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Music Blogs

The Musician’s Continuum

  • By david
  • 15 November 2013

 

Ian Palmer is one of the UK's most respected drummers. With Rock 'n' Roll royalty roots (his uncle was the drummer in '70's rock supergroup Emerson Lake and Palmer)  Ian currently plays with critically acclaimed indie band The Ghosts who are recording thier second album in the UK at the moment.

In this regular blog for SupaJam, Ian will share his love for music, his thoughts on being an artist in a successful band as well as offer a unique perspective on the industry for any emerging musicians.

The Musician’s Continuum by Ian Palmer

OK, the year is 1976, but in fact we could pick any date around the mid 70’s and early 80’s. 1976 will do though as not only was it one the hottest summers on British record, it was also the year in which I was born. Yes, I was born around the time that the session musician “designer label” came into being. By session designer label I mean those musicians that played on your album and immediately made you, “the artist”, cool. In fact the whole darn idea of being a session musician became cool. I recall a drummer from London who has recently enjoyed a mighty rise to fame, particularly in the US with his “prog” band continually raving about Ben Sidran’s ‘The Cat in the Hat’. Others had guitarist Lee Ritenour’s ‘Feel the night’ under their arm, and who could not mention Chick Corea’s masterpiece ‘The  Leprechaun ’. Of course I hope drummers did enjoy the vocals of Ben Sidran, the guitar virtuosity of Lee Ritenour and piano compositional genius of Chick Corea but something more was beginning to happen and always tends to happened when idolization takes effect. Drummers globally became Steve Gadd. They saw themselves as cool because “they” could play the funky little lick from such and such an album. In fact they played this funky little “50 ways to leave your lover” lick whether they were playing Glenn Miller’s In The Mood with a Big Band or Eddie Floyds’ Knock on Wood with a pub soul band.

This to many a musician in the band became a situation that at best could be described as ‘excruciating painful and wholly inappropriate!’ Many jokes have circulated about the lead singer, sometimes the guitarist, rarely the keyboard player but increasingly the drummer jokes were borne of the frustration from the masses of those grateful musicians who intent on doing their best at faithfully reproducing the music that their beer swigging groupies wanted to enjoy.

“How many drummers does it take to change a light bulb? The answer? 50! One to change the light bulb and 49 to discuss how Steve Gadd would have done it! Told before? Sure… But none so relevant as to highlight the point as now.

I am a great fan of a multi million selling book written by another of my non-drumming heroes the late Stephen R Covey named The Seven Habits of Highly of Effective People. This book has become pretty much one of the definitive self-help texts to which I highly invite you to investigate if in fact you haven’t already. In this book, we learn of something called the maturity continuum. I came to realise that this is something that is very relevant to musicians. For me it translates roughly to something like this.

 

1.    We get inspired to ‘pick up sticks’ by watching something that triggers something we relate to whether visually, audibly or influence.

2.    We learn to hold the drumsticks, we learn to play a rhythm and we learn to play a fill. In other words, we learn to bash! But we know it feels good, to us at least!

3.    We learn a concept called “time”. To execute this smoothly and accurately we begin to realise that we have something valuable that will enable us to perform with other musicians. We even realise that we may be able to earn “a little money” from performing with this relative basic skill. Following “time” we learn that the placement of our beats enhances the music or equally destroys the music! This we come to know as “feel”, or to put the two together “time feel”. A part of the Holy Grail.

 

Now, for many of us, this is as far as our drumming musical desires/interests progress.

Some of us continue on this maturity continuum however.

4.    We (a little like babies!) begin to mimic the sounds and styles of drummers that we now begin to enjoy. This is fine and an important part of the “musicians” maturity continuum. We take this to varying lengths. Sometimes we merely steal a groove or a fill. I do this now both consciously and sub-consciously. I do however say this with the proviso and that is that I call this an influence rather than a steal as I will always try an make it my own by inputting very own take on it – you begin to enjoy the process of taking someone’s idea, kicking it around, making it into different shapes, turning it on it’s head and making it your own. Some drummers steal to the extreme with no modification however. Buddy Rich had one jazz drumming idolizer who he constantly used to berate for copying his style. I hasten to add that it wasn’t my Uncle Carl however. Carl did take something Buddy, something jazz, kicked it around ‘a little’ and made it rock, or in his terms made it his own. In the early 1980’s everyone wanted to be Dave Weckl. His drum layout with the 8” and 10” rack toms must have been the most common of all setups around this time. Musically great for Chick Corea’s Elektric Band. A musical disaster for almost any other commercial musical style! There were elements of mimicking that got a little dark too. I have known drummers copy rhythms, fills, set ups etc and all fine in the learning process, however I have seen drummer then mimic the hairstyle, the dress sense, the accent, the alcoholic tipple of choice and even the Class A drug addiction. Yes, I have seen all of this. Maybe you have too… It is in one word “disturbing!” to see. Extreme yes, but it does happen.

 

5.    We develop things along the maturity continuum and come to this stage. The stage where a beautiful realization starts to occur and one discovers ones “own” voice on the instrument. This doesn’t “just” happen on the whole with out the ground work. I say “on the whole” as there have been notable exceptions, or geniuses who’s first names Buddy and Tony may ring a bell? Even in these cases however, the perfect storm of artistic collision has to happen. I am now along the ‘maturity continuum’ that I call it as musician to a point where I am beginning to find my self as an artist on the drums. Why do I use such a pretentious term as artist? Well, I can honestly say that this does not come from the standpoint of ego. Ian an artist? What are you on about! I say this as I see my work as that of an artist because my aim is to create emotion, colour and add in any way I can as a human being. My name is not Pro Tools/logic pro/sequencer/Roland or whatever and my business is not ones and zeroes, I don’t play the same on every gig and I don’t get packed away into a flight case at the end of the gig not able to share a conversation about music and in fact a range of subjects. I don’t appear on record behind the next trendy pop wannabe or even on stage and, and, and you probably get my point by now! My band The Ghosts use a vast array sequenced paraphernalia I hope to a pleasurable degree but as I heard Vinnie Colaiuta once say, “I’m not about one and zeroes” My beautiful fiancée Rebecca in advertently paid me the highest compliment I have ever received when I played her the desk mixes from a recording session that I had just taken part in with legendary LA Producer Larry Klein and Guitarist Dean Parks for Norwegian artist Thomas Dybdahl. With a proud smile and I am happy to say no sense of sarcasm, she said “I can always sense when its you playing darling”. If she was a drummer I would have been less moved but the fact is she is a talented musical vocalist made that comment particularly special. I welled up and hugged her. It’s taken me 28 years and 8 months to get to this point where I truly know my playing. What she was saying was that she sensed me, my feeling in the music, I connected with her and not by a fill or groove that she had heard me play before. So, as an artist, that is what I hope to achieve.

 

 

6.    Ok, so we are progressing nicely along this road of musical discovery. We are getting hired for professional gigs, we may now be part of a band that is receiving adulation and critical acclaim. Oh my goodness we may even be recognised in public! I am sure you can guess my thoughts on that red herring? Work through attraction and not promotion is the best way! Attraction to your artistic statement and integrity. You are merely the vehicle my friend, the music is the aim. We still desire to take things to the next level though – because we are human and we need to grow. I mentioned that stage 4 for me was discovering our voice and we start to sound a little unique in a good way but to our dismay we may not be truly comfortable. The next stage in the musical continuum comes when we find that we are now not only able express ourselves musically. But, we now begin to truly serve the music… Rebecca sensed my playing and that was a great moment in life for me. I now try with humility and humbleness to be a loyal servant of the music and this enables me to sit back and consider what is being asked of me musically with my tools and technique a craftsman has to offer. What this comes down to is taste and talent now. However much of either I have is debatable but not too debatable, as really it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I continue to grow as human being and fulfill any potential that the Lord has blessed me with. If you truly come from a place of serving the music and helping create something where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and by the parts I mean, the other musicians you will find that the other musicians will grow and who knows what is possible? The possibilities are limitless, musical, tasteful and beautiful. The highest compliment is when someone hears your playing realises the taste and appropriateness the desire to serve the music and then comes to you and says “Ian I heard such and such you played on, it just moved me emotionally. It was a statement!” That’s what it is all about for me. That’s my dream… That’s what I strive for…

There are beacons who before us set our beautiful artform in differing directions to bring us to the point where we are today, and what a great place our artform has arrived at. Some drummers are pushing the boundaries. The majority are using identical one rack tom, big crash cymbal, big bass drum set ups which is not meant as a criticism in anyway, but my only concern is that once upon a time everyone tried to be Steve Gadd then everyone tried to be Dave Weckl now most are attempting to be Bonzo or Ringo! I was rehearsing in the summer at John Henry’s Rehearsal Complex in London, England and I got chatting to a drummer whose name I forget who performs with a well-known female pop singer. I just recalled him being slightly off hand in his attitude because he was using the the current fashion Ringo set up and I had selected more of what he described as a Gadd set up. He said “Gadd set up? Man I was doing that years ago! Got to be one rack tom now man” I certainly took no offence and smiled and said something along the lines of “Oh, thanks for letting me know!” I wasn’t unduly worried though as he probably got packed into a flight case along with rest Fab Four drums at the end of the gig too!

 

 

Believe me drumming wasn’t invented by Chad Smith or Tre Cool great as these guys are… To develop your drumming voice, with integrity ask yourself. Am I familiar with these drummers in chronological order from history?

Baby Dodds

Big Sid Catlett

Gene Krupa

Papa Jo Jones

Philly Joe Jones

Buddy Rich

Louie Bellson

Joe Morello

Max Roach

Art Blakey

Mel Lewis

Sonny Payne

Tony Williams

Elvin Jones

Jack de Johnette

Earl Palmer

Bernard Purdie

Clyde Stubblefield

Hal Blaine

Ginger Baker

John Bonham

Ian Paice

David Garibaldi

Billy Cobham

Sly Dunbar

Lenny White

Steve Gadd

Jeff Porcaro

Neil Peart

John “JR” Robinson

Dave Weckl

Vinnie Colaiuta

Keith Carlock

Yes I am sure I have missed a few but if you are serious about out art take time to listen to these drummers and you’ll begin to see how so many influenced each other and little by little the art of drumming evolved. Be a great detective and really get involved in your art. I have had nearly 30 years of music and everyday I feel truly blessed. I am continually learning new ways to serve the music and hopefully connect with those who are happy to listen to the music I create. I am blessed to have such an un wavering interest in music and hope to fulfill any potential that I have been blessed with in order to bring a little positivity to our world.

Sincerely,

 

Ian

 

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