I got an e-mail the other day from a fellow who wanted to know how he should go about learning to play the drums without letting himself be influenced by anyone else. His primary concern was that he didn't want to take any lessons, but his reason for isolation was so that his playing would be totally unique.
We're influenced by everything we come into contact with. Everything you see goes into the photo album of your mind. Likewise, everything you hear and do goes into an equally deep mental repository. As musicians we all strive for an individual style. But in forming that style we take diverse elements from our experience - be they lessons, music we've heard, performances we've seen, conversations we've had, things we've read, and lots and lots of practice.
One of the primary influences on each of us is that group of people we admire; they may be drummers, they may be writers, philosophers, composers, artists, friends.... They help shape not only our playing but also our professional outlook. This page is a humble tribute to those individuals - mostly musicians - who have helped shape me as a musician. I hope you enjoy this little introduction.
Bill exemplifies to me the musician who is willing to take risks; who isn't afraid to step out of the mainstream and go against the grain, regardless of the cost. He has said, "The most famous thing I ever did was quit Yes." Immediately after the smashingly successful CLOSE TO THE EDGE album, just when Yes had nailed down their progressive superiority - nothing seemed to be out of reach - Bill bails for King Crimson. Crimson was a successful band at the time, but nowhere near Yes' stature in the marketplace. Why did he do this? "For the music." Yes no longer challenged Bill. He felt he had done it all - that the next Yes album would be CTTE, part 2.
But, he did it mostly so he could explore other musical avenues, and one avenue Crimson offered that Yes did not was improvisation. Bill has always been a jazzer, and Crimson's style of music was more closely aligned to that idiom than was Yes'. It explains almost every career move he's made since the 70's. His fusion band Bruford paved the way for the majestic Earthworks. The latter is truly a remarkable phenomenon, one you should not pass up. Bill takes electronic percussion to a musical level previous unattained by any other percussionist. We still have a long way to go to catch up!
I like Bill so much, I named my dog after him! She's a female, 1/2 Airedale, 1/4 German Shepard, 1/4 Black Lab. Lots of people wonder why I would name a beautiful girl dog "Bruford". Well, here's the story: I had a name for a male dog all picked out. Robert Smythe McCallister, or Bob for short (I love giving the vets a three-part pet name!). Well, Bruford turned out to be a girl, so I didn't know where to go on the name thing. A friend at work said, "Why don't you name her after your favorite drummer?"
In March of 2006 we had to put our beloved Bruford to sleep. She was over 12 and she was having great difficulty standing - arthritis had pretty much destroyed her hips - she was going deaf, and she had lost 30 pounds, most likely due to cancer. It was a difficult decision, but it was the right thing to do. We miss her dearly; she taught us many things, chief of which was unconditional love.
When Yes went looking for a drummer after CTTE, they didn't have to go far; mutual friend Alan White was waiting in the wings. While it may seem that my musical taste is narrow because my first two drummers are both from Yes, there is no doubt that the band has had a profound impact on how I approach my music. Both Alan and Bill represent the two poles of my musical expression: experimental jazz on the one side, solid deep-pocket rock on the other. Both drummers can cross over into the other's territory at will, as they have demonstrated over the years. However, each remains a distinctive force in that area he has carved out for himself. As rock drummers go, few can lay it down with as much inventiveness as Alan White.
has remained with Yes since Bill's departure. While he has not travelled
as far afield musically as Bill, he has become involved in clinic work
and continues to hone his composing skills. An accomplished pianist (the
piano was his first instrument), he is increasingly seen as a compositional
contributor to Yes music, not just as a the rhythmic backbone of the band.
Considered one of the true gentlemen of the music business, he has remained
faithful to the spirit and mission of Yes, and along with bassist Chris
Squire has kept the band's flame alive during its many lulls.
Larry is best known as the Father of Christian rock and roll. Which gets him into trouble, as a general rule. While many in the church are busy denouncing rock and roll as the devil's music, folks in the secular arena are busy denigrating Christian rock as insignificant. Those stuck in the middle tend to see musical forms as spiritually neutral, until they are put into their lyrical context. Larry is the first to dare to put Christian lyrics into a rock music idiom. He was simultaneously deified and villified by divergent corners of the music press, on both sides of the spiritual isle.
Regardless of what one thinks of "Christian Rock and Roll", one can't deny Larry's impact on the music world. Through his street ministry and the help and assistance he lent to a whole generation of aspiring Christian musicians, he shaped a ministry that has affected the world - carried on even by those who don't know who he is and what they owe him. Because Larry took the lumps, they can witness with relative ease. Regardless of the wealth of talent that has sprung up since Larry first paved the way, it is still only Larry's music and message that moves me profoundly. When I get to heaven the first three people I will look for are Jesus, my wife, and Larry (then my kids!); I want to thank him for all he's done for me.
[On Sunday, February 24, 2008, after a long illness, Larry passed from this world into his eternal reward with his Lord. His life was full of music, love, and compassion. Through everything he always honored Jesus and served Him. Larry, you will always be an inspiration - may your music continue to point people to Jesus.]
While the next drummer influence may seem out of place, Alex Van Halen proves to me to be quite an intriguing fellow. I'll readily admit that I don't like Van Halen's music much; I don't care for their lyric content and their music - while spirited - seems to me to be run-of-the-mill California rock and roll. My interest in the band is solely due to Alex's playing. He is, in my opinion, the finest rock and roll drummer alive. The authority and power he imbues are what propel Van Halen's music to that "higher" level. Forget the macho hystrionics of the front men: listen to the heartbeat of the rhythm section: no one lays it down like Alex.
things about Alex's playing stand out: his sense of time, his incredibly
deep pocket, his inventiveness within the confines of the rock-radio form,
and his sound. While I'm unfamiliar with 95% of Van Halen's catalog, I
can always pick out their music on the radio by Alex's snare drum. How
does he get that sound? Completely unique, I'm convinced it has something
to do with volume. Alex once commented that Van Halen has the loudest monitor
mix in the business; while the photo at the right sees the band moving
to ear monitors, they have always strived to get a "live sound"
on all their studio recordings. Listen to that snare drum: the walls of
the recording studio must be shaking!
I started life as a filmmaker. Forced to wear glasses early in life by a doctor who thought 20/30 vision was something that needed correcting, I went around framing up my life's events in the prescineum of my glasses' frames. A brief stint in film school couldn't keep me out of television: I needed the job. My love for film has never abated, and Stanley Kubrick has epitomized to me the supreme cinema-artiste-terrible. His sense of perfectionism and his skill with the camera are nothing short of lyrical. Whenever I want to see something inspiring on the screen, I turn to a Kubrick film: there's always something fresh to astound me.
[On March 7, 1999,
Stanley Kubrick passed away; the world lost one of its premiere film talents.
One week before his death, Kubrick screened his final cut of EYES WIDE
SHUT for studio bosses. The film is considered a masterpiece by some; typically
disdained by those who fear Kubrick's talent. Stanley, we hardly knew ye.]
affinity to the music of Zappa sometimes gets me into trouble with the
people I know who really can't stand the man. I'll readily grant that Frank's
done many, many things in his career that offend people; his estate has
recently released a cd called "Have I Offended You?" which contains
examples of his most offensive stuff: he really managed to tick off just
about everybody! But, if you divorce the man's lyrics from the underlying
music you'll find a true modern virtuoso. Zappa did things to popular music
that many people are still trying to figure out. To say he was a genius
is an understatement. While his music can be challenging, it's always worth
picking apart: there are true gems under all that silliness!
you heard Beethoven's 9th Symphony lately? Put it on and listen to it straight
through. All by yourself, preferably at a good volume in a darkened room.
Pretty amazing, huh? Now, listen to it again and consider this: the man
couldn't hear a sound when he wrote it - stone deaf. All that music in
his brain, written down and never heard by his ears. The story goes that
when he conducted it for the first time he thought the public would hate
it. When the piece was over, he stood with his back to the audience (as
conductors do), with his head down, thinking he was a failure. The first
violinist got up and turned him around so he could see the standing ovation
he couldn't hear. We need to continue to strive for greatness, while at
the same time not pre-judging ourselves as failures (or successes, for
that matter). Let history judge us: we must continue with our work, undaunted
by life's obstacles. If Beethoven could write music when he was deaf, what
can't we do?