Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hammer time at L.A. Philharmonic !!!

Los Angeles Philharmonic percussionist Perry Dreiman offers a demonstration.

A 25-pound mallet helps make the perfect thud in Mahler's Sixth Symphony.
By David Mermelstein
February 7, 2008

Rarely does chopping wood or smashing rocks count as orchestra practice. But when the piece in question is Gustav Mahler's mighty Symphony No. 6, pretty much anything goes, at least for percussionists.

The symphony, first performed in 1906, is not Mahler's longest -- the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth all surpass it -- but it may require the most stamina for the percussionist delivering its defining hammer blows.

That's right: hammer blows, like the kind that ring bells on high strikers at carnivals.

Midway through the final movement, an enormous hammer delivers two thwacks -- Alma Mahler said her husband described them as blows of fate. Enhanced by timpani and bass drum, they are among the most dramatic moments in all symphonic music.

"I should probably go work out at the gym," Los Angeles Philharmonic percussionist Perry Dreiman said the other day. That's because he's the designated hitter, so to speak, for the orchestra's performances this weekend of the Sixth, to be conducted by Christoph Eschenbach, music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Dreiman, a strapping 6 feet 5, also wielded the hammer when the Philharmonic last performed the work -- in December 2003, soon after Walt Disney Concert Hall opened, with Michael Tilson Thomas on the podium. In fact, Dreiman has struck the blows every time the orchestra has played the symphony since he joined it in 1985.

Yet what may at first seem like the ultimate kick in classical music turns out to be a complicated affair. First, there's the issue of the right smack.

"Mahler writes that it should sound like the blow of an ax, not like a hammer on a piece of iron," Eschenbach said by phone from Paris last week. "It should sound damp but loud, without any resonance, like a very loud thud."

And securing an object to produce that sound? That has forced orchestras around the world to act creatively. In the case of the Philharmonic, Dreiman arrived with his own hammer -- something he crafted during his days as a student at the Aspen Music Festival.

"It was constructed from an ax handle topped by a block of pine measuring 5 by 7 inches," he said, displaying it, Paul Bunyan-like, in Disney Hall's backstage percussion room.

At his first chance to use the hammer in his new job, however, in April 1987, Dreiman was thwarted -- by no less than Simon Rattle, now chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. Actually, all concerned decided that Dreiman's modified ax just wasn't loud enough.

Finding a solution fell to Michael Nutt, a now-retired Philharmonic violinist with a knack for invention. "He liked to dabble making things for the percussion section," Dreiman recalled. "He made whips and bell plates for us. And he was instrumental in creating the second-generation hammer, which resembled a pile driver."

That fearsome instrument, more than 4 1/2 feet long, consisted of a 3-by-7 beam with a horizontal dowel serving as its handle. Alas, it worked a little too well. "It was so powerful it shattered the podium it struck," Dreiman said.

But it sure pleased Rattle, who inscribed its black surface in silver ink with these words: "I suppose I still owe you one more stroke per night. . . . Many thanks and much love in Mahleria."

The remark isn't quite as strange as it sounds. It refers to Mahler's decision when he published the score to reduce the number of hammer blows to two from three -- a choice that retains an air of mystery given the composer's preoccupation with premonitions and death.

"He cut the third blow when he was writing the Eighth Symphony," Eschenbach said, "because he didn't believe any more in that final blow. Unfortunately, he didn't write about why. But scholars think that in writing the positive messages contained in the Eighth Symphony, he no longer wanted a final, fateful blow."

As to creating the blows, the Philharmonic's current solution came during Tilson Thomas' 2003 visit.

"Michael came with his own vision," said Dreiman. "He didn't go for the pile driver." Having recorded the symphony with his own orchestra in San Francisco two years before, the conductor had strong feelings about the matter and suggested that the Philharmonic examine his solution, an enormous mallet once used to secure the stakes of circus tents.

Tom Hemphill, a longtime percussionist with the San Francisco Symphony, had found the hammer at a salvage shop in Northern California. For performances, he'd slam it on a large plywood box, with a hole cut out to amplify the sound and prevent the box from exploding.

Plans were faxed from San Francisco, and the Philharmonic's carpenters copied the box and the hammer.

Mounted on short legs, the Philharmonic's box, made of white ash, stands 5 feet 2 and is 3 feet deep and 7 feet across. The sound hole has an 18-inch diameter. Because of the box's size, the percussionist must mount three steps to strike it properly.

The new hammer, which Dreiman says weighs about 25 pounds, consists of an ax handle topped by a cylindrical head, its pieces laminated and secured by metal bands. "You don't want it breaking apart and flying into the audience," Dreiman said.

Indeed, before a performance, he makes a point of addressing audience members sitting close: "I tell them, 'Don't be alarmed, but I'm going to get up and whale on this thing a couple times.' "

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


can you say "sub-prime interest loans" ??????

Monday, March 17, 2008

ABBA drummer found dead in his garden

I know that it's been a little morbid around here with some of the passing of individuals, and the documentation of them.
These are people that have influenced me and my playing, so there should be something said to at least honor them, in some way.
That being said, how many of us have considered ABBA to be a "guilty pleasure" of sorts.
The truth is this band was one of the biggest selling groups in music history.
They don't have to apologize for success, as George Lucas once said about creating Star Wars, and the fallout after.

Ola Brunkert was one of those inspirations along the way, for me. He always seemed to play the right thing for the song. One of my favorites was "The Name Of The Game" with it's slinky 2-beat funk groove. Can someone say "Dancing Queen"...another groove that was just right for the moment.

By CIARAN GILES, Associated Press Writer
Mon Mar 17
9:13 AM ET

MADRID, Spain - A former drummer for the Swedish pop band ABBA was found dead with cuts to his neck in the garden of his house on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Police said Monday an autopsy showed it was an accident.

A neighbor found the body of 62-year-old Ola Brunkert on Sunday evening at his house in a coastal area outside the eastern town of Arta, a Civil Guard spokesman told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

He said an autopsy was carried out and confirmed initial investigations. "It was an accident," he said.

The spokesman said Brunkert hit his head against a glass door in his dining room, shattering the glass and cutting himself in the neck. He managed to wrap a towel around his neck and left the house to seek help, but collapsed in the garden.

Brunkert lived in the coastal apartment complex of Betlem in the municipality of Arta, in the eastern part of Mallorca.

Brunkert had lived in Arta for around 20 years. His wife, Inger. died less than a year ago, an Arta municipal official told the AP. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to discuss the case.

ABBA band member Benny Anderson told Swedish daily Expressen he was sad to hear of the drummer's death. "It is tragic," he said.

Band member Bjorn Ulvaeus added that Brunkert had been "one of the best."

"I remember him as a good friend when we worked together in the mid-1970s. He was a very creative musician who contributed a lot when we toured together and worked in the studio," Ulvaeus told Expressen.

According to ABBA's official Web site, Brunkert and bass player Rutger Gunnarsson were the only musicians to appear on all ABBA albums.

Brunkert first played with ABBA on the group's first single, "People Need Love," and toured with the band in 1977, 1979 and 1980.

He had been a jazz drummer and a member of the blues band Slim's Blues Gang, before joining pop group Science Poption in the mid-1960s.

ABBA, with the four regular members Agnetha Faltskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Ulvaeus and Andersson, was one of the world's most successful bands, with album sales of more than 370 million. The group has not performed together since 1982, but continues to sell nearly 3 million records a year.


On the Net:



Thursday, March 13, 2008

Buddy Miles, flamboyant rock drummer with Jimi Hendrix in his Band of Gypsys, passes away

As a kid, I do remember hearing Jimi Hendrix, and recognizing that after Mitch Mitchell did his firmament stint with JH, Buddy Miles was the next to make his mark and to point the compass of all who aspired to drum and to express themselves, as the rhythm told them to. Buddy was the musician that sailed lots of those seas of rhythm, and this inspired legions of drummers to perhaps, match some of his soulful fury...

In my varied musician travels, I do remember being on the road with the Jazz keyboardist Tom Grant, and as we are clocking the many miles down the freeway, just trying to get the motor home back to Portland after a long tour, I do remember hearing "Band Of Gypsies" about 5 times in total, as we went through the state of Nebraska, doing what we would do to pass the many miles to traverse this country. Buddy's rock-solid groove passed through all the tunes we heard, and completed the necessary ostanato of groove that would sustain our ferverent interest.

Buddy also spent some time, living here in PDX and interacting with the locals, and being just a genial and wonderful spirit. I did get the chance to talk to him a few years later, and he did remember fondly the about 8 months he was here, living in town.

I also remember freely hijacking my brother Muntasir's copy of Buddy's hit solo effort "Them Changes", and checking it out many times... that is, only after hearing it come from his bedroom many a day/night... (he would put a speaker outside his bedroom and I would hear the right channel of the album...it's funny to remember that aspect of the story )
and in the course of that... letting it surround my ears,
and influence me musically in the '70's,

As a drummer, I have never been
the same...


R.I.P. Buddy Miles. : )

and big thanks to the mighty Tony Coleman for giving, and pointing my compass on what Buddy meant to all of us...

Buddy Miles, the American rock drummer who died on February 26, was a member of Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsys from 1969 until Hendrix's death in 1970.

During his career Miles played on more than 70 albums, and appeared with musicians such as Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Muddy Waters, Ike Turner, Barry White, Prince and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Part of Miles's appeal as a rock musician was his physical appearance. From his command post behind his drum kit he held audiences spellbound with his Stars-and-Stripes shirts, high-brushed Afro hairstyle, massive frame and engaging smile.

Born George Allen Miles on September 5 1947 at Omaha, Nebraska, Buddy took his nickname from the drummer Buddy Rich and was considered something of a child prodigy, playing drums in his father's jazz band, the Bebops. George Sr had played upright bass with Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon.

As a teenager Buddy Miles played in a variety of bands, including Ruby and the Romantics, the Ink Spots and the Delfonics. In 1967 he formed Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield, guitarist with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. When Electric Flag broke up after their second album, Miles formed the Buddy Miles Express.

This was the era in which the demarcation between black and white artists in rock music began to be broken down (Jimi Hendrix himself was the first black musician to become a "white" rock star), and Miles was part of this process.

He had met Hendrix in Canada when both were acting as sidemen for other artists in the early 1960s. As Hendrix started to include guest artists on his recordings, he invited Miles to participate, and Miles played with him on two tracks on the influential Electric Ladyland album (1968). Later their friendship led to various collaborations, Hendrix producing the Buddy Miles Express release, Electric Church, in 1969. Soon afterwards Miles joined Hendrix in the short-lived group, Band of Gypsys. A notable feature of its line-up was that all the players were black. This was a first for Hendrix and was seen as a move towards reconnecting with his soul roots. Perhaps the group's best known album was Live at the Fillmore East, which featured Billy Cox on bass guitar; it was recorded on New Year's Eve 1969, the last night of the 1960s.

But a month later, when Hendrix appeared to suffer a (probably drug-related) breakdown on stage (there were suspicions that someone had spiked his drink), Miles was fired by Hendrix's manager, Michael Jeffery. Although the Band of Gypsys was wound up, Miles continued to work with Hendrix until his death in September 1970.

Miles went on to produce other records under his own name.
Soon after Hendrix's death he re-recorded "Them Changes"

a song he had written and recorded with the Band of Gypsys. It became his signature song, and later featured on a live record he made with Carlos Santana.

Signed to the Casablanca record label, Miles released the album Bicentennial Gathering Of The Tribes, an echo of his friendship and collaboration with Hendrix, who had Native American blood.

In the late 1970s Miles was sent to prison after being convicted of theft, serving his sentence at the California Institution for Men at Chino and at San Quentin - at both institutions he formed his own bands. He was released in 1985, and the following year found work singing in the highly popular California Raisins Claymation advertising campaign (the California Raisins were a fictional R&B group); he was also lead vocalist on two California Raisins albums of 1960s R&B covers. He rejoined Carlos Santana as a vocalist on Santana's album Freedom.

In 1999 Miles appeared on Bruce Cameron's album, Midnight Daydream, featuring the former Hendrix musicians Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell, as well as Jack Bruce and others.

In 2006 Miles released a final live album, The Band Of Gypsys Return, the result of a reunion with Billy Cox to re-record songs from the original live album of 1970.

Buddy Miles is survived by his partner, Sherrilae Chambers.

Dennis Irwin...the passing of a great bassist and spirit

I got an email the other day from a professional bassist in town here, who informed me that the great Dennis Irwin had passed away on the 10th of this month...

As some of you may or may not know, I am a great fan of the late, great drummer Mel Lewis and his playing of the drumset.

Dennis Irwin spent many hours in the service of Mel and his big band/sextet, and always was a fine support with all the varied, stellar musicians he played with.

He was the grand example of cool and hipness, with a willing nature to empart upon those around him a beautiful aura of the essence of what Jazz was, is and will be for those to come to it's creative firmament.

I have posted a You Tube video that is a fine primer on the essence of what Dennis Irwin was about.
Check the Lord Buckley 'hipster' lingo and the joyful delivery Dennis unleashes.

Thanks to ace writer/critic Bret Primack for a wonderful tribute to a great man who just happened to play bass for a living.

Thanks Brian for sending this to me and increasing my awareness.

Please enjoy,

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

God Bless You, Robert Plant !!!!

Hey there friends (and as Redd Foxx once said)...
and you OTHERS!! : )

For me, here was an evening spent toiling in the trenches and doing just what we all would be doing, and it finally wound down with the result being going mindless in front of the late evening news.

Through the majority of the dreck that would ensue with regularity, I heard a story about Robert Plant nixing any hopes of a Led Zeppelin reunion tour, mainly because he just wasn't interested in it, and had other plans to go and tour some dates with his recent liason/super great project with Allison Krause.


Now don't get me wrong....I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, but in the real of things, there is a good point to RP just saying that he is not into doing this reunion thing. Here are some points to consider, coming from yours truly and my opinion, which has had many years to gestiate and formulate.

1) There will never again be a REAL, bonified reunion of the Zep....
remember, John Bohnam is DEAD, and even though his kid, Jason has stepped up to the plate honorably during the recent Ahmet Ertegun tribute concert (hey kids, did you get your ticket...was your lottery number called???) and put some real chops down in the best of honour of the dead Dad unit, but ladies and gents, that ship HAS sailed long ago.

In the words of The Beatles....Let it Be

2) Personally, I am pretty satisfied with the output/legend of what Zeppelin was about....I guess I just didn't need the grand reprise of all things Zep that bad...especially after seeing Plant/Page and their set at the 50th Anniversary Atlantic Records Show, which worked for me that night.
(Anybody remember an out of breath Plant at Live Aid, back in the 80's????)

3) Have you even heard Robert Plant and Allison Krauss' not-so-new, but truly a gem of an album that won big at the Grammys this past year???

If you were making an attempt at distancing yourself from a past that really can't be replicated (RP's voice isn't that high, anymore, friends...age does this to you) unloading this album on the public was a gem that didn't need polishing, and was a wonderfully realized pairing of two great voices...
Moreover, RP's voice has not slacked on the other end of things where he wasn't screaming. It is a very mature and expressive statement that deserves to be inhaled in like a fine wine.
Just a wonderful talent getting older gracefully and shouldn't all artists be allowed to grow and change?

4)Maybe you have forgotten.... RP HAS had a steady solo career away from the Zep.

My fave album of his solo output is a toss between "Pictures At Eleven", "Shaken n' Stirred" or "Now And Zen"...(FYI...great drummer performances on each of these albums....Cozy Powell (the late), Phil Collins, and even Richie Haywood (doing some rockin' and slamming of his drums, gleefully away from his usual deep Little Feat fare).

Anybody remember "Little By Little","Big Log" or the stomping Zepp-ified "Burning Down One Side"
I can't forget one of my big faves... "Pink And Black" from the "Shaken" album ??? Just too cool!!!

5) Nostalgia....In my humble opinion, there comes a time when we all need to just........let..... go.
(See exhibit 1 above...)

News flash!!! The Beatles are coming back.........................................NOT!!! : )

Now the kids that are rediscovering music, and not being totally tied to the iPod teat, I would not dissuade them from seeing all the live that they can get, but there are many things to see on video and get the point...
Zep being one of them...
and Hendrix being a bigger One of them.

Spend some of that non-existent, deposible income on the DVD of your choice and then you own it...or better yet...
go out and support some live music, wherever and whenever you can. Lots of worthy artists that play night after night in your backyard. Work on that live music viewing acumen that is sorely missed these days

With all of the digital distractions out there, the iPod generation has some work to do.

thanks for listening,

here is "Burning Down One Side" from the album Pictures At Eleven

here is "Kashmir" from the Atlantic Records' 50th Anniversary Concert

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Johnny Vidacovich: The Foundation of a Musician

Johnny Vidacovich: The Foundation of a Musician

Hey there friends, this post contains a great article about the wonderful NOLA drummer, Johnny Vidacovich
This post resides on Jambands.com and I appreciate their generousity here
Johnny V Is a legend in New Orleans and an true creative icon in modern American Drumming.
But like so many of the great New Orleans musicians, he continues to function in obscurity.
He has a new album called We Came To Play and it features Johnny, June Yamagishi (Papa Grows Funk), and George Porter Jr. (The Meters). Recently, he has been dealing (as are many people down there) with the remains of his house and health, after Katrina.
A very interesting read...
please enjoy,

Johnny Vidacovich: The Foundation of a Musician
Randy Ray

Johnny Vidacovich has spent time playing with a wide variety of musicians from various genres—Charlie Hunter, Professor Longhair, Stanton Moore, Willy DeVille, Mose Allison, George Porter, Jr, to name a few—but the common denominator is New Orleans. He has been a popular fixture in the Big Easy for over three decades as one of the scene’s best drummers and teachers of the craft. Indeed, as this interview will attest, the experience he brings to his kit and the Tipitina’s Sunday Workshops Series where he holds court with Moore and other visiting musicians like guitarist Luther Dickinson, carries forward into lessons about collaboration and the art of improvisation.
The legacy of Hurricane Katrina’s impact in New Orleans did not escape Vidacovich. Although his home wasn’t destroyed like so many other residences, it did suffer foundation damage and, as the renowned musician will detail, he found other problems with the house as he began repairs. On top of that bit of hard luck, last July, Vidacovich discovered that he had arthritis in his right thumb casting serious doubt on his future. To the rescue came his one-time student and esteemed colleague Stanton Moore as the Galactic leader organized a Benefit Vidacovich gig at Tipitina’s in New Orleans on January 16 which helped him begin his home repairs and get additional medical help. The gig played like a “mini-fest,” according to the drummer with a lineup which included Galactic, Robert Walter, Papa Grows Funk, the Soul Rebels and Garage A Trois.
The one-time Longhair drummer, Moore guru, Hunter co-conspirator and Porter, Jr, trio mate sits down with Jambands.com to discuss his current plight, fellow musicians, generous old friends and the nature of the music we call “collective improvisation.” Vidacovich is a compassionate, humorous and honest man who has lived through his music for a very long time and thoroughly enjoys telling his tale as long as one is willing to listen (and he has a few things to say about that subject, too).
RR: How did the Benefit Vidacovich gig at Tipitina’s on January 16 turn out?
JV: I was amazed and awed. It was a very humbling experience. It surprised me that it turned out to become what it became. Stanton Moore came over to my house as he always does and he sat at the table and says, “Let’s figure out something to help you out with your hand because of your arthritis and your house is all messed up”—the insurance companies all fell under. “Let’s try to get together some musicians and have a benefit.”
That’s the way he sat at the kitchen table and explained it to me so in my mind, I pictured getting a bunch of my friends playing and that would be that. As it turned out, Stanton Moore being the kind of guy that he is, it looked like it must have been six hours of musicians non-stop. I don’t know. I couldn’t count the musicians that played. It turned out to be a Stanton Moore mini-set with different kinds of bands and musicians—a brass band, the Soul Rebels, Garage A Trois, Robert Walter, Papa Grows Funk, the Midnight Disturbers, Galactic. It was tremendous, man. I was freaked out.
Most of the time in my life, I was part of a charity and a benefit. This is the first time in my life that I’ve ever been on the other end of it. I have to say it was quite shocking and successful. It started the repairs for my house to begin and things are coming around, slowly. Things still have to be done. It also enabled me to seek a little bit more therapeutic and things to deal with my arthritis and the problems that came up this last summer with my right hand. Now, I can take some therapeutic measures and not feel so pressed to play every single gig in order to keep the groceries on the table and try to fix the house. Now, I can fix the house with my own money. Stanton’s benefit helped out tremendous. Tip’s also helped out a tremendous amount to get the ball rolling.
To put it all…you know…(pauses)…there’s only word you can say and that is “thanks.” There is no way to describe how you feel when that many people give up something. To me, I would just go play benefits and it would be like a party, seeing friends and everybody would be happy because it’s all going to a good cause or a good person. Now, I see the whole circle. I remember being a little kid and playing once a week at charity hospitals, playing Dixieland music for sick people, once a month playing at the tuberculosis ward and once a month playing at the home for the incurables. I remember going to all of these things and playing benefits here and benefits there. Now, I’m on the receiving end and I’ve never felt that before. The only polite thing I was ever taught to say and reminded by Johnny Allen and what his mother told him: “Son, just say ‘thank you’.” There’s no words to be said. My grandmother also told me that. When someone does something nice for you, you say, “Thanks.”
I also learned about this word ‘humility’, to be humbled. I found out that this was a word that you’ve got to keep with you all of your life. It’s more like a verb. It’s something that’s taken on a whole new meaning now, the way that kind of thing feels. It’s a very beautiful, thankful and humble experience. I was quite surprised. For the first two hours, I was speechless at how many musicians and people around town came and just gave it up.
RR: What specifically happened to your house? It didn’t get destroyed by Hurricane Katrina but the flooding took a toll and a tree fell on the house, right?
JV: Yeah. It messed up the foundation with the weight of the tree. Also, the wind blew the foundation funny and sitting in water for so long contributed to the integrity of the foundation. Then, as we started to fix what I thought would just be replacing some boards, recaulking and repainting, we pulled off a couple of boards and two of the main support beams of the house were eaten away by termites and have to be replaced. Problems quickly escalated from a paint job (laughs) to an incredible amount of stuff that was underneath, including the entire insulation had all turned black and had fallen down to the bottom, in between the outer wall and inner wall. I was living with this black funk in the walls and I didn’t even know it. (laughs) So…it took years.
RR: At the same time, your thumb started to give you problems.
JV: On July 5th [2007], my thumb and the joints got arthritis and I have to deal with that. That caused tendon problems which deal with your thumb, palm, wrist and forearm. The musician’s clinic set me up with a Chinese acupuncturist and a chiropractor is seeing me on Saturday mornings. He’s donated his Saturday mornings to come in and help. I’m just trying to do all of the therapy that I can to continue to play. I need to play. I can’t just not play. I teach and I play and that’s what I do, man. I don’t want this to hold me back. Since I’ve been going to therapy for a couple of months, I’ve had some improvement. I still have some pain around the second set. I sit down at the end of the evening and I’m taking these proper fish oils and glucosamine and Omega-3 oils and different kinds of healthful things to deal with joints—old man stuff. (laughs)
RR: Let’s talk about some of these musicians that you’ve played with over the years, beginning with Stanton Moore. That relationship goes way back.
JV: Sure. I first met him when he was about 16 or 17. He started coming around my house. Tipitina’s Workshop, back in the old days, had a National Endowment for the Arts and I was part of a rhythm section on Sunday mornings and he came to that. He was very young. When he started college, I took he and Kevin O’Day and a bunch of others—Brian Blade came a little later—but he studied with me for at least four or five years. A lot. He started coming around the house and we started to become friends. In those years, he was very much like a sponge, constantly learning and he would take any information that he learned and he would figure out ways to vary it and be creative and develop. And that’s how he has developed his way. His way is based on so much good foundation that he’s learned how to take the simplest thing in the world and make it very colorful. He’s a beautiful painter and he’s a good listener. He’s a very emphatic player and a very emphatic human being. He helps everybody. [Author’s Note: this may even include so-called trivial matters. This writer was five rows back at a Galactic gig on the West Coast three years ago and gave Moore a thumbs up at show’s end as he was exiting the stage. The drummer stopped in his tracks, went back to his kit, came out front and gave this stranger a drum stick as a handy souvenir.]
When Stanton Moore gets a cymbal, stick or drum endorsement, he turns fifteen drummers on to it. He’ll tell the companies, “You’ve got to get this guy on your drums,” or “You’ve got to get this guy on your cymbals.” He’s very much into sharing and it’s a whole other side of Stanton that people don’t know. It’s all natural. It’s the way he was raised—all heart and soul. He’s beyond average.
RR: With Stanton, you helped found a Sunday Workshop Series at Tipitina’s which is free for aspiring musicians. How did that originate?
JV: Stanton Moore and my wife, Deborah collaborated on that one. They had the idea and he started, as he usually does, moving blocks. It’s my wife’s baby, now. She hires all of the guys to teach the kids on Sunday mornings and she takes all of the kids, inspires them to get up there and learn and she knows all of them by name and they all ask her for information. She’s the program director. What is very cool about her is that she doesn’t make it one thing—all rockers every Sunday or all jazzers. She exposes the kids to all kinds of music.
One of the most inspiring Sunday mornings was a workshop with Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars. He just sat and we played and we played with some of the kids and then, I asked all of the kids to sit on the stage. I said, “Luther—just tell us how you feel about music.” He said some great, great mature things about playing in a band—how much you give as opposed to take. He told the kids the dangers of indulging yourself in music and indulging yourself as a musician. The music should be what comes first, not you. This is something I knew all my life but he put it in such great terms, coming from a Mississippi, soulful, modern but strongly, firmly rooted player. He’s firmly in his roots yet ultra modern. Luther’s an extension of an old man. He doesn’t play like an old man. He’s not an old man. He doesn’t talk, act, sing, play but there’s so much foundation.
That morning when he spoke I realized how deep his foundation is and it reminds me of a lot of guys here in New Orleans because the music here in New Orleans is based upon the roots of our music. In the music around here—even in the new rock or the new funk or the new brass band music, whatever you want to call it—you will hear the indigenous elements of our region. Some people call them street beats or Zydeco, the way the funk is played more with a looser groove than it is in California or New York. (laughs) The funk here is definitely a lot more liquid, a lot more fluid—in my terms. Not taking away, I’m not saying it is better, but it is indigenous of this area. It’s folk music and cat’s here are very strongly rooted in that—at least most of the guys that many people around here think are great players; they have good roots.
[The Sunday Music Workshop Series at Tip’s] exposes the young people to more different kinds of roots other than our own which we always do because we have some local guys happening. Last week, I just went to observe and they had the drummer from Ministry, Martin Atkins and he gave a lecture on the business of music and it was brilliant. It was truthful, honest and so logical. What Deborah is doing, I thought, was going to be against the grain and it would be unfocused and scattered. But all of that chaos is actually logical. When I step back, it’s been going every Sunday since August 2006 and now, I’m looking at it and thinking, “WOW—I thought this would be chaotic crap.” I can see I’ve learned a whole lot. I’m not the drummer every week—that’s for sure. Once in a while, I’m the drummer but there’s drummers from all over the States and the world and different people passing through town. Now the guys want rappers and it’s amazing to see because some of these guys have never dealt with kids before. It’s amazing to watch them. The whole thing is a circle, man. It’s a circle, again.
RR: You touched upon something that is really interesting to me in what Luther Dickinson had said. I wanted to ask you from your own point of view how important is collaboration, collective improvisation and listening to the other musicians?
JV: How important it is to them?
RR: Not so much other musicians but you, personally, from your own background.
JV: Wow—I never thought the word ‘important’ would be one of the descriptive feelings. Huh, but I guess it is important. To me, it is, was and will be always a natural thing—the collective improvisation—because that’s the way I was taught to play. I was taught to play in a kid band by an old man and he taught us old traditional Dixieland songs that involved improvisation, collectively. And you had to hit a lot of wrong notes before you hit the right ones as a kid. I think that collective improvisation—now that you mentioned it and I want to incorporate the word ‘important’—is important because it involves, from what seems from an observer’s point of view sometimes improvisation seems very selfish, like he’s just doing virtuosity and showing off improvising but there is a part of improvisation that is even more of a percentage of importance than virtuosity. That element is the listening of what you hear—your ability to hear what everybody is doing and to either play or not play to enhance the music, to learn to let the music tell you what to do as opposed to you forcing yourself onto the music. “I’m gonna show off my shit. I’m gonna show how good I am because I can improvise here and play anything I want.” Well…that’s a very small percentage of it, my friend.
When you have more than one guy on the band stand, all of a sudden, the percent of what you want to play should be less than 50%. You should be devoting more percentage of your musical energy towards what those other people on the stage are playing. Whatever you do or don’t do—which is very important—can make the entire picture, the entire music, a beautiful painting, a beautiful song. Improvised music is important because it’s not so much about playing but it’s a very large percent about learning how to listen to multiple people at one time and fitting in. It’s a very unselfish thing even though it appears to be a very indulgent, selfish thing. It appears that improvised music allows one to do what one wants but truly, the depth—to see beyond that surface—the depth for a group of guys to collectively improvise, involves the art of listening. Of course we have to learn to play our instruments. Of course we have to strive towards virtuosity. Of course we have to learn how to play great solos and stick out but what’s more important to play in a group is that you have to be able to listen to different people. It might be the same song but you’re playing with different people. You’ll have to listen to what they are playing and the way they play it and fit. That doesn’t mean that I played “High-Heeled Sneakers” with Joe last night that I’m going to play “High-Heeled Sneakers” with Bill, tonight. Joe plays it one way and I’ve got to see how Bill does it. I can’t say, “This is how “High-Heeled Sneakers” goes. I don’t care about Joe or Bill.” You can’t do that. That’s indulgence. That’s selfish. That’s bullshit. MeMeMeMeMe and it ain’t about fucking me. Music comes first. Music comes first. It’s not about you. Too many people think they are making the music. Too many people think they’re composers and that’s all good and fine and dandy but, all in all, the music is in the air and we’re receptacles and it’s up to us to open ourselves up to let it all flow through.
That incorporates what is going on, to what the people you’re playing with feel and, of course, the audience. You want to bring them with you. They have to be part of the music. It’s not just the musicians that make the music. The musicians plus the audience makes the music. Algebra 101. x+y=music. Musicians+Audience=Music. I can sit here and play drums in my living room all I want. It’s music but it’s not really music until you come over and I can connect with you and I can feel that you’re sending back what I am saying—even though it sounds like right now, I’m doing all the talking. That’s because you asked me the question. I’m getting philosophical but it is mostly a feeling is what I am talking about. My feeling about the importance of improvisation and jam improvisation-style whether it be funk or jazz or classical jam or Indian raga jam or rather it be Bach. You can improvise on Bach; he was a great improviser.
These people were improvisers and it’s just very important to do this in order to learn how to not only express your virtuosity but what you feel in your heart and soul—and when I say virtuosity, I don’t mean just a phenomenal technician, a great technical player. I mean a musician who has the virtue to be true to the music, who knows how to play with the music, for the music, who lets the music become him, who gives himself up, who surrenders himself to the music. At the same time, while surrendering, he can play something very pretty—whether it be complicated or simple, Delta Blues or Stravinsky—and connect with the audience in order to get that circle that I just spoke about. You can play music in your living room until you’re blue in the face but you want to connect.
RR: I’m going to ask you about other musicians you’ve played with over the years. How about George Porter, Jr.?
JV: 1966, Bourbon Street. I was 17; he was 18 or 19. We worked at different clubs and we became sidemen backing up some go go dancers with guys in the band we didn’t know. We made very little money and we worked those types of gigs. We played everything from his mama’s church gigs to traveling around with John Mooney and all kind of guys playing blues gigs all over the South. We shared the same hotel room on many occasions back in the old days when times were tough, going back to the early 80s when we were younger and struggling a little harder to grow up.
RR: And you have also played in The Trio with George at the Maple Leaf Bar.
JV: Oh, yeah. My wife put all that together. She started that. She called George. (laughter) I said, “I can’t call George and say, “Do you want to come play in a little bar on the West Bank on a Wednesday night (for I don’t know exactly how much money we were going to make)?” My wife pulled that together and that turned out to be what we’ve been doing for seven years.
RR: Here’s another one—Charlie Hunter?
JV: Charlie Hunter! (laughs) He’s crazy. I love him, man. He’s funny, man. Great musician. Great musician. Totally ambidextrous. You should hear him on the drums. He can play the drums and in the middle of the beat, switch from being left-handed to right-handed and not change the beat. He can switch from left-footed to right-footed while being left-handed. He’s four way; he’s an incredible guy. As far as being on the road with him, traveling and doing gigs with him, he’s fun. He has a great, loose, relaxed attitude. His music is challenging but not scary to the point that you’re not going to have fun. It’s challenging up to having a smile on your face and having fun. He’s always smiling—at least the times I was on the road with him. We were always laughing and having fun. I learned a lot of new stuff from him. I felt like the old man in the van traveling around with those guys for a couple of months. Everybody’s way younger than me. I still see him from time to time and I’m sure we’re going to play some gigs together here and there.
RR: Here’s a great singer—Willy DeVille.
JV: Willy DeVille—wow, man, we’ve been on weird projects together. I think I did one of his records back in my foggy days. One of the first records I did with Willy DeVille, he was living at Europe at the time and he came to New Orleans to do a record at Allen Toussaint’s. Somehow or other, I got on a project and I don’t know how many tracks I was on—as a matter of fact, I don’t have the record. I might have lent it to someone. Then there was another record that was a big production and it was somebody’s songs and it was all kinds of different artist where everybody would do a different track. Another time, we were sidemen on somebody else’s record. He was a sideman vocalist and I was a sideman drummer on two tracks. That was some years back. Me and Willy was mostly all about work. We’d walk in a studio and immediately start to go to work. We talked, we shook hands, we smiled, we hugged and all of that and laughed and told short jokes but immediately, jumped back into work. He was a quicker worker and I could work with him. I can see where a lot of people might say he is too eccentric but that doesn’t bother me.
RR: And another cat that people might think is eccentric—Professor Longhair.
JV: Wow…man…man…wow…I’ve been listening to his music since I could talk. I remember dancing to his music when I was five years old. Then, I started playing with him, occasionally, in the early 70s. He would get hung up for a drummer or a drummer didn’t show and they would call. It actually wasn’t a steady gig back then but then he got a manager named Allison Minor. It was fun. We went on long tours and before his last record which was Crawfish Fiesta, that particular band was running around and Allison had him working fairly steady. We were traveling and playing around town. The money was very, very mediocre but at least Fess was back on the scene. He wasn’t stuck in his house, walking around with a cane and everybody forgot about Professor Longhair. All of a sudden, he was back on the scene. We liked each other.
Around 1976, 1977, I started playing with him on a more regular basis because the drummer he had with him at the time was a Canadian and he had to go back to Canada. They said, “Johnny, come play,” and I said, “Sure,” but I didn’t want to take the gig at first because I knew it was kind of iffy, it was an iffy kind of situation. I took the gig for many reasons—I loved the bass player and I even loved the second bass player. I loved all the guys in the band and, of course, I loved Professor Longhair and grew up with all of his music so I took the gig.
Traveled a lot. In those days, we traveled in a funky Dodge camper. One of my first steady trips as the regular drummer we started out from New Orleans, all the way up to Baltimore, up into Canada to Ontario and Toronto and some other cities in Canada and came down to the East Coast and at that time, we hit one of the first punk clubs I ever heard of or seen in my life in New York City. It was called the Mudd Club and this was in 1977 or 1978. [Author’s Note: Bringing it all back home—Tipitina’s in New Orleans opened in 1977 and was named after the famous song written by Professor Longhair.]
So during these trips, we had long travels. Fess was a tap dancer so that meant he was a good drummer. We’d be sitting in the van driving for long hours and he’d say, “How do you like this one, Jorowsky?” He used to call me ‘Jorowsky’. He never called me Vidacovich or Johnny; he just called me Jorowsky. He just made that up. He was always making up words. Even in a newspaper review, he called me Johnny Jorowsky. (laughter) I loved it. We just went with it, too. We corrected him once and he turned right around and re-read the article and when he came to the part of the article with “Johnny Vidacovich, the drummer,” he said, “Johnny Jorowsky,” again instead of Vidacovich. He read the article perfectly out loud but every time he came to my name, it was Jorowsky.
Here’s the hip thing. We were sitting in this funky Dodge—stinky camper with eight stinky guys overpacked with equipment for six weeks, traveling all the way up the East Coast and he’d tap on my leg and say, “How do you like this rhythm?” [Vidacovich raps out a vocal rhythm of the drum passage.] He’d tap this stuff out on my legs and say, “How do you like that? Huh? Huh? ” I said, “That’s cool,” and I’d tap something out, too. We had a lot of fun.
RR: Johnny, you sound like you have an amazingly positive attitude about your current situation. You’re just going to keep on playing. You have a great crew and support system and you are just going to see what happens. Is that fair to say?
JV: Absolutely. Absolutely. I’ve been very sad for a long time…until…especially when the arthritis hit on July the 5th. I freaked out, man. I said, “Oh, man, this is the end of it. God damn, I wanted to play another ten years.” And so, I sound as if I have a good attitude…and yeah, I do have a good attitude. I have a lot of great people around me. You are right on both accounts.
I can’t believe how many beautiful people that I forgot about, especially students that I taught 30 years ago that write me letters and ask how can they help and send me checks for $25—everything from $25 to $200 to $1,000. “Wow—I remember teaching this guy 25 years ago—what’s he doing living in Cleveland, Ohio? This guy Mike—I remember teaching him 20 years ago. He’s been doing big Broadway shows for 15 years now.” I do feel very positive regardless of my physical situation and the condition of the house. I see improvement everywhere. I didn’t really realize…I thought it was only a cliché that people were beautiful and generous but they are. People are beautiful and generous.
RR: Well, we all want you around and playing for another twenty years.
JV: Man, I would be so happy with ten. Twenty would be a dream. Twenty years would be heaven. If I could play for another ten years, I’d be the happiest guy in the world. Another twenty years would be a miracle and if you were to call me on the telephone, bro—you think I sound positive and optimistic, now? Shit, bro—we’d be eatin’ cake. If I could possibly live and play for another twenty years that would be beautiful and way more than I ever expected.
RR: Thanks, Johnny. Tell your wife thank you for me, too. I really appreciate her wonderful support during this feature project.
JV: Deborah, he said, “Thank you for being such a lovely, supportive wife.” She said, “You’re very welcome.” Oh, man, I appreciate you calling me and talking to me. I appreciate everything you’re doing and I appreciate the fact that you’re interested in this kind of music. This is chancy music, you know what I mean? This is not popular music—the whole jamband situation—but I think it’s important. I think it is part of everybody’s culture and I don’t just mean America. I don’t mean New Orleans. I don’t mean young people. I mean I think it’s important for everybody’s culture—the importance of collective improvisation because that is what is happening to me, right now. People have collectively improvised how to help me. Everybody’s improvising—starting with Stanton Moore. He got some guys to throw a benefit and look at what it turned out to be. It turned out to be a fucking mini-fest. Let my wife tell you. It’s very important.
Deborah Vidacovich: Hi, Randy. I just wanted to tell you this. The last seven years—everything I’ve done for John, it all came from Stanton. Every single person, all the Charlie Hunters, everybody—Stanton gave me all their phone numbers. Everything I’ve done for John—all of it originates from Stanton. He’s a great guy and people don’t realize how great but he really is and you know, I definitely claim him.
RR: Fantastic. Thank you for your patience in working around my weird schedule.
DV: (laughs) I thought, “Oh, God, it’s going to be an act of Congress.”
- Randy Ray stores his work at www.rmrcompany.blogspot.com.