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!





Monday, September 30, 2019

Creating the "Indian Subsonic Bass Sound" Kit Part Two

Back in 2011, I embarked on building an "Indian Subsonic Bass Sound" Kit. This kit was inspired by the drum sets played by most notably, Trilok Gurtu and the likes of Pete Lockett and Selvaganesh Vinayakram. Although I was able to successfully build this kit, I hadn't been able to put it to good use in a live musical situation or recording session. Now, nearly ten years later I found myself performing the kind of world music that could lend itself to unique properties of this drum kit. A few years ago, I'd been invited to record with 7 string bassist Jason Everett for his "Moksha" project. For this recording, I used my Zendrum EXP, MIDI percussion controller. Jason had assembled an impressive array of world class musicians for this project as well; Guitarist Fareed Haque, Vishal Nagar, Suhail Yusef Khan, and the kanjira master from John McLaughlin's "Shakti", Selvaganesh Vinayakram.

 E."Doc" Smith and Selvaganesh Vinayakram
Selva not only played the kanjira, he also played a customized drum kit made in India. Selva's kit was also inspired by Trilok Gurtu. Made up of cymbals, frame drums, a popcorn snare, and kevlar, Selva's kit is a one-of-kind "contraption". Since Selva was a hand percussionist, he fashioned a unique way of playing his cymbals by cutting off the tips of drumsticks, screwing them to a rubber strip and then to the wing nut post of his ride cymbal, hi-hat stand and one of the tension rods on his snare drum.

With remarkable technique, Selva could play sticking patterns with his hands, without ever needing to hold a drumstick! Now Selva's kit didn't possess the any of the subsonic drums that Trilok employed, however I was fascinated with the sound of his Meinl cymbal stacks, his amazing konnakol vocal patterns, talas, and breathtaking virtuosity.

Following those recording sessions, I got to see Selva quite often with saxophonist George Brooks' incredible "Aspada" ensemble, featuring bassist Kai Eckhardt and keyboardist Oz Ezzelin. Selva used his kit to great effect in that group and I learned quite a bit watching them live. Selva continued to astound me when he joined Jason's "Deep Energy Orchestra" in Seattle, featuring Warr guitarist Trey Gunn of King Crimson, cellist Phil Hirschi of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Anil Prasad on tabla, violinists Radhika Iyer, Rachel Nesvig and Alelda Gehrels. Their album "Playing with Fire" and their live DVD have been critically acclaimed gems. The DEO's live audience video format also used a similar concept successfully employed by the jazz group "Snarky Puppy".

Jason Everett and his Deep Energy Orchestra
Last October, Jason invited me to join them for their CD/DVD release shows when Selva was delayed by visa issues. Alongside their new tabla player Chaz Hastings, I performed live with the DEO for 3 shows. For those shows, I used my Zendrum EXP and Pete Lockett's incredible iPad app, "DrumJam". Pete's app not only featured his famed "Contraption" kit, but kanjira samples and a wide variety of Indian percussion instruments. In February, Selva was already committed to performances in India and so I rejoined them again for 3 more shows; This time with guitarist Fareed Haque and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra! I was also honored to record on their upcoming album, due to be released in early 2020.

With those experiences behind me, I was now motivated more than ever to complete the Indian Subsonic Bass Sound kit. Inspired now by Selva, Pete Lockett and Trilok, I experimented with a variety of set-ups to find the most practical and ergonomic. I also wanted to be able to play the parts I played on the Zendrum EXP with the Deep Energy Orchestra, as well as John Wubbenhorst's group "Facing East" on this kit, just in case I got an opportunity to use it live. I had a pretty good idea of the cymbal configuration I wanted to use; Stacked china and "EFX" cymbals, a ride, baby chinas and splashes. Thanks to my friend, keyboardist Jim Lang, I was able to fashion a drum rack made up of his old Ultimate Support Stands. Between the two of us, we had enough clamps, T-bars and rubber feet to make a go of it. After a dozen or so different set-ups, I finally came up with a practical, ergonomic placement of the subsonic drums. Believe it or not, I went back to how Trilok set up his kit with his 14" tom positioned to his lower right. Instead of placing the triple tom array to the left of the kick drum, I decided to place it directly over the kick in a more traditional way. the result is more natural.



With a nod to Jason's "OM" bass, I even got a customized head from Vintage Logos, complete with port hole for a microphone for my 16" x 8", six ply Maple kick drum. Additionally, I'm using a DW 5000 remote hi-hat, DW 5000 double bass pedal, 12" x 5" Pearl Firecracker snare; Assorted Sabian and Zildjian cymbals and Remo's new "Colortone" (in Green) heads with Remo Muffl' Rings for the 10" and 14" subsonic drums. Here's a little video and audio recording the Indian Subsonic Bass Sound Kit!





Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Building the Bill Bruford Signature Snare - Part Two

In my last blog, I was preparing to build a replica of the Tama "Bill Bruford Signature Palette Series" snare drum from scratch, with all-chrome, authentic Tama parts. Most of the parts I was able to find quite easily, however the vintage Tama MCS50A Throw Off and MCS50B Butt proved to a real challenge to obtain. Eventually, I found them; (I even had to search as far as Athens, Greece and Lindau, Germany; Thank you Trimis and Thomann Music!). As I had mentioned before, Bruford's Tama snare was unique; A 14" x 6", 6 ply shell consisting of 2 ply Maple, 2 ply Birch and 2 ply Maple. My version would use a 6 ply Keller VSS Maple 14" x 6" shell. Not exactly the same, but as close as I could get. In fact, all of my Gretsch, Mapex and Yamaha snares were 100% Maple, each warm and wonderful sounding. As fate would have it, I happened to come across an unusual find; A 14" x 6" Bill Bruford Signature Series snare drum that was missing all of its original, Tama Starclassic Black "MSL-SCTB" lugs and 14" Snappy Snare Wires.  I luckily found a used Tama S.L.P. Bubinga snare drum with Tama Starclassic "MSL-SCTBN" Black Nickel lugs which I stripped off of it and added them to the Bruford snare. With a little bit of tuning to get that patented Bruford rimshot sound, I was good to go. I now had a completely restored, "Bill Bruford Signature Palette Series" snare drum, #405 signed by Bill Bruford himself! A very satisfying project to say the least, and one I couldn't wait to put it into action. Bruford's preference for a snare drum with all-black hardware and flanged hoops had begun to convince me of the aesthetic merits and appreciate the darker look of this iconic snare drum. With the original drum now completed, my plan of building a one-of-a-kind, 6 Ply, 14" x 6", all-Maple shell, chrome wrapped, with all chrome hardware version of Bill Bruford's snare was also about to come to life!


Tama MCS50A Strainer
As I mentioned in the previous blog, I began researching all the parts of the original Bruford snare and set about seeing if I could collect what I needed to build one. I was able to find the following parts: Tama's MFM14-10 and MFM14S-10 flanged hoops, batter and snare side; A Tama MS20N14S Snappy Snare Strainer, and 20 Tama MSL-SCT Starclassic lugs. So far so good, as everything could be gotten via ebay, Reverb and a variety of drum part stores, Salt City Drums, Drums Etc., Portsmouth Drum Center, etc. 

It was then that I ran into the biggest problem, one that had me vexed for a while: The Tama MCS50A and MCS50B Snare Throw Off and Butt. These two items are discontinued and seemingly impossible to find. I searched everywhere for them, even as far as Greece! I finally scored a throw off from Trimis Music in Athens, however the butt plate proved to be the most difficult. Through the vintage drum forums, I learned that these two Tama parts are some of the most sought after, vintage drum parts around. Now I could've used newer Tama parts, but I wanted the authentic parts used in the Bruford snare. I actually own two Tama snare drums; One of them being a 14" x 6" chrome steel, Tama "Power Metal" Snare. It's one of my best snare drums; In fact, it would later become the basis for the Stewart Copeland Signature model. Believe it or not, it uses the same throw off and butt as the Bruford snare!
Tama MCS50B Snare Butt

Now I definitely wasn't going to cannibalize it, but I thought if I could find a used Tama snare with the same butt plate, I could cannibalize it for parts. Now the Power Metal snares are also quite rare, and go for as much as $450 in brass or chrome, however the piccolo version is a lot cheaper and as it happens, there are more than a few of them to be found on ebay and Reverb in various states of disrepair. I actually managed to find one such drum, (missing lugs, but with the butt plate intact!), and grabbed it for cheap. Now, at long last, I was finally good to go with all the parts I needed. With all of the Tama chrome parts ordered, as well as the Bruford recommended Evans G1 Coated and Hazy 300 Snare Side heads, all that remained was to acquire the shell itself. Now Bruford's signature snare was 6 ply, made up with the aforementioned layers of Maple and Birch. My only option was getting a 6 ply, VSS Maple shell from Drum Supply House; Not a problem, as I happen to love their all Maple shells. After that, I'd order a chrome wrap from Jammin' Sam in Arizona and just wait for everything to arrive. It wouldn't take long for Evans heads, chrome lugs, strainers, hoops and a custom-made decal from StickerApp to be delivered.


During the course of my research into making the all-chrome version of the Bruford snare, I came across another interesting discovery. It seems Tama, like Gretsch, Ludwig and Slingerland, made "chrome-over-wood" versions of their snare drums. I came across one such snare that seemed to be a newer version of the drum I was planning on building. This Tama Starclassic snare was indeed a COW version and had newer Tama Quck Touch MCS70A Strainer and MCS70B Butt. These are the parts that replaced the older, aforementioned Quick Touch parts found on the original Bruford snare. Although the original Bruford snare was painted black on the inside of the shell, I opted to keep it bare, just like that Tama COW version, as well as my Maple Gretsch, Mapex and Yamaha shells. Like the other Maple Starclassic snare drums, this chrome version was also outfitted with diecast hoops. Bruford preferred to use flanged hoops on his snare drum to give it a livelier sound. My version would mirror Bruford's preference, and so I decided to use Tama's flanged chrome, Steel Mighty hoops. 

One of the other benefits of having the original Bruford shell meant that I now had the perfect template for laying out of all the holes that I needed to drill on the VSS Maple shell. and placement of my custom decal. The decal from StickerApp was not my first foray into making custom badges for my drum kits. I've used PlaqueMaker to reproduce square badges for my Yamaha and Mapex kits, and oval badges for my Ddrum kits. This was my first decal and it came out quite nicely. When the 6 ply Maple shell from Andy Foote's Drum Supply House finally arrived, I was overjoyed. Andy does great work; I've gotten many shells from him and each one has been flawless; Perfect bearing edges and snare beds. After lining up all the holes for lugs with the Bruford shell, I began drilling the holes for the lugs, strainer and butt. Once the drilling was done, I added a "JS Chrome" wrap from Jammin' Sam in Arizona. (Sam is the best in the business IMHO; Check him out if you ever need to wrap any of your drums). 



Next, it was time install the chrome hardware, beginning with the Tama Starclassic lugs; I needed 20 of them and they varied in price. Fortunately I was able to get all of them from ebay, Reverb, 2112 Percussion and Thomann Music in Germany(!) for very good prices. Finally, I added the Tama MCS50A and MCS50B Snare Throw Off and Butt, the Bruford recommended Evans G1 Genera and Hazy 300 snare heads, and lastly the Tama flanged Mighty Hoops, (MFM14-10 and MFM14S-10), and the MS20N14S Snappy Snare wires. The only thing left to do was to add my $27 custom made, 3" x 3.9" "Bill Bruford Signature Palette Series" decal from StickerApp. I trimmed the excess clear adhesive from the decal and placed it next to the snare butt, exactly where it is on the original. The new drum was finally complete! How did it sound compared to the original? The original Bruford snare has a thinner, brighter and crispier sound. This new Maple snare was warmer and sounded more like the classic Bruford of the 1990's King Crimson and Earthworks groups. All in all, the chrome version of Bruford's snare was a successful project. I'm looking forward to putting both of them to good use in several upcoming sessions and live performances!











Sunday, July 7, 2019

Building the Bill Bruford Signature Snare - Part One

Bill Bruford's "rimshot" is one of the most unique and exquisite snare drum sounds ever heard. From his earlier days on his 14"x 5.5" Ludwig Supraphonic Super-Sensitive snare with Yes, to his brass 14" x 6.5" Tama Big Beat snare with King Crimson, Bruford's crisp rolls and sticking technique were a thing of beauty and a joy to behold. In his later years, Bruford moved away from the metal snare drums of rock, to the jazzier sound of the all-maple 14"x 6.5" Tama Starclassic snare drum with his all-acoustic group Earthworks. It was during that era that Tama offered the "Bill Bruford Signature Palette Series" snare drum, a customized, 6 ply Starclassic; 2 ply Maple, 2 ply Birch and 2 ply Maple. It was also outfitted with all black hardware; lugs, hoops, strainer and a custom "Black Metallic Sand Blasted" finish, with Bill Bruford's personally autographed and numbered decal. Listing for around $650, the snare quickly became a collectors item, but was discontinued not long after. Today, they can be found on ebay for $500 - $750; with a numbered and signed sticker on the inside of each shell by Bruford himself.


The drum sounded great; You can hear and see it on more than a few of Bruford's Earthworks albums and DVDs. I've always loved that Bruford sound. Now to be honest, you can tune a variety of Tama snare drums and get pretty close to that sound, yet Bruford's drum size, shell and hoops were unique. Readers of my earlier blogs will know that I successfully built a replica of Billy Cobham's Yamaha Signature Snare Drum. I wondered; Could I make a version of Bruford's snare? Now I have to confess, I'm really partial to chrome-over-wood snare drums; They go with any kit, and as much as liked the sound of the Bruford snare, I wasn't enamored with the all-black look of it. Did Tama make another version of it? Well, the answer was both yes and no. Tama briefly made a Maple Starclassic snare with the identical, all-black lugs like Bruford's, albeit a 12 ply shell with a gray finish and with black die cast hoops. The Bruford snare used black flanged hoops, something he preferred to use to make the snare sound more lively. So the origin of the black hardware was solved, but could I actually make an all-chrome version of Bruford the snare drum with authentic Tama parts?


Tama MCS50A Strainer
I began researching all the parts of the original Bruford snare and set about seeing if I could collect what I needed to build one. I was able to find the following parts: Tama's MFM14-10 and MFM14S-10 flanged hoops, batter and snare side; A Tama MS20N14S Snappy Snare Strainer, and 20 Tama MSL-SCT Starclassic lugs. So far so good, as everything could be gotten via ebay, Reverb and a variety of drum part stores, Salt City Drums, Drums Etc., Portsmouth Drum Center, etc. 

It was then that I ran into the biggest problem, one that had me vexed for a while: The Tama MCS50A and MCS50B Snare Throw Off and Butt. These two items are discontinued and seemingly impossible to find. I searched everywhere for them, even as far as Greece! I finally scored a throw off from Trimis Music in Athens, however the butt plate was all but impossible to find. Through the vintage drum forums, I learned that these two Tama parts are some of the most sought after, vintage drum parts around. Now I could've used newer Tama parts, but I wanted the authentic parts used in the Bruford snare. I actually own two Tama snare drums; One of them being a 14" x 5.5" chrome steel, Tama "Power Metal" Snare. It's one of my best snare drums; In fact, it would later become the basis for the Stewart Copeland Signature model. Believe it or not, it uses the same throw off and butt as Bruford's.


Tama MCS50B Snare Butt
Now I definitely wasn't going to cannibalize it, but I thought if I could find a used Tama snare with the same butt plate, I could cannibalize it for parts. Now the Power Metal snares are also quite rare, and go for as much as $450 in brass or chrome, however the piccolo version is a lot cheaper and as it happens, there are more than a few of them to be found on ebay and Reverb in various states of disrepair. I actually managed to find one such drum, (missing lugs, but with the butt plate intact!), and grabbed it for cheap. Now, at long last, I was finally good to go with all the parts I needed.





With all of the Tama chrome parts ordered, as well as Evans G1 Coated and Hazy 300 Snare Side heads, all that remained was to acquire the shell itself. Now Bruford's snare was 6 ply, made up with the aforementioned layers of Maple and Birch. My only option was getting a 6 ply, VSS Maple shell from Drum Supply House; Not a problem, as I happen to love their all Maple shells. After that, I'd order a chrome wrap from Jammin' Sam in Arizona and just wait for everything to arrive. It wouldn't take long for Evans heads, chrome lugs, strainers, hoops and decal to arrive, however I would get an unexpected surprise that would give my project a new direction, and one that I certainly didn't see coming! As fate would have it, I happened to come across an unusual find; A 14" x 6" Bill Bruford Signature Series snare drum that was missing all of its original, Tama Starclassic Black "MSL-SCTB" lugs and 14" Snappy Snare Wires. The rest of the remaining parts were in decent shape with only a minor amount of wear and tear. Because of that, the price was also considerably less than any other version I'd seen on ebay or Reverb. Apparently one of the original lugs had been broken, so the owner swapped them out for 20 black nickel, "bread loaf" lugs from Drum Factory Direct and Purecussion snare wires. Still, to find one like that was a surprise; I mean what are the odds? Needless to say, it seemed destined to be mine, so I got it. I now had a genuine Bill Bruford Signature Palette Series snare #405, signed and all. I suddenly wondered if I could I find any of those original Black Starclassic lugs long since discontinued? I searched around and discovered that those identical lugs are found on older Starclassic Maple snare drums. Unfortunately, those all-black lugs were even harder to find than their all-chrome counter parts, and those snares are extremely rare and so costly, that you'd never want to cannibalize one for parts. 


Since Tama had apparently discontinued the all-black Starclassic lugs years ago, I resigned myself to the fact that Tama's newer Black Nickel lugs were as close as I was ever going to get. Well, why not have the best of both worlds? I decided to restore the original drum, and then make the all-chrome version, using the original as the perfect reference guide. I soon discovered that the most popular approach to getting my hands on some of those Tama MSL-SCTBN Black Nickel lugs, (which cost as much as $350 brand new), was to buy a used Tama S.L.P. (Sound Lab Project) snare drum with the identical Black Nickel hardware; Strip it, and either resell it for parts, or as a customized drum with different lugs. Well, I happened to find a used Tama S.L.P. Bubinga 14" x 6" snare for under $250 and in great shape on Reverb and bought it. 



Now I really wanted to get started on restoring the original Bruford snare drum! The Bruford drum arrived first, and I immediately got to work by removing the old snare wires, worn out heads, the Black Nickel bread loaf lugs, and thoroughly cleaned the drum shell. Thankfully, the previous owner was very careful to only use lugs that precisely fit the Bruford snare, so he'd didn't have to do any additional drilling. Next to arrive was the Tama S.L.P. Bubinga snare which was in excellent shape. As soon as the Bubinga S.L.P. snare drum arrived, I removed the strainer, hoops, and began to strip all of the Tama Starclassic Black Nickel lugs from it, and add them to the Bruford snare. Next, I installed the 20 Black Nickel Starclassic lugs...



The lugs fit perfectly, and I then added Bruford's recommended Evans Genera G1 Coated Batter head for the top, an Evans Hazy 300 Snare Side head for the bottom, the original hoops, tension rods and a new Snappy Snare strainer wire. With a little bit of tuning to get that patented Bruford rimshot sound, I was good to go. I now had a fully restored, "Bill Bruford Signature Palette Series" snare drum, #405 signed by Bill Bruford with Black Nickel Tama Starclassic lugs, the original hoops, Black MCS50A Throw Off and MCS50B Butt! A very satisfying project to say the least, and one I couldn't wait to put it into action. Bruford's preference for a snare drum with all-black hardware and flanged hoops had begun to convince me of the aesthetic merits and appreciate the darker look of this iconic snare drum. With the original drum now completed, I proceeded with my plan to build a one-of-a-kind, 6 Ply, 14" x 6", all-Maple shell, chrome wrapped, with all chrome hardware version of Tama's "Bill Bruford Signature Palette Series Snare Drum". To be continued...






Saturday, April 13, 2019

10 Most Influential Albums

Post #1 of 10... Well, this was my first time playing the "Ten most influential albums" game, thanks to one Steve Woehrle, so In no particular order, I will start off with Steve Roach and Michael Shrieve's "The Leaving Time", featuring David Torn and Jonas Helborg... 

If you haven't heard this musical masterpiece, you really need to! This album is certainly on my "desert island classics". This was an interesting era, with guitarist David Torn's "Cloud About Mercury", Patrick O'Hearn's "River's Gonna Rise" and Mark Isham's "Castalia". Many of these same players were on these albums, along with Terry Bozzio, Bill Bruford and Tony Levin.


Post #2 of 10... Billy Cobham's "Total Eclipse" remains one of the most influential albums in my life. I was fortunate to see this tour live at Washington, DC's Catholic University! The Brecker Brothers, Abercrombie, Leviev, Blake and Ferris were all there. 

This was Cobham's 3rd solo album after "Spectrum" and "Crosswinds". It was also the first time I'd seen Cobham outside of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and I wasn't disappointed. I would see Cobham dozens of times more during the '70s and into the '80s, with George Duke, Alphonso Johnson, and John Scofield in the unforgettable Billy Cobham-George Duke Band; with Tom Scott and Steve Khan; with Jack Bruce and with his "Glass Menagerie" bands featuring Tim Landers, Gil Goldstein and Dean Brown.


Post #3 of 10... Chick Corea and Return to Forever's "Where Have I Known You Before?" I saw this classic line-up with Chick, Stanley, Lenny and Al at least a dozen times back in the day; Even hitchhiked to Philly from DC to see them! They just blew my mind with "Song to the Pharaoh Kings". Influential doesn't do this justice. I'd seen them with guitarist Bill Connors for the "Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy" tour before the arrival of DiMeola, however this classic line-up is my favorite.

I would see the band several more times over that span; the "No Mystery" tour when they played 3 nights in a row at the Carter Barron Amphitheater 3 blocks from my house; At the Capital Centre for the "Romantic Warrior" along with Buddy Miles and Santana, and of course the solo tours; Stanley's "Modern Man" and School Days", Lenny's phenomenal "Astral Pirates" and "Streamline" tours; and Al's "Elegant Gypsy" and "Casino" tours. RTF, along with Larry Coryell's Eleventh House, Mahavishnu and Weather Report were the best of the best; Jazz, rock and fusion at it's finest.


Post #4 of 10... The New Tony Williams Lifetime's "Believe It”... OMG, I wore this album out, and that was before seeing this band live with Allan Holdsworth, Tony Newton and Alan Pasqua at the Cellar Door in Washington DC... Words can't describe the effect this album had on me...  What else can I say about one of the greatest drummers of all time? The band was short lived; returning to the Childe Harold in Dupont Circle the following year, sadly without Holdsworth for the "Million Dollar legs" tour. That tour and album were both disappointing, despite Williams' prodigious talents. Tony would redeem himself later, when I saw him at the Merriweather Post Pavillion with the V.S.O.P. Quintet, featuring Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard and Ron Carter. To this day, it's the greatest jazz quintet I have ever seen.


Post #5 of 10... "U.K". After witnessing the demise of King Crimson at the Kennedy Center in '74 and starving for anything Bruford, I was shocked in the summer of '78 to see Bruford, Wetton, Jobson and Holdsworth opening for Al DiMeola at Painters Mill, MD. A short lived "super group" that transcended anything before or since... This was especially pleasant since Holdsworth had recently departed the aforementioned Tony Williams Lifetime. 

U.K. was sensational; the best thing to come out of Britain in years. Part King Crimson, part Yes, part Roxy Music, part Soft Machine, part Gong; Unreal. Sadly, they blew themselves up over musical differences. Some of the music lived on in U.K. with Bozzio, and with Bruford's band featuring Holdsworth's replacement, the "unknown John Clark". Nevertheless, U.K., like the Mahavishnu Orchestra before them, burned brightly, but their incandescence was not meant to last.  


Post #6 of 10... Weather Report's "Mysterious Traveler". I saw this tour during high school at the Kennedy Center in DC. Needless to say, Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul have had a profound influence on me. This particular album is my favorite and one of the best they ever made... 

 I also saw the subsequent "Black Market" tour with Alphonso Johnson, Chester Thompson and Alex Acuna, and then the "Heavy Weather" tour with Jaco Pastorius, Acuna and Badrena (when McLaughlin's "Shakti" stole the show as the opener!); Jaco was jumping around the stage like a man possessed and was a bit off-putting. I only learned later that his genius came with a price. They killed it with Peter Erskine after that, but because of that first impression, the WR/Alphonso groups are my favorites.


Post #7 of 10... The Mahavishnu Orchestra's "Birds of Fire". I first saw them at American University and finally at one of their final performances on my 17th birthday at Constitution Hall; I had no idea they would break up a few weeks later. Their live album, "Between Nothingness and Eternity" rocked my world too, particularly Jan Hammer's "Sister Andrea". Years later the "Lost Trident Recordings" would surface; Essentially the 4th Mahavishnu studio album, and featured for the first time, a studio version of "Sister Andrea"! 

I would see several incarnations of the Mahavishnu Orchestra over the ensuing years; The "Apocalypse" and "Visions of the Emerald Beyond" bands with Jean-Luc Ponty, Narada Michael Walden, Ralphe Armstrong, Steve Kindler, (who go on to become Jan Hammer's violinist in the Jan Hammer Group with Jeff Beck), Gayle Moran, (the future Mrs. Chick Corea), and cellist Phil Hirschi, who I've had to the pleasure to perform and record with in Jason Everett's "Deep Energy Orchestra". The final incarnation of the MO with Dan Gottlieb, Mitch Forman, Bill Evans and Jonas Helborg never quite reached the heights of the previous two, and would give way to McLaughlin's amazing "Shakti" bands with Zakir Hussain, Shankar and the father and son Vinayakrams; Vikku and Selvaganesh. Nevertheless, McLaughlin, Cobham, Hammer, Goodman and Laird were one of the greatest bands I've ever heard or seen. Power, passion, and beauty indeed... 


Post #8 of 10... KIng Crimson's "Discipline". 1981 was for me, a tumultuous time in NYC; In the midst of all of it all, one album both inspired and touched my soul. Fripp, Bruford, Belew and Levin had just changed everything. Following the end of King Crimson in 1974, I'd last seen Fripp with his "League of Crafty Guitarists", featuring a then unknown Trey Gunn; Bruford in a duo with Patrick Moraz, Tony Levin with Peter Gabriel and Adrian Belew with Frank Zappa, David Bowie and the Talking Heads. 

During those days, I was living in NYC and performing with the Brian Eno led group, "The Same", with Carter Burwell, Chip Johannsen, Clodagh Simmonds, Stephen Bray, and Stanley Adler. Eno told Stanley that Fripp was in town, auditioning bassists for a new King Crimson and suggested he try out for Fripp. Stanley went down to a studio in the Village where he found himself face-to-face with Fripp, Bruford and Belew. Stanley did his best, however Fripp informed him that they were going to go with Tony Levin, and thanked him, remarking that he was the best Eno had ever sent him. Eno was livid and told Stanley, "That wanker! One day the world will know the name Stanley Adler!"  Well, I love Stanley, but I think it turned out for the best. We all went to the Savoy in NYC later that year and were mesmerized by this incredible group, now about to embark on its 50th anniversary tour.


Post #9 of 10... ... Bill Bruford's "Earthworks". In the summer of 1990, Bruford, Ballamy, Bates and Hutton, blended acoustic jazz and electronic drumming like nothing I had ever seen before. I actually followed the band from Boston to DC, (the only time I ever did something like that). After 5 consecutive shows, Bruford spotted me and said, "You deserve the Bill Bruford 'Medal of Valour'..."  Bruford's use of the Simmons electronic drum kit had a huge impact on me. He began using them as part of a hybrid kit with Patrick Moraz on the "Flags" album and tour, and next with aforementioned King Crimson albums "Discipline", Beat" and Three of a Perfect Pair". 

Bruford soon switched to a 12 piece Simmons kit, using only an acoustic snare and cymbals. I saw him using that kit live with David Torn's "Cloud About Mercury" band and with his new jazz group Earthworks. His ability top play chords and melodies along with a groove was unbelievable, so much so that I went out and built a Simmons kit just like it, one I still own to this day. Bruford would use his Simmons SDS7 and later SDX with Earthworks, Anderson Bruford, Wakeman and Howe, and finally with Yes' "Union" reunion tour, when his SDX module and back up both blew up on stage; reducing him to playing a tambourine the rest of the night. Bruford's use of electronic drums had come to a bitter end; He never played them again, however the mark he left on electronic percussion has shaped me and generations to come.


Post #10 of 10... ... Bela Fleck and the Flecktones' "Flight of the Cosmic Hippo". I actually hadn't heard of them until a friend played me their incredible first album. Fleck, the Wooten Brothers, Levy and later Coffin, were and are, phenomenal. Two of my friends had just opened for the Flecktones and told me about Roy "Futureman" Wooten" and his "Drumitar"; A Synthaxe MIDI guitar controller made into a drum guitar with triggers all over it. They knew I was into electronic drums, had this monster Simmons kit and wondered if it was something I could make or be interested in. I thought, "How hard could it be?" I went out and found everything I could on Futureman; That was 1994...

Next thing I know, I'm building my own "drum-guitar" I called the Drummstick, and taught myself to play it by playing along to every song on this album; It worked like a charm and before long I was touring and playing live with a variety of musicians from Bill Kirchen to Bon Lozago! Years later I was finally able to meet the Flecktones and spent a brief time picking Futureman's brain; Suffice it to say, I learned a lot from him and the rest is history...  Perhaps for me, their most memorable show was when Fleck, and the Wooten Brothers were joined on stage by the late guitarist Danny Gatton at Lisner Auditorium in DC; It would be one of Gatton's final live performances. 

Well, it's been a fun challenge; 10 albums really don't do it justice, but these 10 have had the biggest influence on me. Give them a listen, you may find they may have a similar effect on you...;)