At a recent concert held at the Ritz the prestigious New York club, a crowd of enthusiastic fans was on hand to check out Atlantic recording artist Fiona. The band performed an exciting set of powerful hard rock. Near the end of the set, the spotlight went to the drummer, as he began his solo. Normally at this point in a Ritz show, the audience unceremoniously heads for the bar, but not on this night. Building from a driving pattern, the drummer composed contrapuntal melodic lines around the set that caught the audience’s ear, and from that point, the audience was hooked. His solo peaked in a breathtaking display of double-bass chops, and the near-frenzied audience responded with gaping jaws, lit lighters, and screaming enthusiasm: business as usual for drummer Joe Franco.
The crowd that night was unaware of the many years of work and dedication it took Joe to get to that point, and his list of musical credentials is extensive. After performing with many up-and-coming acts in New York City in the late ’60s, Joe landed the gig with Haystacks Balboa, beating out a long list of other hopefuls. From that band, Joe was asked to join the Good Rats, a band he would record six albums with. Although the Rats never achieved nationwide success, the band developed a huge following in the Northeast, headlining major clubs and opening for major acts in the area. The Good Rats performed challenging music, which at any given time could be odd-meter fusion sections, ballads, or straight-ahead swing, all in a rock context. Through his involvement with the Rats, Joe’s reputation as a player grew throughout the industry, and many offers from other bands came along.
After ten years with the Good Rats, Joe accepted the gig to tour with the Canadian band, Chilliwack, and then he came back to New York. After three years of requests by publishers, Joe decided to write a drum book. Double Bass Drumming (published by D. C. Publications) was the result, and Joe received high praise from both critics and players alike for this work. It has become the book for double-bass playing. Joe followed the book up with an educational video on the same topic, and again, his work was well received. During this period, Joe also taught students, and played sessions in and around New York. He has also performed at several clinics and at the 1985 P.A.S.I.C. show in Los Angeles, representing Premier drums. Currently, Joe’s fine playing can be heard behind Fiona, presently on tour in support of her second album. Also, the musicians that make up the Fiona band have been approached by management to pursue their own deal. Joe is busy.
WFM: What got you interested in music?
JF: The Beatles first caught my attention. To me, they brought out the group thing. The whole idea was that, if Billy down the block played guitar and you played drums, you’d throw together a band and have a good time. I was fortunate that my Uncle Tony was a drummer and he saw that I was interested. My idols changed overnight from Mickey Mantle to Ringo. My uncle saw this, and he had a drumset sitting around—a red-sparkle Ludwig with a snare, a tom, and a bass drum. So I kind of took over. He took me for lessons, and my mom and dad saw that I was really into it, so for Christmas they bought me a floor tom. “Wipe Out” wasn’t happening without a floor tom.
WFM: Was drumming something you had to work at, or did it come easy?
JF: I didn’t really have too much trouble. I got behind the drums and played with my Beatles records. That’s basically how I started playing. I think that’s why my uncle took some interest and said, “Hey, let’s get this kid some lessons and steer him in the right direction.”
WFM: He saw that there was something there.
JF: Yeah, because basically that’s what I did. I played along with my Beatles records with my little Victrola speakers right in back of me. I remember the first beats I learned. My uncle taught me two beats: a swing beat and, believe it or not, a twist beat.
WFM: What other types of training did you have?
JF: Well, when I first started taking lessons, I don’t think I got a lot out of them. I was playing mostly by ear and learning a lot more from just listening to records.
Before the Good Rats, a couple of things happened that made me realize, “Hey, this is my career.” I was 17 or 18, and two major things happened. First of all, I auditioned for a band that auditioned maybe 40 drummers, and I got the gig. At the same time, Carmine Appice gave me a nice kick in the ass by saying, “Hey man, you play your ass off,” meaning that music is what I should be doing. Speaking of Carmine, I saw the first clinic he ever did. I got to know him and got really friendly with him. I used to go over to his house, and he used to show me stuff. At that time, he was with Cactus. I’d go over to his house, and Jeff Beck would be on the phone. I’d be really impressed. Those two things convinced me to pursue music. I thought to myself, “When school finishes, this is what I’m going to be doing.”
WFM: School being high school?
JF: Actually college. I was 19 when I decided that I was going to do this full time. I studied computer science in college, but there was no way I was going to be making a living on computers. I was going to college and I didn’t really want to drop out, but at the same time, school was too time-consuming. I wasn’t really being fair to myself as a musician, and I knew that I had to give music 24 hours a day at one point in my life. So I compromised and said to myself, “Okay, I’m going to finish school, take this diploma, put it in a drawer, and make music my life.” I think I was pretty realistic. If, five years later, I wasn’t making a dime, it would be pretty hard to make it my life. Maybe it would be a hobby. It would always be in me, but you have to draw the line at a certain point. If you love playing, you’re going to play forever. It’s as simple as that. But you have to say at one point, “This is my hobby; I’ll have a little band and do some gigs,” or “This is my life.” I was really dying to make music a 24-hour-a-day thing. I wanted to take lessons from everybody and learn as much as I could. School was so time-consuming that I couldn’t do that.
I was going to college with guys who read IBM manuals before they went to bed every night. At the same time, I’d cut out from school and go to a gig, and have to compete with them. It was pretty tough to live that kind of double life. So I just said, “Okay, I just can’t quit now. I put too much time and energy into this, and I like it.” I liked what I was doing.
WFM: Was it tough to make that final decision to go with music?
JF: Obviously, it was tough as far as the way my parents and family looked at it was concerned. I happen to be the first person in my family to graduate college. You can imagine what Mom and Dad thought when I went through all that trouble to go to school, get good grades, do pretty well, get a degree, and then become a drummer. My mom would be talking to the ladies where she worked, “What does your son do?” My mom would say, “He plays the drums.” The lady at work might say, “Oh, my boy does that, too.” Meanwhile, her boy was eight years old, and I was 25 or so. [laughs] As for me, personally, making that commitment to music, it was the most natural thing in the world to do. It was just a little weird, I guess, the way my family saw it. They always supported me, which was hip. They always had so much respect for me that they wouldn’t dare say, “Hey, what are you, crazy?” That’s pretty cool.
WFM: A lot of people don’t get that.
JF: Yeah, I know. I got total support, only because I think they trusted my judgment on things. Boy, I could thank them for that, because you know what it would be like if you had no support at home and you were living at home. Imagine what it would be like to be going to college and becoming a rock ‘n’ roll drummer, and having your dad on your ass every day. It would be hard to live that way. I never had that. I always had full support. I was lucky.
I decided I wanted to study my instrument more, so I went to Norm Grossman in New York. I studied everything from music theory to classical snare drum— symphonic percussion—the whole thing. I think that was the first time that I really learned what reading was all about, really learned note values, and really learned what I was doing. Norm was really good. He was like my drum guru. I went back to him after I wrote my book to let him see it. He was really proud of me. I also took some lessons from Andrew Cyrille.
So, from having Carmine rub off on me in the early days to going to a symphonic reading thing with Norm and then to this crazy Afro thing: Andrew Cyrille made DeJohnette sound commercial. [laughs] I then studied with Tony Williams. I went to City College—CCNY—and Tony had a brownstone in Harlem, which was where the school was. I’d go over to Tony’s house, and he was a real trip, man. Tony had Pink Floyd records, Ramone records—he’s a really special cat, as far as spanning the whole spectrum goes. I learned a lot from just listening to him play, and he definitely did rub off on me big time.
WFM: The reason I was asking about your early learning experiences is that you seem to have a very open, rudimental approach to playing. Am I totally wrong?
JF: No. At that time, I wasn’t big on rudiments so to speak—what people call rudiments. To me, all of the rudiments are combinations of singles and doubles. I decided to get those two things together early on. I didn’t practice an 11-stroke roll, if you know what I mean. But I felt that a good single-stroke and double-stroke roll were really important in my playing.
Now since I’ve developed in my playing, I apply different types of rudiments. For example, I’ll use paradiddle combinations between my hands and feet. I also use ruffs and flams between my hands and feet. So I guess, in that way, I do incorporate rudiments into my playing.
WFM: Early on, what types of music influenced you, besides the Beatles?
JF: I have been influenced in stages. The first stage was the English invasion—Beatles, Stones, Dave Clark 5, the Animals, the Yardbirds, and the Kinks. I liked the people who had a little more edge in the early days. And then the next stage for me was when Hendrix and Cream came around. I just ate music in those days. I lived at the Fillmore. I used to play the East Village circuit. With the bands I was in during the Fillmore days, I would play at the nearby clubs. We played the Electric Circus a lot, which was around the corner from the Fillmore. A lot of times, I’d go to the Fillmore and then leave to play a gig, and I’d see the people who I went to see at the Fillmore at my gig. I’d stay for double shows of Jefferson Airplane, and Jethro Tull when Tull used to open for Jeff Beck. I saw Led Zeppelin’s first show there when they opened for Iron Butterfly. This was the second generation, and this, to me, is my real roots. The Beatles knocked me out, but it wasn’t Ringo’s playing as much as it was the concept of the whole band. But when Clive Bunker, Ginger Baker, and Mitch Mitchell came out, I really listened to the drumming. I think the next stage for me was when the Tony Williams Lifetime and the Mahavishnu Orchestra came out, because then it seemed that the technical side of drumming exploded. Today, guys like Vinnie Colaiuta, Terry Bozzio, and Simon Phillips are another stage of players that inspire me.
WFM: Earlier you mentioned auditioning for Haystacks Balboa. From there you joined the Good Rats. How did you come to join that band?
JF: They had heard about me. They came down, saw me play in Haystacks, and asked me to join the band. At the time, I wasn’t sure, because I was really into the band I was playing with. The singer with the Rats, Peppi Marchello, came over to my house and played some tapes for me. I thought he was a really talented writer, and the Rats had a production deal. They were in the studio. It wasn’t a record deal, but they had a deal where they could write two or three songs, go right into the studio, and cut them. That was really attractive to me. I not only got to work with good musicians and a great songwriter, but it was a band that I could get some studio experience with. Before that I was in the studio with other bands here and there, but nothing serious. I was 19 or 20, and for me to get into the studio and be part of something creative was exciting.
WFM: What kind of music was Haystacks Balboa?
JF: A lot like Vanilla Fudge; it was real pretentious rock.
WFM: That’s quite a change in style from what I’ve heard of the Good Rats.
JF: Well, the attitude in both bands was still rock ‘n’ roll. It’s just that the Good Rats were so much more musical. The Good Rats, to me, had everything in terms of musicality, but they were so aggressive. It was as aggressive as any heavy metal band. At the same time, it could be as musical as Barry Manilow.
I really liked playing with guys who prided themselves on being good musicians. Everyone in the band was really into his instrument. Everyone practiced a lot. It would be really hard for me to be in a situation where I had that kind of fire and the guys around me didn’t. We always prided ourselves on being good musicians, and we all took lessons. It was that kind of thing.
There was a lot of incentive to improve, because we would be on the road half the time and home half the time. When we were home, we played every night. In the late ’70s, there was such a boom in the club circuit that we could play literally five and six nights a week, and never play the same place more than three or four times a year. I’m talking from Philly to Boston to Buffalo in the Northeast. We were being seen by a lot of people, and obviously, a lot of people were going to see us a couple of times a year. The incentive was to give them some new stuff, whether it was new songs, new licks, or both. We felt we owed it to those fans to keep improving. What an incentive to improve—to be getting out there and playing so often, and getting that feedback from the people. That made you want to be better. So I’m not saying it was total self-discipline to try to improve and all that, but that was a real good incentive for me to want to practice. Also, when you’re playing 300 nights a year, it does something for your chops. I had a ten-minute drum solo after playing for an hour and a half. I think I could lay off for ten years and still have stamina after that experience.
WFM: By the time you left the Good Rats, your style and your concepts were pretty much developed as far as using a big kit with two bass drums went. Did you go into the band with that type of attitude—using a big kit—or did that kind of develop?
JF: My initial double-bass influence was Carmine, because I ran into him and he said, “Man, you play heavy. You should play two bass drums.” So I gave it a shot. I started looking at my left foot and saying, “Man, you’ve got a lazy left foot.” After developing my left foot for a while, I got into seeing what it would feel like playing a bass drum with it. It was gradual. It takes a while to get into the double-bass thing. I remember the first time I actually applied it. Everyone in the band turned around and said, “What the hell was that? Where are we?”
WFM: What players were you listening to that got you into that?
JF: Ginger Baker. The first time that I heard “Toad,” I thought he was playing a roll between his floor tom and right foot. So I practiced that, and I had this great double-bass roll there between the floor tom and my right foot. Then I saw a picture of the band, and he had two bass drums. I said, “Wow, two bass drums.” I never knew anyone played two bass drums. When I heard what he was doing, it was like, “Oh boy, I want to do that.”
Then, at that time, everyone started add- ing a second bass drum. I’m talking about guys like Clive Bunker—the original Jethro Tull drummer—Mitch Mitchell, Carmine—guys like that were all single-bass players. You’d see them a couple of months later, and they all had a double kit. That’s when the double-bass thing started happening—the late ’60s. I mean, sure Bellson started the thing, but drummers like myself didn’t know who Louie Bellson was. To me, the whole thing that started it was the rock drummers, and I think that’s obviously when it became popular—with the rock thing. So I guess my setup grew as the setups of the people I was influenced by grew. The first time I saw Mahavishnu, Cobham had single bass. So I guess seeing everyone going to double bass kind of got me thinking about it.
Conceptually, everyone more or less started playing double bass the same way. What they would do was just keep time on their left bass drum and work around that. That’s why a lot of drummers were leading with their left foot. That’s what I did. I was just playing time with my left foot, and playing these lightning-fast rolls with my feet and playing everything under the sun on top of it with my hands, and sounding like three drummers. When people would say, “Wow, great double-bass chops,” I’d think to myself, “It’s kind of hard to take that compliment. I’m not doing anything. I’m just rolling with my feet.” Sure I built independence to where my feet were on cruise control, but still I didn’t feel like I was contributing anything special to the double-bass thing, because I was doing exactly what Baker and Carmine and all those cats were doing.
The first cat that opened me up to actually doing some different things was Steve Smith, who was probably one of my biggest influences as far as the double-bass thing went. That’s strange to say, because the last couple of times I saw Steve, he was jazzing out and not even playing two bass drums. The Rats used to open for Journey, and Steve and I got to be pretty good buddies. We would talk about things like “Well yeah, I lead with my left foot, and it’s weird when I want to do things like trade fours I want to go right, left, right, left. That seems natural, but I am so used to playing 8th notes with my left foot that I have to play left, right, left, right.” Steve was saying, “Hey man, same thing. I started to lead with my left foot. I had to turn it around and put it on my right foot.” He was the first guy who got me thinking like that.
Now, I didn’t just start playing that way, because when you have to go up there and solo your ass off night after night, it’s not the time to say, “I think I’ll change my style.” I remember Steve telling me about that and telling me what he was doing. It wasn’t until years later that I finally had some free time to start developing it. I started getting into my whole concept with the rolls leading with my right foot and then taking notes out. You don’t have to have a lot of notes in there. You’ve seen the things I do at my clinic where I’ll just throw one note in with my left foot and make all the difference. On the new Fiona album, I played a figure with the bass drums, and it involved maybe using my left foot for just one note. So I had this nice little riff. The producer jumped up and down, and said, “Wow, now I’m a double-bass fan again.” If you bring a double bass into the studio, the producer thinks you’re doing a solo. It’s not a drum solo. We’re playing music here.
My whole idea about double-bass drumming is that you should have a system of playing. The thing about having a systematic way of doing things is that, when you need to apply it in a spontaneous situation, you don’t have to think about it; you have an idea and you play it. If you have a system, whether it be for sticking or for bass drums, your ideas are going to flow quickly and you’re going to be a smooth player. It’s as simple as that. It’s kind of like a method to the madness. I do want to mention Steve Smith again, because he really got me into thinking about alternatives with double-bass playing. He’s a fine drummer, and as far as double bass goes, he’s one of the best.
WFM: I want to get back to some of the historical things. How long were you with the Good Rats?
JF: Almost ten years. I joined the band in ’72, and I left the band in ’82.
WFM: You recorded six albums with the Good Rats. When you went into the studio, I imagine that the material was well rehearsed.
JF: Yeah, sometimes too well rehearsed. The Good Rats, because of our inability to conform with what everybody wanted, never had a record label for more than one record. I think we did six albums on six labels. That kind of ruins the momentum. Sometimes we would be sitting around with some tunes, and we’d be ready to record them, but there wasn’t a record deal happening. So near the end, when we were very big, we just said, “Who cares? Let’s just record and put it on our own label. Our fans don’t care what it says on that piece of plastic.” After a while, we were able to call our own shots. Once we developed the kind of following that we did, we said, “Fine. They don’t want to put us out. Nobody wants to put money into putting us across the country.” For the last three years, we just stayed in the Northeast. It had something to do with it finally burning out, too, because you can only do that for so long.
WFM: Why didn’t it ever pick up? Was the music too complex?
JF: No, it was because of the politics involved with not having a label supporting you. You don’t pick up when you’re throwing out records on your own label. One time we had a follow-up album, and we were ready to break. That’s when we had an album that Flo & Eddie produced called Rats To Riches. We were gigantic. We sold out the Palladium two days in a row. I’m talking about the New York area. We were ready to break. We went to England, did this big tour with Meat Loaf over there, and did this new record at the Who’s studio. We released a single, and it was all over the radio. What happens? The week that that record was released, Arista dropped Passport, which was the label we were on. We were without a label one week after the record came out and was getting tons of air play. You might say that we had some real hard luck, but man, the last thing I would do would be to cry about our hard luck. I have a lot to be thankful for. Those ten years got me out there, got me recognition, and got me where I am today, in that I built a reputation for myself in New York and stayed busy all the time on that reputation. Those were the seeds. The Good Rats were a great ten years.
WFM: What finally brought the band to an end?
JF: Obviously, when you’re playing with the same guys for ten years and it is starting to go a little downhill, it gets a little stale. What made it even worse was that we were without a label. So we felt like we couldn’t be creative. A band has to make a record once a year or every 18 months or so. You have to put it out and then turn the page. You have to do that just to stay fresh. We weren’t doing that.
What made it worse was that the club scene started getting really bad. There’s no club scene today, but the beginning of that started like five years ago. It started going downhill.
When I was with the Good Rats, I always had offers for other bands. I said to myself in the summer of ’82, “Next thing that comes along, I’ve got to leave.” I got a call from the president of RCA records. He was a real fan of the Rats, and he wanted to sign the Rats at one time. He said, “Joe, I’ve got a great situation for you—Chilliwack.” Now, at that time, I had no idea of who Chilliwack was. I didn’t realize, and you probably don’t either, that they’re gigantic in Canada—ten albums at the time I joined. Anyway, I had lunch with him, and he played the new Chilliwack album for me. I was floored. Chilliwack was a super band. So a combination of really liking the music, the musicianship in Chilliwack, and needing a change led me to that.
WFM: Stylistically, what were the differences between the Good Rats and Chilliwack?
JF: Chilliwack was a very four-on-the-floor kind of groove band. They wanted a rock drummer who could really groove, but could do the circus drum solo as well. They hired me for that reason. It was a real learning experience for me, because I was dealing with a very unique situation. Brian McCloud, who is the lead guitarist in the band, plays all the drum parts when the band records. He doesn’t play drums on stage. He’s a great guitar player, and I think he’s just as good a drummer. I’m not talking chops or fancy licks, but a great groove. I really made myself play with his kind of attitude, because it really fit the music, and I loved it. I loved the way that this cat played drums. I really learned how to lay it down a lot fatter when I played with Chilliwack.
WFM: How long did that whole thing last?
JF: It lasted for one big arena tour. They wanted me to keep touring but not record. I wanted to be in a situation where I was more than just a sideman. I came back to New York and put a band together. We spent a good six months practicing and never got anything together. I did have a lot of free time. That’s when I said, “Well, I was approached about three years ago to do a drum book by a publishing company. I haven’t done it because I haven’t had the time. This is a great time.” I did the book, and then just simply said one day while watching MTV,”Hey man, I’ll do my own video. It’s definitely the video age. I’ll pursue that.” That was a year of my life that I couldn’t have done if I had been on the road. I worked on different drumming concepts. I started writing. I started teaching, and I said to myself, “Okay, progress. I’m going to do this drum book.”
Let me tell you, probably the highlight of my career was when Zildjian asked me to do a clinic at Berklee. I went up there, and I was a little early. I said, “Gee, do you have a place where I can warm up?” I went in a room that I could warm up in, and I saw my book up on a music stand with this double-bass kit. I found out that they use my book up at Berklee, and to me, that’s it. To me, that’s not like I lucked out and got asked to join this band, and I got asked to do this or that. That book was my sweat. That meant more to me than anything. When I perform at things like clinics and the PAS convention, and drummers who I admire come up to me and say, “Hey, you did a real good job on that book,” man, that’s the best feeling in the world. Nothing can top that.
WFM: Talking about the book, how long did it take you to put it together?
JF: Believe it or not, the better part of a year. I wanted to write a book because I thought there really needed to be a book about what I had to say. So many people were into the double-bass thing, but there weren’t any practical books about playing the double bass. Any materials that were available went from doing a single-stroke roll, which was not enough, to playing paradiddles with your feet, which I thought was too much.
WFM: It’s from one extreme to the other. Did you have any difficulties putting the book together?
JF: Yeah, because when you write a book, even after you get the concept, you have to figure out what to leave in and what to take out. I delivered 150 pages to the publisher, who said, “Joe, most drum books are 40 pages.” So I cut it up, and I ended up taking the concepts that I had cut and including them in the video.
WFM: How did it progress into a video?
JF: Axis Video came to me, and they had some nice credentials. I liked the job they did with Bill Bruford and Max Roach. I had in mind doing one on my own, but I knew that if these people were going to do it, it would come out. If I was going to do it, it would take forever. It was taped in my basement. You’d never know from looking at it that that video was filmed right here, and the taping was completed in two days. It was very hard to do in two days, believe me, because I was more into making the playing things and the educational things really cool. I found myself with about a half hour at 4:00 in the morning to do the wraps to tie it all together. So I just took a shower, drank a pot of coffee, and went down there to do the wraps, which I thought came out a little stiff, but educationally I’m very happy. There’s not a ton of personality projected, but it’s very hard to do that when you’re not used to working with a camera and when you have a half hour to tie the whole lesson together. I saw the editing job, and I was very happy with it.
WFM: Your playing on the video was very accurate. Were there a lot of takes involved?
JF: Not very many. The frustrating part of doing takes was this: I’d do a great take, and they’d screw the camera thing up. So it was a little frustrating when it came to that. Then, they put up these curtains that absorbed some of the sounds, and it made it hard for me to hear. Plus, we did it in May, which sounds pretty comfortable, but it happened to be record-breaking temperature. I had this great idea. Everything would be in black and I’d be in black, but I’d have these white shoes so the viewers would see my bass drums. Do you know how hot it was? We had white lights with black velvet wrapped around me. It was painful, but it all turned out well, I think.
WFM: How did your current gig with Fiona come about?
JF: Twisted Sister’s A.J. Pero called me and said, “Joe, there’s this singer up at Atlantic that they’re really excited about, but they’ve just been through two producers and none of them did the job. They feel that they need someone who can write something for her. What’s Peppi doing?” Peppi was the songwriter of the Good Rats. I said, “Hey, that’s a good idea— Peppi.” So one thing led to another, and a week or two later, Peppi called me: “Joe, thanks a lot. These people at Atlantic want me to take her into the studio.” So, Peppi had me play on her demo. A week later, she was signed with Peppi producing her. I was asked to be the drummer on the record. That’s the roots of the Fiona thing.
WFM: Do you think your playing style had to change to fit with her?
JF: No. We just went in and rocked out for three days. That was the record. It was not a very high-budget record. Atlantic didn’t put a lot of money into it. They saw the band a month later and said, “Wow, let’s do another one and do it for real.”
WFM: You guys did tour, and were out on the road opening for acts, playing in these huge arenas—20,000 people—and then I saw you headline at the Ritz, which was a bit smaller, playing for a few hundred. What kind of problems are there switching from being an opening act to being a head- liner?
JF: Sometimes you don’t get a soundcheck when you’re an opening act. When you’re a headliner, you not only get a sound- check, but you get to jam and have fun. I really enjoy the aspect of being the headliner—doing the soundcheck and jamming for a while in the afternoon, just really feeling loose and feeling comfortable, and being able to stretch out a little bit in the show. That’s the only difference. It could be a big difference, but if you’re doing something like the Bryan Adams tour, who we opened for, after the first couple of nights, it’s like clockwork. You’re dealing with a bunch of pros, and you can go up there without a soundcheck and still be comfortable. It’s not a big difference.
WFM: How was the sound for you, playing both smaller and larger places?
JF: The sound is as good as the monitors are. If you’re dealing with professional people on the sound-reinforcement level, and you’re dealing with someone who knows what you need in your monitors, it makes no difference if you’re playing for 1,000 or 20,000.
WFM: Let’s talk a little bit about your equipment.
JF: The drums are Premier, and for the last eight years, they have been. The Good Rats were so big in the Northeast that I got every product endorsement that I ever wanted. Premier has been very supportive of me. I have experimented with a bunch of different kits. Right now, I’m into the power, extra depth thing. My setup includes two 16×24 bass drums. Those extra two inches are dynamite. I just got into the power bass drums a year or so ago. I really like that a lot. The tom-toms are 13″, 14″, 15″, 16″, and 18″. I like the fatter drums, and they’re all wood. They’re Premier Resonator bass drums and Premier Soundwave tom-toms.
The hardware’s obviously Collarlock like all your readers know from the Ask A Pro. The Collarlock thing came about at a Chilliwack rehearsal, when I was up there with my mega drumset with a zillion floor stands and a zillion mic’ stands. A guy said, “Look, I’ve been doing this thing that you might like.” Everything went on three stands: one in the middle of the two bass drums, one on the left, and one on the right—all my miking, all my tom-toms, all my cymbal stands. As for the snare drums, my main snare drum is a 6 1/2X14 Black Shadow model.
WFM: For double-bass drumming, how tight do you recommend the pedal tensioning be set?
JF: Pedal tension is very loose. The heads are very loose. The pedal tension and the bass drum heads are very loose, because the sound is thicker. The beater stays on the drum longer. Yes, they are hard to play that way. [laughs]
WFM: When you want to play a single-bass pattern and you want to play doubles, isn’t that more difficult?
JF: You get used to it. When the head is floppy, you get a thicker sound. It records better. I don’t really tune my bass drums any differently in the studio than I do live. I play hard. When the drumheads are loose and you hit them hard, the sound is going to be longer. For my taste, that’s what I want to do. I like to hear really fat drum sounds, whether it’s live or in the studio.
WFM: You’ve been associated with Zildjian for a long time.
JF: Yes, even longer than I have with Premier. I feel like Lenny DiMuzio is my uncle. It’s that kind of thing with Lenny. He’s such a warm guy that he makes you feel like family. As far as my cymbals go, I have a lot of great new things. They said, “Hey, we have to get you up to date,” and they gave me all this new stuff. I have the 20″ Z series power ride that I’m using. I was using a 24″. I had the misconception that a bigger cymbal would mean a bigger bell, and I play a lot of bell. The bell on the 20″ ride is big, and it cuts. I’m using a Z ride and I’m using Platinum crashes, which are basically A Zildjian crashes, but they visually match the drums better, and I’m using K China Boys, which are killers—nice, dark, stop-right-away kind of Chinas—17″ and a 19″. I’m using a 22″ pang right at the end. The hi-hats I’m using are a New Beat top with an Impulse bottom, which is a very hip combination. I have every hi-hat Zildjian makes, and before we recorded the Fiona record, I went through these hi-hats and came up with that combination. It’s a killer, because it’s really quick. I have the new Dyno Beat hi-hats in the closed position on my right-hand side, next to my ride cymbal. I’ve got all my different ride sources— cowbell, ride cymbal, bell, closed hat—all in the same area.
WFM: Your involvement in electronics seems to be growing.
JF: Well, recently, yes. I think that the whole electronic percussion thing was real limited, but now sampling has opened it up. I’m a sampling fool. Fortunately, I was hired to do samples for a Hohner drum machine last year, and they were kind enough to give me all of those samples back. I spent two days in the studio sampling everything I had—every drum, cymbal, percussive toy. We did things that were not typical for drum machines, like buzz rolls and things like that. Now it’s getting very computer oriented, and obviously I’m not at all intimidated by computers. MIDI is such a simple language. It’s like eight instructions. It’s very easy to understand if you have some kind of computer background. So I’m very into the new technology, and I’m able to do more. I do sessions now with drum machines, where all the sounds are my own. I feel good about that.
Right now, I’m using Emulator’s SP12, and I’ve got my computer disc drives and I’ve got my sounds on floppy discs. What I intend to do with the Fiona tour is sample the stuff that’s on tape and reproduce it live. It’s all my own sounds, and I’ll trigger those sounds with my acoustic set. It will just reinforce my sound and make it sound more like the record.
WFM: Is it hard to stay excited about the music business after so many years?
JF: I’m obviously committed to what I do. I’m lucky. I actually get paid to do something I love. Plus, they’re paying for the new toys. [laughs] You know what it’s like, being a kid and dreaming about what you want to be when you grow up. I went through my fantasy life of being a ball player. Then I saw Ringo, and that was a fantasy. That was not what I was going to do. That was a fantasy. That’s not real life. But now I’m living the fantasy. That’s really where it’s at.