DRUM! Masterclass: On A Mission From Gadd

By Brad Schluetter

Published in DRUM! Magazine's August 2005 Issue

When Zildjian announced that Steve Gadd would perform a clinic tour after a 19-year absence, the drumming world buzzed. This was big news. After all, Gadd is no ordinary drummer — he’s a living legend who has played on thousands of recordings, and created dozens of incredible signature grooves, fills, and soloing patterns that have influenced generations of drummers. Through his educational videos, DVDs, and books, Gadd has demonstrated how to apply rudiments to the drum set, demystified linear drumming concepts, and brought Latin drumming into pop music, all of which makes him one of the most emulated drummers of our time.

But all this work and success came with a price. Gadd lived a hectic life as the first-call studio drummer in New York in the 1970s and ’80s. After playing dozens of sessions and gigs every week with the best talent in the world, year after year, he eventually got caught up in the lifestyle. In a mistaken effort to stay up for each gig and session, he developed substance abuse problems that, with love and help, he has long since put behind him. So this clinic tour was more than just a chance to see a successful drummer. It was an opportunity to see the return of a great drummer who has triumphed not only professionally, but over his personal obstacles as well, which gives us all the more reason to admire him.

Dubbed the “We’re On A Mission From Gadd” tour, Zildjian and Gadd stopped in only 12 cities at premier independent drum shops that have proven themselves at presenting high-quality clinics — chain stores need not apply. We caught the seventh clinic of the tour hosted by the Drum Pad of Palatine, Illinois. This was not just a clinic tour though. Before each clinic, Gadd and a bunch of big wigs from Zildjian hung out for a “Meet And Greet” autograph and photo-op with the drummer’s fans. Attendees knew they were in the right place when they spotted the immense tour bus adorned with Gadd’s photo in the parking lot. Dozens of prototype and one-of-a-kind Zildjian cymbals were on display and for sale — the next best thing to a personal tour of the Zildjian cymbal vault in Massachusetts.

The actual clinic was held at a large banquet hall nearby to accommodate the large crowd. Ticket sales had been brisk, with 500 tickets sold in advance, and several hundred more at the door — resulting in the largest clinic crowd of the Drum Pad’s 20-year history. By the time we arrived, the line wrapped around the building. Since this was such a special event they’d hired a large sound system, concert lighting, and staging that was higher than usual for better sightlines. The Drum Pad had set up many more of the cymbals from Zildjian’s traveling vault at the rear of large room, and these and other assorted Gadd and Zildjian merchandise was for sale. Anticipation was obvious before the event began. The crowd was boisterous and noisy with lots of people whacking cymbals, meeting old friends, talking, checking cameras, with others trying to discreetly to get levels from their mini-disc recorders.

The clinic began a little late, as more and more people arrived, forcing the store’s staff to hustle to the venue’s basement for another hundred chairs. Still, dozens of people chose to stand along the walls to get a better view of Gadd. With all the excitement building in the room, it seemed like an eternity before John DeChristopher, Zildjian’s director of artist relations, spoke of the drummer’s background, and the recent American Drummers Achievement Awards tribute to Gadd. When DeChristopher introduced Gadd, applause and cheers loudly erupted from the crowd of nearly a thousand appreciative fans and drummers. Gadd modestly accepted the applause, and after it eventually died down, put everyone at ease by first thanking the crowd for making these clinics possible, Zildjian for arranging it, and the Drum Pad for hosting it. “Thank all of you for loving music, and being drummers, and coming to hang. I’ll play a little bit, and then we’ll talk, alright? Thank you.”

Gadd started quietly, with his classic brush version of “Bye, Bye Blackbird,” accompanied with him humming the melody. His brushwork set the tone, reminding everyone that musicality, taste, and groove is at the heart of his playing. If you haven’t heard this, there are two good filmed versions available on his 1985 DVD Steve Gadd Up Close, where he informally plays it on a Ampex 456 tape box, and more recently on the 2004 DVD, American Drummers Achievement Awards Honoring Steve Gadd.

Crazy Army 2005
Gadd next segued into the Street March below, that we transcribed and tentatively titled “Crazy Army 2005.” If you’re familiar with older versions of this piece, check out this one’s busier bass drum pattern. This is a great piece to learn, but isn’t as simple as a rudimental snare drummer might think. For one, he may have flammed the beginning of every roll, but since we couldn’t be certain from the recording, it isn’t notated that way. Also, Gadd plays this with a constant but slight shuffle rhythm to all the sixteenth-notes. It wasn’t blatantly obvious at tempo, but after slowing it down to transcribe it, the shuffle became much more noticeable. It’s not a full triplet feel — it’s just a heartbeat rhythm that we found in so much of the music we transcribed from his clinic. It was flawlessly clean, funky, and always in the pocket.

Linear Rim-Click Solo
After playing this solo he segued directly into the very fast, linear rim-click groove you see here. Gadd plays the ands on his hi-hat, giving the whole part some lift. This solo continued, developing into a long backbeat linear funk solo, similar to others he’s played in his videos, which space doesn’t permit including.

DRUM! Notation Guide

When the applause died down Gadd invited audience members to the microphone to ask him questions. “I’m here for you guys. So whatever I know, I’ll be more than happy to give it to you. All you need to do is start out with some kind of question you have. Come on up because I can’t just do this for an hour and a half.” The crowd gave him a big laugh. “I’m going to stand here until someone comes up.”

Linear Stickings
The first question dealt with linear stickings. By strict definition, no two notes occur at the same time in a linear sticking, but the phrase is often used to describe rudimental stickings that may occasionally layer a couple of notes. Gadd demonstrated a couple of these stickings, playing them first at tempo on the kit. Then he stood up and played them much slower on his rack tom rims, so everyone could see what he was playing, while saying the stickings out loud.

Here’s the first paradiddle-based pattern, and then a variation, played as thirty-second-notes. Notice that he repeats the pattern again beginning on beat 3, but this time at half-speed, as sixteenth-notes. Gadd throws a diddle at the end to help it flow over the bar line.

The next pattern is an inverted paradiddle-diddle-diddle (you can say that again!), and has a sticking of RLLRRLLR LRRLLRRL. Gadd plays a bass drum under the first note and often substitutes a bass drum note for the last left-hand note, as seen in the variation. Gadd then played some short solos based on linear ideas. “Once you get into it a little bit, you can experiment yourself. Here’s what I’d try to think of when I was practicing.” After playing these solos, Gadd offered this priceless advice: “Keep doing it slow, and eventually it starts to feel comfortable.”

“50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”
It was inevitable that someone would ask Gadd to demonstrate his classic groove to this humorously titled Paul Simon song, which drummers refer to simply as “50 Ways.”

Seven Steps To A Heavenly Groove
Next, an audience member asked Gadd to demonstrate another part from a tune, describing only that he used his hi-hat and his ride cymbal’s bell. Gadd knew exactly what he meant and played a variety of patterns based on the concept.

After improvising around it, Gadd offered to break it down for the audience member who requested it. “I’m going to try and do it slow one more time.” “Please, please!” the guy pleaded. This got a lot more laughs. Gadd broke down the groove into seven separate steps, shown in the next example. After playing and improvising a bit with the groove, the next person to come to the mike, a kid in his early teens, got a bigger laugh with his comment, “I can’t believe how good you are!”

Steve’s Mozambique
Gadd took this groove that he used on Paul Simon’s “Late In The Evening” (played with four sticks), and other tunes from complete obscurity, and made it required learning for every good drummer. Here he plays the pattern on his cowbell and snare with the strainer in the off position. The pattern starts with a left-handed flam, played a bit wide, and spelled out looks like - rL RLRRLRLRRLRRLR. He ghosts the snare note on beat 3 and varies the accents a bit. Here’s an excerpt from a solo he performed around the idea. He embellishes this groove by dropping bombs with his bass drum, doubling the occasional cowbell note, and throwing in some toms for spice. Gadd hits near the rim at times, creating a timbale-like effect.

After the clinic ended, Gadd received an extended standing ovation that almost seemed to surprise this modest man. Some drummers left shaking their heads in disbelief, and others may have been motivated to practice. We left with the thought that Steve Gadd deserves every bit of his incredible reputation.