October 27, 2004

Let There Be Drums.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 9:06 pm

I suppose it started about a zillion years ago when I was in kindergarten. The teacher handed out various rhythm instruments (e.g. claves, maracas, tambourines), which included one drum. The idea was that we would form up and do a little parade around the classroom. I got the drum.

I have been told (and I also vaguely recall) that all the other kids randomly whacked, clacked and banged their instruments, but I grabbed the sticks and played a rudimentary march lick. After that, I always got the drum for these little “parades.” The next time my mother had occasion to come to the school, the teacher said, “You should really buy this kid a drum.”

Following the teacher’s advice, my parents bought me what could only be described as a toy drum. I fooled around with it, but I was too young to take it very seriously, and I never sought or received lessons. However, they tell me that for years thereafter I tapped on everything in sight in time to whatever music I was listening too, and I was always listening to music. It was also during this time (about age 7 or 8) that my dad taught me a few chords on the guitar, which provided the foundation for learning a bit more about playing guitar from guitar players I played drums with in bands in later years (but that’s fodder for another post).

I got de-railed for a few years when, after listening to Myron Floren (a famous accordion player who was a regular on the Lawrence Welk Show) do his stuff, my mother (with a Polish maiden name) decided that I should take accordion lessons. I spent the next four or five years (at least it seemed that long) trying to convince my parents and myself that I liked playing the farookin’ accordion, all the while “drumming” in my mind and on any horizontal surface I could find while music was playing.

For quite some time, my “drum” was a plastic box in which my mother stored her bingo markers, and my “sticks” were two 12 inch rulers. I recall drumming my ass off on that box to songs like Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” and “Something Else” and countless other songs that appeared on the albums (i.e. those big, black, vinyl things) that I eagerly bought with my spending money.

More than anything, I wanted to play real drums. I wrote letters to drum manufacturers, requesting their catalogs (this was the pre-computer dark ages), and when they arrived, I would spend hours gazing at the drum sets, imagining that I might some day actually get to play a set of real drums. When I wasn’t catalog gazing I was taking buses into Newark to hang around the drum departments of the half dozen or so music stores that were in a particular area of the city at the time. “Yo, kid. If you can’t afford them, don’t touch ‘em.” I wanted to play a set of drums so bad I could taste it. Furthermore, I just KNEW that I could play those damned things, having played them in my head for years. It was sort of a Zen thing, I suppose.

After a while, I had scored some real drumsticks, enabling me to ditch the rulers. I had gotten them from a friend of mine, who was actually taking drum lessons, but to my ear, he never really got it. Then, one day, I took a deep breath and asked my mother if it would be OK if I bought a snare drum, for starters. “It’s only one drum, mom, and I’ll use my own money.” She agreed, perhaps hoping that by letting me have a drum, the drum thing would soon become stale and fade away.

I had had my eye on a cheap Pearl snare drum (Pearl made low-end, cheap drums back then) that was within financial striking distance of the few bucks I had saved. Once I had saved enough money to finally buy the drum, I took the bus with a buddy into Newark to finally buy it – a real drum. After I picked out the drum, the salesman said, “Of course, you want a stand.”

Damn! I had completely forgotten that I needed a stand. The problem was that I didn’t have enough money for the stand. It sounds silly now, but back then, at about age 15, I was crushed by the seeming unfairness of it all. I had spent what seemed like forever imagining myself playing that drum. Now, here I was, standing in the store with the drum in my hand, and I didn’t have enough money for the damned stand.

Fortunately, my buddy came to the rescue. Between the extra few dollars I had (including my bus fare home) and the few bucks he had (including his bus fare home), I was able to buy the drum and the stand. Neither of having any money for the bus, we walked the several miles home carrying my new drum. I never forgot him for that.

What good is a drum without a cymbal? That was my next purchase. My mother must have finally recognized that any dreams she may have had of my being the next Myron Floren were out the window, so she told me that I could sell my accordion and use the money to put toward a bass drum. I enthusiastically accepted her offer. A couple birthday and Christmas gifts from relatives provided me with an honest-to-goodness, albeit it cheap, basic set of blue sparkle, Pearl drums (for you drummers — bass, snare, 8×12 tom, hi-hats, a 20” ride cymbal and a 16’ crash cymbal, all Zildjians).

I played the shit out of those drums along with records blasting on a Mondo Motorola record player that had a power tube in it the size of a damned cucumber. Hours at a time, I’d play, with my parents somehow tolerating it all. Maybe they had noticed that, after a while, groups of folks would hang out on the sidewalk outside the house listening to me play along with the then-popular stuff (the Ventures, Viscounts, Johnny and the Hurricanes, Duane Eddy, and other early 60’s rock and roll tunes) as well as classic Gene Krupa and Cozy Cole drum solos.

I guess word got around, because, before I knew it, a couple local guitar guys asked me to play in their band. That marked the beginning of twenty-five years worth of playing in various bands (except for two years, courtesy of Uncle Sam), and playing occasionally to this day.

By virtue of spending so much time with guitar players through the years, I managed to learn to play a bit of guitar, and bass guitar, which I also do to this day.

However, I have often said that I play drums better than I do anything else. It’s a Zen thing.


  1. Well, hell, when do I get to hear some of it?

    Comment by zombyboy — October 27, 2004 @ 10:17 pm

  2. sit at the lunch table with him at work, he plays the popcorn-container bongos…

    so when’s the next gig?

    Comment by Mike — October 27, 2004 @ 10:47 pm

  3. What a neat read, Jim! I knew I liked you for some reason or other. But the big question is, do you use a traditional grip (like real men with really great hair do) or a matched grip (like all the percussion posers)? The past two years I have been teaching marching bands and indoor drum lines, so I have been trying to actually learn a little snare drumming technique. (I am a piano and brass player by trade, and also write for and teach mallets for both outdoor and indoor.) Though far from being able to play anything remotely impressive, I do have one mean paradiddle-diddle, let me tell you!

    Anyway, I liked the bit about your learning accordion. You do know that your story is remarkably similiar to that of “Weird Al” Yankovic, right? Well, up until abandoning the accordion anyway. I actually pestered my parents in high school to buy me an accordion, and still play to this day. I even made some poor marimba player use it for the marching band show this year, since the show starts with Billy Joel’s Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. It works nicely, though this poor girl stil cannot believe she is actually playing the damn thing in a marching band.

    Sorry about the long comment, everyone. This is, basically, the kind of stuff I should post in my own blog, instead of, oh, nothing. I am sure I will get on that. Maybe. Those of you who made it this far, thanks!

    Comment by Auskunft — October 28, 2004 @ 1:03 am

  4. My new SIL is a drummer, though like you he plays several instruments. Watching him play, I can see what you mean about it’s a Zen thing.

    Best of all, he has an old set that he lets WildChild (who’s obsessed with drums) play around with all he wants. What a guy, eh?

    Comment by Rita — October 28, 2004 @ 7:27 am

  5. Do I get bonus points for recognizing the title of this post as a Ventures tune?

    The Ventures figured prominently in my own musical direction.

    Just a couple of things I’ve noticed over the years: It seems like almost every drummer is a frustrated guitar player, and every guitar player is a frustrated drummer. I tried to learn the skins, and got to where I could play them some, but not near as well as our regular drummers. 🙂

    Also, as Mike mentioned above, do you drummers have to drum on everything? Sheesh. 🙂

    Comment by Craig — October 28, 2004 @ 8:21 am

  6. Craig — You’d have gotten bonus points if you had guessed that “Let there be Drums” was done by Sandy Nelson, who also had a hit with another song featuring him called “Teen Beat.”

    As for tapping on everything, yes. And, don’t forget the feet. We’re also working them as well, but it is not as obvious. Hell, I sometimes even click my teeth in time or in counterpoint as I am walking. 🙂

    Comment by Jim - Parkway Rest Stop — October 28, 2004 @ 8:40 am

  7. Well, how about 1/2 credit for knowing that The Ventures covered it? 🙂

    Oh, well. I’d been listening to Wipe Out for years before I knew that it was a cover.

    Actually, I suppose I should have assumed it was a cover, since The Ventures seldom did original material.

    They were still very cool, though.

    Comment by Craig — October 28, 2004 @ 9:25 am

  8. Cool! Very cool!

    Comment by Fausta — October 28, 2004 @ 9:58 am

  9. How very cool. Why just today I had someone playing a drum solo on my behind (not what it sounds like – you had to be there – but I have decent, um, snares that appealed to a drum & bugle corps graduate). However, you sold the accordion? How could you?

    And Aus, you play piano? Wonderful! – I’m a pianist also and learning how to tune them as a second career.

    Comment by Shamrock — October 28, 2004 @ 10:03 pm

  10. I couldn’t help but laugh when I read Craig’s post. Check out Van Halen’s story about Eddie and Alex! They both “cut their teeth” on opposite instruments that they play now.

    Thanks for sharing your drumming history!

    Comment by Brian — November 3, 2004 @ 6:15 pm

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