Buddy Rich has been a famous drummer for as long as I can remember. I first heard him on records in the early ’40s when I was around seven years old. I met Buddy in person in New York City when I was in my 20’s.
Buddy’s career has spanned more decades than any other drummer in history. And, he didn’t just survive, he has always been at the top. The mental attitudes needed for such a tremendous career could help all of us.
Buddy can be startingly honest about himself and others. He shoots from the hip verbally. He says what is on his mind. Some of what he says I agree with and some of what he says I don’t. No matter—this column is not about any of that.
Buddy has always been dedicated to doing his very best. He has always tried extremely hard to play his best. In spite of health problems, career problems, money problems, family problems (which we all have from time to time), he always played great.
I’ve worked opposite him in a number of clubs and have seen him play in a variety of situations. He has a volatile personality and when things aren’t going well he will definitely speak his mind. I have seen him refuse to play and walk off the stage. However, when he decided to play he always gave it his best, and his best is great indeed.
Less hardy souls or less dedicated ones might have given up drumming in light of his earlier heart problems. And then there was the trouble with his back. I’ve seen him play with such pain that he could not play the hi-hat with his left foot. However, no one in the audience knew it. He played great. He overcame the pain.
Buddy personifies dedication, perseverance, determination and a desire to get the most out of himself and those around him. He sets a high standard and has been known to be impatient with others. He can also be impatient with himself.
I can’t say that I know Buddy extremely well—I don’t. However, I know that the attitudes he exemplifies can help all drum mers develop their own potential more fully. The following ideas are not theories. They are based on my friendship with him and my observations of Buddy in action.
- Strive to be the best you can be. You may not have the talent to be a Buddy Rich, but you can be your best. Give it all you’ve got.
- Play the way you feel like playing; don’t worry about what people say. Some will like it, some won’t. Play your best for the people who do like you. Let the others worry about themselves.
- Don’t get discouraged. Bounce back and keep bouncing back. Perseverance has many rewards. Remember, the more you bounce back the stronger you get.
- Keep developing. Buddy never changed his style. However, he continued to grow and develop his own point of view. Continual development is a side benefit of not giving up.
- Don’t live in the past. Buddy’s cur rent big band never sounds like the ’40s and neither does he. He seeks new arrangers, new music and never looks back. He keeps moving.
- Believe in yourself. If you are not a genius (as few of us actually are), believe in your ability to improve. Keep believing and learning all your life. We can always do better.
- Work hard! Buddy once said to me, referring to hard swing, “If you ain’t sweating it ain’t happening.” You must make the effort.
- Seek out good people to play with. Buddy always looked to play with the best people around.
- Don’t make excuses. If Buddy felt he didn’t play well, he would be the first to say so. He also knew when he was on.
- Dedicate yourself to excellence in whatever you do. Buddy has made the comment, “When I play, I play!”
To me, that means total concentration. Give it 100% or don’t bother. If you play weekends, give each weekend all you’ve got. Make it a total effort. If you are a drum teacher, dedicate yourself to continual learning so your teaching will remain meaningful.
It also suggests the old adage, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” In fact, it is worth your very best effort.
These attitudes are things that we can all learn from Buddy. Whether you are a Buddy Rich fan or not, real work and real accomplishments must be respected. The length of Buddy’s career should be proof enough that he has demonstrated over and over his unswerving desire to do his best.
Buddy’s dedication to excellence is a lesson for all of us. It has been a great lesson for me.