Seeing Myron Grombacher on stage with Pat Benatar is quite a treat. Aside from being a superb rock drummer—fluid, steady, fluent, tasteful and powerful—he is quite a showman. With boundless energy, the man gives 100% and you never know what to expect. You can see him lean back, almost reclining, only to wallop as he springs up on the rebound. Or, you might see him leap onto his seat in an aggressive pose, only to lightly caress his cymbals on the opening of “Shadows of the Night. ” The next thing you know, he’s jumped to the ground, attacking his gong and hopping back to his set on his left foot, prepared to plow into his bass drum pedal with his right as he seats himself. Maybe next time he’ll dance in back of his kit in graceful movement, climb the bar of his gong like an agile gymnast, momentarily hanging upside down. And then he’s back to his seat in an instant, never missing a beat in complementing Benatar’s dynamic vocals.
It’s hard to believe that Myron didn’t begin playing drums until he was 17. He had originally wanted to be a lead singer. “I had great moves, but I couldn’t sing, ” he laughs now. But once he began to play the drums, friends tactfully suggested that he stop singing and concentrate on developing the obvious talent he had on drums.
Once he made the commitment to the instrument, he spent three months of intense rehearsal, playing with records to familiarize himself with various rhythms and feels. He was extremely influenced by Mitch Mitchell because “his approach was very fresh in that he had jazz influences and combined them into rock music.”
Completely self-taught, at 29, Myron is happy with those musical experiences he has had, choosing rock ‘n’ roll as his medium. “I’m a rock ‘n’ roller and I like what I’m doing. I get a lot of enjoyment out of the music I create. “
The interview took place in the livingroom of his San Fernando Valley home, and his drum roadie, Jeff Chonis, joined us to discuss the technical aspects of Myron’s set-up.
MG: When I started playing drums, I primarily played in rock ‘n’ roll bands. Shortly before I became 18, I became the house drummer at a blues club. I had no feel for the blues whatsoever, but I had a brand new drumset which was great looking. Everybody knew who I was from being a local rock ‘n’ roller.
RF: You had only been playing for about a year?
MG: Right. I really wanted to learn it and I was very sincere about it, so I got a job playing there. Sometimes people would come through Ohio on tour who wouldn’t carry musicians with them. The clubs would provide people, and I got to be one of those people. It was an invaluable learning experience in terms of feel, in terms of a groove, learning how to swing, and it was great. It’s like learning your ABC’s. From there, I quit high school and joined a rock ‘n’ roll band called Freeport that was on Mainstream Records. I think some of those guys from there are still active in the Michael Stanley Band and a couple of other bands. In Cleveland, Freeport was the big thing. That’s when I started to record and tour for the first time. We’d go out as an opening act for Alice Cooper, Fleetwood Mac and bands like that, and it was great because I got to see that side of the coin. It taught me a lot and gave me a good background in communicating to people from stage, and to this day, I’m not shy about that. That was probably from starting in front of the drums and eventually coming around to behind them. I don’t feel awkward on stage and I don’t get stagefright. I get pumped up, but it’s not a negative thing. I love it. It’s really what I wanted to do and I’m happy doing it. I kicked around and played with so many people that I got to be one of the better known people from that area.
A friend of mine from the Dead Boys, Stiv Bators, called me on the phone and told me that Rick Derringer was looking for a drummer and he said I should come up and play. At that point in time, I had some other friends who were playing with Andy Pratt and I was going to play with Andy. Rick Schlosser, who’s such an incredibly good drummer, was Andy’s drummer and he was leaving to do studio work. Andy was doing a different form of music, which I kind of wanted to do because it would have been growth as a musician, but Rick was doing rock ‘n’ roll, so it wasn’t really that hard of a decision. It was the thing I had always geared myself toward playing and it was an opportunity to play with someone I admired. Eventually, Neil [Geraldo], who I had played with on and off for years in Cleveland, and I were united in the band and it just went on from there.
RF: Did you get that gig from an audition process?
MG: He had auditioned something like 40 drummers, and I got it, so he liked the way I played because I was a rock ‘n’ roll drummer. But he would do other things, too. Playing with Rick was great because he would throw everything at you. Sometimes you’d be playing reggae music, anything. That’s the way he is. He’s a very good fundamental teacher. He’s a pretty firm person and he’s a well-rounded musician, so he was very encouraging from a creative point of view. He showed you that you could play many kinds of things competently if you wanted to. He was inspiring on that level.
RF: You keep saying “rock drummer.” Define what a good rock drummer is.
MG: A lot of it comes down to the attitude that you have when you’re playing music. A great jazz player has a lot of natural enthusiasm for jazz; he’s very comfortable in the element and expresses the element very well. He can really make it a moment for you. And rock drumming is the same way. It’s only really 30 or 40 years old, and there are different schools of thought that come down and different spheres of influences, but they all interlock. Sometimes you see people who are playing rock ‘n’ roll who are not happy with it. They’re frustrated creatively or in some different sense. There’s enough freedom in the music that you can express almost anything you care to, provided how you put it. It’s like the difference between making commercial music and non-commercial music. As long as you’re behind what you’re making 100% and realize it for what it is, then you would not be embarrassed by it in any case. It’s how much sincerity you have towards what you’re doing. Sometimes you see drummers cross over from jazz and start to play rock and sometimes they are guys who always wanted to do it. They look right doing it, even though they play jazz great. Terry Bozzio is one who plays great jazz, but he likes playing rock ‘n’ roll and you can tell when you see him play. He likes rock ‘n’ roll and that’s the way I am. I like rock ‘n’ roll.
RF: There has to be more to it. I’m sure there are a lot of people who like it but can’t be great drummers.
MG: You can if you love it and that’s what you want to do. I think people set their own limitations in certain areas. A lot of times people are shy or inhibited and in many cases, that’s really not the way to approach anything. I think if you’re sincere about it and honest about it and have enough determination, you can do just about anything you want to do. Nobody’s flown without an airplane yet, but . . .
RF: Then your first recording experiences were with Freeport?
MG: Yes, but none of it was really released—hopefully. We were very young at that point in time. My first important recording experience, in terms of my career, was really my work with Rick Derringer on the Romantic album [If I Weren’t So Romantic, I’d Shoot You], I got to write some songs, it was an active group, we got to help with the arrangements and I got to work with Mike Chapman, who is a producer’s producer. I had worked with producers on jingles and little things, but this was a man who made records. More than that, this was a man who made hit records. So there was an entirely different psychology that went into it. I went through a little trauma there.
RF: How so?
MG: He made me eliminate a lot of things that I thought were really exciting. I had the tendency to overdo it. I’m naturally an overly enthusiastic person and I had the tendency to bring that aspect into my playing. He didn’t think that was in my best interests or his. But he found a way to get through to me, the importance of having a strong foundation in rock music. I couldn’t really argue with him. It was right. We recorded it once my way and once his way and his way held up to a listening and my way, unless you were a drummer, was a bit tiring.
Mike did some things that were very different. It was one of the first times I ever played with a click track because sometimes what he’ll do is when he’s not entirely sure of how he’s going to arrange something, he will record it. I remember one song we did in particular called “It Ain’t Funny, But It Sure Is Fun,” where we first recorded the middle section of the song. We ran the whole song and then later he said, ” I need more on the end, so go in and do more on the end. Keep playing and I’ll tell you when you’re done.” It wound up being in the middle instead of being on the end. He’s got a unique vision that few people have, but it is so creative with what he’s doing. He’s sort of like an Andy Warhol, the way he produces records. Some people say, “Well, if you’re silk screening something, that’s not art.” I think it is.
At this point, I’d like to say that’s when I met Peter Coleman. Peter engineered the Romantic album and, of course, he went on with Mike to engineer and coproduce Patty’s first album. [Most recently Coleman co-produced Benatar’s Get Nervous album along with Neil Geraldo.] For a drummer, he’s a dream. He knows so much about miking and he gets an outstanding drum sound. He’s very demanding, but it pays off. When things were incredibly even, it was his fault!
RF: Were you thrown at first by the click track?
MG: Oh yeah, sure. You have to learn to relate to a click track as being meter, but not necessarily being time. Meter is like the law. It occurs. It’s like when you watch the hand moving on the clock, you see the seconds ticking off. Time is sort of loosely defined. That’s the emotional content, the phrasing, the dynamic qualities. It’s important to play great time and have as good a meter as possible. But if you’re trying to make emotional music, sometimes you’ve got to lean forward a little, sometimes you’ve got to do a little of this, or sometimes you’ve got to pull it back just slightly so the vocal performance is pushed up to the front where it belongs. I think that as soon as you acclimate yourself to that, you don’t have a great deal of difficulty doing it.
RF: The studio seems to overwhelm a lot of people at first.
MG: It’s a very intimidating experience the first time you do it. You come in and all of a sudden, it’s a very different way of looking at things. Listening through playback speakers is very different, and then you learn sounds, and you learn mic’ placement, and technology keeps improving, and on and on. Those are just things you have to learn to become comfortable with. In the final analysis, it’s definitely worth the adjustment. In our band, for example, we try to get as much emotion in the music as possible, but still make as good a record as we can. With the state of the art nowadays, you need to make good performances. People, once again, are dancing and they don’t want long instrumental sections on pop music, which is basically what we make. It’s learning how to do that; it’s kind of a craft. Sometimes you get a little dismayed as a musician when you have to stop and get something right in terms of sound.
RF: There are a lot of bands that have difficulty using their touring drummer in the studio, first time in.
MG: Absolutely. That, a lot times, is a producer technique. Certain producers will have certain drummers that they work with and if you’re trying to make a hit record, the drums are the first step in making it. Producers don’t like to spend a lot of time getting someone to understand their whole psychology. For them, that is a very important thing; that’s some thing that a solo artist, for example, would have to take into consideration. That’s not very often in a band environment unless the drummer is just bad. That is more a producer’s technique and they’ve got drummers that they work with every day, so the communication is good and I can see why they do that. Neil and I have great communication and it’s difficult sometimes for us to work with other people, only because you have to stop and say, “Wait, he doesn’t know what I’m talking about.”
RF: Are you talking about verbal or musical communication?
MG: You almost get ESP where the other person is on the same wavelength. It doesn’t matter what you’re talking about, the other person has an instant understanding of what you’re saying. In the studio, eventually you have to reach a point where you’re communicating and you’re understanding from an intellectual and emotional point of view. You have to be able to see it through their eyes. That’s why a lot of producers do want their own house drummers. And sometimes they’re right. Sometimes they only use him on the single and you hear him and it’s right. Gary Mallaber does a lot of that and you hear him and it sounds great.
RF: You were with Derringer for how long?
MG: Almost three years. And that was a lot of fun because it was a group situation and the musicians were always very good in the band. We couldn’t sell many records, but live, we were an exciting band and all of the players were above average in capability. It was a lot of fun to work with them.
RF: You come from very guitar-oriented bands. Do you often find yourself working off the guitarist in the band?
MG: I do; I was going to bring that up. Now I love great bass players, but usually you’ll find that in most great rock music, the rhythm guitar is one of the most important elements in the music. For example, most bands that were great rhythmically had either great rhythm guitar players, like Keith Richards, or they had lead guitar players like Neil Geraldo or Jimmy Page who understood how to play rhythm guitar. Bands like the Pretenders, who I love, have great rhythm playing. Rhythm guitar is rule one, and I always key to that because a lot of the attitude of the music that you’re playing comes through a guitar. Pete Townshend is one of my favorite guitarists and he doesn’t take a lot of leads, but he plays a lot of guitar. The reason I love playing with Neil so much is that he’s a person who cannot only play great leads, but he knows how vital it is to play rhythm guitar. In fact, this album [Get Nervous] was a bit different for us because there were some tracks where we all played at the same time, which we liked a lot. Prior to that, on a lot of Crimes of Passion, Neil and I would record together and then we would put things on after that, only because we were arranging them and playing them at the same time. We had such good communication and we understood each other so well. He could talk to me, I could talk to him, and we knew what we were trying to get out of it. It was clean and done and boom. Roger [Capps, bass], from playing with us, has developed an understanding of what we’re getting at, and more than anything, we’re going for the attitude of the song. We’re trying to get that point across.
RF: What prompted the addition of keyboard player Charlie Giordano?
MG: Neil has always played keyboards on the albums, but we’ve always sacrificed the elaborate kind of playing live. So in an effort to become more musical, we decided it was time to have the addition of a keyboard player if we could find the perfect person. We found Charlie in New York and he’s the perfect person. He’s so versatile, from funky r & b to a perfect techni-pop synthesizer. Neil is very demanding, and it was right from the start. Charlie could immediately translate any suggestion into a hell of an idea.
RF: How does the addition of keyboards a fleet you as a player?
MG: It forces me to play a little less, which, in turn, is a little better. It also makes me play more musically because previously, most of the melodies were guitar oriented, and now Charlie can embellish the highs and lows of the music, which makes me play more musically. Someone else is making the point and I no longer have to overemphasize, so the band works together more collaboratively.
RF: So then most of this album was recorded live?
MG: In a sense, but it’s an unrealistic live. On this album, we did “The Victim” live. To me, a live cut is everybody in there going crazy. Patty, I believe, repaired the vocal in one or two spots, but that, to me, is live. Neil and I have always played live—plug it right into the wall and hit it. This album was a real pleasure to make because we were fairly confident of the direction we wanted to go.
RF: Which was?
MG: In some areas we moved forward and in some we moved back. There were things about the first album that Patty did that she loved. There was a certain quality to the sound of it and the performance on it. Then there were things on the other later albums that we loved. One was to have more of an energy level on it, a little more rock ‘n’ roll perspective, and not quite as studiofied. We wanted the best of both worlds and I think we got it. The sounds, I think, are more indicative of the sound of the band. When you listen to this album and see the band live, it seems to me that there’s a little better correlation in the sound.
RF: You were with Derringer for three years. When did you and Neil leave that band?
MG: Neil left about a month before I did. The last album we both did with Rick was Guitars and Women, which is the only album I believe Neil is on. At that point in time, Mike Chapman had approached Neil about playing on Patty’s album. Neil and I had made tentative plans to start our own band because we’d always wanted to play together. Rick was moving in a different direction, and Neil and I were more or less moving in the same direction. Neil wanted a little more freedom in his playing and even though it was a band, it was Rick’s band and it was still called Derringer. So it was just the right time to leave. I was still doing Guitars and Women because I was writing with Rick at the time and we still had two or three ideas that had only been semi-developed that we had to put on the album. So I stayed there and Neil went on and did Pat’s album. I can remember his calling me about how excited he was about that album. At the end of Guitars and Women, I went back to my home on the East Coast and Neil called me there and said, “Why don’t you come out and play with Patty?” They were going on the road and they needed a drummer. And I said, “I thought we were going to put our own band together.” He said, “It will be like being in our own band, but we’ve never really worked with a great vocalist and you’ve got to really check this out.” So I said alright and went up and played. It was such a comfortable situation and it was great to work with a singer. That made me streamline my style even more. It’s one thing to play and sing and it’s another thing to play with someone who not only has a great musical gift, but has a really great voice, which opened up a whole new horizon. Rick is really great at singing what he sings, but Patty is a serious, fine vocalist, and for my money, she’s the best vocalist in the business. It was such an exciting opportunity and still, it was very much the kind of thing that we did well, which was the kind of band we wanted anyway.
This is sort of a unique opportunity in that it operates very much like a band, but by the same token, it is a solo performer’s career. Patty is a solo performer. It’s not “Pat Benatar and the Sonic Wallpaper.” It’s “Pat Benatar” period. There’s a little bit different psychology in it, in that you learn how to channel all of your energy into the expression of another person’s art. That is very good from a discipline point of view, which at that point in my career, is what I really needed. I needed some discipline because I needed to refine the style of playing that I was in. I don’t know if it was out of the sense of frustration, feeling that people weren’t getting the point, but suddenly I knew the people were listening because I was listening. You get to a point where you feel you don’t have to say it, that it is being said and it’s being said in the manner you agree with and you support. Sometimes I might not particularly agree with a lyrical content, but perhaps with the overall statement. Whenever you have more than four or five people together, you need a spokesman, otherwise you get a lot of people saying nothing. Earlier on, a lot of my playing experience had been that. When you’re young, this person is competing with that person. Everybody is trying to say it. For the first time in my life, I sat back and realized that there was a person there that was going to be the definitive person to say it. It takes a great weight off’your shoulders in a lot of ways.
RF: It gives you direction.
MG: Exactly. You learn how to focus your energy and it makes you more of a musician because you have to learn taste, which is something I hadn’t really bothered with previously. She was, and still is, so great to work with. We’re great friends and it’s almost like a family atmosphere, which is terrific. I have creative input on a couple of different levels. I can write songs, and when you write a song and you hear somebody sing it like that, you’re pretty happy about it, particularly if you’ve got a voice like mine.
RF: How would you describe your role within this musical situation?
MG: It was not a thing that was imposed on me by anyone else. It was a thing that gradually became apparent. When we first went out on the road, there were a lot of preconceptions about what we were going to be. All we ever wanted to be was a good rock ‘n’ roll band. We didn’t make any pretense about it. The record company had a certain way of marketing Patty that was very weird. Since then, she’s learned to exercise her own control. The good thing about working with her is it’s good to work with people who have good vision and good understanding of what they want. In other words, if you go in and someone is not sure of what they want, there can be problems. I have total musical freedom and she doesn’t ever tell me what to play. But I know what she’s trying to say and she knows what she’s trying to say and how she’s trying to say it, which makes it so easy and so comfortable. I think that just eventually became very apparent to me. Neil and I were much more aggressive on stage the first two tours, but we have since dropped back to a position of support because that’s what we feel functions best for what we do. As Patty moves forward, we move behind her, which is where we want to be. We’re there and we’re allowed to do whatever we want. If you’ve got that kind of attention, you don’t want to diffuse it, you don’t want to distract from it, you want to do what you have to do the best way you can. I think that is the best thing for us. I mean, I want to hear her sing, so I can understand why the audience would want to, too. That pretty much sums it up.
RF: When you are talking about playing for the song, how do you lyrically accent a song? Do you take that into conscious consideration?
MG: Yes. We are what I call a pop band. Occasionally we will make a social statement, but it will mostly be by innuendo. We are not a politically motivated band and the reason why is because we feel that you’re in too much danger of becoming hypocritical and diffusing whatever statement you have to make. You stand to lose credibility. We don’t want to bludgeon people with anything. Most rock ‘n’ roll music, the kind of music we make in the pop format, is made by creating elements of tension. There are a lot of different ways to do that. It’s just learning how to lay back and focus that energy right where it counts the most. All of a sudden you don’t realize it, but you’ve rammed it home. Dynamics are vital. Rock ‘n’ roll, a lot of times, doesn’t have a lot of dynamics because you’re out there slamming away. We play what I call full-contact rock. In other words, we’re out there slamming away too, but we try to do it with at least enough delicacy and finesse that it doesn’t lose the musical aspect of it. We do have a person who has a very musical voice that opens up a sort of practical side of looking at it. It’s a natural evolution and you’ll find yourself doing it in time.
RF: Are you listening more to vocals?
MG: No, I just listen to the general tone, unless there’s something in particular where we would want to drive a lyric home. Then I would come forward with something.
RF: You were talking about the freedom you have within this band. You’ve been writing for a long time.
MG: I have always written, mostly lyrics, although lately I’ve been playing very horrible guitar, which enables me to write music as well. When I write the music, what I’ll basically do is come up with the melody idea and a very rough chord structure, which Neil will translate and expand. It wouldn’t be possible to make the statement as well without him. We all work to the benefit of each other like a group does. I don’t have a lot of creative outlet in the band, only because Patty and Neil both write and they pretty much know what they want to say and they have a lot to say. So I usually end up with only one or two songs on the album, but that’s alright with me because I do have an outlet there. It’s usually the weirdest stuff that I write that we wind up using, but that’s usually the kind of material we need at the time.
RF: On Get Nervous, you wrote the entire song “Silent Partner.”
MG: Yeah, “Silent Partner” I wrote by myself, but of course, we all help one another. There’s always little bits and pieces of the other people’s personalities in there, which I like. I have pretty much creative freedom, although it is a structured format that we work within and we do it consciously and we want to keep it that way. Eventually, I’ll probably want to be in a band where I have a little more focus—self directed focus—but for this point in my life, I’m very happy doing what I’m doing. But that’s by no means all I intend to do. I’m grateful to be in the position I’m in. How many people are in a position where you make music with people you like and love and you happen to sell a lot of records? And we still make rock ‘n’ roll. A lot of people don’t like us because we sell records, but that’s sort of an elitest thing and I can’t really support that.
RF: Well that’s always interesting. When Pat first came out, she was the unsung hero.
MG: Right, and as soon as Crimes of Passion sold seven million records, we were a curse. It happens to everyone like that. But I think the band has shown growth. Patty has shown an incredible amount of growth, and all of us with her, and I think it’s been a positive growth. I think we make better music now; we have more control over the music that we make. Neil is producing the records— he knows exactly what I’m trying to say to him. And the people that we choose to work with, work well with us, so it’s very much an ideal situation in that respect.
RF: You did some outside work recently.
MG: I did a record that I had a lot of fun doing with a guy by the name of Fred Salem, the lead guitarist in the Outlaws. He got a bunch of different people to agree to do his album and we recorded the whole thing in five days. It was amazing. It was called Cat Dance. It came out the week the axe fell on CBS and since he’s on Epic, nothing happened. I feel bad about that, but it was a fun rock ‘n’ roll album. It was almost a jam type of situation and people don’t do that anymore. I generally don’t get to do a lot of outside projects because I don’t have time, but I hope to do more of it. We’re going to do a live album on this tour, so we’re going to take a break from the Pat Benatar thing and Neil and I are going to do something together. We’re going to be doing a few different sorts of things, branching out a little bit and taking it a little bit easier. Since we’ve started, we’ve been on the road non-stop for the last three years. I t ‘ s obviously been worth it, but after a while, it does take its toll.
RF: How does one keep himself together on the road?
MG: Again, it’s a matter of discipline. Playing a rock ‘n’ roll show for 120 minutes a night is a matter of conditioning. I shouldn’t be able to play as hard as I play for as long as I play, considering the fact that I smoke cigarettes, but it’s a thing where I have built up a conditioning to it.
RF: What about pacing?
MG: That’s the most vital thing. I’m what you call an overachiever. I go right for it, so in many instances, I have to simmer myself down or Jeff, my roadie, will. He’s always on stage with me and he’ll say, “Take it easy.”
RF: You’re quite a wild man on stage.
MG: I’m a wild man, and after a while you’re going to levitate right off your drums if you don’t calm down. You could very easily play yourself out because when you run out on the stage and there’s however many people, five, twenty-five or twenty-five thousand people, you get that burst of adrenalin. If you respond to that, you could easily drain yourself. I like to hit the drums as hard and as often as possible, and after a while, you really have to learn how to condition yourself. You don’t shut down. You get to a point when you’re playing where you have to step outside yourself. You’re very much aware of what you’re doing, but you have to step outside of yourself and move yourself on. I don’t mean it to sound mystical or anything, but it’s like a frame of mind that you put yourself into, similar to yoga. A lot of drummers do yoga, but I have no background in that at all. But there is a mental conditioning that comes in learning how to take energy and move it through you and collect it and bring it forth when you need it, while maintaining a constant energy flow.
RF: Do you have a conscious method of breathing?
MG: No, I just try to get as much air as I can, every chance I get. Every one of those breaths count. It’s a thing that, over the years, I just learned how to do and its was very unconscious. I see other small people do it too. I only weigh 125 pounds, but I work real hard. I’ve seen Tony Williams play and he’s got that same kind of burst of kinetic energy that comes out of nowhere. You see big people do it too. Billy Cobham does it. They’ll be playing along and you’ll think, “Oh my God,” and all of sudden, he’s doing it twice as much. So a lot of it is focus, I feel, and just collecting yourself and going for it.
RF: Do you do anything to keep in shape?
MG: Not really. I’ve got an incredibly high energy level and I’ve had it since birth. I was a hyperactive kid. I’ve always had excess energy. You do have to watch certain things, like when you’re on the road, you can’t indulge in anything that might make you feel bad the next day. I wouldn’t do drugs and I don’t think other people should do them. You have to watch how many cocktails you have and how late you stay up the night before. There’s a maturity that goes into getting on the road and staying there. You really have to protect yourself. I have to eat a lot of food while I’m on the road. I lose something like four pounds a night on stage from the playing, so I have to eat a lot of food all day long because I don’t weigh that much to begin with and then I really feel light. If you feel light, you can’t really have that sort of power that you need to play.
RF: Do you find you have to eat at certain times?
MG: Absolutely. It’s all conditioning. It’s sort of like being in the Army. You have to go out there and regiment yourself and you have to condition yourself to be able to do that night after night for six or seven months. It’s not fair, for example, that you would blow off a small town and save it for the Garden. A ticket is a ticket and that kid has been waiting. The people who are in Peoria, Illinois are as important to us as the people in Madison Square Garden. If there’s ten of them or ten thousand, they get the same show.
RF: If somebody is hyper, how do you channel that energy?
MG: Very carefully. That is the thing. If you’ve got a lot of energy, you have a tendency to move ahead as I do. Most hyper drummers will do that. It’s just another form of discipline. You have to realize your limitations and your pros and your cons and that’s how you find your middle ground. You realize that some things you execute much easier. You have to find out with your own body a way to get a consistent level. It’s just like when you’re in the studio, you always have to try to hit that drum as hard as you hit it the last time and in the same place. That way you get that nice, full, firm sound through the whole thing. A lot of drumming is discipline and people have to get used to that and that’s a bit of a bore. Live, it’s a little different. You don’t have to be quite as critical of it as you do in the studio because the studio is something you have to listen to for the rest of your life. You’ve got to be able to accept it and not let it bother you. That’s another thing: learning through mistakes. Sometimes mistakes are very good because all of a sudden it gives you a new way of looking at it. It’s like if you held a diamond in your hand and you always stared at the same place. If someone came along and turned it, it would look like a whole new thing. You have to be able to pick up on everything, including mistakes, and learn not to be discouraged by them, but let them make you better.
RF: Do you do anything to warm up before a live gig?
MG: Yes. We have a little kit we take with us on the road that goes into the dressing room so every night before the show, I can warm up. A lot of times, when you go into larger rooms, there’s a temperature difference and you stand a good chance of pulling a muscle unless you do warm up. I’m only wrist oriented about 50% of the night. The rest of it is mostly arm technique, but if you don’t warm up, they’re not going to respond right. It also helps you with your pacing. You can establish your optimum soft and optimum loud so you’re in touch with yourself when you go out on that stage. I may find a way to change this, but right now, I’m home so little that I almost never get a chance to play other than that, which in a lot of ways is very limiting. I would prefer to be able to be a little more conscientious about it, but unfortunately, time dictates circumstances.
RF: What about your equipment?
MG: I love drums, but I don’t know a lot about them, which is why it’s so great to have Jeff. What happens is you get out of touch with equipment because you don’t go into stores. I do endorsements, so they just send me stuff and you don’t know what anything is anymore. So you have to rely on a person like Jeff. It’s at the point now where he tunes the drums and I almost never have to adjust the tuning. We’ve been together for two years.
RF: Jeff, is it true that you have a special snare drum head made?
JC: To my knowledge, no one else uses this head we use on the snare. We were having problems with going through snare drum heads, like six a night, so we went to the Ludwig factory and I had Bill make up a head: 1,000 mil Rocker white head, 1000 mil dot with two coats of Ruff-Kote.
RF: Doesn’t that make for difficult stick response?
JC: A little bit, but it’s worth it. Myron can still play everything that he would normally play, so it’s not a problem. And they sound great.
RF: Why only on the snare?
MG: They don’t really sound good on the tom-toms, but they work perfect for the snare drum. A lot of times you’re playing it hard and you want it to sound like you’re playing it hard. It brings out the top end in the drum, which we like. If you hit the drum hard, you’re going to get the bottom out of it, but it brings out a real nice crack and it works real well for that.
RF: Do you go through a lot of tom heads?
JC: He gets a fresh set of heads every night before the show.
MG: After about three quarters of a night, they’re done.
JC: They just barely make it through the show. That’s why I have the tuning down, because I put on new heads every day.
MG: Jeff designed the new drumset also.
RF: Don’t you feel like a caged animal?
JC: That’s why we call it a drum cage. But it’s open in back.
MG: It’s made out of cold rolled steel. I always knocked everything over and broke everything my whole life, so I had that made about five years ago and Jeff has since redone it, updated it and modified it so it is more functional. But it’s a one-of-a-kind item that I had made for me by a metal sculptor and a person who worked with structural steel. The good thing about the cage is that I used to break a lot of heads and the way that the drums are mounted in, there’s a shock absorber factor to it so you don’t go through the head. The drum actually moves when you hit it, so it’s a little difficult for the average person to sit down and play. That’s one of the weird little characteristics of it. When you hit the thing, it moves and it makes people nervous. But it works great for us. We can do all kinds of things on the drums that you wouldn’t normally be able to do.
RF: What about sizes?
JC: A 14 x 6 1/2 hammered-bronze Ludwig snare, 12×13 rack tom, 13 x 14 on the right and the biggest one, a 14 x 15 goes in the middle. The floor toms are 16×18 and 18 x 20. The bass drum is a 24 x 16. They’re all oversized drums—the power toms that Ludwig makes. We also have other snare drums. We have two bronze snare drums, one is hammered and one isn’t, they’re both the same size and we have a 14 x 5 bronze snare drum and a 12 x 15 snare drum, which is a converted parade drum. That way he can change off if he wants to. He does break snare drum heads.
RF: Even with the special head?
MG: Hardly any, because for the most part, it’s a very dependable head. It can take a lot of punishment.
JC: But there’s always back-up everything within arm’s reach.
RF: Do you use that snare head in the studio as well?
JC: We also have two timbales, 13″ and 14″.
RF: What do you use them on?
MG: On “Tough Life,” and on the new album I use it quite a bit as well, on “I Want Out” and others. There’s a little timbale solo, but we have this mechanical sound of cutting metal and you can’t tell that it’s actually drums.
RF: What about cymbals?
JC: Paiste. A 38″ symphony gong, 22″ 2002 China type, 22″ 2002 ride, two 18″ Rude crashes, one 14″ Rude crash, and an 8″ bell cymbal. We also have what we call a pizza cutter, which is Paiste’s Roto-sound, which is a cymbal that spins. It’s actually a plate of metal and you hit it and it spins and creates a phasing effect. Over on the left-hand side, we have a 19″ sizzle ride 2002, stacked on top of that, we have a 16″ 505 China type. And we use 14″ Rude hi-hats.
RF: Tuning techniques?
JC: First the drum head comes off, the drum gets cleaned, the new head goes on. A very crucial thing is that they get stretched. I put them on, I tighten them down, not to where they’re going to be, but close to where they’re going to be as far as the tension goes, and then I sit on them or I stand on them and bounce up and down, putting my full weight on them to stretch them out. Then I tighten it up again and repeat the process. Then I loosen all the lugs and I put them finger tight. That way, I’m starting so that all the lugs are the same amount of tension and then I start tuning them. I go in a cross pattern and tune it to where the drum should be. There’s an interval that the toms are set up at. I don’t know what the notes are; they’re in my head because I know what pitch that drum should be at.
RF: Why do you have the 15″ in the middle, Myron?
MG: Remember the old Muscle Shoals studio albums with Al Jackson on drums and how they would always track a floor tom-tom with a snare drum? If you have a 15″ tom-tom, it resonates so deeply that when I play them both together, it’s just like playing the floor tom-tom. I use a double-headed drum and all the heads will resonate as you hit the bass drum. It provides the lowest frequency of the tom-toms, so it’s directly over the bass drum so it resonates even lower. The kit is pretty well cut in half. There’s the high drums and then there’s the low drums.
JC : It’s like having two drumsets: a three-piece rock drumset with a lot of low…
MG: For that big “Shadows of the Night” sound.
JC: And then the higher sounds over here.
MG: The floor tom-toms are almost tuned like timpani, they’re so low. In fact, all of them are down so low, a lot of people hate them because you don’t get a lot of bounce out of them. The high drums are very high and the low drums are very low. It’s an awkward sort of set, but I’ve played it like that for years. I’ve always just looked at it that way. There are some drums that lend to lead voicings. Timbales are always very effective because they’re metallic and therefore they stand out. I like higher pitched drums because you can get a nice attack off of them, but I really like low, solid, very woody, earthy sounding drums.
RF: Those are hard to tune.
MG: Very difficult. We tune to a relative pitch. We don’t tune to exact pitch because I play them so hard, when they go out of tune, if you’re tuned to exact pitch, then you have a problem with quarter tones, vibrations coming from the bass guitar.
RF: Jeff, how long does it take you each day?
JC: I change the bass drum head about every four to five shows, but it usually takes about an hour and a half.
MG: Jeff and I have a terrific working relationship. There’s a lot of mutual respect and it’s a real partnership. In order for me to get through the night, there are different critical points in the evening that will arise. One is, if I don’t take that salt pill, I’m not going to make it through the encore. When you come off, if you put as much into it as I try to, you’re not responsible enough to be able to find a glass of water. When you come off, you’re crazy. Or, a lot of times I slam things and Jeff gives me first aid.
RF: So you’re taking salt pills.
MG: Well, I actually just stopped taking those because we recently read horror stories about them.
JC: So we’ve switched to a half-a-gallon of Gatorade.
MG: But there are different cues during the night. Sometimes I’ll be flying around the kit and I’ll have a gong cue right at the end of it, and all I have to do is come around and put my hand out and I have a mallet in my hand an I’m on my way to the gong. There is some split-second stuff that we do that other people don’t do.
JC: I try to get pumped up as well, even though I’ve been working all day and I’m a little bit tired by the time the show starts. I try to get pumped up somewhere near where he is so I’m alert and right there.
RF: Who are some of the drummers you admire, Myron?
MG: There are a lot of them. I’m probably easier to please than a lot of drummers because I divide things up. I look at it as a consumer and I look at it as a musician. If you’re listening with musician’s ears and someone does something that you might perceive as not being so musically correct… I’ve learned that if there’s someone that I like, I don’t listen to them that way. I love Charlie Watts, for example. He’s one of my favorite drummers. Sometimes Charlie will play something that I think is great, but it might be outside. That’s okay with me. I listen to different people and all I really listen for is: are you getting through to me? Are you saying something that is going to hold my attention and going to affect me? How vital is that information? Sometimes a person will reach out with different degrees of finesse, but you know when somebody reaches out and grabs you. Sometimes you listen to people and you listen for perfection and sometimes you’re not listening for perfection. All I listen for is the attitude and the feel, because that’s basically what music is to me.