With a childhood surrounded by jazz, early drum heroes from classic rock’s glory days, and a résumé filled with R&B stars, it’s no wonder the Rob Thomas regular fits in so easily wherever he goes.
by Billy Amendola
In 2005, when Abe Fogle got the call to tour with Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas, he instantly jumped to action. Gerald Heyward had played on Thomas’s debut solo album, Something to Be, and many drummers were awestruck by the R&B vet’s performance on it. But Heyward couldn’t do the tour because of previous commitments to Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child. Fogle went headlong into studying the groundbreaking tracks, and twelve years later he’s still Thomas’s go-to drummer.
Putting aside Fogle’s obvious talent, it’s not surprising that the relationship between him and Thomas has lasted so long. Both are easygoing yet highly professional, and they share a great relationship on and off stage. “Rob is a brilliant songwriter and a great person,” Fogle says. “After thirty years of playing drums professionally, I have to say that this is one of the best gigs I’ve ever had the pleasure to play.”
Thomas is quick to return the compliment. “The relationship between a singer and his drummer can’t be underestimated,” he tells MD. “Knowing that the backbeat will be where you want it to be gives you the ability to land your phrasing where you want. You’re the water, and the drummer is the rock. I say every night that Abe is the heart and soul of the RT band. And I mean it every night.”
While his chops, power, and pocket make him such a valuable musical commodity, it’s Fogle’s sensitivity, humility, and willingness to share credit with crew members such as his drum tech, Ricky Sanders, that make him the ideal addition to any tour. “I salute all the techs and roadies that make a tour even more fun,” Abe says. “Because of them, you can just sit back and focus on your art and perform to the best of your abilities. There’s nothing like having a family feeling on the road. And for a drummer, having the right tech is everything.”
Fogle was born in 1964, on the Lower East Side of New York City, and moved with his family to Teaneck, New Jersey, at age thirteen. Later he studied at Rutgers University and the New School for Social Research, experiences that he points to as the reason he’s been able to work in many different musical genres. Like a hard-rock drummer with flashes of jazz and gospel influences—and a whole lot of funk—Fogle has successfully powered recordings and tours with a long and diverse group of artists, including Regina Belle, Guy, Freddie Jackson, Najee, Miki Howard, Lalah Hathaway, Art Porter, Kenny Garrett, Alex Bugnon, LeVert, Faith Evans, Kelis, Beth Hart, Phoebe Snow, India Arie, Nine Days, Kool and the Gang, Johnny Kemp, Peter Fish, Teddy Riley’s Wreckx-n-Effect, D’Angelo, Chico DeBarge, Hot Tuna, and, most recently, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger backup singer Curtis King Jr., whose solo project Fogle recorded several tracks on. Modern Drummer caught up with Abe as he was coming through town on Rob Thomas’s latest co-headlining tour, with Counting Crows.
MD: How did you land the gig with Rob Thomas?
Abe: I was playing gigs on the New York scene with my good friend Matt Beck, a killer musician who’s Rob’s MD on tour and a member of Matchbox Twenty, and he came to me one day and put a bug in my ear that there might be an opening in the drum chair of Rob’s solo project. The massive Santana hit “Smooth,” which Rob sang on, was blazing up the charts; in fact I’d already been playing it in some of the wedding bands I was working with. And I knew of some Matchbox songs, though I hadn’t heard any of Rob’s solo music yet. So I immediately went to work, listening to and playing along to his first solo album, Something to Be. The grooves that Gerald Heyward played were killer, and I really liked the music upon first listening.
MD: How do you prepare before heading out on tour?
Abe: Preparation for tours can come in many forms. I usually try to get in as much playing time as I can before heading out. That way my stamina is up to the level of the demands of the road. I’ve been touring now for about thirty years, and I’m not done yet. It just seems that in the earlier stages of my career, my stamina could get me through almost anything. When you’re a bit older, some things aren’t as automatic as they used to be, so it’s important to prepare yourself for the road ahead of time. But once you’ve done it a few times, it starts to become second nature and you can find yourself a lot better prepared for what may come your way. Being well stretched and loose before gigs helps more than you may realize. And breathing is paramount, which also allows me to focus mentally on the tasks ahead.
MD: Let’s go back to the beginning—why drums?
Abe: It was a happy and joyous accident. I was around fifteen, hanging with a friend of mine at his house in New Jersey, listening to music, and he had a drumset in his bedroom. I sat down, and the first thing I asked myself was, What can I maintain differently with each limb? I ended up coming up with the disco beat, and it was love at first strike. [laughs] Just about every day for the next few weeks I begged my dad for a drumset. He finally gave in and bought me a kick drum, a cymbal that sounded like cardboard, and a rack tom. But my dad was smart like that. He wanted to first see if it was a phase before going out and buying me a huge kit.
From there it was barter and pawnshops, looking for the other pieces to fill in the gaps. I had a three-piece kit for about two years, until my dad saw how serious I was about playing. He then encouraged me to start saving for my next kit on my own, so I got a part-time job after school. After about six weeks I saved enough for half, and then my dad put in the rest. I had my first real drumset. So thanks to Chris, Vinny, and the Bertolini family—and, of course, my dad.
MD: Who were some of your early influences?
Abe: My very earliest influences in music were not drummers. My dad was the biggest influence on me. Being a non-player, he couldn’t read a note, but he could tell you if you played a wrong one. [laughs] And his insight was tremendous. He may not have been able to say it in musical terms, but he always got the point when he had to give me positive reinforcement. And he turned me on to cats like John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Because of his influence on me, I also got into Elvin Jones, Max Roach, and Jimmy Cobb. Not to mention the fact that some of them were friends with my dad as well. My dad was a big jazz fan, so every car ride with him was a musical journey.
Some of my friends and I were listening to Kool and the Gang and Parliament Funkadelic, but I really enjoyed listening to the Who, the Beatles, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, and Yes. I had the funk and R&B influences coming in from my older siblings as well, but I was really a rock fan, so my drumming influences were rock cats like John Bonham, Bill Bruford, and Keith Moon.
MD: When you started getting more serious, what was your practice routine?
Abe: I started off playing to records that I loved. I did my best to cop the feel and groove from whatever the drummer on the recording was playing.
MD: Did you have favorites?
Abe: Yes, a few of my favorites were “The Ocean” and “Dancing Days” by Led Zeppelin, Boston’s “Don’t Look Back,” Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp album, Kansas’s Leftoverture, any Yes album, and Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under a Groove” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep.” That really helped me a great deal in terms of establishing a level of versatility in my playing. When my dad heard how serious I was—he was constantly monitoring my progress—he got me into drum lessons. I had an amazing first teacher in Mr. Bob Heater. He allowed me to open up and really approach the drums not only from a technical standpoint but also from a “what feels good to you” standpoint.
MD: What are a few things that Mr. Heater would teach you?
Abe: We would practice technique from the [Charley] Wilcoxon and [George Lawrence] Stone books, but he would allow me to bring in my favorite tunes to play along to later in the lessons. He was a huge influence on me as well, as were my other teachers, like Kim Plainfield, Rob Wallis, Michael Carvin, Ralph Peterson Jr., Rod Morgenstein, and others who truly believed in me. I tell you, when you have someone who has your back watching you grow and rooting for you along the way, it really goes far. Not everyone is blessed to have that in their lives, so I’m forever grateful to them.
MD: You’re effective in many genres, but what styles are you most comfortable playing? Do you have a preference?
Abe: Thank you! I find comfort in just playing great music. My joy comes from knowing that I’m able to give the other musicians on the bandstand what they want to make the session or tour go smoothly and successfully. I don’t really have any preferences, but if you twisted my arm I’d say funk and rock, but I don’t hesitate to splash in some bebop along the way.
MD: How do you approach the parts from the records that other drummers have recorded, to make them your own?
Abe: Good question. I listen, then I listen, then I listen again. I try to internalize the parts and create a platform, as if I were the cat on the session. There are times when you can be called to fill in for someone, and the other band members are so used to the other guy on the gig that everything else just sounds wrong, no matter what you bring to the table. That’s where you internalize the parts and step into the other cat’s shoes before you bring your own sneakers to the gig. [laughs] Once there, you can start looking for ways to make things a little more like they’re your own.
Another thing I was taught by my great teachers was to have patience and always try to understand what the music is dictating. Don’t bring your fusion chops to a polka gig, but always be prepared and adept enough to know the difference.
MD: What other advice can you share with our readers about becoming better drummers and musicians in general?
Abe: I strongly encourage MD readers to embrace the art of consistency and enjoy where that journey takes you. Let your mistakes guide you to a greater place of strength in your playing. Sometimes mistakes turn into happy accidents.
In terms of what to practice, if you’re practicing to be a better drum-and-bugle-corps cat, your technique is predicated upon factors that may not even come into play if you’re looking to be a great pocket/rock/gospel drummer, and vice versa. Practice the things that will get you closer to your personal goals. But the one thing I’d encourage all drummers to do is to learn to make the metronome your best friend.
Drums: Yamaha Live Custom Oak
A. 14″ Yamaha Maple Custom Absolute snare
B. 10″ tom
C. 12″ tom
D. 14″ floor tom
E. 16″ floor tom
F: 22″ bass drum
Hardware: Yamaha, including Flying Dragon bass drum pedal
Accessories: Porter and Davies throne, Tama RW105 Rhythm Watch, Roland Rhythm Coach, Pintech Dingbat triggers
1. 14″ AA Flat Hats
2. 17″ AA Medium crash
3. 12″ AAX splash
4. 12″ HH Mini China
5. 16″ HH Medium Thin crash
6. 20″ Rod Morgenstein ride
7. 18″ AA Medium crash
8. 16″ HHX Evolution O-Zone crash
9. 18″ AA China
10. 18″ AAX Stage crash
Percussion: wind chimes, LP tambourine