Tagged: peter asher

Robin Williams Was My Roadie

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.

Robin Williams - Comedian/Roadie
Robin Williams – Comedian/Roadie

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.

Loop #69

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.

Preview Here:

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Download the Logic session here. (105MB)

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170 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.

Preview Here:

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Download the Logic files here. (26MB)

80 BPM