Just when you think you’ve finally got life figured out, reality aims a fastball right between your eyes, leaving you wallowing in the grime at home plate, gasping for breath. And strangely, that can be a good thing, because it’s important to remember every now and then that everything in life is transitory, and the only constant is change itself. I got a reminder recently while on the bandstand, and I’m still reeling.
It began quite innocently. A month or so ago, while in the middle of a gig, I happened to glance down at my pedals – something I do habitually throughout a set, just to make sure everything is working properly – and noticed the beater on my bass drum pedal swinging wildly between strokes. “Huh,” I thought. “I don’t recall ever seeing it do that before. That’s odd.” To my ear, it had no impact on the beat that I was playing, so I didn’t put any further thought into it. But whenever I looked at my pedals during the next few gigs, I noticed that the bass drum beater was still waggling back and forth between hits. I mean, really waggling.
Then a couple of weeks ago I was in the middle of a gig, and the bandleader, Daniel Castro, had just counted off a shuffle. We were playing the intro, which typically would last no more than 16 or 32 bars, but something was clearly wrong. We had cycled through the progression a couple of times and yet Daniel was still neither soloing nor singing. Instead, he was standing in front of the drums with his back to me, and appeared to be listening to something. Then he slowly turned around to face me, and trained his eyes on my bass drum.
We had comped through several verses by this point, and I’m sure the audience was as baffled by his behavior as I was. Then Daniel walked over to our bassist, Glade Rasmussen, and said something into his ear. Glade turned to Daniel and nodded toward my bass drum. And then I looked down, saw my bass drum beater uncontrollably flying back and forth, and suddenly realized what was happening.
Since we were playing a shuffle, I was laying down a simple four-on-the-floor on the bass drum – or at least I thought I was. But I quickly realized that the uncontrolled swing of my beater was adding a softer but audible eighth-note between each bass drum quarter-note. The net effect was that my hands were playing a triplet-based shuffle and my right foot was playing straight eighths.
I was mortified, and immediately began playing heel-down and with less velocity in order to control the throw of my bass drum beater. After a few measures Daniel kind of shrugged, then went over to the microphone and began to sing the first verse. Needless to say, I kept my eyes trained on my right foot for the rest of the gig, and have played heel-down ever since.
I really don’t know what happened. I did a recording date not long before, and was able to clearly hear every note I performed in the playback, and didn’t hear any stray bass drum notes. Somehow, my bass drum technique spontaneously changed on its own. I’ve been practicing my pedaling technique every night to regain the control that I once had.
Have any of you ever had a similar experience? If so, I’d love to hear that I’m not alone. Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page.