Last night I had a horrible nightmare. In this particular dream, I was back in 1998 and in between sets at my weekly Saturday night gig at Ryles. I had just ordered another Long Island Iced Tea to help numb the pain of my musically tortured soul, and somehow, manage to get through another 45 minutes of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Brian Setzer Orchestra covers. My cheap, polyester suit itched uncontrollably and I was surrounded by guys with soul patches and fedoras. This was the height of what was one of the worst periods of modern music (aka “the swing revival”) and I was right in the middle of it. Deep in the shit.
Before I awoke from this heinous dream, I ended up sleep walking into my studio and laying down the following groove. A two measure, four on the floor, swing beat with plenty of floor tom and a strong snare back beat. Can you dig, Daddy-O? It was so strong, in fact, that my wife jumped out of bed and woke me up before recording more than just a few seconds. After waking up and realizing that it was all just a horrible nightmare, I kissed her on the cheek, hugged my cats, and peacefully went back to bed. Thankful that it was 2010. Thankful that I wasn’t in a swing band.
In my quest to tame the overly-live tracking room in my new house, I bit the bullet and trekked out to my local Guitar Center to find a solution. I figured I could pick up a few of those foam panels and line the walls of my studio on the cheap. I mean, how expensive could foam be?
According to the ponytailed sales guy in the pro audio department, I needed to cover my walls with Auralex foam. He said these foam panels were the “Rolls Royce of acoustical treatments” and were priced accordingly. Not wanting to suffer in that godforsaken store any longer than necessary, I took his word for it and handed over my Amex. Several hundred dollars later, I walked out with a box full of luxury foam.
The panels came with tubes of permanent adhesive for mounting the foam on the wall. Since I’ll soon be moving the studio into the carriage house, I knew I didn’t want to be gluing the overpriced panels directly to the wall. My ingenious solution? Plywood and Velcro. I headed out to Home Depot and had the lumber department cut eight pieces of plywood into 1′ x 6′ sections. I then mounted the 1′ x 1′ Auralex panels directly to the plywood with industrial strength Velcro strips.
With three foam panels on each sheet of plywood, I was able to easily move the acoustical treatment around the room until I got the sound I desired. Along with LENRD bass traps in the corners of the room, I soon had a room that sounded more like The Hit Factory and less like a garage. The harsh, high frequencies coming off of the cymbals were no longer an issue and the low end from the kick and floor tom seemed more controlled and punchy. Maybe the guy with the ponytail was right?
Today’s loop is the first from my “acoustically controlled” studio. In this uptempo, pop-rock groove, you’ll notice things sound a bit tighter and more focused than the past few loops. All thanks to some really expensive foam. And Velcro. Lots of Velcro.
I just realized that all of the straight ahead jazz loops that I’ve posted have been in 4/4. Sure, I’ve done some 6/8 Bembe variations, but those were more in the Afro Cuban realm. Today’s loop is an outtake from a full session of 3/4 grooves I just recorded for Volume IV.
If you’re looking for some extra waltz-based inspiration, just take a look at this list of contemporary compositions. I’m going to sleep a lot better tonight knowing that Joe Satriani’s “Always With Me, Always With You” made the cut. A true waltz classic indeed.
I’ve recently received a lot of requests for more reggae loops. Some via email, some via the comments section and some via the hippie who decided to camp out in front of my house and play his djembe all night. To prevent any sort of rogue drum circle from forming in my neighborhood, I spent the majority of today laying down new reggae infused loops.
I began by setting the click to 166 BPM and experimenting with different delays on the snare channel. As I’ve mentioned before, this is a trick I picked up from Stewart Copeland and can be heard on more than a few Police songs. The secret to making it really fit in the groove is to set the delay to a dotted eighth note and slightly filter the resulting notes. You can listen to Stewart explain this unique effect in this video (just forward to the 4:00 mark).
Today’s loop is a four bar phrase with one of Stewart’s signature tom fills leading into a crash on the “&” of beat four. And yes, you’ll be able to obtain the rest of the loops from this session when Volume III is released on August 1st.
I just realized my “Style” category was missing one crucial genre: Reggae. But then I also realized I have no clue how to play the real “roots” stuff. Apparently I forgot to take that “Reggae 101” class at Berklee (they still let me graduate) and Burning Spear hasn’t called me for any gigs lately.
To get in the right frame of mind for today’s loop, I trekked over to the nearest frat house, ate a few “brownies” and listened to Bob Marley’s“Legend” on repeat for three hours straight. I eventually wandered home (after stopping for another snack at Taco Bell) and recorded this beat.
The life of a touring musician is one that is often full of bizarre and surreal encounters. Between hanging out with methed-out truckers while you eat pancakes during 4am pit stops, to the VIP events you attend because you’re “in a band”, traveling around the world and playing music will supply you with plenty of crazy stories to tell your grandkids (and blog readers). Often times, these encounters include rubbing elbows with the most random of celebrities in even more random situations. Like my drunken 4th of July in Malibu with Don Johnson and Anthony Kiedis or having Maria Sharapova turn up at my gig at the Hammersmith Apollo in London. Out of all of the crazy and unexpected things that have taken place while on the road, a certain night in San Francisco remains the most incongruous.
It was 2006 and my band was in the middle of a West Coast tour. We were scheduled to play San Fransisco on a Friday night and our manager, Peter Asher, decided that he’d fly up from LA for the weekend to attend the show and stay with his good friend who lived in the city. Well, it turns out Peter’s good friend was comedic legend, Robin Williams.
As we were soundchecking for that show, my cell phone rang and it was Peter, telling us that Robin wanted to come out to the gig and asked if we could also put him on the guest list. Sure. NO BIG DEAL. Now, it’s not like we were playing The Fillmore and could reserve some box seats for Robin and Peter. We were playing a rather intimate (small and disgusting) hipster/rock club in the seedier side of San Fran. A place that made the bathrooms at CBGBs seem like they belonged in The Four Seasons. I walked up to the heavily tattooed door guy and told him to jot down those two names on the guest list. At first he laughed at me. “Robin Williams? Coming to this shit hole on a Friday night??” I assured him it was true.
Fast forward six hours later. I hit the final crash of our encore and stumbled off the stage, a sweaty mess, looking for the nearest bottle of water (or beer). As I entered the green room, I saw Peter and another man whom I never thought I’d meet, let alone be shaking hands with in a dingy club. “Ryan, I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Robin.” Like he needed to tell me his name. He told me that he enjoyed the show and said he hadn’t been to a club like this in years. We continued to chat for a few minutes until we were interrupted by the stage manager. “The DJ needs to set up his turntables. Can you move the drums off of the stage?” Apparently this rock club turned into a dance club at the stroke of midnight.
Before I could answer, Robin transformed into a character that I had never seen on TV or in his movies. It wasn’t “Mork”, or “Mrs. Doubtfire”, or even “Garp”. It was “Ryan’s British Roadie”. Picking up a nearby flashlight and suddenly developing a thick, Cockney accent, Robin leapt into action, breaking down all of my hardware and taking the cymbals off of their stands. I stood in amazement, watching this Oscar-winning actor play the part of someone who would normally be hauling road cases for Iron Maiden. Before I had a chance to process all of it, my drums were off of the stage and Robin was back to his normal self, saying goodbye to me and the band.
This loop is dedicated to the funniest (and cheapest) roadie I’ve ever had. I’m pretty sure this is the same dance beat the DJ was playing as I stood there in that shitty club in San Francisco, wondering if that really just happened.
One of my biggest regrets is that I never saw Elvin Jones perform before he passed away. Whenever he was in New York, performing at The Blue Note or The Village Vanguard, it seemed like I always had a gig or a rehearsal and couldn’t make it to the show. I kept hearing from friends that he was still playing with the same fire and energy that he did in the 1960’s with Coltrane, to the point where it seemed like he getting better in his later years. I had a false assumption that age would never slow him down and I would have plenty of opportunities to witness one of the great masters in person.
I’ve noticed there seems to be a shortage of decent jazz drum loops out there and I’ve decided to do something about it. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be recording a wide range of jazz grooves. Everything from Art Blakey Mambos to Vernel Fournier bush patterns. Today’s loop is the first of many more to come. It’s a groove in 3/4 inspired by Elvin with a bit of Bill Stewart thrown in.
I’ll admit it. I care about what people think of me. This morning while sitting on the couch, eating a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles, I was flipping through the TV and landed on something awesome. It was a VH1 Classic episode consisting of nothing but British heavy metal videos from the early 80’s. Classic indeed. As the credits rolled for Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” and Matt Pinfield introduced Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades”, I had an epiphany:
What Would Lemmy Do?
What would Lemmy do if he found my little blog and listened to a few of the recent postings? Smooth funk beats. Syncopated jazz fusion grooves. Loops dedicated to James Taylor’s drummer?? I have a feeling his reaction would be something like:
What the f#*@ is this bloody rubbish!!??
He’d then take a pool stick (these heavy metal biker types always have pool sticks laying around) and smash the computer to bits. He’d then set it all on fire, using the bottle of Jägermeister in his right pocket as an accelerant. Finally, in order to put the fire out (realizing this might burn down his mansion), he’d relieve himself all over the pile of flaming circuit boards.
Or at least that’s how I think it would go.
This is NOT the kind of reaction I want to evoke from my readers… let alone Lemmy. With this in mind, I’ve set out to toughen things up around here.
Before recording today’s groove I chugged 5 Red Bull, told my wife to punch me in the face as hard as she could, and then sat down and played this: