Todd Sucherman Masterclass
Todd Sucherman is one busy drummer. He grew up in a musical family and played his first professional gig at age six (that’s right, six!). He’d played thousands of gigs and recording sessions around Chicago before joining Styx a decade and a half ago following the passing of original drummer John Panozzo. He tours all over the world with Styx, yet somehow still found the time to make his multiple award—winning Methods And Mechanics instructional DVD and co-author the newly released companion instructional book to the DVD, along with numerous recording sessions and clinics, as well as filmed and released a follow-up instructional DVD, Methods And Mechanics II: Life On The Road. The Energizer Bunny would have a hard time keeping up with Sucherman.
I’ve known Todd for a couple of decades and recently had the honor and challenge of co-authoring the previously mentioned Methods And Mechanics companion book. We had a chance to talk drums and share some ideas that I thought would help shed light on what’s made him such an incredible drummer.
DRUM!: Talk about what you have been up to
Todd Sucherman: Since the first Methods And Mechanics DVD, the most notable projects included another Taylor Mills record called “Under The Surface,” and some of that material is going to be in the Methods And Mechanics II DVD. I also did the Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin record. Brian Wilson was commissioned by the Gershwin Estate to not only reinterpret the music but was also given two pieces of unfinished Gershwin music to complete. We recorded and released Styx Regeneration Volume 1 and Volume 2, which are re-recordings of all the classic hits and I also do 120 shows a year with Styx on the road. I spent the better part of the last year writing and getting material together for Methods And Mechanics II, which was filmed last December, and then spent the last five months when I wasn’t on the road editing it. I also have the Methods And Mechanics book coming out in November. I’d had a lot of requests for a companion book to the first Methods And Mechanics DVD and I thought, “Why not?” Certainly I couldn’t transcribe it, and that’s where you entered the picture for this project, and it blossomed from there. The mammoth amount of hours that you put in to transcribe that stuff goes hand in hand with the mammoth amount of hours it took for me to play that stuff.
There’s a nice marriage between the book and DVD with most of the playing examples and some lessons written out for the eye to see, and it comes with a CD so you can hear the exact performances from the DVD. And there will be a few play-along tracks included for some of the tracks. It’s a nice serendipitous confluence of events for all these projects to occur roughly in the same quarter.
DRUM!: How do you fit all these things into one
T.S.: When I’m on the road we’re basically playing a similar set with minor changes depending on length of show or if we’re sharing a bill with anyone, so I look for creative outlets to occupy my time in between doing that. So it isn’t really that difficult to find the time, the hard part is being able to turn my mind off and just relax sometimes.
DRUM!: What kind of stuff are you working on
when and if you practice?
T.S.: It’s funny you ask that because I haven’t had the opportunity to work on much because I’ve been on the road solidly for the past couple of months. I did as much practicing as I could to get myself in fighting shape for the filming of the DVD in December. So pretty much all the ideas I played in there were things I tried to tighten up. I’m always trying to improve, obviously. I guess lately what I’ve been doing beyond the obvious maintenance practice of warming up backstage is I’ve been trying to mess with different figures in phrases of five with flams and seamlessly going back and forth with hand ideas like that.
Marco Soccoli gave me a couple DVD’s of pretty much all the Buddy Rich Tonight Show performances so I’ve been watching a lot of Buddy and putting on a couple Buddy records and then just try to feel the drive that he had. No one drove a big band like he did. There were obviously a lot of great big band drummers through the course of our history, but when you listen to him it’s just a different thing. I mean, technique aside – I’m just talking about his feel and the way he swung and hit the kicks. He was in a league of his own. So while warming up I’ve been putting on a couple of late ’60s Buddy Rich swing tracks and just trying to swing along. I’m not necessarily attempting to learn everything that he played, I’m just trying to get into that spirit and feel the energy wave that he had that was otherworldly.
DRUM!: You employ the Moeller technique for most
of your accents, resulting in lots of ghost notes following the accents.
I think DRUM!’s readers would be interested in
how you learned that.
T.S.: Yeah, it’s to the point now where I don’t think about it. Those strokes are very natural. I’ve always loved ghost notes and was interested in what they can do to a groove even if the ghost notes get lost in a live performance or recording. The groove would have a different feel had I chosen not to play them. That being said, some grooves are perfect without them. But I’ve always been interested in seeing where you can fill up the sixteenth-notes in between accents. Sometimes it’s more than two notes. Sometimes it can be three, four, or five in a row. So I’ve worked on getting that into the natural fluidity of my playing and my thinking. It’s interesting that you’re referring to them as the Moeller strokes because I never thought of it that way. Although I guess it’s easy to employ that downward whip motion for the main accent notes.