Two more weeks to go before hitting the road again with the CRB and today I got myself back into the woodshed…a brand new one and it was so nice! I feel grateful to have a space where I can work, totally undisturbed. YAY!
And be careful what you wish for folks…cause when I got back to the house this afternoon, a big giant box was waiting for me at the front door… Oh. My. Gosh.
Wow. I’ve wanted one of these for a long time and can’t wait to get this bad boy into my studio tomorrow to see and hear. Will you look at that grain?!
I heard these things a few times yesterday during my first drum lesson with a man whom I consider to be one of the funkiest cats on the planet, James Gadson. You might remember him on hits like, Use Me or Ain’t No Sunshine…tunes by the great Bill Withers that James laid down the grooves to. Some of my favorite drumming, as a matter of fact. And he could very well be the nicest person I’ve ever met…certainly the nicest musician. That’s the truth. Anyway, he kept telling me, “The key to it is to relax”. What he meant was in reference to the grooves he was showing me but I also interpreted it as a reference to life itself because James is the epitome of cool and just about as relaxed a drummer there ever was. Just check him out in this video and tell me if I’m wrong…
A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine called to let me know he had a gig over in Hollywood and that I was invited. A fantastic instrumental soul group called The Gimme 5’s that seldom play in town but are a treat to see and hear. The musicians in the band are all very well-respected local heroes, especially their guitarist, Rick Holmstrom, who has the honor of being the guitarist for the lovely, Mavis Staples. I definitely wanted to go. My friend mentioned their regular drummer wasn’t gonna be playing that night but that James was gonna be filling-in. Double bonus! In order to catch James in Los Angeles, (if you’re not psychic) you have to either be his friend or know some folks who are that will let you know when and where he’s playing because as busy a studio musician as he is (James has made more than 300 recordings in his lifetime) he stays somewhat under the radar…there’s no website or calendar of his gigs listed anywhere. You just have to be in-the-know.
Elated, I jumped in my car and raced over to see the band. When I got to the venue, there was no parking available in front, so I had to drive around a bit to find a spot. I had the windows rolled down and could hear them playing their first set and the sound of his drums was filling up the street all around me. I was finally able to see and hear one of my drumming heroes up close and the groove was already deep. Parking the car, I sauntered in, grabbed a club soda at the bar and tried to find a good place to see the master at work, as the place quickly began filling up with local folk who were probably as excited as me that he was there.
The show was great. Solid, tight band and James was smokin’. For a 73 yr old man, he hasn’t lost a thing and still plays that 16th note funk like it was 1975 all over again. He was tremendous. During set break, I went over to shake his hand and he immediately started talking to me as if we’d known each other forever. A relaxed, gentle vibe. I asked him about his drum set…a gorgeous DW kit with a rather exotic wood-grain finish. “They’re Olive wood”, he said. ‘Took me about seven years to get ’em to sound good too but they sound great now! ‘Go on over there and hit ’em man.” No, sir! As nice of an offer as it was, I left them sitting right where they were and let him know there’d be no way in hell that I was gonna go play his drums right there in front of him. He laughed at me, of course. But I thanked him and said goodbye, got in my car and drove home on a soulful cloud. A couple days later, I emailed him to ask for his contact information, which he gave me right away, so I called and setup a lesson.
And that’s how it happened that I got to study with one of the greatest r&b and soul drummer’s of all-time. I won’t bore you with the rest of it but I will say that it was most definitely the best lesson I’ve ever had. His sage-like advice will stay with me forever, as will these three grooves he gifted as my homework. He recommended I work on them for at least 30 minutes a day “…until they’re boring” and reminded me to stay relaxed. He said if I concentrate on what I’m doing, the grooves will become ingrained into my playing and will open up a whole new thing. He said that it was going to surprise me. Then he added, “When you come back next time, I’ll give you some more.”
Just watched a cool documentary about stand-up comedians called, Alone Up There, and I was amazed at the similarities between their lives and the lives of musicians. We have a lot in common. The fears, the anguish, the joys, the rewards (both big and small) the amazing shows and the total bombs, the lifetime of study honing your skills and the complete love & total devotion to the craft. I encourage my friends to see it…only costs $7.00 and download’s fast.
A good one, that is and I couldn’t be happier. This recent CRB tour began last Tuesday and so far I’ve played four shows in three cities, had a new record come out, saw some family that I’d not seen in years, was awarded an amazing gift and got the chance to hang with two of my mentors. I’m still pinching myself and we’ve still got three more weeks to go on this run. How lucky I am.
Here’s the tale of my week, along with some back story…
Two years ago in March of 2010, I was approached after a performance in Nashville by a young man named Jake who said he’d been following my career for several years and was looking to take some drum lessons with me. I was flattered to say the least and although I’ve never been much of a teacher, seeing as how this kid seemed sincere, eager and humble, I agreed to teach him and so we set up a time to get together in the coming weeks. At that point, I was living in Memphis and he was in Murfreesboro, TN, which isn’t a short drive by any means and it took him several hours to make the drive east on the day of the lesson. But he made it and we sat at my friends’ rehearsal studio for more than two hours, working on touch, technique and going over the finer points of developing and laying down a solid foundation behind the drum set. I turned him onto Idris Muhammad, Clyde Stubblefield, Levon Helm. It was a good lesson, for me too.
He seemed elated afterward and wanted to know when I would be free for more lessons in the future, so I decided that since he’d driven such a long way to study with me, I’d treat him to a burger at Huey’s in Midtown, where singer Di Anne Price just happened to be performing that day, along with the great reed-man, Jim Spake, bassist Tim Goodwin and fellow beat maker, Tom Lonardo. My reasoning was to give him an opportunity to see and hear some of what I’d just shown him in our lesson, even though I would never pretend to be in the same league as an elder statesman like Tom Lonardo.
But Jake got the idea and was more than grateful we’d gone there. Not only was the band swingin’ its tail off, but Jake also knew Tom’s son, who lives in Nashville. Jake had been on a session where Tom’s son was the bassist and so they both had stories to tell one another. Small world. Anyhow, it was a great day but I was exhausted and needed to get home to my own Sunday chores and things, so I shook Jake’s hand and agreed to meet with him again very soon. “Before I go” he said, “I need to show you something”. We walk out to his station wagon in the parking lot, he opens the trunk and pulls out a bass drum case. When he opens it up, I cannot believe what is inside…a mid-60’s mint condition 20″ Rogers bass drum in the identical finish as my own, blue onyx. I am completely floored as he relates the story of how and why he ended up owning the same drum set as me…”I wanted to be just like you”, he says!
How sweet is that?
So, a few days go by and after much deliberation back and forth, Jake convinces me to trade him a series of drum lessons, offering the Rogers as payment. How could I say No? We made the deal and lessons began. I actually think I still owe him a couple, but more on that later. Here’s a photo of the set, taken by the dealer in Chicago who Jake got them from…
Jake had always said that there was a crazy story behind these drums and I wanted to know it but he seemed a little unclear as to all the details, so I just put it out of my mind for the time being and considered myself lucky to be the proud owner of not one, but TWO identical Rogers blue onyx drum sets. Here’s a pic of Jake and me, taken in Nashville not long after we made this deal…
Alright. Let’s fast-forward to last year and me landing this gig. When I got to California, I quickly realized that I needed to have another drum kit at my disposal because the one I was going to be touring with, my other Rogers set, was going to be locked up in a storage unit when we weren’t on the road. And since I left Jake’s Rogers back in my rehearsal space in Memphis (to use for my trips home), I had to get on the ball finding a practice set to keep at home in my apartment in LA. Scouring the internet, I quickly found a dealer in Chicago selling a gorgeous 4-piece Rogers “Mercury” kit in blue/grey duco…I’ve already talked about this kit, but here’s the photo of them just to remind you…
The set didn’t come with a floor tom because, at the time they were being marketed to children and beginners, so Rogers had to make them affordable to folks just starting out. Pretty cool idea. Of course, I needed my floor tom and through the brilliant detective work of my good buddy Bill Maley at classicvintagedrums.com, I got one and here they are altogether…
Lemme backup real quick. I mentioned they came from a dealer in Chicago. Well, Jake’s Rogers also came from a dealer in Chicago and it struck me one day that it was the same exact person, Brian Drugan of Drugan’s Drums in Niles, Illinois. I couldn’t believe that I owned two kits from the same person and it took me a while to figure it out. Anyhow, Brian and his brother Johnny have been buying, selling, repairing and collecting vintage drums for many years and are very soon opening up a large drum store near O’Hare, so anything you need, give them a shout. They are the best folks to deal with and extremely fair.
I started this week off in Chicago and immediately had the great fortune of hanging with and meeting the Drugan brothers for the first time in person. Love these cats…
Then I remembered there being a story about Jake’s Rogers and immediately asked Brian for the details of how he acquired that kit. Basically, he said that several years ago, he saw an ad in the Chicago newspaper…a lady selling a Rogers drum set, so he called her and made an appointment to go see it. When he got there, an older lady answered the door and took him into the room where the kit was sitting, all set up and with a blanket covering it. She took the blanket off and there was a gorgeous blue onyx kit that’s in the above photo but (she said) there was just one thing wrong with them. One of the drum sticks was broken and she seemed very sorry about it, apologizing to Brian. Wow. That was it. A broken drumstick, sitting on top of a mint condition set of drums. Of course, he told her that it was okay, not a big deal and didn’t hesitate buying them from her then bringing them with him to the Chicago Vintage Drum Show, where he set them up in his booth to be sold with the rest of his inventory.
That same afternoon, Brian and Johnny met Jake, who before he became my friend and student, had been living in Chicago and working at a music store that was going out of business. One day he found an old snare drum while cleaning up and asked his boss if he could have it. His boss asked for twenty dollars and Jake took the drum home. Later, he decided to bring it with him to the vintage drum show but when he walked in with the drum under his arm, he was immediately accosted by several dealers offering thousands of dollars for it. Sensing he might be in possession of a rare drum, he waited to sell, keeping the hounds at bay, while he perused the rest of the booths at the show. Then he met the Brothers Drugan. I love this story.
As luck would have it, the drum was a 60’s Cleveland-era Rogers 6.5″ x 14″, wood Dyna-sonic in silver sparkle. One of the rarest snares on the planet and worth a good bit more than the twenty dollars Jake had spent on it, as the company only made a few wood Dyna’s in 5″ x 14″ and even fewer in 6.5″. Also a fierce negotiator, Jake wasn’t going to let such a hot item go for cheap and knowing its value, the Drugan’s made him a generous offer of any kit that was in their booth as trade. Well, low and behold…Jake’s dream kit was staring him right in the face. Rogers blue onyx. The deal was made and that was that. Once he got them home and played a few gigs on them, he realized they had a sound he wasn’t quite used to and ended up going back to using his Slingerland and Gretsch drum sets. Lucky me!
While visiting the Drugans’ shop, I came across that same snare and took a photo of it…
Brian and Johnny came out to see our show at Lincoln Hall this past Thursday and afterward, Brian came up and offered me and amazing gift…the broken sticks that came with my kit. Funny thing is though, they’re not really broken!
I’ve just realized that I’m prattling on, so I’ll be quick about the rest of my week. In short, the great Bun E. Carlos came to see us in Madison, WI and he’s a super sweet cat. Showed me a photo of his immense collection that literally takes up an entire barn wall. I dug talking with him and he seemed to enjoy the band. On Tuesday, our second record came out, The Magic Door and so far the reviews have been more than favorable. That night, in addition to some very close Missouri family paying me a visit, one of my all-time drumming mentors and teachers also made it out to our show, Mike Cherry. The man who not only taught me how to play with brushes, but showed me how to play a proper double shuffle and is the reason I am able to do what I do today. He’s been drumming in a group from Columbia, MO called The Bel Airs for many years now and I could not have been more elated to see him again. We’d met in San Diego when we were both living out there in the early 90’s and I took to his style right away and he was always gracious with his time and knowledge, spending hours on end showing me how it’s done. Everything from shuffles, to swing, funk and jazz.
It’s really been one of the best weeks I’ve had in a long time.
The CRB had an amazing night at the New Daisy Theater on Beale Street in Memphis the other night and I was overwhelmed that so many members of my family made it out to see the show. It was the first time in probably 30 years that we’d all been together in the same place, since many of us live in other states. I was moved, to put it lightly.
This was only half of my family who were in attendance and I dubbed them, The Hardcore Crew because they made it to the very end of our long, three-hour night of music. Totally amazing. My mother, who suffers from Parkinson’s, gets tired very easily and usually goes to bed around 8 o’clock every night, so for her to stay up through all of that was wonderful to see. She was very excited, as it was the first time she’d been able to see me play in many years and having the rest of the Sluppick clan there kept the energy level really high. I too, was elated that she made it downtown. In addition to that, 10 or 15 of my closest friends from high school were there. Wow. I’m a lucky dude. Earlier in the day, my good buddy Craig scooped up the meat lovers of our group and drove us over to my favorite food spot in the country, Payne’s BBQ. It’s the one and only time since I started this crazy diet that I’ve made an exception to the rules. Here’s why…
Get the picture? Well, needless to say we got the day started off right and after the meal of amazing chopped pork and delicious beans, a very happy Chris Robinson looked at me and said that in all of his years of traveling, it was the best sandwich he’d ever had. Smiling widely, I told him that we know a little bit about BBQ in Memphis!
The photos in this story are all courtesy of this gentleman right here…
Paul Pollmann, and he’s from Amsterdam. He’s a really great drummer, film maker and graphic designer and we met through this very blog a couple of years ago and keep in touch via email. We discuss vintage drums, our favorite drummers, etc. He even mentioned that his soul band at home in Amsterdam plays a couple of The City Champs‘ tunes, which was flattering to hear. It was a real joy to finally get to meet him in person. He was in Memphis, visiting the city and doing some work on an upcoming documentary film he’s helping produce on dearly departed soul singer, Sir Lattimore Brown. What a cool dude.
Thank you, Paul! And much love to all of my family, friends and loved ones. My heart is full. So is my stomach. Now its back to the diet. Yeow!