Q. I’m 26 and lost a wife and two children in a divorce. I’ve since remarried a wonderful girl who is supportive of my career. We have a 7-month old boy who seems to enjoy the road as much as my wife and I. Even though the road has a bad reputation, we’ve come to believe that good is where you find it. Still, there is easily as much destructive potential in our marriage as there is good. I fear that we’re headed for a break-up. There’s no doubt we need help. I’ve felt heartbroken, exhausted and disheartened the last month. If things are good at home I feel good and play well. If things are bad, I play bad and I can feel the downward spiral.
NIAGARA FALLS, CANADA
A. I’m deeply moved by your letter. It’s not unlike my own life where I lost a wife through death, and started another life and another family. There are things we learn to make us better people. They give us experience, feelings, and we translate and transmit those feelings through our music.
It sounds like you’re doing everything right. Marriage is not an easy situation. Sometimes the road can be bad and you don’t realize there can be a breakdown of communication. It’s very tough for a lady to be married to a musician because his music is utmost in his head. Let’s face it: You’re married to your music and your drums. That’s total dedication and it takes a special kind of lady to play second fiddle to you and your music.
There will come a time in your life when you’ll start looking back at certain things in your career and you’ll start saying, “I think my wife comes first. I’ve played my music.” Music may have been good or bad to you, but your wife’s stuck with you through all of the years. Marriage is something you have to work on. You’ve practiced a lot of years on drums; you’re going to find that marriage takes the same kind of practice and hard work and dedication. Drummers are all show-offs—the center of attention onstage. Is it possible your wife needs a certain amount of attention too? She needs to be told how good, great and wonderful she is. That’s something you can’t forget. Your dedication to drums is wonderful but you should also be dedicated to your marriage.
Q. I just recently quit a band. The lead guitarist wants to take total control of everything we do. We’re a young band and we mostly did songs by the Grateful Dead, where the tempos are relatively the same with just different accents and fills. I want to do some challenging music. It might take awhile to perfect, but isn’t that what makes a player better? Do you suggest I look for different musicians who have my same goals or stick with the same guys?
DUMONT, NEW JERSEY
A. Your problem is extremely common and goes along with the job. The definition of a trio has always been one guy who thinks he’s the trio, and the other two guys stink! If you’re in a job making some money, playing your instrument, I wouldn’t just quit. I’d wait until something else came along. Nothing is more frustrating than to sit around practicing all day and not have a place to play. One of the tough parts about working in a group—whether it’s a band or in a factory—is getting along with people. Some people are more aggressive than others and you have to learn to put up with that. If you learn to get along with people and take some direction, you will become a better leader.
You should be able to play all different kinds of music. I don’t feel you should just quit a job. If you’re doing the best you can onstage, somebody’s going to hear it and offer you the right kind of job. Or, if you hear about the right kind of audition, at least you won’t be going in with your hat in your hands saying, “I need a job.” You can tell them that you’re working with a group at a club where they can hear you play and tell you what they think. Hey, the next band you get in might be with a bandleader who refuses to let you pick up a pair of sticks, and wants you to play a quiet little two-beat with brushes all night long! Hang in there!
Q. I’m one of the “weekend warriors,” a drummer with a happy home life and a job, yet I still play mostly on weekends. There are many of us out here who have decided to play music for fun and are very happy to do so. I can tell that you value happiness as much as I do, and you might be able to point out the joys of “part-timing.”
A. It really does my heart good to read your letter. Weekend drumming can be really terrific and not at all frustrating. I have a friend in Texas who is a bass player and a farmer. He’s part of the coop down there and he’s a cotton farmer, and Leon is on the Sheriffs posse, but still he plays music. Leon was the bass player with Tommy Sands’ group when I first broke into rock and roll back in about ’57. Eddie Edwards and Scott Turner were the guitar players. I learned so much from these guys. I’ve stuck with it and these guys—with the exception of Scott—have gone back to their normal jobs after really playing the big time with Tommy Sands. Eddie is in Ogden, Utah as a purchasing agent for a major company. But, they’re weekend warriors who play when they can.
Q. I am 21 years old and have been taking drum lessons since I was about 10. I quit lessons about 2 1/2 years ago because I got a factory job, and then got laid off a little over a year ago. I sat around for nine months feeling worse as each day went by. I finally moved to Oregon because enough is enough. I’ve been depressed because I haven’t accomplished one of my most important goals: to play the drums very good.
Please help me if you can.
DEPOE BAY, OREGON
Q. It sounds like you’ve done one of the great things in your life by moving. At 21, moving to a new life and a new beginning is fantastic. It’s true that if you have all drums in your life and nothing else you will lose that balance and it can really make you crazy. But now you’re in part of the country that can just open you up tremendously. I think that some of the “down time” that you’ve had will make you a better employee, and appreciate a regular job more. It’s the ups and downs at a young age that prepare you for the tough things later on in life. After looking back some years from now, you’ll say, “I guess that really wasn’t as bad as I thought.”
I think if you want a career in drumming you ought to set a goal. Go start your own band! Because you’ve studied so long, it might be possible that you’re teacher material and can start a little school in your area. You may be able to take a young group of kids and put them on the right track. Teaching can be an incredibly rewarding experience. It’s a good feeling to feel you’ve planted something and seen a kid who has taken over and done his own thing with it.
You absolutely never know what’s around the corner. The phone could ring, or a letter could come giving you a terrific job playing drums somewhere. You’re certainly not a loser—you don’t want to be a quitter. As long as you keep practicing you’ll be ready when the right thing comes along. I don’t think you should give up practicing, but you should also be rounding your life out and enjoying some of the beauty in the world.
Q. I’m in a band now and I really want to get gigging. The other guys have daytime jobs and I don’t. I love music and want to make it so bad that I’m a walking neurotic. Some musicians won’t even give me an audition because I’m only 18. I’m really frustrated about trying to get myself established. I like music too much to quit. Perhaps there’s another young drummer out there who feels the same as I do.
A. Yours is a very familiar letter. I think you’re just anxious, and young and you want to be playing. When I was 18, the first band I worked with were a couple of old dudes who never got off their butts. All they ever wanted to do was play their same old songs and drink their same shots of whiskey every night. Don’t try to go too fast. Slow down a little bit. Take in everything you can around you. Learn what life is all about, learn what you’re doing. Play your drums, practice, study—know exactly where it’s at. Eventually the right band is going to come along, with guys that think and talk like you and play music like you. That’s really where it’s at. Slowly but surely you’re going to run into those situations.
I’m really sorry that you’re down on yourself. You’ve got an aspiring career. Stick to it. Before you know it—all the good things will be happening.
Q. I am currently playing in a “Gospel Rock” band. I really related to what you said about “ups and downs.” One concert I play is great and the acoustics are perfect, and I play great. Then I hit a concert where the acoustics are abhorrent and it’s a living nightmare. I’m trying to find experienced advice on compensating for bad acoustics and keeping a good attitude when things get terrible. Also, I have a good ear for music because I usually pick up music by listening rather than reading. Is that bad? Finally, I also play bass, guitar, and I sing. Should I just be a drummer or is it cool to be versatile?
A. As far as acoustics being good one night and bad the next, that’s just going to make you a better person. Walking into a department store, you’re going to find the “ups” of a good salesperson and the “downs” of a bad salesperson. You’ll be running into these things all your life, so it’s just as well that you’re being exposed to them now. If you run into a bad situation and it throws you for a loop it’s not going to do you any good.
A guy that has never had any experience playing with a band with bad acoustics will totally go to pieces under those circumstances. He can’t play at all!
You say you’ve been playing by “listening” rather than “reading.” Personally, I think that’s bad. It’s a matter of practice. It’s no different than when you started reading, “The boy ran” and stumbled all over as a kid. Now, you don’t even think about it. Get a teacher or a music book and start reading. Sing the figures to yourself. When I started reading, I found it helpful to sit down with music paper and pencil and start writing the notes down, so that you have it through the eyes and the hands, and that really sinks into your brain. Don’t give up the other instruments and concentrate on drums. Concentrate on all of them!
Q. I am a drummer with high hopes of improving, and making a comfortable living in music. I agree with your theory of balance in anything. When I was in the llth grade I practiced close to six hours a day and was involved in pot, hash, and alcohol. The combination finally led me to a mental breakdown. People all said that my playing was years ahead of my time. I ended up in a mental hospital for three months and began to rebuild my self-image. When I got out, I graduated college with a degree in social work. I am still playing and studying.
A. I guess you’re living proof that all work and no play can wind you up in the hospital. I really appreciate your letter—it’s very moving. I’m happy that you found yourself and got out of that mess. We all know that drugs will kill you in the long run. I’m glad your self-image is back to normal. I think the fact that you’re studying social work is great! Everything works hand-in-hand. Playing the drums and talking to people are both ways of communication. I think that helping people who are really down and need help is just so rewarding. I’ve been through some personal experiences with friends who have wound up in hospitals in similar situations. It sounds like you’ll be doing everything right from here on in. It sounds like you might be teaching some day and I think that would be great for you. Hang in there!
Q. I was playing with a top-40/disco group and decided to leave because I wanted to create my own group, playing, more or less, progressive jazz or progressive r&b. I felt there was a market for this kind of music. I found some rehearsal space, rented it, and began to advertise in the paper for musicians. Many of the callers were looking for a “working” band and didn’t want to start something new. Finally, I found a bassist and a guitar player who were interested, but they never showed up for the audition. I decided to find work for myself with another group. I went to a man who booked all of the entertainment in a catering hall. He asked me if I could sing lead and I said, ” Yes.” He asked me to audition the next day, but I didn’t go because I hadn’t practiced in awhile. I thought about joining a union, but they don’t promise you any work. Maybe you could recommend where I would go for work.
A. You did the same thing to the guy that asked you to come down and audition, as the guys did to you who you asked to audition. You said you decided against it because you hadn’t played in awhile. Practice is so very important whether you’re alone or with a group. Any time you get to play with a band, that’s giving you experience. So, when somebody calls you in to audition, you go down there and play. I don’t know about your singing because I don’t know how you sing. It’s very important if you do sing. When I studied music I minored in piano and I also minored in voice. But, I had a singing voice. I loved to sing and I learned a lot of tunes. Even in those days, it was very important for a drummer to be a singer. I’m talking about 1948 when I got out of the service.
If you keep practicing you’ll be ready for an audition. If you do any singing at all, there’s no reason why you can’t sing lead or background. Music is music. The union is important if you’re going to be working union jobs. They are there to protect you, to make sure that you will make proper wages. At a school, college or “casual” level, you’re going to be working non-union. You’ll be doing what we call “scab” dates and that’s part of learning.
Get some musicians who want to work and maybe you can all join the union as a band eventually. But find guys that need work and want experience playing and you can start maybe with benefit jobs just for the experience. Before you know it, you’ll start getting some money in your pocket and you’ll be building a band. That’s also part of learning and growing.
Q. I am a disillusioned drummer at the age of 20. Ten months ago, I went on the road with a country singer. Due to mononeucleosis and a few thousand bad experiences, I resigned. I now dislike country music and hate the music business as a whole. Help!
GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN
A. I’m sorry to see you’re disillusioned. Life doesn’t really start beginning until 30-40. That’s an old saying, but I certainly found it to be true. Some of the disillusionment will make you grow if you handle it properly. I know you’re a jazz lover, but that experience with country music should be put to work for you. Just because you love jazz doesn’t mean that you have to hate country music and the simplicity that sometimes goes along with that kind of music.
I grew up kind of hating “cowboy” music. I was from the east. What was “in” was jazz, blues and soul. In ’57 with the Tommy Sands band, I started getting turned onto rock music because, in essence, I was forced to play it. I don’t mean they had a gun to my head, but if I wanted the job I had to play the music. I found out that there are a lot of country songs that can really be fun!
I hope this helps you, but you’ve got to help yourself, too. You must take a bad experience and turn it into something good. Then it’s a learning experience which is good. From the years of traveling, I’ve met some good people, but also people who feel that if you’re a musician you’re the lowest and they don’t even want to talk to you. Maybe they don’t really hate drummers, but maybe their sister ran away with a drummer or some nonsensical thing like that.
You can’t sit around saying, “I hate all country music and I hate the music business.” You’ve got to get up and move.
Q. I am 15 years old. The guitarist and bassist of our group are leaving me out of their social life, and now their music. The guitarist’s philosophy is that you shouldn’t care about anyone but yourself. We haven’t jammed together for a long time and we’re going crazy because we all want to jam again. We just carried on too far and now it seems irreversible.
A. You say none of you have jammed and yet you’re all going crazy because you want to jam! Sometimes communication is the best thing in the world, the number one cleanser of the world. It sounds like it’s time for you to sit the band down and say, “Look, I want to talk about this.” If they are, in fact, making you crazy then you should not be with that band. Be with the band that’s keeping you sane. If you are making those guys crazy then they’ve got to get rid of you. The point is to find out what’s bothering them and let them know what’s bothering you. Clear it up!