Q. I’m a college grad with a BA in music. I spent three years on the road with rock and show hands playing the motel/hotel chains. I quit because nothing was happening with the group. I swore off doing another top-40 gig, but to get into something else has been tough. I’m studying with Joe Cusatis and I pick up occasional club dates. I involved myself with the N. Y. Recording Musicians Workshop; a series of lecture/ demonstrations with top producers, musicians and promoters. I recorded demos with members of the workshop in various studios around New York City. I really want to learn everything I can about the business, but I wouldn’t go on the road again unless the money was good and the time was right. Any advice?
A. It sounds to me like you should be teaching. I don’t know how many guys have your kind of credentials in music. Being a drummer generally means being a showoff—it’s fun to be in front of an audience. That’s probably why you started playing drums in the first place. That’s what I did! Once we get the talent to go along with being a showoff it gets more serious. I was lucky and connected with the right people. I have very little formal training. I’ve said jokingly that the only thing that kept me from a college education was a high school education! I was one of those punks that quit too early, and it was stupid of me.
Any gig is a good gig. There should be some satisfaction. If there isn’t—you shouldn’t be playing. You never know what a gig is leading to. Right around the corner there is another band, or a recording session. If you’ve been playing top 40, eventually you’re going to be on a gig where they need that. By the same token, you should be playing other stuff. You should be playing Italian music, Tarantellas, Italian weddings, Jewish weddings, Polish weddings and playing the Polka.
You have to do what your heart absolutely forces you to do, and the thing that’s going to make you happy.
I think in the long run, teaching would be the thing. You have students that admire you, that appreciate what you’re doing, and you might be bringing up some fantastic drummers. Just for the heartfelt good to see that you’re helping someone who perhaps is handicapped mentally or physically. There are so many different aspects to that. Perhaps you’re quitting too soon. You’re very fortunate because you can live at home. Fortunately, you’re not laying in the dead of winter in a little town where the agent promised you work and there is no work.
If you can do those hotel gigs or motel gigs, do them. Appreciate them. They will lead to something: better bands, better gigs.
I know it’s easy for me to sit on the back of my boat in California, after almost 40 years in the business, and say “try these things” or “do these things.” I know that I was very fortunate. I think you should count your blessings. Your situation will improve if you hang in there long enough.
Q. I would like to know more specifically what I should be working on to get into the studio? Are there any books on studio work, miking, tuning, etc.? Is it necessary to go to college? I’ve been studying privately for the past year and plan to continue.
NORTH LINDENHURST, N. Y.
A. A person gets into the studio just like a person gets into anything else. It is a matter of practice. You can’t practice enough. There is no such thing as over practicing.
College is one of the most important things that you can do for your life. God forbid, if you lost a hand, a finger, an arm, or a leg and you couldn’t play drums—you would have the credentials, the diploma, just the experience of having been to college and experiencing other college people. There’s a certain mutual admiration, mutual respect if you’ve been to college. It doesn’t mean you can’t make your million dollars by not going to college. The world is full of multi-millionaires who never set foot in college. That’s not the point. The point is the world is also full of multi-millionaires who have set foot into college. It’s very important for you to continue your schooling.
Start going around studios, meeting people. See what studios are all about. Find out if you could watch a session or two. See what the musicians are doing. Get into where you can watch actual sessions going on. I don’t think it’s that difficult. I know if you were ever in California, I’d be happy to take you to one or two. There have to be some drummers in New York or maybe around your town who would be nice enough to invite you. It’s very important for you to actually see a session, see what’s going on, and in that way learn an awful lot. That’s how you meet people. Eventually they’ll want you to do demos. Eventually you will be doing what we’ve all done, doing demos under scale, for just a few bucks just to get your foot in the door, just to play, just to hear yourself back. If you have any recording equipment, even just a mic’ or two, start listening to yourself. Tape yourself. Listen to other records and compare your stuff with the other records.
Most colleges have their own studio. That could be a great advantage to you. You get in there, meet other musicians, and people interested in studios. It won’t hurt. You’ll get in there and before you know it you’ll be doing some of that studio stuff yourself. Eventually, you’ll be getting one of these letters saying, “How do I get in the studio?”
Q. When writing up a resume, what should be included?
A. Generally, resumes are submitted to contractors; the guys that hire musicians especially for the studio. Of course, your resume could be for anything. Absolutely include education and experiences. You might also include a little outline about yourself: what you’ve been doing for years, what you enjoy, your personal background, some of your hobbies, and outlooks. You’ve got to let people know that you’re responsible and reliable; that you’re a non-drinker, that you won’t come to work late, that you want to take care of that business like it was your own. You want to feel a part of a family. That’s just using a little incentive, a little creativity showing them that you’re not just saying you want the job to make some bucks. You want to be part of that family. That’s what I think is important. All the accolades in the world are not going to work. Telling people all of the wonderful jobs you’ve had—people say, “Well, if you’ve worked that many jobs how come you’re not working now?” You don’t have to tell people how great you are. You have to tell people where you’re at, that you’ve had the experience, you’ve played those kind of jobs and you want to be part of their organization for whatever reason.
I think “enthusiasm” is a very important word, too. Instead of a piece of paper that says, “I’ve done this and I’m capable of this,” show a little enthusiasm. Show some happiness. Show the positive sides of where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing and how much you enjoy it. I think that’ll be very important.
Q. I’m twenty years old and have been playing for nine years. For the past three years I’ve been with a wedding band. The other members are twenty-five to thirty. One’s married and has a child. They don’t want to do music full-time because they have full-time day jobs. They say there’s more money doing weddings. I’m considering enlisting in the Army band to save the money to buy a good drumset, microphones, and cases. What advice can you give?
A. What a perfect age to go into the service—if you want—and get some terrific band experience, if they guarantee you that you can get into the band. Half the guys I work with in the studios were in the military service, playing in military bands, and got a lot of their training there.
The guys that you are working with— it sounds to me like they are responsible people. They have responsibilities to their wives and children. As far as their wedding work—I think it’s great. They have to make that money to take care of their families which is really their first responsibility.
There are studios in the service. There’s Armed Forces radio, television, and it’s a perfect opportunity to get some terrific experience playing with bands. Playing with a little group at a wedding is a lot different than playing with a big orchestra. It’s something that you have to experience. Not everyone gets that experience. They have a good savings schedule in the service. You will have some pretty good money, you will be able to get a good set, microphones and the good cases. It sounds like you’ve got your head on straight and that’s very important. I think the service will do you a lot of good if you go in with a good attitude. Don’t go into the Army with the attitude of hating being given orders. Military is one of those things where if you can take orders from your sergeants, you will be able to take orders from great bandleaders someday—or even give orders as a bandleader. That’s very important.
Q. I’m the typical English pro drummer who came up through the “Beat Boom” of the early Sixties. I’m self taught and working a large holiday center every summer, and running my own pop combo in the winter. My father lives in Los Angeles. I’m getting married at the end of this summer and my wife and I would love to join my father in L.A. and start to find some club/studio work. Would I run into a big hassle with the Musician’s Union? I have virtually no money for such hassles due to the very bad financial climate over here.
A. I often receive letters from drummers who want to come to L.A. I’m not sure about the work permit laws with you coming from England. That’s something you have to find out from immigration. Each time I’ve been to England or played other countries throughout Europe, there’s always been a work permit that was gotten through the business management people.
It sounds to me like you would work. It takes time. You have to meet people. You have to hang around and let it be known that you are available. People have to get to know you. Let’s face it, it takes some bucks. You can’t just go sit on your duff and not pay your bills. If you’re going to come, be sure to come with something you can fall back on.
Work is very scarce now in the U.S. Not everyone is working the way they used to, the economy being the way it is. There would maybe be thirty or forty sessions a day going on—maybe nowadays there are only three or four—if that many!
Q. I’ve listened to you on The Carpenters’s Close To You album. You really touched my innermost feelings with your playing; a very important experience on my drumming journey. I would very much like to send you a cassette of my feelings in thanks. I feel you’re the kind of man that likes to share feelings. When God helps me cry because of your inspiration and other musicians’ inspiration— that’s life all in one big musical stage, to me. I finally felt the courage to express myself to you. I know God’s given me the talent to play for a reason, and that I don’t have the ability to express myself correctly on paper . . . but, I hear you!
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
A. It’s a pleasure to hear from people who are so truly honest in their caring and their feelings, and their sharings with others. I appreciate what you’ve been sharing with me. It’s really a big man who can say that he can sit and listen to music and cry. That’s fantastic. It shows that you really are full of feeling. I also think that you’ll always be a happy person because I think that your touching others with your expressions of love and self joy—I think that’s very important. I get the feeling that you’re very poetic and very prolific. I think that’s very important. So, it’s not strange at all. As far as your tape—by all means—I’d love to hear your tape. I think you should absolutely send it alongjust like you sent the letter to MD, and they’ll be sure to forward it to me. I’ll look forward to hearing it.
Q. Regarding the “Staying In Tune” column (Aug./Sept. ’81): Karen Carpenter’s a great drummer? Mr. Blaine, what then would you call a drummer of Max Roach’s calibre? As far as I’m concerned, there are no great female drummers around today. There would be if all the women out there would stop complaining and start practicing.
A. I must say “yes,” Karen Carpenter is a great drummer. She’s great because she’s had the guts to get up in front of the audience and do what she does. She’s had the guts to sit and practice. She’s had the guts to do a lot of things that a lot of guys I know won’t do. They think they’re too good. You say if all the women out there would stop complaining and start practicing—it’s not only the women! It’s also the guys. I’ve traveled all over the world and I’ve listened to the gripes, the screams, the hollering.
When you talk about Max Roach’s calibre—are you kidding? He’s the top of the pile, man! Max Roach is his own thing. Karen Carpenter is her own thing. And you are your own thing. You’ve got to try to understand that. Everyone has their own thing. You will never please all of the people all of the time. There are a lot of people that really love my drumming and a lot of people that think I am absolutely the worst! That’s why I think you will find in life that there is no one who is the absolute greatest or ultimate. You will never find a best. There are so many greats! Karen Carpenter is great. Max Roach is great. I think you’re great. You have to start looking at it that way.
Q. I’m a great fan of yours and John Lennon. In your MD interview you said you recorded with him. What song or album was that?
A. I was a great fan of John’s, of course. We did the West Coast rock and roll album that Phil Spector produced, and I don’t know that it was ever released. I was a great fan of his music, and I was totally shocked about his death. I can only say that through his music he does live on, and he will live forever. When we’re all gone, they will still be playing his music. Keep in mind that we all must go on and continue.