Category: R&B

James Gadson Takes Us In Between

When I put out a call for loop requests the other week, I received an outpouring of emails asking for every type of genre and beat you could imagine. Everything from tangos, odd meter math rock, slow bossa novas, death metal (I don’t own a double bass pedal and my trenchcoat is at the dry cleaner) and merrengue. Quite a spectrum. And while I’ve kept all of these responses on file for future sessions, it was one particular request that immediately caught my ear and sent me running to the studio.

A message was sent in with a link to the following Bill Withers track, telling me to check out the drum groove (played by the great James Gadson) in the intro:

OMG. How tasty is that shit? How have I never heard this song before?? Gah!!! I’m definitely aware of a vast majority of Bill Withers’ collection, but somehow this deep cut from his 1972 release, “Still Bill”, managed to slip through the cracks and never made it into my library.

This opening drum groove is so funky, I almost didn’t even want to go there. It’s sort of like covering a Beatles song. Some things are sacred and should just be left alone. But the more I listened to it, the more I knew recording something approximating it would be a great learning experience, both musically and sonically.

On the music side of things, it’s the FEEL of this groove that makes it so special. The way Gadson plays the 16h notes on the hi hat with his right hand, spacing the notes in that magical place that lives in between straight subdivisions and triplets. This is the kind of groove that a quantizer would instantly suck the life out of.

Sonically, it has the classic, warm, round but crisp, Motownesque sound. This is a sound that’s become sort of a lost art, now that we’re all armed with a wide array of DAWs, fancy mics, plug-ins and digital processers. It’s an art that I plan on focusing on for years to come.

James Gadson
James Gadson

Loop #137

So here it is, my ode to James Gadson and his magical right hand. At eight measures, it’s longer than one of my typical loops, but I wanted to include some phrases that pay tribute (but definitely aren’t carbon copies) to the original track.

On the production side of things, I only used two mics: one overhead (panned in the mix soft right), and one in front of the kick to capture just a bit of low end. I deadened a double headed 18″ bass drum (no hole) with blankets touching both of the heads from the outside and placed a few sheets of paper on top of the snare to keep everything dry.

I took all of the toms and cymbals off of the kit to keep any sympathetic resonance from making its way into the track (kids, you can’t use gates when there’s only one mic above the kit). To top things off, I used an old, squeaky kick drum pedal, just like James.

It’s the details that count.

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94 BPM

Snap, Crackle & Pop

Loop #128

My studio has a time machine. Does yours? For today’s loop, I set the dial to 1964 and typed in “Destination: Stax Studios“. I was only there long enough to record a three minute session, overdub some tambourine and eat a pulled pork sandwich, but all in all, the trip was a success. With the vinyl master under one arm and a gallon of BBQ sauce under the other, I transported myself back to current day Boston, where I just finished digitizing the session for your pleasure. Subscribers, look for the rest of tracks in the upcoming April release of Gruss Loops.

snap, crackle, pop

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119 BPM

Voodoo

Some albums totally blow your mind when it comes to production. Other albums inspire you by the incredible musicianship. And some albums hold their own just by the level of songwriting. But it’s not that often when an album comes along and takes all three of these elements to transcend the high bar of awesomeness (wow, what a horrible analogy). D’Angelo’s epic 2000 release, Voodoo, is one of these special records.

Just as I was about to graduate college, thinking I knew everything there was to contemporary music, this album sent me scurrying back to the practice room. Not because of the complexity of the drumming, but the feel and the SOUND. I remember spending hours sitting in front of my Gateway computer, with the adapter speakers blaring (tiny sub woofers kicking out the bass), soaking in every measure of ?uestlove’s drumming and D’Angelo’s production, arranging and composition. It was a humbling experience which would usually lead me to tears, then some nachos, and finally a game of 007 with my roommate, Bob, to help clear my head.

Loop #123

Today’s loop takes some of the production and performance cues found on Voodoo. To get the super dry, ultra-present drum sound, I didn’t use any of my usual overhead and room mics. I pulled out my super thin and trashy hi hats and went heavy on the gating and compression of the cross stick. I also did 3,845 sit-ups, waxed my chest and oiled up my abs.

PS – I just realized that 99% of my recent loops have been in the 80-90 BPM range. I put in a call to my Red Bull dealer, so look for some 200+ BPM loops soon.

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85 BPM

I’m Not Hip Hop

I’m not hip hop. But I love it.

J Dilla - He Is Hip Hop
J Dilla - He Is Hip Hop

Loop #120

Today’s loop is my hat tip to J Dilla and his incredible 2006 album, Donuts. While I had been familiar with Dilla’s work as a producer through his collaborations with Common and Talib Kweli, it wasn’t until the release of Donuts (and his untimely passing) that I got to know Dilla as a solo artist. Funky, warm, inventive, melodic and inspiring, Donuts is the kind of artistic statement that every musician should strive to create. Just take a listen to “Stop” and you’ll hear what I’m talking about.

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91 BPM

The Day the Cowbell Died

Ever since the infamous SNL skit featuring Christopher Walken and Will Ferrell aired on April 8, 2000, drummers around the world have been forced to endure countless “more cowbell” jokes. Every time you even think about overdubbing some cowbell on a pop song or including it into a latin groove, you can guarantee a slew of tired punchlines and horrible impressions from those around you.

For me, it got so bad that I stopped using a cowbell all together. It just wasn’t worth it. What was once a staple in every drummer’s sonic arsenal, quickly became nothing but a comical cliché

April 8, 2000
April 8, 2000

Loop #76

After listening to Bernard lay down some ultra-funky cowbell in the video I posted yesterday, I decided it was time to bring my own cowbell out of retirement and base a loop around it. It’s part New Orleans, part Hot Chip and a dash of Paul’s Boutique.

Now, don’t even think about making any stupid cowbell jokes in the comment section. I have my finger on the “delete” button and I’m not afraid to use it.

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96 BPM

Happy Birthday to Me

And what a birthday it’s been. All kinds of presents, cards, emails, phone calls and tweets. To top that off, my wife took me out for a surprise gourmet dinner at Chuck E. Cheese’s. The highlight of which, was sitting in with their famed house band. The drummer, Pasqually, was kind enough to let me take over the throne while he put a few pizzas in the oven.

Pasqually - Chef/Drummer
Pasqually aka 'Doughfoot'

Anyway, enough about me. I wanted to thank everyone who has subscribed to the “Members Only” section. The response has been amazing and I can’t wait to hear what everyone creates with the loop packs. I’m already deep in the editing process for Volume 2 and there’s a lot of cool stuff to come. There will be even more jazz and experimental sounds on top of the more mainstream rock/pop grooves.

Loop #72

In keeping with the birthday theme, today’s loop is inspired by The Beatles’ “Birthday” song. I took Ringo’s “soul beat” breakdown, which includes a driving snare on all fours and some tambourine overdubs, and tried to capture a nice, natural sound with the overheads and room mics.

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138 BPM

Cool Quest

Ever since I posted the ?uestlove video earlier today, I haven’t been able to get that beat out of my head. Rather than blasting some Huey Lewis to thoroughly cleanse my pallet, I decided to head down to the studio and record my own take on a breakbeat influenced groove (aka the exact same thing Quest played… just a few BPM faster).

Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson
Ahmir '?uestlove' Thompson

Loop #66

To get that old-skool sound, I took the minimal approach to recording and only used two overhead mics on the kit. I also overdubbed a tambourine playing sixteenth notes and blew out my hair into the biggest, whitest afro you’ve ever seen. I didn’t use any t-shirts on the kick drum but I did throw a few sheets of notebook paper on the snare to add some extra “thunk”.

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118 BPM

Straight Hip Hop

I might be a white kid from Iowa, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get down with some hip hop. As I’ve mentioned before, groups like RUN-D.M.C. and The Beastie Boys played a significant role in my musical development. Due to the fact that many hip hop beats are sampled from some of the funkiest albums ever recorded, playing along with these tracks is a great practice tool for drummers. Repeating the same one measure groove, over and over, without any fills, while keeping it in the pocket, sounds simple…. until you try it.

To this day, one of my favorite “practice albums” is Jurassic 5‘s 2000 release, “Quality Control”. The record is loaded with great samples from artists such as James Brown, Larry Coryell, Quincy Jones… and even Blowfly. To hear how Jurassic 5 tastefully pulls it all together, check out the title track here:

album-quality-control

Loop #65

Today’s loop is inspired by the production and feel that Jurassic 5 captures on this album. I fuzzed things up a bit and tried to emulate the warm, punchy sound of an old, vinyl record. I also grilled up some burgers and prepared them “animal style” to get in a West Coast frame of mind.

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90 BPM

Drums in the Buff

When recording in the studio, drummers (and especially engineers) have a tendency to muffle and cover the drums with all sorts of things. Gaffer’s tape, towels, wallets, t-shirts. Sometimes this is done to achieve a certain effect (for example, the “Ringo” sound), while other times it’s just an attempt to control the natural overtones of the drums. For a good example of a heavily muffled drum sound, just listen to any album recorded by The Eagles.

Don 'The Muffler' Henley
Don 'The Muffler' Henley

There’s also the opposite approach to recording drums. No muffling. Little or no gating. Just crank up the overhead mics and capture the real sound of the kit. Sometimes it’s refreshing to hear the wide range of frequencies bouncing around drums as you play a groove. It can bring life to a track and provide a certain essence that heavily produced or programmed drums tend to lack.

Loop #60

For today’s loop, my drums are totally naked. No t-shirts or duct tape, however, I was wearing pants. You can even hear the sympathetic resonance coming off of the cymbals and toms. It’s a straight forward, pop/rock feel with another hat tip to Chris Frantz (floor tom on the “&” of four).

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105 BPM

One for Meg

Yeah, I know I should be hating on Meg White. The sloppy technique. The loose time. The lack of chops. But, in my humble opinion, she’s the perfect drummer for The White Stripes.

She doesn’t use multiple splash cymbals. She doesn’t play anything faster than a 16th note. She plays what she feels is right for the song… and it feels fucking great. Music shouldn’t fit on a grid. It should have a vibe. It should have some soul. Meg’s got plenty of soul. And a sweet set of Ludwigs.

Meg White
Meg White

Loop #56

Today’s loop is based off of one of the many floor tom grooves favored by Meg. A strong, “four on the floor” feel, mixed with a bit of filtering. It might be a little “accurate” as far as grids go, but I gotta keep all of you REX-heads happy. Now, go start a band with your wife/sister and write some indie rock classics.

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129 BPM