prasa > Modern Drummer, listopad 1990
Modern Drummer, November 1990
L.A. Studio Round Table
by Robyn Flans
Drummers are a wonderfully rare breed. I can't imagine a gathering of
guitar players where each would only want to speak of the others'
accomplishments. But such was true the day Jeff Porcaro, Jim Keltner,
Denny Fongheiser, Vinnie Colaiuta, Harvey Mason, Mike Baird, and Steve
Schaeffer got together at my house to compare notes and swap anecdotes
on studio drumming. Fancy this smattering of dialog:
"I remember twice getting a phone call from Jeff [Porcaro] saying, 'Hey,
come down here, you gotta sub for me on one tune,'" Mike Baird recounts.
"Jeff was on a date at the Record Plant and said, 'I can't play this
groove, I'm going to call Baird.' So he called and I showed up to do
"There are a lot of great musicians in this town, some who are great at
certain things," Jeff begins. "If somebody says, 'We're going to do a
Chicago shuffle, a two-handed thing,' I'm sitting there thinking, 'If
there's an Earl Palmer who can do that way better than I can, what's
wrong with having Earl Palmer in for that one tune?' There are
specialists who would be the best for the song, best for the artist,
best to make the producer shine. I'll say, 'You want the "Imagine"
feel? There's the guy,'" he says, pointing to Jim Keltner.
"I don't think everybody would do something like that," says Keltner,
who is really no different. He would much rather talk about how
everyone in the room has influenced him than toot his own horn.
Continuing the point, Baird recalls, "Jeff called me over to his house
one time, and he went over to the stereo and said, 'You've got to dig
this.' I'm thinking it's some new cat, and I can't wait to hear it.
I'm listening and I look at him and he says, 'Yeah, it's you. Dig that
fill!' Dig me?"
At one time or another I've interviewed each of these seven giants of
the L.A. studio scene, but somehow having them all over at once,
exchanging ideas and arguing viewpoints, was a prospect that both
excited and frightened me. I knew they'd be more apt to share stories
with their peers, but I also knew that it was simply scarier having
seven pairs of eyes on me instead of one. It seemed an awesome task to
prepare for and pull off, and I wish to express my special thanks to Ed
Eblen for his invaluable help before, during, and after the big day. I
couldn't have been more pleased.
In fact, these guys were so excited to get together with one another
that it was almost like having a party with a tape recorder going. They
were just as excited to be spending that Sunday with one another as I
was having all of them over to the house.
RF: During a recent interview with Alex Acuna, he said that no one is
ready for their first session. I'd love for all of you to recall your
first session, what you were met with, and what you found out--what
awarenesses and insights. Mike, why don't we start with you.
MIKE: My actual very first session was in a band situation, so it was a
much easier ordeal. But my first legitimate session was a demo where I
was recommended by David Foster, who at the time was doing the Rocky
Horror show. He was doing a project at Village Recorders, and I
remember carting my own drums in, and on the date was Richie Zito, David
Foster, Lee Sklar, and myself. I was scared shitless. I didn't really
know who these people were, except for David Foster, so on that end it
wasn't that much pressure. But of course all these things happened:
The snares broke on the snare drum, and I had no extra snares and wound
up duct taping it to the bottom of the snare drum. It made me paranoid
out of my mind. I got through the whole day, and at the end I said,
"God, the bass player is pretty good. Who is he?" They go, "You don't
know who Lee Sklar is? Where are you from?" I grew up in Soughgate,
and the names I was associated with at that time were Jeff's--because I
loved the Steely Dan stuff--Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner, and cats from
bands, like Bonham and so forth.
I was really very naive to the whole studio scene and who was happening
and who wasn't. I wasn't ready from the standpoint of being able to
walk in with the confidence of having a track record of having done
things. That takes time. That comes from doing it and doing it. I
don't know if I walk into a session even now thinking to myself, "Oh,
this is going to be cake," because I always like it to be a challenge in
RF: Jim, how about your first session story?
JIM: My very first actual time in the studio was at RCA, and was with
Gary Lewis ["Just My Style"]. I had just come from Sherry's on the
strip, where I was playing real cool jazz with little tiny 3D Gretsch
sticks and a little drumset. They wanted me to play a shuffle, and
thank God at that time I wasn't afraid of shuffles. Later on I became
deathly afraid of shuffles, but at that time I didn't know. Leon
Russell was there, and he told me exactly what to do. He said, "Play
like this...." First of all, I think I remember him saying something
about how the real guys play it--with the left hand and the right hand
together. I tried it and it didn't work. To this day, I still can't do
that. So he was saying, "Just do like this--with the left hand on the
backbeat and the right hand on the hi-hat and kind of open up the hi-hat
a little bit. So I did it and it worked out. I played the beginning
fill down the kit and he said, "Why don't you do it backwards?" so I did
that. I did this little thing on the intro when they played the piano-
bass figure where I opened the hi-hat and closed it quickly in the
middle of a phrase, which was a very unconventional thing for that time.
They were sitting around saying how brilliant it was, so I became this
instantaneous find for them. I was technically adept enough that I
could do anything they wanted me to do. If they wanted me to play
backwards or hang upside down or come from underneath the drum--I could
do all these little things. That was my first session. I wasn't really
scared until later.
RF: You were too stupid to be scared.
JIM: I was too ignorant. Ignorance is bliss. I say "later on,"
because later on I became panicky at every session I went to, I don't
care who it was. It was like that for years. It's only now that I'm an
old man approaching senility that I finally don't have heart murmurs
before I go to a session.
RF: What started making you scared?
JIM: It's that thing of knowing what you're supposed to be doing.
RF: What were you finding out?
JIM: They used to tell me, "Jimmy, you sound like a little mouse
running around on top of a box. Do something with your drums. Listen
to this record, listen to that record." I used small sticks. I started
learning how to loosen up my drum heads and how to play with the butt
of the stick. I tried to watch Hal [Blaine] as much as I could. I had
the good fortune to come in at a time when I actually got to watch Hal
Blaine and Earl Palmer at the drumkit. I maintain that if you love
music a lot, like we all do, when you hear a musician, you obtain that
immediately--their vibe, their feel, their whole musicality. That goes
right into you and becomes a part of you. I'm sure every generation
says this, but I truly do feel sorry for the kids who will never know
what it is like to experience sitting next to the power of Earl Palmer
when he's playing with Little Richard. I get the chills again just
thinking about it. And Hal Blaine playing with the Fifth Dimension or
Simon & Garfunkel at Studio 3--I'll never forget that; that's a part of
me. Also, it's something that I aspire to constantly; I will never be
able to play as great as Hal Blaine on "Wedding Bell Blues," the way he
played that shuffle. Or "Rip It Up," Earl Palmer. But it's something
to aspire to.
RF: Harvey, what about your first session?
HARVEY: I had a funny situation, because I read a down beat article
about studio musicians when I was in high school, and I said, "That's
what I want to be doing." I was playing clubs, and I rented a studio
one summer and went in and played around with my drums, and then I got a
job at this place called Triple A Recording. I called them and told
them that the guy they were using was not happening. [everyone laughs]
It was a really brash thing to do, but at the time I guess I was
desperate. So they told me to come in and work, so I took my own drums.
Those are my first experiences of making records. I'd get $25 for the
day, and I played all the drums and all the percussion. I had quite a
bit of confidence when I came out here in 1970. But I couldn't get
arrested as a drummer. So it's a good thing I played percussion,
because I was stuck playing mallets and percussion. I was working with
Quincy and all these people, and I'd say, "You know, I play drums," and
they'd say, "So what?"
RF: How did they even know to hire you for percussion?
HARVEY: I came here playing drums with George Shearing, but a guy who
came to see the show, who did the Lucille Ball show, wanted to hire me.
He asked if I played percussion, I said yes, and he hired me for the
Lucille Ball show, where I had to play everything. Then somebody saw me
do that and they called me, so I started playing all these percussion
dates. The good thing about it was, I got to sit next to--as Jim said--
Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer, Jim Gordon--everybody--and I learned so much
about how to handle different situations.
RF: What was your actual first drum session like?
HARVEY: I was nervous, but it was a lot easier than it would have been
if I had come in and just had to play drums right off in the studios. I
was aware of the tuning of the drums. I'd listen to how they'd tune
their drums, and I'd just work on my own. I'd never get to play them,
but I had a couple of kits set up and went from one to the other and
tuned them. I had a set like Hal's and a set that had a different kind
of tuning, so I kind of felt like I was prepared.
JEFF: My first session was with Keltner with Jack Dougherty. It was a
rehearsal band, and Hal Blaine was the drummer, and then the contractor
called to see if I wanted to do the rehearsal band on Saturdays. I did
about five of them. I knew they were planning to do a record, and they
stopped calling me for rehearsals, so I figured they were going to use a
studio guy for the album. Then Dougherty called me and asked if I had
ever heard of a drummer named Keltner. At that time, my biggest heroes
were Keltner and Gordon. I said yes, and he said, "He just got off the
road with Joe Cocker, and you and he are going to do the rehearsal band
for a couple of weeks. So we rehearsed a couple of times before the
session. I was 17 and didn't even have my driver's license, so my mom
drove me to the session at A&M. I borrowed my dad's black diamond pearl
Ludwig set, which was just like Keltner's, because I wanted to be just
like him: I wore a vest like Jim Keltner, I tried to get the heaviest
boots I could, because like everyone else has said, you just wanted to
emulate your heroes. Just before I got through the door, I was so
nervous, I threw up right in the corner. That God the tune was this
uptempo samba, because my stick was going so fast. I remember Jim sits
down next to me, and he looks over to me and says, "Man, do you read?"
I go, "No," and he said, "I don't read that good either, you do the
fills and I'll just keep time." I'm going "Right!"
JIM: Tell them what you did, man.
JEFF: What did I do?
JIM: He was ridiculous. He was like Vinnie then.
JEFF: Come awwwwwwnnnnn!
JIM: He played some of the most inside out shit I've ever heard.
JEFF: Like I said, that was just nerves. I had chops I didn't even
know existed that day.
RF: Any eye-opening revelations about recording?
JEFF: No, nothing eye-opening except that I had to get my time
together and my reading together. [everyone laughs]
DENNY: I was up in San Francisco, and it was a demo. I got a call to
play on three songs. They sent me a tape, although it ended up not
being the three songs we played. I had never been in a studio, so I
called my brother, who was my teacher, and I said, "What do I do?" I
got out articles and read everything about these guys in this room--who
were my heroes--and I listened to every record I had of them. It
actually ended up being okay. I remember thinking at the time, "It has
to be single heads," so I took all the bottom heads off my drums.
Everyone said I had to dampen the drums, so I think I got Pinstripes and
taped them up, stuffed the bass drum a lot, and taped my wallet to the
snare drum. But I got there and went, "This ain't happening." So I had
to undo some of it, but I tried to recreate what I had been hearing.
When I came down to L.A. for my first session, it was a different
scene. You know, you practice to a metronome, but it was a whole
different thing playing to a metronome and then making a click feel
good. So my first session down here was with a digital click, and I had
never heard that before. I didn't know anything about headphone mixes,
so I didn't know about saying, "Turn down the singer, turn down the
keyboards so I can hear the click," just something that could make me
comfortable. It was piano, vocals, and me, and it was a ballad. It was
terrible. So I went home and stayed up for days playing to a click
track. I was in tears halfway home going, "That's it, I'm outta here.
Ill never have another chance."
MIKE: That's a funny thing when you mentioned a click. I was talking
to [guitarist] Dean Parks the other day, and he said, "You realize, even
back in the late '70s and early '80s, cats weren't used to working with
a click track, and if you had just thrown them into a situation with a
click track, they would have fallen all over themselves." Everybody was
used to just having good time, but everybody has adapted to the new
style of what's happened.
DENNY: I wasn't even smart enough to ask for a double-time click, and
it was a ballad.
RF: Vinnie, how about your first session?
VINNIE: My first was a band situation, and we did it up in San
Francisco at the Record Plant. We were there for a long time, like a
couple of months--living up there. It's funny that you're talking about
a click, because I don't even think we used a click. But it was weird
because I didn't know anything about how to make my drums sound half
decent or anything. I had this old Gretsch drumset with Pinstripes and
real dead heads. They sounded real dead, and I knew it. I would listen
to the playbacks and say, "These drums sound horrible. How come they
don't sound like anything I've ever heard." It was weird because nobody
said to change the heads or anything like that; we just worked with
them as they were, which was really strange. I haven't heard the record
in a long time, but I know I wasn't happy with the sound and I didn't
know anything about how to make it any different. At least my time was
okay, because I had time to get it together, and I would go back in and
do it over. But I played too much stuff and I wasn't playing like a
sideman would play. When I came to town here, I just started doing
demos, because before machines hit, people were still doing demos. I
remember a Pages record--and you [Mike] were on that record too, and you
JEFF: Don't you remember? I got a phone call on the Pages record. I
couldn't do some dates, and I tried to talk [Jay] Graydon into using
you, but he wouldn't. He had never heard of Vinnie, and I tried to tell
him, "At least you can hear his musicality on "Joe's Garage." You were
doing Karizma at the Baked Potato, and I said, "You've got to go dig him
with Karizma." Finally Graydon called me up and said, "Okay, I'll try
using this guy, but he has to use your drums." Remember? I called you
back and said, "Don't get freaked out, this guy is going to want you to
use my drums because he doesn't know if you know how to tune drums in
the studio. So you can do whatever you want to my drums." And Graydon
told me, "If it's not happening, you have to come the next morning at
9:00 and do the track for free." So I get a call from him at 2:00 in
the morning saying, "Man, it wasn't happening." It was a shuffle in 7.
I got up early in the morning, and I was flipped out. He played me the
track and I was thinking, "Whoa, I have to do this over?" I looked at
Graydon and said, "Where is it rushing?" The song was starting to fade
down, and Graydon pointed to the monitor and said, "Right there." I
said, "Where?" He said, "The foot, the bass drum, it's rushing," and I
MIKE: Then I ran into you [Vinnie] at the Roxy and a big scene went
down because I wound up playing on a couple of tracks, which was when
all this was going down, and you were mad at me. I said, "Hey man, I
just walked into this situation. I had no idea what was going on." I
had had the same conversation with Graydon. He was telling me that you
didn't play consistent, and I listened to the track and said, "It sounds
VINNIE: I wasn't mad at you; I was upset at him. Those tracks were
good. I was with Gino [Vanelli] during the day and doing that at night.
And Gino was even more demanding, so if he could accept tracks from me,
Jay certainly should have; that's what got me. The thing was, the
tracks were good, and he never explained to me what he wanted or what he
wasn't getting. Everybody was loving it. The band went nuts.
JEFF: Before this album went down, you were rehearsing with that band,
and the buzz around town was, "Wait until that album comes out, because
that stuff is progressive and cool. Dig this cat." Vinnie was already
every musician's hero who had heard him. Regardless of how many
sessions he'd done, everybody already knew about him. You had already
seen him on Saturday Night Live with Zappa with a yellow Gretsch set
going, "What is that shit?"
VINNIE: It was painful to go through that, because I wanted to blow.
MIKE: There are just some people you can never please. I'm sure that
everybody has replaced stuff that I've played on, and I bet I've
replaced stuff that you guys have played on. You walk into a room, you
listen to the track, and you go, "What am I supposed to play?" You wind
up playing something that's a ballpark thing and they go, "That's it!"
VINNIE: It's so subjective that you can't rate yourself: This was
better or worse.
RF: Steve, what about your first session?
STEVE: It was in New York, which was a whole different scene from
anything I had experienced here. I was probably around 15 years old on
my first session. I think it was a jingle for Charlie Fox. It was just
very frightening. The concept of recording was also different; they
didn't have multi-track recorders in New York on that kind of session.
I had been working with incredible musicians, but I didn't have any
concept of going to tape or what was involved in playing. I remember
the drumset was dead. Everything I had previously played on was wide
open drums with no muffling. Studio playing was a whole other thing.
VINNIE: I ran into Bob Mann the other day, and he said the first
session he ever played on was with you and Eddie Gomez.
STEVE: I think that had to do with trying out the new studio at A&R
Studios in New York. They wanted to hear what the room sounded like,
so they hired a band. But that was not really a session, working for
somebody, with music in front of you. I've been playing with Bob Mann
since I was 12. Here, I think the first session I did was when I hooked
up with Herb Alpert around 1975. The stories that go along with what
happened with that band are beyond belief. For instance, they were
doing some work in the studio, and to keep the plaster from falling on
my drums, they covered them with a big yellow blanket, almost like the
packing material they use on pianos. Some kid was in the studio, and he
had a piece of that wood doweling, and the kid hit my drums on top of
the blanket, and Herb went, "That's the sound I want." So I had to play
the entire session with that all over my drums. [everyone laughs]
The best story was, later on after that band disbanded, he wanted to
do a record. So we went in to cut this record, Rise, which was his most
successful record. He wanted to audition, so he had different rhythm
sections in. Abe Laboriel and I showed up at the new Studio D. We
walked in with no microphones, just my drumset and his bass, and Herb
brought in a little General Electric plastic cassette recorder and put
it on a stool--in a major studio, with engineers in the booth and no
microphones. He turned on the machine and said, "I want you guys to
play all the new dance grooves that you know and categorize them for me"
--into a cassette machine. He hired us to do the record, and we walked
into the studio and it was freezing. I mean freezing. There was even
condensation on the glass. Alpert liked the way the trumpet sounded in
the cold, but the studio was so cold that Abe ended up going to the
All of us have these stories, and we all still work with the same
people, or at least I do. I just learned to understand going in that
somebody is looking for something, but they don't really know what
they're looking for.
HARVEY: I went in with Quincy Jones one day, and then he had me come
back for the next two weeks playing everything again, individually.
MIKE: During the disco scene, one guy had me do a seven-minute tune
with no click, with everyone playing in the room with me. Then he said,
"Okay, everyone take a break," and then I went back and recorded just
bass drum for seven minutes, then snare drum for seven minutes, then
hi-hat for seven minutes, then each tom for seven minutes.
VINNIE: I just did that a week ago, same thing. I was in there for 12
hours. It was with Tony Childs. I'm not saying it was a bad thing to
do it that way, but you know, if you have that much time, you use that
much time. So we were figuring out different parts to play. I'd play
the hi-hat part, then the bass drum, or maybe we'd keep the machine bass
drum and I'd just play snare drum. It might not be a straight backbeat,
it might be a little twisted backbeat; then I'd put a tom part in
between and if the tempo is just a certain tempo, sometimes it is really
MIKE: That's really changed a lot, compared to those days when people
weren't working with clicks, where you basically had to have decent time
to play seven minutes, and then replace each part with no machines.
STEVE: Or those sessions where they make you play your sticks together
and do a click track. Then you play to that.
HARVEY: Or doing a record for someone who has died, and they want to
keep the vocal but get rid of the original backing tracks. But they
didn't originally have a click track, so you go in and make one.
MIKE: Or they can't play the machine track or any click track because
they need those tracks for your drum track, and the bass player is over
here and the guitar player is in another ballpark, and the vocal is
somewhere else, and the keyboard is spread all in between, and they go,
"Make it work!"
DENNY: Actually, Mike, I met you when you were doing that. I was doing
my first record here, and the producer said, "I'm doing a session
tomorrow night at A&M with Mike Baird; why don't you come down and talk
to him?" So I came down and hung out, and you were great. You were
doing it for some old Jackson 5 stuff.
MIKE: Oh yeah, that's right. They found these old tracks that they had
cut, and the Jackson were out of their contract. But Motown decided
they were going to make some money on these old tracks that were
licensed to them. So they rehashed five old tracks from Jamerson and
Gadson, and the time was all over the place. It was a groove for the
time, but for now... The guy goes, "I want something current," and how
can you play something current with the bass all over the place?
HARVEY: Jeff, I heard down in Florida they were measuring the distance
between your snare drum and your bass drum.
JEFF: It was Gadd, Kunkel, and I think Bob Glaub. They went the week I
went to Florida, to their Middle Ear Studios at Biscaine Bay. They
would have a click going, and they wanted to make two-bar loops, so they
would play the demo of the tune. They would talk about what they wanted
the drum pattern to be in the verse, the chorus, and the bridge, then
they would run tape. They had giant reels of tape like I had never seen
before. You'd hear it click for two bars, and then you'd play the
downbeat bass drum. You'd hear eight beats, hit a downbeat, and stop.
Then Albhy Galuten and Carl Richardson would move the reels of tape by
hand over the tape heads. Looking at the meters they could tell if I
was behind or ahead of the click. Mind you, they could not tell
audibly; they'd have to look at the meters. This took seven minutes,
and they'd say, "You're three milliseconds behind the downbeat; let's do
it again." So I'd wait for the tape to rewind, hear eight clicks, hit
it, there would be seven minutes of measuring, and then I'd hear, "Man,
it's close, you're one millisecond over; you overcompensated one
millisecond." [Everyone groans]
While this was going on, in the back room was some scientist. There
were these saw horses with clamps on them. Attached to it was a big
brass-encased motor, and it had a brass piece coming out with four allen
screws in it. Clamped to the allen screws was a 5A Regal Tip drumstick,
and in front of that was an 8x12 tom-tom on a stand, tilted just
perfectly so that if you hit middle C on the Fairlight, this arm would
hit the drum harder than you could ever hit a drum. But then it would
recoil, and just when they would try to program it to come down again,
they had these series of lights that went from white to yellow to green
to red, and when it got to green, they would have to reach over and
unplug it because the motors were $750 a piece, and they would burn out.
On a Fairlight they had a bass drum on a stand that had two rods coming
from underneath the riser, bolted onto the footboard. One motor brought
the pedal down and the other motor lifted it up so it could come back
for another beat. They had two arms on the hi-hat, an arm on the floor
tom, one on the snare drum, and one on the mounted tom, and the whole
concept was, while Gadd, Kunkel, and I were doing our thing, they had
this scientist trying to get this robot to do what we were doing. But
the project turned out to be too expensive. It just blew our minds,
though, watching these people measure milliseconds. After two hours
you'd have a break and you'd have a headache and be dizzy, then you'd go
back and there'd be this mad scientist trying to take over your gig.
VINNIE: That's the ultimate story.
RF: Other than the story Jeff told MD last year about leaving the
Rickie Lee Jones session, have any of you had reason to walk out of a
DENNY: I came close about a month ago. I've blanked on the name of the
band, but it was described to me as a real techno band. It was dance
music, and they were using a Roland 909 drum machine. Everything was
real small, tight sounds. The producer wanted to put live drums on it,
but the band didn't really want live drums. They wanted a live player,
but they wanted more electronic sounds. We're at Capitol, Studio B,
which gets the biggest drum sound you can get, while everything else on
the tune is real tight and machine-like. The engineer comes in and
says, "I get drum sounds in ten minutes," and four hours later, I'm
still on the snare drum. What happened was the producer lied to the
band and said I was going to bring all my electronics, but he had called
me up and said, "Don't bring any electronics." He said, "The band is
going to disagree with this, but I want the tracks to feel like U2." So
I'm sitting there playing parts like the drummer in U2 would play to
these songs that you shouldn't be playing these parts to, and the band
is going, "No," and the producer is going, "Great." It was horrible.
MIKE: Jeff and I once had a war going on where we'd be doing all these
dates just hours apart, and I'd come in, and there would be stuff drawn
all over my drumheads, really graphic, crude drawings. I cracked up and
then I'd go to his date and draw on his heads. This kit of mine became
this real legendary thing--"You've go to see Baird's kit, look at the
drumheads, look at the floor tom!"
So this guy called me up wanting me to do this Christian date. He
said, "Whatever you do, get there early and change those drumheads,
because this artist is so religious she floats through the room." By
the time I got to the gig, I remember I walked in and said, "Hi
everybody," and I just see these people turn, and there's dead silence.
The artist is staring at my kit, and she looks at me, her eyes get huge,
and she backs away and everybody splits. That was it. I filled out a
form and left. I blew her whole session that day, she was ruined; she
thought I was the devil.
RF: What about situations where you're not communicating with the
producer? Aside from walking, what do you do?
DENNY: Try your hardest to make it work.
MIKE: The bottom line is we're being paid to do a job, and I feel an
obligation once I'm committed to something, unless it's serious verbal
MIKE: I used to stop dates, because if someone burned me on something,
I would go off and not let the person off the floor until they were just
dust. People would say, "Okay, Mike, okay." and I would just be livid.
People would say, "If you get Jeff, he's pretty temperamental; if you
get Baird, God, he'll burn you to the ground." We've all gone through
these periods, and we've all learned something through them. Now, to
me, as long as a producer doesn't personally demean me, I'll work with
RF: Isn't there a fine line sometimes where if you give the producer
what he wants, you are really compromising yourself?
VINNIE: I did a project recently where they weren't going to put my
name on it, and I said, "Yeah!"
JEFF: There's a time when you have to keep artistic license. I've had
it with playing stuff that I would otherwise never play. That is not
good for the soul.
MIKE: That worked against me once. Whenever you show up in a
situation, that artistic license is really important. There was a
situation during the time that Steely Dan was really hot. Larry
Carlton recommended me to those cats to play on a track. There had been
a date that I had done three years prior to that recommendation, where
it was some schlock music and I said, "Ya know, I don't really want to
play this," and I just played very mediocre. The one thing Fagen and
Becker happened to have heard me play on was a tape of that one track.
They told Carlton, "We've heard this cat; he's not happening." Carlton
told me the story afterwards. So it doesn't pay in the long run to do
RF: But you just got finished saying you have a commitment to the
producer and the artist, and they're paying you to execute what they
ask. Yet, maybe they're asking you to be something you're not.
MIKE: I always have this great thing. If a producer says, "Play a
Vinnie fill," or "Play like Jeff," I say, "Look, I'll give you their
JEFF: It can even come down to something as minute as milliseconds in
the tempo of the click, where I feel it's my duty to suggest that the
click be raised or lowered a couple of notches. Those little things can
make or break the groove.
DENNY: Part of our job is to make suggestions.
JEFF: The other day I made that suggestion, and the producer insisted
that I should make it feel just as comfortable at that tempo, but in my
heart I knew that was a load of crap.
HARVEY: I feel that if that's the tempo, I should be able to make it
VINNIE: But you settle where you want to settle, and there's a reason
that you do that. I always go back and forth in my own mind, because I
hear people saying, "Yeah, he's a one-tempo drummer," and how a drummer
should be able to play at any tempo.
MIKE: Then that's saying you have to be a machine, and that's not
possible. If everybody had the same fill, say, a five-stroke roll, and
we said, "Harvey, you play it," Jeff, you play it," all of us are going
to play differently. It's the same roll, the same number of notes, but
it's going to be different. And if it is the same, then we might as
well be machines.
VINNIE: Also, talking about how to respond to certain producers, do you
ever notice that some guys try to tell you what they want, but they
don't really know, and you have to be able to read them?
JIM: A lot of times a big part of our job is to make sure the producer
doesn't end up looking like an idiot. Hal Blaine used to tell me things
like that. He said, "You'll notice after working with people that it
will be real easy to make them look stupid, because they are"--some of
them. That will make the big difference--if you've done that, or if
you've made the guy feel like he's done some good work. That's part of
your gig. That's the way I've always approached it. I know Jeff does
the same thing, but I love the other side of Jeff where he will just not
take any crap. The stories about Jeff walking out--I've worked for the
same artists he's walked out on, and I've stayed.
MIKE: There have been times when I've refused to play a certain fill
that they hear just because it's really lame. I'll just say, "I'll play
anything else, but I won't play that."
HARVEY: If you're in a creative situation, as I am a lot of times, most
people will not ask you to do things like that; they hire you for
yourself. But when you're doing a record with a particular artist and
you are not really part of the creative process, they have an idea of
how they envision a record to go, and it's your job to go in there and
interpret what they're trying to get. If they ask for a particular
fill, then I play it. That's it, no question about it. I don't care
how dumb it is.
STEVE: Now let me give you the down side to the guy who played the
fill because they kept on insisting on it. No matter what tune you play
for three years that you work with the guy, he only wants that fill.
You do every project this guy does for three years, and one day you
don't get a phone call, and you know the guy is working. Vinnie gets
the phone call and Vinnie shows up on the date and somebody innocently
says, "What happened to Steve?" "Can't use him, he always plays the
same fill." And what fill did they give Vinnie to play? Yep, that
fill. [a chorus of Ohhhhhhhhhhh!]
JIM: To me, what is happening with electronics right now is exactly
what I thought was going to happen back in '83. A lot of people were
panicking, but the very thing that did happen, which we all knew was
going to happen, was that people were going to lose out on gigs. The
players who did a lot of demos lost their gigs to machines, that's for
sure. But the electronics took over for a long time because that was
the trend. What's happening now is that the electronics are just
another piece of gear. The acoustic drums are as big and important as
they ever were. Because everybody got to the point where, when they
listen to a record and it's a machine, there's just something in your
body that tells you there's nobody home, and that's not good for the
average music listener when he can feel that.
RF: But everybody invested in major racks.
JIM: You can still use them. Now it's just another piece of gear.
VINNIE: That's another can of worms: in terms of the status of
electronics, the place of it versus racks. Racks are a whole other
thing. But just to expound on the average music listener who feels
nobody is home: It's like conditioning; you can get used to that.
Listen to the way records are programmed now. It's no longer important
whether or not there are 15 things going on at once, that it doesn't
sound like a real drummer because a real drummer would stop playing the
hi-hat when he plays a fill. It doesn't matter. Now people are used to
hearing that. Guys who are used to hearing machines all the time have
to de-condition themselves when they hear a real drummer.
RF: Vinnie, how much did you actually get into the machinery?
VINNIE: Not as much as I thought I had to. I invested a lot of money
in this big rack of electronics, and it's just bells and whistles. It's
just a psychological war of who has the biggest rack. It's jive. Now
you don't need all that stuff.
JIM: The nature of electronics is that in a 30-day period, a rack of
gear that you have can be replaced with one rack space now of another
thing. What I recently discovered is the ddrum. The pads are very,
very cool to play on. They feel good because they have drumheads and
they're very, very dynamic. You can actually drop the stick and you get
a nice little buzz roll, and you can hit it real hard and it gets big.
You can program it like that with the dynamics, which is very cool. The
sounds are also very good, because they've taken samples from different
guys, and they blow the chips and put them into ROM, and you have a
choice. It's better than your own sampled sounds because sampled sounds
are innately slow, they're late.
MIKE: Ddrums have opened things up. It's definitely changed, like Jim
said. It used to be that you had to have all of this gear, and for a
new kid coming up, it's, "What do you really need?" If the producer
says he wants five different snare drums, a couple of different kicks,
and a couple of different toms, something like a ddrum is great because
the guy doesn't need to know sounds. He can say, "How about this tom?
How about this snare?" I still find the application for my rack,
though. I like creating my own sounds.
Lately in a lot of situations I'll walk in and people will say, "I
just want your acoustic drums." There's a lot of that now. Or they'll
say, "I want you to program a drum machine," so you bring in a machine.
The other side of the spectrum is, "I don't have a budget. I want
electronics, but I don't want to pay nine million dollars for this piece
of gear and that piece of gear." So you bring one sampler and a pad kit
or a drum machine and trigger your drum machine. Maybe a guy will say,
"I've already got the sounds, but I don't want a machine. Bring a
controller and some pads. I don't want your performance." So you can
walk in, play it into their Mac, and you're gone.
DENNY: Don't you find, especially in the last year and a half, that
there's a lot less triggering off the acoustic drums?
MIKE: Absolutely. There are a lot of engineers who can't deal with an
acoustic set of drums, so they're hoping you'll bring in sounds.
JIM: The first day I used the ddrums, it blew my mind, because it was
so easy. When was the last time you did a nine-hour TV show or movie at
Universal? I had never done one. It's usually three hours and out.
This happened to be a strange thing. It was nine hours, and I didn't
have anything but ddrums there. There were a stack of cues, and I
thought, "I don't know what I'm going to do here," but as it turned out,
those things were so versatile that I did a marching band thing, and I
had this huge bass drum sound for it. I'd go from that to a ZZ Top
sound. We all do that for a living once in a while, and those ddrums
just saved my butt. I sounded like Tommy Lee with Motley Crue on one
song, and then there's a little jazz set.
MIKE: That's a big advantage, particularly for movie and TV things.
You walk in, it's clean, they don't have to worry about leakage, and
it's a lot easier and quicker to deal with than having your own sounds,
even though you might have preset sets.
JIM: I find now that my situation with electronics is that I generally
have to ask to use them because nobody wants to hear that from me.
RF: Harvey, do you use a lot of electronics?
HARVEY: I use them quite a bit on motion pictures. On records, I end
up triggering mainly the bass drum and the snare drum. I use the
Dynacord a lot because it's pretty fast, and the Akai and the R8, and I
put all these things together. I think acoustic drums are definitely
back in vogue, more than they've been in the past few years.
RF: Jeff, you never got much into electronics.
JEFF: I'm trying to remember one time I've used any piece of electronic
gear in any professional setting. Live I used the timbale sound off the
Dynacord once, but I've never used them on sessions.
JIM: You never triggered sounds?
JEFF: Never. Somebody might do something after I'm gone, but I find
that doing records, I go from a Bonham-esque sound to a little Bill
Higgins sound in a half hour in a good room with a good engineer with
gates and certain effects, if there is that kind of time. I have a rack
built right now, though, that I really like: It's a microwave, a VCR,
and a refrigerator. That's the kind of rack I need. It's all been
bogus to me, personally.
JIM: Jeff knows this about me, but I don't know if anyone else does; I
cannot hit a drum hard and play anything at all. If I hit a drum a
little bit too hard, it's just not me; there's no music coming from me
at that point. I'm just hitting hard, and I'm just playing a beat.
That's not the way I started. I started out as a jazz player, so
everything I play has got to be meaningful to me somehow for me to get
off. Like Denny said, we all went through a period where we had to hit
hard and in the middle and in the right place so that we could trigger
the Wendel and this and that. But thank God those days are gone.
Now we're back to trying to be musical. The thing for me is that I'm
sitting here in a room with some of the greatest musicians in the world,
and most of you guys hit harder than I do and you still get music out.
It's a physical thing and it's one of the great things about us all
being different. What electronics does for me is, now that I've got
this real good trigger system with the Impulse or the KAT, I can trigger
sounds from my toms, bass drum, snare, and even the hi-hat, and I can
play at the volume I like to play at. But when I hear the playback, it
sounds big. It sounds good to me, and I don't have to work so hard. So
for me, electronics are more than just a trend.
VINNIE: I find that once I cross a certain volume threshold, I also
lose finesse, and it just mounts into problems. When I play too hard,
all the other stuff just goes, so now I just never exceed that level.
And I find it doesn't make that big a difference.
MIKE: The drum is only going to get so loud, no matter how hard you hit
it, and then it's going to choke.
RF: Before this equipment talk, we were talking about getting into the
studios, and I'm wondering how people do it. It's impossible to get any
demo work anymore. Since our last round table six years ago, Denny is
the only new guy doing enough work to get invited here today. Why is
that? What do you tell a kid who is growing up?
MIKE: First of all, I think for a young kid who wants to get into the
studio, I don't think it's even a viable thing to tell somebody. He has
a better chance of going out and getting in a band that's going to get
signed than he has of breaking into the studio. It's not that he won't
have the opportunity to break in; it's just that people don't have the
time to waste. If they're doing demos, they're doing them with a
machine. If they're doing a full-blown record, they're either going to
find somebody who is going to do it under double-scale; or they're
going to pay double-scale and hire one of the cats in this room.
RF: You're telling me that it's hard to break into it because the old-
timers have it sewn up. But before the tape was rolling, Vinnie was
saying they put you out to pasture after a certain amount of time.
VINNIE: They tend to, but I think it's up to you to keep up with what's
happening and to be on the cutting edge. All I meant is that we're a
youth-oriented society, to the point where it's a sickness. I thought
you could get a reputation and then enjoy it. I was doing a record
recently, and they didn't even know who John Robinson was. I thought
the guy was kidding. What good is a reputation you build?
MIKE: I've seen the phases in this industry. It's gone from the days
where you did records and TV and movie stuff, to, "Oh, he does records
and he does movie and TV stuff." Then it was, "Who wants to do the
movie and TV shit, because the records are the hip thing to do." Then
the record industry went lame and if you didn't do the movie and TV
stuff, you were starving to death--and there's also an expertise in that
field. You have to be able to read, and there's the pressure of an 80-
piece orchestra. You're screwed if you make a mistake.
I remember Jim Horn telling me eons ago, "Whatever you do, don't lose
the fire," and that's what happens in this town, aside from getting
pigeonholed. I watched the Hal Blaines and the John Guerins fold
because they never wanted to progress. They said, "I'm at the height of
my day, and I can play anything and I'll get hired." A friend of mine
once suggested it was that they did so many dates that they didn't know
when to give 100% and when not to give 100%. They lost perspective.
Instead of going in and saying, "I'm giving 100% on everything I do,"
they started making judgments, and eventually the judgments caught them
JIM: I never even approached the workaholic level that Hal Blaine or
Earl Palmer and probably most of you guys have. I don't work nearly as
much as people think I do. I did for a little period in the '70s, and I
got so burned out that that happened to me. I didn't care any more. I
listen to records from those days and it's embarrassing.
VINNIE: But you saw that and got past that.
JIM: One of the reasons is that if you don't work that much, you're
just more eager to play.
RF: Everyone has told me in separate interviews that there is indeed
such a thing as studio burnout. What is that? What are the symptoms?
What is the remedy?
DENNY: You drain yourself of any musicality if you're working every day
for a certain length of time. For me, there's a point where I'm not
playing as well as I was playing three weeks ago, or I'm not coming up
with the creative ideas that I was coming up with. I have to take a
week or two off to just listen to music, live, and do whatever to get
fed again. I don't even play during that time off; I don't even pick
up a pair of sticks. When I go back, I play better than I did.
RF: Do all of you listen to those moments and say, "I'm approaching
burnout"? What does that feel like?
VINNIE: There was a time a couple of years ago where I'd get home at
10:00 at night, and there would be a call from someone like Bobby
Womack, who would work all night long. So I'd go at 10:00 to work with
him until 4:00 in the morning, when I had been working since 9:00 the
morning before. Then I'm no good to anybody, but you don't want to say
RF: Why don't you want to say no?
VINNIE: Because you get into it and you get this momentum going, but it
catches up with you and you can't see it. You want to work and you want
to play. I was trying to keep fresh, so if I was doing that one night,
then the next day I'd work from 10:00 to 1:00 and I'd go home and try to
practice for an hour, thinking, "I played, but I didn't really play."
Now I realize I have to cool it for a couple of days. To me, burnout
means just not giving a damn, getting overly grumpy and starting to snap
at the guys who are hiring me. I'm not playing well and I know it, and
my whole perspective gets funny. I would get pissed off because I
couldn't admit to myself that I wasn't playing well, and in reality, it
was just because I was burned out. I hate that feeling.
RF: All of you guys play live from time to time. Is it particularly
for the reason of wanting to be "you" for a minute?
DENNY: It's a different energy playing live, almost a different set of
chops, playing one song after another, not the same song. The endurance
is different because you're playing for two hours straight.
RF: Why do you do it? Jeff, you probably do it the most, because
you're in a band.
JEFF: I'll play anywhere. I just like playing, whether it's in the
studio or in a club. Hopefully I'm playing in the studio like I play
live, with the same excitement--if I'm allowed to.
RF: But what's the percentage of times that you're allowed to? Vinnie,
don't you get frustrated? You said you've come home from sessions and
practiced because you didn't feel like you played.
VINNIE: Oh yeah, if I went on some TV date, some episode where I played
a couple of cymbal rolls and read the latest Greenpeace issue, then I
would go home and practice. But it depends.
RF: Percentage-wise, how much do you get to express yourself?
VINNIE: Probably less than half. It's getting a little more these
days, though, and I'd like to keep it that way, like doing things like
RF: But really, you get off when you play live?
VINNIE: Yes, because I don't think about it; I just do it.
MIKE: I think Vinnie's situation is a different scenario, because his
background is more fusion, and that's his love at heart. To really play
that 100%, you really have to play that live, so it's tough in a studio
situation because a lot of those things do not apply in 90% of the
situations. I didn't come from that school. I came from, "Let's go
simple, let's get the groove." I'm not saying one is better than the
other; I'm just saying I can get off easier in a studio situation than
Vinnie because I'm not going to be as frustrated.
VINNIE: For me, it's whatever the tune is. If it's a great tune and a
simple tune, I'll get off on it.
HARVEY: That's what I was going to say also. I may not always play a
lot technically, but if I can fit into the musical situation just right,
then I feel great. And what makes it even better is if it's something
that I really feel should be on the tune, no matter what it is. I
really enjoy that.
Fortunately you get to do the great records from time to time where
you really get to play, and that keeps you excited--as opposed to the
other thing where you're just filling a role. But I get off filling a
RF: We touched on what happens when it's over, but how do you prepare
for the future as a studio musician?
VINNIE: In our case, every gig is the last, really.
HARVEY: That's how I look at it. I've been doing it since 1970, and at
first I figured I'd be the flavor of the month for four or five years.
It's been 20, and I still approach a session like it's my last one. I
also listen to everybody and everything, and I get inspired by even a
little thing I hear, and I'll go home and start playing that. Then I'll
incorporate that into my repertoire, and the next thing I know, it comes
out sounding different, which gets me juiced up. I'll listen to
something Vinnie did and go, "Oh man, that's slick," and I'll start
doing something like that, and now I've got my own version of it.
JIM: That's what I tell guys who ask me about the studio thing. I say,
"Look forget about the studio, like it doesn't exist." You can ask me a
couple of little questions about music, but don't ask me how and what
and why. If you love music, that's going to be the force that keeps
you there. You'll listen, like Harvey said, and you'll get inspired,
which keeps music in you.
RF: Reality-wise, preparing for the future, do any of these artists you
play for ever give you any points or anything like that?
HARVEY: Of course that's happened in isolated situations.
MIKE: It's not a reality. It happens, but it's not by any means a
HARVEY: You have to save and do all the things that the regular person
does. You have to invest in property, you have to make smart decisions,
and you have to think about those kinds of things.
MIKE: You can start a band and get a record deal.
DENNY: Publishing is money for your grandkids.
JIM: If you love music enough, that's what you'll do. You'll try to
write and maybe try to get in a band. That's the greatest thing of all,
being in a band, it seems to me. I say that because I've never been in
RF: Jeff, is that true?
JEFF: It's incredible.
RF: Do you try to balance your life more as you get older with
families, and stop being so music-focused? Is it difficult to balance a
MIKE: I would say yes. Sometimes it can be the rollercoaster from
hell. It's a tough thing for anybody, just dealing with a family and
DENNY: Hopefully anybody who has a family and a new baby, no matter
what you do, is going to want to take time off to be with the baby, more
than just going to Santa Barbara for the weekend.
JIM: I believe that for any musician, no matter what kind you are, the
support you get from your wife or your girlfriend can be the thing that
allows you to go or just cuts you down. I've seen both sides of that
situation from friends. I've been blessed with a great family life.
I've been blessed with a wife who put up with more than I can say.
Wherever I am today, I'm there because of her, and I mean that 100%.
She worked when I wasn't working at all; I was playing in garages with
people. She worked for the first five years of our marriage. I'd do a
$15 bar mitzvah or a little Mexican wedding, but most of the time I was
playing jazz in somebody's front room, and she worked while she was
pregnant with three kids right up until she went into the hospital to
have those babies. I know that's a key factor in my whole situation.
If I hadn't had her in my life all these years, I'd probably be dead,
first of all, and if I wasn't dead, I don't know what I'd be doing. But
I certainly wouldn't still be playing music. The relationship is a key
factor for a musician.
RF: What about the ups and downs during the slow times? Do you get
depressed? Is it frightening? Do you worry that this is it?
JIM: Around 1984/'85 that happened to me. I thought, "Well, this is
it, it's gone, it's dead, no more calls." People like Abe Laboriel were
saying, "Do you know of any road gigs?" When I heard him say that, I
thought I was going to fall on the floor. I thought there wasn't going
to be anything any more called "studio work."
VINNIE: I used to worry a lot more than I do, but I think we could be
the last generation. Although, in a way, it's turning around.
DENNIE: I think it's turning around. Think about the people you work
with now that you may have worked with less four years ago. You're
working for them three or four times the amount of time now because they
want more live drums, so the work is opening up.
JEFF: Don't you guys feel like in the last couple of years you're being
JIM: I guess I could say that.
JEFF: I know producers just coming up now who are going, "Wow, Jim
Keltner," because of this trend of coming back to acoustics.
VINNIE: But perseverance is important too, for anybody, and especially
for us if we're going to hang in there, because it's tight.
RF: What happens when the work curtails?
MIKE: Hopefully you're prepared to do something else. Even before I
got involved in the business there were the Hal Blaines, the John
Guerins, and the Earl Palmers who said, "It's never going to end,"
three, four dates a day. You're fooling yourself if you think that way.
JIM: Like Harvey said, you've got to be just like anybody else. You've
got to be smart with your money.
RF: But Jim, an insurance salesman may retire at 65. Do you all
honestly think you're still going to be doing this at 65?
HARVEY: I'd love to be playing. I mean, if I love it and the music is
still happening, I might be.
JEFF: My old man just turned 60, and he's been busier than he ever was
in his whole life.
VINNIE: Look at Jim Chapin.
JIM: Sol Gubin. Irv Cottler died at something like 70.
HARVEY: It all depends on the situation.
MIKE: You don't want to wind up at 65 having to work.
JIM: That's a big difference.
MIKE: Then it's a drag. Then you've never seen the light at the end of
the tunnel, and you never will.
RF: Let's open it up a little. Are there any questions that any of you
would like to ask each other?
HARVEY: Yeah, backbeats--in the studio do you guys play more in the
center of the drum or rimshots?
JEFF: I always hit the rim.
MIKE: I'd say 98% of the time it's the rim.
STEVE: I'd have to say more toward the center of the drum, although I
don't think I ever play directly on the center.
JIM: Lately I've been playing all over the drum, and when people ask me
about it, I say, "That's the way all my favorite drummers I ever
listened to play, and that's the way I like to play.
DENNY: 98% rimshots.
VINNIE: Mostly rimshots.
HARVEY: Far out. How about the engineers who try to ask you to play
exclusively in the center of the drum? When you're getting your sound
in the beginning, they say, "Will you hit the center of the drum?" and
then you start playing and you don't.
DENNY: One time this engineer came out and said, "Your snare drum
sounds horrible," and so I hit this other snare and he said, "That's
much better." I put it up, he walked back in the control room, and I
took it off and put the old one back because I really thought the other
one sounded better. So I hit the drum and said, "Is this better?" And
he said, "Man, it's so much better. I knew that was going to be the
HARVEY: Everyone play open drums?
MIKE: Pretty much. There might be little bits of padding here and
JIM: I have two heads on the bass drum.
HARVEY: I've been using two heads a little bit.
JIM: I copy every one of these guys in this room, and all the other ones
who are not here. The other day I got to play on Vinnie's drums, and
the first think I said to the Drum Doctor after that was, "Tune me up a
set of drums just like Vinnie's, with the same head configuration," and
I like the intervals he had. I've done that with Jeff many times. That
might sound like a real chump kind of thing to do, but I can't help it.
If I like the way somebody plays, they just get into my system right
away--their sound, and the way they play.
HARVEY: You play flat-footed?
JEFF: I play with my toes.
JIM: I played flat-footed for years, but when I saw the way Jeff
played, I started to play like him. I noticed that Jeff played like
HARVEY: I play with my toes, but I've developed playing with my heel
down because there are certain situations where it calls for it to be so
accurate, and in order to do that, I have to put my heel down.
MIKE: Vinnie, you play on toe, right? And you play off the head.
VINNIE: I do it both ways now. If I don't play that loud, I keep my
STEVE: I play both ways, but I've been playing with clogs, which
elevate my heel so that when I'm playing flat-footed, I'm kind of in a
50/50 position. The type of music usually defines the technique,
although basically I'm most comfortable playing flat-footed. It really
comes down to whatever is the most comfortable way to come up with the
sound you want.
MIKE: I can get more power out of playing with my foot down than I can
with my toes.
JEFF: Really? That's weird.
DENNY: Do you play out of the drum?
MIKE: Yeah, out of the drum.
JEFF: That sounds the best, when you play off the head.
RF: Something Jeff mentioned earlier: Do most producers expect you or
want you to play on the click as opposed to behind a little bit, and
what do you prefer to do?
HARVEY: That's a problem.
HARVEY: I don't find many players who really can play with a click
other than drummers. The drummer gets stuck playing with the click, and
the rest of the band is playing all over the place. The piano player is
playing on the top of the beat and the bass player is missing.
JEFF: I have a big gripe about that. I noticed during the years drum
machines were happening, you'd hear your keyboard player and guitar
player friends' demos, and they were playing to a drum machine, and
you'd go, "Wow, they seem to be fitting pretty good with that." Now, out
of that context in the studio, they're sitting next to you while you're
playing drums, and you're digging the phones, you're on the same cue,
and you go, "Man, they're real loud in the phones." Why aren't they
listening to us as they would a machine?
MIKE: That's right. The machine is generic, it just goes. It doesn't
have a vibe, so your mind doesn't go to the machine. It goes to
everything else around the machine, so you don't think about it. And
when guys are playing to a click, that's what they do. Everybody
listens to the click, rather than listening to the drummer, who is
dictating the basis of the groove, and that's what happens. In a lot of
situations now, they'll take the click out of everybody else's phones
HARVEY: ...and they still can't play with it.
JEFF: I've been on sessions where the writer or producer has
predetermined what the click tempo will be and has already striped the
tape. He's put some sequence overdubs on it, and you go, "This is not
the right tempo for this groove."
VINNIE: They don't listen sometimes, and it's a drag. You're running
it down with the click and you're going, "This is great," and then they
put the click on, and then they go, "It doesn't feel good."
MIKE: The classic thing is you walk into a situation that has had a
machine on it. It was cut to a click and has four keyboard parts on it,
and all of them have MIDI delay, so none of them are on the click. Then
the bass player has put his part on and he has his interpretation of
where he's playing with the machine. Then the guitar player has his
interpretation of where he is playing with the machine, because neither
of them played at the same time. And then the keyboards are spread from
one extreme to the other, and the producer says, "Make it right."
That's the hardest thing in the world.
HARVEY: That hurts me so badly when it's like that. It hurts my spirit
and everything about my playing; that will bum me out almost more than
JEFF: That is the biggest bummer.
RF: So what do you do in those situations?
MIKE: You have to do the best you can. You know going in what the
situation is. When they call you on the phone, they say, "This is what
we want," and all you can think is that hopefully it won't be the worst
scenario, and if it is, you just have to grit your teeth and do it.
JEFF: I'll try to talk them into redoing it. Usually they'll listen if
you calmly explain it to them. "Give me the click and let me go out
there and cut it."
MIKE: A lot of people will agree to that, but most of the time when the
drummer is called in, everything is done. They don't want to have to
redo all the vocals or re-stripe the tape.
JEFF: They have to make a decision as to whether to blow off 20 grand
that they spent making this track before they called you, which was a
bad mistake for them to do, and they should understand that. If they
want to keep it, they're not going to keep me there four hours trying to
get that right, so that's when I start saying, "Maybe I'm the wrong
guy." If I'm there under three hours and it's bogus and I know they're
bogus, I'll say, "Look, you don't have to pay me, see you later." It's
impossible. It's not good for the mind, it's not good for your family,
your wife, other motorists on the freeway, and your best friends.
JIM: I got around that with the Beach Boys, who always bring in semi-
finished tracks for you to put the drums on. I listened to the track
and the time was everywhere, but the vocals were beautiful, so I talked
them into using my SP1200. We did it right from scratch and that turned
out to be "Kokomo," which turned out to be a big record for them. That
was nothing but 1200, my drum sounds and percussion. Even the cymbals
were really good samples of my own cymbals. I will not go through that
pain of sitting there with real drums in a room that is not best-suited
for drum sounds, and try to physically play to a track where the time
isn't right. Like you said it's bad for your soul.
RF: Any other questions you have for each other, or gripes?
JIM: I don't think any of us have any major gripes other than these
little technical things. It's great to be a drummer. What else would
you want to be? Jeff could be an artist, but personally I couldn't be
anything but a drummer. I don't have any other skills whatsoever. I
could work in a plant nursery.
VINNIE: We were talking about planning for the future. What if you
don't know how to do anything else? I could drive a cab.
MIKE: I don't know if we resolved the question of the young players
DENNY: I think there's opportunity.
MIKE: I don't know. Ten years ago there was. In all honesty, I would
say that's a pipe dream. But I would say if somebody is exceptional and
has perseverance, anything can happen.
DENNY: I've only been doing this the last few years, and if I can do
it, they can do it.
MIKE: I'm not saying it's not possible, but it's not what it used to
be, and it never will be.
JEFF: I don't know, though. Remember when disco started happening?
How many cats do you know who moved to L.A. during disco? Right before
disco was big, there were five drummers, five piano players, five bass
players, and five guitar players who did all the work. Disco came in
and people wanted live drums. There's potential I think with the
acoustics going full circle and the demand for musicians and not so much
for programming. So there may be a surge in the business again. You
can't wipe out the possibility of work starting to happen again, just
like in the '70s, when there was work for everybody.
JIM: It's just like any other time. I really do believe that every
generation thinks their time is special in a certain way--and it is--but
there will always be room for somebody who has the talent and
perseverance. That's become the tricky point; how do you know you have
that? You don't know, do you?