Garrett Goodwin

by Ilya Stemkovsky

Nothing about the 2013 MD Readers Poll Up & Coming winner is predictable—including his route to success.

At just twenty-six, Garret Goodwin has already traversed the globe with the pop-country superstar Carrie Underwood, bringing rock-solid power to crowd favorites like “Before He Cheats,” “Cowboy Casanova,” and “Blown Away.” Clearly fans have taken notice of the drummer’s dynamic playing style, as they voted him into the top slot of this year’s Modern Drummer Readers Poll in the Up & Coming category. 

The circumstances surrounding Goodwin’s landing the Underwood gig seemed unusual at the time, though maybe there was a larger plan at play. Garrett explains: “I was asked to soundcheck another drummer’s kit for a church conference in Nashville. Honestly, I was thinking, You’re calling me to do THAT? But I did it, and the band’s guitarist, Glenn Pearce, said he ‘might have something’ for me. A couple days later I get an email from Carrie Underwood’s musical director with some songs to learn. The next thing I know, I’m playing a festival. I was nineteen, and I turned twenty before my first tour with her.”

Goodwin says he’s got one particular reason to be proud of the success he’s achieved so far. “After I got my first kit,” he remembers, “I went to my first drum lesson at a local music store. I’d never picked up a pair of sticks before. The teacher sent me home after the lesson, and when I came back a week later, I showed him what I thought I was supposed to do. He looked at me and said, ‘You will never be a drummer. Don’t come back.’ I was twelve. It’s what drove me. I said, ‘I’m going to do this. I’m going to make it happen.’ And I never took another lesson from that day on.”

Though Goodwin had some fairly significant jobs before joining Underwood, the country superstar’s show was “big time” in every aspect. Did Garrett have to make any particular adjustments? “I know it’s country and pop,” he says, “but I hit hard—I’m all out the whole night. So I needed stamina to play for two hours a night every other day. But everything fell into place.”

When asked if he was into country music before taking the gig, Goodwin is honest and succinct. “Absolutely not,” he says. “I like pretty much any style of music except country, which is the funniest thing. That’s one of the questions I was asked: ‘Do you like country?’ ‘Nope, I hate country.’ [laughs] I’ve learned to appreciate aspects of it, but really, Carrie’s music isn’t super-country—it’s pretty pop. I’m using a click for 90 percent of the night. The musical director is about pocket and groove. He’ll say, ‘I hired you. I trust you. Do what feels right.’ He just wants me to nail my part, not twirl my sticks in the air while doing triplets with my left whatever. And Carrie is into the good hang as well. It’s who you know and who you meet and being in the right place at the right time.”

Goodwin grew up in Pensacola, Florida, where he cut his teeth playing in church revivals attended by thousands of people. “It was a huge way of getting experience at such a young age,” he says. “I was raised pretty strict too, not allowed to listen to Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. It was strictly Christian music, bands like Sonicflood.”

And even though he was drumming in church, Goodwin avoided the whole “gospel chops” scene. “I’m not a flashy drummer at all,” he explains. “I never saw that stuff as too important. I’m all about pocket and feel. I’m influenced by Nashville session drummers like Steve Brewster, Scott Williamson, and Chris McHugh. And I don’t really geek out on drummers, though now Abe Laboriel Jr. is the ultimate to me.”

After Goodwin moved to Nashville at seventeen to play in different churches with his musical mentor Lindell Cooley, his name eventually got around, and he joined the Christian band By the Tree. That gig “opened more doors and opportunities,” Garrett says.

So what’s with that funky setup, which features his snare, as well as a floor tom in the standard rack tom spot, positioned low and angled away from him. “It’s just comfortable for me,” Goodwin explains. “When I first started playing, everything was up in front of me, and not too long after I started messing with different things, and it slowly evolved into the tilted thing. It still feels to me like everything is flat. It has to do with my ‘throw’—the natural way I hit the drum and land the stick consistently.

“I also sit very low and on the front edge of my stool,” the drummer continues. “I don’t necessarily hunch over, but I lean forward a lot. I actually have DW cut down my snare stand so it can be lower. Every time I hit my snare, I also hit my leg, so I always have the biggest bruise. It was never a big technical thing. It just makes sense to me. That’s the most-asked question I get: ‘What is going on here?’ ‘Why?’ [laughs] My drum tech will set things up the way I like and then disappear. The stagehands will then twist everything into how they think it looks right, and then my tech will return to find that!”

Goodwin has big plans for something near and dear to him, a company he founded called KMLM NYC, which sells backpacks to help the less fortunate. “For every bag we sell,” he says, “we send one containing educational materials to a child in need. We just dropped 120 bags in Haiti and 400 in Barbados. I’m creating a drum instructional DVD to go in the bags, for the schools that want a music program but don’t have a teacher. Education has the ability to break the poverty cycle.”

And was Goodwin surprised by the MD Readers Poll win? “Yeah, someone told me I was nominated,” he says, “and I thought, What are you talking about? There are a ton of Carrie fans, and in country music, they’re fans for life, so that’s a huge part of it.”

Tools of the Trade
Goodwin plays DW Collector’s series drums, including a 6.5×14 steel snare, a 12×14 floor tom in the standard rack tom position, a 14×18 floor tom, and an 18×26 bass drum. His Sabian cymbals include 22″ and 24″ Medium AA crashes, a 24″ AAX Studio ride (“perfect for crashing or riding”), and, for hi-hats, an 18″ Paragon crash on top of an 18″ AA Rock crash. “I don’t like any wing nut or anything on top of the cymbals,” Garrett says, “because I like them to be able to swing naturally.”

Goodwin uses Pro-Mark’s 2S model stick. “It’s the same thickness as a 2B,” he says, “just an inch longer. They don’t make them in a natural finish—with the natural ones you can spit or dump water on your hands to make them stick better—so I have them make custom ones. Otherwise I wrap the handles with tennis-racket tape. I do that mainly when I’m playing shows every day. It takes the initial hit off your hands if you hit hard, plus they stick in your hands better.”

Goodwin’s pedals are from DW’s 5000 series. “The newer stuff is too smooth for me. I prefer heavy, loose, almost worn-out pedals—same with my drumheads. I like pretty much everything about finger tight.” Those heads include Remo Black Suedes or Coated Emperors on the toms and Powerstroke 3s on the snare and bass drum.