Thursday, March 11, 2021

Building the Phil Collins Gretsch Kit - Part Three

 




In my earlier blogs, I began work on a replica of Phil Collins' black Gretsch USA concert tom kit. My original intention was to build a V-drum version, with Remo Mesh heads and a bevy of the revolutionary wireless "Versatriggers", made in Europe. Suffice it to safe, I enjoyed building the kit so much, that I ended up making it an all-acoustic version. The Versatriggers went back into the closet; Gone but not forgotten. As fate would have it, I had the last of my orphaned drum shells lying around; an 8", 10", 12" 13" and 18 leftovers from several aborted or cannibalized projects. As I considered what to do with them, I remembered the V-Drum project and thought perhaps I could reignite it. The shells were actually already black, in fact, they were going to be part of that original Gretsch kit, however they were either too small, or the wrong sizes. What if I made a another version of the Collins kit? I had an 18" x 16" shell, an old 20" x 14"; the 13" would replace the 15" he used and the shallower depth of the 12", 10" and 8" would make up the rest. The only thing I would need were the floor/concert toms. Instead of the 18" and 16", I'd use a 16" and 14". I managed to find two floor toms on ebay and reverb; a 16" x 14" and a 14" x 12", both by Sound Percussion. All I needed to do next was to fill the holes, re-wrap them and I'd have the complete set.



When it came to the snare, I actually had an old Ddrum 14" x 5.5" shell that I never used. I also had some chrome wrap from Jammin' Sam, and a bunch of Goedrum's "Gretsch style" snare lugs. The Bum Wrap Company of Maryland sells OEM Gretsch badges, so to complete that authentic look, I got 7 of them, one for each tom and the kick. I already had a spare badge from an earlier project, so I used that on the snare. I've always felt that concert toms were a great choice for internal triggers, because you can access them a whole lot easier without having to remove any bottom tom heads. That would come in handy when it came to connecting the single-headed toms, however if I ever wanted to use the snare and kick as an acoustic hybrid drum, those double-headed drums would need to have an access point too, so I drilled a 1" hole in the side of both the snare and kick, and installed an internal, female-to-female 1/4" jack to connect a cable from the internal trigger to the outside of the drum shell. 


Before I could finish what I'd started, a friend mentioned another triggering alternative I might be interested in. It was another company from Europe, however they weren't in Romania, they were Hungarian and had been around for years: Padtech. Although they weren't wireless, they had a unique trigger system which fit over the rim and under any drum head, acoustic or mesh. I decided to invest in 8 of them, which cost a little under $700. They took 1/4" jacks and worked with most drum modules. One of the issues with the Versatriggers was you had to use their interface on a laptop, and some kind of drum software. With the Padtech triggers, I could go directly into any drum module and via USB, still have access to all of its internal sounds and have the ability to connect to my laptop and its drum apps. I could use 6 inputs for the toms, plus 2 for the snare and kick. My most recent module is an Alesis Strike Pro, with a plethora of outputs. I already had plenty of Alesis trigger pad cables to connect the kit, so I measured the lengths and laid them out so that once the triggers arrive, I'd be able them plug all in without any significant delay.


After about a month, the new Padtech Triggers finally arrived. It should be noted that after my original order through Amazon was cancelled, I went to Padtech's website in Hungary to complete the order. Before their arrival, I got an idea to expand the Gretsch kit into an all electric variant, based on the classic Gretsch "Monster II" kit. I'm a huge fan of Chester Thompson, Collins' fellow Genesis percussionist. I first saw Thompson with Frank Zappa, next with Weather Report and again with Genesis. In those early days, Thompson used the famed Ludwig "Octoplus"; Double bass drums, 8 concert toms and an 18" floor tom. Thompson's drum fill from Zappa's "More Trouble Comin' Everyday" is the stuff of legend. Collins was so enamored of it that he and Thompson reprised it at the end of the Genesis song "Afterglow". That set-up made a huge impression on me, and I've actually used it myself in a few combos over the years. Another drummer carrying that monster kit torch is Simon Phillips. His current set-up is akin to Thompson's, however Phillips only uses 6 rack toms. Being "open handed" and a fan of those monster kits, my typical set-up is a hybrid of both, with 6 rack toms, a single kick and floor tom. It also occurred to me that with 2 additional triggers. I could actually turn this variant into an e-kit too, which is exactly what I ended up doing! 



For the Gretsch kick drum, I used an Aquarian Kick Zone trigger, used some velcro and attached it to a 19.5" bar and mounted it internally to the kick. I then used a 20" Remo Muffl Ring, attached a 1/4" cable, placed the Evans mesh head on, and gave it a quick test. Voila
! It worked like a charm. With the Padtech triggers installed, it was time to connect it to my Alesis Strike Pro module. To my amazement, the Padtech triggers worked right out of the box, with little or no adjustments at all,  and I was able to get the entire drum kit to respond perfectly with the Evans SoundOff mesh heads! I have to admit, the Padtech triggers are the best internal triggers for the price that I have ever used. As a mesh e-kit, this "Gretsch" kit was a success; I can mate any trigger system to it; Alesis, Roland, Yamaha, Pearl, Jobeky, Pintech, Padtech, 2 Box, Ddrum, you name it. The world of acoustic to electronic conversion is truly a viable and game changing new way of going. If you have the patience, the desire and yes, a few dollars to spare, you too can have a fabulous time re-imaging any old acoustic kit with a new look and a vast array of digital percussion sounds. 







Friday, February 19, 2021

Building the Bill Bruford Signature Snare - Part Three

In my previous blogs, I recounted how I successfully restored a Bill Bruford "Signature Palette Series" snare drum, built an all chrome version and followed it up with a complete Bill Bruford symmetrical kit. That was awesome, but I decided to expand the kit by adding a 14" x 12" floor tom. My usual set-up is an open handed one, modeled on the drummer Rayford Griffin of Jean Luc Ponty's group. I now had a 7 piece, all-yellow Tama kit with a choice of 2 snare drums. The kit is one of the best sounding ones I've eve made. I soon added a full compliment of Nady DM 70 and CM 70 drum microphones, routed them through a M-Audio FastTrack Ultra 8R interface and a MacBook Pro. One of the first things I noticed was the thinner sound of the original Bruford snare; It was much brighter than any of my other 14" x 6" snare drums. Perhaps it was the 2 ply Maple, 2 ply Birch and 2 ply Maple construction that gave it that quality. It was great for jazz, as I'm sure Bruford had intended, but not as versatile for other applications. This was also borne out in the Tama forums. 

I next turned to my 6 ply Maple, all-chrome replica snare. The difference was striking; The tone was deeper, warmer and seemed to be a better match for my "Rayford Griffin" style set-up. The chrome snare looked good and sounded good; the toms rang out like they were part of Tony' Williams' famed Gretsch kit. After seeing the kit, a friend remarked, "Where's the yellow snare?" I hadn't made one obviously, but it got me thinking. I love my Tony Williams 14" x 6.5" Gretsch USA snare which sounds perfect with my Gretsch USA kit; If I did make a yellow snare, what size would it be, and what would work with this kit. As fate would have it, Bruford's yellow Tama snare was a Maple Starclassic 14" x 6.5", the same size as both Tony Williams and Rayford Griffin! Bruford recently put most of his kits up for auction at Graham Russell Drums of London, and his yellow snare was there, sitting atop the rest of his stack of yellow Tama drums.


Well, as I learned in making those previous snare drums, finding those vintage Tama lugs, strainers and butts were virtually impossible; I actually had to buy parts from Greece in order to make the all-chrome snare! I resolved not to go through that again, yet make a good sounding and good looking snare. I'd get the wrap from Jammin' Sam, 14" 10 hole snare rims, Evans heads and matching black Shaw Percussion lugs. Next, I needed a 6 ply, 14" x 6.5" Maple shell, and as many Tama parts I could find to go with it. I managed to find a $70 Tama Soundworks snare shell on ebay; It had all the requirements I wanted; 6 ply, Maple, 14" x 6.5" and Tama. So far so good. I'd have to drill an additional 20 holes for the Starclassic lugs, but that would be easy. The Tama Soundworks snare sells for around $200 and is considered one of the best drums for that price. It also uses Tama's MCS70ABN Strainer and MCS70ABBN Butt, and a Tama MS2014S Snappy Snare Wire. Those were still available, however only in Chrome and Black Nickel. I bought the Black Nickel version and decided to be adventurous, I could sand them down to prep them for painting, and so I bought 600 grit sandpaper and Krylon Fusion All-in 1, Black Satin paint for the strainer, butt and for the pair of 2.3 mm 14", 10 Hole snare rims that I had from an old Yamaha Rock Tour snare. Those rims were Silver, so I sanded and painted them first. After a few coats and they were good to go. The Tama strainer and butt arrived the next day from Japan. I wanted the all-black, however they had also been discontinued, so the only ones I could find were Black Nickel,  so I disassembled them and painted them as well.


After the Tama snare shell arrived, I drilled the additional 20 holes in the shell and added the yellow wrap over it. Next it was time for the lugs, air vent, strainer, butt and of course, the Bill Bruford Signature Palette Series decal. Like the previous snare drums, I use Evans Hazy 300 Clear for the bottom head, and an Evans G1 Coated head for the top. Once the snare wire was installed, it was time to tune it up to hear how it sounded. Based on videos of the Tama Soundworks snare, I already had a pretty good idea of what I'd be getting. How would it compare to the other 2 snare drums and the rest of the kit would be true test. The first thing I noticed was the weight of the drum. Despite the extra depth, the Soundworks snare was lighter. I think that was due to the difference between the heavier Tama Starclassic lugs and the lightweight Shaw Percussion lugs. The original Soundworks uses 10 double ended lugs; I drilled addition holes and a total of 20 of the Shaw lugs. Nevertheless, the snare tuned up well and sounded great. Definitely a brighter sound that I expected, but as you might imagine, it sounded like a Tama Soundworks snare at the end of the day. Crisp, clean and bright, with a touch of warmth that comes from a 6 ply Tama Maple shell. 
























The snare complimented the rest of the kit nicely; Cosmetically, and most important, tonally. The 23mm flanged hoops on the snare and toms made for a very lively kit with all the overtones and harmonic ringing that comes from a kit with pieces designed to work together. All in all, this snare was a pleasant surprise, and one I'm really looking forward to recording with. I can get that patented "Bruford rimshot" when I need it, as well as the crispy, classic Tama Maple snare sound. In my next blog, I'll be putting the replica chrome snare to use in yet another Bruford-inspired kit, alongside the clanging of Remo Rototoms!


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Forty Years Ago Today

 

It's been 40 years, but I can still vividly recall that fateful night, riding my bicycle up Broadway, past the commotion on 72nd Street on my way home to Harlem, greeted by Jacki and our visiting friend Anne Jabine, “Did you hear the news?! John Lennon was shot dead tonight!” We gathered around the radio, listening to WNEW, watching the scene on TV outside the Dakota in disbelief. I was reminded of the only time I saw Lennon in person, sitting a few rows behind me at an Elton John concert at the Capital Center in Maryland; Embarrassed by the sudden spotlight Elton shone on him, he and Yoko quickly fled as the concert continued. Such was the price of genius and fame. R.I.P. John Lennon.

John Lennon had been shot four times in the back, by the deranged Mark Chapman, who had asked the former Beatle for his autograph only hours before he laid in wait and killed him.

Chapman had actually met Lennon earlier as he left for a recording studio and got his copy of Lennon’s Double Fantasy autographed, the image of Lennon signing one of his last autographs was actually caught by a photographer who witnessed it. Chapman remained in the vicinity of The Dakota for most of the day as a fireworks demonstration in nearby Central Park distracted Lennon’s doorman and passers-by.

Later that evening, Lennon and Ono returned to their apartment fresh from recording Ono’s single “Walking on Thin Ice” for their next album. At 10.50pm, as their limousine pulled up to the entrance of the Dakota, Ono got out of the car first, followed by Lennon. Beyond the main entrance was a door which would be opened and a small set of stairs leading into the apartment complex. As Ono went in, Lennon got out of the car and glanced at Chapman, proceeding on through the entrance to the Dakota.

As Lennon walked past him, Chapman called out “Mr. Lennon.” As Lennon turned, Chapman crouched into what witnesses called a “combat” stance and fired five hollowpoint bullets. One bullet missed, but four bullets entered John’s back and shoulder. One of the four bullets fatally pierced his aorta. Still, Lennon managed to stagger up six steps into the concierge booth where he collapsed, gasping “I’m shot, I’m shot.”

Chapman stood there, holding his .38 Charter Arms revolver, which was pulled out of his hands and kicked away by one Jose Perdomo who then asked “What have you done, what have you done?”, to which Chapman replied “I just shot John Lennon.” Chapman then calmly took his coat off, placed it at his feet, took out a copy of J.D. Salinger’s novel, The Catcher in the Rye, and started reading. Police arrived within minutes, to find Chapman still waiting quietly outside, still reading the book.

The two officers transported Lennon to Roosevelt Hospital in the back of their squad car as they thought John was too badly hurt to take the risk of waiting for an ambulance. One of the officers asked Lennon if he knew who he was. Lennon’s reply is reported to have been “Yeah” or simply a nod of the head before he passed out. Despite extensive resuscitative efforts in the Emergency Department, Lennon had lost over 80% of his blood volume and died of shock at the age of 40. A stunned nation was informed of his death by Dr. Stephen Lynn who shortly before had broken the devastating news privately to anxiously waiting Yoko.

In the days that followed, the candlelight vigils in Central Park’s renamed space, “Strawberry Fields,” and the Dakota, the eerily beautiful sounds of Lennon’s latest album, playing round the clock on the radio were a sad reminder of a tragedy no one could believe. Yoko Ono complained that the crowd in front of the Dakota kept her awake, and they moved to en masse to Central Park.

The next night, December 9th, Bruce Springsteen played at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, and said “It’s a hard night to come out and play but there’s nothing else you can do,” and he ended his show with a spirited performance of “Twist and Shout”. A special commemorative issue of Rolling Stone magazine came out shortly after the murder, and featured on its cover, a photo taken the morning of the shooting by Annie Leibovitz showing a nude Lennon in an embryonic pose kissing a fully clothed Ono. (In 2005, this cover was voted as the number one magazine cover of all time by The American Society of Magazine Editors). Later the next year, Elton John’s Jump Up! featured a hit single, “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny),” a tribute to Lennon.

Chapman ultimately pleaded guilty to gunning down Lennon, and is currently serving life in Attica prison near New York. As recently as October 2004, he failed for the third time to secure his release. He said he had, “heard voices in his head”, telling him to kill Lennon. Twenty years after his death millions of fans paid tribute to Mr Lennon in his home town of Liverpool and in New York. His widow launched a campaign against gun violence in the United States to mark the anniversary.

Lennon had joked years earlier that, “I’ll probably be popped off by some loony,” and sadly he was correct. The murder of celebrities by fans was not new, but extremely rare, and ironically, Lennon seemed aware of the risk. I once attended an Elton John concert in 1976, at the newly built Capital Centre, sitting with my chums in about the tenth row. We had camped out for tickets weeks earlier, as we normally did in those days, guaranteeing us great seating.

Half-way during the show, Elton told the audience, “I have some great friends in the audience tonight”, and with that, a brilliant spotlight shown down on my friends and I. Were we being honored for our dedication and love of Elton, we naively wondered? Suddenly I happened to look behind me and, sitting there was John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Cher, an unlikely trio to say the least! “Oh God,” I heard Lennon mutter as he sheepishly waved to the stage. Before Elton could finish the next song, Lennon, Yoko and Cher were gone, clearly uncomfortable with the gazes and the attention they were getting.

There would be more tributes for Lennon, A play and concerts, but December 8th, like December 7th, will always be a day that for many of us, will “live in infamy”. For me and others, it really is the day the music died.

E. “Doc” Smith is a musician and recording engineer who has worked with the likes of Brian Eno, Madonna, Warren Zevon, Mickey Hart, Jimmy Cliff, and John Mayall among others. He is also the inventor of the musical instrument, the Drummstick. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Building the Phil Collins Gretsch Kit - Part Two

Well, after being on lockdown during this Covid-19 pandemic, I decided to finish up some long overdue projects. The one that has been gnawing at me the longest is putting together my "Phil Collins" Gretsch Kit. In "Building the Phil Collins Gretsch - Part One", I described how I assembled the shells, the badges, wraps and lugs to build a replica of the iconic black drum set made famous by the legendary drummer of Genesis. 

I had a few recording projects that required an acoustic kit without all those unwanted overtones one gets from a double-headed tom. The single-headed concert toms, first made famous by the late, great Hal Blaine seemed the perfect choice.

The drums were outfitted with Evans Blue Hydraulic 360 heads; They looked great, sounded warm and wet enough for recording and deadened the toms enough without much tweaking. I installed Remo Muffl' Rings on the larger concert toms; 18", 16" 15" and 12", leaving the 10" and 8" alone for that high pitch sound. In the later years with Genesis, Collins used a 4" x 14" Noble & Cooley snare for that crisp, gated attack. That was great, however he also used a deep 8" x 14" Gretsch snare for his fusion and rock performances. His Birch Pearl kit he used with Robert Plant, Pete Townsend and Eric Clapton featured that snare drum. I liked that sound as well, so I found a Maple 8" x 14", stripped it down, wrapped it in black (again from Jammin' Sam in Arizona), obtained more lugs, Gretsch strainers, a coated Evans Blue Hydraulic snare head and the Collins deep snare was born. I'd never owned anything deeper than a 14" x 6.5 snare before, and was surprised at the depth a drum like that could generate. One great example of how this big, "marching snare" could sound, can be found on guitarist Al DiMeola's solo album "Scenario". The tune "Island Dreamer" features keyboardist Jan Hammer of the Mahavishnu Orchestra/Miami Vice fame, alongside Collins in a beautiful trio. Afer a gorgeous beginning by DiMeola and Hammer, Collins comes thundering in on those toms and that deep 8" snare.


In addition to Genesis, Collins would delight audiences in the prog-rock ensemble "Brand X", where his talent for instrumental music would be brought to the fore. My upcoming projects were also borne of a jazz-rock ensemble setting, with 7 string bass, keyboards, percussion and guitar, not unlike Brand X and the aforementioned DiMeola album. Although I am ambidextrous and open-handed, like Billy Cobham, Lenny White, Simon Phillips and Rayford Griffin who play with their ride cymbal on the left and their kick drum on the right, I am not a true "left handed" drummer like Collins, few drummers are. Collins places his ride AND his kick on the left, and his hi-hat on the right; A mirror image of a right handed drummer. Collins' son Nick Collins uses an identical Gretsch kit, just like his father, however Nick is a right handed drummer and sets his kit up in "normal" fashion, as any right-handed drummer would. I decided to take the younger Collins' approach and set up my kit accordingly. I really like the idea of the ride cymbal over the kick the way both Collins employ it. Drummers that use only one rack tom, or place two rack toms on a stand to the left of the kick will know that ergonomic feeling all too well. Ultimately, I will add more triggers and mics to this kit before I record, but for now, this latest project kit can be deemed an absolute success. 


 


 

Monday, April 6, 2020

10 Most Influential Albums Part Two

I'd been challenged to post my 10 most influential albums exactly 1 year ago, so when I recently got challenged to come up with 20, I was pretty sure I could come up with 10 more! My previous 10 most influential albums can be found here... So without further ado, here are the next 10...

Post #11 of 20... Bill Bruford's "One Of A Kind"... After the demise of "U.K.", I was crestfallen after seeing them open for Al DiMeola at Painter's Mill, MD. My disappointment was short lived however, as Bruford returned with Dave Stewart, Jeff Berlin and the "unknown" John Clarke, (replacing Allan Holdsworth), arriving at Louie's Rock City in VA for this tour, and again for the Gradually Going Tornado tour at the Bayou in DC. I can still hear the clanging of Bruford's rototoms, and all of those killer compositions have stood the test of time. Bruford considered this one of his favorite albums and I can't disagree!


Post #12 of 20... Frank Zappa's "Roxy & Elsewhere"... I'd been a fan of Frank Zappa since his first Mothers of Invention album, "Freak Out" with "Let's Make the Water Turn Black"; It was the first record I ever bought. I'd seen Zappa at least a dozen times, but this tour is my favorite. I had "obstructed view seats" at the now defunct Capital Centre in Landover, MD, which meant sitting front row behind the stage above Chester Thompson's monster drum set and George Duke's keyboards! With Napoleon Murphy Brock, Tom Fowler and Ruth Underwood also in tow, Zappa totally blew my mind. Chester would unleash his now legendary drum fill on "More Trouble Comin' Everyday", and I was hooked for life. I wasn't alone, as Phil Collins would later ask Chester to reprise that drum fill live on the Genesis tune "Afterglow" on the album "Seconds Out"!




Post #13 of 20... John McLaughlin Trio's "Live at the Royal Festival Hall"... OMG... To say this album has had a major influence on me is an epic understatement, After seeing and hearing various incarnations of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Shakti, McLaughlin then rolled out with the amazing Trilok Gurtu and Kai Eckhardt, and completely blew my already blown mind. Trilok's customized hybrid kit and solo on "Mother Tongues" was just ridiculous, and Kai's playing was so gorgeous and beautiful; He continues to astound me to this day! As for McLaughlin, are there really any words? Honestly... Pure genius and a MUST have album in any collection... 


Post #14 of 20... David Torn's "Cloud About Mercury"... When this album came out in 1987, I was completely enthralled. Torn's textures and brilliant guitar craft, coupled with Bill Bruford's Simmons drums, Tony Levin's Chapman Stick and Mark Isham's trumpet and synthesizers were simply ahead of its time. I was fortunate to be able to see the band live in LA, with the late Mick Karn on bass, (Torn's original choice), and Michael White on trumpet; They were amazing. If had to come up with a few "desert island" classic albums to take with me, this would definitely be on my list. 





Post #15 of 20... Todd Rundgren's "Utopia"... My first Todd Rundgren album was "Something/Anything?", purchased at the old American University Coop record store back in 1971. So many great tunes on that album, that I couldn't wait to get the ones soon to follow; "A Wizard, A True Star", and the double record set "Todd". When I finally got my first chance to see Todd at D.A.R. Constitution Hall, it was for the Utopia tour, an incredible show. I would see Todd and his Utopia bands dozens of times after that, but that first show, that album and that music was astounding, and left an impression on me to this day. Todd's subsequent Utopia line ups with bassist Kasim Sultran, keyboardist Roger Powell and drummer Willie Wilcox were perhaps my favorites and considered by many his finest quartet. As for the genius that is Todd, he has surely influenced me and countless others with his gorgeous voice, searing guitar riffs, mind bending lyrics and messages of love.



Post #16 of 20... Oregon's "Ecotopia"... I first saw Oregon at the ECM Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center in DC back in the mid-'70s, alongside an incredible line-up that included Gary Burton (with a young Pat Metheny), Eberhard Weber's "Colors", Jack DeJohnette, and John Abercrombie. I'd been a fan of Oregon beginning with their Vanguard label albums, so seeing Ralph Towner, Paul McCandless, Glen Moore and the late Colin Walcott was a treat. Following Walcott's sudden death in 1984, the group added percussionist Trilok Gurtu and produced 3 albums with him, the first being "Ecotopia". Seeing this band without Walcott was an emotional moment for me, and the addition of Gurtu, (one of my all-time favorite percussionists) made this bittersweet concert all the more poignant, as Gurtu was Walcott's choice to replace him if he left group. The following albums, "45th Parallel" and "Always, Never and Forever" also featured Gurtu, however it was "Ecotopia" that has stayed with me. Towner's beautiful 12 string guitar, piano and synthesizer playing were gorgeous; McCandless' oboe, English horn and soprano sax were as lyrical as ever. With Moore's acoustic bass grooves and Gurtu's drumming on his hybrid kit, Oregon was in a new place for me, and shaped how I looked at compositions and Indian flavored music. There are many great Oregon albums, both old and new, but for all the reasons mentioned above, "Ecotopia" has had the biggest influence. 




Post #17 of 20... Peter Gabriel's "Secret World Live"... OMG... When I saw this tour in 1993 at the Capital Centre in Maryland, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I never saw Gabriel with Genesis, however this was my second time seeing a Gabriel tour and it surpassed anything I'd seen him do before or since. With singer Paula Cole reprising lyrics by Kate Bush, drummer Manu Katche, Tony Levin on Chapman Stick and bass, David Rhodes on guitar, Shankar on violin and Papa Wemba, et al, Gabriel just killed me with hit after hit and song after song. I wore out the CD and DVD so much I had to buy them again! Gabriel just killed me with "Diggin' in the Dirt", Solsbury Hill", "Red Rain", "San Jacinto", and "In Your Eyes", to name just a few.  This album remains on my regular road trip playlist, and made me a fan of drummer Manu Katche for life. I loved the music from this tour, spanning several Gabriel albums, but to have them all on one album, performed marvelously and paced to perfection showed what a live album could and should be like. Gabriel's stagecraft was amazing, yet the album stands on its own as a testimony to the writing, genius and musicianship of Gabriel and all involved. Influential? Oh yes indeed...



Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin's "The Big Idea"... I'd long been a fan of British keyboardist Dave Stewart, (not to be confused with the bloke from the Eurythmics of the same name!), ever since his days as Bill Bruford's keyboard player and the group National Health. Stewart and his wife, singer Barbara Gaskin are an amazing songwriting duo, that have never gotten the recognition they sorely deserve, in my humble opinion anyway. Nevertheless, when their album "The Big Idea" came out in 1990, I was determined to see them if they came to the states. As fate would have it, they were scheduled to perform at the now defunct Bayou in D.C.; It was cold night and due to a very late start the place had emptied considerably by the time they took the stage. Stewart and Gaskin didn't disappoint. Alongside a guitarist, they tore through those tunes and even performed some of their earlier efforts. I was able to meet them back stage after the show, reminding Stewart I had seen him here with Bruford 10 years earlier, and how much I loved this album. Both were so gracious, humble and happy. Those tunes, "Deep Underground", "Grey Skies", "Heatwave" and covers of "The Crying Game" and "Subterranean Homesick Blues" were awesome. Stewart and Gaskin inspired me and showed me that like guitarist Steve Hillage and his wife Miquette Giraudy in "System 7", love and music can happily coexist with mutual respect, talent and admiration.




Post #19 of 20... Lenny White's "The Adventures Of Astral Pirates"... Of all the drummers that I followed, Lenny White has had the most influence on me. His open handed style and approach was a little different than that of Billy Cobham, Simon Phillips and Rayford Griffin. Unlike those double bass drum monsters, Lenny's baby blue Gretsch kit was identical to that of the great Tony Williams' yellow Gretsch kit, who had influenced drummers everywhere, including me. Following Lenny's career with Chick Corea's Return to Forever was an obsession for me and I devoured his first two star-studded solo albums, "Venusian Summer" and "Big City". When Lenny came out with "The Adventures Of Astral Pirates" in 1978, I jumped on it right away. This album was an epic musical adventure, which reminded me of something Yes might do, except it was jazz rock fusion at its finest. When Lenny and his "Pirates" rolled in to the Cellar Door in Georgetown later that year,  he had with him the late Don Blackman, Nick Moroch, Alex Blake and Jamie Glaser, basically everyone that was on the album. That band just killed it as they tore through the album with energy and at times, even humor, donning oversized sunglasses during a climactic solo! Lenny's next album "Streamline" and subsequent efforts are great, but "Astral Pirates" was special, a huge influence on me, and has to rank right up there as one of his best. 


Post #20 of 20... Stanley Clarke's "Stanley Clarke"... This 1974 masterpiece was Stanley's second solo album, and was perhaps his best known effort. When I first heard this album, I couldn't believe it. Stanley's Return to Forever bandmate, guitarist Bill Connors, Jan Hammer of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and drummer Tony Williams! Every tune was a riveting foray into music that I didn't think possible. Influential is putting it mildly; Tony's driving grooves would become the stuff of legend, Hammer's keyboards seemed to begin where the now defunct Mahavishnu left off, and Connors conjured all those incendiary riffs from "Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy", his last album with Return to Forever. Not to be outdone, Stanley's Alembic bass lines were like nothing I'd heard before. His acoustic bass playing and his compositions for those string and horn sections were just beautiful. There were a handful of solo albums by members of that so called jazz-rock-fusion era of the mid 1970s that also influenced me; Billy Cobham's "Spectrum", Tony Williams' "Believe It!", Lenny White's Venusian Summer", Herbie Hancock's "Headhunters", Bill Bruford's Feels Good to Me", and Chris Squire's "Fish Out of Water". At the top of my Technics turntable was this album by Stanley, one that simply has to be considered an all-time classic for the ages. 













Monday, November 25, 2019

Building Bill Bruford's Symmetrical Tama Kit


In two of my previous blogs, I wrote about successfully restoring a Tama "Bill Bruford Signature Series Palette" snare drum, and then building a duplicate version wrapped in chrome. Although they looked and sounded great, I thought about completing this project by adding a kit to go with it. Now I suppose I could always could buy a Tama Starclassic kit, and use the snares I built, but where is the fun in that? Bruford's Signature snare drum had all black Tama lugs, just like his Tama kit with King Crimson. That particular kit was a Canary Yellow Tama with deep power toms. Bruford would reappear with a another version of that yellow kit at the 1999 Modern Drummer Festival alongside his all acoustic Earthworks band. That kit also had black lugs, and featured an 18" kick drum, 16", 13", 12" and 10" toms. That kit appeared to be a rarity, perhaps even custom-made for Bruford. I've never seen another Tama kit that matched it. If I could gather the right shells, get some yellow drum wrap, black flanged hoops, and black lugs, perhaps I could make a version of that kit for myself!


Bill Bruford playing his symmetrical drum set-up
Back in 2000, Bruford explained the rationale for his symmetrical set-up; "I started using my current set-up with the second edition of Earthworks, after King Crimson, in about 1997. Broadly speaking it's a symmetrical, or ambidextrous kit.  (I'd give my right arm to be ambidextrous!) The two cymbals and two toms on the right are mirrored by two cymbals and two toms on the left, around a pivotal central hi-hat..."

"I arrange the drums flat on the same plane, like a timpanist with five timpani. Personally I find moving the left stick a few inches to the left (to reach the high tom) easier than moving it up and forward, as on a traditional kit. The drums are also arranged in a "broken" pitch order to avoid the common descending roll of drums from high to low. The set-up also avoids the now unnecessary problem of the right hand playing the hi-hat on the left side which I always found strange..."


As I discovered during the Bruford snare projects, those black Tama Starclassic lugs were no longer available, having been replaced by Black Nickel lugs. Those lugs are really expensive (around $20 per lug!) and a kit this size would require nearly 70 of them! At that price, I'd be better off buying a Starclassic kit. Now, I don't know how I missed them before, but Shaw Percussion of England makes their own, inexpensive version of the Tama Starclassic lugs in both chrome and black! Shaw is similar to the Goedrum company in China, which also makes Gretsch style lugs. I've used quite a few of the Goedrum lugs on many of my "Gretsch" style kits, so finding the folks at Shaw was a great resource. Like the Goedrum lugs, the Shaw lugs are cosmetically close enough to the original with only a few subtle differences, which was suitable for my purposes.


The 10" x 8" Tom
Once again, I began to assemble the kit with a variety of used orphan drums; I love taking these discarded gems and recycling them! The kit pieces I was able to cobble together were; an 18" x 16" Sound Percussion concert tom for the kick; a  16" x 14" Ddrum Diablo floor tom; a 12" x 10" and a 13" x 11" Ludwig Accent toms; and a 10" x 8" PDP Double Drive tom. I chose the Ddrum, Ludwig and PDP toms not only because they all came with black hoops, but because ironically, the PDP, Ludwigs and Ddrums all had identical lug spacings. I'd also come across a 20" x 16"  Ddrum kick with all black bass drum spurs, just what I needed.  There were in fact, times when Bruford would use different sized kick drums; A 20" x 16" or 22' x 16", instead of the 18" x 16". As fate would have it, the Ddrum 20" x 16" kick's lug holes spacings matched the Tama-styled Shaw lugs, so I decided to go with the 20" x 16" to avoid any extra drilling and decided to use the 18" x 16" for future project.


The 13" x 11" Tom
With the drum sizes decided, I needed to get a pair of 20" Gibraltar unfinished maple hoops that I primed and painted with yellow lacquer to match the 5 yellow wraps I'd ordered from Jammin' Sam in Arizona. Next, I ordered 68 black lugs from Shaw and got to work on drilling, sanding and prepping the shells before the lugs arrived. The 10" PDP and the 13" Ludwig toms each had black tom suspension mounts, however the 12" Ludwig tom didn't. As it turned out, I actually had an orphaned 12", 6 lug chrome suspension mount lying around. After a bit of sanding, I was able to prime and paint it in satin black to match the others. I already had all the drum heads I needed; Evans G1 Clear in 10", 12", 13" and 16", making the only other heads I needed were for the 20" kick drum. I ordered a 20" black Evans EQ3 with a port hole, a Tama decal for the front, and an Evans 20" EMAD Clear head for the batter side. The first tom I finished was the 10" x 8", and since I'd made 2 different sizes of the Bruford Signature Palette Series decal, I decided to use the smaller ones because they matched the size of the Tama Starclassic Performer logos and frankly, just looked better.


The 16" x 14" Floor Tom
After finishing the 10" x 8" tom, I got to work on the others. I suppose I could've tried to find a 16" x 16" Ludwig Accent floor tom, however I came across a 16" x 14" Ddrum Diablo floor tom for next to nothing, and since the lug holes matched, I thought I'd use it instead. The 12" and 13" Ludwig Accents were up next. Again, the lug holes lined up perfectly. It was great having drums that didn't require drilling new holes and filling the old ones. Last, but not least I began to assemble the bass drum with a pair of Ddrum d2, black bass drum spurs. To be honest, it took me a bit to find a suitable yellow color for the hoops. They were either too bright, too orange, or too pale. Finding one that had a "lemon" or "canary" color with a hint of green seemed to do the trick. After trying several shades of Krylon yellow, one of the Rustoleum spray paint colors seemed to match the wrap nicely.



The 20" x 16" Kick Drum
After the remaining lugs arrived from the UK, I finished off the bass drum with 16 black Pearl claws, the Evans bass drum heads: The front with a Tama logo, and then the 16" floor tom, the 13" tom and the 12" tom. I then affixed the smaller Bruford Signature Palette decals, and added the 3 black RIMS suspension mounts with 3 Gibraltar memory lock tom mounts. Truth be told, I've been using Bill Bruford's symmetrical set- up with my Gretsch USA Custom kit since 2007, so I already had all the stands with L-Rod clamps, as well as a DW 5000 kick pedal and a DW 5000 cable Remote Hi-hat with a Tama multi-clamp and stand. Bruford's Signature snare drum actually used flanged hoops to make the drum sound livelier, as opposed to the heavier die cast hoops used on most Tama Starcassic drums. Since neither the original Tama Starclassic drums, or these restored toms had tone dampeners, I invested in a set of 10", 12" 13", and 16" Evans clear "E-Rings" to control any unwanted overtones on the toms, and a 14" for the snare. With all of the individual drums finally finished, it was time to put them all together see how they all looked and sounded. So without further ado, here they are...










The entire kit sounded great, especially the toms. They were perhaps the biggest surprise of all. They sounded so good in fact, that I eschewed using any of the Evans clear E-Rings. I did need however, to add a bit more muffling to the 20" kick drum, but overall, I'm pleased with the sound of it. I can't wait to play them live with my jazz and fusion quartets. I'll post more photos and videos once I get the kit set up in the studio, and following my first performance with it!