Tagged: russ kunkel

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

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.

Preview Here:

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70 BPM

A Drum Named Curly

While I own a decent collection of snare drums, over the past five years I’ve had one “main” drum that I’ve always taken to gigs and recording sessions. From the Troubadour in LA, to the Hit Factory in NYC, to the Hammersmith Apollo in London, my 6 1/2″ x 14″ brass snare drum has always been there for me, providing a consistent supply of fat backbeats and crisp ghost notes.

6x14 Maple Pork Pie
6x14 Maple Pork Pie

This all changed last weekend. While perusing my local drum shop, a certain blonde snare drum caught my eye. With its beautifully lacquered maple finish and it’s fine, handcrafted construction, this 6″ x 14″ Pork Pie drum beckoned to me as I walked up to the snare section.

Nicknamed “Curly” (after the type of maple used for the shell), it was soon apparent that it sounded just as good as it looked. Tuned up high, it provided a “crack” that sounded like a .357 Mangnum and then, with a few counter-clockwise turns with a drum key, it produced a deep, round “thunk” that even Russ Kunkel would find satisfying.

After playing the snare for a few minutes, I realized I wasn’t going to be leaving the drum shop alone. Twenty minutes later I was back in my studio with my new “main” snare drum firmly placed between my legs.

Loop #97

After all of this talk about how great my new snare sounds, do you think I’d let you actually hear what it truly sounds like? Of course not. Today’s loop takes a bit of syncopation, a nice amount of space, and a ton of AutoFilter to make a funk groove into something just a bit different.

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100 BPM

Brushes + Backbeat = Platinum Records

img_0170

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