1. What is your typical schedule on the road (or in the studio) like?
Hmmm, schedule on the road?? Bus/Plane, Hotel, Bus, Soundcheck, Gig, Bus, Hotel. Kind of sleep, Repeat. I love it!
2. What are some of the things you love about your job?
When an artist or producer you work for gets excited about how you interpret their music. Also, being able to travel the world and play music. It's the best.
3. What are some of the drawbacks?
Trying to figure out a way to get all these drums that I buy into the house without the wife knowing. And rehearsals. I'd rather let it be spontaneous and see what happens on stage. As long as everyone is listening, it can easily work WITHOUT, a rehearsal.
4. What made you want to play drums, and how did you get started?
I've always loved and been drawn to music. I was lucky enough to have grown up in a house were it was frequently played. My grandmother, who lived with us, had a great record collection. Elvis, Louis Armstrong, Little Richard, Tom Jones, Fats Domino, Engelbert Humperdinck, Peggy Lee. My Dad liked Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis. And my Mom had, "Meet The Beatles". There were some great rhythms on those records and it was fun to bang/tap along to them. Drums also seemed to be the easiest instrument to play and most convenient to make/find. Anything I could get a tone/sound out of, was fair game; oatmeal boxes, cookie tins, pots & pans. I also had a cousin who played drums. He's about 13 years older than me. Anytime there was a family party at my Aunt's house, at some point he'd play and the family would be in a semi-circle around him watching. He would put Chicago & Earth, Wind & Fire records on and play to them. I thought watching him play with all that stuff to hit was exciting. Also the sound coming off of the drums was powerful. It went through your body. So, witnessing that kind of ignited the spark too. Actually, the kit he played back then, I bought from him a few years ago. Much to his disappointment today. Blue Oyster Pearl Ludwig's Aug. 1966 20,12,14 with an Acrolite snare! They sound great! I paid him $175 for the whole kit. He doesn't like me to remind him of that.
5. Whom did you study with and how did that affect you?
I grew up in Boston so I was fortunate enough to be around and have taken lessons with some great teachers. Two that stand out the most are Alan Dawson and Bob Gullotti. Alan's approach to the drum set was VERY musical. Alan didn't teach you "beats" or "fills". He had exercises that were geared towards giving you the facility to be musical on the drums. He was my very first drum teacher and I had NO IDEA what I was in for. He kicked my butt. To this day I still practice his "Ritual" and the 604 ways he interpreted the "Syncopation" book. One time after a lesson in which I didn't have everything ready because I thought there were a few things that he probably just wouldn't get to, he said to me, "You know, it's always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared." I remind myself of this, all the time! He was a great player as well. There's an amazing clip on youtube of him playing with Dave Brubeck in 1970 I believe. He's playing this great Latin feel. Maraca in one hand and a stick in the other. I wish he was still here today. I miss him a lot. Bob Gullotti was another great teacher who was more concerned with helping you bring out your individuality on the drum kit. Much like Alan, Bob's teaching approach was geared towards thinking musically and playing melodically on the drums. I came to Bob unaware that I really needed someone to encourage me about the path I was taking on the kit. Not only did he encourage it, he nourished it too. He also taught me how to stay focused in the practice room and make the most out practicing if you only have a little bit of time to do it. As with Alan's stuff, I stll practice Bob's stuff today.
6. What was your most difficult -or challenging- gig, and how did you handle that?
Well, I think each time you walk into the studio it's a challenge. You really can't afford to have a "bad" or "off" day. If you do, it's there on tape to remind you for the rest of your life. If I receive music ahead of time, I make sure I really know the songs. If there's no music, and just a vague direction of where they want the music to go, I make sure I've brought enough gear so I can accommodate all the sounds either the producer or artist hear in their head.
7. How did you get the gig with Robert Plant?
Robert had asked Buddy Miller about potential drummers for an upcoming project that he wanted to put together. Buddy suggested me and Robert came out to a gig that I was doing at the time. After the gig he handed me 2 CD's of songs that he wanted to record and asked me if I was available for the upcoming dates.
8. Are there certain shows that stick out in your mind above others?
Yes, I did a show with John Cale in Monaco at a museum/theatre that was having an Andy Warhol exhibit. It was just a great day of hanging on the beach with the other band members and crew, we then had an amazing dinner, and as a last minute set change, John added his rendition of "Heartbreak Hotel" to the show. We had never played it before. John was very loose about everything and always up for a musical adventure. He was in excellent form that night and the band really fed off of him. The other time was this past summer with Robert. We did a show in Birmingham England and Mrs Bonham and Deborah, John's Mum and sister came. I don't think I've ever been so nervous on a gig. Usually when there's "someone famous" at a show, once you hit the stage you kind of forget about it and just play, well, that didn't happen this time, I kept thinking every 4 bars, "Oh boy, I wonder where they're sitting, I wonder what they're thinking, maybe they had to go to the ladies room while we re-interpret this Zeppelin song, I hope they know I loved their son/brother." I met them after the show which I'm very thankful for because Mrs. Bonham passed away just a couple of months after that. They were both lovely and Mrs. Bonham told me some great stories about John. I've also become great friends with Deborah and her husband Pete. I went out to England last year to record her album with her and her band. It was one of the most fun experiences I've ever had in the studio.
9. What was the strangest thing that has happened (or that you have seen,) during a tour?
Maybe being woken up by a giggling keyboard player to let me know that the bus caught fire and we had to get out. It was 3am and we were in the middle of the Arizona desert. He was giggling as if he expected it was going to happen. Most of us got off right away. The bass player went back in because he left his ipod in his bunk. I said, "Well, since you're going back in, can you grab mine too?" I love bass players!!
10. What do you do to maintain your versatility as a drummer?
I like to listen to as much music as I can that doesn't have "traditional" drum set being played, I then try to come up with ways to interpret those sounds on the kit. Jug Band, the Lomax Field Recordings, Western & Northern African Folk, Harry Partch, are all great places to start. I also like to check out what other contemporary drummers whom I admire are up to. Guys like Brian Blade, Riki Gooch and Stanton Moore always bring something great to the music they're playing.
11. What’s your current set-up, and what are you digging about it?
I'm currently using a six piece Legacy Classic kit with two floor toms. I also have a 2nd snare (marching) on my left. I love these drums because you get the sound of a vintage drum kit with today's quality standards.Their tone is beautiful. Real warm, full and fuzzy. The sound is extremely consistent too. They sound great in any studio as well as in theaters, concert halls and even outdoor gigs where sometimes your drum sound can disappear. These drums don't disappear on you.
12. How important to you are the drums you play and how do you feel it affects your playing?
It's very important. Whatever sound I hear in my head I can pull out of these Ludwig drums. It gives you the confidence to play with conviction because you know that you're going to like hitting your drums because they sound sooo good. If your drums don't sound good, you don't want to play them. Ludwig's give back what I put into them.
14. Can you describe how you tweak your drums to get your personal sound?
I have my toms wide open but tuned medium low. I like the drums to sound, "tribal" and "weighty". Usually coated Vintage Ambassadors on tops and regular coated Ambassadors on the bottoms. Sometimes calfskin in the studio. The bass drum has no muffling except for a felt strip on the front head and the batter side head is usually a coated Powerstroke 3 or once again, calfskin for the studio. For snares it's either, calfskin, coated Vintage Ambassadors, Vintage Emperors or Emperors on tops with Ambassador snare side for the bottoms.
15. Are there any upcoming projects that you are particularly excited about?
The main one that I'm excited about is the next Robert Plant record. Most of it is done. Robert, Buddy Miller and I hunkered down over at Buddy's house and wrote and recorded the album. Not sure when it's going to be released though. Hopefully early next year. I also worked on Rodney Crowell's latest, "Kin", that's out now. And there are releases coming out by Bobby Bare, Deborah Bonham and a Rodney Crowell & Emmylou Harris duets record that I've worked on.
16. Who are you major drumming influences?
There are lots. I'll do my best to try and keep it at 20 that are always in heavy rotation. I could easily fill up 4 pages worth of names though. Here ya go: Earl Palmer, Papa Jo Jones, Levon Helm, Roger Hawkins, Tony Williams, Art Blakey, Shelly Manne, Elvin Jones, Alan Dawson, Philly Joe Jones, Chick Webb, John Bonham, Freddie Below, Andy Newmark, Freddie Staehle, Al Jackson Jr, Lloyd Nibbs, John Boudreaux, Jim Keltner, Kenny Buttrey, Tommy Ardolino, Gene Chrisman, Carly Barrett, Ray Lucas, Ziggy Modeliste, Howard Grimes, D.J. Fontana...etc., etc. I think I'm over 20, can I keep going?
17. What are your "Baker's Dozen Desert Island" discs (drumming or otherwise)?
Hmm, another hard one. In no particular order: