Sunday, May 5, 2013

Frankie Miller sessions

When I first started out in the music business I remember talk of a maverick singer/songwriter, a Scotsman who refused to cowtow to the Industry executives and followed his own path. Frankie Miller sang with a voice like a sack of stones. He was the epitome of the British "Blue-eyed Soul" movement.

He co-wrote with many people, including Steve Cropper, Joe Walsh & Clint Black.

19 years ago he suffered a brain hemorrhage while in New York, recording with Joe Walsh. His road to recovery has been a long one, and he is still partially disabled, but his legendary determination & stoicism have continued to fuel his efforts.

I couple of months back I was contacted by David Mackay (producer). He had found a number of Frankie's original demos, mostly on cassette tape, and he'd lifted Frankie's vocal, cleaned them up and added new instrumentation. He asked if I might be interested in playing drums on a couple of tracks. Well I jumped at the chance and, along with bassist (& good friend) Mark Prentice, we tracked two songs for the upcoming album at Manicdrums Productions.

"Sending Me Angels" is a duet which features the incredible talents of Kiki Dee, and "Long Way Home" will ultimately feature Frankie alone on vocals. The energy on this project is quite amazing. Already such artists as Bonnie Tyler, Paul Carrack, Steve Cropper & Joe Walsh have lent their talents to the project, and there's talk of many more. I'm looking forward to hearing the finished product. A voice from two decades ago on new, fresh music tracks....

Friday, May 3, 2013

Music. The universal Communicator

I’ve just returned to my hotel room from playing a gala fundraiser at the Perkins School for the Blind, in Watertown Massachusetts. We played 5 songs with a number of the students singing & playing with us, some of whom are not just visually impaired but also suffering extreme learning (& communication) difficulties. The teachers explained that some of the children come to the school in a practically catatonic state. And the one thing that somehow reaches out to these students is music. It is the single most successful thing in getting them out of their shells & into a routine of communicating with the rest of the student body and the world in general.
To say this evening was an intense learning experience for me would be an enormous understatement: I found it both moving and uplifting. I’d like to thank all the staff at Perkins for their hospitality & for taking the time to both make us feel welcome and educate us on the incredible work they do.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Sink or Swim

I am lucky to have been involved in the Music Business during a time of incredible creativity & exponential growth.  I hear people complaining about the business “not being what it was” and to some extent I agree.  But there is more music around now than ever: more people are listening to it, and more people are MAKING it.  It’s a question of how you approach the new business model.  You can sink or swim - it’s your choice. 

True, there are going to be fewer "Music Millionaires" with the current state of the industry.  But people will always want to listen to music, and they will always want to go and see artists perform.  It really IS just a case of re-invention.  

The old model was broken anyway. The artists were not making the bulk of the money: the record labels had become a law unto themselves, and were robbing both sides - the public were having to pay through the nose for sub-standard product and the artists were obliged to hand over a huge proportion of their earnings to "promote" their product (and finance A&R department junkets).  It was only a matter of time before both sides found a way to circumvent the middle man.  

We are now looking at a system based on a Global Village Model: if you are enterprising enough, and have the ability to self-promote, you can actually make a living.  OK, it probably won't be millions, but let's face it, only a few artists really did that with the old model.  We just aspired to be like them.  We're looking at a virtual redistribution of wealth.  Maybe not such a bad thing: if more of us stand a better chance of actually making enough to live on, then how can that be anything but good?

So, you won't have your A&R man "holding your hand" through it all, but surely you can do this......?  Of course you can!  The day of the A&R man is long gone.  The last true great (musical) A&R man was Muff Winwood.  The age of the musically-adept record executive is in the past.  You're on your own, kid.  But it's an exciting prospect.  no?

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Apparently I have big "pocket" - this is the greatest compliment anyone can pay me.  As I have mentioned before, being able to accomplish a complicated rudiment, or flashy fill has never really caught my attention.  I DO practice certain rudiments, and work out new ways to play tom fills, but for me, the feel, the groove is paramount.

When I was in my teens I did try to practice a few incendiary drum fills (possibly to impress the girls), but even then my motivation was more about playing with the rest of the musicians in the band. After all, unless you're always at drum clinics, the people you are going to interact with are not going to be drummers!  While some bands have more than one guitarist (even more than one keyboard player)  MOST bands only have one drummer (The Doobie Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd & The Allmans being the exception to that rule)!

So, for a drummer to truly hone his craft, it is imperative that he learn how to play WITH those other musicians.  Listen, watch, feel..... use your intuition, develop your 6th Sense..... unless you simply want to do drum clinics your entire life (and there are quite a few drummers out there doing that).

Dave Weckl once said something that really stuck with me.  He had just been given a glowing introduction onto the stage at the Sabian Bash (during one NAMM show in Anaheim).  Basically, Dom Famularo had introduced him as "the greatest, ever...."

Before getting behind the kit,  Dave walked up to a microphone at the front and said: "Thank you, Dom, but I'd just like to add something: each of us has a unique way of expressing ourselves, and all those ways are equally valid.  We all have something to say. Let's not forget that."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Feel vs Technique

The age-old argument.
I'll start by acknowledging the incredible discipline & skill it takes to practice rudiments endlessly until you've perfected them almost in your sleep.  But, for me, pure technique for no reason leaves me empty, uninspired.

I am, and always will be, a "feel" player.  This doesn't mean I don't have technique, but the majority of my "practice" involves playing with other musicians, first & foremost.  I do warm up before a show, and I do practice rudiments, (although, truth be known, not as much or often as I probably should).

You could call me lazy.  One of my key concepts is to get the message across using the minimum number of strokes.  But I think there are drummers like that throughout Rock Music.  Bonham, for one.....  Nigel Olsson is another.  Even Steve Gadd (whose undeniable technique has been displayed on many occasions) is economical with his approach to a song.

Ringo Starr is, of course, the prime example of someone who was all about the song, and certainly not about showing off.  Were it not for that approach The Beatles would have sounded totally different.

So, I rest my case.  Keep it simple, stupid!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

NAMM show 2012

Now the dust has settled on this year's NAMM show, I thought it was about time to write about my experience.

As usual, the background noise level was incredible.  One friend of mine was playing guitar through an amp and the "Noise Police" arrived with a decibel meter.  They told him he would have to turn down because his volume was 80db.  So he asked them to take a second reading, during which time he didn't play a note!  Guess what?  Still 80db! DOH!

I was on the NATAL drum stand for most of the show, which was incorporated with Marshall this year.  2012 being Jim Marshall's 50th anniversary of being in the Biz, this was quite a big deal.  In fact Natal had made a 50th Anniversary (limited edition of 50) drum kit, comprising the Marshall black Tolex covering and gold hardware.  It was a focal point on the booth.  I must say, from a personal point of view, I am loving these drums! I have a maple kit and I am continually amazed at its versatility and great sound, not to mention the hardware. The snare stand is the most versatile I have ever encountered. The hi-hat stands are responsive and adjustable, and the cymbal stands are solid & well finished.

I was put to work conducting interviews with various publications (both on line and printed). Music Radar just uploaded their NAMM report. All in all, Natal created quite a stir at the show.

One of the busiest stands in the drums & percussion section was that of my old friends Big Bang Distribution. Apart from the Ahead sticks (which I have been playing for some time, and love), the new Ahead Armor cymbal bag range (very exciting), their low-cost (and yet great sounding) Kasza cymbal line, they have a huge variety of great accessories for drummers.  But the most exciting new product was a collapsable cajon!  This full-size cajon, made in Barcelona, Spain, fits into a flat bag that is easily carryable, and yet sounds as good as any of the best cajons on the market!  Watch their web site for updates.

Brady drums were present with their usual selection of high-end, no compromise drums.  I managed to spend a few minutes chatting with Kelly Brady.

I was also able to visit with Axis Percussion's founder and innovator: Darell Johnson. He and I go back a way, and he was in his usual high spirits when I arrived at the stand.  I love his endless enthusiasm and keen mind.  He is truly one of the great engineering innovators of new drum ideas. Check out what they have to offer:  again, drum engineering without compromise or equal. I am still using a set of Axis pedals (double kick and hihat) from the early 1990's!

On Saturday afternoon I managed to meet with my old friend John Steven, who is with Behringer. He was very interested in what I thought of their latest foray into the drumming world: their electronic drum kit: the XD70 (and their entry level XD60LE).  I played the kit for a while, and found the response to be extremely "realistic."  They have separate drum & cymbal pads, each with their own unique feel. The controller is very logically laid out and sounds are easy to access.  The best part is it all packs away into an extremely compact space, making it easy to store, or (for my needs) transport to a gig.

Behringer are also about to announce a new range of high-end consoles, which include the ability to interface & record live shows direct from the console itself.  I'm very excited to see these when they become available.

I'll post more reviews as my brain gets to digest the enormous amount of data from the show.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Are you Serious?

The first band I joined (in 1973) was a Rock 4-piece by the name of Renegade Jones.  I was the "baby" of the band, being a mere 18 years old.  The rest of the guys were around 25, which (for me at the time) was OLD!  It's all relative, of course!

Adrian Pearce was the lead singer, guitarist, Neil Beshuri on lead guitar & vocals,  and Paul Dunne on bass/vocals. We had a manager: Laurie Jay (ex-drummer of 60's group, The Echos and replaced in that group by a certain Ringo Starr!).  He really fit well into that stereotypical manager image: larger-than-life, effusive, cigar-smoking impresario-type.  A loveable rogue.  But he was also a networker.

One of the first "gigs" he got for us was a residency at Hatchett's, a West-End night club owned by a friend of his (of course).  We played there 6 nights a week for several months - from 9pm until 2am. I can tell you it was an eye-opener for me!

Just an interesting side note: about a block away from Hatchett's was the only place you could get a bite to eat late at night.  It was an American-Style diner - and there was a 1950's cadillac sticking out of the front of the building!  The name of this place?  The Hard Rock Cafe.  Yes,  this was the original Hard Rock. The one that started it all. It was ideally located to serve hungry people on their way from all the theatres & clubs in the West End of London.  What a piece of genius: judge the market and exploit it!

SO, there I was, barely 18 and playing a night club with a rock band.  I must say, I was pretty happy with things.  of course the pay was derisory, but that didn't worry me in the slightest. I was a professional musician!

I must admit, though, the novelty soon wore off (for us all). Hatchett's was one of the many "pick-up" joints in London.  The crowd were not exactly interested in us.  Playing for hours on end to a motley group of people, drinking, talking and ignoring us wasn't what we had in mind when we turned Pro.  We were wallpaper, background, decoration. After a few weeks we got a little lackadaisical about our playing: jaded, tired, slapdash (no more so than the Beatles did at the Star Club in Hamburg, by the way.  If you've heard any of the recordings of their time there, they weren't exactly being serious about their craft, either).

One night, Laurie paid us a visit (for the first time since he'd installed us there).  He sat at the bar & watched a set.  When we got back to the minute dressing room for a break, he burst in, face purple with anger: "Are you serious?" he said.  We laughed, embarrassed and unsure.  We didn't really know how to interpret what he was saying.  He repeated: "Are you SERIOUS?"   "About what?" said one of us.  "About this crappy place?"  Laurie's face turned an even darker shade of purple: "No, you idiots, about being professional musicians! You look like a bunch of jokers out there.  You're not entertaining anyone."  "But they're not interested in us." we said.   Well I thought Laurie was going to burst a blood vessel! "No, you fools! Of course they aren't!  But if YOU are serious about being entertainers, then that's what you must do:  ENTERTAIN!  It's up to them if they listen or not, but at least you could give them something to LISTEN TO!"

At that moment, I got it!  I think we all did.  The next set was a considerable step UP on what we had been doing before.  I watched Laurie at the bar - he gave us the thumbs-up, as if to say "That's what I meant!" We played as if we were at Wembley Arena, performing to packed house of dedicated fans, all there to see us, and only us!

Later that year, we got a tour of American bases in Germany.  In fact we spent Christmas & New Year of 1973/74 in West Germany, playing 6 nights a week, 5 hours a night to American soldiers.  Apart from the van breaking down on the way to the first gig - on the German autobahn in a freezing blizzard (and having to airfreight parts out to fix it), and the roach-infested hotels we were put in, we had an amazing time.  First, the GI's listened.  They "dug" us, they befriended us, and they wined & dined us. We learned a huge number of extra songs they requested, specifically because they'd buy us drinks & burgers to say "thanks" when we did.  They would accompany us to the PX store, where we could buy heavily discounted goods (US military subsidised). Wed been seriously ripped off by the agency that booked us, and our pay wasn't exactly enough to get by on,  so this was really welcome. In fact we would not have made it through those months if it hadn't been for the soldiers' generosity.  And every show we played was fully-committed entertainment.

So... "Are you serious?"  -That stuck with me forever.

Laurie went on to manage a number of artists, including Billy Ocean & Shirley Bassey.
Renegade Jones ended up splitting due to "Musical Differences" (actually more like not being able to make ends meet). We were driven (literally) off the road by mounting gas prices eroding our weekly wage until it was no longer viable for us to tour. But it was an amazing grounding for what was to come - for me anyway.