Barry Keane: Canadian Studio Kingpin
Barry Keane is one of the most in-demand studio drummers in Canada. He has recorded numerous commercials, jingles, TV and Film scores; but most people know him from his work with Gordon Lightfoot and Anne Murray. Barry has recorded five albums with Lightfoot (a sixth one is being recorded as thisis being written), and seven albums with Ms. Murray. The only person Barry Keane goes on the road with is Gordon Lightfoot, and this is his sixth year with that hand. He has been a producer, A&R man, and always a great “idea” man.
SF: How did you get started in music?
BK: My parents took me to a Ricky Nelson concert when I was about 12 years old. I wanted to play guitar like Ricky Nelson. They gave me guitar lessons and I studied for about 2 years, but I wasn’t playing any Ricky Nelson songs! I was playing “Home, Home On The Range” and learning how to read music. I really didn’t like it, so I quit. About four years later I saw the Beatles and The Dave Clark Five when all the English bands were on the Ed Sullivan Show. I said, “Boy, that looks like a lot of fun. I love that music.” So I just started playing around the house on pots and pans. My parents said, “Okay. We’ll buy you a snare drum, but you’ve got to take some lessons.” I took a couple of drum lessons, learned how to play bossa novas and waltzes, but I didn’t want that. I wanted to play like Ringo and Dave Clark.
From there, I just kept listening to drummers, and tried to copy what they were doing and I evolved from there. By this time I was 15 or 16, and I only had a cocktail set with a little cymbal on the snare stand. I played along with Roy Orbison and Gene Pitney records. I didn’t know what I was doing, but it felt like what I was doing was right.
I connected with a few guys in high school who played guitars and sang. I was the only guy around who was even close to a drummer, so they asked, “Why don’t you be in our group?” I went over with my snare drum and my little cymbal and we actually made some music! They knew two or three different guitar chords, and I knew one or two different drum beats, and we played for 4 or 5 hours.
Later, I bought a bass drum and a couple of tom-toms. I fooled around in bands 4 or 5 years, maybe. I got a little better, learned a few more things, and then I started working for Quality Records in a record distributor’s warehouse. I started in the shipping department and worked my way up in that organization while I was playing music part time. I went from the warehouse to working as a copyboy. Then I got to be a travelling salesman, selling records on the road and doing gigs at the same time with my band. I’d come home on weekends and go off with the band.
Quality Records was the largest manufacturer/distributor in Canada. They had 50% to 55% of the pop chart at all times. Around 1970, they decided that it would be interesting and profitable to start talent scouting and producing local acts as well. Because of my experience in records and music, I was appointed A&R man when I was only 20 years old.
I was the leader/producer of the group and A&R man at the company. We had a pretty good-size hit record in Canada called “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and the group was called Wishbone. It was almost a dead copy of the Grass Roots’ sound. The tune was very similar to “Midnight Confessions,” and the sound of the group that I was after was a very pop commercial thing.
SF: Did you write the song?
BK: I helped. I got in touch with a friend of mine, a songwriter, and I gave him some recordings of Tommy James & the Shondells, some Grass Roots, and some other commercially successful people of the time. I said, “Write some songs like that.” So he did. He wrote some pretty good songs. We had a top-10 hit in Canada and made a deal with Scepter records in the States, and the record was just starting to cook. It was on almost 150 stations in the States. I think it was the #1 record in Tucson, Arizona, and was really happening in some places. Then the Grass Roots released a record called “Sooner or Later,” and our record just died. The radio stations decided they wanted to play the Grass Roots, not some band from Canada that sounded like the Grass Roots. And I can understand that.
SF: What was it like growing up in Canada at that time? Since most of the music was coming from England and the States, did you find it frustrating?
BK: Toronto is a very interesting city. Not too many people know that much about it, because the music that went on there, and much of the music that still goes on there, stays there! The very successful musicians in the folk and pop scene who grew up in Toronto (Neil Young, Steppenwolf), as soon as they reached a level of success they moved to the States, which was natural. There are many problems with earning a musical-living in Canada. It’s a very large country with a small population relative to its size. You do a cross-Canada tour of all the big cities like Montreal to Toronto to Winnipeg to Vancouver, and you have to travel 3 or 4 thousand miles. In the States, you can play in New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Boston, and travel fewer miles to play for more people. In Canada, you have to travel forever to get to people.
It’s very tough for bands economically. Also, the record business in Canada lacks both in quality and quantity. The good creative guidance people, like producers and managers (with few exceptions), have all come out of the States or England. Toronto is a very big jazz town and always has been.
There are a lot of great jazz players coming out of Toronto. I think it’s one of the “Jazz Cities” in North America. During the last ten years, there was a very low level of competence in producing records and managing groups, mostly from inexperience. There was some copying of what went on in England, and a lot of copying of what was going on in the States. There wasn’t much generating of new ideas. There wasn’t even enough copying going on! Musicians were into playing jazz. Music for music’s sake. The record companies were into distributing foreign records There wasn’t a lot of local talent developed in the pop and rock fields.
SF: Did you make a transition from listening to and playing pop music to listening to and/or playing jazz?
BK: I didn’t personally. I’ve always been more into AM and FM rock music like Jan and Dean, the Beach Boys, Paul Revere & the Raiders. When I went to see Ricky Nelson, that was a big turn-on! I really, really got into pop music. I thought, “Wow! To be a pop-star! To be a rock-star!” I thought that Ricky Nelson was the greatest thing that ever lived, and that the Dave Clark 5 was the best group in the world!
SF: And the leader was a drummer!
BK: That’s right. And it didn’t look like he had to do very much. He was having a great time and the music was great. It was fabulous. Learning to copy “Glad All Over” or “Pretty Woman” was a lot of fun. Just going whack, whack, whack on my cocktail set, I could envision myself playing with Roy Orbison. That’s still sort of the way I feel. Unless the music is a lot of fun, or in some way inspiring, I’m not as into it.
I’m not really into the technical side of it. I’ve had to get into it in the last few years for some of the work that I’ve done. It’s been a terrific experience and education doing film work and jingles, and having to read and execute charts accurately and quickly. But the real driving force for me is the fun kind of music.
SF: You never had much in the way of formal lessons or rudimental studies?
BK: Never did. But I wish I’d had a teacher who could have tricked me into learning rudiments and theory, because I sure could’ve used it now in a lot of the things I do.
SF: When did you learn how to read?
BK: The history of it goes back to Toronto. Whenever there were record dates or jingles to be done, the local jazz players were considered the best musicians. Whether or not they were right for the particular bag of music, they were still considered the upper echelon of musicians. If they were producing a rock record, you’d end up with a rock record with a jazz sound. You’d have maybe a lighter feel on the drums, a smoother feel on the bass. Maybe you’d have more ninth and seventh chords in the piano, instead of a major chord feel.
So I started doing a few studio dates in town. Coming from the Dave Clark 5 school of music, I was more into the sound of the drums and the feel of what was going on. A few people heard me and said, “We want you to play on our record.” That’s what started happening. When I started playing on records, a few arrangers around town said, “Hey, I want you to play on my jingle.” I said, “But I don’t read a lick!” They said, “Don’t worry. We’ll get you through it. I’d rather have it sound like you sound.” I went in, started doing jingles, and people started putting music in front of me!
SF: Even though you couldn’t read?
BK: Honestly. And I wouldn’t have a clue! Eric Robertson, a heavy-duty arranger in Toronto who has done some great, great work with Roger Whittaker, film work, TV, and jingles, was one of the first guys who started using me. I mostly did jingles with Eric. He would take the drum part and hum it to me. He would take five minutes with me and say, “Here’s how it goes. When it’s coming to the end, just watch me and I’ll give you a nod.” I’d be sitting there with thirty or forty musicians, and all of them would know how to read except me. The engineer run-through. They would all look at me like, “What’s he doing? Get this guy to play!” The producer was cool because he knew the situation. I was just listening and trying to follow.
I didn’t know what a sign was. I didn’t know what a coda was. I didn’t know what dotted notes were. I didn’t know what ties were. I knew a little of what quarters and eighths were. But repeat signs? If there were seventeen bars of music with repeat signs and codas, I thought there were seventeen bars of music! I thought you just went down the chart and when it was over, it was over.
So, the first date I did with Eric was a Lipton tea commercial. All I wanted to do when I first started playing was count until the end of the chart. So Eric counted it off. I got to the end of the chart and the rest of the band was still playing! I thought, “If I can’t even count the bars right, I’m in serious trouble.”
We went through a lot of that for a couple of months. Eric, a studio musician named Jack Zaza, and a producer named George Kwasniak were terrific and supportive in showing me the basics. And just by working a lot, there seemed to be more and more demand for somebody who sounded good as opposed to somebody who was technically proficient. I was filling a void in the city of Toronto. There were probably a hundred guys in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Memphis who sounded better than I did, were more technically trained, but because of the way Toronto developed musically and economically, that void had to be filled. Even though I was deficient in certain areas, people were using me. Talk about being the luckiest guy in the world! They educated me! I was getting paid while I was getting an education, making records, jingles and television shows.
I read pretty well now. I do three or four films a year and approximately 250 jingles. It’s a lot of, “Here’s your part!” I’ve had so much of that thrown at me now, that I can get through charts (depending on how difficult the part is) almost at the sight-reading level. Which is great!
SF: So first you developed your ears, and then your reading?
BK: You kind of hear what it’s supposed to sound like while you look at it. I never really sat down with a reading book. All of this time, I kept thinking that the studio work was going to be over; that as soon as I learned how to read, nobody would ever want to hire me again.
SF: You didn’t want to break the spell?
BK: Exactly right. I was afraid to really start to work at it because I thought I’d be so disappointed. I’d get to be good, get to know what I was doing, and then nobody would want to use me. But it didn’t! It just seemed to get more and more.
In the meantime, I went over to RCA records. They hired me away from Quality Records in an A&R capacity, and I worked for RCA for seven years while I was starting to get studio work. By the end of it, I was president of RCA’s Publishing Division in Canada. The studio work was so demanding that I had to give up the job at RCA. That was one of the best record-industry jobs in the country, I’ll bet, but I was so in-demand and I was having so much fun, now that I had some knowledge of what I was doing, and I was making so much money! I was making two or three times the amount of money part-time in the studio as I was making full-time as a president in the RCA Corporation. Things started getting totally out of hand. I kept fighting the part-time job because I kept thinking, “It’s got to stop. I’m going to wake up and the dream will be over.”
SF: Is there still a shortage of competent studio drummers in Canada?
BK: Well, in the last five years the void I was filling has been filled and more. There are a lot of good rhythm players. There’s a good twenty “first-call” drummers in town, who sound good, play well, and can run the gamut of styles. That’s happened in just the last five years. It’s become a very, very good town.
SF: How did you get hooked up with Gordon Lightfoot?
BK: I was working at RCA studios and my good friend at the studio was an engineer named Mark Smith. Gordon was going to do an album in Toronto, and Mark was going to engineer it. Lenny Waronker (producer) and Nick DeCaro (arranger) asked Mark to get some musicians. Gordon had Rick Haynes on bass, Red Shea and Terry Clements on guitars. I think this was just when Terry was getting to be the guitarist. Red was sort of falling out of the group.
They needed a drummer, a pedal-steel player, a banjo player and an autoharp player. So Mark introduced me to Gordon. We did the Old Dan’s Records album. That was 1973. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It worked out well.
SF: Did you then start to tour with Gordon?
BK: No, actually not. Gordon had been told by various people for years that, “You gotta get a drummer!” He had always traveled as a trio; himself, bass and a lead guitarist. People knew him as that, and he was comfortable in that size unit. He didn’t really want to have a drummer. I played so simply and was different from any other drummers he’d worked with. I played as little as possible, which was halfway due to my lack of knowledge and halfway due to just wanting to do a good job. It was partially luck, and some sense of what was right for the music. I’d listened to a lot of Gordon’s records. It seemed to work.
Gordon asked me if I’d be interested in doing a weekend with him. We had a couple of rehearsals at Massey Hall and everything worked fine. He called me a couple of days before and said, “Listen man, I’ve got cold feet. I’ve been on the road so long without a drummer, I’m just . . . I’m worried!” He said, “I just don’t want to do it.” Very up-front. It was disappointing, of course, but Gordon was completely honest with me and told me the truth, which he has always done. Then I didn’t see him for a couple of years.
He phoned me in the Fall of ’75. He was getting ready to do another album and was very seriously considering adding a drummer. We got together and rehearsed for the Summertime Dream album. Things worked out well again, and we arrived at a deal that was good for both of us. See, I’d never done any really serious touring with anyone. He had never had a drummer. We had to feel each other out. I wasn’t sure if it was going to work for me, and Gordon wasn’t really sure if it was going to work for him. All the other guys in the band were on a weekly salary. I decided, and Gordon agreed, that I would be paid on a daily basis. Pay as you play, which I thought was great! I wasn’t committed to him in case it didn’t work. He wasn’t committed to me, and it’s been that way going on five years. It’s never changed and it has worked out great.
SF: When you are rehearsing for a Lightfoot album, does Gordon pretty much know the sound he wants, or is it more of a group effort in putting his songs together?
BK: When it comes to recording and concerts, Gordon is the leader of the group. He does all the arranging. There’s a lot of input that comes from the other guys, but he really knows what he wants in a song; what the song should feel like, what it should sound like. Gordon controls all the tempos. He controls each individual instrument, and how they’re arranged for a particular song. He really is the leader of the group.
SF: I wondered if the “effects” had been your ideas, or if they were sounds that Gordon Lightfoot had wanted to add to his songs.
BK: Some of the ideas were Gordon’s. Some of them were mine. The triangles and the Mark-Tree that have been added on stage, they came from Dream Street Rose. We worked with percussionist Lenny Castro from Los Angeles. Gordon thought it might be an idea, just for a change, to have a percussionist on all the basic tracks. So Lenny was on the tracks and he played a lot of the very tasty percussion stuff that has stayed in the arrangements. I try to incorporate as much of it as I can, playing both the drums and percussion.
SF: The drum sound you’re using in Gordon’s band is that very deep studio sound. Is that your sound or do you experiment with tuning your drums in different situations?
BK: Gordon is the only artist that I tour with. All the other work I do is in the form of studio work. With his band and with his sound I’m able to take a studio sounding kit. Because of the volume that the band projects, the sound of the drums is a little more important in this band than it is in a band where the sound of the drums can be altered through amplification. Almost any other rock band is louder than we are. So I have to make sure that the drums sound very good to my ear, because that’s almost what’s going to be heard in the house. There’s not much amplification going on. In some songs, we’re working with two acoustic guitars, a bass guitar, and a bit of pedal-steel guitar. There’s a lot of dynamics that have to be observed in this group. I think it’s great that I can work with a studio-sounding kit in the band, because that’s what I’m used to. The kit that I use with Gordon, I bought specifically for this job and that’s pretty much all that set of drums is used for. I have five sets of drums. Occasionally if I get so busy in town, I’ll pull this kit out and and I have to have drums set up all over the place, I may not have time to set them up from one date to another, so I may have to use these drums. But they’re almost exclusively for Gordon’s concerts, so they can stay tuned for his sound.
They’re not exclusively Premier drums. I’ve got 8″ and 10″ Ludwig concert toms; 12″, 14″ and 16″ Premier toms. The snare drum is a 7″ Ludwig chrome, I use a 20″ bass drum, and I have a couple of crash cymbals and a hi-hat.
SF: Do you have a favorite studio set? Are all 5 sets different?
BK: Just about. I have a set of Premiers at home that are older than this set. In terms of sound and size they’re almost identical. I’ve used them on Gordon’s albums and on all the records I’ve done with Anne Murray. I just did a couple of Roger Whittaker albums with them. For that kind of sound I love them. And it’s the same 8″ and 10″ Ludwig concert tom setup. Don’t ask my why. It just happened that way. The rest of the set is Premier. I’ve got about 10 different snare drums at home.
SF: All metal?
BK: Yes, they are different sizes, different makes, different sounds for different things. I tried a wood snare one time and it just didn’t work for some reason. It seems that some clients will ask for a certain snare drum sound. If I don’t have it in my own arsenal, I’ll go out and rent what I think would give me that sound. If the snare works out very well, I’ll just buy it from the store. Then I’ve got another snare drum and I know what it sounds like and how it responds. Next time I need that sound, I’ll just go to the closet and pull it out.
I’ve got another set of drums which is completely Ludwig. They’re single-headed Vistalites. I use them for rock-and-roll and disco dates. I did a lot of disco work when disco was hot, and they worked great. A little more BANG BOOM out of them. Not as much tone as the Premiers, but a little more action, a little more excitement for the rock and disco type of things. I was doing a disco album once every two months or something. I was part of a little disco factory in Toronto.
SF: I’ve heard that on disco cuts the drummers use a tape loop. The drummer plays for 8 to 16 bars, they tape it, and play it over and over on a loop.
BK: Well, I’ll tell you. I’ve also heard that, and many times I wished it had happened. But I worked for the THP Orchestra in Toronto. A lot of that stuff was very successful. The group had three top-10 disco albums. There was a whole flock of albums that did very, very well, and it was the same producers, engineer, studio, basic rhythm section, and arranger. It really was a team. We would do an album every two months with a different artist. An artist would fly into Toronto from Memphis or L.A. for instance. We worked for many different record companies, but these two guys produced the records. Their concept was that if a piece was going to be 12 minutes long, they wanted the band to play for 12 minutes. So when I knew these disco records were coming up, I’d go out and run four miles a day.
I play two different styles on the bass drum. One with the heel-to-toe method, and the other POUND-THE-LEG-DOWN-ON-THE-BASS-PEDAL stuff. You start playing for 12 mintues doing that! And maybe 16ths on the hi-hat! You won’t believe how you start sweating after awhile. Now, you do that on a sixhour date, where all you’ve got to do is 16ths on the hi-hat, pound the snare drum and pound the bass drum. Start doing that for six hours and you’d better be in shape!
Sometimes you can feel when it’s a take in the studio. Everybody plays just right. There’s a certain magic that happens. Now sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong. You start playing your heart out, really going into overdrive. All the fills feel just right. You might start playing a little harder and everybody just gets into it. Sometimes you run down a 12-minute disco, put everything into it, and the engineer says, “Almost! Let’s try it one more time.” Now you’re sweating, you’re bleeding, and he says, “That was almost there,” and you’ve got to do it again. 12 minutes! You’d better be in shape. On all the albums I did with THP, they never used a drum loop. All of it was done live with a rhythm section.
SF: Do you have any other interests outside of music and drumming that you feel affect your playing?
BK: I think the mental aspect of your playing is extremely important in the studio. I think your attitude and how you react with other people is equally important, or more important, than what you play. When you’re locked in a room sometimes for 12 or 15 hours with creative people, when you’re in there creating and people are bouncing ideas off each other, if you don’t get along, or you’re on some kind of a trip. I don’t care how good a player you are, it’s not going to work! Especially in a rhythm section. Guys have got to work together.
When I’m not playing music, I play baseball and football. I’m a big team-sport man. Much of the same type thinking that goes into making a good baseball or football team goes into making good records. On a football team you need a quarterback, flashy receivers, and fast running backs. You need some guys who are going to block for them. A lot of that goes into making a good record. If the record is supposed to feature a lead vocalist with a lot of lyrics, those things are like the running backs. The bass player and the drummer should be the guards blocking for them. Set up a solid foundation, making sure that what is supposed to happen, happens! Don’t get in their way or try to steal their thunder.
SF: Why do you feel that you and the other members of Gordon’s band have been able to stay together for so long?
BK: It’s a combination of different tastes and styles. Personalities. We all get along extremely well, and when I say “we” I’m not just talking about the four of us. I’m talking about the five of us, with Gordon as well. He treats us like a band. It’s not a singer plus four sidemen. He doesn’t project the “star” image to us, “I’m the star and you guys are the band.” It’s not like that at all. It’s like, “We’re a five-piece band, and I’m the lead singer.” I think that says a lot for his attitude and ours. We realize that Gordon’s the star, and the main man. But he has respect for the individual players and it’s a mutual respect. That helps a lot.
We get along very well on the road. We don’t travel as much as other acts. Gordon does about 70 dates a year, which is fewer than most. We don’t go on the road for six weeks at a time, where you can end up wanting to kill somebody! We go out for a weekend and come home. Then we go out the next weekend and come home. Then maybe go out for a week. So it’s always refreshing to see the guys again.
I think we complement each other in our playing, much like a sports team. Certain people have their job and feel a certain pride and respect in handling that job, and not stepping into somebody else’s territory. We do support each other musically and in all other respects.
I think this band is pretty unique in that respect. Gordon is different. His music is Gordon Lightfoot! I think it’s quite a unique situation the way the band projects Gordon’s music. For example, Gordon doesn’t want to do a three-hour concert, which he could do. He feels that people don’t want to sit that long and listen. He wants it to be a two-hour concert. He wants them to enjoy. He doesn’t want them to be bored. So, he presents the best of what he has and he will always present new material in concert.
SF: Since you’re so involved with the studio scene, could you shed some light on the nefarious reputation of studio musicians? The grind aspect of the job?
BK: I can only relate it in terms of what goes on in Toronto. I have a feeling that things are different in other centers. I may be completely wrong, but I think that in L.A. particularly, you have more guys who specialize either in record dates, commercials and films, or concerts. In Toronto, because there aren’t as many recordings, and there isn’t as much activity going on, you have fewer studio musicians, and you have them doing more of a variety of things. I get a chance to do so many different things that I’m seldom bored. When I’m run ragged it’s my own choice. The telephone rings and it’s up to me whether I want to accept the job or not.
SF: Do you have the threat that if you don’t accept the gig, you may not get asked again?
BK: Always! I had five jobs on a Friday, and a very large record producer in Toronto called me for a date on the Friday night. I told him I had a 7:00 AM jingle, and I was pretty solid all the way through the day. His was a 9:00 PM record date. I said, “I don’t think that I would be any good to you. I just don’t think that it would work. Why don’t you call somebody else?” I had done quite a lot of work for him, and that was the last time I heard from him! So, there’s always that. There are enough good guys waiting to jump in on an opportunity. There’s always that fear.
SF: Do you enjoy working on the road?
BK: Working with Gordon is great, but it’s enough. If it was too much more I can see how people could go crazy. I’ve found myself not remembering what State I was in. or what city I was in. I don’t do drugs and I don’t drink. I have an occasional beer. It’s just sometimes you see so many airports, so many airplanes, and so many halls.
SF: Okay, from last Friday afternoon until today, what was your routine?
BK: Friday morning I had a jingle. Friday afternoon I drove to the airport and caught an airplane to Portland, Maine where we worked last night. Woke up this morning, caught an airplane to Saratoga Springs, New York where we’ll work tonight. Tomorrow we fly to Holmdel, New Jersey and work there. After that show we fly home. So, we’ll be home Sunday night, having played in three different States in less than three days. Then we have four days off and we do it again next weekend. Occasionally we’ll work in Las Vegas or Lake Tahoe, and those are a week long. 90% of the jobs we do, we fly by Lear jet. The five of us get in and go. So, some of those small towns we can just fly right in. We don’t have to go through Chicago thirty times a year and get a connecting flight somewhere. We can fly from Toronto right to Kalamazoo, Michigan, for instance. If there’s a landing strip, we can land there. It works fabulously for my schedule.
SF: What kind of music do you listen to at home?
BK: Oh, I listen to a lot of stuff. I have to do it for my work. Professionally, I have to keep up with everything. For my own enjoyment, I love Bad Company, Foreigner, all the way through to the softest music. I really get a kick out of a lot of different stuff.
SF: Are there any drummers that really knock you out?
BK: Oh, lots of them. I like guys who exhibit a lot of taste, who know when to be busy and when not to be. Who know when it’s exciting to hear a single big drum hit once every four bars. Who has the strength and chops to play busy and the brains to know when not to. That’s so important. Carmine Appice is a perfect example of that type of drummer, as was the late John Bonham.
SF: Have you done any teaching?
BK: I taught for 3 or 4 years before I had any technical training. Someone offered me the job, and I thought I wanted to try teaching the way I wanted to be taught, the way I wanted to drum like Dave Clark and Ringo Starr. There’s got to be kids that are excited about the drums and want to do just that. I think there should be somebody to show them how to do that. How to do it properly. You don’t have to play a bossa nova. You don’t have to play a waltz when you’re first starting.
I was teaching beginners and just after beginners. Teaching them to enjoy music probably more than anything else. Showing them how to play along with records and how to have a good time. I did it for 3 or 4 years and I don’t think I lost one student.
First I’d show them how to hold the drum sticks. Then I’d ask, “What records do you like to listen to?” They’d say, “Oh, I love the Rolling Stones.” I’d say, “Okay, bring a Rolling Stones record next time.” We’d sit down and I’d pick out something very simple, where Charlie is playing maybe just on 2 and 4. I’d say, “Now listen! Do you hear the snare drum?” I’d give the kid an idea of what the snare drum sounds like. Then I’d say, “Okay. Now I want you to copy it. Play what Charlie’s playing, just with your one hand. I want you to play just that.” And they’d do it. They’d get into the rhythm of playing it. By just doing that you could see their eyes! T h e y were playing with The Rolling Stones! Now they’re interested.
Then I’d ask, “Do you know what you were playing? Those are quarter-notes. Why are they quarter-notes?” Go to the drum book and say, “You’ve got 4 quarter notes in a bar of 4/4.” They’d look at it and say, “Oh, that’s what he’s doing!” I’d try to sneak a little bit of knowledge while they were having a good time. I’d show them how to hold their sticks properly, and maybe, how Charlie Watts holds his sticks improperly. Show them the difference. Try to get them interested.
SF: Did you use to teach on a full drumset?
BK: Yes. Some of my students got to a point where I felt incapable of technically taking them any further. I would recommend that they go to another teacher. But I got a kick out of it. Make it as simple as possible and find out what they’re interested in. I had a couple of kids who came in who weren’t interested in the drums.
If some kid came in and said, “Man, I love the Beatles. I wanna play like Ringo Starr,” I’d say, “Okay. You came to the right guy. You won my heart. I’ll show you how to do it, what to listen for, how to have a good time. I ‘ l l see if you have any sense of time or rhythm.” And they would practice! Show a kid where 2 and 4 was on the snare drum and he’ll drive his parents nuts! They’d say, “I can’t get the kid to stop practicing the drums!” I’d say, “Ay, that’s great!”
When they’re hooked, then you say, “Okay, now you gotta practice some technical stuff,” and they’ll say, “Okay. Now it makes sense to me. Now I understand it.” But to go mama/ dada/mama/dada when a kid wants to play “Honky Tonk Woman”…who needs it, really? Some of the best pop records are based on the simplest drum beats. That’s not just a coincidence. You can teach a kid to play exactly what his heros are playing, on the bass drum, hi-hat, right hand, left hand.
I also do some lectures during the year. There are a couple of college recording courses in Canada. I go up there and lecture on recording. I took a course in the early “70s at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, given by Phil Ramone and Dave Green from A&R Studios. I wanted to learn more about production. The most I got out of that course was being able to sit with Phil Ramone and talk to him about the business. At that time he was working with Dionne Warwick, The Guess Who, and Burt Bacharach. To hear him talk about some of these people brought the whole thing closer to home. It made it seem real. It took a lot of the mystique out of it. I could see a guy who’s making hit records and find out how he did it with the people who did it. I learned more just sitting over a drink talking to Phil Ramone than on that 2 week course.
When I go out and give a lecture I try to do the same thing. I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I’ve had the opportunity to work with great producers, artists and studios. I tell the kids to get a job as soon as they can in some music business field. I don’t care if it’s a radio station, a record store, whatever it is! Do the best job you can at it. There’s always room for competent people. If you wait forever to be a producer, you’re going to wait forever. Go in and clean up in a studio! Do that kind of thing and learn about the business. So many ends of the business are related.
I also talk about the economics of earning a living. You need money to pay for certain equipment that you’re going to play on. And then I open it up for questions. I let them even ask stupid questions. “What’s Anne Murray like?” “Okay. I’ve done five albums with her. I’ll tell you what it’s like to work with her. Every time the band runs down a song, Anne does a “scratch” vocal along with us. Some singers don’t even show up until the tracks are done, but Anne wants to be sure that the key is perfect, that the tempos are just right, and that the song really does work for her.”
Some of the students in these courses may have acquired a great deal of textbook knowledge on microphone serial num bers, and all kinds of technical things. But they may not have ever experienced an actual recording date! By me talking about singers and records that they’re familiar with, the students can picture how the sessions come together.
You can see people envisioning this in their minds, “Yeah. I’ve heard those albums. I can sec her sitting. Oh! The rhythm section runs it down? That’s the way it’s done!” It sinks in. It really does and I think that’s important, too.