DRUM! Staff Blogs
Don't Take The Bait
Mitch Mitchell immediately became my favorite drummer when I first heard Are You Experienced, the debut album by Jimi Hendrix Experience. In my opinion, his drumming on that album, as well as the next two releases — Axis: Bold As Love and Electric Ladyland — elevated rock drumming to an unexpected level of legitimacy on par with many of the jazz players of the day. On Experienced and Axis, in particular, Mitchell’s chops were phenomenally advanced, keeping pace with Hendrix’s revolutionary guitar style with roundhouse fills, unorthodox grooves, and blistering speed. But, to my ears, his drumming changed on Electric Ladyland. I wouldn’t say it became worse, but it felt different, more sluggish, less choppy. I’m sure at the time my 13-year-old brain reasoned that he was exploring other avenues.
I found Hendrix’s subsequent albums to be less compelling than the first three, and my attention turned to other artists. Yet, whenever somebody asked me to name my favorite drummer, to this very day I always cite Mitch Mitchell, whose playing had such a profound effect on my own at a pivotal time in my development.
Just recently, while flipping through the television channels, I spotted a movie called Electric Church. It’s a documentary of Hendrix’s appearance at the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1970. Intrigued, I recorded it, and watched it later when I had a couple spare hours.
As much as it pains me to say, Mitch just didn’t sound very good. Sure, he was executing many of his signature licks, but too often didn’t come in on the 1 with the sort of crisp articulation that captured my ear those many decades before. His drumming was more ham-fisted than sharp. He even seemed to lose the beat in a couple places.
Okay. This was 1970, back when PA systems were much less reliable. Maybe Mitch couldn’t hear the band well. Or he didn’t get enough sleep on the plane. Or his slack performance was the result of any number of reasons why drummers simply have a bad night now and then.
Or, it also occurred to me, maybe the rumors I’d heard of his substance abuse problems were true. If so, he wasn’t alone. Back in the psychedelic haze of the late ’60s, one simply assumed rock musicians experimented with mind-altering substances. At the time it seemed daring and adventurous, and was often justified as a source of inspiration.
My generation contributed quite a few positive things to worldwide culture, the ecology and women’s movements among them. But I think we totally screwed up by glamorizing drug use — especially in regard to the harder stuff. I’ve seen too many great musicians burn out physically and creatively due to substance abuse.
To this day, I just shake my head whenever another young rock star dies of an overdose. Hendrix. Bonham. Weinhouse. Weiland. The full list is far too long to include here, but all are victims of a disease they couldn’t control. None of their deaths was heroic. I wrote in an earlier column about my own nicotine addiction, and how tough it was to kick the habit. Throughout the five years when I struggled to quit, only to fall back again, it occurred to me countless times that it all could have been avoided if I simply had never smoked my first cigarette. The same is true of all addictive drugs.
Consider this: Some people become full-blown junkies after taking only a single dose of heroin. Just one. Perhaps you don’t know yet if you’re one of those people. So keep it that way and live a long, happy life.
To Tell The Truth
Truth be told, I rarely spend time in online drumming message boards and chat rooms. Having edited this mag for the past 25 years, I’ve usually had my fill of drum gab by the end of a ten-plus-hour day. But that doesn’t mean I never check out message boards. Every once in a while I take a few minutes to dig deep and catch up on all the gossip. And when I do, predictably, I often perform a vanity search to see what folks had to say about DRUM!, and drumming magazines in general.
Of course, since these comments are on the web, I come across plenty of complaints. To be fair, some are fully warranted and provide great insight I can use to sharpen our editorial standards. Others are clearly people just blowing off steam, enjoying their 15 minutes.
That’s fine, although, admittedly, they do occasionally get under my skin, particularly when I read complaints about product tests. The most common grievance is that, in order to protect cash flow, drumming magazines wouldn’t dare criticize instruments made by the same companies that buy ads.
You might be surprised to learn that I think they’re right, but only to a degree. See, from the beginning, we’ve instructed our instrument reviewers to tell it like it is — for better or worse. So, for example, in this very issue you’ll read that our reviewer Brad Schlueter couldn’t get Yamaha’s DT70 acoustic drum trigger to stop misfiring on his snare, and how another reviewer, AJ Donahue, didn’t particularly care for Meinl’s Symmetry and Nuance ride cymbals, and why.
I never read such blunt critiques in other drumming magazines. Instead, I see either overwhelmingly favorable assessments, or utterly noncommittal reviews that simply run down a list of specs: the shells are made of this, the lugs are made of that, and the hoops are made of the other thing. I always interpret the latter approach to mean the reviewer wasn’t crazy about the gear. But drummers shouldn’t have to read between the lines like that.
It’s even worse online, as far as I’m concerned. Websites that claim to offer serious reviews often post gushingly glowing videos or rewrites of company press releases, with little to no effort to actually test the product. Neither qualifies as a review in my book. Before a gear test goes to press, we always ask the manufacturer to fact check it, which means they get the first chance to see criticism before you do. Every once in a while we get some pushback about negative statements, and admittedly that can be sticky. Indeed, we’ve had some companies pull advertising out of the magazine (most come back after a while). We’ve also had other companies continue to advertise, but never ask us to test their products again.
But they all know this: Our first and most important commitment is to our readers. If you don’t feel you can trust what you read in our magazine, you’ll be less likely to trust what you see in their ads.
You really are that important to us. Thanks for reading DRUM! Magazine.
Styx Live At The City National Civic in San Jose, Ca 3/17/2016
Styx is an institution as well as a helluva band. The group, which started in Chicago in 1970, had its first big hit in 1973 with "Lady." But its heyday began in the late '70s as they reeled off a series of Top Ten singles, all in a style that mixed '70s progressive flourishes, hard rock, pop, and theatrical lyrics into a meld that was all their own. Superstar drummer Todd Sucherman joined the band in 1996 after the death of original drummer John Panozzo and he has been a mainstay of the group ever since. DRUM! caught the band and Todd during a recent show in San Jose, California on St. Patrick's Day. The band swept through their serious songbook of hits like Genghis Khan sweeping across Asia, taking no prisoners. The volume and energy was high, and they played some obscure tunes as well and included tributes to David Bowie and Keith Emerson, both recently passed. Stux stays on the road much of the year so you might want to catch Todd in action when he gets to your city.
Todd's office with furniture by Pearl and Sabian.
Original bassist Chuck Panozzo showed up for a few tunes with guitarist James Young.
Who says Tommy Shaw has lost his rock star moves?!
Though not exceedingly complex, Styx songs are arranged with grandeur and built from cyclical structures that include A,B,C,D, or even E parts, and sometimes multiple soloists. Todd keeps them on track and on time.
Most of the time this column writes itself. I typically stew on a topic for a couple days and, once it reaches gestation, sit down and spill words onto the keyboard. Then there are other times, like yesterday, when it feels like I’m trying to arm-wrestle a grizzly bear just to plunk a period at the end of a sentence. See, this issue marks the official start of our 25th anniversary year, an achievement that makes the entire DRUM! team proud. Of course, it’s our right and obligation to trumpet such a milestone from the rooftops, but everything I tried to write on the subject yesterday just seemed so sanctimonious and self-serving I wound up playing “Wipe Out” on the delete button over and over. So I put it aside. Now I’m back. Allow me to say we’re honored to have served the drumming community for a quarter century, and amazed that we were 25 years younger when we dreamed up the crazy idea of publishing a drumming magazine. It’s been a great ride, punctuated by all sorts of accomplishments (and almost as many snafus). And while I’m glad to take some credit for helping usher this publication over the decades, at this very moment I only feel grateful for all the talented people — freelancers and staffers alike — who contributed to our longevity. Most of all, I need to give a shout out to my business partners, Phil and Connie Hood, who made sure the company was secure throughout the years. And while our early ad sales team of Leigh Taylor Hartley and Darryl Ecke helped lift DRUM! off the launching pad, the ad sales director who succeeded them, Eric Frank, has become the face of DRUM! Magazine among drum and percussion companies, and truly kept the boat afloat. I feel fortunate to have worked with such immensely talented graphic designers, who each left a mark on these pages, including our current art director Rich Leeds, who I’ve known for almost 30 years, starting when we were both mere tykes working at GPI Publications. We were equally lucky to enlist the artists who preceded him, including Cristina Strombotne, Mauricio Rams, Lalaine Gagni, Leslie Hampton, Rick Eberly, Clarence Yung, and our founding art director Kristine Ekstrand. I’m no less humbled to have the opportunity to work alongside some of the best staff writers and editors in the business, including Andrew Lentz, Dave Constantin, Sabrina Crawford, Scott Locklear, Don Zulaica, Elisa Welch, Andy Ziker, Billy Ramirez, and Jared Cobb. They all made sure DRUM! was a superior literary experience for our readers, and for me. Toss a long line of past and current freelance writers, photographers, illustrators, office staff, and interns into the mix and you’re looking at a veritable football field full of loyal and dedicated individuals who contributed greatly to our legacy. Of course, despite the best efforts of all these creative types, we never would have been able to continue publishing for the past 25 years without the support of our readers. Keep in mind that DRUM! never was subsidized by a larger publishing company, nor underwritten by a family inheritance. We’ve paid salaries and benefits, print bills and rent with the money we earned, one issue at a time. I’m proud of that. We couldn’t have done it without you. It’s just that simple. Thanks for your continued support.
Cherisse Osei And The NY HLAG Fest
The NYU Day of Percussion was produced in conjunction with KoSA on February 13, 2016. This year's theme of Hit Like A Girl was a celebration of female drumming featuring Terri Lyne Carrington, Cherisse Osei, and 2015 Hit Like A Girl winner Lindsay Artkop, among others. Hat's off to NYU for a great event.
Cherisse, who plays in Brian Ferry's band in the UK, knocked the crowd out with her hard hitting and enthusiasm.
Cherisse with Lindsay (left) and Terri Lyne (right).