Ron Krasinski is a member of that seemingly endless fraternity of talented but unheralded drummers, without whose skills most of today’s popular recordings and live entertainment could not be produced. Not surprisingly, Ron has a strong and varied musical background, and a track record of work with top artists in several musical styles, as well as extensive studio experience. Currently touring with Melissa Manchester, Ron was holding down the drum chair in Sheena Easton’s backup band recently when MD had the opportunity to get his views on his current and past work, and on drumming in general.
JD: Let’s begin with a little background.
RK: I started out when I was about five years old, playing classical percussion: mallets, timpani, classical snare drum, that kind of thing. I was playing rock ‘n’ roll gigs when I was about 13 or 14. My parents were musical, so they started me very early. I learned to read music when I was very young.
JD: Who did you study with?
RK: I lived in New York for about six months when I was 18, and I studied with Jim Chapin. That was a very expanding experience. He explained the theory of playing and broke everything down. I just practiced the hell out of that stuff until it became natural. A lot of it had to do with centering my body. There’s a point, in the middle of your back, which, if you learn to center on it, will make you feel very relaxed. It just extends all the way to your fingertips and feet.
I went through a lot of the books: Jim’s book, Joe Morello’s book, and Stone’s Stick Control and Accents And Rebounds. That last one was a killer; I loved that book. I got into playing jazz after a stint in the air force. I did three albums with Eric Kloss. Pat Martino was in on those, too, as were Barry Miles, Buster Williams, and Dave Holland. I moved to L.A. in 1973, and my first job was with Don Ellis. I was able to work with him, Roger Kellaway, and John Klemmer, because of my jazz background.
JD: What happened with percussion along the way?
RK: Well, it’s still there. But I don’t usually get called to do it. Now and then I do, if I’m already there playing drums, but I just never bothered to go further into it. I also wanted to get back to playing rock ‘n’ roll—back to my roots. I enjoy playing simple and hard, and putting as much intensity into one note as you would into 50.
JD: You’ve worked with Olivia Newton-John and Barry Manilow, among others.
RK: I toured with Olivia for six or seven months. She had just won a couple of Grammies, and was doing more country then. For Barry, I was called to do some recording. Barry’s a great producer, and he’s fun to work with in the studio—very contemporary. He writes good songs. I also played the Bottom Line with him in New York. Barry likes good musicians; he likes a person who can play more than one style of music. It’s hard to find a drummer who can play jazz and rock ‘n’ roll. There wasn’t a whole lot of freedom on the project, because it was his gig, but you learn from those kinds of experiences. You learn to play as consistently as possible—to hit the drum the same way, in the same place, every time, no matter what the lick is. It’s almost geometrical: You keep the stick on the same plane. It keeps the time more solid.
Three hit singles came from the first Shaun Cassidy album I did. Since then, I’ve done Scott Baio and Leif Garrett, all for producer Michael Lloyd. The Shaun Cassidy recording of “Da Doo Run Run” was a big hit. There’s a certain tom fill that I put in there which was just a three-beat turnaround. Well, I must have gotten called for a dozen dates after that, just to play that one lick. It’s amazing!
I also love playing jazz. I wish I could play brushes more; I haven’t in so long that it hurts. I may be doing a jazz trio album this year with a friend of mine. Playing with Roger Kellaway was a real pleasure, because he’s such a tasty player. I just love to get outside and play those rhythmic turnarounds where I can do fives and sevens—things like that. Roger and Pat Martino can get as outside as anyone I’ve ever played with, and they can come back right there on 1 every time.
JD: I understand you’ve also done a considerable amount of studio work in L.A.: recordings, jingles, movies.
RK: Yeah, that’s where my early training came in handy. You’ve really got to read your ass off if you want to play jingles. You get there at 9:00 A.M., they put a chart in front of you, you hear a fast click, and you’re off. You’d better be able to play it right the first time.
I found that a good way to practice read- ing is to get the scores from classical pieces, get a copy of the record, and follow the score as you listen to the recording. Pretty soon, you’ll start to recognize every figure and you’ll never get figures more complex than those on a date. The rest is just interpretation. As for learning how to play in the studio, there’s really no way to teach that. You just have to learn by doing it.
The recording business is all word of mouth. I would never call someone for a date I was producing, unless I knew that person very well. In the same way, the people who called me called on recommendations, or they already knew me. It’s basically a small community where everybody knows everybody else. And if you’re not cutting it, you won’t be around very long. That keeps you on your toes.
Movie work is much more down to business than recording is. It’s very cut and dried. I put TV and movies in the same category. You get to have more fun with records. You can decide what tuning you want, which drums to use, what kind of groove you’re going to cop, what kind of fills to play—all in accordance with what the producer wants, of course. But in TV and movie work, you’ve got to play it exact. It’s a matter of saving time. Also, in movies and TV, you’re dealing with a lot more than just a basic rhythm section.
As far as money goes, jingles are the only things that pay residuals. I’ve done TV themes that have played over and over, and you get absolutely nothing. It’s terribly unfair. And if you want to talk about videos, well, there’s no money there at all! You do them to promote a record, so they usually pay the artist, but they don’t have to. Sheena paid us for doing her videos, but there’s no law that says she had to pay anything.
JD: Have you ever taught or done clinics?
RK: When I taught, my lessons ran anywhere from half an hour to three hours, depending on how things went. Basically, I tried to teach concept. By that I mean how you feel about doing something. For example, hitting a groove or hitting a pocket and holding it: getting as much out of playing the same thing over and over as you would from playing a lot of different things, playing with intensity, and making the same pattern as exciting and intense as you possibly can. I never taught any beginners, only advanced students. Teaching beginners takes a special person. In effect, it involves getting someone interested in the instrument, and if that person is interested, planting that seed.
As far as clinics go, I’ve been asked to do some, and I’d love to. I think it would be a real challenge, and I think I could put on a good clinic. At one point in my life, I would have loved to have done clinics all the time, but I didn’t have the reputation. Now, I have the reputation, but I don’t have the time. I think I would talk about playing consistently, and playing relaxed but with confidence. Playing drums is just hitting that pocket and holding it. Some people study for years and still don’t understand how to do that.
JD: Can you elaborate a bit on your attitudes toward studio playing versus live?
RK: As far as tuning goes, I muffle the drums more live than in the studio. In the studio, I try to keep everything wide open. If a drum is miked properly, you shouldn’t have to deaden it at all. You need to play with as much life as possible, and then do the controlling on the board. You can take things out—electronically—much more easily than you can put them in.
For live playing, I have to deaden the drums sometimes for the benefit of the sound tech out front, because the drums aren’t the only thing coming through those mic’s. There’s also my monitor, which is right behind me. So I generally have to deaden, especially the 12″ and 14″ toms. I try to keep the rest wide open.
I use Remo Ambassadors on the top and Pinstripes on the bottom. I’ve had my snare drum tuned where one side of it was floppy and one side was tight. Usually, I’ll tune the batter side a little lower than the bottom. That gives me a good crack without that much of a ping. Basically, I always go for what sounds good to me.
As far as monitors go, I have as little on stage as possible. The more you put into a monitor, the more there is that can go wrong, and the greater the chance that the frequencies will cancel each other out. There are certain sequencer parts on the synthesizer that I need to hear, because that’s literally my click. If the guitar is in the monitor at the same time, their frequencies cancel each other out, and I lose the synthesizer. So I have to have certain mixes for certain tunes. But I try to keep even those mixes as bare as possible. I’ll have Sheena up front, so I can follow where she goes. I’ll have the bass and kick drum good and hot, so I can feel them hitting me in the back, and I’ll have rhythm keyboards.
JD: What about your equipment?
RK: Pearl supplies me with what I need, everywhere. I’m using an all-maple kit right now, with deep power toms and the new snare drum with the free-floating shell. That drum’s a killer. I had a metal-shell drum that I was going to use, but this drum is so big and has such a kick to it that I didn’t need the metal shell. So I use the maple shell to give it a little, more warmth, and it sounds great. I’ve been using it on dates, and I get nothing but good comments. I’ve actually had requests to bring that drum.
I’m also using 6″, 8″, 12″, 14″, and 16″ toms, a 22″ bass drum, and four Simmons pads. They were hard to get used to at first. They’re the old pads that are real hard, and
I break sticks every now and then. It’s the same sensation as hitting a foul ball off a bat: It stings a little bit.
I use Sabian cymbals. I love the new 13″ hi-hats with the holes in the bottom. The bottom cymbal is flat, with no bell on it. The Sabians sound a little deeper and give me a richer crash. I’ll use smaller cymbals in the studio, and I never use nylon-tip sticks. I prefer the sound of a wood tip on a cymbal.
JD: How did you get your job with Sheena Easton?
RK: Her musical director called me. They were having drummer problems, and they asked me to come by. I sight-read the charts, and I liked it. I like working with Sheena. She’s got some chops. She sings really well, and she’s very professional. Actually, this is a very professional organization. We have a job to do, and we all depend on each other to get it done. And when it’s done right, it’s a lot of fun. It’s just like a chain. If there’s a weak link, the whole chain suffers. It’s just basic professionalism. We’re there to make good music and to have fun doing it. Some of us are even insured on this tour. The basic rhythm section players are insured in case something really terrible happens. Consequently, on the road, I can’t do things like horseback riding, water skiing, or a lot of physical things that I might want to do, because if I couldn’t make a show, there’d be no show. Sheena would cancel it. She couldn’t bring anyone in to play the parts. They wouldn’t know what to do. This is a very tight show, and some of us can’t really be replaced.
JD: What’s life like on the road with Sheena? Are you enjoying it?
RK: It has its good points and its bad. One of the nice things is having the opportunity to play in a lot of different places. One of my favorite places is the Merriweather Post in Columbia, Maryland. It has great sound. It sounds so good that albums have been recorded there. The Nederlander Theatres are really a lot of fun, too. They’re the open, outdoor ones like the Garden State Arts Center in New Jersey. We’ve been doing a lot of 3,000-seaters. For me, those are just perfect. The Opera House in Boston is a beautiful theater.
Of course, they’re not all great. Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., had so much echo that it was hard to play. We also played a place somewhere in Taiwan—a really big arena. When you hit a G on any instrument, it would go on for 20 seconds! We timed it. I had a tom that was tuned to G, and when I hit it, it went all the way around the dome. That’s the kind of thing that makes it hard.
And sometimes, in different places, we’ll finish a soundcheck, and they’ll say, “Okay, everybody off the stage. “It has to do with the local stagehands’ union. Maybe I’ll want to go back and change a head, but it’s not allowed. They’ll fine you very heavily, or they’ll fine the artist. It’s rather unfair. Sometimes they won’t even let you get back to your trap case to get something out. Give me a break! Soundchecks are basically enjoyable, though, because we get a chance to play for a half an hour or so. We just do some old tunes, jam for a while, and get used to the sound of the place. We like doing that a lot, because otherwise, we don’t see our instruments all day.
On the negative side, you’re in a different city every day, eating strange foods, and encountering some new bacteria. Your sleeping habits are totally destroyed. It’s also rough because you miss your kids growing up. Of course, my daughter can go to school and say, “Yeah, my dad’s a rock ‘n’ roll drummer.” I mean, how many kids can say that?
It’s only really tough when we’re out for a long time. Then I go bananas. If I’m in a place for more than one day, then I enjoy it. But if it’s just in and out, there’s really no time to enjoy it; I might as well not even have been there. If you asked me where I was two weeks ago, I probably couldn’t tell you. I may have been in five cities that week.
But I basically have fun at what I do. If I didn’t, man, I just wouldn’t do it. This is too crazy a business not to enjoy doing it. If you don’t enjoy it, then you should get out of it, because this business can be a real killer, and you’ve just got to get a thrill out of being a part of it.