Derek Pellicci

Derek Pellicci

Little River Band

by Susan Alexander

Derek Pellicci, drummer with the Little River Band, began his professional music career at age 18. He played in various bands in Australia and two years later, joined Beeb Birtles and Graham Goble in a rock band called Mississippi. The band went to England and before returning to Australia, met and joined forces with fellow countryman Glenn Shorrock. Shortly thereafter, the Little River Band was formed.”There hasn’t been a great deal of hype with this band,” Pellicci says. “Everything we’ve done, we’ve done just from playing. I think that playing live is the best credential we have.” Pellicci prefers playing live to playing in the studio, but not by much.”It’s such an intense situation when you’re in the studio. It’s so demanding and at that precise time, there is no means to an end. If you’re layering and you put a drum track down, it’s all very boring . . . boom, chick, boom, chick. Then the guitar goes on and you’re not all working together. I really do prefer a situation where you are put on the spot and have to deliver the goods.

“On stage, you can be a bit more relaxed, but I think you’ll find that all musicians are the same. When they are on stage, they’re a lot more loose and you probably hear their best shots when they’re playing live because they don’t have that paranoia of the tape rolling. Without that paranoia, you soon pull everything off. So, there’s good and bad in both situations. “I enjoy playing live just a bit more because it’s freer and I dig seeing the audience get off. It’s more gratifying,” Pellicci says.

On the road Pellicci and his sound engineer, Ernie, work closely together and have definite ideas about miking.

“We use a system of three or four small holes cut into the front bass drum skin for compression purposes. We mike that from different holes to have more or less wind across the mike for different acoustics of halls. The toms are all miked with Shure SM 57’s from the top, one mike for every tom. The microphones are lined up dead center to the playing surface of the toms. That’s a pretty important factor. Where you strike the drum is where it resonates the most. We have two overhead mikes that Ernie puts into a phase situation and we put a mike on the hi-hat.”

He’s tried playing with headphones to escape feedback problems but Pellicci feels it’s quite an involved system of split mixes. It also creates a communication problem because the drummer can’t hear what anyone else in the band is saying unless they say it on the mike in which case the entire audience hears.

Pellicci usually keeps his on stage monitors at a 45° angle to his ears, but he’s really against monitoring because of its phasing back into the kit. “The mikes pick up the drums, but they’re also picking up an out-of-phase foldback of the drums. You can realize the problems,” he says. “You’ve got to be miked. That’s always going to have to happen when you’re playing in large arenas. We’re working at a different stage plan that hopefully will get around all those problems so that no one will fade into anybody else and it’ll be really clean. It’s very, very involved. That, hopefully, will be LRB’s coup de grace.”

Pellicci also feels that not enough attention is paid to the mechanics of drums.

“I’m really into sound,” he says. “I freak out if a drum’s out of tune. A lot of young drummers, including me until about a year ago, were not that aware of a drum being in tune. It’s a whole science. There are so many drum books that come out on the rudiments, but no one writes a book about tuning a drum kit, the trouble-shooting problems to look for and how to get around them.”

He’s thinking about writing a book in the next year or so that explains the mechanics.

“I think aspiring drummers should be made aware of these important factors. Get a good teacher who will explain the drum kit. That’s the instrument you’re going to play, you should be familiar with it. You should get used to taking it apart and putting it together. By the time you go out on the road, you should be aware of what a CS head will do for a drum as compared to a Pin Stripe or oil-filled head. I didn’t know any of that. I just started learning now and it’s really crazy.

“A drummer should get as much knowledge as he can on the mechanics of the drum kit because that’ll help him so much, as much as the rudiments. The way a drum kit sounds makes all the difference to the way you sound.

“When I go and watch a drummer, I see the way that he tunes and approaches his kit. Before he’ll actually play a song, I’ve got a good idea of how he’s going to play. If he’s got a ring in his snare, then I know he’s not going to be a really good technician. If a drummer’s got a ring in his snare or something, then he’s not being self-critical. A guitar player, if he’s any sort of guitar player, won’t play out of tune all night. It’ll bug him. A drummer should have the same critical comment on himself.” Pellicci is a self-taught musician who had two lessons in which he learned how to hold the sticks.

Regarding practicing, Pellicci says, “I prefer to work out on the kit. You play drums and that’s why you should practice on drums. You don’t get hired to play a set of practice pads. The more workout you have on drums, the better.”

Being on the road does complicate things with only 30 minute sound checks a day.

“It’s when I go home that I work a lot,” says Pellicci. “I usually do three hours at home. When I had my accident, I rehearsed about eight hours a day. I really had to work to get my hands back.”

Pellicci is referring to a barbecue accident last summer that seriously burned his hands, a nightmare for any drummer. He was hospitalized and out of action for some months.

“I was really suicidal. I laid there and thought, ‘What can I do if I can’t play?’ The doctors kept reassuring me all the time. They just knew the damage wasn’t that severe.

“The accident made me slow down. It was the first time in my life that I’d stopped.”

Pellicci loves doing session work. He says, “I’ve really got a lot more in me than probably LRB brings out. I hear so many guys playing their frustrations out within the band they’re working with and it sounds terrible. I try to keep a happy medium, and I really suppress any of those chops that sound out of place. Luckily, through the session work I’m getting now I get to play everything I really want to play. It’s a lot more satisfying if you reserve it to use in the right idiom.”

He enjoys playing on disco sessions because drummers and bass players have become an integral part of the mix. “It’s good that disco has come along because it really gets you pushed up in the mix,” says Derek.

He also records many commercials. “The thing I found the hardest to do is to be told what to do, but enjoy it,” he says. “When I’m working for somebody and end up playing this extremely schmaltzy 3/4 pattern with a brush on the ride cymbal and a cross stick, I really have to come to grips with myself.

“I used to walk in and say, That’s great, but let me play this.’ They’d let me do it, but then I wouldn’t get a call from them anymore. That’s the upbringing of being in a rock and roll band and being allowed my free reign all the time.”

He likes doing commercials because he feels they really hone his ability. “With LRB, we spend hundreds of hours on our albums, which I don’t personally like. It’s retake, retake, retake to get it right. Then it starts to sound really sterile. But, when you’re working on a session, it’s sink or swim. You go in, you’ve got three hours to do it, the guy’s paying you to do it and if you don’t do it, you don’t get booked anymore.

“All the guys are sitting around who have been playing 30 years, and they’re going to get it right. I don’t read very much at all. I really have to rely upon my ear. We have one run through and I’ve got to remember where every anticipation is and every thing on one run through. I leave there really sweating, but I love that sort of adrenalin flash. It’s fantastic!”

Pellicci is almost fanatical about keeping in shape. This presents some problems while touring. “I walk a great deal and that usually has to be it. Carrying your case is the one little bit of exercise you’ve got left when you’re on the road. Just that and walking up the stairs instead of using the escalator. That little bit of moderate exercise everyday is worth more than the big weekly jog.”

Any well travelled drummer has definite ideas about the equipment they take on the road. The well seasoned performer knows what equipment sounds the best, holds up well and fits their particular needs. Derek is very pleased with his Sonor solid wood drums. The sizes range from 8 x 12 and 9 x 13 mounted toms, to a 16 x 16 floor tom and a 5″ snare with a 22″ bass drum. He uses three Zildjian cymbals: a 22″ ride and a 20″ crash on the right and an 18″ or 16″ for the left side of the kit. He says, “The 16’s are my preference, but on live work, they crack very easily.” He uses 13″ New Beat hi-hats.

Derek says of his drums, “I just think they’re great drums. I really do. The crew is so impressed with the Sonor and usually the crew is more critical than I am. These drums really hold up. There’s this fantastic awareness of making good drums at last. I’m really hoping that in 15 years time, I’m still playing these or a much improved set.

“One thing that bugs me is that you can never buy an antique drum kit. They don’t seem to be designed to mature. Drums have always been regarded as a clubbing kind of instrument. You buy it and it lasts a couple of years and then you get a new set.

“When I used to use Slingerland drums, I had to play the heads very, very sloppy to get the sound I wanted. When I got the Sonor, I could get exactly the same sound from tightening the heads.”

Pellicci tunes his drums in thirds starting with his small tom tuned to about a D. They are tuned mainly by ear with the bottom head tighter because the tighter the head, the faster the air circulates in the drum, getting a better resonating factor.

“I tune the top head to the tension I like to feel it at. Mostly, though, I start off with bottom heads perfectly in pitch to complement one another. Both heads resonate at exactly the same point.

“We put the bottom head on first and get it perfectly in tune around every lug. Then we turn it over and mute the bottom head and put the top head on and do the same thing and then tune them to the same pitch. The drum resonates nicely and I don’t get that annoying snare vibration because they’re tuned to complement one another.”

The Australian drummer uses Ambassador heads and professes to be a member of the “old school.” He thinks that a lot of the new heads are made to cut down the overtone factor, trying to rectify problems caused by drummers who can’t tune their drums.

Pellicci was one of the first people to use Joe Pollard’s Syndrum synthesizer drums. He’s tried other electronic drums, but says, “Nothing felt like a drum. A lot of the drums I tried were solid, hard rubber pads and that’s so diverse to the kit you play. You’re playing on a set of acoustic, combustible drums with an air resonating factor. Then, all of a sudden, you come off those drums and hit a piece of hard, solid rubber. It’s just not natural. That’s why Syndrums were such an innovative thing. You can tune them to the feel of the kit and it doesn’t affect the sound of them.

“There’s a way of using Syndrums, a way of adopting them. A guy will play a really fast single stroke roll down them and they break up all over the place. They have a very short delayed signal in them. There’s a real art in getting used to them. The more you lay off them, the better they sound. I use them to fatten things up. I usually like to double my snare with them.”

On the subject of fiberglass, Pellicci says, “I’m quite surprised a lot of the guys whom I admire have been flying the flag for fiberglass drums. I personally can’t get off on them. I think they throw the sound around too much.”

He has a very high opinion of Steve Gadd’s drumming abilities, and says of Gadd, “Steve is the A-one technician as far as a reader goes. The guy’s a genius. I’m probably his biggest fan. Both he and Harvey Mason are right there.

“What Harvey can do in a four is brilliant! The way he can break his hi-hats, dotted 16th notes, then into 8’s and then quarter note bass drum patterns with 32 on the hi-hat. He can do more to keep a flow going in a solid four than perhaps Steve can.

“Right down the line, I admire anyone who plays really well. I just don’t dig guys who don’t really respect their instrument. “When you get into your rock and roll drummers, really it’s got to be Gadd, Mason and Porcaro.”

Derek’s musical interests lie in many directions. “I like to keep it broad because of the session work,” he says. “It’s good to keep yourself really aware of what’s going on all around. You can’t isolate yourself. You’ve just got to keep all of those influences coming in.

“I think that aspiring drummers should not confine themselves to being just drummers because that’ll only bring us back to the dark ages of drumming again. Listen to everybody. Get together with your band. Get really involved in their harmonic construction because that’ll really help your tuning and help your awareness when you’re recording.

“Drummers who listen to everything are not ready to jump in to fill holes that are there. I like to think, ‘Is there going to be a guitar lick there? Is there going to be a nice vocal lick there?’ If there is, I won’t compete with it. I’ll save my drum fill for later.”

Pellicci feels that he’s not doing half the amount of sessions he’d prefer to be doing. He says of his future plans, “All of my future is ruled by the band at the moment. It’s such a full-time thing. When the band gets to a stage where the songwriters would like to take three months off a year to just write, then I’d like to go off and work with other people.

“No solo albums for me, or any of that sort of crap. I’m not a soloist. I don’t do a solo in the set, it wouldn’t be enjoyable.

“I’d like to work more with brass and orchestra. That gets your chops together. Working with other people would be nice. You get in with some people whom you really admire and you all work together. That’s what I would like to work towards.

“There’s just a hell of a lot of playing on my horizon.”