Ludwig Drums

Greg Herrington

Ludwig Drums
Martina McBride

Ludwig Drums
Martina McBride

Ludwig Drums
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Artist Spotlight


What is your typical schedule on the road (or in the studio) like?

On the road, the day usually starts with Starbucks and Internet. It’s a great time to focus and get caught up with the rest of the world. Some mornings we play Golf and on the days we don’t, I like to get away from the venue and take a long walk, exploring the town. Sound check is in the afternoon, generally about an hour… we work on newer songs, tweak endings and iron out any rough areas from the previous night. Between Sound check and Showtime, I like to write, listen to music and just chill before the show. After the show, it’s a band hang on the bus…good times… In the studio, things are a bit more regimented. On demo sessions the schedule is 10-1, 2-5, 5 songs per session. On record dates there are two schools of thought. On Bigger budget records, the goal is two get two tracks per day or in other cases the producer may want to knock out two tracks per 3-hour block. It all depends on the artist and producer.

What are some of the things you love about your job?

Martina’s band is a very tight knit unit. We have been together for over 16 years. There is a certain chemistry between us that only comes from playing together for that long. Being on the road is a little easier when you are traveling with familiar faces. On stage, I love making each song Groove to its fullest. Martina wants every song to feel great and that is my goal every night. I love it when I know that the whole set is grooving… Another element that some aren’t aware of, is that in most cases, drummers fire (start) each song and need to anticipate when to start each song , to keep the show flowing seamlessly. I take pride in that part of my job.

What are some of the drawbacks?

Really, the only drawback from touring is being away from Family… Nothing compares to being home with your Family.

What made you want to play drums, how did you get started and how did your get your current gig?

From an early age, my focus was on drums. I didn’t have any one in particular that I would consider an influence, I just starting beating pots and pans as a toddler and eventually graduating to cheap drum kits by the time I was 8. I started out playing in church. The Pastors son also played drums, so my opportunities to play were limited, but the bass player liked the way I played and asked me to join his band. I was only 13 at the time. He was the musical director at a regular gig across town called “The Gospel Hayride”. It was every Saturday night. Local artists would come up and sing a song or two and you never knew what the song would be, you just had to fall in and start playing. It was great training for my ears, a very impromptu setting, perfect for developing an ability to play a variety of feels, time signatures and grooves. The very first time I sat in with the house band I was offered the gig on a permanent basis. The House band formed a band called “Sonrise”. It was very conservative, straight down the middle Christian music, but it was a nice departure from the southern gospel music we played on Saturday nights. We recorded a couple of records and played concerts in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas. A few years later, a few of the players decided to form a Contemporary Christian Band. We recruited some other players that had solid reputations and wanted to record original edgy music. We played a lot of shows and created a generous amount of buzz locally. We were offered a record deal with Benson Records in 1984. I was 19 years old and never looked back. The band was called “Refuge” but we later changed our name to “Twenty-Twenty”. We recorded two records in Nashville and I made the move from Louisiana to Nashville in 1987. A year later, I found myself surrounded by players like Chris McHugh (Keith Urban, Sessions), Tommy Sims (Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen, Sessions) and countless other players and recording artists who were new to town and trying to find their way. During my first year, I decided I would rather be a sideman than an artist. Our band’s producer, Billy Smiley, took a liking to me and began to use me on some of the records he was recording. Over the next several years I played on a lot of Christian records and tried to refine my abilities as a studio drummer. I was fortunate to make solid music contacts along the way. It was a great learning experience. From 1988 – 1994 I toured with Geoff Moore and the Distance as well as maintaining a somewhat steady recording career. Towards the end of my stint with Geoff Moore I was looking for better opportunities. I got a call from a friend and he asked me to audition for Susan Ashton. I loved her voice and the pay per show was much better too… I got the gig and during that time I also toured and recorded with Audio Adrenaline. The opening act for Susan Ashton was Wes King. I played percussion and his guitarist Mark Oakley played electric. During that tour Mark Oakley and I hung out a lot, but I had no idea he would eventually introduce me to the Martina Gig. In 1996, Mark Oakley, who was Dan Huff’s protégé, got the Martina McBride gig and called me to audition. I agreed and I have been with Martina ever since.

Whom did you study with and how did that affect you?

I never studied under anyone, but my first influence was in middle school. My band teacher was a jazz guy and was also into funk music. The first song I ever played on stage was at our 7th grade concert. We played Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish”. I’m sure I did the song no justice, but my teacher heard something he liked and would spend extra time with me, often challenging me to learn songs that were outside my comfort zone. I was encouraged to practice daily and play along with different records, learning different grooves and styles. This helped me develop my own style.

What was your most difficult -or challenging- gig, and how did you handle that?

The most challenging gig to date was when I filled in as house drummer on a Nashville TV show called “Prime Time Country”. The musical director Tim Akers (Rascal Flats) is an excellent sight-reader. I am very comfortable with number charts and basic notation, but this gig had charts where every bar was written out, plus it was live and each song varied in length. Some songs were just 30-second riffs, others were entire songs, but we had to play endings on the fly as the show came back on the air. I’m glad I had the experience.

Are there certain shows that stick out in your mind above others?

There are a few shows that stand out to me… The Ryman Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, The Mountain Winery, The Gorge and Radio City Music Hall are all stand outs for me. The sound at Carnegie Hall is the best I have ever heard and The Ryman is more like a church than a venue. When you get on the stage, you know its special. Last year we played on the 80h floor of the Empire State building, which had never been done before. A few years ago we played a symphony date with Martina in Cape May, NJ, set right against the ocean. The whole town looks like a painting; Victorian houses with perfectly manicured lawns. We also played in Ireland a few years ago and visited Giants Causeway. Most of the TV dates we have done… Leno, Letterman, Conan, GMA, Dancing with the Stars, Today Show, Ellen and performing as the house band on the show “Emeril Live”… were performances that really stand out for me as well.

What was the strangest thing that has happened (or that you have seen,) during a tour?

I remember in Buffalo, NY the Infamous Kenny Chesney horse incident… I was there in the parking lot and saw the whole thing. Kenny rides up on a Policeman’s horse and is yanked off by policemen; they thought he stole the horse, when he actually had permission. Kenny and Tim McGraw were in the middle of the action and it is well documented what happened after that. I was standing next to Tim McGraw when the whole thing started… Crazy. One night the drum lift got stuck, during the first three songs all you could see was my head. The crew guys were banging on the lift and finally fixed it. But, when the lift came up Martina was on this slow ballad. It was pretty embarrassing to have an 8 foot drum lift rise through the smoke on a love ballad.

What do you do to maintain your versatility as a drummer?

Initially, I developed some versatility going from the Christian Music Industry to Country Music… Before I joined Martina I really didn’t have a lot of knowledge of Country Music so I really listened closely to some of the players that were cutting most of the records in Nashville. Paul Leim, Eddie Bayers and Lonnie Wilson definitely had a handle on the Nashville sound. They were tasteful and had that unique talent of being heard without being heard. I tried to incorporate that into my playing without losing my own personal style. Over time, Nashville has become a little more pop, which allows me to be freer with my playing and use my rock/funk background on today’s country records. My style is laying the beat back, ghost notes and trying to be tasteful with my fills. That particular style works on most records, you just have to adapt to each song. Cutting my teeth on pop. Jazz, r&b and rock music early on, has given me the freedom to apply whatever is necessary on a particular song or gig.

What’s your current set-up, and what are you digging about it?

I’m using a Classic Maple Kit. Mint Oyster Glass Color and the sizes are (Kick) 18x22, (Rack Tom) 10x13 and (Floor Tom) 16x16). I’m using a 5x14 Black Beauty Snare - {LB416BT}. The snare has lots of body and crack. Its full and cuts through on Martina’s live shows. The Kick is big, fat and punchy and it’s killer live. The toms are tuned low and are really warm with lots of sustain. I’m digging the whole setup, they sound vintage but have some characteristics of a modern kit; A perfect balance.

How important to you are the drums you play and how do you feel it affects your playing?

I have many sound engineers tell me that great drummers make even an ordinary drum kit sound great, and I believe that whole heartedly. But I also believe that if you put a great kit in front of a great drummer it will sound second to none. I want my toms to be warm, with plenty of sustain, I want my kick massive and my snares cracking, especially in a live setting with Martina. When those elements are in place, all that is left is to lock in the groove. My new Ludwig’s give me just what I want in a drumkit and the sound engineers love the way they sound live.

What drew you to Ludwig?

I had a Ludwig kit when I was paying my dues and ive always played Black Beauty snares. Martina’s husband, John, owns Blackbird Studios in Nashville. He has a lot of vintage kits and we took out a mid 60’s Black Oyster Pearl kit a few years ago… It was a hot kit, used on a lot of records in that studio… I had that kit on tour with Martina for two years and I knew I wanted to have a long-term relationship with Ludwig…

Can you describe how you tweak your drums to get your personal sound?

The Kick drum has an equal tuning. Both heads are tuned about 1 turn from loose, with a pillow inside. The rack tom, 13” and floor tom 16” are tuned low too. I just tune with my ear… no scientific strategies… I just make sure the top and bottom lugs are equal … I also press the heads when they are new, to “pop the glue”. I tighten the heads in a opposite lug method and tap the head near the lugs to make sure the tuning is even. My snares, typically (Black Beauty) are tuned med-high, with all the lugs having equal tone… I like to have body and crack and I tune my snares high enough to get some crack without choking them out.

Are there any upcoming projects that you are particularly excited about?

I’m working on a record for an artist (Mark Leach). The producer (Chad Jeffers) plays steel guitar with Carrie Underwood, and I’m tracking with Carrie’s Bass and Electric Guitarist. We did a few tracks a few months ago and there was some good chemistry going down. I’m also in talks with Audio Adrenaline about tracking their reunion record, with the proceeds going to their charity “Hands and Feet”. I am also traveling to Switzerland this fall with Martina to do a few dates.

Who are you major drumming influences?

Steve Jordan, John Bonham, Stewart Copeland and Steve Ferrone are my biggest influences. Jordan, Bonham and Ferrone are drummers whose primary focus is on the groove, playing minimal fills and I love how they lay the beat back a little. Stewart Copeland was a big influence on me as well, because back in the day most drummers had a fat snare sound and Copeland came along with that tight snare and shook things up. Bernard Purdie and the Motown drummers were essential in my drumming education because they were playing on hits and created beats and fills they are still used today.

What are your four favorite albums (drumming or otherwise)?

I am a big fan of Radiohead, not so much for the drumming, but I just love the complexity of the arrangements and the mood of the songs. As far as pure drumming, back in 1983, I cut my teeth on a band called Eyewitness; featuring Steve Jordan (drums), Anthony Jackson (Bass) and Steve Kahn (Guitar). The grooves were so deep, it forced me to dig deep and ultimately helped me define the style of playing I incorporate today. Other albums that were influential were many of the Led Zeppelin records… so much space in the groove and the sounds were bigger than anything I had heard at the time. Steely Dan, Average White Band, Sting’s “Dream of the Blue Turtles w/ Omar Hakim and many of the Peter Gabriel records featuring Manu Katche were also influential. The Wallflowers track “One Headlight” with Matt chamberlain on drums really shook things up and you can still hear that minimal, ghost note heavy groove on many records today.

Ludwig Drums and Percussion