Q: I’ve written a song that I’d like John Denver to see. You’re one of my favorite drummers, and John is one of my favorite male singers. How can I reach John Denver, and do you think he will listen to my songs?
JEFFERSON CITY, MO
A: John is always open to singing other people’s music if it’s good. Send the material to Mr. John Denver, Aspen, Colorado. He’ll absolutely get it; he’s the only John Denver up there. I’m sure he’ll listen to it because he always does. You never know when that next big “Country Boy” song is coming.
Don’t forget that there are other artists who are looking for good songs. It’s really quite simple. Find out what label they’re on and send the song there. Be sure that you have it copyrighted first. It’s not that anyone’s going to go out and steal your song, but sometimes people hear things and get ideas. It’ll save you a lot of heartache.
If you don’t have a publisher and can’t copyright immediately—write your lead sheet or melody and a copy of the lyrics down on paper. Put it into an envelope and seal it. Take it to the post office and register the envelope to yourself so that in the event of any legal litigation, you can take this to court and it’ll stand up. The best way to protect yourself is to get a copyright and do it through a publisher. If you have a publisher, then they should be sending your music around.
Q: I’m eighteen. I decided to send this demonstration tape and letter for you to listen to. I’d appreciate it very much if you could give me any advice or help in getting started as a professional drummer.
A: I just listened to your tape and I’m really impressed. You say you want to become a professional drummer—I think it should be quite easy. It sounds like you have dynamite fast hands, but I want you to remember that that’s not all of being a drummer. A drummer’s place, generally, is in the rhythm section. They hire you to help keep the beat, hold a steady tempo, back up the singer, back up the lead guitar player, and back up whoever’s playing solos. When it’s your solo, then you can go crazy and do anything you want. But, I think the big thing you’re going to have to think about if you do want to be a professional drummer is that you are a part of a unit; part of a group. I know that we’re all showoffs, but you really do your best showing off when it’s your turn. When it’s your solo, it’s helpful to really build a foundation for the musicians that you’re working with. They want to hear and feel you play. They want to know that you’re holding the beat for them. That’s part of the rhythm section. Keeping the beat constant and steady—that’s one of the big things to work on.
Q: First, I want to compliment you on your Staying In Tune column. Due to positive thinking I feel my drumming has improved and doors are starting to open. I’m seventeen and have been playing drums for five years. I’m currently in my school dance band, marching band and concert band. I plan on taking music courses in college and becoming a professional studio musician. How did you begin your career as a studio musician? Do you make your own hours? Is it a hectic life? Do you have time for your family and yourself? Do you receive a gold record every time you play on a gold record?
A: I’m glad that my article gave you inspiration to practice. Practice makes perfect. That’s an old cliche, but it’s true. I’m happy to hear that you want to do your own thing on drums. I think it’s very important that everyone do their own thing on drums. Learn from the pros—learn to copy. That doesn’t hurt a bit. Get the good licks—get all the licks, then make up your own licks. I’m really happy that you’re in the school band, concert band and marching band and that you’re going to take music courses in college. I can’t stress enough how important it is, if you’re going to be in a profession, to really know it backwards.
I really started my studio career with Tommy Sands years ago. He was a superstar in the late ’50s. My career kind of blossomed from there.
It is a hectic life and you will not have a lot of time for your family and yourself if you overbalance yourself in the studio. I’ve talked about balance before. It’s very important to not do just one thing all the time. Find things that you can get away from music with, that you can clear your head with, so that you don’t become just “a drummer.” You’ve got to be a human being.
As far as making my own hours, nowadays I’m very fortunate to be working mostly in commercials and I don’t have to take up all the hours that it takes to make records. Commercials usually only take an hour or two. It’s kind of nice to do one or two of those a day.
As far as the gold records—many years ago I was, fortunately, doing a record with The Byrds called “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and at that time, I asked producer Terry Melcher if I could have a gold record if the song was a hit. It was a hit and the rest was history. Whenever we did gold records after that we asked for them. There were a lot of hits and a lot of gold records that did come in from producers who were very gracious enough to give them to some of us.
Q: In touring the country, I’m constantly asked by drummers about drum endorsements and equipment. There seems to be a lot of talk about Tama and Pearl. With so much gear being put on the market, it has a lot of young drummers wondering what to do. I know it’s a touchy subject, but there are a lot of drummers interested in what you have to say.
A: Tama and Pearl make very fine drums. I don’t know if you’re going to find one drum that is absolutely the finest. It’s a personal thing. I’ve played on just about all the sets of drums and they all have something I like. It’s just like test driving: Get out and look at these drums and feel them out. If you’re a professional, most drum shops will let you look over anything you want, knowing that you’re not going to break anything. I don’t think anyone can really tell you that anything is the finest, because one drumset might feel good in the recording studio and it may not feel good on stage, or vice versa. That’s why some guys have more than one set of drums for various things.