While growing up, Eddie Bayers dug R&B and the likes of Wilson Pickett, James Brown, and Aretha Franklin. It seems like a far cry from his position as one of the primary drummers in Nashville, recording with such notables as Alabama, T.G. Sheppard, Deborah Allen, Anne Murray, Ricky Skaggs, the Whites, the Judds, Lacy J. Dalton, Mel Tillis, Barbara Mandrel!, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Willie Nelson, Michael Murphy, Karen Brooks, Shelly West, Dottie West, Vince Gill, and Gary Morris. But to Bayers, music is music, and making music revolves around feel.
Born in Maryland, Eddie spent his early years moving around, since his father was a test pilot for the U.S. Navy. In 1958, however, the Bayers settled in Nashville. There are no early stories about banging on pots and pans or elementary school marching bands, for Eddie’s training was on keyboards. He didn’t begin playing drums until he was 25 years old. Now, ten years later, Eddie has proven that it’s not how long you’ve played, but how you play. On break during a Karen Brooks session at Music Mill (Alabama’s studio} in Nashville, Eddie candidly shared stories about his life of great difficulties and his current victory.
RF: I understand that someone else was supposed to be doing the Karen Brooks dates, but the consensus was that his playing wasn’t “country” enough. Since you were hired for the gig, can you define what country drumming is?
EB: Not really, because the song and the way the other people on the date handle the situation usually dictate that. It might just be simplicity, or maybe it’s something that isn’t in a certain drummer’s mind or heart. Maybe that drummer hasn’t done a lot of country dates and really isn’t able to understand what that is. Usually, that’s more a matter of feeling than anything. My feeling comes from when I first started. I did a lot of pop and country sound-a-likes. So after doing that many things, maybe that’s something I can subconsciously look back at, and it comes out when it’s supposed to.
RF: What exactly is a sound-a-like?
EB: All the licks are copied in the music, and the voice is matched. Everything is legitimate as far as pay goes, and the company who does them is supposed to take care of royalties for writers.
RF: Is this like the K-tel stuff?
EB: We used to have the K-tel account, but that dealt with a whole different situation. That was the original artist, like we brought in John Kay from Steppenwolf and did all his stuff. We also did Faron Young.
RF: So you recut the old tunes?
EB: Right, because from what I understand, after five years, you can recut the hit. If the artist is not signed with the label again, they can pay the artist a flat fee to come in and sing over the tracks you recreated. In some cases, you couldn’t even tell it wasn’t the old track. We did the Gary U.S. Bonds song “Quarter To Three,” and they literally had the FBI come in to hear the track with our count-off, our licks, and everything, to prove we hadn’t bootlegged it. It was a great experience, because we did such a range of people from the Box Tops to Frankie Lane.
RF: So how did a classical pianist become a country drummer?
EB: Most musicians have a sideline instrument that they mess around with. That’s pretty much what I did with drums, even while I was playing piano and studying. There were groups I was in that you would call show groups where everybody would switch up, but it wasn’t anything I did seriously.
RF: When did you start playing keyboards?
EB: When I was about five years old. It was pretty much a situation where I picked it up by ear, pounding out melodies on the piano. My parents noticed, so they allowed me to get schooling. I studied until about my second year in college and then quit. In 1966, I lost my mother and sister in a car wreck. From that, I just sort of flipped out, went on the road, and played with groups. I never really got anywhere. Then I ran into Bobby Stevens of the Checkmates who saw me one night. They said they wanted me to join their organization, which was based out of Las Vegas at the time, so I went out there. I stayed there for a while and finally said, “This doesn’t feel right,” so I came back to Nashville in 1973. That’s where I had my first encounter with Larrie Londin. He was working in a little group down at the Carousel Club, and they were looking for a piano player. I auditioned and got it. At that time, Larrie was still going out with other people whenever he could and was doing some sessions. He helped me get a few sessions on piano. But watching him was such an inspiration. He would do things that just flipped me out. Boots Randolph owned the club at the time, and while Boots was on, we had an hour and a half. So Larrie had his practice pad set up, and I did a lot of talking and working with him. I was there for about seven months, and during that time, I was working on drums.
EB: I don’t know, other than just the fact that I felt I was already comfortable in one situation. Maybe watching Larrie was such an inspiration that I wanted to do it. About six months later, I auditioned on drums for a top-40 band called the Mersey Blues, and I got the job. That was five nights a week, and it just kept going further.
Also, during that time, some friends of mine—Paul Whitehead, Jack Jackson, Pat Patrick and Doug Yoder—had started a studio, Audio Media, which is where the sound-a-like situation started. They were really struggling in the beginning, so at that time, we pretty much donated our services in engineering and playing. As it grew, we got some better accounts, like Walt Disney’s account. Then, Paul Worley, one of the staff engineers, had a friend, Marshall Morgan, who had just finished engineering with the Eagles on the road. Marshall needed a job, Paul said to come over, and they hired him at Audio Media. Marshall knew Jim Ed Norman, of course, through the Eagles, and asked him to come hear the rhythm section they had in-house. Jim Ed liked it, and while he was still based in L.A., he would do his country stuff in Nashville. So we started with Mickey Gilley, went to Janie Fricke and Johnny Lee, and from that it became really successful. Our crew became known around town, and accounts came from that.
RF: When and why did that go from a staff situation to a more independent situation?
EB: It happened in about three years from the time I got here in ’73, and it pretty much grew out of necessity. All of a sudden, calls started coming in, which 1 couldn’t refuse. I kept having to work it out with the people at Audio Media, and it wasn’t fair to them.
RF: How old were you when you started playing the drums?
EB: I was about 25 years old.
RF: That takes a lot of courage. Most people, when they reach a certain age, won’t start something new.
EB: It’s not a thing I can say that I did. It just happened. The love of it was there, and I think that has everything to do with anything you want to do. I think that, if you really want it that bad and love it that much, all the obstacles will be overcome, just from positive thinking, and you will achieve. I think that, if there’s any doubt in your mind, then that’s your obstacle and that’s the worst enemy.
RF: What did you actually do to learn the drums?
EB: I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was in that top-40 band at night. When you work in a band like that, you have to work up the songs, so you have to work up the licks you hear. The situation in the studio helped, too, because we were doing sound-a-likes, so you really had to be more precise about what you heard off the records. My knowledge of music helped quite a bit, because I was able to notate whatever I wanted to and learn from that. I think it was just the fact that I was doing it every day. I was playing during the day and at night, as well.
RF: You never practiced at home?
EB: I didn’t really have to. I was practicing and being paid for it, which was an opportunity that a lot of people don’t have. It wasn’t a situation where I had to say, “I’ve got to sit down and practice six hours a day.” A lot of times that will cause you not to do it, because it becomes monotonous. This was just a “right place, right time” situation for me.
RF: Recording is very different from playing live. It came so naturally to you that I don’t know if you can answer any questions as to how you do it, but can you give any tips for being a recording drummer as opposed to a live drummer? What do you have to know?
EB: Just listen to what’s out there. That has everything to do with what you’ve got to do to keep up. Listening and playing to the music helps a lot. That’s no different from when I practiced my classics. Playing to a metronome has everything to do with accompanying and getting that clock in my head. If young drummers can have their drums set up, put on music and play to it, it would help a lot. These are certainly not things that any professor in college will tell you to do, but these are things that are necessary for a basis in the studio.
As far as drum tunings and things like that are concerned, I think that’s where all of us help each other. This is not a town where you have to worry about people stealing your sound just because they come over to ask you something. That’s where Larrie and the people at DOG Percussion have been such a help to me. When I would acquire a new set, I could go down to DOG and say, “Look, I’ve got these new 9-ply maple-shell toms. What would work best for them?” Larrie or Debbie [Gallant, owner of DOG and Larrie Londin’s wife] would be able to tell me things that I would try. At first, the only problem I had was trying to make up my mind on things like that. I would try what other people suggested, but then after a while, I became more confident at what I was doing. Like I said, because of the opportunity I had every day, I could listen to what one thing did and hear it back on tape. Through that, I found the combination that I know works for drum tunings and what heads to use.
RF: Can you be specific?
EB: I use Ambassador clears on the toms, and on the snare, I use an Emperor clear. That doesn’t work for brushes, but . . .
RF: What does?
EB: An Ambassador coated head. The coating will always make the brush sound brighter. Also, for a good, tight snare sound, that’s the best head to use.
RF: To me, your snare sound is very identifiable. When I first heard “Between Two Fires” and “Second Hand Heart” by Gary Morris, I could tell that it was you. What is it that you’re doing that is different from other people?
EB: I use a lower tuning and a looser snare than most. I also found that it’s important to know your snare, as far as the mic’ combination goes. I automatically know that, if somebody puts a condenser microphone on my snare, it’s not going to work—not on the one I use most often, which is a brass snare. On my conventional snare, which is a regular 6 1/2 X 14, 9-ply maple shell, with a coated Ambassador, pretty much anything will work.
RF: When do you use that?
EB: I use that on a lot of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band stuff where there is a lot of brush work. I didn’t use it on the first two hits that they had—”I Love Only You” and “Sharecropper’s Dream.” But that was the same combination that I like with an SM-57 microphone, which is the all-purpose drum microphone. I think the rest of it is just me—the way it comes out when I play. When I get it to where I want it, it’s hard to be explicit about why it comes out the way it does. So much of that is feeling. I don’t really think it has a lot to do with the drums. The way they’re being manufactured, I think you can take any set, get it where you want it, and they’ll all be good.
The other thing might be the environment it’s in. The Gary Morris tunes were done at Bullet Studio, which has an extremely high ceiling. That has a lot to do with ambience. That also accounts for the difference. You can use the same combination, but the fact that the studios are differ ent changes things.
RF: How do you compensate for that?
EB: It just took a while to find what works. You learn very quickly. As soon as you hit your drums, you go, “Ooooh, this needs something else.” The accounts I have now are situations where the combinations of microphones are just about the same. The only difference is usually the toms, and that’s the difference between a Sennheiser 421 and 414. The 414 is brighter because it’s a condenser microphone, whereas the 421 is a dynamic microphone, which I’ll always favor. I use a loose snare on a lot of things, which can cause a condenser micro phone to break up. It can’t handle the information and distorts. I have used it because I’ve had to, but it’s not particularly to my liking.
RF: I’d like to name some artists and have you tell me what it’s like working for them—Gary Morris.
EB: I’ve been doing his stuff since his first top-ten record, “Headed For A Heartache.” That was Marshall Morgan and Paul Worley producing, so it was like being at home because it was the crew I started with. The most collaboration in that situation was between the artist and producer. We all already knew what to do. Of course, with arrangements, a lot of times they would leave it up to everybody in the room. They’d say, “Let’s wait until we get to the session to decide what we ought to do with this instrumental part.” We used the number system on that. It wasn’t explicitly written out to where I had to stick with one thing.
RF: Are there any projects that have been totally written out that come to mind?
EB: The only one I did was on the 9 To 5 album with Mike Post. He pretty much wrote everything out. And of course, a lot of the Gospel things and jingles are written. I think they don’t write out the rest of them because you don’t want to inhibit the musicians in any way. Whatever made someone else’s project successful—which is why they booked you—is what they want on theirs, so they let you go. They’ll always have little fine tunings for you, and of course, I’ll take care of the rest of that by asking questions: “Do you want this to be half-time? Do you want the snare on 4? Do you want a fill over here? Do you want a broken-up fill?” I get their feedback to find out what their likes are initially, and after that, I pretty much lock into what they like.
RF: I assume you ask those questions of the producer.
EB: Yes. I recently did George Strait’s album with Jimmy Bowen. Bowen is start ing a situation where he is collaborating with the artist and letting the artist produce, too. He pretty much gets together with the artist in preproduction time, and they work out their material. When we cut that album, though, Bowen just said, “Look, I’m going to be on the other side of the glass. If it gets to a situation you can’t work out, then contact me. Other than that, contact George.” His theory was that George knows his public, because he plays for them all the time. Things like putting a tag on a song or having instrumental over lapping become a matter of the artist’s taste. A lot of the things we do in the studio— as far as rearranging this or that goes—don’t really make it a hit or not a hit.
RF: What’s it like to work with Mel Tillis?
EB: Harold Shedd is the producer. That’s a lot of fun just because Mel is being himself. When he’s there, the jokes he’ll tell or the way he handles himself is just so homey. He’ll keep you in stitches.
RF: What does Mel demand of you as a player?
EB: Nothing. I think that’s because, when I first worked with him, there was a really good rapport, and everything we did came off really good. He was totally happy, and Harold was totally happy. Of course, Harold already knew his crew, because we had all worked with him before. Under those circumstances, people like Mel just really have respect for the producer, because they know the person’s work—especially Harold’s work. Harold would ask him what he thought and Mel would say, “Do you like it?” They’d settle it that way.
RF: Certainly, it’s not that easy with a band like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. You’ve got five very strong personalities.
EB: Right. The only way I can explain it is you break it down to the common denominator. You have a demo, or somebody in the band just comes out and plays it for you. Then it becomes a situation where Marshall, Paul, Jeff, John, and everybody will discuss it. Usually, the only outsiders in that situation are me, Joe Osborne, and Steve Bigson.
RF: So you’ll listen to them argue?
EB: No, I don’t remember anything like that happening. There might be a standup-for-what-you-think-is-right discussion, but it never gets out of hand. Usually, it’s a situation where one will let the other try his idea. There’s a quote from Jim Ed Norman: “It sounded good until I heard it.” They even give me that right. If I think something should be a certain way, I’ll ask to try it and they let me. That’s the only time-consuming part of it, but it’s still a thing that doesn’t get boring because everything is valid. There are some sessions where they’re obviously fishing, nothing is coming out of it, and you know they’re bad ideas to begin with. But every idea that we’ve ever gone through, especially on the Dirt Band’s stuff, has been necessary and valid to get it down to where it got to. It’s a lot of work, but it’s so well worth it when I listen to the product. I’m proud of being involved with them. If people could be there from the beginning and see what we started with, they’d be amazed at how dynamically it was formed into what it is. A lot of that has to do with chemistry, because the Dirt Band was obviously with other people before they came to Marshall and Paul, but it wasn’t working. Maybe they were inhibited and were told what to do when, in fact, they are pretty valid in what and who they are and what they need to do. It’s a beautiful marriage of producer/artist there where everything is open. There are situations where we’ll do a song, get down to the common denominator, and realize that’s not the right song. I never lose interest because it’s interesting to see how everything works. When it goes by and everybody says, “Yeah! That is it!” it’s great. And then there are some that just fall together.
RF: Tell me about working with Ricky Skaggs.
EB: It’s wonderful. It’s a very small group. The only difference between that and working with a larger group like Nitty Gritty is that Nitty Gritty is a band, and they’re all so good. A lot of times, when you’re in there with a big crew, you’re not in a band. You’re in there with six or seven people who are waiting to be told what to do. Of course, a producer can only handle so much at a time, so it can be chaos for a little while. In Ricky’s situation, we use five people—acoustic guitar, maybe a dobro and/or steel, piano, bass and drums. On the Whites’ stuff, we used four—Ricky, piano, Joe Osborne, and me. Ricky is such a solid rhythm player.
RF: When it is a group, like Alabama, do you ever feel outside of it—like a man for hire?
EB: On Alabama’s stuff, of course, we’re talking about Harold Shedd again, and the only other thing to deal with would be the guys. They pretty much swap in and out. One will come in and do something, and then another will. Of course, Randy Owen sings all of them. I have never felt that way. It is always a homey feeling. They all have different techniques on how to get what they get. Randy concentrates on his vocal so much that you sort of go along with him, and try not to peak before you see that that’s happening, since he is so explicit about his vocals.
RF: What are Anne Murray’s sessions like?
EB: They are wonderful, too. It’s just one of those situations where you hear that voice in the ‘phones, and you’re ready to play because it’s soooo good. That’s Jim Ed. It’s hard to explain, but it’s just that, after so many years, things just kind of merge into each other. You just look forward to making good records.
RF: Were you nervous when you started, feeling out everybody and getting comfortable?
EB: I don’t think so. I’m trying to remember, because it’s been four years. The only nervousness I would feel would be if the producer would say something about a snare sound, when I was still searching for what I felt was my sound. The producer might say, “Can you do anything about this and that?” And that might be intimidating, initially. Once you lock in and know yourself, it’s fine. Experience takes care of that.
RF: One of the most crucial elements of studio recording is communication and personality. Do you ever feel, after three sessions a day, that those things wear thin?
EB: No. Of course it depends on what you’re doing. If you’re into some project that is obviously boring, and you’re dealing with somebody who is fishing and doesn’t really have valid ideas—and you just know that because of the experience you’ve had working with people who do know—or it’s just a situation where that person’s style is not your style, then it can become tiring. However, you know it’s only for two or three days and then it will be over with, so you go on. But I love every minute of it. And every time a song comes on the radio, I’m thrilled. The people I work with are so song oriented, and the song is always good. If it wasn’t for the family, I’d fill in every slot, because it’s just a joy to work in the studio and watch something develop.
RF: What about that issue of realizing that your family needs you, too?
EB: Obviously, the first thing that ever happens to musicians is the statement they make of, “Nothing comes before this.” Usually that is because people become musicians before they have families. They’ve worked at it all those years and paid their dues. It’s been with them so long that they don’t want to let anything conflict with that. But it just depends on where your priorities are, and I think the correct word for that is balancing it out.
RF: When you’re doing three sessions a day, how do you manage to live a healthy, balanced life?
EB: That is actually something I wanted to talk about. I went through a period thinking that I could sustain myself with drugs. If you’re going to work two or three sessions a day, obviously, when you start burning out, what better way to rejuvenate yourself than to get some drugs, speed, or whatever. The burn-out factor comes a lot quicker that way, though. It could possibly even be a permanent burn-out, as far as your career is concerned, because you lose total perspective. You can rely on your technical ability, but you can forget the gift that you have for whatever feeling you can put in. It just cancels that out. You have to take some time off. I take the time off because of the family, even though I literally would not need to. Now I can keep going on just pure energy.
RF: How did you know you had a problem?
EB: I would get into situations where things wouldn’t lock in. I’d get into a session and things just wouldn’t click. Obviously, I still get into sessions, even now, where there might be a mismatch of people, and somebody might be pushing or pulling. But when you’re in your true state of mind, you know exactly what is going on.
The drugs can really hold you back, though. I’ll tell you the truth: My whole situation here didn’t develop until I took care of my problem. When I was getting high all the time, there was something inside me telling me that it was bothering me, though. But the difference it made was incredible. Instead of seeing a straight line in a rhythm, I was able to see the hills and valleys and the feel of making things do what they’re supposed to do, and the feel of the control I had. Unfortunately, initially, it did make me feel like I was playing my butt off. I’d take a hit of speed and just dazzle myself, but it catches up with you so quickly.
RF: Do you recall certain difficult or challenging sessions, or particularly creative ones?
EB: Not really. The only thing out of the ordinary about the Judds’ situation was that I met producer Brent Maher through a situation where I was doing jingles and he was engineering. He liked what I did, and I liked what he did. He found these two women when his daughter was in the hospital. He had met this nurse who said she had a daughter who sings. They weren’t signed with RCA yet, but that’s what they were looking at. It was one of those situations where I saw what we did turn into a monster. Awards, Grammys—it’s just incredible, and so quick. That excites me to have seen all that.
RF: Do you do a great deal of overdubbing in the Nashville studios?
EB: I don’t at all. If a project calls for that and I am using a computer—the Linn and the Simmons—of course, I have to do that. But usually, the only overdubbing I’ve had to do has been in a situation where a producer has had second thoughts and wanted to have a deeper snare or something. Other than that, most of the stuff I do just goes down as it is.
RF: How much electronics are you working with?
EB: Right now, quite a bit. On Deborah Allen’s recent record, Let Me Be The First, there is pretty much full-fledged Simmons mixed with my drums, and a Linn combination with that. We clicked a lot of it. On Alabama’s record, I used electronics, and I also used them on Glen Campbell’s recent record and on the one prior to that, Faithless Love. In those situations, though, I don’t exaggerate them. I use them to support what I have, just to make the tom big.
RF: Do they use click tracks a lot down here in Nashville?
EB: I try not to use them, but there are some people who would rather have them because they do spend a lot of time on a track. When you get tired of a song, you’re not going to put as much into it. The only time I really like using them is to take the edge off or put an edge on. Everybody is just as important as the other, as far as get ting a feel is concerned. It’s not just the drummer who keeps the time. That’s who obviously has the feel, but it’s important for everybody else to play with the drummer. Of course, with the crews that I play in now so much, there’s no problem and that “chemistry” happens in the room. But under certain situations, it might be a thing where the click helps to slow it down a couple of beats per minute. You can use that for two rundowns. Then it gets locked, and everybody’s there. You can shut it off, and it has some feel to it.
RF: So you feel that the click inhibits you?
EB: Well, I don’t think it inhibits the drummer. I think it inhibits the other people. It depends on the people who have worked with it. Obviously, the people who are hip to it know that, unless it’s absolutely necessary, you don’t have to play right with it. You can play along with it and work it out so, if you want the chorus to still have a laid-back feeling, you can lay behind the click. As soon as it’s turned on, so many people think, “Oh, it’s a test of my skills,” and all of a sudden you don’t have their feel. You have them listening to a click. In some situations, I may have them just feed me the click, which is what I did on Deborah’s album, unless it’s a situation where there’s a lot of a cappella work in front, which everybody has to do before I come in. But I’d say that’s about 35% of what I do. We just let the rest of it happen.
I was working with John Hobbs, a piano player from L.A., and we were talking about the situation out in L. A. and the percentage of stuff that comes out of L.A. that’s real anymore. Sixty-five percent is either self-contained bands or computer records. They’re good, but it’s so different. I love the way it is in this town. It would be hard for me to imagine Ricky’s stuff, the Judds’ stuff, or the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s stuff being done like that. I just don’t know how that could come out of Fairlight computer.
RF: There seems to be an attitude about country drummers because people think country music is so easy to play.
EB: I’ve heard statements where they’ve said you have to lower your intelligence to play country music. I couldn’t believe it. It was a drummer who said he was getting tired of having to lower himself to do this kind of stuff. I think it was a statement pertaining more to him, because he is so capable of doing other things. But then I think, “Go for it. If you have to do other things, do them.”
RF: I think people tend to think that something simple, musically, is easy to do. Simplicity in drums can actually be harder. Watching you out there working on Karen Brooks’ material was like watching a metronome. It’s easier when you’re dealing with a lot of music and a lot of instruments.
EB: Oh yeah, because it’s all there. You’re hearing it, instead of having to imagine what will sound good after everything is on it. In a lot of situations, you’ll work with a vocal and you’ll hear the way they sing a chorus as opposed to the verse. The chorus may be less wordy than the verse, but still, you work off of that. Then you’ll come back in, shut the vocal off, and listen to the track. Once I hear it, I know what to do even without the vocalist there.
RF: Do you tend to work more off the vocal?
EB: Yes. There are some people I work with who I know will have to go back in and do their thing again, because they’re really not putting everything into it. But a lot of those I work with do, such as Anne Murray, John Connelly, and the Judds. Under those circumstances, you pretty much know what you’re going to have to do.
RF: What about working with bass players? You mentioned Joe Osborne, who is almost legendary.
EB: Yes, he is. I definitely work more off the bass, bottom end-wise, because it has so much to do with the kick and the bass. That might just be the first thought, though, because obviously acoustic guitars or rhythm pianos have everything to do with your feel. Those definitely have to be considered.
RF: Do you feel that your classical piano background has helped your approach to the drums?
EB: Definitely. I feel it makes me more musical. I don’t look at a chart as a rhythm chart. I look at the music as music. Before, I felt like I just played drums. Now, I feel that I play songs. If somebody plays me a song, I know what to do immediately. A lot of that has to do with the training I got from Jim Ed Norman, because he’s such a song man. I would watch him get down to the common denominator, and I saw how it was done. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I allowed that, because there are a lot of people who get into a situation where they don’t want to be told what to do. Once they’ve achieved a certain place, they feel “I am who I am. Let me do it, and it will work.” To a certain extent, I might agree with that, but then to the other extent, I would say that when you’re dealing with people like Harold Shedd, Jim Ed Norman, Bud Logan, Brent Maher, and everybody else who is a good producer and song person, you want to work with them. You want to find out what they want to do. To me, that is the bottom line. They hired me; I didn’t hire them, and I think that’ s a concept that a lot of people lose when they go in.
RF: When you initially walk into a session, what happens? Do you see the music first; do you sit with the producer; do you confer first? How does all that work?
EB: The first thing is the sound. I work with the engineer. The producer mostly relies on the engineer for the sound, unless there’s something the producer specifically heard on a demo that I have to go for in that particular song. Most of the people I work for now have the music already written, so I’ve got it. Then they play the demo, or the artist plays it, and I’ll work off of that. After that’s learned, the next thing is usually going to the piano with the artist and producer. They run it down, because usually the music is changed from what we’re hearing on the demo, unless it is exactly what they want. And they’ll say, “Don’t worry about this one part. It’s not there.” So I’ll hear the artist do it with just one instrument, and the next thing is going in and running it down for blend. Usually on the rundown, I’ll have first impressions from everybody, which will give the producer a lot of alternatives. The producer will come back and say, “Hey, what you were doing there—do that. I didn’t think about it that way, but do that.” I try to do basically what just comes out on the first rundown and then start toning it down.
RF: You’ve mentioned a lot of producers in the course of this conversation. Are there any you’ve left out that you’ve particularly enjoyed working with?
EB: Barry Beckett. He’s one I certainly looked forward to working with, because of his notoriety in R&B and all of us being raised on that. Barry is so groove oriented. He can really get a section to do what it’s supposed to do. It always helps me to put down a rough after running it down because there are types of feels that are delusions in the mind. When you’re playing them, you might be right on the money with the tempo and everything, but there’s an attitude where the snare has to be put on the backside. The drums might need to be laid back, but you don’t really know that while you’re playing it. I’ve done enough of them where I know that, when I come across that kind of song, I have to go in and listen to it once just to hear it. Then I get the attitude in my mind, and it becomes clear how much further to come back on the backbeat. Barry’s good at communicating that.
RF: On a more personal level, being a session player isn’t always secure. What about planning financially for the future?
EB: When some money starts coming in, many say, “I’ve got some money coming in; I’ll go ahead and buy a house.” If you happen to jump into a group like Duran Duran, it’s different. There, you know you’re going to have an incredible future, and you’re going to have some money in a couple of years which will make you set for life. In my situation, I’m just working sessions and building a future. We bought a duplex first and lived in one side while renting out the other. We did that for six-and-a-half years before we were able to save the money up to get a house. Of course, we kept the duplex and then bought the house. In general, the best thing to do in a situation like that is real estate. It’s the only safe investment that I know of. So many people look for the quick investment and ways to double their money. I’ve always looked more at the long-term. I used to live in my car, so I think I starved long enough to think about these things. My advice is that there should be no illusions about this business. It can be fleeting, and you must be prepared.
Modern Drummer Special Offers