There is a special feel that was born from the brass bands of New Orleans. It first emerged around the turn of the 20th century and eventually worked its way north, merging into other styles of music along the way. This is a groove that is neither triplet nor sixteenth note based. It’s not straight funk and it’s not totally swung. It’s somewhere in between. It’s a feel that’s literally impossible to notate on sheet music and even harder to play.
There are only a handful of drummers in modern music who can truly find this “in between” feel and make it work in a variety of musical settings. Two of my favorites are Bill Stewart and Idris Muhammad. Whether they’re keeping it cool on a straight ahead jazz session or laying down back beats behind a funk band, they always manage to find this rhythmic sweet-spot.
Today’s beat is a four measure loop based on this “in between” feel. It’s a lazy funk groove that borrows more than a few licks from Bill and Idris (guys, the po’ boys are on me next time). And you, sitting in front of your computer, don’t even think about touching that quantizer.
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When it comes to “rock drummer” stereotypes, no one breaks the mold more than The Rolling Stones’ own Charlie Watts. He’s in one of the biggest rock bands in the world, yet he plays the smallest drum set you’ll ever seen in an arena. He’s never been banned from a hotel for inappropriate/illegal behaviour involving mud sharks. And I’m pretty sure he’s never choked on his own vomit.
Charlie is a master of simplicity, not only in his approach to grooves, but also in the sound he gets out of the drums. Both are natural, understated and serve the song to the fullest. While most rock drummers tend to bash as hard as they can, breaking sticks and blistering their hands, Charlie has gone years without having to change a snare head. Something to think about.
As my ‘one handed recording’ continues into day three, I figured it was the perfect time to approach something in the style of Charlie Watts. In many of his grooves, he plays all of the eighth notes on the hi hat EXCEPT for on 2 and 4 (which allowed me to play the hat and snare with one hand). You really don’t notice it on the recordings, but it’s there. Just listen. It’s very subtle, looks a little awkward, and is actually hard to duplicate, but that’s what makes Charlie different from the rest. That and his patented Panty Deflector™.
That’s all I’ve got today. My right hand is still gimped up and I’m in the middle of upgrading my studio with more RAM.
On this loop, I was going for a sampled, dance vibe (but on a live kit… with one hand). To achieve this, I cranked up my 6 1/2″ x 14″ brass snare and taped one of my LP jingle sticks to the batter head. I loosened the heads on my 22″ kick as low as they’d go (without wrinkling) to obtain as much attack and low end as possible. I placed a Shure SM57 in the far corner of the room and combined this track with a bit-crusher to add some dirt. I then gated and compressed each individual drum track until some club kids with glow sticks started to knock at my door.
Ok, get those violins out. Today I’m a bit under the weather AND I’ve got a bum wing…. well, wrist actually. I’m hopped up on flu meds, painkillers and I’m wearing a splint that makes me look like a professional bowler. I’ve actually been mistaken for Ernie McCracken three times today. Being a huge fan of Kingpin, I’m going to chalk it up as a compliment.
I was going to take the day off, get some rest and recover a bit, but then I thought about Rick.
On December 31, 1984 Def Leppard drummer, Rick Allen, lost his left arm in a horrific car collision. Most drummers would consider this a career-ending accident, but Rick had the courage and strength to come back and learn how to play drums with one arm. If Rick Allen could overcome so many obstacles and make a triumphant return to Def Leppard, how could I sit around and watch Seinfeld reruns all day? I decided I must record with one arm. I decided the blog must go on.
With 75% limb functionality, I put my left foot to work and used it to cover the hi hat pattern. I then laid down a funky, almost New Orleans style groove between my left hand on the snare and right foot on the the kick drum. The Pseudoephedrine and Oxycodone took care of everything else.
Linear drumming is a style of playing where no two limbs hit at the same time. These grooves are typically broken up between the snare, kick, hi hat and toms, creating a unique, lilting feel. One of the most popular examples of linear drumming is Steve Gadd’s performance on Paul Simon’s“50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”. If you really want to impress the guy behind the counter at Guitar Center (the one with the phonytail) with your mad drumming skills, be sure to get this beat under your belt:
Pop music and Guitar Centers aren’t the only places you can utilize linear beats. They also lend themselves well to funk music. David Garibaldi made the 70’s funkier (is that even possible?) with his slick, intricate linear grooves. Just check out some of his albums with Tower of Power, especially “Bump City” and “East Bay Grease”. With songs titles like “Social Lubrication” and “You Got To Funkifize”, I don’t feel the need to explain any further.
This beat originally started off as a very basic, 8th note linear groove…. then I decided to start playing with delays while mixing. I timed the delay to occur a dotted eighth note after the original attack, which resulted in an interesting, syncopated feel. To take it one step further, I panned the delay left to right (à la Stewart Copeland) and inserted a low pass filter.
If I’ve learned anything in my 20 years of drumming, it’s that you need to give 110% when performing (especially on live TV). You’re probably asking yourself, how do I achieve this? Well, let me give you 3 simple rules:
1. Go out and get yourself a nice tux (preferably white).
2. Raise your cymbal stands to their maximum height.
3. Don’t hold back.
Follow these rules and everything else will fall into place, as demonstrated below:
Most drummers associate playing the rim of the snare drum with cross-stick back beats and rim shots. While it definitely serves these functions well, it can also be used as an alternative to the hi hat or ride cymbal for creating unique sounding grooves.
Some well known examples of this technique are Van Halen’s“Finish What Ya Started” and INXS’s“Need You Tonight”. Both of these drummers play enormous kits with a multitude of cymbals and hats to bash on, yet chose to ride a pattern on the rim of the snare drum to better suit the song. This “less is more” approach only accentuates cymbal crashes and fills when the time is right.
No cymbals. No toms. Just kick and snare. And a bit of rim.
And for me? Well, after a few pints, it’s not unusual for me to scrounge around for a some quarters, stumble over to the nearest jukebox and punch the buttons for my “go to” song: Cheap Trick’s 1979 power-pop classic, “I Want You to Want Me”.
It’s the ultimate bar song. Loud guitars. Huge, anthemic choruses. And a great rock-shuffle groove that has undoubtedly lead to many walks of shame.
In order to get in the last call, 1:45am, run-to-the-jukebox state of mind, I guzzled 4 imperial pints of Brooklyn Lager, ate a plate of greasy buffalo wings (ranch dressing, not blue cheese) and then repeatedly drunk-dialed my wife. All from my studio. She finally made me come upstairs and go to bed. But only after I recorded this loop.