Don Lamond

Reflections: Don Lamond

by Gabe Villani

“I was fascinated by the drums. I was always banging on things but I couldn’t figure out how people rolled on drums. How could they play fast enough to produce a continuous sound?”

When Don Lamond learned to do those rolls, it was on a makeshift drum; a graham cracker can fashioned with a silk paper head. His mother’s creation served him well until his father bought him a metal snare drum.

Many remember Don Lamond as the drummer for the Woody Herman big-band. That gig brought him world-wide attention, as it did for many musicians associated with Herman’s Herds.

“I joined Woody at the end of the war. Sonny Burman recommended me to him. We had Bill Harris, Flip Phillips, Ralph Burns and Neil Hefti. The biggest thrill of my life was doing the concert at Carnegie Hall with the first herd. We did a piece that Stravinski wrote for the band called Ebony Concerto. Stan Getz, Zoot Simms, AI Cohn, Chubby Jackson and Nat Pierce were also in the band,” Lamond explained.

Lamond’s distinguished predecessor in the Herman band was Dave Tough, a drummer that Lamond holds in high esteem.

“Dave Tough was the greatest. I replaced Dave with the first herd. I played on his drums for 3 months. Dave was an idol of mine. When he got sick in Augusta, Georgia, I was called. It took me a week to catch up to the band. I went down on a steam engine train. Every time I arrived to where the band was supposed to be, they already left. When I finally found them, Woody asked where I’d been. I explained what happened and he told me I should have hired a private plane. It was beautiful from then on. Woody was a great guy to work for. He always had young guys in the band. He let you get away with murder, but you knew he was the boss. He always made you play your best.”

Lamond’s interest in drums began in grade school. In high school he formed his own band.

“My father did the basement over so we could rehearse downstairs instead of in the living room. He hated the noise. We were terrible. I learned a lot about big bands in high school. I had a sensational teacher, Horace Butterworth. Horace is alive and well and living in Australia. He taught me a lot.”

After high school, Lamond decided to make drumming his profession. “I worked in a club called the Nightingale with the Rodd Raffel band. I performed in many local bands after that. The first name band was Sonny Dunham. After that I went with Boyd Raeburn and finally, joined Woody.

Lamond was seasoned on many legendary drummers.

“I was lucky to be coming up at the time when the great black drummers were around, Sid Catlett, Jo Jones, Jimmy Crawford and Cozy Cole. They were good to me. I met them all when I was with Woody. I didn’t even know Gene Krupa or Buddy Rich at that time. Sid Catlett was my favorite. Max Roach was around then. He was 19 when I met him.”

Much of Lamond’s musical philosophy came from the influence of his mentor, Dave Tough.

“I was raised to believe in swinging the band, not soloing. Dave Tough thought the same. Dave tuned his drums differently than anyone else I’ve ever known. They were comfortable to play on. The sound of his cymbals and the tension on his bass drum were unique. He used a lot of tape on the heads. He was a tape freak. Dave used three cymbals, a crash on the left that you could use anywhere and hi-hats that were beautifully matched. Dave didn’t drop bombs when he played. He just came at you like a dynamo. When he was right it made you scream. His bass drum was soft. In those days there were no electric basses, so the bass notes sounded as if they were coming out of the bass drum. Tough was fantastic. I was told that when he joined the Benny Goodman Orchestra, the musicians applauded him.

One of the most impressive sounds ever is Lamond’s playing on “The Goof and I.” His bass drum sounded like someone punching a leather bag.

“I’ve never had a hard bass drum. I was influenced by Dave Tough. From his playing on drums, I realized how well soft drums blended with the band. I get the heads at the same tension, and then back off a little on the batter head. That goes for all the drums. I also use newspaper inside the bass drum.”

During our conversation, Lamond mentioned Bill Mather, a man known for his expertise with drums.

“Mather was a genius. He never got a lot of credit. All the big time drummers went to him. My father took me to him when I was 17 and bought me an entire set of Slingerland drums. Bill had trunks full of drums for Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton and Jo Jones. No professional drummer would ever go to anyone but Bill Mather. He was the greatest.”

Don Lamond with (l-r) Teddy Wilson and Eddie Safranski. This photo was taken in New York. Circa 1953. Photo courtesy of Rutgers Jazz Institute
Don Lamond with (l-r) Teddy Wilson and Eddie Safranski. This photo was taken in New York. Circa 1953. Photo courtesy of Rutgers Jazz Institute

Eventually, Herman disbanded the second herd and Lamond remained in Los Angeles for a time. He soon moved to New York, playing record and TV studio dates.

“The three guys that really helped me were Johnny Smith, Mort Lindsay and Eddie Safranski. I did the Steve Allen Show, The Perry Como Show, Pat Boone, Gary Moore and Morey Amsterdam shows. It was endless. But, in 1967 things started to fall apart. It was cold and taxes were high in New York. The producers said the hell with it. I couldn’t blame them for leaving New York. L.A. had TV centers where a show could be done in comfort.

“When the TV studios went, the studio musicians went to the Broadway shows. The Broadway musicians went to the hotels. The hotel guys went to club dates and club daters left town. I hung around until 1972. I did some traveling with Pat Boone in Australia, and Japan. Then in 1972, Harry Wuest gave me a call to work at The Top of the World at Disney World in Orlando. It was a nice job. At that time I had a hip problem and could hardly walk. I was thinking of semi-retiring when I met a doctor who was a specialist. He operated and gave me a plastic hip. I’m a bionic man!”

After recuperating from his surgery, Lamond left the Top of the World and formed his own band. Sonny Tucci, a trombone player from the Top of the World band joined Lamond. Together, they formed a corporation and assembled a group of talented musicians.

“We had four trumpets, three trombones, four saxaphones, and three percussionists. Butch Evans wrote many of the arrangements and my wife Terry sang with the band. Terry sang with Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman’s band.

“We did concerts, conventions and clinics. We did the ‘Space Coast Summer’s End Jazz Festival’ at Coco Beach. Louie Bellson was there. We did a drum battle and had a ball. Louie is great. He was around Washington D.C. 30 years ago. He was fantastic then.”

Currently, Lamond is back at the Top of the World, playing with the Bob Cross big-band and serving as co-leader. He is also actively involved in doing clinics for the Pearl Drum Company.

“You know, I’ve been lucky. I’ve had some pretty good guys helping me and I’m happy to pass on any information that I can. I tell kids to keep their ears open and listen to every musician that they can. I stress versatility and learning all facets of the music business, percussion…everything. After playing hundreds of shows with Woody’s band, the studio shows were a snap. The road is a great learning ground.”

What about technique?

Don Lamond
Don Lamond performs with Louie Bellson during a drum battle at the Coco Beach Space Coast Summer’s End Jazz Festival.

“There is nothing wrong with good technique. God knows, guys like Louie Bellson have fantastic technique. I really admire him. I also admire Philly Joe Jones. I love his musical approach. Those things he did with Miles, Cookin, Porgy and Bess, were master pieces. I admire Buddy also. There are a lot of good drummers, I can’t name them all. Gene Krupa! What a wonderful man he was. It’s a pity that nobody mentions him anymore.

“You know what gets me? I remember going to the Waldorf when Louie Armstrong was playing there. Now you can’t get any bigger than Louie Armstrong. There were no musicians in the house! But, when Louie died,…everybody went to the funeral. These guys don’t need people to come to their funerals, they need people to come when they are alive and feeling bad. I could never understand things like that.”