With twenty-one number-one hits to his credit, countless sold-out tours with Jason Aldean, and an endless stream of TV appearances with acts like Bob Seger, Bryan Adams, Keith Urban, Little Big Town, Ludacris, Jennifer Nettles, Chris Cornell, and Joe Perry, Nashville’s game-changing country music drummer Rich Redmond has lived practically every musician’s dream—including his own. “My goal in life,” he says, “was to hear myself on the radio, see myself on television, and travel the world on someone else’s dime.”
Check, check, and check.
The story of Rich Redmond’s climb to the top of today’s country music scene is unique—one of sheer determination, tenacity, persistence, and discipline to overcome all obstacles. Ironically, playing country music in Nashville was not Redmond’s original goal. But in moving to Music City, he found success by burrowing his way into the core of the Nashville scene, connecting with a pair of ace players, and forming a sought-after rhythm section. Together they would break new musical ground and build a hit-making machine with an up-and-coming artist named Jason Aldean. Redmond calculates that today the Aldean band performs for about a million fans a year. “In 2015 we played eleven NFL stadiums with Kenny Chesney,” he offers as an example of the group’s reach. “These shows averaged 80,000 fans per night, including the first country show ever at the Rose Bowl.”
Redmond’s talents run deeper than his résumé or his bachelor of music education degree from Texas Tech University and masters of music education from the University of North Texas would suggest. A three-time Modern Drummer Readers Poll winner in the Country Drummer category—and a 2010 winner in the Clinician category—Redmond also maintains active careers as an actor, speaker, author, educator, and music producer. His New Voice Entertainment company has produced several number-one hits, and his C.R.A.S.H. Course for Success motivational-speaking business is a one-of-a-kind “edutainment” program combining music, drumming, and a motivational format customized for people of all ages, in any field, and at any level of business or education.
Now, with career commitments in Los Angeles and Nashville, the forty-eight-year-old Redmond says he’s just getting started. And he insists that drumming is at the heart of it all.
MD: How did drumming enter your life?
Rich: I’m from Milford, Connecticut, a restless, high-energy kid. My mom was a nurse, and my dad was an accountant. I believe that, secretly, my dad wanted to play drums. Vicariously, he would ask, “Hey, would you like to play the drums?” So, at age seven, I started taking lessons with Jack Burkey at the Milford Percussion and Guitar Workshop. Jack taught me how to hold the sticks, and he got me started on the Joel Rothman books. I learned the rudiments, and I was heavy into Kiss at the time. I started gravitating towards the lessons and eating it alive.
We moved to El Paso, Texas, in 1981, when I was eleven, and I joined the school band in the fifth grade. From having that early training in Milford, I was ahead of the other kids. I could read and play mallet percussion. I knew how to play the marching cymbals and tune the timpani. It was a great experience because I came in as more of a leader and was enjoying the whole energy of drumming.
Texas is an amazing music education state, because they’re big on football. And when you have big football, you have big budgets, which [trickle] down to the music program, with massive marching bands. We had a 400-member marching band at JM Hanks High School. I played snare drum in marching band for eight years in school, which was great rudimental training. I also played in concert band, symphonic band, pep band, jazz ensemble, and jazz trio. I was obsessed with drumming.
MD: After your college years in Texas, how did you end up in Nashville?
Rich: After college I knew that I had to move to New York, Los Angeles, or Nashville. My destination of choice was L.A.—I liked the weather and the music scene—so I reached out to a sax player friend, Dan Nelson. He literally changed my life. I asked him if he knew anyone looking for a drummer on a regional or national level. He said, “Yeah, there’s this girl named Trisha Yearwood that’s looking for a drummer in Nashville. Call this guy, Johnny Garcia, and send him your demo.”
That phone call was the turning point in my career. I sent him my demo. Johnny called me and said, “I don’t know who you are, but I heard your demo. If you can get yourself to Nashville, we’ll listen to you play.” So I flew to Nashville on a Monday, auditioned, and it came down to me and another guy. The other guy, who lived there, got the gig. I flew back to Dallas, did my weekday gigs, then flew back to Nashville one week later to audition for Deana Carter. Same thing: The other drummer got the gig because he lived there. There was another audition for Barbara Mandrell the following week. So, I flew back to Dallas, did my local gigs, shedded the Mandrell audition, did all the right things to prepare, showed up on time, dressed the part, smiled, and played the music down, spot on. Again, lost out to the guy that lived there. After that I realized that I had to get out of Dallas.
I was twenty-six years old. I gave my band two weeks’ notice, and I moved to Nashville. As much as I loved the idea of moving to Los Angeles, I didn’t know anyone there. But I was getting great feedback on my drumming in Music City, USA. So in March of 1997, I moved to Nashville. I joined the union the first day and called everyone in the union book. “Hi, my name is Rich Redmond. I have a tuxedo, I have reliable transportation, and I can read music.” The stock response was, “Good luck, kid.”
But I moved to town on a Tuesday, and had a gig by Saturday night. One handshake led to another, and I’m still shaking hands all these years later. For the first ten years in Nashville, if I wasn’t working, I was out on the town, going to singer/songwriter nights, sitting in with bands, and building a network of connections that have kept me working all these years.
MD: When did your big break finally happen?
Rich: It became apparent that in order for me to really get into the scene, I had to build my own network and put my own rhythm section together for backing artists. By 1999 I’d created a rhythm section that would put us on the map, and that eventually became Jason Aldean’s band. Until then I was doing every gig I could find around town, from singer/songwriter nights to demo recordings. I was waiting tables, parking cars, and substitute teaching. I was hungry and wanted to make my dreams come true.
I was playing in a club one night, playing Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” with a country band, and in walks a gentleman named Ken Allison, who had a band called the Blues Other Brothers. They did all Motown and soul music in a Vegas-style show. He hired me to join the band, which is where I met his son, Kurt Allison, who is now Aldean’s guitar player and a dear friend. Kurt and I became tight and started playing a gig with a singer named Ronna Reeves. We ended up getting a gig with Aimee Johns, who had a bass player named Tully Kennedy. It felt great with this rhythm section, and we knew we had something special. That was the birth of what we called the 3 Kings. We’ve been Jason Aldean’s rhythm section since 1999. In the mid 2000s, we were one of the go-to rhythm sections in Nashville for labels to hire to do showcases with up-and-coming artists.
While we were playing with Aldean, from 1999 to 2004, we also had a band together called Rushlow, with Tim Rushlow, vocalist from the band Little Texas. We had two top-ten hit singles. That was my first major-league experience in the industry as a recording artist, and all that goes with it. As soon as that band fell apart, Aldean signed with Broken Bow Records. At the end of 2004, we recorded our first Aldean record and hit the road. And we’ve been touring nonstop ever since. Jason is on his twenty-seventh radio single, and his twentieth number-one song. He’s an incredibly consistent singer with a strong, recognizable voice. We’ve never cancelled a show. It’s a joy and a thrill to back up Jason.
It’s been an incredible run, and Jason’s been loyal to us. We’ve been playing together now for nearly twenty years. The music business can be a treacherous place, with very little loyalty. We’ve been fortunate to mix business and pleasure successfully, which is also very rare in this business. People say it’s not wise to mix business and pleasure. But literally every success in my career is a direct result of mixing business and pleasure.
MD: Let’s get into some playing concepts. Can you explain your use of the rimshots for your backbeats?
Rich: I tilt my snare towards me when I play, which I got from Kenny Aronoff, Liberty DeVitto, and Phil Collins. In my youth I would practice rimshots for hours to develop the muscle memory to hit the same spot with accuracy when I played a backbeat. I’m known for that cracking snare drum sound. In my clinics I’ll play the first few lines of the Syncopation book on the center of the snare. Then I’ll play it on the rim. It’s obvious which sound has more energy and attitude. It’s the rimshot. I can’t imagine not playing the rim of the snare. It’s in my DNA at this point in my career.
MD: What are the elements of what you call “money beats”?
Rich: For me, it’s all about keeping the kick and snare simple and consistent while adding color and texture with the rest of the kit. “Money beats” are the timeless, simple rock grooves that are heard and played on almost every great rock tune throughout history. The kick and snare relationship never changes. It’s the coloring and seasoning with the other limbs that [add] the secret sauce. It’s your ability to change the sound of a simple beat, at any moment, by changing up the combinations of ideas with your other limbs over a rock-solid groove.
Most country hit songs are played between 70 and 89 BPM. It’s a 19 BPM window. So your fill vocabulary is limited to simple, proven fills. It’s my job to find creative ways to play the same-style fills over and over again. I do that by placing a kick drum between the notes, [adding] drags or flams between the notes, breaking it up between my hands and feet. The kick/snare relationship is what you hear on the radio—what you hear way in the back of the arena, stadium, or amphitheater. That’s what gets the listener moving and bouncing to the music. It’s the additional coloring that creates the lope, feel, and vibe of the beat. You need to be able to combine these elements with a click track or a loop at any dynamic level. There’s more than meets the ear when playing a simple rock groove, if you’re incorporating these tasty rhythmic elements into your “money beats.”
A Tragedy’s Message
Rich Redmond was on stage with Jason Aldean during the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas in late 2017. Here he recalls the incident.
“We were playing the Route 91 Harvest Festival. My parents were supposed to be at that show and decided at the last minute not to come. Around the fifth song, we started hearing strange sounds in our monitors. I’d started the song ‘When She Says Baby’ and made it to about bar nine, when suddenly I noticed that the band had disappeared. I was the last guy on stage.
“My drum tech, who had grown up around guns, knew what was happening, and we both hid behind my drum machine rack, thinking that the bullets were coming from the front of the stage. They were actually coming from over our shoulders, and we were exposed the entire time. There were no sides or back on the stage. If he really wanted to hit us, he could have. I ended up getting separated from the band, and everyone was screaming, running, and ducking.
“Amazingly, all sixty members of our organization, band and crew, were unharmed. It was a terrifying night. I’m fine now, and was fortunate that it wasn’t my time. It’s helped me focus on spending the rest of my life doing things that are helpful to people. And the way that I feel I can help people the most is through education, entertainment, and motivation. The fact that I’m alive is God’s way of telling me that I have more work to do.”
MD: Please describe a typical Aldean recording session.
Rich: We’ve recorded eight Aldean records, and many demos leading up to Jason’s record deal. A lot of the drum tracks are dictated by what’s going on, sound-wise, in the songwriting community. The last three records have lots of programmed loops mixed with acoustic drumset. I’ll overdub real percussion over that to give it a more organic sound. If you’re mixing 808 hi-hats with a programmed
MIDI shaker, then add a real instrument in there. It creates a nice, human touch.
Pete Coleman, our engineer for all eight records, also engineered all of the Blondie records, all the Pat Benatar records, and recorded “My Sharona” by the Knack. We’ve been working together forever. So I know what he likes. He likes my ride cymbal and crash cymbals positioned up high, like Ndugu Chancler, to create more separation from the tom mics. I don’t normally play like that. But I respect Pete and give him what he needs to do his job well. He doesn’t like the hats bleeding into the snare mic.
We put a triangle of tape underneath the bell of the cymbal to help isolate the brighter, resonant tones. And he loves a modern, off-the-shelf Black Beauty snare drum. We’ve used that same drum on almost a hundred songs. It’s easy to make one drum sound a thousand different ways with muffling and editing.
We’ll also use the song demo to build our tracks from. So I’ll tip my hat to the demo programmer for ninety percent of the track and then Redmond-ize the other ten percent with my heart and soul and musical choices, to try and create those “Mona Lisa” moments that make the drum track more interesting. But at the same time, I’m keeping in mind that this song is a potential single. So, I’m thinking like an A&R person, too.
MD: What makes for a great drum track?
Rich: A memorable beat, a killer groove, musical choices, and staying out of the way. The groove is the muscle of the song. The connective tissue is the appropriate fill coming in and out of each section of the song. Then the finishing touches consist of scrubbing and/or gridding the tracks to really lock them all in as tightly as possible to create that unstoppable, impenetrable groove that makes it a radio hit. The first five or six Aldean records were not really scrubbed or gridded. The last two records were heavily mixed with modern technology. What I loved about our early Aldean records is that we were eight guys in a room, like the old Motown recordings, all playing at the same time. There were no samples and no scrubbing. But as you grow as an artist, you also have to grow with the technology, to keep up with the industry standards for making hit records. You have to go into the studio with the confidence to know what a song needs, and then deliver the goods. You also have to be humble enough to take directions.
MD: Do you play differently live from how you play in the studio?
Rich: I tell my students that a good live drummer should play the song every time like he’s playing it for the very first time in the studio. It’s your job to recreate the energy and excitement you had when you first recorded the song. The fans paid a lot of money to come and see the band, and you have to be an actor. In the studio, a good drummer plays a song the first time sounding like he’s played it a thousand times. I play very much the same in both studio and live settings, with lots of energy and attitude.
MD: You have great visual energy.
Rich: When I play, I think like a dancer and a boxer. I’m neither, but I have go-to body moves that not only help me internally, but create a cool live visual. I also abuse the fake twirl in concert. I learned how to use that effectively by watching Carmine Appice. I make sure the sticks never leave my hands, because it’s too risky. I try and keep my grip loose, because your grip affects your tone. A more open grip will produce a more open tone.
MD: What is the Nashville Number System?
Rich: The Nashville Number System outlines the harmonic structure of a song using numbers. I use it to chart out the rhythmic details that are crucial to the song before we go in to record our tracks. The best resource to learn this system is drummer Jim Riley’s book, Song Charting Made Easy: A Play-Along Guide to the Nashville Number System. Jim and I went to college around the same time, and both moved here at the same time. We were roommates and championed each other. Jim got a road gig as bandleader for Rascal Flatts, and it’s still going strong. I got connected into the studio scene before connecting with Jason Aldean. We both wanted to become educators as well as players.
MD: Can you explain what a macro rhythm is?
Rich: A macro rhythm is the main beat of a song. I’m always thinking about macro rhythms in fills, too. Every drummer will play the macro rhythm differently because of their nuance in style and feel. Ringo may play it with a little swing. Joey Kramer may play it more straight ahead. David Garibaldi may play it with ghost notes added. Omar Hakim may add closed drags. Billy Cobham might add more open drags. But they’re all still playing the main macro rhythm. As a session player, you need to be like a character actor and be prepared to play any one of these variations of the macro rhythm at any
MD: How about phrase charts?
Rich: Phrase charts are the keys to the castle. It’s the easiest way to shrink down the guts of a song into bars, intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, turnaround, verse two, chorus two, bridge, breakdown, solo, outro, tag. You have to know what all these terms mean in the anatomy of a song, and then write out only the information you need to execute the song to sound like another drummer, or like yourself. Stops, starts, endings, builds, and feel changes. I write out the BPM and describe the feel, like “sassy rock” or “even 16ths,” which reminds me what to go for in each section of the song. A lot of working musicians use this type of chart. I have a filing cabinet filled with thirty years’ worth of phrase charts from various bands I’ve worked with.
MD: Can you talk about the latest Jason Aldean recording, Rearview Town, which debuted on Billboard’s Top 200 chart at number one?
Rich: I’m very happy with my mature musical choices on the new record. You hear the drums, you feel the drums, and there’s nothing distracting to the songs. And that’s the goal. We’re very hard on each other to push each other to grow and develop our sound and create new ideas with each new record. The key is bringing those songs to life so the story can be told. We start the night off on our new tour with “Gettin’ Warmed Up,” which surprisingly jumps from a straight rock groove to half-time in the chorus, which is a total turnaround from what you would expect. Remember, our hit record tempo is 70 to 89 BPM. We have four number-one songs at 70 BPM.
“You Make It Easy” is a lesson in discipline as a slow 6/8 R&B groove, with practically no fills in the song. “Drowns the Whiskey” is classic country, and I’m playing brushes, but there’s a loop to help modernize the groove. Again, the discipline is that I don’t change the pattern for three and a half minutes. “High Noon Neon” is great songwriting and storytelling. It’s the imagery that I try and help create based on the lyric. To add color and texture to each track, I do a lot of cymbal-swell overdubs, shakers, tambourine…. You’ve got to be willing to play a pattern for four measures without changing anything. A lot of drummers aren’t willing or don’t have the discipline to do that. It helps create a phrase, like a marching cadence. It’s a win-win for me, because the songs come to life and I’ve done my job as
MD: Would you please discuss drumming as a business?
Rich: I’ve read a lot of books, and I’m very much into personal development. You have to develop the mindset that you’re running a small business, and the product is you. You’re selling yourself. In this industry, I sell myself, which allows me to sell rhythm. If you play from the heart, it’ll set you apart. If you’re just playing academically, you’re only halfway there. When you put your heart and soul into what you’re playing, it elevates your persona to a higher level than the guy that’s just going through the motions. As a drummer, I want to know who wrote the song, what it’s about, what story is being told, and what emotion I can bring to the song.
I was an early adapter of social media. I wore MySpace out! I built my personal brand on MySpace and made some great connections on there. And I jumped on Facebook immediately. It’s a great way to break the ice with people. It takes extra effort to bring that cyber relationship into the real world. A lot of people don’t want to make that effort. I make connections on Facebook and then get together with them in person to build that relationship. I know all of my Facebook friends personally. Building a solid brand is crucial. There are a million ear-cleaning devices, but everyone calls it a Q-tip. You want to establish your brand so that when someone needs your particular style, they know you’re the guy that will deliver
Rich’s Pre-Show Routine
“Before the show I work out on the drum pad for about thirty minutes, warming up on rudimental patterns. It’s a grid that I do, moving accents around with diddles, rolls, flams, and Swiss triplets, and then volume practice with loud and soft strokes.
“I stretch a lot and try to work out daily, and I cut off all liquids an hour before the show. On the road, my day is filled with clinics or going to the gym, doing promo spots, and whatever needs to be done before soundcheck, which is at 3:30 p.m. We’ll do four or five songs to make sure everything is good.
“My drum tech, Jon Hull, is amazing. I never have to touch a thing. Everything is tuned, cleaned, and set up to perfection, with a bottle of water and towels there and the fans running. I love this guy!
“At 7 p.m. we do a thirty-minute, three-song VIP experience. I play a djembe and we do a Q&A Storytellers-style set. Then, we have some time before the show for personal business, a little more warm-up on the pad, and hang with the band. At 9 p.m., we hit the stage and take no prisoners.”
MD: You have a motivational-speaking program. What’s at the heart of that?
Rich: My C.R.A.S.H. motivational speaking seminar combines music and business in a fun and innovative format that works for any type of business or corporation. There are very few drummers who’ve moved into this arena. Mark Schulman, Dom Famularo, and I are all active [in] this area, and we each have our own slant. My program is based on the philosophy of developing a successful living.
C.R.A.S.H. stands for commitment, relationships, attitude, skills, and hunger. It’s a cross-generational platform that can work for a five-year-old or a fifty-year-old. It can work for a soccer mom or a CEO. It can work for the top-performing people at a company, or all the new hires. Mark Schulman has been doing it for a long time, and he’s my first-call sub in the speaking arena. If I get a call for a speaking gig and have a conflict, I send the gig to Mark. If Mark gets double-booked with Pink and needs me to go to Mexico City to cover his speaking gig, I go.
MD: Besides the Aldean gig, what other irons do you have in the fire?
Rich: My website, richredmond.com, highlights all the things I do, and then feeds out to all of the other sites like crashcourseforsuccess.com, which is my motivational-speaking site. Then there’s my drumming education program, which is housed at drumminginthemodernworld.com. It’s 120 educational lessons broken up into easily digestible modules. It’s a snapshot of everything I’ve learned about drumming, and how you can develop a career in the music business. I’ve also started 1225 Entertainment with Mike Krompass to produce and develop talent in rock, pop, country, hip-hop, and TV and film. We’re also considering starting a publishing company and record label. This is all in the works. In today’s entertainment market, you have to be a jack of all trades, master of all!
MD: So what’s next?
Rich: I’d still like to play on records in other musical genres. I’m still meeting new people and making new friends in Los Angeles. It’s still exciting to me to think that there’s more music and more adventures ahead on the West Coast. I would like to have a number-one hit song in the U.S. as a songwriter. With our 1225 Entertainment company I’ll be writing with some amazing songwriters, and I have a better chance of that number-one song happening in the States. I’m also going to record a solo instrumental fusion record. I know all the right musicians to do it. It’ll be what I call “approachable fusion.” I want it to serve three purposes: pure listening, play-along educational product, and license to TV and film. I’ve always wanted a Rich Redmond solo record. Another project I’m involved with is called The Fell with legendary bassist Billy Sheehan [Mister Big, David Lee Roth], my 1225 partner Mike Krompass on guitar, Scott Westervelt on keys, and Stephen Vickers
I don’t know where things are going over the next twenty years. I just want to be happy and, in the process, hopefully change lives. My purpose in life is to affect people in a positive way. I know that I can do that through music, education, and entertainment. I find that all of these avenues feed each other. When I moved to Nashville twenty years ago, they said, “Hey, kid, you’re either a recording musician or a touring musician. And they never mix.” I set out to prove them wrong, and I discovered that if you can play with accuracy, consistency, and fire in the studio, they’ll say, “We want you to come and play live with us.” And, if you can play a live gig with accuracy and consistency, then they’ll say, “Hey, you can come and play on our new record.” These two things can cross-pollinate.
Kenny Aronoff was a great career model for this. He was getting hired for a lot of different gigs while living in Bloomington, Indiana. They were flying him all over the place. He had Tama keep a set of drums in Nashville, Los Angeles, New York, and London. So I thought, Okay, I still want to be part of the Los Angeles music scene. So now I rent a place by the Hollywood Bowl. I have a car there, and I go out there and work when the Aldean band is off. There are new contacts to be made out there, the sun is shining, different music to experience, and people think I’m absolutely crazy for doing it. But I think crazy people change the world. I figure, the door is open, so let’s really kick it open, and let’s get drums everywhere, make connections, and live life. Let’s be creative, make music, and explore new possibilities. Yes, it’s exhausting, and I feel like a lunatic sometimes. But I want to speak, teach, act, perform, and hopefully see my picture on a T-shirt one day. I’m constantly exploring new ideas and pursuing new avenues. I love what I do. And it’s all fun!
Redmond’s 2018 Touring Setup
Drums: DW Collector’s Series, Pure Maple shells with reinforcement hoops and black bickel hardware.
A. 5.5×14 Black Nickel Over Brass snare with black nickel hardware and Canopus 20-strand wires
B. 9×13 tom
C. 14×16 floor tom
D. 16×18 floor tom
E. 16×24 bass drum
Cymbals: Sabian (all brilliant finish)
1. 15″ HHX Groove hats
2. 20″ AAX X-Plosion crash
3. 22″ HHX Groove ride
4. 21″ Chad Smith Holy China
Heads: Remo Coated Powerstroke 77 snare batter and Ambassador Hazy snare-side resonant; Emperor Colortone Smoke tom batters and Ambassador Clear resonants; Clear Powerstroke 3 bass drum batter with a black double Falam Slam impact badge and Woodshed Stage Art Custom front head. Drumtacs applied to resonant heads of floor toms for overtone control.
Percussion: LP cowbell, maracas, and medium shaker and a Grover Studio Pro tambourine
Hardware: DW 9000 Series 2-leg hi-hat stand, 9000 double bass drum pedal with DW Rich Redmond custom Black Sheep beaters, 9000 cymbal stands and snare stand, and Low Tripod throne stand with Porter & Davies thumper seat; Artisan Customs seven-stick stick holder; QwikStix beverage holder; LP Percussion Table cut in half with stand tube cut down; Cymbolt cymbal tops with Cympad 40 mm Optimizers (black) cut in half to 20 mm to fit on Cymbolts
Sticks: Promark Rich Redmond signature ActiveGrip 595 sticks, Hot Rods, and medium brushes; Adam Argullin custom yarn mallets spun onto Rich’s signature stick
Electronics: Roland SPD-SX multi-pad and RT-30 tom and kick triggers for gate side-chain; Alesis SR18 drum machine and DM5 module for thumper throne; Porter & Davies BC Gigster throne; Boss FS-5U footswitch; Ultimate Ears and JH Audio in-ear monitors
Microphones: Audio-Technica AE2500 condenser outside bass drum, AE3000 on top and bottom of snare and on toms, ATM450 on hi-hat and ride, AT4050 overheads, and AT4047 center overhead; Shure Beta 91 inside bass drum