Agop’s a Lott!

My good friend, amazing drummer and studio guru, Sinclair Lott (or Sinc, as I like to refer to him) embarked on a journey with me this week, videotaping cymbals for Istanbul Agop‘s current catalog and we’re having a blast working in his fantastic home studio. The cymbal company has been in the process of building a cool new website that will be launched sometime very soon and the videos we’re shooting will be a big part of it, so it’s quite an honor to work with them on this project. Having been an endorsee of their cymbals since 2000, I’ve personally gone through a good bit of metamorphosis as a drummer, changing the way I play, how I listen and even what I hear in the music. Yes, they really ARE that good and worth every penny if you decide to go down that road, but I should warn you…the sound of these cymbals can be very addicting. Just ask this guy right here…

Like a kid in a candy store, Sinclair loves these pies!
We decided to put the cymbals in a wooden crate that Sinclair had because there are so many and its really helped us to have them organized like this.

A couple of weeks ago, I found another Rogers kit on craigslist and couldn’t pass them up, as well as a gorgeous 1920’s Ludwig brass snare from my friend Barry, so we’re getting to use them all for these videos and the sound is amazing. Sinclair has a deal with Aquarian drum heads and when he contacted them to see if they were interested in getting involved, they didn’t miss a beat, quickly sending us a box and outfitting my entire kit with new heads. Nice folks.

Mid-60’s Rogers, 20, 12 & 16 in Silver Sparkle with a 1920’s Ludwig 10-lug brass snare. Aquarian heads: 14″ American Vintage (snare), Texture Coated 12 & 16 (toms) and Super Kick 10 (bass drum). Totally boss!

Tomorrow will be my last day of videotaping then Sinc has the wonderful task of editing them all down before they can go up on the new site. I’m super jazzed that he wanted to be involved in this endeavor and grateful for his time, effort and beautiful, laid-back disposition. It’s been a pleasure working with him.

Diligent and focused.

He’s also a lover of coffee, just like me and every morning has some ready for us.

Cafe Lott, eh?

Stay tuned…

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One Helluva Week

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…

60’s Rogers. My favorite!

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…

Myself & Jake Winebrenner

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…

Rogers “Mercury” set, as they were when I first bought them

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…

Happy family!

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…

Brian Drugan, me and Johnny Drugan (by the way…their dad is the great bassist, Dennis Drugan who played with Johnny Winter!)

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…

A very rare bird!

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!

Old school

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.

me and Mike

It’s really been one of the best weeks I’ve had in a long time.

Heartwarming

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.

Family. Left to Right: My sister, Dawne Woods, brother-in-law, Bryan Woods, step-mother, Judy Sluppick, me, my mom, Rosa Parman, father-in-law, Andy Parman and my dad, “Big George”, kneeling in front.

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…

Me and Paul Pollmann!

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.

Just after the show.

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!

So Far, So Good

Improved diet can lead to an improved state of mind, at least for me and I’m feeling better as the days go by. Not only have I introduced my body to the gluten-free lifestyle, I’ve also had no sugar, no bread, no alcohol, no red meat, no dairy and no caffeine for three weeks, which has been tough to maintain seeing as how there are always plenty of each on the tour bus, but it’s proven to be beneficial for my overall health, so I have to keep it up. The color of my skin has changed, my eyes are clearer, I’ve lost weight and my teeth look whiter. How crazy is that? I’ve been eating salads, fresh organic vegetables (when available), avocados, olives, fish, chicken, rice, seeds, nuts and drinking nearly a gallon of water every day. I even broke down and swam a few laps in a couple of the hotel pools this week and I haven’t done anything like that in years, as ridiculous as that sounds. But it’s true, I am generally very lazy by nature and only an act of God will get me off the couch or away from the computer long enough to burn some calories. Of course, people comment all the time about how I must be staying in great shape because I’m a drummer and I guess it’s partly true but to be honest, if I had to run a quarter of a mile to escape a hungry lion, there’s a pretty good chance it would be my last race.

So for now, I’m sticking with it.

I’m away from my apartment for the next two months and can’t stop thinking about the Rogers kit that’s sitting in my room in LA (which I’ve posted about before) waiting for my return. Recently, I found a floor tom that matched the set, as that was the one missing piece and I had to get it but I only got to play on it for a few days before having to leave for this tour. Check ’em out…

I’m so lucky.

The CRB will be in Memphis in a couple of days and many family members and close friends will be in attendance, which always makes for a good time. And at the end of this run, I’ll be making it back home to Memphis for eight days and we’ll see how well I stick to my diet. I’ve got another gorgeous set of Rogers there as well, so at least I’ll have that to fall back on in case I happen to cave in when my mom offers me chocolate cake. HA!

5 Weeks and An Aching Back

It was a long tour for the CRB this time around and although our break is short before the next run, I welcome this time-off with open arms.  Several weeks ago, I injured my back (still don’t know exactly how) and have been in a constant state of pain ever since.  That is, until I got back home a few days ago and a good friend turned me onto a doctor here in LA who has a reputation of having a healing touch.  After only one visit to his office, I can already tell that when I get on the other side of this situation, I’m going to come out of it a better, stronger and (hopefully) more conscious person.  Meet Taisuke Jo (aka, Doctor Jo).  I’ll let you do your own research on him, but here’s one small, powerful quote from his site…

“Firmly believing in “心身一如” (pronounced Shin shin itchy nyo which translates to “Integration of Mind and Body”), Taisuke’s passion is to help his patient understand the signs and symptoms conveyed by their body, thereby allowing the innate healing ability possessed by all living being to engage and to work in harmony with the conscious mind.”

His Functional Medicine program revolves around a holistic treatment, balancing the mental, physical and chemical.  I’m going to get a lot out of this.

More to come…

Good-bye, Sencha!

Every morning for the past month, I’ve been waking up and making tea, first thing and then sitting quietly with my thoughts.  It’s one of the best ways to start your day, even though most of the time my days begin at 11 or 12 o’clock, but hey…that’s how it goes for late night folk, right?  And not just any old tea either, but a beautiful Japanese greed tea called, Sencha Fukamushi Special from a fantastic little store down in San Diego, Halcyon Tea. You gotta go there.

Beautiful wooden tea shelves at Halcyon (photo courtesy of hautenature.com)
Sencha Fukamushi Special green tea from Japan --delicious!

My good buddy, James opened up this shop a few years ago and has been kicking butt and when I went down there last month for a visit, he treated my friend (who surprised everyone with his knowledge of leaf) and I to one of the best cups either one of us had ever tasted.  Exquisite flavor, very mild and not too strong but a wonderful aroma.  I absolutely love this stuff and for the past four weeks or so, it’s been waking me up and helping me get it together.  Until today, that is cause I emptied the bag and drank the very last spoonful.  Bummer.

empty mug

I guess I’m gonna have to call James and have him mail me another bag of it cause I think I might be addicted.  I should mention that this little teapot/mug combo from Forlife has made the morning ritual easy and hassle-free.  Comes with a stainless-steel tea infuser built-in, which makes cleaning a breeze.

tea, steamer & mug

Honestly, as much as I love coffee (and I do mean LOVE), getting back into drinking green tea has had some positive effects and I’ve noticed my disposition throughout the day is much more relaxed, I feel calm.  Hmm…

I was on the Halcyon blog today and found this fantastic post from one of their new employees regarding her experience with discovering the joys of tea…

“I was not much of a tea drinker before starting at Halcyon Tea back in September, and I certainly never dealt with the loose leaf.  I’d have the occasional, once-per-month bag of Lipton black tea.  So, I’ll be honest—when asked to observe the various tea notes and characteristics (e.g. sweet, floral, dry, smooth,  bright, earthy, fruity, etc.), or front-of-the-mouth versus back-of-the-mouth sensations—I felt like I was being asked to speak a foreign language.  I’d take a sip of a tea, and not be able to make a single discerning statement except, “tastes good!”  I wondered if I’d ever be able to appreciate all of our magnificent teas, or be able to help someone find exactly the right one.

Then, over the course of a few months of steady tea drinking, it happened!  I began to pick up on those subtle notes and sensations, and my palate began to transform.  “Sweet” was no longer the teaspoon of sugar “sweet” that I formally connected with that taste.  Notes that are considered “earthy” became more appealing, and I found myself being temporarily transported to a garden, or a grassy field of flowers when sipping from my cup.

To truly understand tea’s subtlety, I needed to drink it more slowly.  I had to take my time, and really search for the various notes and mouth feels (e.g. light or full-bodied, smooth, crisp, buttery, dry, clean, etc.) of each tea.  This conscious appreciation made me realize how interesting tea really is, and also how different one tea is from the next. Tea drinking has even changed the way I eat food!  I now find myself taking smaller bites, and noting the various flavors and textures like I’d never had before.

So, the lesson I’ve learned from drinking tea?  Slow down, take small sips, and be curious. Sounds like one I can apply to every corner of my life.

Cheers!
Jena”

My good friend, James showing you how it's done. (photo courtesy of sandiegofoodstuff.com)

Good stuff.

Oh yeah…I should mention James is also a super sick drummer, but more on that later.  HA!

End of the Beginning

We played 118 shows, from March 28th to December 31st, 2011…an amazing year of touring with a great new band.  Then, on New Year’s day we headed into the remarkable Sunset Sound recording studios for a fantastic week-long adventure, making our first album together.  We tracked 27 songs in six days and that’s really all I’m allowed to say at this point, however I’m confident it’s going to be a great record.  I’m saving any photos and videos from the session until we get a little further along with mixing and such but wanted to deliver this one very special image, taken by the master himself, my friend and cohort, Neal Casal. Dig it…

in the zone.

Touring will begin once again for this Brotherhood in early June, so stay tuned.

Reflections

End of the year is near, one last tour of the west coast then its into the studio we go to record our first album.  Pretty psyched about it all and looking back over the past 9 months or so, I’m reminded of all the traveling we’ve done to get to this point.  Just over a hundred shows in such a short time, back and forth across the country several times, we’ve been really busy and although exhausting, it’s been super fun. I’d like to think we’re all a little bit wiser and have maybe even learned a thing or two about life, as well as music.  Who knows, but whatever the case, we’ve certainly racked up a ton of memories.

rehearsals at the Alley in LA
getting our gear to fit so snuggly into the back of a 15-passenger van
Muddy. my fellow partner in crime
the rigors of the road
meeting, playing and hanging with the great Bob Weir
backstage blues
all those amazing shows and wonderful audiences
friends & fans that made a lasting impression
our watchful mascot, PDC (Possible Dust Clouds)...whether he's on the bus or on the stage, he's looking out for us
our fantastic tour manager, Brian. always there to remind us where to go, what time to be there and check our tired asses into one hotel after another until he was literally exhausted by the end of the day. what a guy!
and finally, CR. forever faithful & mindful of the muse. thanks bro.

Less than two weeks to go on this last run before we break for Christmas.  Excited, tired and extremely grateful for this gig.  We’ve come a long way, but we’re just now getting started.

Like A Dumbass…

I acted upon impulse and had my ass handed back to me.  When will I ever learn?  On Friday, I went to visit a couple of buddies of mine…I use the term “buddies” very lightly at this point cause about an hour into our visit, they decided to talk me into going with them to workout in their favorite gym that boasts the title of “Toughest gym in Los Angeles”, but what did I care…I was only going for a quick workout with some friends.  No big deal, right?  Well, trust me when I tell you that this is no ordinary gym, but one belonging to Muay Thai boxer, Joe Schilling.  Yes, I said Muay Thai.  One of the toughest, bloodiest and most lethal of the boxing arts.  It’s called, The Yard and this place was chock full of baddassery.  Schilling had just come from winning a huge match with Kaoklai Kaennorsing, who he knocked down three times in the first round, which made him the newest WBC Interim Champion, giving the Americans total respect.

In walks the Sluppy.  HA!

I don’t know if it was the ten minutes of jumping rope, followed by ten mins of jogging, followed by numerous reps of squats, crunches, planks, then push-up’s, but something killed me.  Completely dead.  Out for the count.  Done.  Fin.  Total asthma attack, which forced me outta there fast.  I’m sure once I left they were all laughing at me and I don’t know if I can ever go back in there and show my sad face again.  It’s gonna take a lot if I do.  Guess I need to build myself up to it.  I did get to shake Joe’s hand though and what a monster of cat he is in person.  Holy crap.

Joe Schilling = Muay Thai boxing baddass