Sweaty Mustaches

I’m not sure how I got into this whole “facial hair” theme with my last few video posts, but if the music is good, then I will not be deterred by a little scruff. In this live performance from 1979, Toto steams things up in Cleveland with an extended version of their hit single, “Hold The Line”. And check out that keyboard player on stage left. I could be mistaken, but is that a young Howard Stern?

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.

[audio:94_KissinMyLove.mp3]

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Get the .rx2 file here.

Get the .aiff file here.

94 BPM

Revisiting Mr. Kenwood Dennard

Kenwood Dennard

This past weekend, while clearing out one of the bedrooms in my house to make way for a nursery (yes folks, there’s a little Gruss set to drop in December), I stumbled upon an old shoebox containing dozens of old cassette tapes from my years at Berklee. A literal time capsule back to 1996-2000, these tapes captured everything from late night jam sessions in 150 Mass Ave, board tapes from various gigs with Jonah Smith, instrumental funk tracks featuring a classmate named John, and most importantly, recordings of my drum lessons with the legendary, Kenwood Dennard.

The Lost Tapes

When I was in high school, Kenwood’s drumming on Maceo Parker’s “Life on Planet Groove” was without doubt, the most influential of all of the CDs I owned. I must have listened to that album thousands of times, learning every funky ghost note and fill that Kenwood laid down on that record. My love for that CD practically bordered on obsession, which is probably why I was so estatic when I found out that Kenwood would be joining the Berklee faculty during my freshman year of college. It’s not often that someone gets to meet one of their biggest musical heros, let alone be mentored by them.

During my junior year, I performed in Kenwood’s “Music of James Brown” ensemble as well as studied privately with him. This was a great combination because he would have the chance to hear me play every week in a live setting with other musicians, and then we would break it all down in my lessons and tweak certain elements of my drumming.

Kenwood always had two drum kits set up in his office, so the majority of lessons were spent with the two of us playing together, refining various grooves and bouncing rhythmic phrases back and forth. Not wanting to forget a single note of our sessions, I always had a tape recorder running so I could analyze everything afterwards. It was humbling enough just playing with Kenwood, it was even MORE humbling listening to a recording of yourself playing with Kenwood.

Kenwood Dennard
Kenwood Dennard

At the beginning of one particular lesson in 1998, I was showing Kenwood some grooves in 7/8 I was working on. Nothing fancy, just some vanilla funk groove with a lot of emphasis on the “1”. What Kenwood laid on me next was something that would forever change my playing:

[audio:Kenwood_SevenEight_1998.mp3]

You can totally reconstruct the entire DNA of a groove by NOT emphasising the “1”. And when doing this in an odd meter, things can get really interesting. Find the weak part of beats and try turning them into the dominate ones. And this doesn’t only apply to odd meters… it can be just as effective in 4/4.

A few of my favorite moments of this lesson:
– 1:30 Kenwood and I trying to find the “e” of 4
– 6:59 Kenwood asking ME how to play the groove to Super Bad
– 9:35 “You can do that for the next 10 years.” He was right.

Here’s a quick transcription I did of the concept we were working on in that lesson (pardon the unattached 8th note stems). Notice, there is nothing on the downbeat of 1 (other than the hi hat), with the kick drum anticipating each bar by falling on the “e” of 4. Any snare note that isn’t a back beat is to be ghosted.

Taking Requests

Is there a certain kind of loop you’ve been waiting for me to record? Dubstep with a dash of merengue at 137bpm? Or perhaps some heavy Klezmer grooves with a nice plate reverb and a bar of 7/8 in the fourth measure? Well, now is your chance to submit your request.

Nothing is too weird, offensive or difficult for me to record (you should know this by now) so bring it on. I’ll keep the request form in the right sidebar of the site and I’ll try to keep up with your submissions as they come in. And if your request inspires a full-blown session for The Loop Loft, you’ll receive the entire commercial release for free (as well as a complimentary “I break for loops” bumper sticker).

You know, we've got bears over in the garbage dump.


In The Toms Tonight

Loop #136

While I might not use single-headed toms with Pinstripes (I stick to the coated Ambassadors), one two three things that Phil Collins and I have in common is our love for Gretsch drums…. and gated reverb. Lots of gated reverb. Also, coincidentally enough, we both have major butt-chins.

With the toms on my bebop-sized kit (18″ kick, 12″ tom & 14″ floor tom) cranked up high, this four bar loop is a somewhat hypnotic, tribal pattern ending with four 16th note flams on the snare (with the strainer turned off).

Phil Collins
[audio:90_TomsTonight.mp3]

Get the .wav file here.

Get the .rx2 file here.

Get the .aiff file here.

90 BPM

With Coffee

Loop #135

I’m not even sure if Trent Reznor drinks coffee (he strikes me as the type that might consume it by the gallon), but assuming that he did, and that he happened to spill that coffee all over his console while mixing some drum tracks, I think the end result might sound something like this. Angry, yet precise, odd meter drumming crushed all of the way down to 5 bits. Black. No Sugar.

And while I’m on the topic of NIN, here’s a great interview regarding the making of the epic 2005 industrial/electronic/punk/funk/rock album, “With Teeth”.

[audio:99_NINCoffeeSpill.mp3]

Get the .wav file here.

Get the .rx2 file here.

Get the .aiff file here.

99 BPM

Easy Like A Sunday Morning

Here’s some simple, straight ahead drumming by Chris “Daddy” Dave. Nothing unusual here, other than the rhythmic morphing that another YouTube viewer took the time to transcribe:

“0.55-1.11 are quintuplets grouped in 3’s & 2’s; 1.35-1.43 are septuplets grouped in 5’s; 2.05-2.30 the time implied is based? off 5:2 polyrhythm, so the 5:2 is the new tempo with swung time; 3.03-3.19 are septuplets; 3.25-3.49 the time is based from 5:2 polyrhythm; 3.49-4.04 is a groove based on 7:4 polyrhythm, the 7:4 is grouped in 8; 4.04-4.11 is a grooved based on 9:5 polyrhythm! which is grouped 8; 4.25-6.25 is time based on 5:2; 7.33-8.01 is again based on 5:2.”