September 2015 MD cover artist Gil Sharone has built a career around his ability to navigate numerous styles in a convincing and authentic manner. If you don’t know him from his day gig with Marilyn Manson or his stint in Dillinger Escape Plan, you’ve probably heard him in passing on recent film and television soundtracks, including John Wick and Samurai Jack. Now Sharone has partnered with Hudson Music to publish a companion book to his 2010 instructional DVD, Wicked Beats, which offers a historically based approach to reggae, ska, dub, and most other Jamaican drumming styles that have evolved since the 1960s, with an emphasis on feel and style.
Being raised in Los Angeles gave Sharone access to the best players in many styles, and he dove into ska and reggae with the same vigor as he did jazz and rock. “I was coming up with competent musicians that could play some bebop,” Gil says, “and we could also play a ska tune, or a bebop tune like ‘Billie’s Bounce,’ but in a ska rhythm. Coming up, it was just a part of me. I didn’t learn these beats from transcriptions.”
Early in his professional career Sharone got the chance to play with the multi-genre masters Fishbone. “Playing with them was huge to me,” he says, “because it laid the groundwork for how I discovered a lot of the other styles of reggae and ska. When I wanted to dig deeper and see who invented this, I discovered the Skatalites and this beat that is so unique to Jamaican ska.” Sharone’s résumé grew to include stints with Dave Wakeling (the English Beat), Eek-a-Mouse, H.R. of Bad Brains, and Grammy winner Morgan Heritage.
Sharone outlines a few crucial requirements to understanding Jamaican music in the book’s introduction: feel, spirit, tempo, and a lot of listening. He also emphasizes that any player working through the book should not learn the patterns just from reading them. “You’ve got to soak it up,” Sharone says. “You’ve got to absorb it; you have to be around the music. You have to understand how it makes you feel, and internalize the pulse, the pocket, and get comfortable with those tempos.” To this end he offers a concise discography of key artists and drummers as a springboard for digging into the respective subgenres and connecting the dots between eras and players.
While a good knowledge of some other genres is helpful, Sharone says that a strong understanding of feel may be the most crucial concept in developing an authentic reggae sound. “You can’t have a good reggae feel if you can’t differentiate between a straight feel and a swung feel,” he explains. “You can’t have a good ska feel if you can’t swing, and you can’t develop any of those if you don’t have a shuffle, because all of them came from a shuffle.” Without a good sense of groove or “bounce,” Gil says, drummers will have difficulty developing an authentic feel.
While the transcriptions are helpful for proficient readers, the video content is included as downloadable or streaming content on the publisher’s site. “If people are good readers, they can go through the whole thing without sitting at a kit,” Sharone says. “Then there are other people who can use the book just as a guide while they learn visually from the DVD.”
Sharone’s stated goal for Wicked Beats is for it to be the standard text for reggae drumming. “No matter where anyone is in their career,” Gil says, “I want them to have this as a go-to point to cop the styles, but from an authentic point of view.”