Sunday, April 21, 2013

Riffin' The Blues

“Who’s interested in playing a band instrument?” I wasn’t certain that I wanted to play in the school band but at ten years old, when an offer to leave class and spend twenty minutes anywhere other than amidst the pedagogy of whatever a Royall Elementary School teacher was forcing on my already brilliant ass, I was certain that I’d at least go to the meeting. So a few of us headed to the auditorium to hear Mr. Alan Perry’s spiel about joining the school band.
Mr. Perry was a cool cat. Kinda ironic and mildly sardonic at the same time butcept I wasn’t aware of it at that particular moment. I’d discern such later when I sorted out his after school activities as a Jaguar E Type S-1 owner and member of a jazz group that played local weddings and social events. The car alone was enough to make him a cool cat. I mean really. His yellow Jag convertible was exotic in its own right but even more so when Mr. Perry pulled up at school and parked it amidst the early 1970’s teachers’ cars caca. But I digress.
So not only did I decide that I wanted to be in the band, I settled on being a drummer. I took the information home to my mama and she agreed it’d be a good idea since I’d recently been kicked out of Cub Scouts so we went to Summerell’s music store to see about a snare drum. Actually, it was Mr. Summerell’s house. Small town. Shut up. And within thirty minutes at Mr. Summerell’s house/store, I was kitted out with a snare drum starter set. My mom wisely rented it, knowing that I was just as likely to be done with the whole thing in a week as I was to become the drumming prodigy that I thought I became.

Mr. Summerell for some reason, kinda haphazardly tossed me a probably twenty year old Slingerland drums catalogue that would fuel from that moment on, my absolute obsession with owning a full set of drums…the entire kit…GeneKrupa style. Whoever the hell he was.
I dutifully learned my 13 Rudiments and jammed with my fellow band members to Riffin the Blues and Pine Tree Patrol during practice. And I drove my mother off the deep end when playing that snare drum at home. But it was the Slingerland catalogue that got me. I thumbed the pages relentlessly, lusting after the goods on each page not unlike the contents of the moldy Playboy magazine that we kept up in Purvis’ woods at our camp. The difference though was that I had a vague idea regarding what to do with the stuff in the Slingerland catalogue. I had no idea where Niles, Illinois was and I probably pronounced Illinois like noise. All I knew was that they made Slingerland drums in that town and I wanted them to send me some.

Gene Krupa was Slingerland’s front man and was on the cover of every Slingerland catalogue for thirty years. And Krupa is credited with many of the trap set standards…tuneable heads, the high hat stand as well as working with Zildjian on creating standard use cymbals in the ride and crash categories. I loved the marine pearl drums that Krupa played and I wanted them. Real bad. 
 Buddy Rich in my humble opinion was far and away the better drummer. Speed…that was his differentiating strategy. But Buddy was not a true blue Slingerland man. He flirted with other makers including Ludwig but in the end, he was back behind a set of Slingerlands. Watch Krupa and Rich. It’s clear that Rich, while being respectful of his legendary elder’s skill, was just waiting his turn to smoke him. 
But I thought both guys were cool and I was  intrigued that they played drums in suits. I only wore a suit to church on Sundays and only then because my mama made me. Later I learned that Krupa got busted for marijuana and that made him even more mysterious and edgy to me. Remember, I was ten. That's Krupa above. Voluntarily boarding the Paddy Wagon after his arrest. It would be several more years before I'd be herded onto a similar vehicle in North Myrtle Beach. And I wasn't near as elegant as Mr. Krupa during the boarding process. I had those plastic disposable Spring Break handcuffs on and I was crying and drooling draft beer spittle on the front of my Howdy Doody t-shirt and I smelled a little bit like upchuck.
I begged my parents for a Slingerland set…the marine pearl ones just like Krupa’s. And since I was a model child, the next Christmas I had ‘em…at least a starter version. Two mounted tom-toms, a high hat and one ride cymbal…Zilco not Zildjian. Zildjian cymbals were pricey and my prodigy-ness was yet to unfurl. I saved my money and later added better cymbals and a floor tom. Look at my Justin Bieber, curl blow dried out of my hair, bang(s).
The Slingerland set fuelled my transition from school band member to rock star wannabe. My mom found a gal who taught drums…not snare drumming but how to play a set of drums. She came to our house with a book of very basic drumming sequences and showed me how to read each line of music that represented different drums or cymbals. I practiced my ass off and the two times she showed up to teach me were great. Then she no-showed one afternoon. I learned later by eavesdropping on my mama and aunt Kat in the kitchen that the gal got busted for marijuana. First Krupa and now my two-visits drum teacher? What was it about that evil weed?

Remember the stereo system in your parents’ den or basement? You know, the one that was a piece of furniture about as long as a steamer trunk…replete with a swing arm multi-album turntable and an AM-FM radio as well. Then to top it off it had the area to house albums and forty-fives. The speakers were in the front panels. Well, I blew my mom’s speakers within six months of banging my drums in the living room. That's little LFG in front of the still damaged and still in my mama's house, stereo.
Sandy Nelson albumsTeen Drums and Drums and More Drums fronted my first play along with albums efforts. Chuck Berry’s Maybellene and Johnny B. Good were easy enough to keep up with and I played the Rare Earth Get Ready album; with one side devoted to the title song, incessantly.
R.R. got a guitar and small amplifier and S.S. got a beat up old bass and we had visions of going on the road. Mostly we just played at whoever’s mama’s house would tolerate our noise making. And I continued to play in the school band through junior high. But here's an important point...We didn't have uniforms and we didn't march anywhere during elementary and junior high band. So I dropped band  like a bad habit during my inaugural, pre-freshman year summer band camp. I was too busy trying to be a hippie and besides, chicks didn't dig guys that wore goofy ass uniforms while playing in the marching band. Thereafter I was playing in various pick-up bands and had pretty much abandoned playing anything as elegant as Krupa and Rich style music for loud Rock and Roll. I have a 70% hearing loss in one ear to vouch for those heady years. 

I shared this in another story but here you go again…if my cymbal wasn’t in the way, you’d see ADG, the high school sophomore accompanying Louise, the gal who won the talent show that year. My band had just finished covering the Stories song, Brother Louie and we didn’t win dooky.

After my sophomore year of high school I pretty much ran outta gas on the idea of being a rock star. I played drums here and there but then gave it up for college and the KA house and all things fratty. My best childhood buddy, fellow school band drummer and wingman to this day, DCA, ended up with my drum kit at his house. Then it got lent to various and sundry parties and I figured it to be lost forever. Not too long ago DCA informed me that they had emerged again. They’re now in his attic and even though I’m not in a hurry to go get ‘em, there’s comfort in knowing that my marine pearl noise makers are within reach.

Onward. No autographs. Please.

ADG Deuce.
 Oh, and please…enjoy Stories and Brother Louie. Oy. One big-ass wah-wah pedal of 70’s twang.


Anonymous said...

Whoa there Max. "Kicked out of the Cub Scouts"? And while Charlie Watts cannot hold a stick to Gene, Buddy or Sandy, he has some good thoughts on dressing well."There are things no good men's tailor will do. And you think, why not? But then when you see someone try those things, they look wrong. It's a hundred years of making a suit a certain way, and I love the tradition of that."

oldominion said...

Did you stick with traditional grip or ever switch to matched?

I always played matched but grew up seeing the same old photos of Rich, Bellson, Krupa, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones you did; I actually got to see Art Blakey play in Richmond at VCU some time in the early 80s, '80 or '81. ALways puzzled me how you trad grip guys could really get a good whack with that awkward, crimped left hand...

Looking forward to the Maxmin take on Sid Mashburn.

Marianne said...

Thank you so much for the laugh! Great one.


ADG said...

Douglas...Watts is the best dressed man in Rock n' Roll.

Oldominion...I too, eventually gave up the traditional grip so that I could just beat the shit out of 'em like everyone else. But...Buddy Rich made a good point about the traditional being crucial to his ability to nuance those crossovers that he did at lightening speed. Sid...should get to it maybe this weekend.


Anonymous said...

Max, Watts is stellar. Any thoughts on Bryan Ferry as a rocker with style? Saw Roxy Music in the early 1970's and I remained clean shaven and sans Earth Shoes and flannel through that sartorially challenging decade as a result. Douglas

Anonymous said...

There is a story about the usually unflappable C. Watts: Apparently, Jagger was partying late on the road, called and woke him up asking "Where is my drummer?" and Watts splained to him " I'm not your drummer, you're my Effing singer!" Best of all, he got up, put on a suit, and walked downstairs and cold-cocked him first. Those guys remain cool, even if they ARE older than Hillary Clinton.

Give The Drummer Some, as they used to say...