There are very few people I’ve met who haven’t said, “Oh yeah, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. I saw them at my high school in 19_. “At that point, I try to recall which musical period the band was in at the time. Was it the ’30s swing they were playing in the late ’60s, or the country-rock they premiered in L.A. in the early ’70s, or the rock they were performing in the late ’70s, or the country they’ve gone into in the ’80s? I’ve known them since 1968, so I’ve seen them all and know that, whichever style anyone witnessed, it had to have been good because the band members always put their hearts into their concerts. To slay an audience is certainly Jimmie Fadden’s modus operandi.
The band came together in 1966 as an outgrowth of people who hung around McCabes music store in Long Beach, California. It was a casual musical atmosphere where people would get together, swap tunes, trade stories, and drink coffee. Fadden had no formal training, but he was a natural at making music. By the time the group was formally together, Fadden’s arsenal of instruments included autoharp, mandolin, harmonica, washtub bass, and jug—perfect for the acoustic folk/rock the band was featuring. He also became one of three who traded off playing the drums. In fact, during those early days, critics cited the trading of a multitude of instruments by the members as one of their drawing cards.
As time went on, however, and their musical emphasis shifted, Jimmie’s primary instrument in the group became the drums, although he can be heard playing harp on a variety of records, including those by Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, John Denver, Dan Fogelberg, Earl Scruggs, The Ventures, Hoyt Axton, and Michael Murphy. In 1978, though, when original member Jimmy Ibbotson left the band, Fadden was asked to be a frontman along with other original members Jeff Hanna, John McEuen, and newest member Bob Carpenter. The music became more rock oriented, and while Fadden played guitar, harp, and sang some leads, a series of drummers came and went.
The ’80s prompted a lot of changes in the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s life. As they restored the more country roots of their classical 1972 release, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Ibbotson returned to the fold, and Fadden decided that he wished to return to the drums. Nashville has become Fadden’s home away from home when he is not with his family in Florida, or on the road, which is the majority of the time. While Jimmie would like to be home with his wife B’Lise and their daughters Charlotte and Meggan, it’s the live performances that he truly thrives on.
The audience is the band’s primary focus, and the musicians give them an energetic and varied show. Although country is their mainstay, having had such hits as “Long Hard Road,” “Dance Little Jean,” “High Horse,” and “Modern Day Romance,” the band’s live show also consists of their pop hits “Mr. Bojangles,” “An American Dream,” and “Make A Little Magic,” such bluegrass standards as “Rocky Top,” “Randy Lyn Rag,” and “Way Downtown,” and even such rock numbers as “Cadillac Ranch.”
“Just as long as Johnny got his fiddle and Jimmie got his drums along, then Jeffrey and me and Bobby will be singing all our favorite songs. Catch a fire from the folks in a front row, fan the flames as the beat gets strong. It’s great to be a part of something so good that’s lasted so long,”—from “Partners, Brothers And Friends,” written by Jimmy Ibbotson.
RF: Early on, you guys were doing all kinds of things musically.
JF: Bluegrass, skiffle music, some swing tunes, some jugband versions of big band songs, some contemporary pieces written by the likes of Jackson Browne, Steve Noonan, and Greg Copeland. Nobody was playing drums at that time. Jeff was playing washboard, which amounted to our version of the drums. I was playing the Washtub bass, and we were the rhythm section. We didn’t incorporate drums into the band until we started getting a little more legitimate, instrument-wise. We started using trombones, clarinets, and, naturally, we wanted to do some of the swing tunes a little more authentically, which required a bass drum, snare drum, and hi-hat, at least. Drums became more prominent in our music with the advent of Uncle Charlie, which was sort of a benchmark for us, musically. We decided not to play a lot of old, obscure tunes, but to play music that we felt was a contemporary development of our collective styles. We played tunes by writers like Kenny Loggins and Jackson Browne—music we felt best defined our own musical interests.
RF: When drums were first added, you were nominated for the auspicious task of drummer.
JF: Jeff played a little during that time period, and I played a little. If something else was more important, then the other person ended up playing the drums.
RF: So you actually picked up the drums on the job.
JF: I never had any formal training. I came into music probably like a lot of people do. The band got together and said, “Let’s play music and have a band.” Somebody, somehow, got Jeff Hanna interested in playing. Jeff had a little set in his room, so I used to play around on it, and it sort of came naturally to me. On the early Nitty Gritty Dirt Band albums, I think Jim Gordon or Earl Palmer played the stuff. Jim Gordon is a real good example of one of my early influences. He had just gotten into town when he played on our records, and I’d say, “How do you do this?” He’d show me and I could do it. Now, looking back, I wish I’d had the time to take lessons. I don’t recommend doing it the way I did it. Now I’m trying to catch up and find some instruction to learn the basic reading skills, which I feel all players should know.
RF: Who were some of your other influences?
JF:My influences have primarily been people who were feel players, as opposed to those who are technically great. Sometimes they were one and the same. I don’t think I’d get any argument about Steve Gadd being able to do both. I’ve always enjoyed Levon Helm for his soul and his fire, and Jim Keltner for his feel. He could always play things so loose and keep it so together. The stuff he did with Leon Russell always knocked me out. I like the drummer who played with Muddy Waters. He could play a shuffle that was so loose. I also like the drummer with the Amazing Thunderbirds, who has a great loose shuffle. One person who recently influenced me a lot was Harvey Mason on the Headhunter album and on the tune “Headhunter” where he used the 16th-note phrase in the backbeat. That opened a lot of doors for me. It made me realize that your left hand can do a lot of things you wouldn’t normally think it could do. I’ve learned a lot just from hearing that one cut.
A lot of earlier people who inspired me were people in Los Angeles when we were starting to play and record, like Earl Palmer, Hal Blaine, and Jimmy Gordon. Those were the people I got to watch. Watching those guys was my biggest inspiration to start playing. There was Sandy Konikoff, who used to play with Taj Mahal. He said, “Go for tone. Don’t let the fires go out.” He always wanted a snare that was 10″ deep with gut snares. What a crazy guy! I also like Chuck Blackwell, who played with Taj, too. I like a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons. I love Jeff Porcaro’s playing, because he has such great hi-hat things. He’s a suave player. He’s got a lot of style and it’s very uptown. I listen to some jazz now, because I find it’s enlightening for me to hear some of the things that are taking place. The things I like are more the groups who are melodic, like the Yellowjackets and Pat Metheny. I like picture music. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to play like Danny Gottlieb and Rod Morgenstein, but I sure enjoy what they do.
RF: To go back to the early days once again, when Jim Ibbotson came into the group in 1969, he played drums, too.
JF: Yes. Jimmy was, and still is, the only schooled drummer of the three of us, being able to play all 26 rudiments. As I said before, sometimes other things take precedence, and his position in front as bass player, frontman, and lead vocalist was more important than having him as drummer.
RF: Is it difficult working in a band where nearly everyone has played drums?
JF: No. It just makes me want to play better. It makes me want to make them comfortable with my abilities. It’s easy sometimes, in that they understand what I’m doing. Then it’s difficult sometimes, because they understand so well that they may have an idea that they want me to do, where I might want to do something different. We have to discuss it, and maybe have a few words over it. But I think the communication is far better in that both Jeff and Jimmy understand what it is they want and how to explain themselves.
RF: How do you feel about having been in both background and up-front positions?
JF: I like being in back. I consider myself a driving wheel. I have always felt that the beat was essential. I got that from watching old blues players sitting on stage, stomping their feet. The beat never left.
Even when we didn’t have drums, the band was always beat conscious. We’ve had a number of drummers in this band, and if there was someone back there playing who wasn’t beat conscious and energy conscious, then the people up front noticed it. When I was up front, if somebody back there wasn’t kicking it in, I noticed it and wanted to be back there doing it. At that point in my life, I realized that, if that’s how I felt about it, I ought to be back there doing it.
RF: Do you think the time away from the drums created a freshness towards the instrument?
JF: It’s very funny you asked that, because during the time away from playing, I was around a lot of players I really admired who did things I was not quite articulate enough to do. Somehow I seem to have absorbed a lot of those ideas. I came back to the set with them, and they came out.
RF: When you recommitted yourself to drums, how did you go about preparing for that venture?
JF: Practice, practice, practice.
RF: What did that practicing consist of?
JF: I like to practice with records and tapes, which I think is a real nice outlet, in that I can have a rhythm section to play with. It’s a lot more fun than playing by myself. I also like to find tapes that have good metronomic time, or use a click track or drum machine of some sort. That way, I get a chance to settle down with time, and I’m not being influenced by another player’s time. I find that it’s very interesting to see how other people phrase things around the people in their groups.
As for practicing now, I normally just play some straight single-stroke 8ths, or something like that, on the bed, just to get my arms limbered up a little bit. There’s no bounce on the bed to speak of, so instead of getting a good rebound and letting the stick carry my hand back up, I have to pick it up. I find that, in picking the stick up as opposed to letting it come up, it makes me work a little harder. I’ve been working out of the Stick Control book lately, which I highly recommend to anybody who doesn’t read music. It was recommended to me by one of my earlier influences, George Grantham, who is back working with Poco and who is one of the early country/rock giants in California. That’s been a great help to me. A lot of the style I use in our show has to do with a right-left alternating 8th-note pattern, so I find that Stick Control has been very beneficial to me in that respect. It’s all single stroke, in most cases. I do use some double strokes, although I don’t use them on stage very often, if at all. Our music is so simple that it just doesn’t translate as well as it does in some other forms. I find that it’s good for me to practice those things that I don’t use, because it gives me a better sense of right-left balance, which is very hard to maintain when you travel. Sometimes when you’re in an uncomfortable situation, maybe doing overnights on the bus for five days in a row, your right side might get a little cramped up, or your right arm might feel a little different from your left. Maybe you have pulled a muscle on one side from lifting something. I attempt to get both hands and arms feeling as close together as possible, and to get myself centered. That’s just a matter of playing straight strokes and getting them to feel the same.
RF:You mentioned phrasing before.
JF: Every drummer phrases things differently. It comes from what drummers have learned as their musical vocabularies and how they interact with the other players in their groups. Jazz, for instance, is obviously different than country music. Country music is considerably sparser, and it doesn’t require the same amount of playing because it is predominantly vocal music. The particular feel that we play most often now reflects some adaptation from early R&B, in that we are playing 2/4 with just a 1 and a 3 with a dotted 8th note on the bass drum. It’s very simple, and the bass and the bass drum play almost exclusively together, where one doesn’t play without the other very often. A lot of times, I’m just playing 1 and 3 on the bass drum, which gives Jimmy Ibbotson the room to incorporate some different things on the bass.
RF: You’ve mentioned a couple of times that the music you play is simplistic. I have often thought that playing simply is more difficult than playing elaborately.
JF:I think to some extent it is, because it’s really noticeable if the time drags or speeds up if you’re playing the same feel over and over. If you break it up with a change in pattern or there are a lot of fills involved or changes in time signature, the time is not as obvious as if you were to play a straight 2/ 4 from front to back without breaking it at all. It drove a lot of people crazy when disco records became so popular, and they were still using straight tracks as opposed to looping them or using drum machines. It’s tedious to play from front to back without changing the feel, and keep the time consistent and feeling good. I think Larrie Londin is one of the greats at that. People slight country drummers because they play so simple, and I appreciate your realizing the difficulty. I do like songs where you can move the time around a little bit, just for the sake of excitement. We do a tune called “Ripplin’ Waters,” which has a long instrumental out section where everybody takes a solo. I actually stop playing the full kit, break it down to bass drum and hi-hat, and play a harmonica solo. We try to increase the intensity a little bit, as well as the tempo.
RF: We touched on this in the Update we did a couple of years back, but you play the drums and harmonica simultaneously.
JF: I’ve been playing harmonica a lot longer than I’ve played drums, and I really enjoy playing the instrument. Oddly enough, some of my first playing experiences were with playing harmonica in a rack. The rack is the little wire contraption that holds the harmonica in front of your mouth and goes around your neck, a la Bob Dylan and Neil Young. I found it was very easy for me to play that way. I’m now using a Shure SM-10 microphone, which is a headset mic’. It virtually follows my mouth wherever I move it. I found that it was fairly easy for me to play drums and harmonica, by virtue of the fact that, whenever I play harmonica, I always tap my feet. I used to go out to the garage, sit in a chair, put the old metronome on, and tap my feet—right-left, right-left, right-left. It wasn’t all that difficult for me to translate that into playing set and harmonica at the same time.
RF: Are there things you can’t do or that are difficult to do while playing both?
JF: Normally, when I’m playing a solo on the harmonica, I’m just playing time on the drums. It might be just playing an 8th-note, two-handed feel on the hi-hat with an accompanying bass drum pattern, or I might just be playing snare drum, hi-hat, and bass drum. I do play some fills, occasionally at the end of a solo, but I’ll just be playing one finishing note of the solo on the harmonica. All I’m doing is inhaling and playing the drum fill. It’s pretty simple.
RF: What are some of your favorite songs to play live?
JF: I really like playing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” because I play a sneaky version of a shuffle that nobody catches on to. It comes out of that accented 8th-note brush feel with sticks. I end up going to the ride and accenting on the left hand as opposed to the right hand. It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy those types of implied feels. I’ve always admired players who were able to do that. A lot of the New Orleans players are very good at that. Jim Keltner was a great influence in that respect. He’s always had a great innuendo in his playing—likewise, Steve Gadd.
RF: What other tunes do you enjoy playing?
JF: I like playing the whole set to be quite honest with you.
RF: You’ve been playing “Mr. Bojangles” since 1972. How do you keep something like that fresh?
JF: I’m not sure there’s a real pat answer for that. That’s a great example that we can draw from, because it has been played so much. The song has a basic life of its own, but it lives vicariously through the audience, which adds another dimension to it. Sometimes we do a shortened version in a medley with “Some Of Shelly’s Blues,” but we added an instrumental to it, which was never on the record, between Johnny and me where I put the brushes down and pick up the harmonica. To play harp while you’re playing 3/4 is very interesting. Playing 4/4 or 2/4 is really easy, because your left foot doesn’t have to do double duty with the double back beat there, like with 3/4. Recently, Jimmy stopped playing the bass in the last verse, and I’ve gone down to just playing the bass drum and hi-hat. I’ve added a floor tom beat in there to make it sound like a marching drum, like the old, open bass drum sound. There are just little things that happen from night to night that make everything interesting. I can’t think of any two nights in a row that are the same. Some nights things are a little quicker. Some nights they’re a little slower. Acoustics in the rooms we play have a lot to do with that. If you have a room with a long decay time, you need to play things a little slower. If you play too fast, it can just become a jumbled mess. That’s something you learn along the way, and I’m still learning more about it. Some nights are really magical, where the dynamics are so overwhelming that I’m just sitting back there on automatic, enjoying what’s going on. I’ll be playing along, enjoying “Bojangles” so much that I just think to myself, “We’ve been playing this song for a long time, but it’s still fun and I love hearing it.” I can listen to what we’re doing, as opposed to being concerned about my role, which is the nice part of it. A lot of times, if you’re playing something that is improvisational, where you really have to be thinking and be on the ball, you have to listen so closely to what everybody else is doing, that your ears don’t get a chance to take everything else in. You’re concerned with the interaction between you and the bass player, and listening to what’s going on up front. You don’t always get to savor the moment. When you’ve done something for a long enough time and you have an arrangement in your head, you know what to play, and you can watch the audience and the other members in the band. It sort of flows like the river, and it’s amazing.
RF: Were you playing drums during the Jealousy period of time?
JF: I didn’t play in the studio on that particular project. I arranged the drum parts, and Rick Schlosser did the studio work on that album. I rehearsed with the band, came up with the arrangements and did the work tapes. Bob Edwards, who was producing the album at the time, had worked with Rick and liked his playing very much. When it comes down to dollars and notes, as it is in the studio so often, it’s important to be extremely proficient and get your work done quickly. He knew he could count on Rick to do it, whereas he hadn’t worked with me in that capacity. Rick liked my arrangements very much, so he played basically what I gave him.
RF: By the time you took over the drum seat once again, you were dealing primarily with the country tunes, is that correct?
JF: We still do that rock stuff, though, occasionally. We do play “Cadillac Ranch,” so we play it all. This band runs the gamut of styles.
RF: Regarding styles, if we go way back, we’re talking about . . .
JF: Fred Waring & The Pennsylvanians. We’ve always liked a variety of music. Everybody in the group has different musical interests, and they all come together, hopefully, to form a cohesive whole. I think the texture of our music might be more interesting than if we all listened to the same thing all the time. I think the chances of influences from one source creating something interesting are pretty slim. That’s a common facet of most groups that come together for one reason or another: They all have different interests in music. John enjoys bluegrass and the more country side of things. Jeff and Ibbie like rockabilly and the more vocal-oriented things, such as the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly. Bobby Carpenter, the keyboard player, has a very wide scope of interests from classical pieces to jazz. In fact, Bobby and I get together and commit jazz crimes occasionally. We have to watch out that the jazz police aren’t listening. I enjoy a lot of different things. One of my earlier influences was bluegrass, and then I became very interested in blues. I like music that is very earthy and very emotional.
RF: What about playing considerations when you look back on Fred Waring & The Pennsylvanians?
JF: The greatest thing I got from a lot of the early big band music was the attitude of the music. It swung. If you can’t swing it, then hang it up.
RF: So how do you swing a band?
JF: I don’t know how to explain it. You just do it. How do you breathe? I don’t know. It just happens. You have to feel it, and they have to feel it. You have to give them the chance to be comfortable in what you’re doing, so they can work as effortlessly as possible.
RF: What about audiences? Are they different in the pop world than they are in the country world?
JF: I think people are people anywhere you play. I think it’s what you play that makes audiences what they are and determines how they react. If you’re going to perform poorly, then you can expect an audience to react poorly. You have to go out and give it 100% every night, if not 110%, and it’s a mutual thing of give and take. It’s you giving to them and them giving to you in return. It’s a vicious little circle, and it’s a great feeling. I think it’s one that anyone who has spent any time on stage lives for. Most of the time, we can forget the hotels, the travel, and the baloney sandwiches as long as that audience is there. We’ve played large arenas in rock shows and small clubs where it was strictly a group of people who were accustomed to hearing honky-tonk music. We’ve played in big bars where people dance and auditoriums where people sit down. We’ve played some of the finest halls in the country, such as Carnegie Hall three times, and some of the finest halls in Japan.
RF: In 1977, you were the first American band chosen to tour Russia. What was it like playing over there?
JF: Russia is another story. It was very interesting, to say the least. The interest on the part of the musicians we encountered there was astounding. I was given questions I didn’t know the answers to most of the time, like what kind of sticks Buddy Rich uses. I don’t know. These people over there were starved for information, and they loved music.
RF: Didn’t you play at conservatories over there?
JF: We went to a union conservatory, where it was strictly union players. In order to be a union player, you have to be accepted into the union, not like what we have here where you can become a member of the union with dollars. In being accepted, you have to be a player or performer of material which is pro-Soviet. There are quite a few underground players in the Soviet Union. They’re very interested in all types of music. Jazz is very popular there, as is some of the earlier rock ‘n’ roll. They’re interested in things that might be considered more eclectic than the standard American market, but they don’t—or didn’t at the time we were there—have a wide variety of records to listen to. What they did have that was worth listening to had to be purchased on the black market, which was an iffy business at best.
RF: Earlier, you mentioned the baloney sandwiches and the hotel rooms, and I was thinking about the 20 years you’ve spent on the road. How does that affect you in your personal and musical life, and how has that changed through the years?
JF: I think I’m more emotional and more sensitive about music. I don’t have the time to get involved in some aspects to the degree that I would like to, what with having a family and a busy touring schedule. I don’t get to spend a lot of time practicing.
When you get six hours off to sleep, eat, do an interview, or practice, the chances are you try to eat a little and sleep. I wouldn’t give it up, though. I can’t see doing anything else with my life. I really enjoy the guys I work with, and I think I would have to, most obviously, in order to continue working with them. It’s nice playing with people you understand musically and otherwise. Everybody has his little quirk. Steve Martin had a great line. He said, “This guy was the type of guy it took you five years to get to know, and then he changed.” If I had to deal with that problem on a day-to-day basis, I couldn’t do it. That doesn’t happen with us, because everyone knows what everyone else is like. If somebody is in a bad mood, we can spot it right off, or if somebody is in a good mood, we can spend more time with that person. The one thing that always is the same is that, when we go on stage, we are all 100% professional. I can count on them to give what they feel is expected of them, which is what the audience expects of them, and that is the best that they can do.
RF: How often, on the average, do you get to see your family?
JF: Probably twice a month, for anywhere from four to eight days sometimes. We work an average of three weeks a month, from May until December. Then we record in January and February.
RF: What about the disadvantages of playing with the same people for 20 years?
JF: One of the disadvantages is that, within our group, we work with a particular group idea and genre. We don’t have the advantage of picking up and going off into something entirely different if we want to, because there are certain things expected of us by our audience. While I might like to expand my musical vocabulary a little bit and get involved in some jazz, I don’t have that opportunity unless I do that on my own time at home. Like I was saying earlier, Bob and I dabble with that in the afternoon, just because he has the ability to play certain things that are beyond me, and it’s a real challenge to work at things like that.
RF: It’s no secret that some years have been better for the band than others. How does one keep one’s morale up during those down years?
JF: I think that’s a matter of working with a group. I think we pull together as a group to keep our morale up. It’s like any other situation for any player who has a job where, at one point, it does become a job. Then, that person has to work at enjoying something that is a little less enjoyable than it had been in the past. But if you look at it this way, there are a lot of people out of work, and I’m really happy to have a job and to be able to play for the number of people that we’ve garnered over the years that we’ve been together. I am understanding of situations where people are a little less than excited about what they might have at the moment—maybe playing at the Holiday Inn for six months. It’s a matter of going out and working for what you want. If going through some bad times for a little while is part of it, then that’s part of it. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs. We’ve never been in the big, big time. We’ve been on some big stages and done some big shows, but I don’t think I could stand a steady diet of that, to tell you the truth. I like a variety of experiences, and I think the guys in the band would agree with me on that.
The one positive aspect of not working so much is that it affords me more time to practice and get involved in some sideline projects, like doing a little writing, producing, and spending some time by myself in the studio, applying some of the things I learned early on in our career with Dino Lappas. He was one of our first engineers in California, and I learned a lot about what to do when you’re recording 4-track. We recorded a lot of 4-track stuff, and in doing so, we learned how things are supposed to sound to begin with. There was no, “We’ll fix it in the mix.” It had to be right. People miked drums differently then, and the ensemble concept was a little freer. If you go back and listen to some of the really old Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane records, you can hear that everybody was just sort of doing what they wanted. It all fit, but it’s nothing like what you listen to on the radio today, as a tight rhythm section. Time off gives me a chance to expand that part of my musical interests. Everybody in the group, to one degree or another, has spent some time behind the board, and I think it’s beneficial for us, as a group, to understand how that works. You can’t go into the studio and expect a producer to understand what you want without being able to explain it.
RF: You only played on half of the current album. Which drum tracks did you do?
JF: The other drummer is Eddie Bayers, who is one of the great Nashville studio drummers. I played on “Telluride,” “Putt-Putt,” “Red Neck Riviera,” “Leon MacDuff”—most of the brushwork. That’s sort of my forte. I don’t know why, but it’s something I learned playing behind John on the bluegrass numbers. It’s a typical country drum style. I think you discussed this with Larrie Londin, and there was an example along with that interview. It’s an accented 8th note with the backbeat being on the right hand, so it’s a little backwards for some people to approach. Once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty simple. Your fills are all left lead, which is a little goofy sometimes. I use Blasticks, which are relatively new in the last couple of years, because they give me a nice, fat sound. They have a plastic handle or a wooden handle, and you can get a good click on the rim, which almost sounds like someone playing slap bass. If you use the brush drum effect with a standard bass, you get what sounds like the old brush and slap bass effect, which is so common on a lot of the Elvis things that D.J. Fontana played. As you start playing a little harder with the old wire brushes, they have the tendency to either bend, break, or blow up. The new plastic brushes don’t do that.
RF: What about your equipment?
JF: I’ve gone through a lot of different things. I’ve got an old set of Leedys that are maple, which have a great sound. I bought them in the late ’60s, and I still have those. I have a few odd pieces, like my 28″ Ludwig bass drum, which I love. I have an old Ludwig Black Beauty concert snare—which is no longer black, but brass—with the tube tension castings. At one time, it was a 6 1/2″ concert snare with a top snare and a bottom snare, as well. I use it in the studio and like it very much. I have another old 6 1/2″ Ludwig mahogany snare, two Gretsch snare drums, and an old Rogers, which I like very much. I have an affliction that a lot of people have: finding the great snare drum. At the moment, though, I’m playing a Gretsch set that I love very much. I’ve always loved the drums. I just never had the inclination to go out and buy a big, brand new set. I’d been playing on a lot of old things that I’d played for so long and seemed to be okay. After a while, as all things that are on the road for too long will do, my old drums got a little cranky and hard to deal with. I got my new set in May 1984, and that set consists of an 8 x 10, a l0 x12, a 12×14, and a 14×16, which is kind of current in the country field, as far as tom-tom setup goes. The bass drum is a 24 x 16, and the snare drum is an 8″, 20 lug, which I like a lot. I can’t think of another set of drums that I want.
I’m endorsing Zildjian cymbals, and my current setup is, starting from my left, a 14″ or 16″ paper thin, an 18″ medium, which might constitute a crash/ride, and a 20″ K. ride. On top of that is a 10″ splash. On my far right, I have a 16″ K. dark crash on top of an 18″ China, stacked like Ginger Baker used to, with the last post going through the China.
I have a few other little goodies in my setup, such as an old Ludwig copper-plated timbale, which came out of a set that Jeff gave me for Christmas one year. I use that on things like “American Dream,” which has a little Latin flavor. I use that behind a set of Gon Bops raquinto and raconga, which are small hand drums. I play those with the Blasticks in a few arrangements, such as on “Ripplin’ Waters,” although sometimes I play them with sticks.
I read a lot of articles about drummers who are asked to perform a lot of different functions in a band, such as being able to play a lot of percussion, which people hear on the records. Some of my setup has stemmed from that. There are songs where I don’t even hit a tom-tom, like on the bluegrass numbers, yet I’m sitting there with four in front of me. I don’t particularly use all my drums all the time, but I use a lot of it for coloration in the music. That’s my main interest in the way I play. The tom-tom setup is advantageous when I’m playing a lot of the slower material, which opens it up to long melodic fills. We’ve had some tambourine parts on our records that required playing, so I mounted a Rhythmtech tambourine horizontally over my hi-hat, which I play with a stick. I put it on a cymbal stand top with a multi-clamp on one of my stands, and it works great. I like to try to figure out ways of using the set to a different advantage, use it for different things, and try to apply some ideas to some arrangements to see if they work out. For the most part, they do.
RF: You play with the butt end of the stick.
JF: The reason for that, aside from the fact that it sounds good, is that, in the type of music we do, there are a lot of cross-stick passages. I’ll play a whole verse cross-stick and go to the chorus on a B section with an open snare drum. There’s no way you can play with matched tips and get a good cross-stick sound. I was trying to figure out why I was playing with the butt all the time, and it was right in front of my face. It’s just the nature of the music.
RF: You’re also using the RIMS.
JF: Right. I wasn’t quite sure what kind of effect it would have on the sound of the drums, but I ordered them because I’m a real nut for things that look like they’ll be great. For drummers who want a more live sound in their sets, I would recommend them highly. They’ve also come up with a set of PTS heads that are mounted on RIMS, and they have a whole little set that folds up. They sound amazingly good.
I’ve gone back to using Remo white Emperor heads on all my drums—the coated on the snare and the smooth on the tom-toms—with Ambassadors on the bottom. I use very little tape. Occasionally, I have to put a little piece on there to get an overtone out when I don’t have time to tune it out. All the drums are double-headed.
The microphone system I’m using now is the Aquarian System, and it works very well for me in that I don’t have any microphone stands that might slip during the show, which is always disconcerting. It’s very easy to travel with also.
RF: When I met you, we were kids. You’ve gone through a lot with this band. Certainly, there is some knowledge that you can impart. You must have been naive when you were a kid.
JF: Everyone is. One of the great gifts that you get coming into this world is your naivete. One of the sad things is that you lose it. It’s something you never get back.
RF: But from a business standpoint, you must have acquired a wealth of information.
JF: Music is not an easy business. It’s a great joy to play, but the business is so difficult to be in that it kind of keeps things even. For anybody who is thinking about getting into it, it’s hard work. You have to dedicate yourself to all the aspects of it. You have to be able to take the good with the bad. It’s a great life, too. I have two weeks off sometimes, and I see people who are getting up and going to work at the office at 8:00 in the morning and getting home at 6:00, while I’m sitting on my porch reading a magazine. But then again, there are times when all they have to do is drive five miles to work, and I’m flying to Alaska to do a show. You have to love it. If you don’t love it, you shouldn’t even think about it, because you’re going to get things and situations thrown at you that you never even imagined. It can be real tedious. You can get to a show and find out that Air Freight has lost your snare drum. Somebody could drop something in baggage, and you’ll have a hole in your bass drum head. You might check out in a blurry situation and leave your stick bag in the hotel room. Any number of silly little things can happen to you, but I think the greatest reward is playing for an audience and having them appreciate what it is you do. In turn, you go on doing it.