prasa > Modern Drummer, styczeń 1984
Modern Drummer, January 1984
L.A. Studio Drummers Roundtable
By Robyn Flans
Times have certainly changed. Circa 1964, the exposure of the Beatles
altered the lives of most would-be musicians of that era. For those who
fancied playing instruments, the dream seemed to come together in the
image of four lads playing in a self-contained unit. For drummers
everywhere, Ringo Starr became the one to emulate and his situation
became the one to covet. In previous decades, drummers like Gene Krupa,
Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson had provided that kind of inspiration, and
now Ringo Starr became the idol of the '60s generation. It was
staggering at the time to find out that another drummer played the first
Beatles' recording session. Who was this Andy White person who played
drums on "Love Me Do"? A "studio drummer"? What was that?
For a long time, a shroud of mystery covered the fact that our favorite
groups on vinyl were not always the same individuals we saw in concert.
Certainly the records never revealed anything to the contrary. But as
the facts began to unravel, a new hero emerged: the studio drummer. In
recent years, the desire to play in a group has been, in many cases,
replaced by the goal of session work. And yet, interestingly enough,
many of the top recording players never set out to be session players,
and even now, are interested in returning to the basics of ensemble
effort. (Cases in point, Jeff Porcaro with Toto, Rick Marotta with
Ronin, Yogi Horton with Chew and Larrie Londin with his new Nashville
group.) Is it simply a case of "the grass is always greener", or do
they know something we don't know?
In an attempt to answer that question and others relating to the
studios, MD asked a number of L.A. studio drummers to get together and
talk about what they do. Because of tight schedules, two separate
meetings were held. The first was with Hal Blaine, Shelly Manne, Jim
Keltner, Craig Krampf and Vinne Colaiuta. At the second meeting, Jim,
Craig and Vinnie were joined by Jeff Porcaro and Rick Marotta. It was
obvious throughout these discussions that everyone enjoyed the contact
with their fellow musicians, and the opportunity to bounce ideas off
their peers. Anybody who still believes the myth that all studio
players dislike each other and stab one another in the back to get gigs
need only read the following discussion to see the warmth, affection
and respect which each of these musicians holds for the others.
* * * * * *
[Part one, with Jim Keltner, Hal Blaine, Shelly Manne, Craig Krampf, and
RF: A lot of drummers are asking how to get into the studio.
Hal: You get into the studios through a series of evolvements--one band
to another--which might lead eventually to a band that records, or
demos, or whatever, and you start getting studio experience. Once you
get a taste of that, a lot of values change and you say, "Who needs
this? I'd like to work in the studios."
Shelly: I came into the studio in a strange way. When I came out here,
jazz musicians weren't being hired to do studio work. I was
pigeonholed--"He played with Stan Kenton and Woody Herman; he's going
to play too loud. He's a jazz musician, he can't read and we'd better
not use him." But then a drummer was needed to do a picture called Rear
Window with Jimmy Stewart. I was hired for a jazz-oriented segment.
Craig: What time was this?
Craig: I meant what year? [laughter]
Shelly: It was 1952. I went in, read the part well and made a hero out
of the contractor. From then on, he knew I could cover other areas
because it wasn't just jazz on the date, so he started hiring me all the
When the time comes for you to get your break--you have to be in the
right place at the right time and a lot of luck is involved--you have to
be able to do the job. If you can produce what's needed when that
moment comes, your future is pretty secure after that.
Vinnie: It's still pretty new to me, but the same thing happened. I
was playing in clubs and stuff, but it was, "Can we use him on a rhythm
track?" Finally some bass player will stick his neck out on a chopping
block for you and hire you. But I'm finding out that it's still kind of
a struggle. I wonder sometimes if some of these cats can really hear.
You make a hero out of the contractor, but I don't think some of them
RF: How important is reading?
Shelly: I think it's very important in studio work to be able to read.
Craig: There are various types of studio work too. There are different
crews that run together--the film crew, the commercial crew, and
basically where the majority of my work is, rock 'n' roll albums. At 18
and 19, I could sight ready anything. In the last ten years, I think
I've seen five legitimate, what we would call "real" drum charts. In
rock they deal with chord charts a lot. I got a call for a movie about
two years ago and they passed out music. I was scared to death, but
that's my fault for letting that slip a little bit.
Shelly: But it's not only just reading; it's being able to see it and
hear it at the same time.
RF: Is the emphasis on feel or reading in the studio?
Jim: It's on both of them
Shelly: Feel isn't that important in the studio. If you're playing
drums, you're supposed to have some kind of feeling, but half the time
when I go to a studio call, it's with click tracks. So the time thing
is already set up for you. Now within that time thing, yes, it's up to
you to get a good feel. If you do a movie with Jerry Goldsmith, there's
no feel involved whatsoever; you're following a conductor. But if you
go in having to play a bossa nova or rock, the way I play it, you have
to try to get some kind of a feel, but your ears give you the feel.
RF: Basically, are drummers like you guys called upon in the studio to
contribute your own sound?
Jim: I say yes and no on that. Like Shelly said, when you do certain
movie dates and things like that, you're not called for your style.
You're called because the contractor knows you can handle it.
Shelly: You used to be called for your style more. I should clarify
that, though. In a rock-oriented studio call, I would say you'd be
called for your style.
Jim: In the rock thing, that's generally true.
Shelly: But all studio dates are not rock oriented. In the case Jim is
talking about, style doesn't enter into it. Whether you can read it and
make the parts is what's important. When I started out in the studios,
you were taken more for your style. They knew that you could give
something creatively to what the music was supposed to be. They would
hire you because they knew you would be creative and could add a sound.
Jim: Like when you did Man With A Golden Arm.
Shelly: Exactly. Even more so, another one was A Walk On The Wild
Side. My drum part on that was blank and so Elmer Bernstein, the
composer, said, "I want some sound here to start it off with. Maybe it
should be metal or something that sounds like metal." So I grabbed a
triangle and held it in my hand. It was no big deal, but I opened it
and closed it, and he said, "That's it." Imagination, in that kind of
studio work, is 75% of the game. You have to use your imagination, not
only in studio work, but in playing music too. In fact it's in
everything. Einstein said that imagination is more important than
Vinnie: It's like drums. You go to a drum clinic and people watch you
play. They come up to you and want to know how you did this and that.
What they don't realize is that what you're doing is because of the
context of the music, your imagination and your creativity, not because
you're physically doing this or that.
Hal: Almost everything we've talked about so far runs the entire gamut.
Some people want you to do nothing but what is written; some people want
you to do everything on your own; and you'll get everything in between.
The musicians who have had the experience, who have been fortunate
enough to have gotten into it slowly and then got busy, busy, busy,
where they have finally done everything, are the musicians the
contractors call because they know they don't have to wait. They know
you're reliable, you're going to be on time, you're going to be sober,
and you are prepared for anything.
RF: Have you ever gone into the studio and had someone say, "I want you
to sound like the guy who did the drums on..."?
Shelly: I did a date with Jimmy Bowen, "Fever". I had never worked
with Jim, but I had made the original record of "Fever", and it said on
my part, "play like Shelly Manne". So I played it just like I played it
originally. The guy came out and said I wasn't doing it right. When I
told him I was Shelly Manne, he turned around and went back in the
RF: What are some of the difficulties of studio work?
Hal: An engineer who is just starting.
RF: In his recent MD interview, Steve Gadd said you shouldn't get
bugged with the engineers. You should just be happy that you were
Jim: I really liked when he said that because that's the truth. That's
where I hope I've matured. I don't want to fight any more.
Shelly: You have to have that attitude.
Jim: You have to if you're going to do studio work. If you don't want
to do studio work, you can just say, "Forget them all" and not do it.
Shelly: It used to be that the engineers, the microphones and
everything in the studio were there to serve the music and the musician.
It's turned totally around now. The musician, especially the drummer,
is supposed to be servicing the engineer, and that's bullshit. If you
get a certain sound on your instrument, you get your own sound. They're
trying to make you sound like somebody else who they particularly dig
and who is particularly easy to record. You can't be concerned with
that. They lock you in a closet. I heard some records the other day
recorded years ago, and I'm not trying to say "Give me the good old
days", because I like a lot of the music I hear now, but they used
three mic's hanging up on the ceiling and the orchestra sounded great.
In the orchestras nowadays, there are 12 mic's on the drums alone.
Hal: Those kids are trying to make a name for themselves.
Craig: It takes a while for engineers and producers to have confidence
in you. So when you get a call with an engineer or producer who hasn't
worked with you, sometimes they're not aware that your set is going to
be alright and you go through havoc. Then attitude comes in. I've let
engineers try all sorts of things. You keep your patience because you
can come off cocky or egotistical otherwise, but you let them do their
thing when, in your own mind, you know that if they try this mic' on
your kick drum, it will work.
Hal: All you have to say is, "Sure, okay, year, right."
Shelly: How about when you go into a date where the drums sound rotten
and about two hours later, all of a sudden, the sound good. All of a
sudden, the engineer has found it at the end of the date.
Jim: There are great engineers, mediocre engineers, engineers with no
ears and some with great ears. To me, an engineer is a person who has
substance and loves music as well, or should. Ideally an engineer
should be a musician.
Hal: An engineer who comes out of the booth and turns the mic' a 16th
of an inch is becoming a hero because the producer is sitting there.
You talk about misconceptions. These producers don't really know
absolutely everything, so they get an engineer who might have worked on
a hit record. The engineer says, "Don't worry. No matter how bad this
band sounds, I'm going to make you a hit." That's a joke.
Shelly: It's been like that for a long time. On one of my first record
dates, in 1939, the big thing was, "The bass drum is too loud." So I
took the pedal off the bass drum. We made a test pressing and the guy
said, "The bass drum is still too loud." I held up the pedal and said,
"I didn't have one." But why should everybody sound the same anyway?
Another inequity is, I'm not a rock drummer, but a lot of times I
have to play rock things. I'll see the part and say, "I need a week to
psyche this part out, between the bass drum, the left hand and the hi-
hat." Then I find out the composer heard a record on the radio driving
to work one day and the drummer took three weeks to lay down a bass drum
track, a hi-hat track, etc., and this composer wants it all coming out
all at once. Mercy, that's one of the problems with technology. You
never know how anything is done any more.
RF: Has state-of-the-art technology made recording more tedious and
Jim: It comes down to the engineer and the producer again, and what
their ideas are. The records nowadays are made differently.
Craig: Every artist and every record is different, and there is no
right way or wrong way--whatever works for that particular artist or the
producer. There was a great quote form Gary Chester. He said, "As far
as drummers, you're only as great or as good as you make the producer
and artist look great and good." Every situation is different.
Jim: And that comes back to attitude. When I first started getting
into the studios, that was the main thing people would talk about:
"Check Hal out sometime. He's always the guy who's there to the very
last and always up," while some guitar or keyboard player would be
Craig: People who are like that usually do get weeded out. Usually
life catches up to people and I think attitude is a big part of the
Hal: I personally have gotten along by being funny. I know that's how
it is with Shelly too. When there are certain tensions that you can
feel, if you can make people laugh, that will break the tension. I
think a lot of people hire us for that reason.
Craig: I think the drummer has to be in control in most situations. It
does start with us and if that's not happening, the track is not going
Jim: This guy here [indicating Craig] gives more...I have heard a lot
of people talking about you, and also, just by watching you play
sometimes on TV and such, I can tell that you're giving every ounce of
everything you've got. That's what's happening.
Craig: You've got to give 110% or 120%. Otherwise, what are you doing?
Jim: That'll make the record happen. You can't go in and expect that
your drums are going to be featured. If you're going to be there, you
have to cooperate and that's all there is to it. Save your own sounds
for your own thing. That's what I'm doing. Right now, I'm messing with
sounds of my own and I have a bass and snare drum sound I really love.
Instead of complaining about it all the time I'm just going to have to
use it on something of my own. I'll create a project for it.
Craig: I recently did a project where the producer didn't want to get
into any new sounds or experimental sounds. I have a bunch of them
saved and someday it will be right where someone wants more out of me
Vinnie: I want to ask something. Giving 120% because you really
believe in the music, or enjoy what you're doing, or because you're
trying to fulfill what you were hired to do is one thing. But say
you're on a date, you're playing a track and you are personally really
into this for whatever reason. You start a tune and about four bars
later the producer says, "Okay, stop and let's try it again. Okay, go."
Then four bars later, the producer says, "Okay, just bass and drums. No
hi-hat." After about 26 times of that, doesn't it start irking you? It
becomes a real chore.
Jim: Right there is the point we've been making: attitude.
Vinnie: I'm not talking about showing your attitude, but dealing with
it in your mind.
Jim: We all can understand that.
Craig: Whenever that happens to me, I run the statement through my
mind: "Records are forever". And that will usually help me get through
any situation. That's what fascinates me about records; whatever I
play at this given moment, time and space will remain forever and I
can't live with myself if it isn't a good performance. It's hard
sometimes, though, when you have certain producers who say they like a
live situation, but to get it live, they have to run through things for
12 hours, and that take after 12 hours has to be as inspirational as
RF: You mentioned that, in rock drumming, you may be called to perform
your own style. How did you develop your style, and how do you know how
to incorporate it in a session?
Jim: That's like asking how you talk the way you talk.
Hal: It's just a natural evolvement.
Jim: Even physically, the way you're built has something to do with the
way you play. Recently, I was looking at some pictures of Buddy and
he's not a big man, but his arms are big. He has no wrists; the arms
just come down to these big mitts. Shelly has the same kind of hand,
but Shelly is a big man. I'm kind of a big guy but I have these little
tiny wrists and relatively small hands. I know that has got something
to do with the way I play. I'm not sure what, but I know it has
something to do with it. This guy here [indicating Vinnie] really
epitomizes it. You've got real long arms, and the way you play, you
look like your arms are extra long. They're like whips.
Vinnie: I often wonder how drummers get a real big sound playing little
skinny sticks. I can't because my hands are real big and my arms are
Craig: And for younger drummers, I think this is an important point. I
had a friend who "became" John Bonham. He could do anything Bonham did,
but had no style of his own. I think we're each here to work with who
we are. Hal is here to be the best Hal Blaine there ever was, Jim is
supposed to be the best Jim Keltner there ever was, and I'm trying to be
the best Craig Krampf there is. You take from all these influences
throughout music in every form of music, try to absorb it, and how that
winds up being you, I don't know. That's fascinating.
Shelly: It's not a compliment when somebody says, "Man, you play just
like Buddy Rich." It's a compliment technically, probably, but not
RF: Even sitting enters into it. You, Vinnie, happen to sit real low.
And everyone wants to know how high or low you should sit.
Jim: I try to copy every drummer I know. I take everything I see.
Certain people you can't copy. I would never try to copy Vinnie. The
guy is ridiculous. [Vinnie pretends to shoot Jim.] I've always tried
to copy something, whether it be subconscious or conscious. As for how
to sit, I've checked that out a lot. When I was actually working
opposite sets with Shelly Manne, eventually my seat would be where
Shelly's was in order for me to be able to see, but it doesn't always
Vinnie: I was watching Tony Williams play one time. This cat is really
strong and I remember hearing stories that he could barely reach the
pedals as a kid. Now he's a very little guy who sits up so high that
he's almost standing. He's playing flat-footed and I can't understand
it. I try to sit that high and I have no leverage at all.
Jim: What I think he does is change things around on purpose. He's a
master on the instrument, like Miles. Once you can play things so
easily and beautifully, you just have the tendency to want to go onto
some other thing. You have to constantly explore and make yourself do
things physically to make yourself change.
Shelly: Look at time signatures; that's a perfect example. Up to how
many years ago, nobody played 3/4, 5/4, 7/4, 7/8 or whatever. They
played 4/4 or 2/4. All of a sudden, there are new time signatures and
what do you do? You have to struggle through it, and suddenly it will
come to you. You always have to reach further than you think you're
capable of. That's the only way you keep growing and improving.
Hal: Oftentimes you are called upon to do things and you say, "Oh my
God. I could never do that." But somehow you do it and that gives you
a little more confidence for the next time you get into that situation.
Shelly: Well, Vince played with Frank Zappa. I was called on a date to
do an album called Lumpy Gravy with him. Man, all of a sudden, I saw
these parts that Zappa wrote and they were frightening. I just looked
at it awhile and I got by the best way I could. That experience opened
it up for me, so the next time I played it, I was not as fearful of it.
Finally, in my own band, I was having things written in 7/8.
RF: Should a person go into music with the idea of becoming a studio
Shelly: Jim, I know that you started to play drums because you wanted
to play drums and you dug the music. I don't think it came into your
mind that "I'm going to be a studio great." When I decided I wanted to
be a jazz drummer in New York City, I decided that that was what I
wanted to do and people said, "You can only make $3.50 a night." I
said, I don't care, that's what I have to do." You become a musician
for the same reason painters paint, writers write and dancers dance.
It's the same in all the arts. Now, from the accumulation--if you're
good at it and if you have talent, which is a very abstract word
anyway--a word-of-mouth thing happens, from one musician to another. I
don't know Vinnie personally, but I know who he is because I hear other
people talk about him. Hal was the pioneer of rock drumming out here
and on the West Coast, and if Hal wasn't available, he'd have a set
available because they wanted Hal's set. They'd even pay Hal to use his
set for another drummer to play on.
Jim: That's how important the Hal Blaine sound was.
Craig: I played on his set many times myself.
Shelly: Studio playing is a craft and you have to be a good craftsman
to do it.
Hal: We all start off trying to get attention, I think. We're show-
offs. it goes form there to become art and craft.
Shelly: You're trying to find an answer to how drummers get into the
RF: No, I'm trying to find the answer to what they should expect; what
they are going to come in contact with.
Shelly: They shouldn't expect anything; they should just go to the
studio and play.
Hal: When I was a kid, a studio musician was a god because he could
read anything and there was nothing he couldn't play. But in those
days, this was closer to the truth than it is today, because nowadays,
how many people know how to play a polka?
Shelly: That goes back to using your ears, Hal. You can't lock
yourself in a little tunnel, listen to one kind of music and understand
one kind of music. If you're a musician, you should understand all
kinds of music. When I'm home, I don't play jazz records; I don't play
rock: I play classical music most of the time. From classical music,
whether I know it or not, subconsciously I am absorbing form. Your ears
have to be prepared, so if you see the music and hear what is going on,
you should be able to adjust. And that's attitude again.
Jim: What you said a minute ago is really true. All the years I have
known you, you have said the same thing, and I know that in your own
playing life, you are a man of high integrity when it comes to that.
It's a love of playing to you. You would never give up jazz and, in
fact, you used to always tell me I should play jazz more. You have got
to love music and if you do chances are you will love every kind of
music. I used to say to people, "I love every kind of music but
Hawaiian." I don't know why I said that. I guess I had to feel that I
didn't like something, but now I even love Hawaiian music. It is some
of the most beautiful music ever played--beautiful feeling stuff. The
chords are lovely and the voices are exquisite. I love every form of
music and I'm still looking for some form I haven't heard yet--some
Borneo music or something.
Craig: Vinnie is younger than we are, but when the rest of us started,
they never gave studio players credit. I was completely unaware that
such a beast existed, and it's only recently that, all of sudden, young
drummers have awareness of a "studio drummer." I don't think any of us
started out to do that. If it hadn't been for that series on the
history of rock where we could finally find out who played on what, we
might not know. I was dying for years to know that stuff.
Shelly: If you went to every studio musician alive, people who you
would call "studio musicians," none of them started out to be studio
musicians. The violin players and cellists all wanted to be in
Hal: All I know is, the average person who goes into the studio gets a
taste of it and it's like a drug. You love hearing yourself; you love
being a part of creating the music. I still cry on dates.
Jim: I played on a track for a movie once where I was actually crying
while I was playing. I had never had such an experience.
RF: What track was that?
Jim: It was the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid movie. It was where Slim
Pickens was dying. He was lying by the river, his wife was crying and
Bob Dylan was singing "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." We were doing
everything live and the voices were all singing together--"knock, knock,
knockin' on heaven's door." He's dying, I'm playing and I started
Shelly: You're very affected by it. Saying how much you like Hawaiian
music now, you probably see palm trees, and the beach, and all of that.
Jim: Oh, yeah.
Shelly: So all the images come to you. If you had done that song
without the movie, you may not have cried.
Hal: I see things all the time. I really listen to lyrics and the
story really means a lot to me.
* * * * * * *
[Part two, with Jim Keltner, Jeff Porcaro, Rick Marotta, Vinnie
Colaiuta, and Craig Krampf.]
RF: Often, in interviews, you guys talk about the magic moments. Is it
possible to describe those moments?
Jeff: You can't explain the magic moments.
Rick: That's why it's called magic.
Jim: Yeah, because check this out: Many times, for me, I found out
that those magic moments were not magical at all to anyone else but me.
When that happens, you start thinking twice about magic moments.
Rick: It might be more interesting to describe the magic moments we
have hearing other people. I remember hearing stuff he [Jim] played
years ago that I thought no one human could come up with, or listening
to Jeff play on "Rosanna." Each of us likes the other's playing more
than our own.
Jim: That's true. Like a magic moment for me musically was when I saw
Vinnie play for the first time. Everybody had been telling me about
Vinnie Colaiuta--Vinnie who? But when I saw you that night, man, I just
won't forget it. It was one of those moments, like when I saw Elvin the
first time, or Tony the first time. The feelings were pretty much the
same. It was tremendous.
Rick: Like Jim said earlier, sometimes you think it's a magic moment,
but when you try to explain it, no one will have even heard the record,
or you walk off saying, "That was unbelievable; I really felt lifted for
a minute." People look at you like, "What the hell are you talking
about? You played backbeats." That's something that's so nebulous and
Craig: I have felt a couple, so I'm thinking, is there something...
Rick: ...wrong with you? [laughter]
Craig: Yeah. I saw fireworks.
Vinnie: But you can't really put your finger on them, can you?
Craig: I can.
RF: Can you be specific?
Craig: A couple of one takers when the whole band comes together.
Jeff: Oh yeah.
Craig: There are a couple of nights that stand out. There was one
night with Kim [Carnes] on Mistaken Identity, a track we had a heavy
black version of. It was fast, the tempo was incredible and we had half
the album done. It was the night before the Christmas break and Kim
came in at 1:00 in the morning and said, "This is not for me; this is
for somebody else." The guys were starting to celebrate and we were
going to meet again in two weeks. The keyboard player, after our
partying for a while, walked to the keyboards, played the song at about
a quarter of the tempo, and pretty soon, one by one, everybody joined
in. Val gave Kim a mic'--she was standing right next to the drums with
a hand mic'; screw leakage and all that stuff--we played the song one
time at 4:00 in the morning and that was chills. You were talking about
crying on the Dylan track--that was unbelievable. That was a magic
Vinnie: Everybody had that collective vibe, right? As opposed to
burning out by doing it 20 times.
Craig: One takers are the ones that stand out.
RF: Does a mechanical device like a click track interfere with that
Rick: It depends on who can play with a click and who can't. A lot of
musicians can't play with a click track; it's not only drummers.
There's more to it than the drummer. It's a weird thing. When you put
headphones on, an acoustic guitar is as strong an influence to the music
as the loudest, strongest thing you can play on the drums. If you play
to a click track really well and the bass player or guitar player can't
play anything to the click, it's terrible.
Vinnie: If you get a guitar player who's real on top of it, and you're
trying to lay back, it inhibits you when you try to go for something.
Rick: You can't slow him down. He's as loud as you are.
RF: How imperative is it to have that skill in the studios today?
Jim: You have to do it.
Rick: I don't think you have to use it, but they've learned over the
years that rather than everybody being influenced by the one player who
might rush or drag, if you put the click down, it's going to start
somewhere and finish in the same place. You don't have to worry about
losing an entire song because it's twice as fast at the end from the
from the way it started out. What happens in between is how the band
agrees on the time. So I think if you have people whose time doesn't
rush or slow down, you don't need a click.
Jim: With the click being like that, where someone rushes a little bit
and somebody else drags a little bit, when you put it together later on
and you don't hear the click anymore, all that can sound real nice and
Jeff: One think in today's music, though, is that there is a lot of
music where people are using time-based stuff to write songs and that's
how they're cutting them--with synths and sequencers and whatnot.
Sometimes you have to get into that. And that gets harder because it's
not a matter of cutting a track to a click. After they take the click
out, it feels good. If some of those instruments are going to be
digital, real-time instruments, there are electronic hassles with them.
If you use a Linn drum as your click, you're playing a figure that's in
real time. If they add any more synths to what you heard audibly in
your 'phones, there's a milli-second delay, and they have to use all
sorts of stuff to chase that click and make things lock in.
Jim: The Linn is not compatible with digital click.
Jeff: Sometimes you go to dates, and the producers or the artists have
the tempo that they want the tune to be cut at, and they have a little
click machine. They take the time to set the tempo and they listen to
four bars, or a demo, and say, "Yeah, that's the tempo." It is not the
tempo and you know as a drummer, feel-wise or groove-wise, what the
tempo should be. You are playing along and you know the chorus has got
to be way up here, you know the bridge has got to breathe more, you know
that the fills sound stiff, and it's wrong. That's a fine line.
RF: Do you say something at that point?
Jeff: You try to. But even if you ask anybody who writes songs, there
are some songs, I don't care what tempo you pick, that just don't make
it with real time all the way through. I remember Seals and Crofts--
before any of these things like the Linn came out--used to record with
the Roland Maestro. They used to edit, take tape and record pieces of
the Maestro at four different tempos. They would make all the verse
sections one tempo, and all the choruses were at a tempo slightly above.
You knew that when the chorus came, you could go up a little bit,
because they knew vocally and lyrically you could, and then you'd come
back down and you'd have the old tempo there. Sometimes that was
Craig: I think what Rick said--that it's not just drummers--is
important. For the longest time, we were the only ones who were
responsible for time. Now it's the whole group.
Jeff: But one of the bad pressures, man, is the fact that some artists
and producers have a whole rhythm section there. They're all good
players, but getting five people with clicks and the right balance is
hard, and a couple of them maybe aren't making it with the click.
They're demanding that they get a good drum track that's right on with
the click, so you're trying to concentrate on playing with the click,
but you want to move with the piano player and you're going, "No, I
can't." It's so hard and you start flipping out. And you know they're
in the booth just listening to you and the click, but they want
everybody else to play so you get the feel. [laughs]
Rick: It's stuff like that that makes you crazy. People say, "This guy
has got an attitude; this guy is crazy." Shit, you listen to some jerk
tell you, "We have to fire the drummer--the time is bad." Meanwhile, in
the 'phones, you're listening to this folk-guitar player who's playing
with no time. It sounds like two giant speakers going "WHONG, WHONG",
and they expect you to hold the band back.
Vinnie: On top of that, you might be running down the tune a couple of
times without a click and it's grooving. Then they turn the click on
and it's a whole other scene.
Jeff: And that psyches you out. Then you work for an artist who says,
"Why are you known for keeping such good time? You should be listening
to my lyrics, rushing when I'm rushing and slowing down when I'm slowing
Rick: There are no answers to some of these questions. If you're going
to do this kind of stuff, every day you've got to get up and be prepared
to use your resources. "Today I'm working for so and so," and you've
got to go check your file on that person. "I've got to go in with this
snare drum, and with this thing happening here, and this thing happening
there." It's more than what you think about a click track.
RF: You were talking about the computers before. How essential is it
to be on top of that in the studios today?
Jeff: It's everybody's personal preference.
RF: Is it really personal preference? Or is it expected of you today?
Craig: I think it's getting to be now.
Rick: Not if you're a drummer. They expect a computer specialist to
work on the computers. I know synthesizer players who go in and play,
and there are programmers sitting right next to them. One person is
hired to put his hands on the keys and someone else is hired to get the
sound. They do the same thing with us. If they want to hire any of us
to go in and program a Linn machine, that's fine, but why hire someone
who is known as this kind of a craftsman, who is a physical person, to
come in and do the brain work?
Jeff: But, by the same token, all of us might have an extra metal snare
drum, and a wood snare drum; you have the tools of your trade that
you're called upon to use. Sometimes it's nice to know a Linn machine
real well--to know how to set it up yourself, to know to write down on a
piece of paper what the tempo is that you're at and whatnot. Sometimes,
some of these people don't know how to record it on tape properly. It's
great for a drummer to know the Simmons. And it's good to help somebody
and say, "How about if we do half and half?" It's nice to have the
option. They may say, "We want all Simmons here," and I may say, "I
hate playing an all-Simmons kit. How about if we use a real bass drum,
a real snare drum and some Simmons toms?" It's good just to have those
Craig: I still feel that we can program drum machines better than
keyboard players. I think we can put on more legitimate parts.
Jim: Sometimes, Craig, I have found the opposite, like on one
particular track I recently played on, where I just played the snare
drum. I played two different snare drum sounds on top of the Linn snare
drum, which made it a total of three snare drum sounds on this track.
The rest of it was Linn. When I first started doing it, I was thinking
that I wasn't crazy about the idea. At one point, I tried to tell them,
but I'm not one of those people who says, "It sucks man, change it!" I
hem and haw, so I tried to make it a positive statement, "Maybe I could
do a little something else..." "No, that's okay, leave it like that.
That's good." So I said "Okay," and kept listening and thinking, "This
is stupid. It's not what a real drummer would play." You know who
programmed the machine before I got there? The second engineer! So
later on in the evening, after I had done my stuff, a synth went on and
some other things, and I said, "Listen to that thing man! It's a great
track." [laughter] I loved the way the drums were moving. They were
moving dumb as a post, man. It was something I wouldn't have done, but
it really worked good. Stuff like that happens and I start wondering if
maybe I'm too much of a drummer for the Linn machine sometimes. For a
long time, I maintained that you couldn't do a shuffle on the Linn
machine--the kind of shuffle I like to do--but I just did one the other
day that was very convincing.
Rick: How's the new Simmons sequencer? Does anyone know?
Vinnie: I messed with it at this guy's house. It's just like a regular
sequencer and it's got a four-bar thing with little dots. Some producer
said it wasn't a real reliable unit, but I've never used it.
Jeff: The Simmons themselves aren't reliable units. The best thing
about the Simmons is the touch-sensitive pad. Steve [Porcaro] took the
pad and hooked it up to a Prophet. It was the Simmons sound but 80
times better than you can get out of the Simmons.
Craig: A couple of times, in the early days, I wish I would have had
computer drums. If somebody wants to do a sequence track now with
synthesizers--if you're working for a producer who you know is going to
want everything Nazi-like and 100% perfect--I'll be the first guy to
recommend cutting at least part of it with a drum machine.
Rick: I actually like those kinds of mechanical tracks. I remember in
the very beginning when they first came out, I walked in and Steve
Porcaro was sitting there working with the prototype of the Linn
machine. I said, "This is an interesting little thing here," and he
said, "Yeah? Jeff won't even walk into the same room with me when I
have this machine."
Jeff: We all hated those things when they first came out.
Rick: But it's good for what you use it for. When I hear someone make
a part up, put in all the drum fills and do all that stuff on a Linn
machine, it's good for certain mechanical things. When you want any
kind of human touch, all the machines play almost the same. Whenever
they say you can do a whole song and you can link up the songs, they're
really right and it's not bad at all. I'm not critical of it. It
serves the purpose, but there's nothing that is going to replace that
little bit of movement in two open bars of a fill that Craig or Vinnie
is going to play.
Craig: Speaking of the Simmons, this could be bullshit, but I went to
the drum store and the guy said, "Krampf, you haven't bought any tom
heads." I said, "Well, it's been all Simmons," and he said, "Oh, have
you heard about the injuries?" I don't know if this is true, but the
Simmons don't give--it's like a brick wall--and all of a sudden there is
a rash of injuries. I wonder if the problem with my arm is related.
Jeff: Dig this: When I first got the Simmons, we did a track one day.
When you have the 'phones on and the sounds are happening, you can't
tell how hard you're hitting. I had half my regular set and all the
toms were Simmons. We did about four or five takes, and that night,
man, I wondered if I had sprained my hand or something. For the next
four days in a row, I could just tell from where my hands hurt that
using the Simmons was exactly what caused it. It's like hitting cement.
There's nothing giving.
Craig: The doctor I saw said this isn't tennis elbow, but it was the
first case he had ever seen of what he had to call "drummer's elbow." I
will get the results Tuesday, but I just had the electro tests and all
that stuff. The doctor thought the ulna nerve was being pushed by this
elbow and causing the lack of feeling. It was very depressing. Using
the Simmons is the only thing that I can think of that I'm doing
Jim: I've been having a lot of fun with my Simmons. There are so many
ways to use them. But you've got to be careful not to lay into them the
same way you do a drum. You don't really have to, which is one of the
main reasons I like them so much. I don't have to work so hard.
RF: With all of the things they can do to your drum sound in the
studio, does the drum itself really matter that much?
Jim: Well, sometimes I hate tom-toms. At one session, my tom-toms will
sound wonderful, and I'll go to the trouble of putting them in a box.
But at the next gig, forget it! Then I always think, "What's the use?"
Rick: It's not the drum I hate. I hate the rooms. If I could do
sessions in one room for the rest of my life, the room of my choice, it
would be great.
Jim: You know who has it great? Roger Hawkins and those people down in
Muscle Shoals. His drums always sound magnificent. They're always in
that same room.
Rick: Over at Paramount, they put your drums in this room where there's
just enough room for your elbows to move. You hit as hard as you can
but don't hear a not acoustically of your drums.
Jeff: That's always a drag because you do one session where there's a
nice power amp on the headphone system, everything is hi-fi, your toms
sound great and the room sounds great. You get enough bottom out of it,
you're not having trouble with your floor tom, you're not having trouble
with the snare drum or the bass drum, and that night you go somewhere
else and the set sounds like shit.
Jim: I get demoralized. I hardly feel like playing any more. I love
that feeling when I go in, and I can just sit down and play, man. But
if I have to go through this...
Jeff: The rooms I've played in New York all sound good.
Rick: I don't like the sounds in New York.
RF: But don't you get to use your own drums most of the time there?
Jeff: I could if I wanted to, but a lot of the studios in New York have
a couple of sets there, or you can call people like Marotta, Gadd or
Ferrone who have extra sets. You can call their people and rent their
Rick: I wouldn't rent shoelaces from those people in New York. They
sent rental kits to sessions and that's half the reason I left. I
couldn't find anybody to set up my drums in New York. I would hire
someone to set up my drums and that person would pawn them. There's no
real business there. I must have gone through ten people. Maybe it's
getting better now, but you had to rent drums there unless you wanted to
carry them yourself. I used to call this one place for maybe two years
for every session, and they sent drums that had no business being in
anybody's case. They expected you to fix their drums. I would get a
call from them and they would say, "What do you do? How do you make a
snare drum sound good? What should we do to the toms?" The tom heads
would be black. Every drummer in the world had tuned and detuned them
for the last five years, and they put them on the snare drum. I
remember hitting a snare drum and the whole drum ended up in my lap.
Jim: That's what you get for being an animal.
Rick: That's what you get for being in New York.
RF: There is a special set of politics inherent in the music business.
Would you be willing, without mentioning names and jeopardizing your
gigs, to talk about that.
Jim: People used to call me on the phone asking questions like, "How's
everything? What have you been doing?" Then they would proceed to tell
me that they know they could play, but they were so frustrated that they
didn't get calls to go into the studio. It blew me away. They'll be
talking about the politics, and saying that it's who you know. I got to
the point where I would really preach against that, so now it's hard for
me to even talk about politics. I know it exists, but I think for
years, I just denied it.
Jeff: Politics is only involved in a certain clique of studio work
where there are contractors. I can tell you right now, the time I did
sessions, half of the sessions would be for independent artists or
producers, and half the work would be from contractors who asked if I
could make this session or that session on such and such a date. The
contractors make what the highest paid musician makes, and all they do
is call up the musicians and make sure they're there to fill out the
contracts. Some contractors contract every kind of date, from one vein
of music to the next. One time I recommended Vinnie. This guy is the
kind of contractor who calls up all the time, and when you can't make it,
he asks, "Who should I get?" Okay, I said, "Try Vinnie," and the guy
says, "Well, what has he done?" I told him what I know Vinnie had done,
and the guy says, "Well, I've got to hear him first. I can't take a
chance." So what the hell did he ask me for? If you call me up and ask
me, I'm doing you a favor by saying, "Try this cat out." This one
particular contractor blew at least five weeks of work for Vinnie by not
going down to at least give a listen, when he could have seen him in any
number of clubs.
RF: When was that?
Jeff: Here's the big joke. Everybody know how hip Vinnie plays, and it
wasn't that long ago that these idiots were pulling this. That's the
jive that everybody runs into at one time or another.
There are so many different kinds of music that you know a lot more
people could be working. If I wanted to be a contractor and be
successful and well liked, I would really get into the album I was hired
to contract. I would get with the producer and listen to all the tunes
they planned on doing, because producers are, in fact, the ones who say,
"Yeah, I would like to have so-and-so on my album." Nobody's going to
doubt the fact that some artists dig having name players. "Gee, I
always wanted to have so-and-so play on my album. Can I have this
rhythm section; can this guy arrange?" If I were a contractor, I would
listen to the tunes--if I were a real musician who knew music and had a
feeling--and I would say, "See, this is a Chicago blues shuffle, so I'm
going to get this drummer, and these two guitar players should be on
this because they have the finger-picking thing down." I would do that
kind of thing, and still think about continuity for the artist, if it's
the kind of thing where it's supposed to sound like a band.
RF: When the phone starts ringing off the hook, is there really a fear
that you can't say no to a job, or you won't be called again?
Jeff: It depends on how much you are into the gig and doing what you're
doing. I remember when Toto started, my old man said, "There go your
sessions," and people were saying, "Why do you want to start a group?
So-and-so and so-and-so aren't going to be calling you. If you're on
the road for four months straight and then you're doing an album, you
can't make all these sessions. Everytime this certain artist or
producer who used to use you asks the contractor to get you, and you
aren't available, they go to the new kid. They become used to that
person and establish a relationship with that person." That person may
also be the type who takes the contractors out to lunch and buys them
Christmas gifts. Movie and TV people do that all the time; that's a
whole other scene. So people said, "There go all those gigs." The
thing is, there went all the gigs with the jive contractors, but not
those with the friends and people who are just making records. They're
the ones you enjoyed doing anyway--the ones who still call you at home
and say, "What are you doing tomorrow?" There are some people who, for
whatever reasons, choose doing the whole realm of studio work, so they
have to put up with a lot of bullshit. They have to put up with
somebody saying, "Well, you've got to play Saturday; you've got to do me
a favor,' and these players feel obligated to do it or they'll get on
the bad side of the contractor.
RF: The TV and film contracting politics are different?
Jeff: From what I hear.
Rick: I would hear things that used to get me when I was younger. I
guess I've mellowed with age, but now, nothing really bothers me that
much. You hear about some people working and you know it's purely a
political thing. There are a lot of musicians who work and who do their
gig okay, and they're very political. I think a lot of talented players
don't know how to do that. I'm sure all of us get these calls from
people, "How do I break into the business?"
Jim: Right away that tells me something about them. When I was young,
I called Shelly Manne and asked what size his hi-hats were and things,
but I never would have thought of calling him and asking, "How do you
get into the studio?"
Jeff: Some people call and ask, "How many sessions did you do this
week?" What is that?
Jim: What does that have to do with music?
Rick: I don't even think about those kinds of things. I always figured
it's like being a gun slinger, and there's always a new kid who comes
into town and says, "I'm a faster, quicker draw than you; I'm this and
that." When it really comes down to it and you play, some things you're
going to play great on and some things you're not going to play great
on. You have good days and bad days--we're human beings. Politics is
politics. It's hard for me--not having any idea how to handle politics
--to figure out the social situation of recording. Sometimes you work
with people you don't like and you don't even want to know them--you
have nothing in common with them. I'm not talking about producers. I'm
talking about everybody. People don't always like me.
Jim: To even consider politics in whatever line of work you're in,
you're already jumping into a game that you have to be prepared to play.
For me, I don't want to know about it.
RF: But it's real.
Rick: But he's saying that it's not real to him, and I understand what
he's saying. You don't want to have to think that it happens.
Jeff: The thing is to realize that it's there, even though it hasn't
affected a lot of us. Certain contractors say, "You have to work this
date because if you don't you'll never work for me again." That happens
and some people make those choices because they have to out of
Jim: Yeah, it's not that you're being blind, or closing your eyes to
the realities around you.
Jeff: But believe me, without politics you can be happy and work.
Craig: They say that the ultimate of that exists in New York
Rick: From my experience, because of the people I worked with in
commercials in New York, I can't see it there. But it's true
Jeff: It's really in the Los Angeles movie industry.
Jim: I heard it was in Nashville. [Everyone agrees]
Rick: The very first session I did in L.A. was when Spinoza brought me
into town in 1971 to do a Paul Williams album. A guy in the next room
at A&M came out to Spinoza and said, "Hey, how you doing man? What's
your name?" "David Spinoza." "Who's that drummer?" "A friend of mine
from New York." "Yeah? Ya know, we have a lot of great drummers here
in Los Angeles." That's politics. It rears its head in every aspect of
Jim: The best thing is to dance above it and do your best. If people
call you for sessions, fine, and if they don't, let your music come out.
It doesn't matter if it's in the studios. You'll end up in studios if
you play on records. You'd be amazed how many people call me, not just
kids, but adults, asking how to get into the studios. Asking questions
about getting into the studios is not the way to get into studios. That
has nothing to do with it.
Rick: You're working in some sleazy dump, some producer who may be in
the audience hears you and knows he can get you for nothing, and that's
your first session.
Jeff: I don't care who you know. You have to be able to play.
Rick: It's a difficult thing. It was real hard for me moving from New
York to Los Angeles. People said to me, "Call this producer; call this
person," and I never could do it, ever. There are some people who can
do that, but I never could. It took me years to call Spinoza, and I
grew up with the guy. There are two or three people in New York I can
do that with. Those are the only phone calls I make, and they're more
social calls--they're really my friends. I worked with them for ten
years. That would be like Jeff calling David Paich--that's friendship.
Jim: You see? Here in this room, everybody was unanimous when Rick
said he wasn't the kind of person who could call people for work.
Nobody in this room could do that if they had to.
Rick: I do know musicians who call all the time, and that is how they
Jim: There's nothing wrong, necessarily, with somebody having a
different personality than the guys in this room. [laughter] There are
aggressive people in the world and there's nothing wrong with that as
long as they can back it up.
RF: Everyone in this room has gone through super, super busy times when
the phone is ringing off the hook. Again, just as in any job, there's
something called burn out. You keep saying yes because you're never
really sure when the next gig is, but you are doing more than you can
Jeff: It's just like anybody in life doing anything. You know your
limits and that's it, period. It's no different for drummers to burn
out than for you to burn out.
Rick: When you get there, I think you learn from your mistakes. I know
I did it in New York and I stopped doing it. I realized that I can't do
this. I was one of those real lucky guys who everybody was calling to
do their sessions, so I took everything for a while.
Jeff: And it was fun to play.
Rick: Then it gets not to be fun after a while and you stop. What do
you think we're doing here? If we were working all the time, we
wouldn't be able to come over here on a Sunday afternoon.
Jeff: It's not like it was seven or eight years ago either. When the
disco scene was happening, everybody was working. You worked four
sessions a day, grooved and you stayed up.
Craig: For me, the first thing that happens is that the attitude will
start to go. When someone would ask me to do something, where normally
I would say, "Sure, fine, we'll try this," all of a sudden, I wasn't so
agreeable to try things. Then I realized that I would be hurt more that
way than thinning out some things and taking a little of the burden off
Jim: I hardly ever work. There was a period from about '71 to '73
where I did what you're saying, almost every day, at least one session,
and sometimes three a day. I almost killed myself.
Thank God I didn't get the ultimate house with the tennis court and
all that. You can really be misled into doing something like that. In
this business, there's more money being made by the work that we do than
a lot of the highest paying jobs anywhere. There were years where I
made way more money than I thought was really right. I was always
thinking, "What am I doing? I'm just beating on things." [laughter]
Rick: You're a magician.
RF: Your statement, Jim, leads me to the next question. Has any one of
you in this room given any consideration to the fact that you may not be
doing this forever?
Vinnie: I freak out about that all the time. I just wonder what I'm
going to do when I grow up.
Rick: Every once in a while I say to myself, "How long can I do this?"
Every month you get to where you're saying, "I'm reaching a certain age
and maybe people are going to think I'm burnt. What should I do next?
Should I go on to another business?" And then two days later, I say, "I
love to play. I could play in clubs again like when I started and enjoy
Jeff: What we do takes a lot of our health and youth--a lot of energy.
We're all artistic, sensitive-type people and, I think, just like with
anybody else, we've got a certain amount of time where the physical body
can let us do what we're enjoying right now at the limit that we take it
Rick: You said the key--to the limit to where we take it now.
Jeff: Obviously, the thing we do happens to be something we love.
We're lucky and fortunate enough to be doing something artistic. We
all learn things besides drums that are involved in our work.
Hopefully, there are other things you can do that pertain to music.
Vinnie: I go on some dates and see some people my age and younger who
can write tunes and can go on to be conductors or anything. If I don't
start doing something else, like trying to write tunes or something,
what the hell am I going to do? What do you do, take some night
Jim: I consider you as being young and fresh in the business, isn't
Vinnie: That's because I've only been doing it for a couple of years,
but I'm 27 now.
Jim: You started before I did then. I didn't start until I was 29,
basically. To me, a person your age, with your talent, has all this
before you. You know that you ought to do right now? This is my
favorite thing to tell people who are still in their 20's. If you
started right now, with all your spare time, learning to play something
like the keyboards, or guitar, or whatever strikes your fancy, can you
imagine how good you'll be playing that instrument in five years and
what a new awareness you'll have of music?
Rick: It's a hard thing to start over.
Jim: It's not starting over; it's beginning. You have got to want to
do it, obviously.
Vinnie: Mike Baird says we'll never be out of a gig.
Rick: That's a great attitude.
Jeff: We'll never be out of a gig.
Rick: I always feel like every time I work, it's my last gig. I have
been such a loner the whole time I've played. I'm always off alone,
just a drummer, never really connected to any group, so I don't have
that kind of a social thing where I have a lot of friends in the
business coming up to me and saying, "Don't worry about it." Where were
they those six awful months when I moved to Los Angeles?
Craig: I think it's what Jeff said--it's as long as we can perform at
that level. For me, it didn't really get going until I was 33 or 34,
but I consider now that my fast ball is still good, as long as I can
Jim: A lot of the stuff I'm doing nowadays is, to me, stuff that almost
anybody on the scene could handle. So I've been finding out more and
more the last few years that, in order for me to really satisfy a lot of
my musical feels, I have to create my own thing. And that also helps
bring a new quality to each new session.
RF: Is the ultimate goal doing your own thing? For you, Jeff, it was,
Jeff: It's fun regardless of what it is.
Rick: It's fun if it's successful.
Jim: But see, dig this, look what Jeff had going for him. He grew up
with those guys in Toto.
Jeff: It's real funny, because it was fun in high school, and it was
the same group of guys with that chemistry. Everybody has been together
since we were 10, 11, 12 years old, except for [lead singer Bobby]
Kimball. That makes it easy.
Jim: All good things come to you when you're in a band. You get the
best. You get much more than just being a studio drummer. What is
that? But let's face it, being in a band was how we all started, wasn't
Jeff: And it's not whether the band has a record deal or is successful
or whatever. Because of the innocence of childhood, you always remember
the group who played in the garage. How long did you play in a back
garage or an alley, man, seven days a week. Forever, man, five years
straight and that's the kind of stuff you grooved on. You didn't make
any money! Some people get in bands out of necessity instead of out of
Jim: That's the key right there--love.