Category: Folk

Turn Up The Quiet

Loop #139

When your studio is temporarily set up in a spare bedroom (I’m doing some more work on the carriage house) and your wife is taking a nap (apparently, pregnant women love to nap), knowing how to play quietly becomes an essential part of the production process… and a happy marriage. And playing quietly doesn’t just mean grabbing some brushes and making everything 30 db lower.. it also means keeping the intensity up. Put some fire in the mezzo-piano.

By harnessing the energy of arena-rock style drumming and funneling it into the quiet side of the dynamic range, today’s loop is perfectly suitable for coffeeshops, jazz clubs… and nearby naps.

A different kind of Quiet

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86 BPM

Back To Brushes

I know, I know…. things have been a little quiet around here lately. But trust me, I have a very good Reason for my absence. I would love to share more information with you at this time, but a team of international lawyers and a very large Swedish man who goes by the name, “Sven”, have me sworn to secrecy “or else…”. In just under a month, I will be able to provide you with all kinds of details about this very exciting project.

I’ve also been making some major strides in the upgrade of my studio. Trenches have been dug. Wiring is up to code. Raccoons have been evacuated. The next phase of construction will be insulating, soundproofing and drywalling the carriage house. It was built 200 years ago as place to keep your horse and buggy… not with the intent of some asshole recording drums in the middle of the frigid New Englad winter. I still have some work ahead of me.

Loop #134

While the blisters on my hands heal (remind me to wear gloves next time I use a shovel), I’m going to keep the loops on the mellow side. In this case, that means going back to playing some brushes and keeping things simple. This is what a loop would sound like if Russ Kunkel, Steve Jordan and Vernel Fournier had a baby, and that baby played drums, but only used a Gretsch kick and snare (baby drummers can easily land endorsement deals with fine drum companies). That baby would probably record loops that sound like this:

Steve Jordan

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90 BPM

Brushing Up On The Funk

Such a pun-laden headline could only mean one thing: Another funk loop. And rather than picking up the sticks and burying the VU meters into the red, I decided to to go the subtle route and use brushes to lay down the back beat.

Jim Keltner - Master of brushes, forks and pens.
Jim Keltner - Master of brushes, forks and pens.

Loop #119

I’ll admit, I’m not breaking any new ground with today’s groove. Drummers like Steve Jordan, Jim Keltner, and even the guy from G. Love and Special Sauce have been incorporating brushes into funk and pop grooves for years. I am, however, providing you with two measures of pristinely-produced, wide open snare, right hand on the floor tom, brush-based goodness.

Enjoy.

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103 BPM

Request #2 – Mellow Acoustic

Loop #107

Here’s my loop response from the following request:

“I’d like something that can go behind a slow acoustic guitar without taking over.”

Brushes - Russ Kunkel Style
Brushes - Russ Kunkel Style

I immediately thought of Russ Kunkel’s brush-ballad playing from those early 1970’s James Taylor records. I tuned the snare down nice and low, kept the groove nice and simple and rounded things out with a bit of reverb.

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70 BPM

Zeibekiko to The Max.

Have you heard a Zeibekiko groove before? I hadn’t… until this morning when I received this email from one of my readers in France:

————————————————————————————————————————————-

Hello Ryan!

First I do appreciate your blog, it’s fun to read, well written (even if, being a french reader, I’m not the best judge…), with nice loops… My drumming moment of the day (I’m not a drummer).

I would like to share a rhythm that fascinates me. No reason for that, but it does… Some years ago, a greek friend of mine lent me some greek music : pop singers, traditional from islands… and a CD of rebetiki songs. One rhythm caught my hear : straight, firm, slow, but kind of unstable, in a pleasant way. It’s called zeibekiko, and it’s a 9/4, 60bpm, divided as follows : eqe qq eqe qqq (e=eighth, q=quarter), in a 4+5 division… I love this 9th beat.
If you want to listen some :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hx0svccdWSI (at 1:00)

Just wanted to share…

Old Skool Zeibekiko
Old Skool Zeibekiko

Loop #75

Firm, slow and unstable? Sounds like a job for me. I’m always up for a challenge (especially when it’s an odd meter), so I decided to take a stab at laying down a Zeibekiko groove. After listening to a few songs online and eating three pounds of baklava, I figured I’d approach it from a more contemporary angle. I used the kick and snare to outline the basic rhythmic cadence and filled in the rest with sixteenth notes on the hi hat. If you’re having trouble identifying the downbeat, just listen for the shaker. If you’re still having trouble, have a few shots of ouzo.

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60 BPM

Willie

Everyone has an album that reminds them of their childhood. A certain recording that can instantly transport you back to being a little kid. For me, that album is Willie Nelson’s 1978 classic, “Stardust”.

Every time my family made the six hour drive to my grandparents’ house in Missouri, “Stardust” found its way into the in-dash cassette player. I’m not sure if my parents had inside, CIA-type information telling them that this album would relax their kids and make them stop beating the shit out of each other, but whatever the case, it worked. Willie possesses a voice cool enough to lull Michael Vick‘s backyard kennel into a deep sleep.

Listen for yourself here.

Willie
Willie Nelson

The man responsible for the ultra laid-back timekeeping on this recording (and many other great Willie Nelson albums) is drummer, Paul English. As far as their working relationship, I believe Willie described it best:

I’ve had four wives in the past 40 years, but only one drummer.

Paul must be doing something right.

Paul English and Willie
Paul English and Willie

Loop #49

Today’s loop pays homage to Paul English and his signature laid-back approach. With a brush in my right hand and a stick in my left, I tried to lay down something that sounded like an outtake from the “Stardust” sessions. Now, go pick up your old, beat up acoustic guitar and write some country ballads. Just don’t forget to pay your taxes next week.

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77 BPM

This One’s for Bobby

One of my RSS subscribers
One of my RSS subscribers

I’ve been getting hounded with emails from ryangruss.com subscriber, Bobby Lee, (above pic) asking me to post some “real music”. Apparently jazz/fusion isn’t his cup of tea… or errr, can of Old Milwaukee. Anyway, I traced Bobby’s IP address and discovered he lives in Varner, Arkansas. I aim to please, so here’s a beat found in many of the songs of another Arkansas native, Johnny Cash.

Loop #8

This groove is a pretty straight ahead train beat. I used brushes on my brass snare and like yesterday’s loop, I didn’t muffle the kick drum. Bobby Lee, hopefully this gets your stamp of approval.

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260 BPM

Butter

800px-western-pack-butter

Butter makes the world a better place. I love butter on english muffins. When I go to the movies, I ask for extra butter on my popcorn. I love butter so much, a few years ago I often starting using it as an adjective: “buttery”.

I think I first used the term “buttery” to describe the sound of drummer, Matt Chamberlain. Matt’s high cholesterol drumming started to make it’s way up the music charts in the late 90’s when he began to record with artists such as Tori Amos, The Wallflowers and Fiona Apple. With a combination of warm, earthy sounding drums and dark, shimmering cymbals, Matt’s playing produces a certain buttery goodness that make his grooves melt right into the track.

Matt Chamberlain - 'Butter is the magic carpet to flavour'
Matt Chamberlain - 'Butter is the magic carpet to flavour'

Loop #4

Today’s loop is something I would file under ‘buttery’ (looks like I need to update my categories). To achieve this sound I pulled out my super thin, super trashy hi hats, my 6 1/2 x 14″ brass snare tuned WAY down (with a few pieces of paper on the head to give it extra some “thunk”) and I placed an extra Shure SM57 on the bottom of snare to really capture the “whoosh” of the strainer.

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68 BPM

Brushes + Backbeat = Platinum Records

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After starting off my blog with two rather distorted and edgy loops I’ve decided to chill things out for today’s post. And in the world of drumming, nothing chills things out like putting down the sticks and pulling out a pair of brushes. When talking about brush playing, most people associate the technique with legendary jazz drummers such a “Philly Joe” Jones and Vernel Fournier While it’s true these men perfected the art of timekeeping with a bundle of wires throughout 1950’s and 60’s (this deserves a blog post of it’s own), I wanted to look at the use of brushes in a more contemporary light.

Russ Kunkel
russkunkel

I’m pretty sure the first time I ever heard Russ Kunkel’s drumming was while being shuffled back and forth to pre-school in my parent’s sweet station wagon. Russ Kunkel is a renowned session drummer who first broke onto the scene in early 70’s, recording hit albums with artists such as James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne (to name just a few). With my mother’s affinity for light-FM radio programming, Kunkel’s grooves were ingrained into my little head from an early age. The thing that made the biggest impression on me was the SOUND he got out of the drums. Fuzzy, warm, funky and round… all at the same time.

It was a few years later (after receiving my first pair of brushes) that I discovered how he achieved this unique tone. Most drummers instinctively gravitate towards a pair of sticks when recording pop/rock music. Russ Kunkel was a pioneer in the use of brushes in this particular vein. On top of having an amazing feel, he also used the sound of brushes to carve out his own distinct identity in the world of LA session drummers. Just listen to the tom fills on James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” and you’ll hear what I’m talking about.

My early exposure to Russ Kunkel came full circle (almost) several years ago while I was recording at LA’s famed Conway Studios. I was initially excited about the session because I had the opportunity to work with Peter Asher who was producing. As well as being an accomplished artist himself, Peter is the one who produced all of those early James Taylor albums that were such a staple of my childhood. To raise the “oh shit, what is going on?” factor up another notch, Peter had hired Russ Kunkel’s son, Nate, to engineer the session.

As we were setting up to record (and as I was trying to keep my cool) I overheard Nate say to Peter.

Dad might stop by the session later today and say hi.”

And with that, the “oh shit” factor jumped off the charts. With one eye on Peter and the other on the door to the studio, I spent the next 6 hours laying down drum tracks, just waiting for Mr. Russ Kunkel himself to walk into the control room. Four songs later and before I knew it, the session was winding down and the assistants began winding up the dozens of microphone cords strewn across the studio floor. Half relieved, half disappointed, I realized my chance encounter with Russ would have to wait for another day.

I guess the irony of this long-winded story is that I never reached for the brushes on this particular day. Between having Peter and Nate on the session, and a possible ‘drop in’ by Russ Kunkel, I don’t think I (or the world) would have been able to handle the magnitude of such a thing. It’s the kind of cosmic intensity that could have sent us (along with most of Southern California) tumbling into the Pacific Ocean. For the love of mankind and the safety of millions, I stayed with the sticks.

However (for all of you equipment geeks out there), I did get to use Russ’s own Yamaha subkick which Nate brought to the studio.

Loop #3

No distortion or crazy effects on this one. Just a clean brush backbeat with a nod to Mr. Kunkel. Hopefully our paths will cross someday.

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80 BPM