Drumming for 19 of his 31 years, David began his career in concert and marching bands, percussion ensembles, the 724th Air Force band, Latin groups, and later a host of R & B bands. His list of professional credits reads like a Who’s Who in Music having performed or recorded with among others, Jermaine Jackson, Boz Scaggs, Joe Henderson, Al Wilson, Roy Buchanan, Natalie Cole, Santana, the Temptations, and Rare Earth. David is currently appearing with singer Deniece Williams.
Born and raised in sunny California, David’s musical career began on a note perhaps familiar to many aspiring musicians.
“I started on the violin but it just didn’t appeal to me, so I switched to drums when I was about ten years old. I actually learned to play in school concert band, ensembles, that kind of thing. I didn’t really start to get serious about studying the instrument until I was about 25 or so. My music teachers in school were always trying to get me interested in formal study, but I never really wanted to do it. I finally sought out a teacher on my own and studied with a guy in Oakland named Chuck Brown. I kind of got a late start as far as actual instruction goes.
“I had some college where I played violin and some cello in the string ensemble and I studied piano for a while. I also played string bass with the college stage band. The band had two drummers and I had string experience – so they stuck me on string bass. I never finished college because truthfully, I just wanted to be a drummer. I dropped out simply because the desire to play was much greater than the desire to stay in school. My future plans however do include getting back. I feel a very definite need for it. My feelings about school are beginning to come around, similar to my desire to study drums seriously a few years back. Education is really so very important.”
His formative musical years were spent listening and absorbing the music of the bands coming out of the Bay area of California from which he developed his own personal feeling for funk style drumming.
“I LIKE ALL TYPES OF MUSIC,
AS LONG AS IT’S WELL DONE.
I’M STARTING TO FEEL THAT
I WANT TO PLAY JUST ABOUT
ANYTHING I CAN GET MY
HANDS ON, DO IT WELL, AND
SOUND AUTHENTIC WITHOUT
MAKING IT SOUND LIKE AN
EXERCISE IN FAST CHOPS.
“The bands with horns – the kind of things that Tower of Power was doing – well, when I was learning how to play, that’s what the bands out there were doing. The turning point for me was when I went to hear a James Brown show in 1965. His drummer just knocked me out, I mean, my jaw hit the floor. I picked up one beat from him that night and I just played it on almost everything for a while. From that point, the whole funk thing just kind of developed and evolved in my playing to where it’s at now.
“I also listened to Count Basie’s band a great deal, when Sonny Payne was on drums. I listened to Basie for hours every day.” Though an established pro, with nearly twenty years of drumming experience behind him, David still feels a great need for continued learning and improvement through serious study and practice.
“My practice routine has changed an awful lot over the past two years. The emphasis right now is more on actual playing – the interaction between musicians. I still do practice on my technique though. I’m working on my doubles a lot right now because I just switched over to the matched grip after many years with the conventional. Working on the road doesn’t really give you that much of an opportunity to practice, but I still like to work out for at least three or four hours. I work on my reading – my hands – foot exercises, a lot of different things. Practicing is something that is very important to me.
“I practice on pads and on drums, and I enjoy both. I think you derive benefit from both. In my practice room at home I have drums and practice pads set up and I alternate all the time. For me, it’s a well-balanced mixture of both.”
David’s choices in equipment are typical of a man who likes to do things his way. He hasn’t made any concrete decisions as far as endorsing a particular manufacturer at present, though a strong possibility does exist for the future.
“My set-up is always changing. At the moment, I’m using a 24″ bass drum and 12″, 13″ and 16″ toms. I use a 20″ ride cymbal and two 18″ crashes – A. Zildjian and one K, and two 14″ hihats, K. Zildjian on top and an A on the bottom. When I did all those recordings with Tower of Power, I was using a small Slingerland set with a 20″ bass and 12″ and 14″ toms with the same cymbal set-up, plus a swish cymbal that I used a lot. My equipment now is a mixture of Rogers, Sonor toms with Ludwig mounts, combination of different things. It kind of looks like an old Ford, but it sounds real good.”
When questioned about the pros and cons of multiple drum set-ups, David remarked, “I tried double bass drums a couple of times, but I always felt I had enough to handle with just the basic bass drum and hi-hat set-up. There’s so much that you can do with just that. I don’t feel my playing has evolved to the point where I would want to add another bass drum.
“It took me a long time just to add another tom-tom. When everybody seemed to be switching over to larger sets, I was still with the basic four pieces. I just felt that I still had a lot yet to do. I only add an additional piece when I’m certain I can handle it. Don’t get me wrong, I think you can do great things with a lot of drums. I’m always very impressed with Billy Cobham, and I recently saw Tony Williams and he was using two mounted and two floor toms, and doing really musical things. But those guys must have played a basic set for a long time. It takes a long time.
“But I found – when I was playing with the smaller set – if I wanted to incorporate ideas using toms, I really had to think. To me, it’s much more of a challenge to use less drums, though I’m not against larger sets.” Though he has experimented with single-headed tom-toms, the resulting sound just didn’t please the discerning Garibaldi taste.
“I was recently in New York and I hung around with Steve Gadd for a while. I had heard that he used both heads on his concert toms. Well, he showed me how to tune the drums right. That basically, the top head is for tension and the bottom for tone. I experimented with what he showed me and I was sold. I’ll probably never play a drum with one head again.
“I try to tune my drums to a sound that’s basically pleasing to me; just a nice spread between the bass and the highest tom as opposed to any particular intervals.”
David’s preferences in sticks range from the Regal Tip 5A’s which he’s been using for a long time, to the Vic Firth Bolero Tip. “The Firth stick is a nice long drum stick and though it looks heavy, it isn’t really. I use it a lot for practicing.”
He’s also very well-attuned to the tremendous strides being made in the percussion industry. “I like all of the new stuff. Those fiberglass drums have a real fine sound. I also like the Vista-Lites, I think they sound very good. There’s a lot of different types of effects you can achieve by using different types of drums. A different drum kit can make the same drummer sound completely different, even though he may be playing the same thing. It can make a person sound totally fresh.
“The people from Impact Percussion approached me once, a long time back, with prototypes of their electronic equipment. At the time, I wasn’t ready for it, but now I’m beginning to enjoy listening to that kind of thing. Michael Shrieve has really got those things down real well – very impressive. I’ve got an open mind to anything new.”
David has matured into a sensitive and versatile musician from his wealth of experience and is very much into all kinds of music. He firmly believes in the importance of being versatile, and a good listener.
“I think it’s very important that a drummer always plays what fits, no matter what kind of a gig he’s doing. I like all types of music, as long as it’s well done. I’m starting to feel that I want to play just about anything I can get my hands on, do it well, and sound authentic without making it sound like an exercise in fast chops. That’s important. It’s essential to know how to play all styles.
“I enjoy listening to a lot of different players. I like Steve Gadd, and this guy in San Francisco named George Marsh with Denny Zietlin, he’s a fine player. There’s always someone coming up worth listening to. I also love to listen to Cuban and Brazilian music.”
The opportunity to work with Tower of Power came while David was working a club in Oakland with a band called, believe it or not, ‘Reality Sandwich’. “A couple of the guys from Tower would come in quite a bit. They weren’t working that much at the time and they asked me if I wanted to try out for the band. That was it. I learned a tremendous amount with the band, though I do feel it could have gone a lot further. I left mainly because there were a lot of different things I wanted to do. Spiritually, I was searching. There were a lot of things in my mind that I had to get together and I couldn’t on the road. Plus the fact, we had to go out there and play the same type of thing night after night, well, it got to the point where it wasn’t fun anymore, and rather than sound bad, I decided to leave. I just had to move on. I outgrew a lot of what was going on there, and even though I enjoyed playing the music, I was just too locked in to that one style.”
Currently with singer Deniece Williams, David finds his present musical situation a totally new and refreshing experience. “This job is completely opposite in concept to anything I’ve ever done in the past. Very commercial, easy to listen to, but something I never had the opportunity to play. I’m very happy simply because I have such a variety of
things to do, and I’m learning an awful lot. My funk style has changed a great deal since leaving TP also. I don’t even really care to play that way anymore.” David’s future plans and his advice to young and talented drummers are both a part of his own personal philosophy, concise and remarkably clear in its spiritual simplicity.
“I would just like to continue growing musically. I’m very interested in doing more studio work, and I guess that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing now – to get that momentum going so that I’ll have more experience when I begin doing that kind of work. You just have to stay faithful.to your playing and to your desire to be successful. The Bible teaches, ‘As a man thinketh in his heart – so is he’. A man can do anything he wants to do – he just has to work at it. All things are possible. You just have to go out and find the people who can teach you the things you have to know.”
by Ron White
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