Quick Onstage Fixes
Don’t Be Caught Off Guard
It’s perfect. After years of personal and collective effort, dedication, sacrifice, and selfless teamwork, you finally find yourself in the opening slot of a sold-out show at the biggest venue in your town. The headliner’s monitor guy, upon noticing your lack of crew, not only offered to do your mix, but is boppin’ to your songs and giving you a big thumbs-up. There are actually people in the audience singing along with your tunes. Real, live celebrities are standing in the wings, smiling and nodding their approval. The whole band, including, no, especially, you is playing like a fiend. It’s perfect.
Suddenly, with the split-second speed of a sucker-punch, before your brain can even tell exactly what it is, you know something has gone terribly wrong. As a nauseating shock shoots through your entire body, your mind tells you it’s your kick pedal. It’s not returning. You look down to see the headless shaft of the beater buried in a rip in the head, and in that incapacitating nanosecond, which is the shattering of what was perfection, you must somehow find the clarity to shut out the panic and assess and solve the situation.
Now, no doubt when the editors at DRUM! assigned this article, they sought a player who was the perfect combination of McGyver and village idiot; someone sufficiently half-witted to get himself into such predicaments, while being (usually) resourceful enough to get himself out. So join me, won’t you, as we draw upon a long career fairly teeming with such terrifying moments, and try to retroactively make some good out of a few of the horrifying experiences I’ve endured.
Keeping in mind that we don’t all have the same hardware, let’s just go around the kit and look for potential problem areas. It’ll be tough to be specific, but there are a few broad strokes that apply to us all. Paramount among these is gaffer’s tape, aka duct tape, or as some simply call it: “rock and toll tape.” This stuff is responsible for more foolproof fixes than the Nevada Boxing Commission. Don’t skimp on the quality — get the good stuff; it can be found at most serious hardware or plumbing supply stores. The black cloth tape is the strongest and will leave the least amount of sticky residue when removed (you really should remove it and actually fix the problem at some point). It’s not cheap, but it’s well worth it. I keep a roll in my backup snare case that stays next to me on stage. Oh yeah — have a backup snare.
By now you know a broken head (change those heads!) can put a huge gap in your groove. When your snare drum craps out, throwing a new drum into play is often preferable to trying to do an on-the-spot repair. Having a second snare already set up will accomplish this. With the help of, say, a monitor person, the transition can be made smoothly and quickly. Also, I’ve arrived at gigs to find, to my horror, that the bottom head on my snare is torn. Try finding a snare head at 7:00 P.M. in Altoona, Pennsylvania. I always pack new batter and snare heads, upside down, inside the top rim of the backup snare. New snares and cords (or whatever you use to attach your snares) fit snugly inside these. If your snare stand goes, it’s generally a tape-up job — and lots of it!
As far as your stool is concerned, not much can go wrong here. Bear in mind though that however unlikely collapse might be, if that stool goes during your show, it goes fast — and usually with disastrous results. Always give it a quick once-over during set-up.
Okay, your hi-hat — plenty of margins for error here. I’ve found the two most popular trouble spots to be the clutch and the pull rod, and it’s usually one of two things: something’s either stripped, or has come unscrewed. I always carry an extra clutch in my stick bag; they’re small and can get you up and running quickly without a lot of repair/down time. Always check first, though, to see if the lower (inside) threaded washer has simply backed off. The pull rod is not so simple. Typically, the lower and upper pull rod assemblies come apart. Again, make sure the bottom one (or the top one) hasn’t just backed off. The threaded connector between the two rods will occasionally back down the lower rod, due simply to gravity and time. This leaves insufficient room for the upper rod to be adequately screwed in. During set up, occasionally check to make sure this is not happening. If the grooves on any of the three pieces have stripped, you’ve got the thin hope of gaffer’s tape to hold it all together, which isn’t terribly likely if you tend to stomp that pedal. Often, your best bet is to set the cymbals at the distance relative to that which you most often play, i.e., slightly apart for sloshy sounds, closed tight for funk stuff.