How To Play Jimmy Sullivan’s “Crossroads”
Take a deep breath. Step back from the kit. And tell yourself this: If you can make it through the three-second drum riff that opens this song without throwing your sticks across the room or otherwise losing it and storming off in a cloud of frustrated rage, you’re home free. That, or you can imagine your bandmates’ jaws dropping when you coolly whip out one of Jimmy Sullivan’s most cherished signature moves: the “double octopus,” as it’s come to be known, a lick that actually looks as cool as it sounds.
This is the same pattern you might recognize from “Almost Easy,” the ironically named single off Avenged Sevenfold’s 2007 self-titled album. That’s because “Crossroads,” along with the rest of the tracks on Diamonds In The Rough, are B-sides culled from the same recording sessions as Avenged Sevenfold, bundled with a few covers and a Live In The LBC DVD, and released at the end of 2008 as a bonus to fans who weren’t quite satisfied with the lean ten tracks that made the first album cut.
For drummers, the gift is in the nice, clean double octopus opening solo, which Sullivan says has become “one of my favorite types of fills or beats to play.” So proud was the laid-back Avenged Sevenfold basher after nailing the lick on “Almost Easy,” the first track the band recorded in that session, he was already scheming on where else he could use it on the record. Plus, he says, “I just got my new kit. The first time I’ve ever had two rides. And whenever you get new toys on your kit you’ve got to employ them.”
Can’t argue with that. So grab that second ride and start employing, as this part is an explosive, coordinated attack on the bells of those two rides, which then moves at lightning speed across two splashes, the snare, and the toms – all while the double bass pumps furiously underneath. And because there are so many notes on so many surfaces crammed into so miniscule a time frame, this riff demands absolute precision. “It’s pretty difficult to go back and forth between the snare and the ride bells accurately, and the slap of the toms,” Sullivan says.
But after the hyper-deliberate intro, Sullivan was happy to just let the rest of the song flow. “The second fill that goes into the verse, and the fill that goes into the chorus, just happened in the studio,” he says. “We knew there’s a break right before the first verse starts and the guitar’s doing an open chord, so there obviously needed to be a fill there to keep the energy there, and I just came up with a little tom-over-double-bass fill. That was just spur of the moment. And right before the solo, there’s another fill that’s kind of similar to the intro fill, and that was written out. But everything else is pretty much spontaneous, except for the beats. The beats are pretty simple — follow the riffs pretty much. And the chorus is straightforward double bass.”
This makes the rest of “Crossroads” basically just a stamina exercise. “I think it’s definitely physically taxing, maybe the most of anything we recorded during that session,” Sullivan says. “The first time I played it, I tried to play it hard and get into it as much as I can, but you’ve really got to get it warmed up. The second and third tracks are usually the best.” Any more than that, though, and you’re likely to burn out before you nail it. And if you’re thinking you can just cop out and separate the song into pieces, well, that’s okay to start, but at some point you’ve got to be able to put it all together, as Sullivan did in the studio. “That one’s consistent all the way through,” he says of the “Crossroads” take. “I don’t play as well when I don’t play the song all the way through. You’ve got to get into it, you know?”
Plus, if you’re anything like him, you just want to get it done as quickly as possible so you can kick back for the next couple of months and watch your bandmates’ struggle with their parts, happily knowing you’re in the clear. “Recording gets freaking annoying to me,” Sullivan admits. “It’s a physical instrument, so you get pissed off when you’re smashing stuff all day. Especially like, when an engineer screws up or forgets to press ’record.’ Then I’m always throwing sticks at the glass and stuff, you know? I have my moments.”
You might have some yourself while you’re working this out. Just remember this: throwing sticks won’t make your double octopus come to life. You want your version of “Crossroads” to sound authentic? You’d best put your head down and start shedding.
DRUMS DW Collector Series
1 22" x 18" Bass Drum
2 14" x 5" Vintage Bronze Snare with Black Hardware
3 8" x 5" Tom
4 8" x 7" Tom
5 10" x 8" Tom
6 12" x 9" Tom
7 16" x 9" Tom
8 18" x 16" Tom
A 14" AAX-Celerator Hi-Hats Brilliant
B 22" AAX Metal Ride Brilliant
C 12" HH China Kang (TOP) / 19" AAX X-Treme Chinese (BELOW)
D 18" AA Metal-X Crash
E 10" AAX Splash Brilliant
F 8" Chopper
G 11" Vault Max Stack
H 19" AAX Metal Crash Brilliant
I 19" AAX X-Treme Chinese Brilliant
Jimmy Sullivan also uses DW hardware, Evans heads, and Pro-Mark sticks.