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:


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.

Gruss Loops Volume VIII is now available!

I know what you were thinking. “Ryan has been doing nothing the past two weeks but eating mashed potatoes, drinking his weight in Harpoon Winter Ale and taking extended naps. There’s no way he’ll have Volume VIII recorded, produced and edited by January 1st.” Well, you were wrong. Yes, I have been overindulging a bit this holiday season, but I’ve also been busy in the studio, putting together my finest Loop Pack to date. Ladies and Gentlemen of the distinguished member’s only section, I present to you, Gruss Loops Volume VIII!

Gruss Loops - Volume 8
Gruss Loops - Volume 8

91_Thicky – When I was in college, there was a certain girl that my friends and I used to pay extra special attention to while eating in the cafeteria. She was a natural beauty, with long black hair and an apparent appetite for frozen yogurt. Definitely not obese in anyway, and far from being stick-thin, she was dubbed with the highly un-pc nickname, “Thicky”. While I feel bad, looking back and remembering such misogynistic behavior, I still wanted to name a loop pack after her. Thicky, these beats (topped with chopped walnuts and extra sprinkles) are for you.


132_HitMe – Amped up, angular and funky, these grooves combine the intricate ghost notes of Clyde Stubblefield , the aggressive beat displacement of Kenwood Dennard and the compressor-happy production of Ryan Gruss.


83_SlapBack – If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you know I’m a fan of reverb (when done right). The 80’s wouldn’t have been the same without the 4 second long decay on the snare and I don’t want to imagine a world without gated reverb on Phil Collins’ toms. This set of loops is my nod to the often overlooked flavor of reverb, the “slapback”.


93_FifteenEight – While other loop sites consider 5/4 and 7/8 the ultimate in odd meters, I consider it just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve decided to raise the bar and record a series of loops that you’ll need all ten fingers and one foot (assuming you haven’t had any horrific lawnmower accidents) to count. Welcome to the wonderful world of 15/8.


179_HighAndTight – Pristinely produced up-tempo pop with a hint of drums and bass, this set of beats is focused around my 10″ Premier soprano snare. Not wanting to be left out of the fun, my Pearl 6 1/2″ x 14″ brass snare makes a cameo appearance towards the end.


106_Crunched – Would you believe me if I told you this set of grooves was inspired by Jesus Jones’ 1990 pop anthem, “Right Here, Right Now“? Well, it’s true. While stuck in holiday traffic last week, this song came over the car radio and instantly took me back to seventh grade. During that first year of junior high, I was 5′ 9” and the tallest kid in my class. Fast forward nineteen years later and I’m still 5′ 9″… and I still act like a seventh grader. Not much has changed, other than my affinity for distorting dance grooves.


190_TwelveEight – Not to be confused with the aforementioned 15/8 loops, these 12/8 grooves are far from the world of odd meters. With a steady back beat and an easy to identify “one”, this is the time signature that blues legends, strippers and even Journey have turned to for years.


To become a subscriber and gain instant access to all of the 100+ loops (each as AIFF, WAV and REX2) in Volume VIII, just click the button below.

Let Me Tell You About Chach

Every winter, when I travel home to West Des Moines, Iowa to celebrate Christmas with my family, I also take part in a “reunion concert” of sorts with some old friends from high school. Fourteen years ago, just before packing up my bags and heading to Berklee, I teamed up with some other members of my high school jazz band to find a way to get into bars without a fake ID. The solution? Start a funk band. And give it a really bad name.

At first we were called Pushin’ Chunky. Then we were D.I.M. (Drunkards In Motion). Several years ago, we somehow transitioned into the rather unfortunate moniker, Chach. Our name may change a lot, but the set list never really does. Stocked full of quintessential bar-funk-soul-r&b-band standards such as Sex Machine, Superstition, Everybody’s Everything and Pass The Peas, it’s three hours of music that we can pull off on an annual basis… without a single rehearsal. Consistent? Yes. Tight? Eh. Tight enough.

Chach - Circa '95 - Excuse the shirts.
Chach - Circa '95 - Excuse the shirts.

Loop #104

In preparation for this year’s Chach-fest, I’ve been brushing up on the ‘ol funk chops. Today’s loop is one of the many Kenwood-esque grooves that will be making the annual appearance down on Court Avenue. Two measures, some swung sixteenth notes and an open hi hat on the “one”. It’s what the best bar bands are made of. And yes, it looks like I finally quit the drum replacer habit.

Preview Here:


Get the .wav file here.

Get the .rx2 file here.

Get the .aiff file here.

95 BPM

When The Reverb Breaks

Loop #98

Fu Manchu Not Included
Fu Manchu Not Included

I’ll admit, I started off today’s recording session with a rather uninspired wank-fest. Not really sure about what to play, I inevitably ended up doing some mathematical-fusion-funk-jazz grooves that only Kenwood would appreciate. Then I discovered a new reverb plugin. A plugin so magical, it inspired me to play a plethora of 70’s, heavy duty, straight up rock beats. The kind of drum grooves that make you want to do disturbing/illegal things with mud sharks.

Preview Here:


Get the .wav file here.

Get the .rx2 file here.

Get the .aiff file here.

70 BPM

He uses his hands and he uses his feet.

Kenwood Dennard
Kenwood Dennard

No loops today. I’ve got something much better. Sit back and enjoy the hip hop stylings of my old mentor, Kenwood Dennard, circa 1985.

I just stumbled across some old cassette tapes of my lessons with Kenwood. As soon as I can find the right adapter, I’ll digitize and upload a few highlights. Don’t worry, the keyboards and headset mic are present in these tapes as well.