“Some people have the wrong idea,” laughs Doane. “They say to me ‘Wow, you must have been lucky to get in Jethro Tull just from an audition ad in the newspaper!” Modern Drummer readers may remember an Update item about Doane’s (pronounced Don) response to a curious “Drummer Wanted” ad in The Village Voice. The name “Jethro Tull” did not appear in the ad, but anyone familiar with Tull could guess the band’s identity from the humorous hints. The Update column congratulated Doane Perry, a name unfamiliar to most readers, for securing the gig. It is true that fortunate coincidences did expedite Doane’s success in making the connection, but many readers jumped to the conclusion that Doane was a total newcomer who landed the gig from “out of nowhere.”
Actually, no one was better suited for the job. As a youngster, Doane frequently attended Tull’s concerts and had met some of his idol Tull drummers. One of his treasured memories is of meeting drummer Clive Bunker, who took the attentive fan backstage to meet the band and demonstrated the answers to Doane’s Tull-drumming questions. How did Clive execute the pattern on “My Sunday Feeling”? Clive showed his student the pattern, little realizing that the observant young drummer would someday play that tune with Tull. Since that time, Doane has gathered formal training and practical experience in a variety of musical genres, from classical to jazz to rock to folk—a perfect preparation for the eclectic music of Tull.
Before “coming out of nowhere” into the Tull seat, Doane, a native New Yorker, was a busy studio and club free-lancer who, over the last ten years, has tracked 25 albums to his credit and performed and/or recorded with a long list of notables, including Bill Champlin, Bette Midler, Peter Allen, Dave Mason, Phyllis Hyman, Jim Messina, Jane Olivor, Lou Reed, Laura Branigan, Jess Roden, Rachel Sweet, Pat Alger & Artie Traum, The Jimmy Guiffre Big Band. Pat Benatar, Freda Payne, Brenda Russell, Chuck Rainey, Jorge Dalto, Michel Colombier, Teo Macero’s Big Band, Frank Stallone, Sky King, Tom Pacheco, Bill Quateman, Alan Thicke, and the progressive jazz/rock big band, Baird Hersey & The Year Of The Ear. Maxus, a group co-founded by Doane, was a project especially close to his heart. The jazz-influenced rock of the group’s first and only album, released in 1981, never gained commercial success, but the record remains high on Doane’s list of achievements due to the crisp, exact studio-caliber musicianship of the Maxus members.
Doane’s schedule is just plain mind-boggling. He jumps from Tull’s base in London; to Australia, the home of his other group, Dragon; over to New York for freelance projects and family visits; and back to his apartment in Los Angeles, where he recently relocated. During the time of our meetings, Doane was trying to ward off the side effects of jet lag and activity overdrive, before he headed Down Under to make an appearance with Dragon in the Australian Live Aid concert.
At the start of one particular meeting, Doane was feeling understandably sluggish. Health-conscious about his eating habits, he prepared a veggie-style sandwich and a multi-ingredient, blender-whipped elixir. Offering me the elixir, he warned, “You better taste it first: Sometimes I get carried away and start throwing everything in.” It was delicious. The banana taste relieved my fears of having to politely endure a bitter, hard-core health concoction.
With a little bulk and protein in his body, done perked up a bit. But once we retired from the kitchen to the living room and started talking drums. Doane got a vitamins A to Z rush. There is no doubt about what fuels this articulate, blond-bearded chap through his exhausting schedule: It’s D-R-U-M-S. As the drum topics flowed, enthusiasm accelerated his conversation tempo like a metronome dial being gradually turned.
Of course, Doane’s drumming is not akin to his conversation. The dial stays fixed when Doane’s behind the kit. His lithe, 6′ 4″ frame gracefully lifts grooves from his large kit, and locks Tull together with a touch that transforms angular patterns and odd meters into fatback. Meticulously studious about his training, Doane constantly makes notes on needed is crammed talks about teachers he hopes to study with when he gets the slightest amount of free time.
Doane had just received the complete footage of a Tull concert filmed by MTV: “This is the first time I will have seen the band from out front,” he said excitedly, while he rigged up a small monitor. The video was from the Under Wraps tour, featuring one of the tightest Tull units ever: Ian Anderson (vocals, flute), Martin Barre (guitar), Dave Pegg (bass), Peter Vettese (keyboards), and Doane. A highlight midway in the show was a dazzling fusion-like duet between Doane and Peter. Doane enjoyed the video, but at the same time, he was carefully scrutinizing his own performance, making mental notes. To Doane, the videocassette was another handy tool to work with: part of his ongoing list of “things I’ve got to work on.”
JP: Very few of the seminal progressive rock bands from the ’60s and ’70s have survived. The staple air play for the progressive bands in those years was FM radio. As we moved into the ’80s, the majority of the progressive bands that did survive found it necessary to become more AM-radio oriented. A good example would be Genesis or Yes. Both bands have kept their high quality but managed to survive through adapting to the AM format. Tull is rare in that, even now, it doesn’t depend on hit singles and, yet, has still maintained a following for 16 years. Has there been pressure on Tull from the record companies to become more AM oriented?
DP: I think Ian is aware of the desire on the part of the record company to produce what the record company considers to be an AM album. I think the last album, Under Wraps, was a beautiful record, and it had a lot of great radio-oriented pieces of music. It was a very modern Jethro Tull record and a bit of a departure from the Jethro Tull records of the ’70s that sold millions and that Chrysalis Records was accustomed to. They were hoping the band would come up with something like that. One of the hallmarks of Jethro Tull has been that the sound has had a steady evolution over the years. It may not be what the record company considers to be commercial. And fortunately, the members of Tull have never had pressure on them to be AM oriented. They have never been known as that, and they have done very well being a very popular FM group.
If any band were starting out playing this kind of music now, it would have a hard time because there is that emphasis on having a hit single the first time out. I don’t know if Tull could have gotten off the ground sounding the way it does if it hadn’t established itself in a period in which everybody was striving to have a very different sound. Now, a lot of the bands have a very homogenous sound, and consequently, there isn’t that much room for an individual’s style to flourish.
JP: Did you experience that hit-first-time-out pressure with some of the less established recording bands that were trying to get off the ground?
DP: I experienced that from being in a band called Maxus. We did an album for Warner Brothers. At that time, that band was really a fulfillment of a lot of my ambitions of having my own group and working for myself. As much as I enjoy doing free-lance work, I feel that some of my best abilities are exposed in a group context.
I would have preferred a bigger sound on the Maxus album. It was a very studio-type sound. The band members really played well together, despite the fact that we had never performed live before we did the album. The group had incredible potential. Part of the reason why the band’s music was so strong and very uncompromising was because very little got by anyone. Consequently, there were a lot of arguments about how things should be done, and we nitpicked endlessly. That was a curse and a blessing because there wasn’t a middle ground, and it caused us to go our separate ways. I always loved the music, and I was really heartbroken when the band broke up. But it eventually led to some other very good things from people having heard the record. I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing now if it hadn’t been for Maxus.
JP: Your performing and recording experience covers so many styles. What type of music was your initial inspiration?
DP: I started as most kids did with pop music—with the Beatles. Piano was my first instrument, which I started playing when I was about seven. Now, looking back with 20/20 hindsight, I wish that I had stayed with the piano a bit more assiduously. While I was growing up, the music around the house was classical, jazz, and some pop. Classical was the first music I remember that really affected me. I remember making my mother go out to buy a record I heard in kindergarten. It was Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony.” I remember standing over the Victrola and being hypnotized by this amazing sound.
JP: Do you still play piano?
DP: I’ve recently been working much harder at writing, arranging, and working on the piano. I also enjoy singing, but call- ing it singing might be a little subjective at this point. Essentially, I’m a frustrated keyboard player, and I relate to music as much from the harmonic and melodic aspects as I do from the rhythmic. Also, of course, the lyrical aspect is very important. I often sing the words to myself when I’m playing drums, because that helps me play behind a vocalist and frame what a vocalist does. I try to know the words or, at least, sing the melody line.
JP: Do you literally sing out loud while playing, and how does that help your drumming?
DP: Oh, yes. Very often, the words and music suggest to me the part that I am to play. If I can find that emotional thread in the music to hold onto, the music tells me what to play. I only have to fall back on the craftsmanship part of my work when I’m playing music that doesn’t necessarily inspire me emotionally. I just listen to the part, and it will suggest a couple of things. Then, I have to weed it out and edit. But at least it gives me the choices, and that’s why lyrics are important.
Thinking like a singer has helped me accompany singers. That’s one thing I am fairly strong in: the ability to play behind singers—hopefully dynamically, rhythmically, melodically, and sometimes in being able to second-guess them. Phyllis Hyman was a great treat in that way, because she was like another instrument in the band. I tried to breathe with her. Sometimes drummers can be a bit intrusive playing behind a singer, and I think that is often because drummers don’t pay enough attention to the melody and/or lyrics. I have always been song oriented enough that I try to play as if I were singing the song. So I try to stay out of my own way.
JP: Getting back to your roots: From Beatles to Mendelssohn records, you somehow landed into progressive rock.
DP: Tull was one of the first progressive bands I heard. I remember going to see the group so many times, and being riveted to the stage and everything that was going on because it combined music and theatrics. I have also always had a great love of the theater. I’m not sure if Tull combined that wittingly or unwittingly at that time. Now, it is quite a conscious effort on Ian’s part.
Procol Harum was another band I loved, and a bit later, I got into Genesis. Then along came the American progressive music with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Dreams with Billy Cobham on drums. Weather Report was an enormous inspiration also. I got a chance to study with Billy for a little over one and a half years when he was between Dreams and Mahavishnu. That was an amazing inspiration, because when I first saw the Mahavishnu Orchestra, I was stunned into absolute silence. I happened to run into Billy at Frank Ippolito’s Drum Shop and asked him about lessons. He took me on, and I think I might have been his only student for a while. I also have to mention my first teacher, Roger Kahn. He was an absolutely brilliant drummer who could have gone on to have a brilliant career. Roger got me started on the rudiments and reading music.
I only had about 12 lessons with Billy, but he gave me so much material that there were at least four to six weeks between lessons. I still work on things that he gave me. Also, I studied with Barry Altschul, who is wonderful in a very different way. He is more of a free-form jazz player, but a very disciplined player at the same time. Billy got me more into refined technique and reading, whereas Barry got me into conceptual things. He got me to sing phrases and then to try to play them. So it tuned my ear to a greater degree of improvisation. I also studied briefly with Jim Chapin and Freddie Waits, who was fantastic, and various orchestral teachers at school. For theory and harmony, I studied with Norman Grossman. I studied music at New York University for a while, and then did an extension program at Rutgers and also at Juilliard.
Teo Macero had a big band at Juilliard and couldn’t find a trap drummer to play that music. I was about 19 or 20 years old, and I came in to do it. He kind of scared the daylights out of me at first, but he brought things out of me. He was the first person who seemed to extract something from me without my realizing it. He did it in such a subtle manner.
That led me more into traditional jazz. I began to study players like Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Roy Brooks, and Tony Williams. Art Taylor was a drummer who just killed me. By that point, I had a pretty good grasp on rock, but I wanted to play jazz more authentically. Studying these players was a real awakening, because I began to see that the drums held the ability to express as much subtlety and grace in music as the piano or violin did. That was when I began to feel that the drums really could express some of the things that I felt frustrated about not being able to express on the piano. Playing rock can be a bit one-sided, if that’s all you play. It can keep you from being exposed to the subtler aspects of drumming.
JP: Did you then incorporate that jazz knowledge into your rock playing?
DP: Very much so. Someone like Billy Cobham—who had that jazz background but was playing in a rock format—was very inspiring. He had the subtlety and technique of a great jazz player, but he also had the power of a rock drummer. And I realized that that was really the direction I wanted to go in. I don’t know if I would have been completely happy just playing jazz, because rock, pop, progressive, R&B, and folk are just as much a part of my background as jazz or classical. I needed an outlet in which I could express all of those things. In many respects, Jethro Tull is a perfect platform for that.
In the course of two and a half hours every night, we play so many different kinds of music. I’m very fortunate to be able to have a situation like that.
JP: With Tull being a very British band conceptually, how does a young Yankee rookie fit in?
DP: I didn’t find it hard to become a part of that, because the band members really made me feel that my ideas were welcome, and I believed that I was hired for my ability to interpret the music in my own way as opposed to the previous drummers’ ways. I had seen the band with every drummer and loved them all. Clive Bunker, in particular, was an enormous influence on me—and then later, Barriemore Barlow and Mark Craney. Ian gave me free rein to come up with a part if I wanted to come up with an alteration.
JP: That’s interesting. Most people have the impression that Ian pulls all the strings. This is in part because there have been many personnel changes in the band, yet the central Tull concept has remained consistent through Ian’s compositions.
DP: Obviously, Ian has input to everything, but he is very open. Everybody in the band has input. The musicianship of all the members is incredible. Each one of their contributions is the reason why Jethro Tull sounds the way it does. Ian is the head of the band—the spokesman—and writes the lion’s share of the music. But the band, at any given point from the early band to the later, has sounded the way it does because the five individuals are playing their interpretations of it.
Ian is a drummer in his heart. On certain parts, he will give me a marvelous idea that wouldn’t have occurred to me. If you listen to the drum programs he did on his solo record, Walk Into Light, and on the Tull record Under Wraps, you will find that he is a great programmer.
JP: Did you have to copy those programs on drums, and did they translate well to real drums played by a drummer with only two hands and two feet?
DP: I had a hell of a time trying to learn some of those programs. Eventually, we realized that it was going to be impossible for me to duplicate certain parts, because Ian is not inhibited by the drummer’s physical technique. He is just thinking by parts and about what sounds good.
JP: Programmers only need to think in parts, not limbs.
DP: That’s right. It’s beautiful, but it poses a real problem to me when I have to learn it. I had to sort it out, make a compilation of the program, and try to represent the best aspects of the parts in something playable by one human being. Then we came to the decision that it wasn’t going to be possible to represent fully some of the things from his solo album and Under Wraps by drums alone.
So, we decided to use a tape that would allow us to use part drum machine and part live drums. We put on tape the bits that I wouldn’t be playing—the auxiliary bits on the top or bottom—and I played the main body of the part. Sometimes that would involve my playing Simmons and I would be the auxiliary, playing sounds and effects on top. I enjoy working with the machine. It’s a challenge to play with it live, keep the whole band together, and really be locked in with it. Most of the show is still live drums, though.
JP: Most people in the States, including myself, are not familiar with your band, Dragon. What are your current projects with that group?
DP: Dragon is hugely popular down in Australia. I honestly didn’t know who the group was until I got there. I did a single and a tour with Dragon. There will be more live dates, and we will start a new album after the Tull tour is over. That group is 180 degrees different from Jethro Tull. The music is more straight pop and rock, and I love that, too. My role is a bit simpler, but it is a very big role because the drums are a very dominant feature of the group. The songs are fantastic, and the singer is great. I love playing with both Tull and Dragon, because they are very different and I enjoy the discipline involved with each. The musicianship in Dragon is just as good as Tull, but it’s a different format. It exposes a different aspect of my playing.
Some people who saw me with Jethro Tull might have thought I wasn’t capable of playing the straight-ahead type of rock. Although, the way I play with Tull is perhaps more straight-ahead than some of the previous drummers. In certain sections, I want to play in a more direct way, and with other parts, there is quite a bit of very active—dare I say busy—playing because I get to play two bass drums.
JP: One obvious question comes to mind. You play with one band based in London and one in Australia. You live in California and are often in New York. How on earth do you do it?
DP: Yes, that does present a real logistical problem. The last year has been musically incredible, and I feel very lucky to be playing in not only one, but two great bands. But it has taken a toll on my domestic life, because I’ve rarely been home. It would have been impossible for me to be doing what I’ve done in the last year if I was married, because I spent all summer in England and rehearsed with Tull, then did a world tour with that group, and then went to Australia to play with Dragon. I got on the plane to join Tull on my 30th birthday, which is an auspicious date.
JP: Approaching the Tull audition must have been tough. You were filling big shoes, and your competition was heavy—including some major names. Tull welcomes creativity, but at the same time, the group has a very definite pre-established concept. Did you strike a balance between playing your own style and keeping in mind the former Tull drummers?
DP: I wanted to get or lose the gig on my own merits as a drummer, as opposed to trying to play it like anybody else. So I went in there and tried to play as honestly as I could. If Ian didn’t like the way I played, then at least it wouldn’t be as if he didn’t like my interpretation of Barriemore or Clive or anyone. My personality as a drummer fits in very well with the music—and as a person, too.
JP: How has working with Tull changed your drumming?
DP: One thing it has helped is my confidence to be able to go out in front of 10- to 20-thousand people a night and take a drum solo. Before that, I was always a reasonable soloist, although Lord knows, I have a long way to go. On the Tull tour, I keep a ledger full of things that I write down on what to practice. On the road, they set aside a little practice room for me backstage with a drum machine, headphones, a practice drumset, and reading material. It all goes in there every night. David Hutchinson, my drum tech, sets it up, and sometimes I will play right up to the gig. I try to stay abreast of ideas that come to me—especially things I want to work on with the two bass drums.
It wasn’t until I was with Tull that I was actually encouraged to use them. Some- times I would use two bass drums in Maxus, and the other members would turn around and yell, “What the hell’s going on back there!” They heard this rumble like the subway coming through, [laughs] I always loved the bottom-end color that the two bass drums add and some of the options you have available that you don’t have with one. I put off using two bass drums for many years, because I said, “I’m going to get one bass drum together first.” Then I thought, “Wait a minute, I’ll be 65 when I decide I’ve got one bass drum together!” When I went into double bass drum sections with Tull, the other members would say, “Why don’t you play 16th notes or some little figure there.” That was surprising, because nobody turned around and eyed me. There is so much I am still trying to sort out on the double bass drums—like being able to start patterns with either foot.
JP: When did you decide to work the two bass drums into your style?
DP: The first time was with Lou Reed. The first time I played with Lou was a live concert at which I was subbing for another drummer. I had four hours to learn 19 songs, and I had never played double bass on a live show before. I don’t know what ever possessed me to take two bass drums to the concert. Anyway, Lou gave me a solo in the middle. Not only did he give me a solo, but he pointed to the bass drums and yelled, “He’s got two of them!” I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was just letting my left foot wander on that left bass drum.
When we got on stage, not only was it three times louder than the actual rehearsal, but some of the songs were in different keys. I wrote tons of notes about each song. Actually, it was a great concert. I was on edge for the two and a half hours of real intense playing, and I had a great time. The band was fantastic. Lou liked me, and he asked me to do The Blue Mask album and, subsequently, the movie soundtrack for Get Crazy.
JP: I enjoy the way you incorporate your double-bass notes in between the tom notes on certain fills. Did you rudimentally work up some of these hand/foot licks?
DP: I haven’t sat down and practiced rudiments just with my feet like I would my hands. But I practice rudiments combined between my hands and my feet. I use a lot of six-stroke rolls, paradiddles, double strokes, or ruffs with the bass drums. I will incorporate that where it is a part of a figure. That’s something that I developed not so much consciously, as just from practicing and trying to incorporate the bass drums. I enjoy trying to make the balance so that it’s not all top end—so that I have the low-end color.
I’ve been working with odd groupings over something steady on the bottom, and then stopping the top and playing the bottom or vice versa. Sometimes I practice 16ths on the bass drums, and play groups of five or seven on top of that. I will sometimes work on getting my feet to imitate my hands, but it takes a longer time for your feet, obviously. The feeling of your left foot going from your left hi-hat to the left bass drum pedal is a very different feeling. It took me along time to work it up so that it didn’t sound like I was falling down a flight of stairs when I played two bass drums. You try to get even on both bass drums, but you get tripped up because your left foot is used to the faster action of a hi-hat. Often, if I want to play really fast, I will play with my heels down because I can get more control that way, but I lose volume. I usually play heel up and toe down. I have my pedals very tight. People are often surprised at how tight they are. I couldn’t get out some of those fast bits if my pedals were loose, because I have tried to do that on two bass drums and I’m hopeless.
JP: You mentioned that you play straighter than some of the previous Tull drummers. How do you perceive the drummer’s role in the current Tull?
DP: The drummer is the traffic cop in the band. I have to negotiate all these things that are going on. That’s always what I’m listening for—to see if I can make the music feel good. In music such as Tull’s, that is one of the greatest challenges: to make all the diverse elements come together. Between various odd times, there are a lot of metric changes going by and there are a lot of different feels. There are even a few bits where there are two different times going on simultaneously. In that sense, I approach it more as an American R&B player, in terms of trying to glue sections together rather than always playing over them, the way a lot of progressive rock players do.
JP: It is interesting to find a band with such commercial success get away with so many rhythmic changes and odd meters. It’s funny that even one of Tull’s few AM singles, “Living In The Past,” is in five. Tull’s music manages to glue it together in such a way that average listeners wouldn’t necessarily know that the meters are complex.
DP: You’re right. The trick there is to make the music seem seamless. There is a song in the Tull set called “Black Sunday” from the A album. It starts in 6/4, and it goes through some bars of 3/8, 4/4, 7/8, and 9/8—all over the place. And we used to watch the audience clap! It was so funny, because they would be clapping through the bar, and all of a sudden, they were on the upbeat. Sometimes they didn’t realize it. They would keep clapping on the upbeat, and we would be on the downbeat. Then eventually, we would turn around again, and there would be odd bars flying by, and people would still be clapping. We have had girls come up to the front and dance to this stuff. I don’t know where they were feeling “one.”
Some of the beauty of Tull’s music lies in the fact that it is not academically conceived. The music grows out of phrasing, and it’s a very soulful approach. In some cases, the members of Tull didn’t actually know what the meter on some parts was. I would ask them what time a section was in and they hadn’t thought about it. Sometimes they would be counting the same thing in different ways. Once, when I asked them about “Black Sunday,” we discovered that one guy was counting two bars of 8/8, while another was counting one bar of nine and one bar of seven.
The Mahavishnu Orchestra was very special in that way. Its music was very organically conceived. When I studied with Billy Cobham, I asked him what time “Vital Transformation” was in, and he didn’t actually know, until he tried to explain it to me, that it was in 9/8.
JP: Once you have analyzed a complex part by metric divisions, do you find that it helps to throw that away and go back to the phrase itself?
DP: Oh, yeah. After a while, I just stop counting. But on the tour, there were still sections on some new bits on which I had to count. If I wrote a chart, I would try to get away from the paper as soon as possible. After I learn it initially, I do strive to remove the intellectual approach, internalize the music, and just play it.
JP: As complex as Tull’s music is, they didn’t give you charts?
DP: No, I made my own. On Bette Midler’s tour, I found I got very locked in on having the music there all the time and it was very hard to shut the bock, even though I knew the music well. Knowing that the book was there became a crutch.
I actually enjoy the challenge of reading music. This weekend, I will be playing with Peter Allen, and there is no way that I can memorize his book for now. He has long bits and orchestra bits. I can enjoy playing while reading, and it doesn’t inhibit me. I suppose, if Frank Zappa had me sight-read “The Black Page,” I would have a little bit of difficulty. My sight reading is not at that level, but I am a reasonably good reader who is able to interpret what I see.
JP: Tull’s music covers a broad spectrum of textures. You use quite a full setup on stage to handle that.
DP: I use Pearl drums. I have an endorsement with that company, but I had used Pearl long before that. I also have an endorsement with Paiste cymbals, Drum Workshop pedals, Remo, Dragon Drums [acrylic only], Pro-Mark, and RIMS. On the toms, I use the RIMS suspension system, which helps increase the resonance. You can play the drum lightly, and that makes a huge difference to me. I don’t think I will ever go back to conventional mounts. I can play light or hard, and get a real note from it without having to work as hard. I also use the May EA system, which comprises Shure SM57 mic’s shock mounted in all six toms and the 8″ wood snare, plus an AKG-D12 mic’ in each bass drum. I find that this system works incredibly well for both live and recording situations.
I use an 8 x 14 maple snare in the center, and off to the left of my hi-hat, I use a free- floating 6 1/2 x 14 Pearl brass snare drum for a bright sound. Above my 34″ gong, I’ve had my Simmons bass drum pad suspended, which triggers a gong sound from the Simmons SDS7. It also triggers various other effects. In order for the SDS7 to read my acoustic drums, I use an MX1 triggering unit, and Detonator contact mic’s are fixed right under the bearing edge of the 13″, 14″, and 16″ toms. The 8″ wood snare drum and two bass drums have Detonators as well. The bass drums are split into one channel of the Simmons, so that I can play double bass with the Simmons sound. I also use an Oberheim DMX drum machine for tempo reference and soloing over. Then, the Simmons, DMX, both acoustic bass drums and acoustic snares, the sequenced and taped bits, plus Ian’s vocals, flute, and guitars all go into the H & H 12-channel mixer, which I control so I can mix a good part of my overall sound. I also wear headphones for clarity for a good part of the show.
JP: Tell me about the Simmons kit that you play standing up.
DP: I use a set of four Simmons pads. One is the bass drum, one is the snare, two toms, and the “Chinaman’s hat” Simmons cymbal, along with 16″ and 18″ Paiste Rude cymbals.
JP: You don’t use a bass foot-operated pad on that set. How do you work in the bass drum parts, and why did you choose to stand?
DP: The right-side pad is used for the bass drum sound, and I play it with sticks. The band thought standing would be interesting, visually speaking. Standing up while playing has a more commanding look, and for most of the show, the audience might not see me behind my acoustic kit. It was a bit strange at first, because I had to play all my bass drum patterns with my right hand and play the other parts in between. But there are parts where a drum machine is going and I’m doubling parts. So it isn’t as if I must have the bass drum part going all the time.
I am starting to experiment with the Simmons, using my foot as the snare drum pad and the snare pad as a bass drum. Just because your hands and feet are where they are, there’s no reason that they have to be relegated to the traditional application of hands and feet.
As far as other equipment goes, I use Drum Workshop pedals, which I think are the best. I have been playing them for about ten years. My heads are Remo clear Ambassadors, top and bottom on all the toms, and a coated Ambassador or Pinstripe on the snare drums. I don’t use any muffling on any of the heads. I use the Drum Workshop double pedal when I play on a single bass drum. It’s great because engineers often give you a hard time when you bring in two bass drums.
JP: Do you trigger by Detonators in the studio also?
DP: If I am going to put Simmons on in the studio, I will usually do it as an overdub, or I will trigger from the tape into the MXI and into the Simmons.
JP: A moment ago you mentioned Bette Midler. Her gig is a real challenge for a drummer. She covers so many musical bases.
DP: It was, of course, very different from Tull, in that I played a very supportive role. It was very challenging, because we covered bases from ’40s-type swing, to ’50s rock, to funk, contemporary rock, jazz ballads, rock ballads, and Broadway show-style playing. The band was about 13 pieces and fantastic. The big band arrangements were the most fun to play: “In The Mood,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
She is very demanding and particular about what she wants—especially from the drums. That was good, because it made all of us conscientious about our jobs.
JP: You talked to me earlier about your extensive free-lance work in New York—a period when you rarely had a rest.
DP: There were days when I played between ten and 16 hours every day, seven days a week for weeks on end without a day off. I can remember going through periods like that—doing a jingle in the morning, a session and rehearsal in the afternoon, and then a gig: four totally different things in a day. There were many nights when I would sleep only three or four hours. I don’t know how I did that. I don’t think I could go back to doing it now. So now with Tull and Dragon, along with various free-lance projects, I am grateful for having a platform in which to expose my playing. But I would still like to have a couple of months just to practice and sort out all the things that I have thought about.
JP: How has reaching this major goal of yours affected your approach to music?
DP: To really play something that is special has given me a renewed responsibility to my instrument. The audiences are very attentive. They really listen to the band. It meant as much for me to play with Tull as it meant to some of those kids who waited for a couple of months to see the band. I really tried hard to stretch beyond what I would normally do.
For instance, when playing with Peter Allen, there’s a certain thing that is expected of me and I will do it. Now with Tull, there is a level of musicianship that is expected of you, but there is also the next level of reaching for something more. You’re allowed to do that on the Tull gig. There is a lot of room to go forward in Tull.
That has carried over day to day, and made me want to practice even harder to be a better musician and drummer, so that the next time I go out there, I will really give them something to listen to. A lot of people say, “Wow, it must feel great to have ‘made it.'” But I never think of it that way. For all of these past years, I have been working as a professional musician. It’s just that a lot of people didn’t know about me.
If anything, rather than feeling a sense of relief, I feel a bit more pressure to come up with something that is special. Now that I have been given the privilege of having a position in which people will listen to what I play—or even what I have to say [gestures to my tape recorder]—I want to do some- thing that merits that attention.
Nine out often times when I play, I walk away thinking, “I could have done a bit better than that.” But every now and then, the door opens a little bit and this other- world force takes over. Then, the playing comes effortlessly, growing from the music, and I think to myself, “That is what I work for.”