Gene Chrisman on Dan Auerbach’s Waiting on a Song
A Southern studio legend lends his experience to a modern hit songwriter’s latest effort.
This past June 2, Dan Auerbach, vocalist and guitarist of the blues/garage-rock band the Black Keys, released his second solo record, Waiting on a Song. Since moving to Nashville from Akron, Ohio, in 2010, Auerbach has surrounded himself with some of Music City’s most-recorded veteran musicians, and he recruited many of them to play on the new album. The record’s heavy hitters include drummers Jeffrey Clemens, Kenny Malone, Chris St. Hilaire, and Gene Chrisman, the latter of whom played with Waiting keyboardist Bobby Wood in the Memphis Boys, a house band for Memphis’s American Sound Studio in the late 1960s and early ’70s.
Chrisman’s body of work at American Sound Studio alone includes more than a hundred hits, by artists including Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, and Neil Diamond, among many others. So what’s made him the perfect choice for so many timeless and modern artists? “I don’t know what it is, but I can say that I’m not an overplaying drummer,” Chrisman says. “I like to play a groove. I think a feel or a groove does more good on a record than showing off. And I also don’t do solos. I’ve never been into that. I just like to play the feel of a song. And if I have to do something different, I’ll do it. I just like to listen to the song and play to the track and the artist.”
Chrisman draws from decades of experience to offer advice for up-and-coming drummers looking to start a studio career. “I’ve had guys call me and ask me, ‘If you’re doing a session that you can’t make, could you see if you could get me on it?’” he says. “I would have no idea who they are. And I can’t just get anybody on a session. I can’t go up to a producer and say, ‘Hey, this guy called me.’ You can’t do that. So I’d say, ‘The only way I’m going to tell you how to do anything is if you have some kind of tape or something that you played on; then you might want to try to get in touch with some producers and let them see how you play.’ As far as me getting them in, that’s almost impossible. People aren’t just going to hire you without knowing who you are. They just won’t do it.” Willie Rose
David Bergander on Celebration’s Wounded Healer
Capturing unusual beats and tones with a forest of mics.
Celebration, a Baltimore-based psychedelic indie/soul band that formed in 2004, released its fifth studio album, Wounded Healer, this past June. Dry, unique drum tones propel the ethereal melodies while complementing drummer David Bergander’s creative, prodding, and tasteful parts. The sticksman credits the album’s producer, Steve Wright of WrightWay Studios, for helping craft his sounds. “Steve has an enviable collection of vintage and modern microphones,” Bergander explains. “He always has me completely surrounded by them, like I’m in a cage. So when we go to mix, there are a lot of options to develop the sound. Most of it tends to be made up of only a few mics at a time, though. And I spend lots of time tuning my drums from song to song as well—making sure they resonate with each other and the song we’re tracking at the time. Sometimes we’ll also layer drums. On ‘Granite,’ there are ten or twelve drums that are played simultaneously. There are no electronics, although there’s reverb and compression.”
Bergander explains that the sparse yet driving grooves that permeate the record, such as on “Velvet Glove,” are partly a product of the band’s free approach to writing. “Sean [Antanaitis, multi-instrumentalist] and Katrina [Ford, vocals] will sometimes write parts or even a whole song with an idea for a drum pattern or feel,” Bergander says. “Sean has an incredible sense of rhythm, and ‘Velvet Glove’ and ‘Spider’ were inspired by his original ideas. Some parts come out of thin air, and others start with drum ideas. But there’s no formula. Then we just play the songs a lot and arrange them together. Some happen quickly, and some take years.” Willie Rose
More New Releases
Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie (Mick Fleetwood) ///Gov’t Mule Revolution Come…Revolution Go (Matt Abts) /// Ride Weather Diaries (Laurence “Loz” Colbert) ///The Birthday Massacre Under Your Spell (Rhim) /// Authority Zero Broadcasting to the Nations (Chris Dalley)
Christopher Guanlao with Silversun Pickups Picking his spots, and setting the pace.
The alternative indie-pop/rock group Silversun Pickups is currently on a thirty-date tour in direct support of veteran rockers Third Eye Blind that lasts through July. Since 2002, the group’s drummer, Christopher Guanlao, has energized the band’s live show with a wild, head-banging stage presence that complements his propulsive parts. To drive home singles such as “Lazy Eye” or “Panic Switch” with such gusto, Guanlao says he paces himself during live sets.
Recalling Silversun’s recent forty-five-minute performance at the When We Were Young festival in Santa Ana, California, the drummer says, “I treated the show like a sprint, hit hard, and tried to stay energetic throughout the set. With a headlining show—about an hour-and-a-half set—I’ll treat it more like a marathon. I try to tame my excitement and adrenaline a little in the beginning and pace myself so that I have something left in the tank at the end. I also know the moments in songs or in the set where I drop out or it dynamically changes, so I can pull back and take a breather.”
Guanlao developed an open-handed style early on as a self-taught left-handed drummer. “My style is pretty messed up, but it works for me,” he explains. “When I was a kid, my dad bought me a drumset for my birthday from a friend of mine. I didn’t have a clue what to do with it. So I looked at pictures and videos and set up the drums that way. Then I sat behind the kit and played the way that felt proper, which ended up being open-handed. A few years later during a gig, a drummer saw me play and convinced me to put my ride to the left of my hi-hat so I wouldn’t have to cross over the set. It looked and seemed totally weird at the time, but I tried it out, and it ended up being so much easier.” Willie Rose
Also on the Road
Thomas Hedlund with Phoenix /// Stacy Jones with Matchbox Twenty /// Jim Bogios with Counting Crows /// Chad Gracey with Live /// Chad Sexton with 311 /// Pete Parada with Offspring /// Carlos Verdugo with Sublime With Rome
Spooky Tooth/Only Ones Drummer Mike Kellie Passes
Earlier this year Mike Kellie, a longtime member of the proto-prog group Spooky Tooth and the new-wave act the Only Ones, passed away. The British drummer’s credits also included Traffic, Jerry Lee Lewis, Joe Cocker, Peter Frampton, Jim Capaldi, Paul Kossoff, George Harrison, Maurice Gibb, Neil Innes, Pat Travers, Andy Fraser, and Johnny Thunders.
Kellie’s playing on “African Thing” on the pre–Spooky Tooth group Art’s 1967 album Supernatural Fairy Tales featured one of the earliest drum solos to appear on a record by a British rock band, and his drumming on the Spooky Tooth recording “Sunshine Help Me” was reportedly the foundational sample used on the track “No Church in the Wild” on the 2011 Jay Z/Kanye West album Watch the Throne, featuring Frank Ocean.
Among Kellie’s more well-known performances are the Only Ones’ classic new-wave track “Another Girl, Another Planet”; New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders’ signature song, “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory”; the deep album cut “Rainmaker” from Traffic’s legendary 1971 album, The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys; and “I Shall Be Released” from Joe Cocker’s debut album, With a Little Help From My Friends.
In addition, Kellie was among the drummers contributing to the 1975 soundtrack to the Who feature film Tommy, and he played on Jerry Lee Lewis’s 1973 album The Session, which featured an all-star cast of British and American rockers, including Peter Frampton, Alvin Lee, and Delaney Bramlett.
Kellie was also a songwriter who wrote the lyrics to Spooky Tooth’s “Feelin’ Bad” and “I’ve Got Enough Heartache,” the latter of which was covered by Three Dog Night on the hit 1970 album Naturally. In 2015 Kellie released the solo album Music From…the Hidden, which can be heard at soundcloud.com/music-from-the-hidden.
Thanks to Andrew Spacey from Rock and Roll Stew Music Ltd. for some of the background information for this piece.
First Annual Auckland Drum Festival
This past February 18, the inaugural Auckland Drum Festival was held at the Auckland Showgrounds in New Zealand. Clinicians included American drummers Russ Miller and Andre Boyd, New Zealand drumming legend Frank Gibson Jr., and Sydney-based educator Bruce Aitken. Local pipe, Celtic, and taiko drummers also performed.
Fans turned out in large numbers and checked out booths featuring the latest wares from the local drumming community. There were also several workshops, including drumming for children with New Zealand drummer Pete Warren and a restoration workshop by vintage preserver Grant Sutherland.
The New Zealand music retailer Rockshop was among the sponsors for the event. The festival is the brainchild of Jody Sampionius and Mike Piane, and plans are currently in motion for next year’s event.
Stephen Morris Named 2017 Yamaha Young Performing Artist
Yamaha Artist Services Indianapolis, in conjunction with the Band and Orchestral division of Yamaha Corporation of America, recently named jazz drummer, composer, and educator Stephen Morris of Aliso Viejo, California, a winner in the 2017 Yamaha Young Performing Artists (YYPA) Competition. The YYPA program has honored promising eighteen- to twenty-two-year-old artists annually since 1988.
Morris is currently finishing his bachelor of music in jazz studies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Prior to Eastman, Morris studied drumset and jazz at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California, and graduated magna cum laude in May 2014 with an associate degree in fine and assigned arts. He was a member of the Disneyland All-American College Band in 2014 and has worked with John Clayton, Jiggs Whigham, Wayne Bergeron, Ron Carter, Rex Richardson, Sal Lazano, Linda Oh, Imani Uzuri, and Ingrid Jensen. Stephen has participated in music outreach programs at Rikers Island Prison in New York City and in an arts residency program in Northwestern China. Morris’s current and former teachers include Rich Thompson, Jeff Hamilton, Mark Ferber, and Paul Johnson.
“The YYPA program is a significant opportunity for young musicians who are embarking on careers as professionals and is one of the most visible and distinctive ways that Yamaha offers valuable support for music education,” says John Wittmann, director of education and artist relations at Yamaha Artist Services Indianapolis. “We are pleased to honor Stephen at this pivotal stage in his career.” Winners of the YYPA competition received an all-expenses-paid trip to this year’s Celebration Weekend in Muncie, Indiana.