Looking For The Next Little Drummer Boy or Girl

AT FIRST YOU THINK YOU HEAR IT, but maybe it’s an auditory illusion, an aural mirage born of anticipation. Now though; for certain. There it is, the distance sounds of a marching band drumline. At first, standing along the parade route, you hear it and then you feel, then they come into view. It’s a powerful thing, at least to an aspiring young drummer who’s been banging on pots with wooden spoons since his first Christmas parade.

tulsaparade1.jpg

Words can’t express, so I’ve included a video, if you’re so inclined, to one of the finest drumlines in the nation, the Cadets drumcorp. Notice the near perfect precision, the dynamics, the textures. This is the product of hours of individual and team practice and discipline.

 yea.org

yea.org

Among my favorite childhood memories is going with my family to downtown Tulsa for the Christmas parade, hearing the distance drum cadence of that first marching band as they approached. 

Not too many years later I got to be in a drumline in that wonderful parade and on marching fields and parade routes from Tulsa to Washington D.C. across Canada and Europe. And, to this day, half a century later, I still love to sit at a drum set and play. I am so grateful to my parents for making all that possible and for band directors, percussion teachers, mentors and role models for cultivating the seeds. 

I have two sons. I am happy to say that they are both fine drummers. Watching them learn to play and develop their own style was so fun. And, they are still playing today.

Much has been written about the research done on the value of music and music education to a broader education application. Study after study confirms the impact on student grades, discipline and even school attendance. Let’s not forget the impact of music therapies of all kinds: physical, emotional, mental and certainly spiritual.

I am saddened and concerned knowing that school music programs are being cut or eliminated because of dire financial straits in our educational system, but also by misguided motives and priorities and politics. 

I am also concerned that our churches, once a fertile ground for budding musicians to have an opportunity to grow and develop have structured worship music more like a concert, with young aspiring musicians relegated to the role of spectator.

So, where are the seedbeds, opportunities, the classrooms, the labs, the practice rooms, the studios, the stages for the next generation of musicians? Maybe it will still happen in quiet, individual ways and on YouTube. Maybe for many they will never know the wonder of getting their first instrument for fifth grade band and discovering the richness of music.

Scripture says that old men will dream dreams. Well, I’ve been dreaming. I’ve managed to gather some resources, not a lot, but some, and I want to use these resources to help the next little drummer girl or drummer boy get their start, by helping them get the instrument they need and maybe a few lessons to get them off to a good start.

I’m not interested in just buying drums and sticks so some kid can drive his mother to insanity. The percussive arts aren’t for everyone, yet in a way they are. All music takes a lot of practice and commitment. Of course, not all will play like the Cadets Drumline, or Jack DeJohnette, or John Bonham, or Eric Harland, but they can, with practice and hard work, find joy and a sense of accomplishment, and make a difference.

So, maybe you can help me find the next one. Do you know of someone, maybe in the 8 to 14 or so age range, who has shown musical interest, who would have some level of encouragement from home, but may not have the resources to get the equipment or expertise to get started?

Feel free to reach out to me. My email is hey.pops.hey@gmail.com

Maybe you’re someone who would want to join in and help a young drummer get a start. Maybe you have a snare drum, a decent drum set, or a few cymbals stacked up, gathering dust in a corner, that you would want to donate. Let me know.

You can have a parade without horses or floats, or “Miss Whatever” perched on the back of a convertible. You don’t even have to have a Santa Claus at the tail end. But, there’s no way to have a parade without a drumline (and I mean that in a big, broad metaphorical sense).

Put your fingers on the inside of your wrist. If you can’t feel the pulse of your internal rhythm section—your parade has passed. The cadence is that important.

The beat goes on, the beat goes on
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da
— Sonny & Cher

A Visit To The Record Store

IN MY LAST POST I wrote a bit about a video project called “Recollect” where famous jazz musicians go to a record store, flip through the records there and tell rich stories of life and music.

The thought occurred, “If I could choose some folks to go to the record store with, who would I choose and why?” Quickly, names bubbled to the surface of my grey matter.

John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Norah Jones, Eric Clapton, Diana Krall…

 record shop in Atlanta with my great friend Gene

record shop in Atlanta with my great friend Gene

Actually those were not the first names that came to me. The people I thought of first are people I know personally. I know them to be mindful connoisseurs of music, curators of a wide library of music. These people have stretched my musical tastes and understanding, through them I experience music through fresh eyes and ears.

These are people like my two sons Corey and Kyle. Then there are people who helped shape my own musical library years ago, like Jim Norris, Randy Miller and Roger Roden. Occasionally you need to “go to the record store” with younger people, those who can introduce you to new artists and music, people like Molly Hennesy and Mary Corley. Of course all of us have friends who just seem to know and appreciate music: deeply and with an open mind. For me, these are people like Gene Chapman, Zack Merrill, Amy Merrill, Steven McConnell, Bryan Horvath, Kevin Gosa and so many more.

As I type these names I’m noticing other common traits: they all are musicians, they are all thoughtful people who place high value on the creative process. I would gladly spend a day in the record shop with any of them. If fact, I hope to talk with many of them to find out what they would dig for if we could go shopping together.

There are two others that came to mind right away: Dan Haynes and Rob Carmack. I’ve known both of these guys for a long time now. We see each other from time to time, and if we are able to visit for more than five minutes, the conversation will often turn to music. Each of them has a broad music library and each of them can tell a great story.

Recently we were together and I asked them: “If we were at a record shop right now, what album would you choose to take home and why?”

Right away Rob said: “Prince — Sign O The Times”. He’s been searching the record bins for that album but has yet to find it. Apparently, demand is high since Prince’s untimely death. The conversation turned to the albums they each valued most. For Rob, Rolling Stones — Exile On Main Street, Led Zepplelin II, and anything by Bruce Springsteen. Rob is a fan of the man and his music. In fact Rob hosts a podcast called: “Bruce Springsteen Sings The Alphabet”.

While I like the original Led Zeppelin and Rob prefers II, we both agree on some of the newer artists worth adding to your library like: Lakestreet Dive and The Decemberists.

My good friend Dan knows music: from the American rock songbook to the nuts and bolts of music. He is a highly respected sound engineer and runs sound for a variety of bands and artists. Dan taught me the value of a set of really good headphones. It is the only way to enjoy the nuance of what happened in the studio when the record was made.

By the way, my preference for fine headphones: Grado. They are made in America and are amazing. You can get a set of entry level Grados for under $100. Trust me they are worth every penny. I wrote a post about them a few years back.

I remember early one Saturday morning, years ago, someone knocked on our front door with a sense of urgency. It was Dan. In his hands were his headphones and a new album by The Police. As if the house was on fire he said, “You’ve got to listen to the snare drum on this song!!” It was “Roxanne”. It was impressive.

I am a fan of Steely Dan and Dave Matthews because of Dan’s enthusiastic endorsements.

As we visited, I was surprised by this: apparently they both have an admiration for Sir Elton John because of my insistance that he is one of the great songwriters of our time. We all agreed that Elton’s "Tumbleweed Connection" holds a special place in our musical libraries. The song “Madman Across the Water” is classic Elton John.

Rob noted one other newer band worth listening to. They are a favorite of mine and my son Corey’s. It’s a band called “Dawes”. I leave you now with the apropos lyrics of one of their songs. But don’t just read the lyrics, buy the song and enjoy.

ALL YOUR FAVORITE BANDS
By Dawes

Late night drives and hot french fries and friends around the country
From Charlottesville to good old Santa Fe
When I think of you, you still got on that hat that says let's party
I hope that thing is never thrown away

I hope that life without a chaperon is what you thought it'd be
I hope your brother's El Camino runs forever
I hope the world sees the same person that you've always been to me
And may all your favorite bands stay together

Now I'm just waking up and I'm not thinking clearly so don't quote me
With one eye open I'm writing you this song
Ain't it funny how some people pop into your head so easily
I haven't seen you in there for so long

I hope that life without a chaperon is what you thought it'd be
I hope your brother's El Camino runs forever
I hope the world sees the same person that you always were to me
And may all your favorite bands stay together

Rum Pa Pum Pum

I thought I wanted to be an athlete. Baseball would have been my first choice. I loved listening to the St. Louis Cardinals on the radio and going to watch their farm team, the Tulsa Oilers. Alas, it was not to be. I was tall enough but lacked any kind of mass, muscle or other. Maybe basketball could be my game!? Sorry, no. Turns out the Jenks elementary team only had ten uniforms and there were at least eleven guys with more talent or parents who could pressure the coach.

Oh but fifth grade brings hope for everyone. That’s the year you can join the band. I have no doubt that right now there are excited, aspiring, budding musicians in schools all across the land choosing their instrument. For some, choosing the right instrument is a dilemma. Not for me. I knew that I would be a drummer. If you can have a calling at ten years old, I had one.

By junior high, there’s a separation of sorts. Tough guys play football, the rest are in the band. But drummers get a bit of a pass (or at least that’s the way I worked it out in my own mind). I learned from my grade school band director that “drummers are a necessary evil”. He would have had a band full of clarinet and trumpet players if he could have figured out how to march in a parade without a drum cadence.

The great thing about this healthy tension was that it gave us drummers a bit of a bad boy vibe (or at least that’s the way I worked it out in my own mind). Early in my drumming life, The Beatles brought their brand of rock and roll to America and my fate was sealed. I would soon be the next Ringo Starr. Now all I needed was a set of Ludwig drums (like Ringo’s) and a couple of guitar players and a bass player.

I’ll never forget the day, my dad picked me up from school and took me home to find that first set of drums. I’m sure there were many times my parents thought, “What have we done?” I practiced and practiced and practiced some more. Finally, I found those band mates and before long we were playing at school dances and “Teen Towns”, and life was good.

Here is a picture of the stage band at Jenks High School in 1968 or so. That’s me at my drum set I so dearly loved.

 Jenks High School Stage Band. 1968.

Jenks High School Stage Band. 1968.

In retrospect, I am glad I didn’t have the wherewithal to play sports. No doubt it would have been fun. To be able to say that I played football for the mighty Jenks Trojans, undoubtedly the most dominating high school football tradition in the state, as I sat around recovering from knee replacement surgery.

But, I wouldn’t trade a state football championship for the experiences that being a percussionist have afforded—the opportunities, friendships and world travel all possible because of music. I wish I could look up some of those old band mates, directors, and teachers to reminisce a bit.

Fast forward to the present. Both of our sons are drummers, and so for many years we have had a drum set in our house, even though I sold my drums years ago. Just recently our youngest son married a musician and moved out and took his drums with him. I have missed him and his drums.

I had a thought: maybe I’ll put a little kit together, find some drums on eBay or Craigslist, keep my eye out for some used cymbals. So in a casual search of the double-u, double-u, double-u, I learned that Ludwig, just this year, came out with a brand new drum set that is a “vintage” replica of my first drum set, right down to an exact color match and lug design.

Then as luck would have it, I found a demo set of these amazing drums at a drum shop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Now these beauties are set up in our home and I am having a great time living in the past from time to time.

If there are any old guitar players out there who know how to play Wipe Out and House Of The Rising Sun and Louie, Louie, give me a call. Maybe we’ll be ready to play a few proms next spring.

Spinning Backward

I DID SOMETHING THIS WEEK that I haven’t done for forty years, and it was surprisingly fun.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
— T.S. Eliot

I’ve noticed something about me and my peers, when we get together and talk, we talk about what we used to do. Somehow, in these strolls down memory lane, we come off braver, stronger, smarter, more adventurous, athletic, and talented. Our exploits were grander, more romantic, more genuine, more enduring.

We tell stories about school, summers, cars, girls, jobs and such, that all start the same way: “Back when I was young…”

If you were to eavesdrop on one of these chats, you might hear something like this: Back when I was a kid, I hauled hay all day long…that was back when hay bales were heavy…before the Obama administration made the farmers grow all this genetically altered grass. We were lucky if we got paid ten bucks a day, which was enough for a tank of gas and money for a date. Thankfully, I was dating girls before Ralph Nader, the Clintons and Obama invented seat belts. That way, she could sit right next to me. We didn’t have air-bags either… we didn’t need them… and our dashboards where steel back then… see this scar?

Regardless of the alignment of our memories to actual reality, it’s still fun to recapture an occasional moment from our youth.

And this week I did just that—for the first time in a long, long time I bought a record! That’s right; a vinyl, 33 and a third, Long-play album! It was highly invigorating.

Thanks mostly to today’s neo-hippies, and young urban hipsters, and their marketplace of choice which includes stores like Urban Outfitters, record players and vinyl records are making a comeback (along with beards and beads and bellbottoms).

So, for once, when I told My Amazing-Missus, “Yes, I want to keep that, it may come back in style,” I was right! I dug out the box of my old records and it is an apt collection indeed. Sgt. Peppers, Rubber Soul, The White Album, Revolver, The Doors, The Kinks, The Beach Boys, Miles Davis, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Carol King, James Taylor, Crosby, Stills Nash & Young…

I even found my turntable. Unfortunately it’s gears are frozen up, it’s wires are frayed and its needle’s a little rusted; sort of like its owner’s.

In the next few days the FedEx guy will carefully (I hope) place a box containing my new record player on the front porch. So this weekend I’m hoping to set everything up, then maybe I’ll put on my headphones, light some incense, platter-up Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, and give it a spin.

I will live in the 60s again for a little bit, and then I will go to the Social Security website and sign up for Medicare, because I’m in MY 60s now, and I only have a month to get this done.

Then I will put The Beatles on the turntable and listen to “When I’m 64” and wish that it was 1964 again.

 my first album purchase in many many years--the amazing Bill Evans.

my first album purchase in many many years--the amazing Bill Evans.