The new kid in town strides down Broadway, sticks in holster, silver spurs on his Speed King, and he’s a-gunnin’ for the Apple. More than a few drummers have acted out that High Noon scenario in their musical daydreams. I once asked a major music contractor about that mythic showbiz figure. “Let’s take a hypothetical situation,” I proposed. “The new kid comes to town looking to break in big . . . ” “Forget it, “the contractor blurted, cutting me off. “But,” I persisted, “let’s say he has very special talent . . . .” “It’s impossible,” he abruptly concluded.
Then I resorted to a little gunslinging of my own: “Okay,” I said, “let’s not be hypothetical; let’s take the example of Dave Weckl, a drummer you often hire.” During the course of our debate, Dave Mathews, one of New York’s busiest studio keyboardist/arranger/composers had strolled in. Overhearing Weckl’s name, Mathews settled into a soft chair, adjusting his famous ever-present skipper’s cap. “If I may interrupt,” he piped in, “I can testify for Weckl’s case. The word of mouth on him was very strong. I can remember Anthony Jackson coming around saying that he had just played with one of the best drummers he had ever heard!”
That’s a heavy compliment, coming from perhaps the most sophisticated electric bass player on today’s studio scene; it’s a recommendation as good as a gold key. But that key wasn’t bestowed upon Weckl out of pure luck. The gunslinger figure is a combination of fact and fantasy, and there is a long road to the showdown. But as far as “new kid in town” figures go, Dave Weckl is about as good an example as one can find. Currently making a splash on tour with Chick Corea’s Elektric Band, Dave is now getting the inevitable national attention that he deserves.
In the Electric Band tour program, a heading reads, “Introducing Dave Weckl.” In New York, however, Dave is—as they say in Vegas—a man who needs no introduction. He has been the buzz on drummers’ lips for the past couple of years—a 26-year-old who quickly built a reputation as one of the elite handful of first-call New York studio players. Dave’s breathtaking combination of finesse, sensitivity, chops, and power had been knocking ’em out in the clubs, earning him the most prestigious word-of-mouth title in musical Manhattan: “the next guy.”
Dave was born on January 8, 1960. He moved from his birthplace, St. Louis, to Connecticut in order to enroll in the jazz studies program at the University of Bridgeport and to be closer to his ultimate target, New York. “I was 19 when I came up here, and I wanted to kill the world,” he laughs. “At that time, my main goal was to get into Maynard Ferguson’s band. My friend, Jay Oliver, who is a phenomenal keyboard player I grew up playing with, had landed into Maynard’s band at 19 years old, and I wanted to get into the scene so badly.
“When I went to study with Gary Chester, it made me cool out and realize that I wasn’t really ready to jump in. I realized that I had to use the time to get it together. My most productive time was during my first year at college. I had the whole summer off, I didn’t know anybody, and I was up at school alone. So I made up a practice schedule, and hit it ten to 15 hours a day for about three months. I went through two summers of that, and it never got under six or seven hours, even when school was in session. I was really concentrating. I always taped myself and said, ‘Aww, that doesn’t sound mature; I still sound like a little kid.’ It really bugged me that I had all this nervous energy and I couldn’t lay back, so I worked a lot on that.”
While Dave valued the importance of developing his own personal style during his woodshedding years, he also realized the value of setting practical goals. “I latched onto a lot of albums and said, ‘The musicians on these records are working; they must be doing something right.’ That was always my philosophy: to find out what it was that the busy working musicians were doing. I would ‘steal’ and learn the authenticities of certain styles to throw into my bag. My intent was not to copy anybody in my playing exactly. That’s not happening. A lot of people believe that learning other people’s things is not the best way to learn or to construct your own vocabulary. But I believe it is like speech: You have to learn the given language before you start experimenting with other languages or even using the more difficult words in that vocabulary. Now, within the past four years or so, I have been able to concentrate on what I want to sound like and what kind of statement I want to make as a player that will be my own. But it all had to come from somewhere.”
That musical bag amassed by Dave is bigger than Santa’s sack. Its versatile contents have prepared him for the challenges of jingles, television, movie soundtracks, live performance, and pop and jazz album dates. Dave picked up the sticks at age eight. After a musical prepubescent rite of passage (“Those days were filled with playing along with the Monkees”), Dave was influenced by jazz drummers early on. “My dad played piano, and he had a bunch of Pete Fountain records around the house. The drummer was Jack Sperling, and he became my first major jazz influence when I was around ten. So I stole all of his stuff—all of his left-hand comping. I always thought he swung really well.
“Immediately after that, I got into Buddy. The first thing I tried to play with Buddy was ‘Time Check’ on the Roar Of ’74 album. I was overwhelmed by him and bought every Buddy record that I could find. I was always a technique nut. In those early days, Buddy Rich was my mentor. My parents had this old record player that would go down to 16 RPM. In order to figure out his stuff, I slowed it down until Buddy’s snare drum sounded like a 20″ parade drum. I practiced single and double strokes for hours, and figured out things on records.
“I did a lot of single-hand exercises, incorporating finger control, because I play conventional grip 90% of the time. Jim Petercsak was responsible for showing me that left-hand technique. It’s a two-finger control using the index finger and the finger next to it. It’s like getting the feeling of bouncing a basketball low to the ground. I also use another type of technique that involves using more thumb when I need more power.”
Other influences at that time included the funk/fusion stylings of Billy Cobham, and Peter Erskine’s swinging big band work with Stan Kenton. Later on, Steve Gadd also had a strong impact on Dave. At that time, coincidentally, Gadd’s grooves were backing Dave’s future bandleader, Chick Corea. “The first thing I remember hearing Steve on was Chick Corea’s ‘Humpty Dumpty.’ When I heard him play, I lost it. After that, I listened a lot to Steve’s work with Chick.” During his St. Louis days and up through his college years, Dave collected other diverse influences in his bag: the mainstream/bop of Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, and especially Elvin Jones; the clean funk syncopations of David Garibaldi (“There were years in St. Louis when Tower Of Power tapes were all I had in my car”); the urgent spontaneity of Jack DeJohnette (“He still remains one of my favorites”); the Police grooves of Stewart Copeland; and the socked-in pocket playing of Harvey Mason.
In St. Louis, the local music scene was always alive with big bands. Playing with the groups at a young age gave Dave an early start at acquiring the fine art of big band driving and chart interpretation—experience that would later prove invaluable for the mastery of studio skills. Arriving in Connecticut, Dave picked the brains of local teachers: first with Randy Jones and Ed Soph at the University of Bridgeport, and then later with Gary Chester. Between woodshedding and venturing back and forth to New York City, Dave found time to play in a local band of strong musicians, Nile Sprite. “It was a good band,” he recalls. “Basically, we were a bunch of kids trying to play the hardest music we could.”
Nite Sprite played small Manhattan clubs, and built a small but devoted following. One steady fan was hot studio guitarist Steve Khan, who often brought other name players along with him. Eventually, the group graduated into more prestigious rooms: clubs such as Mikell’s and Seventh Avenue South where top players are apt to walk in. One night, Khan brought along his friend Peter Erskine.
“I had been in touch with Peter for the previous two or three years,” says Dave, “when he was still living in California and I was at Bridgeport. Peter was a major influence on me. I used to send him tapes and call him up constantly out of the blue. He was always encouraging and nice to me. When Peter moved to New York, I kept in touch with him and always went to see him when he played. Finally, he saw Nite Sprite and dug it.”
Dave’s tapes had been impressive, but after seeing him live, Erskine knew that Dave could handle a serious challenge. At that time, French Toast, a prestigious group of New York studio notables, was seeking a drummer. The group, led by French horn player Peter Gordon, has held in its ranks such players as Lew Soloff, Steve Gadd, Jerry Dod-ion, Michel Camilo, Anthony Jackson, Lou Marini, Gordon Gottlieb, Steve Ferrone, and Sammy Figueroa. Ferrone was leaving the drum chair for an Average White Band tour, and French Toast invited Erskine to fill the opening. Erskine handled one gig but had schedule conflicts for later dates. The group asked Peter to recommend someone who could fit the bill. Dave Weckl—a “new name”—was his recommendation. “We said to Peter, ‘Are you sure?'” pianist Michel Camilo recalls, “and Peter said, ‘Yeah! You should check out this new guy, Weckl. I heard him play, and he blew me away!'” With those words of praise, Erskine started the ball rolling for the “new kid in town.”
“Although there are other ways to break in,” says Dave, “I’m finding that that is how it usually works. Peter was nice enough to put his reputation on the line by basically saying, ‘I trust that this cat can handle whatever it is you need to do.’ I was scared to death and, at the same time, so thrilled that I was almost laughing—especially at the thought of playing with Anthony Jackson. I mean, Anthony was like the bass god to me at that time! I couldn’t wait to play with him.”
The job of feeling out the new guy was reserved for Camilo and Jackson. Dave arrived early, so that he could have a go at some tricky charts with Michel and Anthony. Michel remembers the initial meeting: “He had heard the band a couple of times before, so he knew what it was about. He knew that we went pretty far out in the chances that we took on stage. Apparently, he had been looking for the same kind of ideas. So we went out immediately, and it wasn’t a matter of explaining anything to him. He dug it, and he went for it as well. There was an instant chemistry among the three of us.”
Dave’s live premiere with French Toast was a ride on rhythm-section cloud nine. Even today, he relates the story with sporadic laughs of disbelief: “I rehearsed a little bit with the group, and that went okay. At rehearsals, of course, the main concern is just trying to learn the music, and there is constant starting and stopping. But when we performed, during the whole first set, Anthony just kept raving. He turned around to me and said, ‘Where have you been?’ He was paying me all these outrageous compliments, and I couldn’t handle it! It was like, ‘Here I am next to the bass god, and he won’t shut up!’ He just kept laying it on me through the set.” Jackson recalls, “Dave looked so nervous that I wanted to console him and let him know that he was playing great. But by the third night, I knew he had something extra special.”
While playing with French Toast, Dave was still bringing in his bread and butter with wedding/club-date work. In the meantime, Jackson was on the march, recommending Dave wherever he and his six-string bass roamed. Michel also spread the word, leading to a soap-opera date and eventual jingles. “I owe it to a lot of people that there are a lot of studio dates coming in now,” says Dave, “but Anthony is the one who wouldn’t quit.” Dave’s bass deity was working with Paul Simon on the Hearts And Bones album at the time that Simon was considering drummers for the upcoming Simon & Garfunkel tour. Anthony was once one of those hot new kids in town himself. Leon Pendarvis had stuck his neck out to break Anthony in with the studio heavies. Anthony wanted to pass on that kind of break to another deserving talent.
Jackson pulled Simon aside and stated his case: “I said, ‘You have got to call David Weckl. Don’t even listen to him; just call him.’ Then I did something I had never done before. I went further and said, ‘I stake my professional reputation on this guy; call him, sight unseen. I’m warning you: If you don’t, you’re going to hear him later, and you’ll be pissed!’ ”
“I had a date coming up at Seventh Avenue South with Barry Finnerty’s band,” says Dave, “and Paul’s office called to say that they were looking for a drummer and that someone from the office would come down to listen to me.” The “someone” from the office was Paul Simon himself. Seventh Avenue South is small, and it didn’t take Dave long to realize that he was being watched. “We didn’t say a word to each other the whole night. I didn’t know what to say to him. I was very shy about that type of thing. I was just trying to play the best I could musically, while being dynamic and creative without being too busy—trying to stir Paul’s creative juices, so that he could see I was a sensitive player.” The next call from Simon’s office was to offer Dave the gig.
The 1983 Simon & Garfunkel reunion, Dave’s first major-scale tour (“It was red-carpet city”), took him on an eight-week journey through the U.S., Switzerland, France, and Israel. After the tour, he returned to his New Rochelle home, hoping to keep his quick momentum rolling in New York. “When I came back, everybody was saying, ‘Oh, man, you’re going to come back to town, and you will be killin’. That wasn’t the case. Two or three months went by with only a few things trickling in. It got pretty tense for a while. Then things started to pick up again.”
Steve Khan was preparing to produce an album for guitarist Bill Connors. Khan paired Dave up with Connors and, in turn, Dave recommended his bassist friend, Tom Kennedy. The trio clicked, sporting a strong sense of give-and-take flexibility. A string of live gigs followed, along with a fine album from 1984, Step It.
An important chapter in Dave’s New York growth was his membership in Michel Camilo’s group. French Toast had collapsed shortly after recording a Japanese album. Camilo had emerged as the focal composer of the unit, and his own band developed as the inevitable offshoot. Michel’s group appeared as a trio with Jackson and Weckl, and as a sextet augmented by Lew Soloff (trumpet), Chris Hunter (sax), and Sammy Figueroa (percussion). When playing their home bases, either uptown at Mikell’s or downtown at the Blue Note, the group attracted distinguishable pockets of musicians. Keyboard fanatics set up camp behind Michel’s keyboards, bass fans sat front and center glued to Anthony, and drum devotees rallied close to stage left studying Dave’s every diddle. The trio displayed an uncanny sense of ESP that kept every set fresh.
“Playing with Anthony,” says Dave, “is like the same rapport I have with Chick Corea. We have the same concepts of rhythmic phrasings. It’s just amazing sometimes. We are used to each other’s playing, of course, so we know when we’re going to do certain things. But sometimes things just happen—as if they were written; it can really be bizarre.'”
Michel remembers testing the group’s sixth sense to the brink: “We used to fool around and see how much of the music we could hit together—or rather, how much we could think alike—in the middle of such tunes as ‘Why Not?’ We had a name for it: chamber music for rhythm section. It’s a counterpoint between the musicians that often hits tutti. We often used it when making a climax for a soloist. It wasn’t planned; it would just happen that way.
“Even when Dave did something flashy, it would always be for a musical reason. Before the reprise of the bridge in ‘Just Kiddin” [from Michel’s album Why Not?], he does a bass drum fill. He could have gone around the toms, but he just fills with the bass drum. The whole thing comes together because of the fill, and it sets up the section in a very musical way.”
“Michel, Anthony, and I have some special time things together that we understand,” says Dave. “Sometimes I play loose stuff, but I lay for accents that are in time. Even if I stretch something, it is still in the time frame. I may play some suggested notes—little notes in between the accents— and phrase those over the bar line, but it is always in a feel in which you can tell where the time is. Anthony has spent a lot of time figuring out odd phrasings and time feels, so he will be right with me and pick it up.
“There is something that we both do that I have gotten into over the last couple of years. I call it ‘playing backwards.’ I have noticed some other musicians doing this also. It’s the concept of displacing the beat. For example, if the beat is displaced by an 8th note, the downbeat occurs an 8th note later, and you play the & of 1 as if it were the downbeat. Then you play every note following it the exact same way as if that & were the downbeat, but you still keep in mind where the ‘actual’ time is. Everything becomes displaced by one 8th note, and the result sounds completely backwards.
“Now, that example is not as crazy as displacing it by the 16th note, which makes it sound like you are playing a bar of 7/8 if you do it before the beat, or a bar of 9/8 if you play it after the beat. When I first heard Vinnie Colaiuta do it, I thought that was what he was doing. Then, I realized that he was actually doing the same ‘backward’ thing that I had been doing. It seems that we had been coming around to the idea at the same time.
“I started experimenting with this, and Anthony and I used it on some of Michel’s tunes, such as ‘Just Kiddin’.’ In the solo section, there’s a whole part during which we all play completely backwards for four or eight measures, and it has since become part of the tune. It really works in soloing if there is a riff going on above it.
“It’s funny how I stumbled on it. Jay Oliver and I used to play together a lot—just the two of us. He was playing a riff, and I heard 1 somewhere else. I started playing over it, and we happened to be taping. He was freaking out, because I was playing things he had never heard me play before. We listened back to it and I said, ‘So what’s the big deal?’ He showed me where 1 was, and I couldn’t believe what I was playing!” Dave laughs. “From that point on, I started trying to displace things and figure out exactly what the heck I was playing. It is great mental training. Obviously, it won’t work if you’re playing a contemporary funk/pop beat. But if you’re in a creative situation, it can definitely work.
“Chick is a master at playing continuous rolling phrases over the bar line. There was a very funny coincidence during Chick’s tour. We were playing together, and suddenly Chick said, ‘Boy! I finally found somebody I can play backwards with!’ He said he used to practice it by listening to the car radio and thinking of the songs ‘backwards.’ That’s exactly what I used to do.
“David Garibaldi has been into this for quite some time. He did it on tunes like ‘Knock Yourself Out’ [ from Tower of Power’s Live And In Living Color]. It’s not even the rhythmic displacement as much as the sound displacement that throws it, because we are used to hearing the lows on the downbeats and the highs on the upbeats. So the minute it reverses, it throws everybody’s ears.”
In January of 1985, Chick Corea was in New York with his group, Trio Music. The concept of the Elektric Band had been brewing in his brain for some time, and he was keeping his scouting eye open. While Chick was visiting his friend, the effervescent Brazilian pianist/singer Tania Maria, she popped on a Michel Camilo tape. Pricking up his ears, Chick inquired about the drummer. Tania told him it was Weckl. There it was again! That name had been mentioned to Chick by Michael Brecker and other musical peers. Chick’s curiosity was aflame. Coincidently, Dave was appearing at The Bottom Line with Bill Connors, so Chick headed to the Village to hear the new kid. After the show, the two met, and it was clear that their musical ideas would mesh. Two weeks later, Chick called to invite Dave to join the Elektric Band for an initial two-week stint. A more extensive 50-city tour followed, during which the band cruised the country in a road-worthy bus formerly owned by Merle Haggard.
It takes a lot to persuade a player with steady in-town studio work to put business on hold and go out on the road. But Chick’s music was a strong enticement for Dave. “I got called to do quite a number of things last year,” says Dave. “John McLaughlin called me to play with Mahavishnu. As much as I would have loved to play with John, I decided not to leave town. The balance of live and studio playing is very important, and I feel that, at my age, there are many different goals in the music industry that I want to pursue. I am in the middle of the first goal now: the playing end of my career. I really want to make a creative statement, and at this point, I feel that Chick’s gig is the best gig in the world that I could have for that.
“Chick wants to travel a lot. John [Patitucci, bassist] and I just needed enough time off so that we didn’t leave everything behind that we’ve been working for. But I am willing to commit most of my time to Chick, because I really believe in the band. It’s a great band, and we have a very positive feeling about it. As much as I hate to lose some of the work in town, it’s worth it to me. And the timing is just right. I feel that I can go out and do this without paying too great a price, because I don’t have very much to answer to at this point. I’m single, I live alone, and I don’t have many financial responsibilities. Right now, I have a total focus on playing.”
The album, The Chick Corea Elektric Band (GRP Records), is a digitally mastered disc with a crystal sound that will make your tired old stereo system sound like a CD player. For those with CD players, the CD version offers the added bonus of two extra tunes and a short introduction piece leading into “Rumble.” Although the sound of the band is very electric (Chick uses no acoustic keyboards on stage) and the latest high-tech instruments are used, the nuance and emotion of live players still dominates. The album production utilizes the best values of high tech—the clarity in recording and variety of textures in the instruments—as opposed to making the technology itself the main concern. On most cuts, in fact, overdubs are kept to a reasonable minimum. “Rumble,” the opening cut on the record, is the most overdub-oriented piece, consisting only of keyboards and drums/ percussion. It is a tour deforce example of artistic integration of acoustic and electronic drums, percussion, and drum machine. Unlike many contemporary recordings, which employ drum machines as lead-footed tyrants, this track shows off Dave’s ability to play between, on top of, around, and along with the machine in a way that points to new horizons in the creative use of drum machines. In other words, in this decade in which the machine has become the drummer’s most controversial friend/foe, Dave has succeeded in making it his friend—but it is also under- stood that he can whip his friend’s butt. “Rumble” has become a much-talked-about cut among drummers. For those who have been attempting to analyze it through repeated turntable spins, Dave’s explanation serves as a valuable study guide.
“On the eight-bar drum breaks at the beginning of the tune, I was actually playing along with the drum machine—playing exactly what the machine was playing, except for the hi-hat part. Then, when the solo groove comes in, it’s two completely different drum parts. Chick had programmed a Linn 9000 part—partly because he had sequenced a bass part and partly as a working groove over which he could compose. This part ended up becoming part of the feel for the piece. But I hadn’t heard it until I actually came out to California to start the album after the tour. So it was really a challenge, because I had to come up with a part on the day we were cutting it. We had discussed whether we should keep the whole part for the solo groove or just keep parts of it. I suggested that we should just let that part continue, and I would come up with something around it that would result in one combined part. I had to figure out something to play that wouldn’t get in the way of the machine, which was already a full part in itself. The Linn part is an eight-bar hi-hat, bass drum, snare drum, and cowbell pattern that keeps repeating.
“Through my triggering, I was able to assign sounds in my own Linn to anything on the drumkit. The tambourine heard on the track is actually triggered from my left-hand floor tom. That became part of the pattern, so I always had to repeat it every fourth bar. The hand clap was also played by me on a Simmons pad that was fed into the Linn machine. I played on the ride cymbal, doing a looser thing, and I made sure not to play too much with my bass drum, because there was a pretty busy bass drum part already happening in the Linn program. If you listen closely, you can hear that the Linn bass drum part has more of an airy, Simmons-like sound, whereas my real bass drum is tighter with more bottom. The higher pitched snare drum with a little more ring is mine.
“Later, I overdubbed percussion parts with cowbells, bongos struck with sticks, timbales, and cymbals. We just set up a whole bunch of instruments, and I toyed around with them. We had about six different cowbells on a stand. I just started playing a groove and Chick liked it. At the end of the solo section, there are some hits. I decided to play them on the timbales rather than on the drumset, which would have disrupted the groove. The other solo break in the middle of the solo section and the out section comprise an orchestrated written part that Chick composed with the Linn machine. I doubled that part with the drums and percussion. Recording the track ended up being a one-day creative session that really worked.”
The overall sound Dave pulls from the drums is clean and crisp. His toms are warm, yet with a tight, snappy attack, and his cymbal work leans towards precise, short decay. His dynamically varied articulation allows every nuance to speak, even in power playing. “I am very involved in the whole dynamic concept,” he explains. “A lot of people tend to sound mono-tonal—not enough dynamic contrast. When it is time to be busy, you can be busy. But if you are using dynamics and you’re leaning on accents—laying for the accents that make sense and phrasing in a way that someone can grasp onto it—the busy playing won’t get in the way. Of course, I am talking about jazz, a style of music in which that’s ‘allowable.’
“Sometimes dynamics within a bar of music won’t make it—when everything has to be loud. But there is still a certain degree of dynamics you have to find that will make the motion happen: whether one accent on the bass drum should be a little softer or perhaps certain notes should be outlined in a hi-hat 8th-note pattern. You have to find out what will make the pulse. Chick and I both call dynamic contrasts ‘hills and valleys.’ You should take yourself and your whole band through that hill-and-valley scenario. Dynamics, to me, make music happen. They create the emotion, and allow you to work off of what somebody is doing and then jump out to do one thing that will make everyone scream and yell.
“I can remember sitting in audiences always wanting to hear that. The master at that was Steve Gadd. Back in ’79, when I had just moved to New York, I used to see him, Steve could make a whole room of people stand up and yell. He was just unbelievable, because he used dynamics and space so well. He would lay for that one certain accent, while, in the meantime, the groove was just so intense and flirtatious. He would flirt with the listener, and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, this thing would happen just once—BAM! It made people smile and get that shiver inside. I always thought, ‘Boy! That’s what I want to do. I want to be able to create that excitement.’ And it doesn’t necessarily take a lot of chops to do that. It does to a point, if you want certain complicated things to happen, but sometimes the simplest little dynamic thing will do it.”
Dave’s style is closely akin to Chick’s percussive piano concept. The stylistic bond between members allows the Elektric Band to sound surprisingly non-cluttered even during rapid-note passages. “Chick has a way of bringing out the best in whoever plays with him, and he’s a great writer for a drummer because he is so rhythmically precise. I did a whole master class with the students at North Texas State on time and feel—trying to get all instrumentalists to approach their playing of lines and soloing with rhythmic precision: more ‘drumistically.’ I did this because, nine times out of ten, a player will be slightly behind for some reason. This is especially true of people who aren’t used to actually hitting something to produce sound on an exact beat. It’s as if their preparation is late or they are more concerned with harmony and melody, so the rhythm often goes right out the window. But people such as Chick, Michael Brecker, and others I could mention play so well in time. And Michael and Chick are great drummers. Their time is really happening. For a drummer, they are a dream to play with. That’s why playing along with Chick’s soloing is great. I grew up listening to Chick, so I got a feel for his phrasing when I was young. From the first rehearsal, day one, when we started this thing, it just hit; it popped immediately.”
When Dave is off the road and back in New York, he keeps busy with free-lance live appearances and frequent studio dates. Soundtrack sessions that Dave has played on include Jo Jo Dancer, Wise Guys, A Chorus Line, and Dream Lover. His album credits include Peabo Bryson’s Take No Prisoners (his personal pick for his best work on a pop record), Robert Plant’s The Honey Drippers, Diana Ross’ Swept A way, Tania Maria’s Made In New York, Paquito D’Rivera’s Why Not?, Special EFX’s Slice OfLife, and tom overdubs on Madonna’s Like A Virgin. Several Japanese jazz releases by artists such as Richard Tee, David Mathews, Ronnie Cuber, and Randy Brecker/Eliane Elias also feature Dave’s drumming.
It is clear that Dave intends to survive for the long run. Although his talents have guaranteed work for him, he is careful to keep the other two requirements in line: attitude and health. When Dave’s momentum snowballed in the studio fast lane, Jackson offered the newcomer drummer some sound advice. He warned that he had witnessed young players grow spoiled from playing with the best, thereby becoming stubborn when studio dates called for debatable artistic decisions. “I told him to keep his standards high, but also to remember that it is a business,” Jackson explains.
“I talk a lot about the aspect of attitude in my master classes and clinics,” says Dave. “Attitude is probably 50% of the game. The other 50% is how well you play, obviously. But if you don’t know how to talk to people or how to treat them in the studio—or anywhere, in fact—it will be uncomfortable. It’s a hard thing to overcome sometimes, because you might have your idea of what is right, but you have to put it into place. The studio is a completely different challenge for me. I am not there to show how creative I can be. I am there to make somebody else happy. If I do a 60-second jingle, it may not be the most musical thing in the world to play, because the clients are advertising a product and I have to go along with the picture. I might have to get a groove going, then all of a sudden do something dumb, and then go back into the groove again; it might not make any musical sense. That’s just the way it is, although some jingles are becoming hipper.
“The challenge in the studio for me is to read the music right the first time, play with the click track, make it feel great, and convey the right sound on tape. When working for someone else in the studio, there’s no time to say, ‘No, I’m not going to tune the snare drum down because it’s not my sound!’ Save that crap for your own album! It’s just a matter of how much you want to work. If I am on a record date that is a creative situation and I feel they are hiring me for my sound, then it’s up to me.
“One other topic I want to bring out for the benefit of the younger kids is drugs. It was a big issue for me when I was 16 or 17. I never did any of that stuff, and I was afraid that, because I wasn’t into it, I would be a social outcast and it would affect getting work. You know: ‘Oh, he doesn’t hang with us or do this or that.’ I liked to hang just like everybody else, but I wasn’t into the drug scene. But it is very funny how it has all worked out. A lot of people my age who have entered the business now—the younger players like Marcus Miller, John Patitucci, and others I work with—agree that the ‘in’ thing now is to be straight. And a lot of people from the previous generation of studio players are cleaning up. There are a lot of highs to be experienced from the musical end of life; you don’t need anything else to help you out.”
Students at Dave’s clinics are always quick to ask him how he developed such outstanding reading chops. Top film and Broadway arranger Ralph Burns says, “Weckl can read anything I hand him!” Burns, who arranged A Chorus Line, was knocked out when he first encountered Dave’s playing during the soundtrack recording session. Now, Burns likes to employ Dave’s talents whenever possible. But Dave contends that “there are only so many ways that a rhythm can be written,” and therefore, reading itself is merely a gradual process of memorization. “Interpretation,” he stresses, “is the key word here.
“The goal should be to make the written piece of music sound as if you’re not reading it. The trick is not to think, ‘I’ve got to read music now,’ but rather to think, ‘I’ve got to play music.’ It has to be interpreted to make sense to the other players and to listeners. You use those charts as a guideline to what everybody else is doing. It varies a great deal, however, depending on how the arranger writes. Some arrangers know how to convey that something is a guideline, while others will write out exactly what they want you to play—which is sometimes the easy part. The hard part is coming up with the things that aren’t written: figuring out what to play around all those written notes to make it sound musical.
“There are certain important questions to ask also. A lot of people don’t ask because they think they will sound stupid. But if there is nothing in words on that piece of paper telling me what kind of style it is, I won’t even let the leader count it off. The first question I always ask is, ‘What style and feel is this in? Is it straight 8ths, light rock, shuffle, dotted 8th, or 16th-note funk?’ Some arrangers do not indicate that, and it’s impossible for a drummer to do anything. If I have time, I sing the drum part around what is written before I play it. On some sessions, they will come in and say, ‘Okay, here we go—one, two, three . . . ‘ and you don’t have time to look the chart over. So you just get through it, although it may not come out exactly as you wanted it, and then find where the trouble spots are.
“Dealing with the click track is also a matter of thinking musically. I have always practiced two different ways with a click track or drum machine. One is the perfection way: everything completely in time. I sometimes do this by playing along with something I programmed on a drum machine to see where my subdivisions are off. The other way is to play loose over it. On the Step It album, there is a cut in which the band plays a consistent riff while I blow over it. We did it to a click track, because I wanted to play more out on the solo and do some different phrases—play some suggested things but still in time. Bill Connors and Tom Kennedy were having trouble keeping that riff happening because of what I was playing, which was sometimes way over the bar. But I am used to playing that way with a click, so it worked out well. It’s good to practice that looseness—not playing exactly with the click. But the time should be implanted in your head. If you practice with the click loosely and you still feel the quarter note, you will relate to the time better when the click isn’t used.
“When the click starts, I immediately start singing subdivisions in my head before I even play a note, so that I can feel where the time is inside me. And I will start singing the beat to myself before it starts, so that I know how it will feel, sound, and how it will sit in the click. Then I try to get outside of the click and just listen to the groove that is happening and to how the whole thing sounds musically.
“I learned a lot from sitting next to Anthony when we played together. He sings everything he plays or sings subdivisions of the time. If it’s a slow tune, he might sing 16th notes. You can’t be wrong because he will just lock in. I am very into having that subdividing inside of myself when I play. That was part of Gary Chester’s teaching method: using the voice as an independent limb to sing, for instance, quarter notes against what you are playing, or to represent different parts as you are reading.”
Dave carefully selects his equipment to complement his taste for clean articulation. “The basis of my setup is Yamaha Power Series drums. I use a 16×22 bass. My toms are an 8×8 and a 10×10 mounted on the bass, a 10 x 12 on my left, and an 11 x 13 and 13×15 mounted on my right. Depending on the gig, the snare may change, but my usual choice is a 5 1/2″ wood snare.”
A trademark of Dave’s sound is his preference for smaller drums. “The biggest drum I use is a 15”. The smaller drums are easier to tune. They can be tuned lower and still retain a higher pitch. It makes a tight, precise sound. Also, with the P.A., I don’t need a lot of volume from the drums. On certain rock dates, I might use larger drums.
“My head choices vary. Usually, I use clear Remo Emperors on top and clear Ambassadors on the bottom. Sometimes I use Ambassadors on top and bottom. The Emperor gives a thicker sound with a lot more bottom. But I find that it works differently for different drums. The Emperors seem to work better on Yamaha drums.
“I don’t tune to pitches per se. But the tom tuning depends on the snare drum. I try to tune around the snare drum for resonance purposes, so that I can get out as much of the snare buzz as possible. I sometimes use a Radio King, a 5 1/2x 13 six-lug drum that I used on a couple of cuts on the Bill Connors album. As far as muffling goes, I have tended to get away from using donut rings. I actually prefer to hear a little bit of the ring. Nowadays, in the recording studio, you can get away with the fundamental sound of the snare drum. In so much of today’s music, reverb and effect are 80% of the sound. They will pre-delay it and put three different types of reverb on the snare drum. By the time they are done with it, they can make the worst snare drum in the world sound great. So the fundamental isn’t as important in some styles of music. The ring of the drum is even a bit more preferred now.
“With my 13″ snare drum, I can get away with using almost no tape on the head at all. I use one little piece of tissue and tape up at the top of the drum, and my normal tuning is relatively high—depending, once again, on the tune. Even in concert, I change the tuning of the snare drum. If I want a fatter sound, I usually detune the two lugs that are right next to the tape and all of a sudden get a big, fat, wet snare drum. On stage, I will usually boost up the reverb a lot when I do that, in order to compensate for the dryness.”
In his cymbal choices, Dave is a Zildjian endorser. He creates especially effective cymbal patterns with the use of two hi-hat pairs. On his left stands a pair of 13s and to his right are closed 14s. Both of them have K Zildjians on top and the Z line of Zildjian on the bottom. “Overall, I tend to stick more with the K Zildjians: I like cymbals that are a little darker—not as pingy and bright,” he explains. The other Zildjians in his current setup are an 18″ Brilliant crash ride, 15″ K crash, 17″ Brilliant K China Boy, 14″ A extra-thin crash, 17″ Brilliant K dark crash, and a 10″ Brilliant K splash.
Even back when Dave was only playing clubs, he toted his own P.A. system. “Now it has progressed into a big system, because with Chick, I don’t have to carry it,” he laughs. “I have always been a sound nut. That’s why I have always carried my own P.A./monitor system. Now I have all the drums gated through Omni Craft noise gates, so there is no leakage and everything is clean. The system is all in stereo. For monitors, I use two sets of Eastern Acoustic Works speakers: two 15″ sub-woofer cabinets and two 15” full-range cabinets. A Crown Micro Tech amp powers the sub-woofers, and a Carver amp powers the full-range speakers. The crossover is handled by an Audio Arts Stereo Tunable Crossover. I use a Studio Master mixing board with six channels for drums, and the other two channels for my Linn and Simmons SDS5. This gives me control over my balance of acoustic sounds with electric sounds. Also in the rack is a Roland digital delay, Roland digital reverb, and a DBX 166 stereo compressor/limiter noise gate.
“My Simmons SDS5 is triggered from Detonator mic’s on my drumshells. I had my Linn customized for dynamic sensitivity. I assigned my bass drum, snare drum, second rack tom, left-hand tom, and Simmons pad to the trigger inputs in the Linn. I have the trigger sensitivity set so that I can get both the acoustic and Linn sound by hitting the drums, or just the triggered sound alone by hitting the rim. It’s rigged this way for the Simmons sounds also. Chris Anderson and David Rob wired up my rack and customized my Simmons, so that I can change all programs with a quick button push and also turn individual channels on and off with foot switches. With this setup, I can quickly get any combination of acoustic and electric that I want.”
Producing is a future goal for Dave. He has already been involved in co-producing, and he hopes to team up once again with Jay Oliver to form a production company. A good start towards his goal will be the next Elektric Band album. Chick has invited Dave to contribute input to the production and mix down.
In the meantime, being on the road with Chick is a constant challenge for Dave. Chick constantly sets new musical goals, changes arrangements, and encourages experimentation from his band mates. During the spring ’86 European tour, guitarist Scott Henderson—who made a guest appearance on the album—became the official fourth member of the Elektric Band, adding a new dimension of possibilities to the band’s sound. The quartet finished a summer U.S. tour, and with barely a break, commenced with their present fall U.S. college tour.
With the recognition Dave has gained from Chick’s tours, he can most certainly retire “new kid” status and step into “the established.” But the true proof of being “established” does not lie in tour and record credits alone; there is subtler evidence: “I have already had kids send me transcriptions of my solos from different albums,” Dave laughs. “I used to do the same thing—spend hours transcribing the playing of drummers who influenced me. I can’t think of anything more flattering.