REINHARDT MELZ - Gino Vannelli by Ashley Wardell
Drummer Reinhardt Melz is by far the busiest drummer in the Portland, Oregon area. While working nearly every night as most people's “first call” drummer, Reinhardt also keeps a busy touring schedule with pop icon Gino Vannelli. Hailed as one of those rare guys that can play any style with authority, Reinhardt really shines in every setting. Having gigged since before he could drive, Reinhardt has worked with Gino Vannelli, Curtis Salgado, Charmaine Neville, Buddy Guy, Lloyd Jones, Bobby Torres, Victor Little, Reggie Houston, Allen Hinds, Patrick Lamb, Ernestine Anderson, Randy Porter, Tony Furtado, Jeff Lorber, and many, many more.
Reinhardt Melz has been on the North West professional music scene since 1987. He is a consummate musician and teacher. He is also Bobby Torres’ eldest son.
I had the great pleasure to interview Reinhardt just before he was due to go on another tour with Gino Vannelli
for those of you who are not familiar with Reinhardt's playing, check out Gino Vannelli Live In LA.
AW – Can you give me a little history on yourself and the early days coming up as a player?
RM - I was born in Los Angeles, California 1971 and moved to Portland Oregon in 1981 where I've been ever since.
Because of my parents, I grew up immersed in music and dance. My mother is a dancer, and my grandmother owned a dance school. I grew up with mandatory dance classes, and my grandmothers' dance studio was pretty much my second home. My biological father is a bassist and stepfather (who I call dad, since he raised me from the age of one) a Latin percussionist.
Between all of them, I was exposed to a lot of music, coming from many genres.
Around the age of 15, my parents were encouraging me to focus on something for a career, and the thing I was most interested in was drumset. I had little experience on the drum set at this point, although there was always a drum set in the house. I had always been drawn to the drums, but the first drumming that I remember really catching my ear was Tony Williams' playing on Miles Davis' Four and More. That music and Tony's drumming continues to be an inspiration for me to this day.
So I decided to focus on the drums, and started taking lessons from a few local teachers, namely Mel Brown, Israel Annoh, and Guy MaxwellI.I joined the jazz and symphonic band my junior year in high school. By the age of 17, my stepfather finagled me into my aunt's band who was doing weddings, parties. My aunt is a great singer, and the band was full of top-notch musicians who had to put up with my inexperience.
While I was gigging with this band I was attending Mount Hood community college and playing in the big band and vocal jazz group. I was also playing in a rock band that played classic oldies in several bars around Oregon.
When I was around 20 years old, I tried out for an established blues band named the Lloyd Jones Struggle. I ended up playing in Lloyd's band for about six years and recorded on a couple of his albums. Lloyd pretty much taught me everything I know about playing a shuffle. He used to be a drummer before he became a guitarist/vocalist, but still can play the shit out of a shuffle on the drums.
This would put me at about age 25... You asked about my early years. That's about my first 10...
AW – Your father is the amazing percussionist Bobby Torres have you ever performed together?
RM - Yes, my father Bobby Torres has had quite the career. His very first professional gig was with Joe Cocker, who he ended up playing in Woodstock with... kind of a tough act to follow! Anyway, after Bobby was done with his touring days, he started a band in Portland Oregon around the middle of my stint with Lloyd Jones. He has had the band ever since, and I have been playing in that band whenever possible ever since. Currently I am on the road for the most part, so one of my first teachers, Israel Annoh, is playing drums for my dad's band, The Bobby Torres Ensemble.
AW - During your playing career what drums have you played, do you have a particular favourite, and also are you endorsed by anyone?
RM - When I first started playing, I had a real oddball mix of a kit. It was basically just a kit my dad had set up around the house when I was growing up. It consisted of random drums given to my dad by Jim Keltner and Jeff Porcaro. I still have most of these drums in my basement. The bass drum was an 18 inch black Camco and the snare was a deep metal Slingerland both from Keltner. The rack toms were single headed 8 and 10 inch Ludwig's with a wood finish and the floor tom was a black Ludwig both from Porcaro.
About a year after I started playing, Carlos Vega, a good friend of my dad’s sent me some more drums that were s mismatch of Slingerland toms and a Gretsch kick. A couple years later Carlos sent me a complete Gretsch kit with a black finish. It had 12, 13, and16 inch toms and a 22 inch kick. I have played several different drum kits since then, but I currently play a Yamaha Oak Custom for bigger and louder gigs, and a Gretsch Catalina kit for smaller or jazzier gigs. I am not currently endorsed with any companies, but I do love Yamaha drums!
AW – I read you played at Stevie Wonder’s private birthday celebration, where as this and who was in the band?
RM - This was in Portland Oregon a few years ago, apparently the restaurant owner that hired the band was close friends with Stevie, so that was how me and the others were hired for this gig. The other musicians were friends of mine and stellar musicians that I have worked on and off with for several years: Jarrod Lawson (keys, key bass, and vocals), Jans Ingber(vocals and percussion), Chance Hayden (guitar) and Farnell Newton(trumpet).
AW – How did you come to work with Gino – was there an audition process or had he seen you perform before?
RM - A bassist named Sandin Wilson had hooked up with Gino through Jimmie Haslip. I think this was about 2007.
Gino had been living just outside of Portland for several years at this point.
Gino was starting a new band with Sandin on bass/vocals and Sandin had recommended me to Gino. Sandin and I had done several random studio sessions over the years and we always had a great time playing together.
So I get a call from Sandin one day, and he tells me "Gino Vannelli is going to come to your gig tonight to check you out".
So I acted like it didn't phase me, but really I was kind of shitting my pants.
So basically my gig that night was my audition for Gino. I was playing in a small club with a funky/ jazzy B3 Trio called the Triclips. Sure enough, Gino showed up that night and fortunately for me, he liked what he heard. He offered me the drum chair in his new band that was being formed while I was on break. Of course, I accepted.
AW – On Gino’s Live in LA Album your performance comes across as the consummate performer, were you reading the charts whilst learning the new arrangements?
RM - Thanks! No, I have learned all of Gino's songs through listening to the originals and through playing with the sequences he sends us.
I can read fairly well, but prefer memorization.
AW – Before you burst onto the scene with Gino who were you playing with?
RM-at that time I was freelancing a lot. I was doing some gigs with my dad and quite a bit of recording and playing with the keyboard player that Gino ended up hiring, Randy Porter. I was playing timbales in a salsa band, doing klezmer gigs, playing with the Triclops as I mentioned... I was taking any gig that I could to pay the bills. Fortunately I was playing with great players the whole time.
AW – What recordings and drummers have influenced you the most?
RM-So Many! I'll mention a few:
Tony Williams - Four & More, Miles Smiles
Harvey Mason - Herbie Hancock's "Headhunters" and "Mr. Hands"
Dennis Chambers - John Scofield's "Blue Matter"
Jim Keltner - several Ry Cooder records, The song "Dance with Me" by Chaka Kahn
Carlos Vega - GRP all stars live & James Taylor live
Steve Gadd - Chick Corea's "the leprechaun"
Horacio Hernandez- Edward Simon's "Beauty within"
Julio Barretto - Gonzalo Rubalcaba's Rapsodia
Peter Erskine and Jack De Johnette - Elaine Elias' "Cross Currents"
Dafnis Prieto - "about the monks"
Roy Haynes - Pat Matheny's "Question and answer" Chick Corea's" Now he sings now he Sobs.
Steve Jordan - John Scofield's "electric outlet"
Ivan Nevils "thanks"Charlie Drayton also plays on this record-love him too!) steve Kahn's"casa Loco"
Dave Weckl- Chick Corea's Electric Band
Paquito De Rivera's "Why Not"
I know there's more... I used to play along to Stevie Winwood's "back in the highlife" a lot in high school. Steve Feronne and John Robinson were the drummer's on that...
AW – Online it mentions you are a teacher as well; do you have much time teaching if so is a master class or one to one?
RM - So far I have mostly done one on one lesson. I did help my dad do a couple of clinics in the past, but only one clinic by myself so far, and that was in Italy. I do love to teach, but the clinic thing has always been something that I've shied away from. Maybe that will change in the future...
AW – In today’s ever changing and challenging musical climate do you have any advice for the next generation of drummers?
RM - I always advise my students to record themselves practicing and playing with other people obsessively. I think this is one of the best ways you can assess you're playing. Also, I advise anyone who wants to work as a drummer and continue to work, to take all of your gigs seriously and do your homework. Put your all into it!
These days I think it's important to be able to run recording software from your computer and to be as tech competent as possible. These days there's a YouTube video for just about anything you want to see, and you might as will take advantage of it. Watch some videos on the great drummers that aren't around anymore. YouTube is great for that. Look up some Buddy Rich, Sonny Payne, Sid Catlett... there's a lot to learn from these guys.
I recommend a software program called transcribe for anybody who likes to slow stuff down to learn. You can put videos and MP3s into this program and slow them down to your heart’s content... it's one of my most valuable tools.
AW – Aside from your local gigs and sessions, are there any other projects that you’re involved with?
RM-these days I am mostly touring with the band Pink Martini and with Gino Vannelli. I have been touring with Gino for the last 11 years or so and just started playing with Pink Martini almost 2 years ago. Now that I am playing with both of these bands, there's not much time for anything else!
AW – Is there anything we can promote for you, next tour, recording, book?
RM-I am currently in Palm Springs with Pink Martini and I am constantly touring the world with them. Check their website for a show near you. There are too many dates to mention! I know I will be in parts of Europe with both bands in the upcoming months... check Gino Vannelli's site as well for that.
PETE DE POE - The King Kong Beat by Ashley Wardell
David Garibaldi was discussing his lesson material for Drumeo, he began talking about a drum beat that heavily influenced his own playing and was popular amongst drummers in the early 70’s: the “King Kong” (created and coined by Pete DePoe). that inspired his overall sound that we’ve all come to love
AW - How do feel too be mentioned by such an iconic drummer?
It makes me feel proud. Dave Garibaldi is one of the greatest drummers I've ever encountered in my entire career. Top shelf!
AW - Can you remember how you devised this groove?
The King Kong Beat is based upon the old childhood "Hambone Song." An old Black Man in the Central District of Seattle taught me how to play it when I was a little kid.
AW - You have made many recordings with Redbone are there any particular tracks you really enjoyed?
Probably "Prehistoric Rhythm" because it's all about the King Kong and "23rd and Mad" - cuz I wrote it with Lolly, though I didn't get proper credit for it. Honestly, there are so many great songs that Redbone did. We just kicked the asses of everybody! Even Jeff Beck got pissed off at us.
Are you still performing these days or have you retired altogether, do you still play for your own pleasure?
No. I am trying to get a band together, but it's kinda hard for different reasons. It sucks getting old.
AW - Do you still have your original drum set from Redbone, if so what is the breakdown?
No!!! I left it behind in L.A. back in 1972. That subject still pisses me off to this day.
AW - What words of advice would you like to pass on to the next generation
Do whatever you believe in. Practice, practice practice. But...never forget, Lady Luck only shines down on a few of us lucky ones. Yes, I was lucky, but not because I was better. Lady Luck is a necessity for success, but here is no guarantee of meeting her. It's totally random, or...God given. Yet, if you don't properly prepare, will you be ready when she shows up one day unexpectedly?
PETE YORK by Ashley Wardell
AW - How did you become interested in drumming and when?
IN 1950 we had only a radio in the house for entertainment. I was attracted to jazz music although I didn't know what it was.
I used to beat time with pencils on anything I could find which made a pleasing sound, an old brass bell, cooking pots etc. By the time I was 10 I had sticks and brushes and a very cheap snare drum (no name).
AW - Can you recall the very first drum set you owned and what was it, do you also still have it?
All through my school years I slowly collected more and better "traps" until, at 18 years old, I had an Olympic set. When I left school and went work in Birmingham I traded this in for a Premier set with 20" BD, 12" & 14" toms in black and a 14 x 5 SD.
I have none of those drums anymore. I kept one stick from my early days which I marked with the date 1956. It was maybe a 7A model.
AW - You were at one time a Beverley and Rogers drums endorsee how did that come about did they approach you because of the Spencer Davis group you were in at the time?
I bought my first American Rogers set from Lionel Rubin at Ringway Music, Birmingham. It can be seen in the movie The Ghost Goes Gear around 1965. I played that set though the Spencer Davis Mark 1 years and recorded all the hits on it. I still have the Dynasonic COB snare. Incredible drum. When we had the hits they offered me a full endorsement.
AW - Which was very helpful when we were constantly on the road.
I played Rogers into my time with Hardin & York and recorded our first albums on those drums. Then things began to go wrong with Rogers distribution and manufacture
I was offered to play Beverley drums which were made at the Premier factory and were very good. They gave me good service.
AW - Do you have a particular favourite drum set or snare drum, if so why ?
The Rogers Dynasonic snare was a revelation, designed to satisfy the demands of Buddy Rich, it had to be. It had a beautiful response at all volume levels. A real instrument for a snare drum maestro like Buddy.
I have been with Pearl drums since 1979 and have some Masterworks drums, some Reference drums and several great snares. One of therm is a solid maple shell and is wonderful to hear. I also designed my Signature snare which includes some features suggested by Louie Bellson. I love them all and would never change companies now. I couldn't bear to say goodbye to my little family of Pearl drums.
AW - Did you ever take drum lessons, I remember practicing with you at your home you were amazing and a real inspiration, you kindly took me on a Hardin and York concert in Germany that was an experience, do you still perform together?
While I was at Trent College I learned the snare drum rudiments in the military band of the Army cadets. I was already jazzed-out at the age of 14.
But no teacher – I learned notation etc from the Buddy Rich Book and practiced also from the George Lawrence Stone books. Reading and syncopation from the Louie Bellson book.
Still no teacher. I just used my own judgement on whether I was playing things correctly.
I became well-known through the success of the Spencer Davis Group from the mid-Sixties and was endorsed by Rogers Drums. Around 1970 they sent their master clinician, Roy Burns, on a tour of the UK.
I volunteered to be his roadie in the hope that I could learn from him. I helped him set up every day and he would show me stick grip and hand movement. Just watching him was an invaluable lesson in
how to approach this instrument we love. Roy was as near as I ever got to having a teacher.
So I am really self-taught as many others were in my day. This does make for originality and the development of some kind of personal style.
I am surprised to see how many drummers with a very limited range of playing experience set themselves up as teachers today. If you are going to get a teacher try to find someone who knows the whole picture and who has paid his dues.
Regarding my duo with Eddie Hardin that was a most creative time, with my discovering the art of drum soloing. We both had to keep the audiences hot for two hours a night and this means you have to be really on the ball. Unfortunately Eddie died a couple of years ago and I miss playing with him. I still have the recordings and videos to remind me of great times.
AW - You did a very interesting project with Klaus Doldinger I think Jon Lord was on the record,
how did that come about as it was quite a different genre for you and at the time quite a
ground breaking recording?
The Doldinger Jubilee shows in 1973 –1975 were great fun and I got to meet and play with some world class musicians – Buddy Guy, Les McCann, Johnny Griffin, Brian Auger, Alexis Korner etc. I also enjoyed the drum duets with Curt Cress.
The concept reminded me of the old Jazz At The Philharmonic shows. Everybody playing for each other with lots of variety in the music. Jon Lord was not part of that but at the same time I was doing concerts with Jon featuring rock group and symphony orchestra. This was another discipline for me and I learned a lot. The first thing the conductor learns is that when the drummer plays in this big production, it's the drummer who takes over the timekeeping.
AW - How did the Super Drumming project come about as it brings together some of the world's finest drummers and percussionists. I hear that everything took place in an old church and a disused steel works? Drummers: Mark Brzezicki, Steve Ferrone, Trilok Gurtu, Jon Hiseman, Ian Paice, Herman Rarebell, Freddie Santiago, Ed Thigpen are on the recordings? Are there any future plans for more recordings?
Super Drumming began as a a TV series on German TV in 1987. They asked me to do a drum school for children's TV but I didn't think that would be so interesting for the TV public at 16.30 in the afternoon. So I came up with a format involving not just me but some other really big names in drumming and a small band which could play in many styles. The organization of this was very challenging and I couldn't have done it without Louie Bellson, who was the first guest I asked and the first to say yes. All the others followed. The shows stand today as a milestone in TV history and so many drummers in Europe began to play because of this inspiration on their screens.
We also played some live concerts which always sold out.
We will never see anything like this on TV again because today's programme planners are even dumber than they were 30 years ago.
But we are trying to mount another live show in Düsseldorf in October. I have a guest line-up which is spectacular but we must confirm that all these great players are free to come together at that time. It's not easy.
AW - So your living in Germany know, what made you put roots down there?
I married my lovely German girlfriend, Mecky, in England in 1977 and our daughter Stephanie was born in 1979. After living happily in our village for a few years we decided to move to Germany so that Stephanie could grow up with two languages. I think it has worked out well. Super Drumming would not have happened in England.
I am well respected here and we have a good life. In the UK the Spencer Davis Group is consigned to rock history and my very talented friends on the jazz scene struggle to survive. The live scene is getting worse over here too. Too many bands chasing too little work and the prices go down. Everybody undercuts everybody else, nobody wins. It will soon be virtually impossible to make a living playing good music. All musos will soon be semi-pros, with daytime jobs to support their hobby.
Celebrity culture has led to fame and huge recording sales being equated with musical talent and creativity. Wrong!!! But I suppose we all have our own thoughts about whose good and who's lousy. I'll keep my ideas to myself for the years I have left.
AW - So Pete what are you up to are you still enjoying playing, I hear you have been
conducting some educational seminars over in Germany, how were they received?
I still play gigs with fine players and have plans for a new R & B group with some old friends. The Super Drumming show might open up to be a touring possibility.
I am happily surprised that people enjoy my memories of 65 years trying to play drums and all the wonderful and not so wonderful people I've met and worked with.
Drumming has become very technical and a solid driving beat is often missing. But there are still some who try to be inventive and respect the traditions at the same time.
STEVE WHITE - by Ashley Wardell
AW - You studied for awhile withMichael Skinner; can you recall what his approach as I remember reading his articles in Crescendo?
I first encountered Michael at the centre for young musicians in Pimlico , I worked out he lived and still does , very close to me so I went for some lessons , we did a fair amount of work on snare technique and the Basle style of drumming which Mike is a formidable exponent of .
AW - You mention one of your biggest influence’s at an early stage of your drumming career was Louie Bellson,
did you ever perform with him or attend any of his clinics, also why Louie what was the attraction? I found
him to be such a gentleman of the art, an amazing teacher, educator and mentor.
I saw Louie many times , in concert and clinic though I never performed with him . He was a total gent and gave me a pair of sticks aged about 14 which I still have , i went to a clinic he did above the horseshoe pub in Tottenham Court Road Which was amazing .
AW - When the name Bob Armstrong is mentioned you talk of respect for one of our greatest teacher’s sadly
no longer with us, in your own words what made Bob so ‘Special’ also can you recall while studying with him
what kind of practice regime did he endorsee?
His love for the art , his enthusiasm, his intuition, his playing and his friend ship .
AW - On the subject of Bob did he cover the mechanics of how to use Syncopated Rolls by Jim Blackley this is
such an underrated publication as many of Bob’s students used this book?
We spent a lot of time working on this book and Jim Chapins book too , so many drummers don’t realise how intertwined this all is with technique inspired by Sanford Moeller .
AW - Besides performing you also teach: what books etc; do you recommend to your students and why?
The classics ! Chapin , Blackley , Wilcoxon , GL Stone , i also love John Riley and David Garibaldis books , the breakbeat bible is a great tool too .
AW - A lot of young students today seem to be not interested in drum rudiments, different genres and reading
as a well respected educator, player and author what words of wisdom do you wish to impart to the next generation of drummers?
Not understanding the role of rudiments is like not wishing to learn scales , they are simply the tools that assist creativity , you can become a fine drummer without understanding a single note and if you have that kind of talent great ! But why not look at what rudimental playing has done for Louie , Billy Cobham , Steve Gadd , Travis Barker , Dave Weckl and tell me it’s not worth at least understanding what the possibilities are with them in your musical repertoire.
Hey thank you Ashley , we have our 19th Freddie Gee academy with Craig Blundell, Jeremy Stacey , Pete Cater and Ian Matthews happening in July !
RICK LATHAM Ashley Wardell
Rick Latham is known as one of the music industry’s most in demand studio and touring drummers today, an exciting solo artist, Rick enjoys composing and producing, travelling globally as a renowned clinician as well as conducting master classes and music education.
AW. How and when did your passion for drumming begin?
I started playing at the age of twelve and I think the combination of growing up in the South, being surrounded by Gospel, R&B and Soul music, at the time, had a lot to do with it. Also, my older brother was playing in the local High School concert and marching band, which was quite well known as the State Champions for many consecutive years. My family would also be traveling to watch competitions and concerts to support the band and I think the drumming was something that attracted me at that time. I also would stay up late to watch the Johnny Carson Tonight Show to see drummers like Buddy Rick, Louie Bellson and Ed Shaughnessy when possible.
AW - Did you have any instruction from anyone?
I was initially self-taught. I started playing on my own and then also joined the Jr. High School band when I was old enough. I then learned to read music and became more interested in drumming and percussion in general. The High School band director showed me some basics but that was about it. I just kept investigating and learning as much as I could, still on my own at that point. I didn’t really have any real private, formal instruction until I attended University later.
AW. You gained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Percussion Performance at East Carolina University, thus expanding you’re rhythmic and percussion related vocabulary, studying snare drum, mallets and timpani with Harold Jones would you advise the next generation of drummers to study tuned percussion as well as drum set?
I always advise people to study percussion as well as drum set if they go to a music University. I just think it makes for a more well-rounded musician. Studying various techniques, concepts and styles or genres can only help everything.
AW - What do you think, what lessons during your studies were the most valuable?
There are many, however, the things I learned form Harold Jones have made the most impact on my playing. Actually I never studied Drum set with Harold, but his musicality and finesse in his playing had such a positive effect on me. Studying, Snare Drum, Mallets and Timpani were the focus in his lessons. I use the term a lot in my clinics “The Discipline Of Drumming” This was something I think that actually started with the High School band experience and followed right through with me until this day. Physical training (practice), mental training and performance training all play a part in all of this Discipline
AW - What did you do when you graduated from university?
After my four years at East Carolina I was awarded a Scholarship to attend North Texas State University (now University of North Texas) one of the finest music Universities in America. My Scholarship was to pursue my studies for a Masters Degree as well as teaching undergraduate students. I was teaching snare drum and marimba while taking classes and studying drum set there as well. After North Texas, I went on the road with a band and began playing, touring and recording as much as possible. I lived in Dallas, Texas for about ten years after North Texas then moved to Los Angeles in 1984
AW - Which drummers inspired you the most and why?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, Buddy, Louie and Ed were my first inspirations, along with Joe Morello, These drummers were perhaps the most visible drummers also during the time I was growing up. Their musicality and flawless technique was what inspired me most at that time. Then of course, Bernard Purdie, James Gadson, Harvey Mason, Mike Clark, David Garibaldi and Steve Gadd, for the Funk, Groove and Linear stuff. I would say these are my main inspirations but there are many others as well, like some of the guys with the Rock, Pop, Soul, R&B and Jazz groups on the radio at the time, especially Danny Seraphine (Chicago), Bobby Colomby (Blood, Sweat & Tears), Don Brewer (Grand Funk Railroad), Jimmy Fox (The James Gang), and Greg Errico (Sly and The Family Stone.
AW - You have raised a generation of drummers with your publications Advanced Funk Studies and Contemporary Drumset Techniques, how did the conception of these two volumes come about also your head of indie label RLP records?
Well, Advanced Funk Studies was written and published right after I finished North Texas. It was really the encouragement of the teachers there (Jim Hall, Ron Fink, Robert Schietroma and Henry Okstel), that motivated me to write that book. At that time in the late 70s, the linear funk thing was really hot with Gadd, Garibaldi and others being at the forefront of that style. I really identified with this concept and would always be transcribing some of those grooves either for lessons or my own enjoyment. I felt there was a need to write these exercises to help explain the concept. The book hit at just the right time and it instantly became popular with professionals and students alike. My second book, Contemporary Drumset Techniques is more of an in depth study of the linear style that I later developed after years of playing. My Record label, RLP and Rick Latham Publishing Company was created so I could publish and control the rights to all my materials. I own all the rights and publishing for all my titles. Advice I got early on from Louie Bellson and Jim Chapin
AW - Do you have any thoughts on writing a new book to add to your two classic volumes?
I actually have a snare drum book in the works “American Snare Drumming” it will include many of the Old School, Traditional Rudimental techniques and concepts that I use along with a modern approach including exercises and solos. I feel there is a need for more modern sounding snare drum literature as well a more explanations of Traditional Rudimental Style techniques and concepts.
AW - Can you recall the time you met Louie Bellson on the Remo stand at one of the NAMM shows?
It was actually a show in Texas for Music Educators and Louie was performing there. I met him in the Remo stand in the afternoon before this show. We had talked on the phone several times and this was the first time meeting in person. We also had several mutual friends and that is how I was introduced to him. I had previously sent him a draft of my “Advanced Funk Studies” book, which he really loved and gave a great endorsement comment (whish is still included in the book today). He was always so gracious and humble, so, we hit it off really well. After the initial hello and nice to finally meet in person sort of conversation, he told me again that he really loved the book and he carried with him to always check out some licks. I Kind of laughed and said something like “Oh, Man, thanks, I really appreciate that” and he said, “No, really! I have it right here in my briefcase”…. He opened his briefcase and sure enough the book was in there. I was shocked and of course loved that. We then continued to talk and he asks me to walk with him because he had to go setup and sound check. I followed along and we continued talking about drums and the music life etc. We finally reached the auditorium and walked to the stage. There were his cases and all his gear, so I said something like, “don’t you have someone to help you set up” ???? He looked at me and said, “That’s why I asked you to come along”…we both laughed and of course started setting up his stuff. We remained very good friends from that day on, and he would also mention me and my book at all of his clinics. Such a great Person, Musician and Mentor to so many.
AW - Have you a practice regime, what does it consist of and how much time does it take?
I really don’t have a set practice routine now, however, in the early stages of my career and while I was going to school I would practice a great deal. I still play rudiments and hand exercises all the time, even if just sitting around and watching the news on TV. I’m actually playing or recording most of the time so, I am playing a lot and just try to always warm up before with rudiments and the hand exercises. When I do have time for serious “sit down” type practicing. I will usually work on Independence, and trying new things as well as just playing to a click with some of my own material from my books. I always tell drummers that consistency is the key. Playing a little bit everyday is important. Even 30 minutes is good, if it is continuous and structured. Things that I would suggest to work on, would be reading, Independence, time and then groove, plus, various licks. Also, play with other musicians as much as possible. Practice playing music not only exercises.
AW - Having performed with many top figures is there anyone you would have wished to work with if so why?
Wow, that’s a tough one to answer. There are so many and don’t make it sound like I’m done yet…Ha, ha…. I actually used to play a lot of Big Band stuff and I love that style. Kicking a Big Band is so much fun. I would have loved to play with Count Basie’s band or maybe Stan Kenton’s Band. Maybe on the Rock side of things Jimi Hendrix would have been fun I think. I love the things that Mitch Mitchell played with Hendrix and maybe for more Pop type current stuff I think Bruno Mars does some great music and that would be fun as well. I would also love to do one of the Buddy Rich things sometime as well. I have been very fortunate to play with many great artists and I feel confident there will be more to come.
AW - Can you recall what product jingles, TV themes and Film soundtracks you have worked on?
I do remember “Fast Forward”, “Gone in 60 Seconds”, “SpiderMan” and “Daredevil” movies, to name a few and the product jingles were many such as Coke, Pepsi, Toyota, Honda, Ford, AT&T, some Beer commercials and things like that. The TV work was limited mostly to background type cues or underscoring but I did play on various theme versions and cues used for the shows “9 To 5” and “Fame”
AW - Besides teaching in Los Angles you also teach in Milano, what attracted you Milano?
Well, I have actually been coming to Europe for the past 30 years or so and it seems that I began to work more and more over here (Germany, Italy, France, UK, etc.) over the years, with different artists, my own bands and doing clinics and workshops more in Europe. I still have a place in L.A. where I am still active in the states, doing much of the same, when I go back for visits. I have been living mostly in Milano for the past three years now. I like Milano geographically because it is really in the middle of Europe and I can travel very easily from Milano to just about anywhere in Europe in just a few hours. Sometime it gets difficult with scheduling things in the States and back here in Europe but I like to work and stay busy, so it is working out nicely at the moment.
AW - How has the life of a musician changed since you started to play?
I think basically it is still the same lifestyle, however, the industry has changed. Less and smaller Budgets. Companies and clubs wanting more for less and the availability of things on the Internet have also played a large part in the ever-diminishing live opportunities. The public now has gotten used to getting things for free (like downloads) or very little money and unfortunately seem to not support live music as much as before. Streaming, Pay Per View, On Demand, have all had an impact on the support of live music. You definitely have to hustle even more today than ever before to keep working and stay busy. Good music and good musicians will always be in demand. However, I think the public in general (as much as I wish it weren’t so) as lowered it’s standard when it comes to music. Being versatile and doing many things that are all related, I feel, or the best approach in staying relevant and active. I personally play Concerts, Teach, do Clinics and Master-classes and Recording Sessions. It all adds up. Where as, let’s say in the 80s I could live pretty comfortably by only playing in clubs…. now less clubs, and less people going to clubs that support live music. Of course there are some Countries and Cities that still do have a lot of great live music but it is certainly less than in years before. Also, as mentioned, with smaller budgets, many large studios are having a tough time and/or going out of business and more of the recording is done in personal studios. I do a lot of recording in my personal studios for musicians all over the world. Things do go in cycles though and from time to time there are more live things and more recoding things. You really have to stay on top of your game and in contact with other musicians, networking is important.
AW - What does your course consist of, do you encourage embracing technology?
I actually love technology and it can be a great thing, especially for Musicians. However, the over use of or becoming dependent on it can have it’s negative side. For instance I have several Mac Desktop Computers, Laptops, ipad and two iphones. I use all the latest recording software in my studies in both Milano and L.A., however, the performance is still the main thing. I also like a more natural and organic feel and sound when it comes to music. I use these tools but just like a big tape recorder and not a lot of editing, overdubbing or fixing of parts…..I also have some electronic trigger pads that I use occasionally however, I prefer real drums for the feel and the sound. I will say that it is important for all drummers to learn how to work with the technology, because it is here to stay.
AW - I see you use AKG microphones any particular reason?
I actually do like the AKG brand very much and I have used many various mics over the years. This is really a personal thing for everyone. I feel if I find something I like, I stick with it. The brand has been around for many years and is one of the standards in the industry. They have a wide selection and are very consistent all over the world. I’ve worked with the company on a few things and I have a good relationship with them over the years. This is also important, as with all the gear I choose to use and endorse.
AW - What kind of computer and digital audio equipment do you use to do your work?
Well, as mentioned before, I’m a big Mac guy. For DAW software, I run MOTU Digital Performer, Apple Logic and Digidesign Pro Tools. I feel those work best for my needs and applications and very compatible around the world. I also have many of the standard outboard pieces, such as compressors, limiters, reverbs, etc. and also many of the software plug-ins as well. I try to keep it to a minimum because this stuff can easily get out of hand. New things come out every day it seems and this can do serious damage to my wallet…..Ha, Ha.
AW - Do you have a particular favourite drumset or snare drum you like to record with?
As you know, I have been using DW Drums for more than 35 years and I absolutely love the drums, the hardware and the company. I know how this instrument will react to my technique, my tuning and my style of playing at all levels. I prefer the Collectors Maple drums and have several sets in various configurations. Personally, I prefer 22” Bass Drums in various depths like 14”, 16” and 18”. For toms, my usual set up consists of 8”, 10”, 12”, 14”, and 16” again with various depths. General 14” snare and I really like 7” x 14” something about the 7” depth is very special. I also use other 14s and sometimes 13s as well
AW - Like many top performers do you have a collection of snare drums?
You know, I am not a big drum collector type guy……I have maybe 8 or 10 additional snare drums and that is enough for me. I like to use the ones I have and to be honest, I find that maybe 4 or 5 of them are my “go-to” drums. I like to try different things at times or certain artists or producers might want a particular sound and I will try to accommodate. It really depends of the music and vibe.
AW - When recording do you have a particular studio/producer you prefer to work with?
I just love recording and the recording process in general and find it always an exciting, rewarding, fun and learning experience. I will record anywhere……Ha, ha.. Of some of the studios I have recorded in and that I really like are Ocean Way/East West, The Village, Westlake Audio, The Lair, Evergreen and One On One…all in L.A. In Copenhagen, Denmark a studio named Easy Sound and in Germany there are two private places I really like Klang Dialog and Amazing Sound. There are so many studios around the world and I look forward to checking out many more as the journey continues. As far as producers, I feel comfortable with just about anyone, so I don’t really have a preference.
AW - What drums are you endorsing at the moment what configuration of drums do you play, do you still play the Istanbul Mehmet traditional high hat trio and what attracted you to this combination?
As I mentioned above, for drums, I have been playing and endorsing DW for over 35 years. I have had also a very long relationship with Istanbul Mehmet Cymbals and with Mehmet Tamdeger personally since 1982. These are the Original Genuine Hand Made Cymbals from Turkey, that everyone tries to copy….! Mehmet has been making cymbals since the age of nine ……nobody does it better! Period! The Hat trio is something that I do like and use at times, it’s a combination of different weight bottoms, however, I do use various other Hi-Hat combinations as well as the other Istanbul Mehmet models. My current set up consists of usually a 22” 61st Anniversary Vintage Ride, 16”, 17” and 18” crashes. 14” hats (Turk or Nostalgia line) and usually a 16” or 18” X-Ray Random effect cymbal plus sometimes a 10” and 12” splash. I have also been having fun with some Turk series micro hats that are 8” or 10” very cool and interesting sounds. I also use and Endorse Evans Drumheads for many years as well as Promark Sticks……they make my Signature Autograph Model Rick Latham 717 Groove Stick.
AW - What advice would you wish to pass on the next generation of drummers?
“Keep and Ear to the past and an Eye on the Future” I feel it’s very important for a drummer to be knowledgeable about the history of the instrument and the great drummers that have come before. Keeping the history and traditions alive, yet developing it forward, throughout their individual career path. Learn various styles and genres. Learn technology, learn how to Listen, Learn how to be part of the music. It’s not so much about the chops as it is about playing the music. Have and take care of your equipment. Be on Time…..Play live with others as much as possible, whether in your basement or at school. Learn good basic foundational techniques before learning specialty techniques and always strive for enjoyment and satisfaction in your playing.
CHESTER THOMPSON - Ashley Wardell
AW - When first attracted to drumming, did you take any lessons, formal study or try and figure it out yourself, because in later years your reading skills must have assisted you greatly in performing and studio work?
The first lessons were in school, 7th grade. The band teacher started everyone out and then you were on your own. The first drum set lessons were based on jazz. A family friend, James Harris, started teaching me how to play along with records by Miles Davis, Max Roach, Art Blakey and other prominent jazz artists. This led to my first club gig at the age of 13. I played every weekend until I graduated high school. All kinds of gigs, soul music, jazz, rock, anything I was asked to play.
AW - What attracted you to the Craviotto snare drums, as opposed to DW, do you have a particular avourite if so why?
Johnny Craviotto was making a line of snare drums for DW. This is before he started his company, Craviotto Drums. We became friends and he made a couple of his snares for me and I fell in love with them. A 5 ½ X 14 Maple and a 6 ½ X 14 Cherry. Those are the snares I mostly use but I have some beautiful DW snares that I use as well. It depends on what I am doing.
AW - You have endorsed many drum companies over the years, I notice you sponsor DW drums, how long have you been with the company and what’s your current setup?
I have been with DW since 1999. My setup varies with the gig. My favourite is 2 bass drums, 8 toms, 8 through 18 and the 6 ½ X 14 snare I mentioned earlier. However I sometimes play a jazz kit with 18 inch bass drum, 12 and 14 inch toms. Sometimes it’s a 5 piece, but in my studio I usually use a 22 inch bass drum with 3 mounted toms and 2 floors.
AW - You endorse Sabian cymbals do you have a particular favourite that like to record with or take on the road with you?
I mostly use the HH series, with a couple of exceptions. I have a couple of custom rides, one is the Liquid Ride and a couple of others I designed but are not on the market.
AW - As mentioned in the title of the magazine do you a vintage drum set or snare drum that you love to record with or take on the road with you?
I still have a Sonor Deluxe Highlight kit, red with copper plated hardware that might show up in a recording session, a couple of unusual Pearl snare drums, a graphite 5 ½ X 14 and a 10 X 14 fibreglass snare. I gave my ’65 Slingerland kit to a friend whose drums had been stolen. I use DW drums most of the time because they are great drums and I can get what I want out of them.
AW - You come from a jazz background what do you think are some of the basic musicianship subjects you have learnt that have assisted you throughout your career?
The most important thing I have learned over the years is how to listen. I can’t think and listen at the same time. Its about being being focused on listening to the music around you, not thinking about what to play. I have had to learn to listen to the whole band, not a specific instrument and to hear the drums as part of the band. I try to put myself in the audience and hear it from that perspective.
AW - Was the Wiz your first production show you performed in, how did you secure the gig? The Wiz was the first real theatre production.
I was recommended by Roy McCurdy, who was friends with the music director, Charles Coleman, who is no longer with us.
AW - You released a solo CD entitled The Chester Thompson Trio A Joyful Noise featuring Joe Davidian on Piano/ Keyboards and Michael Rinne on Upright and Electric bass upon release you went out on tour in Europe, how were you received? I also read you were working on a second solo CD was this ever released?
A Joyful Noise was recorded in 1991 with a band I had at the time as well as several other musicians that were added for the sessions. Approved was the first trio album and Simpler Times came next. They both did extremely well on jazz radio charts. The first went to no. 6 and the second went to no. 4.
You also released A DVD of a performance at the 2003 Paderborn Drum Festival entitled
“ On The Fly ” is this still available, have you released any other DVD’s?
I did an educational video back in the ‘80s, which is no longer available.
AW - During your period with Frank Zappa what track or tracks did you find the most challenging, did he throw charts at you, also how did you become a member of the band as we hear so many stories of the exceptional high demands and standards Frank expected from his musicians? Did you ever perform the infamous Black Page?
I think T’Mershi Duween was one of the hardest for me to learn. It was mostly charts. I was recommended for an audition by a friend, Marty Perellis, who was tour manager at the time. The Black Page had not been written at that time.
AW - I notice you are a resident of Nashville how did you wound up living there, you did attend drumming legend Larrie London’s funeral did your short visit attract you to the area?
It was when I attended Larrie’s funeral that I fell in love with Nashville. Prior to that, I had only seen downtown and the airport when I would play there. In the ‘80s that was not very impressive.
AW - In your clinics what subjects do you cover?
I will cover things like movement around the kit, Latin rhythms, odd times but I try to get the audience involved and cover the subjects they are most interested in.
AW - During your recording career do you have a favourite recording studio, and track.
Caribou Ranch was a pretty amazing place to record. Black Market with Weather Report is my favourite session. It is hard to isolate a particular track.
AW - Looking back through your career is there anyone you would have liked to have performed
I would love to play with Stevie Wonder. He is my favourite contemporary composer.
AW - Describe your most fulfilling musical experience.
The most fulfilling experience would be a live concert with an artist or more accurately worship leader named Ron Kenoly. The album was named Lift Him Up. It was also released on video.
AW - How did you secure the gig with Phil, did he approach you or was it through the Genesis connection ?
Phil was familiar with my work with Zappa and he came to a Weather Report concert in London when I was with the band. He called me up and asked if I would be interested in playing with Genesis.
AW - Are you still on the faculty at Belmont University teaching Applied Performance, how often do you lecture there, and what is the curriculum?
I am only teaching drum set lessons at Belmont. I have led one of the jazz ensembles and taught a seminar every week, but because I have had to leave occasionally for touring, I had to pass those on to other instructors.
AW - As an extremely successful professional player who is acclaimed by his peers, achieved so much what advice would you offer to the next generation of drummers who are thinking of entering the profession?
Prepare ahead of time, learn to listen and always play your best. Play to make the band sound good, not to entertain yourself.
AW - What and who have been your major influences as a musician?
Frank Zappa and Joe Zawinul have been major influences on me musically. Max Roach, Elvin Jones and Tony Williams have been the biggest influences as far as drumming.
AW - Finally would you like the magazine to promote anything for you, upcoming releases, DVD’s concerts etc?
Yes, I have recorded a solo album, which will be mixed and mastered in the next few weeks. It will be released this summer. Unfortunately, I have not named it yet.
Chester many thanks for your time much appreciated.
GERRY BROWN – Ashley Wardell
Gerry Brown is a 'master drummer' having performed with Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and
Roberta Flack, Gerry very kindly granted me this interview interrupting his very busy schedule.
AW - When did your musical journey begin did you have any formal training in your early years?
My training (rudiments) started at 5 yrs. old. I first studied with Elaine Hoffman Watts in Haverford PA, just outside of Philly. I later started playing the xylophone, 7 years I studied with Elaine. Elaine transitioned in 2017 Groove In Paradise. From 12-15 I studied at the Settlement Music School (also Philadelphia) with Alan Abel of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Russell Hartenburg from 15-17.
AW - How do you view contemporary music education as a lecturer I have found whist music education is an important part of being a musician you also have to prepare them for the ‘Outside World’ would you agree?
No doubt, the books only go so far, you’ll need to get stronger mentally and always practice your instrument(s) and practice your people skills.
AW - What are your thought s on today’s drummer’s do you have any favourites and why?
Ah, today’s drummer have more technical qualities than before (naturally) but I wonder about the lack of gigs and lack of venues .... on a bigger scale I wonder how it’s going to be possible to raise a family strictly playing music. Favourites are Chris Miskell and Ronald Bruner Jr. to name a few.
AW - How did you become involved with a dear friend of mine Pete York on his Super Drumming DVD, I think you performed with Brian Auger on Can You Dig It?
I was living in Hamburg Germany and knew bassist Wolfgang Schmid (he was the bassist on the program), we had played a lot in his band, he asked if I’d like to play on the program, of course I responded “Yes”!
AW - You have spent 14+years with Stevie Wonder can you remember how you landed this prestigious gig with Stevie, did you audition?
I had played with George Benson from ‘88-‘92. I got the call in October of ‘92. I practiced all of the Wonder songs I knew. I was told to meet at his studio at midnight....it wasn’t until 3 am that Stevie arrived! After the cordialities (bassist Nate Watts was there too) we played for about 40 minutes....we didn’t play any Wonder songs, he changed tempos & time signatures ... it was all about how well I watched his movements and got to what feeling he wanted to hear.
AW - Is there any artiste you would have loved to have performed with?
The artist I would have loved to have played was Prince, although we met many times during my early years with Wonder. Second would be Sting.
AW - Would you care to elaborate a little more on your involvement with the DrumHer programme?
The DrumHer program was and is my attempt to raise awareness of the female drummers (see pic above of me and Elaine). Level the “Groove playing field”. Important that the girls see female drummers as mentors and leaders. A work in progress.
AW - Do you have a practice regime before you go on stage live?
Some stretching exercises for the hands & forearms and various rudiments to warm up..
AW - Do you any future plans to release a solo CD/DVD or publication?
Have a project that I can’t divulge at this time however I fully expect I can make an announcement before the end of 2018.
AW - To finish is there anything you would like us to promote for you?
Promote the women!
Thank you Gerry