn't have told you that.

Having been recording demos for the next Sitting Next to Brian/Beth and Brian project, I've been listening and re-listening to demos as I finish them. Because that's what you do. You totally dig hearing your new baby coming through the speakers, but you're (hopefully) also thinking things like "that's a stupid lyric--must change it", "that harmony ruins that part of the bridge, but keep the one in the second verse", "maybe add a shaker in the final chorus", etc...
I've done this enough now that I know a happy accident that adds to the song from just a careless mistake that I didn't bother to fix because it's a demo. I love to have fun with my demos. I'm physically and mentally incapable of trying to make something "perfect"--in a demo at least. So I start to walk down the hazardous road of getting used to the mistakes and goofy stuff on the demos.
I work with Henning Ohlenbusch on my records, and if, by the time we're making a record and I'm unsure of whether something should stay or go, I know I can get an objective opinion. Quality control. Sometimes I'm advised to play it safe, but sometimes I get the green light to add to the weirdness (and truth be told, my sense of what's normal and what's weird has always been skewed.)

There's also the question of lyrics. I've written lyrics that I thought were just awesomely amazing, and never heard one word about them from anyone who heard them. Then I get people saying they love the tossed-off-in 5-minutes goof fest that is "Familiar Old Sugar". So I should stop trying to write anything meaningful and let people find meaning where they may. 

IV: I've Been Blessed 

I was thinking about how odd it is how large of a role other people's demos have played in my life in the last 15 years. Really, not many people have been in the position that I once was in (and am still, but to a lesser extent, due to technology), and that is this:
From about 1997 to 2005, I was consistently the recipient of cassettes--and then CDs--of new songs by amazing songwriters that I happened to be in bands with. In the course of a two month period I might have received three new Lord Russ songs for The Aloha Steamtrain, seven Thane Thomsen songs for The Figments next album, six Henning Ohlenbusch songs for his new solo venture. And perhaps some more demos from Kevin O'Rourke or Adam Greenberg.

So much talent, so many great songs and imaginative ideas.

Because I am, by nature, a lazy and slow learner, my first reaction when given a new batch of songs to learn would be "awesome! but...ugh! I have to make space in my brain for more songs? I have to come up with nice drum parts? Haven't I done enough? Oh...I'm tired and my brain hurts...and I haven't even opened the tape case yet..".

But then, I'd think "Yeah, Brian. Poor you. You have to listen to more amazing new songs by your friends and band mates, and you have to learn them and come up with ideas for them because they respect your opinion. And soon you'll be playing these songs for an audience and/or hearing them on a record. Yes, I'd say your life is horrible".

Then I'd curse myself for my laziness and shitty attitude and put the goddamn tape or CD in and listen--either in the car (or library van) or with headphones. I need to have nothing else distracting me. And then, I make it all more exciting and fun to learn by imagining myself playing these new songs in a recording studio or on stage, and that promise reminds me why I'm in it, and of what a lucky drummer I am.

V. Demos of the Stars. Or Baby Pictures of Plato, Shakespeare, Jesus, Siddhartha and the like.

I've written about how weird it is to be a music fan now, and how the inclusion of an "unreleased demo" version of a song or a bunch of songs is now almost standard when a record from 20, 30 or 40 years ago is reissued. We live in a weird time that way. Who will want to hear Radiohead demos 30 years from now? Will they sound exactly the same? Or will they be quirky and full of hiss, cars driving by the window and various blunders?
I'm not implying that every "unreleased demo" bonus track is engaging. Indeed, the majority of them are worth no more than one curiosity listen. However, every once in a while, there's one that reminds you what an amazing song this was, and that at one time it was naked and newborn, unable to get around on its own, still nursing, and maybe even didn't have a name yet. Perhaps its creator wasn't even sure if it was going to live past its first couple weeks. Or maybe one parent would fall in love with it, but the partner(s) insist you put it up for adoption, or else you can kiss the marriage buh-bye.
God damn, it's scary when the song-as-child/band-as-marriage metaphors start to get more involved. 

What follows are some rather noteworthy demo versions of well known--some more than others--songs. These are baby pictures of future legends.
When I hear these, having listened to so, so many demos for my various bands, I once in a while can't help imagining "ok, I am this person's band mate and they just handed me this demo of a new song to check out".
Then BOOM, it's George Harrison singing a solo version of "Something". It really makes one rejoice at the thought of writing songs. Or creating any art. One day, "Something" didn't exist. The next day, it did, and was put on tape, copies were made and given to the other members of that band George had in the 60's, and they had to either come up with some interesting parts on their own, or play what George was hearing in his head.

And knowing that as long as you pick up that guitar/sit down at that piano, keep singing in the shower etc, there's no telling that your best idea yet might come crashing through the stratosphere and land squarely in your mind. Then it's all up to you. This is the meaning of the famous literary phrase, "In dreams begin responsibilities". 

Imagine being these guys' band mates and hearing these songs for the first time:

 Strawberry Fields Forever--John Lennon, 1966

Recorded while filming How I Won the War in Spain, weeks after the end of The Beatles' final tour and weeks before the first Sgt Pepper recording sessions.

Down, Down, Down--Neil Young, 1966

You may or may not recognize this song. By the time this demo became a Buffalo Springfield song, it had been chopped, groomed, inflated, rearranged and given a completely new identity. It was born "Down Down Down" in 1966; in 1967 it had some radical experiences and changed its name to "Broken Arrow"--Neil Young's masterpiece that ends Buffalo Springfield Again.

Pictures of Lilly--Pete Townshend, 1967

So beautiful. Townshend's voice communicates on a whole different--and much deeper--level than Roger Daltry's. Even if--especially if--singing about masturbation.

St. Matthew and Tapioca Tundra--Mike Nesmith, 1967-68

I had to go and make my own video for these two songs. I couldn't decide which I liked better, and neither was represented on any video site, so I took matters into my own hands. Great songs, accompanied by great pictures (largely thanks to ).

Angel--Jimi Hendrix, 1968

The demo dates back to early 1968--two years before Hendrix recorded it with a band. I believe he said that this song was about his mother visiting him in a dream. I love this more than the full band version. 

Something--George Harrison, 1969

Just imagine hearing this song for the first time. A little something you whipped up at home then, George?

High Time--Jerry Garcia, 1969

An interesting thing to consider about some of these: fashions changed so quickly in the late 60's-70's. In 1969, The Grateful Dead were still largely a loud psychedelic machine, seemingly flirting with a more prog-rock direction. However....lyricist Robert Hunter was leaving "China Cat Sunflower" and "Dark Star" behind in favor of more timeless, universal lyrics. And Jerry Garcia was leaving behind playing in 11/4 time and proving himself to be a songwriter of much more subtlety and depth than he was yet showing on stage or on record. In early 1970, Workingman's Dead and American Beauty were the result of a flurry of songwriting in this new, more conventional vein, but with that Dead twist. (nerdy note: the video says 1970, but I looked to see when The Grateful Dead debuted the song live, and it was in mid-late 1969).

Stairway to Heaven--Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, 1970 

This breaks the mold of the other ones, as it's a group effort. But still, imagine being those guys in that room getting that song together.  It's like (depending on your opinion of the song), Martin Luther King's or Adolph Hitler's parents getting it on, not realizing what they had just created. Or the moment nuclear fission or the compound that makes up LSD were discovered. Or the godddamn Internet. This, children, is what god is. And this is what the devil is. 

Perfect Day--Lou Reed, 1971

At this point in time, Lou Reed was anything but famous, despite having helped to redefine popular music in the four albums he released with The Velvet Underground. He quit the Velvets in 1970, and went to work for his father on Long Island as a typist, unsure of whether his music career was over.  I don't know the full story of "Perfect Day", but I imagine that Lou the typist would still occasionally call on his old haunts and get good and loaded (heh heh) in one way or another. "Perfect Day" is a song about heroin, about a "weekender" spending the day high ("arm in arm with myself"--from another Lou Reed song, but same idea), roaming the city without a care in the world. Then, back to work on Monday. However, a British fan named David Bowie (who also wrote some songs) was hatching plans to get him out of that secretary's chair and back on to the stage.

Ziggy Stardust--David Bowie, 1971

...and, while reinventing Lou Reed and packaging him for mass consumption, Bowie was also inventing (or at least copyrighting) glam rock and coming up with songs such as... 

Still I Dream of It--Brian Wilson, 1976

"What is this shit?", is the reported response that Mike Love had to hearing this song for the first time. What is it? Well, Mike, it's NOT the light disco shit you'd prefer to have on Beach Boys albums. And it IS the best song that your cousin Brian, whom you're forcing to face the public even though he's obviously petrified and embarrassed of his appearance, has come up with in about five years. So shut up.
Unfortunately, Brian didn't stand up for himself, and this song was unheard until the late 80's on the Good Vibrations box set.

Baker Street--Gerry Rafferty, 1977 (?)

Yes, I also went through the process of making a quickie video for this too, because no one else had, and I feel like the demo of this song must be heard. Why? BECAUSE THERE'S NO SAXOPHONE! The riff is played on a guitar with a wah wah pedal. And thus, the song is dreamy on a whole different level.

Senses Working Overtime--Andy Partridge, 1981

Again, I had to create a video to get this one in. This demo and the next one are great ways to go out because they seem to catch inspiration very shortly after they hit. Grab the nearest blank tape and boom box and play what you have so far before you forget it. In this case, Andy Partridge seems to have about 2/3 of this future classic down. There's no bridge and the over all feel and melody aren't yet fleshed out. If you were to hear it, would you hear a top 10 UK hit? Could you see your band lip syncing it on Top of the Pops? Not likely. But Andy saw the international success that this drooling, babbling infant was going to grow up to be, and began saving for its college fund immediately! Bonus points for the sound of a car driving by at the start.


Do Re Mi--Kurt Cobain, 1994

I'm not sure why more hasn't been made about this demo. Or maybe it has, but I haven't read a whole lot. It was recorded by Kurt Cobain on a boom box in 1994. This is pretty significant, seeing as he only survived 15 weeks of that year. It's also significant because it's a damn poppy and uplifting song! Well, the lyrics sound, um, less than finished, so we have no idea what the song was to be about. But it's the most straight ahead pop song Cobain wrote since "About a Girl", which sort of kicked off his career six years before that. So, for Beatle-freak Kurt, it's nice to see that he had one more sunny pop gem left in him. It's just a drag that he couldn't take hold of that beam of sunlight and pull himself out of the darkness. There were probably dozens more where that came from.
Unfortunately, the last "official" posthumous word from Nirvana Inc. was the rather unremarkable and depressing "You Know You're Right", which, to me, sounds like all those bands who came in Nirvana's wake and took only the obvious and shallow elements--the raspy voice, the soft-LOUD-soft-LOUD dynamic, the flannels and ripped jeans--and paid no attention to the subtleties that made Nirvana and Cobain a rock and roll legend.

So now that I've completely intellectualized the process, it's now time for me to return to my own crying, hungry, in-need-of-a-nap babies. Perhaps teach them to walk or talk or something. As I said in one of my own songs, "Riding to the Rhyme",
"I have a thousand mouths to feed/Some may go on to greatness in a while".
(but otherwise I don't really like that song much so don't go searching for it).

Monday, June 4, 2012

Anatomy of a drummer.

Despite the interview with John Ware, the tribute to Tommy Ardolino and now this, I promise, this blog is not morphing into a drumming blog. After all, do you see the words "paradiddle", "deep shell" or "stick size" being thrown around? No. And you won't.
The piece below is drum-centric, but hopefully entertaining to the general audience. Or at least to you, my faithful, music-loving reader. I just wanted to put myself in the picture for this one. You may enjoy the ride. 

In November of 1984, a couple weeks before my 12th birthday, I was digging around a large closet in the family room of the house I grew up in North Andover, MA. The sizable space was filled with miscellanea: photo albums, my mom's old paintings, portable files containing bills and documents, a ton of paperbacks from the 50's-60's, a book about sex from the early 60's (which, though I was initially psyched to find, was about as convoluted and unsexy as a law book), and, at the bottom of one pile, a thin, glossy book that looked like this:

 There was a $1.99 price tag on it from Sav-On or Thrifty (from our Orange County, CA days), which showed that my parents bought it for me when I FIRST expressed interest in drumming--when I was 6 and just wanted to hit things.

64 pages and lots of pictures. And an alternative method to learning what to hit, when. Instead of notes on a staff, it was like colored dots and x's or something, if I remember correctly (I don't have the book anymore).
I had no idea who the guy on the cover was (I think he's from Golden Earring). There were also a lot of other drummers inside that I didn't recognize, but whose names I remembered for future reference (Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Baby Dodds, Billy Cobham...). There were photos of Ginger Baker and Ringo Starr which I later cut out and put on my wall. 

I read the History section, the explanation of the notation, and then...a photo that probably set my sexual maturity back a few years, because suddenly, I cared not about the naked ladies in the weird sex book, or about baseball any more. What I saw was a full page photo, taken from maybe 8 feet high, looking down on a red sparkle 4 piece drum kit, brand new milky white skins, with high hat, crash and ride cymbals. And..YOU COULD SEE THE PEDALS! It felt nearly pornographic. I could imagine my feet pressing down on those pedals. I could imagine the different sounds the kit would make as I hit those pristine heads and shiny, thin, gold cymbals. Oh my god. This was a match made in heaven. I'd never lusted after anything so much before. Ok, MAYBE that 30 inch Easton aluminum bat 2 years prior, but I was so over that.

I decided I wanted to start playing the drums. NOW. My parents said "Woah there, Mr. Baseball, where'd this all come from? We don't think it's a very wise thing to get you something so loud and heavy and space-consuming if it's just a whim.  Maybe next year".

Grr. This is what sucks about December birthdays. You get all your gifts in one month. When you're a kid, the rest of the year seems SO long, and, you're pretty much a different person with different interests by the next birthday/holiday season. Sucks for the kid. Great for the parents. So, they knew if I STILL wanted drums by the following December, that a) I was really committed and b) they (as well as my sister and the two cats) were damned to have a 14 year old practicing drums in the house.

So, no drums for my 12th birthday.

But what did I get? I got a Doors tape from my sister. This one. It was exciting. I listened to it 9,758 times.

Although I was listening to a lot of radio and watching a lot of V66 at that time, it meant a lot to have my own tape. I had a favorite band. In the following months, I got into more bands, but for a while, it was all Jimbo all the time.

Since I was so horny to become a drummer,  here's what I did:
I cut out pieces of cardboard to the exact sizes the book said the drums were (minus the bass drum). Then I placed the 14", 12" and 16" cardboard discs on my bed, positioned my feet on imaginary pedals, sat facing the mirror, and played along endlessly to tapes and to the radio.
Why the mirror? I knew that half the battle was to look cool.
For sticks, I had a pair that my mom had sympathetically swiped from the school she worked at.

I also was constantly tapping on my knees, tabletops, and air drumming--all habits that continue to this day, and completely unconsciously. It's just that there's never NOT a song running through my head, and it's my job to keep the godddamn beat!

The following year, yes....I got my first kit. It was from Sears catalog, and was complete shite. Kick, rack, snare, and one tiny, useless cymbal attached to the kick. No hi hat or ride.

Thank god for sites like I found the page from which I assembled my first kit. 1985 Sears Wishbook.

I asked for, and received:

M: the "small scale drumset" for $99.99
G: the hi hat stand, with cymbals included! $29.99
H: 16 inch cymbal: $19.99
J: steel boom stand for $29.99

(I know, if I got the Synsonics and the timbales, I could have started my own Prince tribute band). 

 As you might have guessed, from those low, low prices, the cymbals sounded like tin pie plates. The drums sounded like comical sound effects and were barely tunable. But it wasn't from the toy section, and fulfilled its function.

Much like how there's no way to really expect how your first kiss will feel, no matter how much you read, hear or watch, there was no way to know the feeling of that first bounce of the stick against the drum. The feeling of going from the snare to the tom for my first fill. Or from the hi hat to the ride. Or the sound of my first 4/4 beat as I steadied my eager limbs like a baby lamb taking its first uncoordinated steps.

My parents were pleasantly surprised that I already knew many of the basics.

(Though I also realized that I played weird--left handed, right footed. This was a hang up for a while and made me wonder if I could be taken seriously--but I eventually noted other drummers who do the same "open handed" style. In fact many years later, a close friend and excellent excellent drummer, Dave Hower--Winterpills, Spanish For Hitchhiking-- is one of them.)

I said "No Way!" to lessons. I'd been taking lessons from the greats, up in my room for the last year. By spring, I was jamming with the one good guitar player in 7th grade (Pete Turpin). Our tastes weren't necessarily the same, but we were the only people we knew who could do something like play rock and roll together.  I used to have a cassette of that first jam. Fuck, I wish I still did.
It was like seeing my life laid out in front of me. Playing music with another person was the most fun I could ever imagine a human having.

A few months later, I convinced my dad that I needed better cymbals. I got some Camber IIs (a crash/ride and a hi hat), which were sort of the best cheap cymbals. Did the trick.

The following year, I upgraded to a Dixon set. A white 4 piece. A floor tom! Woo! That was the kit I played my first ever gig on (one song. more about that later). It was better than the Sears, but still bottom of the line. And I was getting very, very serious. I can't remember what we did with it. Probably the classifieds.

Next came a 5 piece Ludwig Rocker kit in 1987 (my main kit until 2001 and still being played at weekly practices at Rub Wrongways Headquarters) and then a 1966 Rogers 4 piece the following year (the snare of which is my favorite possession and has been on a dozen albums). That Rogers was languishing in the corner of the Daddy's Junkie Music in Salem, NH, having been marked down to (get this) $250.00. This was before the vintage craze. I had to have it.
Anyway....this isn't a gear blog. It's about the people and parts who, added all up, formed my drumming style and aesthetics.

                             THE MAKINGS OF MY DRUMMING DNA

My first drumming hero, when I didn't really know what went on behind a drum set, was Peter Criss from KISS. Mostly, it was the sound of his snare on the Love Gun album. I still love it. It just sounds DANGEROUS. Like the sound you hear in your ears when you get hit in the face with a basketball.

KISS--Shock Me

As I became aware of my burgeoning drum lust, I'd get my kicks watching, of all things, Name That Tune. It was on at 3 or 4pm. Fun post-school viewing.  Tommy Oliver was the leader of the band in 1984-85, but I can't seem to track down who the drummer was.
Who ever you were, nameless guy, I loved seeing you in silhouette, and admired all the different beats and styles you'd play in such a short period of time. Thanks, man.

Name That Tune--1985

Something else that got my blood pumping in my first drumming days was watching The Buddy Holly Story (which was one of the first ever things I taped off TV when we got our first VCR. The very first thing? Elvis '68 Comeback Special)--in particular the live segments, because the band are actually playing live. And it was a modern day interpretation of a 50's rock and roll band giving it their all on stage, and thus came across as a garage/punk band. Loud, simple, energetic.

Don Stroud, who played "Jesse" (based on Jerry Alison) learned drums for the part. I think I get off on his playing the same way I really dig Micky Dolenz's playing, once The Monkees became a recording/touring band. There are fundamental fuck ups, but the "holy crap this is fun!" spirit is there. (For a good example of a fundamental mistake, check out Don's entrance into the first song. He sorta panics and hits the cymbal in a way and at a place that a trained drummer never would). 

Scene From The Buddy Holly Story--1978

At this time, my sister was firmly in her U2/Talking Heads etc phase. So I was exposed to a lot of the alternative rock of the time, both when I hung out in her room, or when we'd watch Hot Hit Video with Bill Smith, or V66. One of the things I did to demonstrate that her schooling me in music was paying off, was to play that beat that seemed to be going through (at least) three of the most popular alt rock songs of the day. It's an important beat to know. It came to me easily. The 16th notes on the hi-hat, the syncopated snare/kick pattern..some say if you play that beat alone at midnight on a full moon, you will conjure Molly Ringwald. Or was it Judd Nelson?

The Beat of 1984-5: How Soon is Now (the Smiths), Don't You Forget About Me (Simple Minds),
Pride (U2)

Around when I got my first Doors tape, the Doors live/rarities album Alive She Cried was released. The single from it was a version of Van Morrison's "Gloria", recorded at a soundcheck in 1969. The song was all over WBCN, and the video was all over V66. I particularly loved the slow down/speed up dynamic (sexual, yes, but to me, not yet) as well as John Densmore's energetic fills in the chorus. I also loved the shot in the video of Densmore going nuts on his cymbals. His drums look so tiny in comparison. From then I always preferred to sit up high, hitting down on the drums. Showing them who's boss. I hated the idea of big shells, deep toms, 7 foot high cymbals, parts you could barely reach, etc. I wanted to be the dominant one.
Oh, another thing I greatly admired was Densmore's jazz-ish syncopated roll at in the last minute, while Morrison sings "keep the whole thing going...". Because it was put in a rock context (much like Densmore's use of bossa nova beat on "Break On Thru") I digested it easily. If it was in the pure jazz context, I'd have been intimidated and thought it too difficult. 

Gloria--The Doors

V66 was great because, not only did they show things like "How Soon is Now" and The Cure's "In Between Days", but they also gave props to the classics. That Doors video was just one of several they'd show. They also would show this next video. Creedence Clearwater Revival, live in 1969-70, doing Born on the Bayou. I loved this. Why? Much of it was due to Doug "Cosmo" Clifford bashing the living daylights out of the biggest ride cymbal I'd ever seen (I think his hi hats are oversized too).
I bought CCR The Concert on cassette and practiced along to it a bunch. One of my favorite moments in all rock drumming is the thing he does around 3:40 on the clip below. Watching it, you can't really tell. But on the Concert record, it's just one of those things that taught me how to keep things, uh, "chooglin" while the band is just riding on one chord, feeding back. I'm sure I quoted that moment a few times.

Born on the Bayou--CCR

And so, of course, it was only a matter of time until I got into the Beatles. The first Beatles tape I owned was a compilation called "Rock and Roll Music Vol 1".

It taught me a whole host of rock and roll basics, as done by the Liverpudlians. I'd work up quite a sweat just keeping up with one side of those amphetamine-aided raves. This track always got me pumped. Plus, I marveled at Ringo's sorta straight, sorta shuffle (see: Tom Ardolino) beat. 

Long Tall Sally--The Beatles

This next song was like a manual of cool rock fills.
At my first ever gig, playing a cheesy Van Halen (Hagar) ballad, I refused to play Alex Van Halen's bombastic lead in fill, and played the "Lovely Rita" fill instead. Ha ha. That should get me into heaven, right?

Sgt Pepper Reprise--The Beatles

Another thing Professor Starkey taught me was the 6/8 blues beat (although so did John Densmore on the "Little Red Rooster"on Alive She Cried). 

Oh Darling-The Beatles

Then came the inevitable. I rented The Kids Are Alright from the video store. What did I get from Keith Moon? Well, it's hard to really say, it's so ingrained. But I think: 1) don't make it look like you're trying too hard 2) flick your wrists and wave your arms so people can't always tell what you're doing 3) Don't play the DRUM KIT like AN instrument, play THE DRUMS AND CYMBALS like you are controlling the entire PERCUSSION SECTION of an orchestra 4) Don't live so fast that you're already past your peak at 26 years old.
I also had no idea what "French Blues" or "Black Beauties" were, so I thought that if Keith could get around the kit that fast, I should too! He looks so young and way he's on drugs! So I'd practice doing that kind of stuff...perhaps aided by a can of Coke and a couple Chips Ahoy. Gateways if there ever were...

Can't Explain--The Who

What follows is perhaps the most exciting piece of rock and roll ever caught on film. I'd watch this just before leaving for a show back in high school. When I got into punk etc, I always retained the thought, "this is 10x more punk than (fill in the blank)". Plus, it was punk dressed in paisley, so that's double cool. Punk in hippie clothes. Keep them guessing.

The Who--My Generation (Monterey Pop Festival 1967)

Though I eventually became annoyed by Mitch Mitchell's playing (it's one thing to be super busy if your guitarist is Pete Townshend, but it's another thing when it's Jimi Hendrix), I loved to drum along to, and get all jazzed by this version of "Killing Floor". This was the first song the JHE ever played in the US. Mitch's constant chatter during Hendrix's two solos is totally great and endearing here, and he always played amazingly on the JHE records...but I always tired easily listening to long jams on live albums because Mitch just could never stop freaking the fuck out and stomping all over Jimi, with no real interplay between the two. Like two fighting cats.

Killing Floor--The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Then there's Micky Dolenz!
I know what you're thinking. How do you go from learning from expert drummers to a guy who had been playing for a year and sounds like it? Not sure. It's kind of like when you realize you totally root for that number 8 hitter who, after 130 games, is batting 228 with 1 HR and 22 RBI. Or when people say The Shags are the best band ever. Rooting for the underdog.
Perfection is lame. And is a myth.
I love the audacity of Micky Dolenz bashing away simplistically, but with major cojones, high on adulation and chemicals, occasionally attempting a heroic fill, and driving the wobbly, clunky Monkee machine while 20,000 girls scream. Well, check this out. I have many times used that dorky fill that he plays before the outro chorus.

When I first saw HEAD, in 8th or 9th grade, it was really the only way I could see young Dolenz in action (as opposed to miming on the The Monkees series). Again, I was rooting for him and his ambitious drum part. It's a bit sloppy, but I can see what he's getting at and it's very cool. When I convinced my high school band to do this song, I played this part, but unslopped it a tiny bit. Dolenz deserves much credit, and it sucks that he gave up drumming for 20 years shortly after this.

Circle Sky (live 1968)--The Monkees

Normally, double bass drums annoy me. I feel they aren't needed, and I always say "why not aim to be like John Bonham, and do two feet worth with one foot?"
However, despite the double kick, I really like Ginger Baker's feel. It's completely unique. I even started putting my toms at a totally straight angle like him because I liked how it looked.
He is Mr. Triplet (think of the fills during "Sunshine of Your Love") and I took a lot of that from him. Also, he had a very nice dance beat. And, don't forget, that tribal thing on the toms, hitting on all four beats. I could never really listen to "Toad" very much, but I appropriated one of his common licks for whenever I'm forced to do any sort of solo. I can't really describe it. In any case, this song, which is just a blues, is made most interesting by Ginger's style (and Clapton's falsetto--and perm).

Strange Brew--Cream (1967)

Oh, Charlie! In my mid 20's, my favorite drummer became Charlie Watts. I knew I wasn't going to die young, and I came to grips with the fact that I'm much too much of a lightweight and too cautious to ever be a Keith Moon type. So, I looked at Charlie--sharp suit, small drum kit, sophisticated, looks great, not trying to prove a damn thing. All about preservation. But if he wants to suddenly get into hard drugs for a couple years when he's 45 years old, let him. If he wants to punch "his singer" in the jaw out of the blue, that's good too. Then, quietly, go back to being a horse farmer, married for 47 years.
But as far as my teenage drumming goes...
Charlie immediately made me believe that metronomes and click tracks are a symptom of a scared society. Like getting boob jobs. Scared to be the imperfect beings that we all are. Taking the easy way out, and selling your soul. The Rolling Stones are (to many) the greatest rock band ever (at least their first 10 years). They say a band is only as good as their drummer. Thus, Charlie Watts, who has no fancy fills in his repertoire, no "how does he do that?" tricks, and who so often comes in a fraction early or late with a fill, and who hits the rim of the snare every once in a while, is the greatest drummer ever. So why would someone NOT want to play like Charlie? I have no clue.
I'll tell you this right now--I've never wanted to be Neil Peart, Stuart Copeland or Alex Van Halen. It's just who I am.
So listen here. Charlie comes in a fraction late, brings the dynamics up and down at seemingly odd times, and does nothing special--except be Charlie Watts...and thus, plays a part that I memorized note for note when I was 15.

Rolling Stones-Jumpin' Jack Flash (live 1969)

(another song that greatly influenced me--say in a few Figments songs--was the Get Your Ya Ya's Out version of "Sympathy for the Devil")

Here's more Charlie, from 1968. Rock drumming was stretching out and Charlie's contribution to it was priceless. Although he didn't play the famous grooves and fills in "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (producer Jimmy Miller did), in many ways I prefer his drumming on this song. The formula is the same. Heroic fills and double time at the end. I love his drumming on this song ("Salt of the Earth"), "Stray Cat Blues" and "Jigsaw Puzzle". All from Beggar's Banquet, and all part of my DNA.

Rolling Stones--Salt of the Earth

The Grateful Dead. I've never been much of a Mickey Hart guy, but Bill Kreutzmann, when he was the only drummer (in 1965-67 and 1971-74) kicked very much ass. What did I take from him? Something that I've tried to explain to my students:
That, if you picture the beat of a song like a ruler (or like a digital recording interface), know that every beat and division of that beat means something different depending on when and where you accent that beat. It's what jazz drumming is all about, but it took me a long time to realize that, because I've always thought of jazz drumming as a foreign language I may not ever have time to learn. But this concept works in rock/pop as well.
For example, it's standard and unremarkable to hit the kick and crash cymbal on the "one" beat. BUT, it's a whole different plate of pasta if you hit the SNARE and crash on the "AND one" (the quarter note just before the one). THAT gets people's attention, and acts as a pinch in the bum, or a slap in the face. Some love that stuff, some find it too jarring. I love it.
If your band mates allow you the freedom, as long as you don't stray from the overall meter of the song, you are free to stress or accent any division of that beat. But only if it's adding something. Kreutzmann, when too coked up (see: 1974 European tour) could turn his brilliance into a major CALM THE FUCK DOWN AND KEEP THE DAMN BEAT situation.

But also, if you listen to the first Dead album from 1967, Kreutzmann was a hell of a conventional pop drummer. In early high school, my friend and I used to LOVE his fill in the middle of "Cold Rain and Snow". We thought that that kind of "quick, snappy fill" drumming and Lou Reed's "fast, rubber wrist" style of rhythm guitar in the Velvet Underground could be a winning combination.

I suppose the Wedding Present had that. Don't worry. I'm getting to them.

Anyway, hear how Kreutzmann divides up the beat in this song--half time, real time; AND does those quick wristed fills.
They are the drumming equivalent of interjecting 3 quick words between someone's monologue, instead of trying to interrupt.

One More Saturday Night--The Grateful Dead

One more Dead thing. I never had a prog rock period. I don't really like songs that change time signatures every 3 measures, just to show..I don't know what. I don't like listening to it, or playing it.
But if a song is in an odd time, and sticks with that time, well, then I like it because you get into a very odd trance. By 9th grade, I loved practicing along to this song by the Dead. It's called "The Eleven" because...guess how many beats per measure?  I would play to the version on Live/Dead. But this will suffice. The song doesn't shift into 11/4 until about 2 min in.
SIDENOTE: playing along to other Dead songs got me comfortable playing in other odd times, such as 7/4 and 10/8. 

The Eleven--The Grateful Dead 1968)

I already gave my pros and cons of Mitch Mitchell spiel, right? This is how I came to that opinion. Listening to Hendrix play a 7 minute solo, with a steady rhythm section. Not a couple of insecure British dudes trying to upstage Hendrix, but a couple of Jimi's soul brothers, who knew that if they just held it down tight, Jimi could just stand and deliver. To me, it makes it so much more fun and less distracting to listen to a long guitar solo. As far as the drumming, it taught me the effectiveness of not competing, but supporting**.

**The extreme version of this would be Mo Tucker of the Velvet Underground playing an unwavering, unsyncopated, straight beat for 12 minutes in the middle of a long Velvets jam like "What Goes On" on Live 1969 or "Follow the Leader" from The Quine Tapes.
I can't do that because I have this male ego to deal with. As well as ADD that makes me get bored very easily.

I also took away some of that excellent Buddy Miles kick/snare syncopation. Love it.

Jimi Hendrix/Band of Gypsies--Hear My Train a Comin' (1970)


John Bonham. Fucking monster. He started out in Zeppelin when he was 19. Thus, there are some youthful errors that have always pissed me off. Like "DON'T PLAY FULL TILT OVER JIMMY PAGE'S ACOUSTIC SOLO IN 'YOUR TIME IS GONNA COME' OR 'THANK YOU'. THANK YOU!"
But by Zep 3, he was the man.
I was once asked "Moon or Bonham"?
Bonham any day.
Why? He was heavy AND funky AND tasteful AND completely understood Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones' weird rhythmic curve balls. And played a single bass drum kit, with only one rack tom and two floor toms (yeah, yeah, and a gong and a kettle drum. But, whatever). He could do more with one kick than most double kick players. And yes, I stole a lot from him too. If a song I'm playing is heavy, I know that there's a Bonham trick or two I can use.

Whole Lotta Love (live 1973)--Led Zeppelin

Away from the heaviness and back into the canyons of LA. This song (the finale on Forever Changes) influenced me so much both in my drumming and songwriting. It's a perfect song, the drumming is perfect and...I don't know. It left a huge stamp on my over all feel. Can't really put my finger on it. Two distinct feels here. Playing to this sort of prepares one for playing along to any theatrical type song.

You Set the Scene--Love

This next one's all about visual style.
It wasn't until 10th grade that I got into the Beach Boys. In early 11th grade I rented The Beach Boys, an American Band. Though I mostly just watched the 1966-71 bits, I did take note of the early Dennis Wilson. He ROCKED OUT, and looked fucking cool doing it! Even in those horrible shirts! I was already aware that I couldn't assimilate Keith Moon's craziness, but I saw the girls screaming at Dennis, and thought "there's my new role model". The other thing was, I was still self conscious about my "incorrect" open-handed style, and Dennis W was the first drummer I saw who looked awesome doing it. 

Dance, Dance, Dance--The Beach Boys

I was beginning to leave behind the bearded, stoned, 7 minute jam music that had taken me to this point, and was shifting towards punk/new wave/alternative, and tuning in on Sundays to hear "Boston Rocks" on WFNX and "Boston Emissions" on WBCN. After all, I wanted that to be my future--not to be in a classic rock cover band. At the same time, I was also pointing out to my friends that much of the 60's music they scoffed at actually contained an energy that can only be described as punk (I know I already said that about The Who).
I used to play along to The Live Kinks--which was difficult with all the screams. But the songs are all taken at a much speedier pace, and this final medley is just manic. At this point I started shifting away from wanting to "jam and relate and interact and have a musical conversation" with my band, to acting my fucking age! I was 17, had a lot of pent up energy and just wanted to explode. Like these guys.

Medley: Milk Cow Blues/Batman/Tired of Waiting--The Kinks (live 1967)

Ahh...and then...I was lent Buzzcocks' Singles Going Steady. Wow! Every song is a winner (except "Orgasm Addict" embarrassed me). The songs are all pop gems, the playing is sloppy but tight (the drummer wavers like Charlie Watts, but plays great parts) and boom. I had myself a favorite non-classic rock band. I practiced along to this and set my inner metronome up a few BPMs.

Buzzcocks--Love You More

Buzzcocks--Ever Fallen in Love

I was already into XTC by this time, but found nothing to gain, drumming wise, from Oranges and Lemons or Skylarking. They seemed too "adult" and I didn't want to go there. Sophistication is not what I got in this game for.
But I did love the early stuff, and Terry Chambers, while playing some complex parts, seemed human. And of course, remains a huge influence. Go Terry!!!!
Senses Working Overtime is an excellent song to expand one's pop drumming vocabulary. There are four distinct feels, and a heroic fill that helps to bring in the irresistible chorus. My drumming benefited so much from getting (way) into XTC.

 XTC--Senses Working Overtime

Drums and Wires is a goldmine of fascinating beats and feels and fills.
"Making Plans For Nigel" was my first conscious exposure to one interesting drum pattern occupying a whole song--sort of a human imitating a machine. But I'll get to that below, with Joy Division, who also did that masterfully, and of course, Gang of Four.
But "Helicopter"--keeping that disco beat, but with closed hi hat-- was fun to do. But then comes the chorus. What Terry does while Andy is singing "..just like a helicopter...copter" was pretty challenging to learn. The beat doesn't waver or alter, but the crash accent happens in a place that doesn't come naturally. And this opened the door to a new bag of tricks for me. The "sitting on a tack" accent. Snare and crash hit simultaneously on an offbeat. It makes the listener jump like they sat on a tack. Early XTC was ALL about that. It's a shot of adrenalin. Thank so much, Andy and Terry for opening my ears to all that.


And thank you Topper! Playing along to London Calling was like using the ska/punk tricks I learned from XTC, but in a more relaxed, less self conscious way. Whereas early XTC took pains to be MODERN!, The Clash had no qualms about occasionally sounding like the classic rockers they supposedly hated (but didn't really hate). I fucking love Topper's drumming.

The Clash--Lost in the Supermarket

Getting back into the robotic, as interpreted by a human. Stephen Morris was an extremely creative drummer, although, something tells me that their producer, Martin Hannett, had a lot to do with his drum parts. I say this because if one listens to a live or Peel Sessions version of say, "Love Will Tear Us Apart", or "Transmission", Morris is playing like a Keith Moon wanna-be. Over the top fills coming out of his arse. Not exactly robotic or cold and dark. But on record, there is a lot to be learned from Joy Division. Patterns, man. Patterns. Economy. Say a lot with a little.

 Joy Division--Transmission

Patterns vs Fills. 

As I listened to more and more punk and new wave, I noticed that a new school had developed, especially in England (though DEVO did this a lot too). Basically, human imitating the machines that were invented to imitate humans. These days, with digitized everything, we're used to reverse progress leading to progress after all. Progress is inevitable, so even when we're consciously going backward, we're going forward. It's just that if you're a Republican, what you call "going back to a simpler time" equals "going forward into the abyss".
Anyway.. the next three songs are examples of throwing all the classic rock and roll rules out the window.
No fills, no dynamics. These are men playing inventive, effective and distinctive mechanical sounding patters on acoustic drum sets. All three of these songs were very influential to me.

Joy Division--Colony

Gang of Four--Natural's Not In It

XTC--Rocket from a Bottle

1990: The Manchester thing. That beat. You had to do it. I was happy to do it, because it made people dance and as a drummer, that's my job. I play, they dance, they watch me, I watch them.
You can't argue with the Stone Roses' eponymous debut. Ok the lyrics are sometimes dumb, but the music is top notch. Well written, arranged and played. I loved playing along to this song because the first half has the 1-2-3and4and thing that's always fun. Then it shifts into an all out jam--with a couple of scripted parts. Very, very fun. And I felt like it was a very promising blend of cutting edge and classic. That's where, I suppose, I'm most comfortable.

The Stone Roses-I Am the Resurrection I was getting to the end of 11th grade, and had a band that was playing original pop (and hip covers) and were looking to maybe get some attention from the Boston music scene. The band we (or some of us) loved the most was a power pop trio, 2 parts Who, one part Beatles....ladies and gentlemen, The Cavedogs!

I wanted us to BE The Cavedogs--difficult, since we had 6 people in the band. But, I was so happy that their drummer, Mark Rivers, brought a total Keith Moon vibe to a modern pop band. The problem was, though, as witnessed by Nirvana and Dave Grohl's Ringo-meets-Bonham style, record buyers wanted a more predictable, less creative type of drumming. Thus, the Seattle power trio's earnest and humorless 1992 major label debut exploded,  and the Boston one's more snarky, witty one sank after a few weeks on the college charts. That's when history changed. You had to not sound well-read, or make people wonder what chords you were playing or where you picked up that crrrazzzy beat. Nirvana were great, but their lack of subtlty ended up attracting a lot of the people (jocks, metal heads) they got into punk rock to avoid. Jocks and metalheads, on the other hand, would never give a band like The Cavedogs a second look.

I still dig The Cavedogs, and Mark Rivers has had a nice career in showbiz.

The Cavedogs--Tayter Country

I was hearing more and more of my classic rock roots in much of the so called "cutting edge" music of the time. Jane's Addiction's "Mountain Song" reminded me of Hendrix's "In From the Storm" (just the riff). Still, I loved Jane's Addiction, saw them three times, and my band covered "Summertime Rolls" and "Mountain Song". What I picked up from Stephen Perkins' part on this song is that crash-snare-crash-crash on the 3 sixteenth notes leading up to the 1.
Um, huh? I think I described that as best I can. It happens after Perry sings "and I say" and before he says "cash in!".
Anyway, it's a valuable trick for heavy tunes. You can vary it any way you want too, once you have it down and know when to do it.

Jane's Addiction--Mountain Song

Yesss...Daydream Nation. First time I heard this album, I put on headphones and was sent into another world. But what I got most from Steve Shelly's drumming was that I shouldn't shy away from Keith Moon hyper fills. He did them plenty. Lots in this song. I also felt like there was a place after all for spacey jams that, to me, evoked the best Grateful Dead--the 1968-74 noise stuff. Tribal and spacy at once. That whole acid thing. Seeing SY at the Orpheum in 1990 is still one of the best shows I've seen. Redd Kross opened. 

Sonic Youth--Teenage Riot

Back to the punk/new wave/ska influence. Though it was a gradual process, and it wasn't until a few years later that I found a good band in which to use his influence, I've always loved Pete Thomas. Talk about someone who is great because of no click track! SO many early EC songs speed up by the end. But, Pete Thomas has a very distinct style. I can't describe it any other way but "snappy". He hits hard, nothing rings or sustains very long, and he's on top of every beat. He also utilizes that "turning the beat around" thing to great effect. I love the guy. He's tall and lanky and plays that way. For me, Topper Headon, Terry Chambers and Pete Thomas are the punk/ska/new wave Big Three. They gave me a HUGE fondness for the snare hit/crash hit on the 4 AND. That "wake up!" thing.
The one thing that prevented me from absorbing too much Stewart Copeland (who could easily fit among this group) was simply the size of his drum kit. I'm too pragmatic for all those bells and whistles. Oh, and, uh, lazy.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions--Radio Radio

We're getting to where I stopped being influenced by other drummers and felt like I now had the tools to throw it all in a pot, jump in and let the big mess become my style. But there were still two or three more things I picked up...we're now in senior year of high school.

You can''t listen to the Wedding Present and not take note of the drumming. The guy (for a good while anyway) is named Simon Smith (oh, boy. How many horrible jokes has he heard with that name?). In the age of big deliberate dumb fills, Simon brought back the quick wrist-ed fills of Eddie Hoh and Hal Blaine. The drumming on Seamonsters is a big part of why I love that album so much. Hard to choose between these two songs, so I won't make myself.

The Wedding Present--Corduroy

The Wedding Present--Dalliance

And finally...though he was made to look a bit foolish in the Death to the Pixies documentary, David Lovering found a way to play to Charles Thompson's odd phrasings and feels. To me it's always sounded like a Rush fan playing punk rock. That may in fact be the case. Anyway, I was a couple years late coming to this album. In the summer of 1991, it did not leave my car tape deck. I still associate it with extreme heatwaves, which we definitely had that summer. It was the soundtrack to my sendoff to college, in Amherst, MA, where I hoped to take all these influences in my kitbag, and become known as a guy people wanted to play with. It's 21 years later, and I suppose I achieved that to some degree. I mean, I'm far from famous, but having drummed with as many artists and on as many albums as I have is not a bad record. Thanks to all of the drummers on this list. You are all swirling through my unconscious every time I sit behind a kit.

The Pixies--Oh My Golly!

To wrap it all up,  here's an admittedly vain-as-all-fuck series of You Tube clips I uploaded, with small samples of some of the stuff I've drummed on in the last 15 or so years.