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Hug your drummer

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Brad Johnson, May 2, 2004.

  1. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Just went through the worse sitting in experience of my life. Seriously.

    I had just done a bass/piano duo gig at the waterfront in DC and a longtime friend of mine had been hounding me about going to The Fishmarket in Clinton, MD afterwards. It's a restaurant with live music and some pretty good musicians drop in. He's a drummer and he wanted me to sit in with him. I'm very familiar with his playing so my agreeing to do it was stupid from the start. I truly had no idea how bad it could get.

    Anyway, I show up at the club and see that Gary Granger is playing with the band tonight. Cool. Gary's an excellent player and nice guy to boot. He had his new PRS and it sounded pretty good.

    After almost three hours my friend got on the drums on a Jill Scott slow tune ("Is this the way...") that their drummer didn't know... and proceeded to butcher it. Constantly changing tempo, crazy fills where the one couldn't be found afterwards, just general herky jerky playing. They got through that song and then Gary calls me up to play with my friend. I hoped for the best;)

    The band started playing "Play that Funky Music" and it was without a doubt the most painful, embarassing performance of my life. I'm not exaggerating. The groove was so f'ed up I couldn't even figure out safe places to play any of the actually bass line and spent a large portion of the song pedalling, trying to figure out where the one was going to be each and every measure. Accents? There were none. We didn't even have a straight beat to latch onto.

    And of course the best part is this is the first time I've played in front of Gary:D

    After we mercifully finished and had gotten away from the bandstand my friend tells me that that was fun. I looked at him like he had horns. "Are you serious? I'm never doing that **** again", I said, meaning sit in with him. He starts laughing and tells me yeah, it was kind of messed up, the guitarist and keyboard player were really screwing up. I think everyone has a button and that really pushed mine.

    I told him to come outside. After letting him explain himself again, still blaming everyone else but him for the debacle I did what I should've done years ago... I told him the truth.

    Just like on "American Idol", he didn't even have a clue that there were any issues with his playing, like his inability to play even the simplest thing consistently. He mentioned that others had told him he sounded good on more than one occassion and I told them they were being polite... just like Gary had been when he told me I sounded good after that trainwreck of a jam. I sounded like ass. I don't like sounding like ass. I usually don't.

    I told him I was telling him this as a friend because others wouldn't tell him to his face that he's simply not ready to be playing live with other people. That he really needed to record himself playing with others or even with a cd and then listen, really listen to it and then maybe he'd have a clue as to how bad he sounded. He didn't want to hear any of this.

    He countered with the fact that he thinks he can play with a metronome (he can't consistently), that he has a lot of drum videos, has talked to lots of drummers and he's been taking lessons. He's been playing drums for more than ten years and still doesn't get it. He also plays keyboards but doesn't have the same songwrecking capabilities on that instrument.

    He said that other people screw up and I tried to explain the difference between an occassional mistake and a completely f'ed up total perfomance. That consistent time was critical in playing the type of music he wants to play. I'm pretty sure it went in one ear and out the other. Hey, maybe he even blamed me for how screwed up it was.

    Anyway, it felt good to finally get that out in the open. Whether or not he still considers me a friend after this isn't really all that important, it'd be nice if he finally gets the message and either gets serious about the instrument or quits making a fool of himself (to talk to him you'd think he was a fulltime pro).

    In any event I'm through with knowingly putting myself in a situation like that again. I honestly think it made me sound like I play on his level.

    I love a good drummer. I hate playing with drummers who suck. I pity musicians who suck and don't even know it.

    Why didn't I just go home after the gig?
  2. Benjamin Strange

    Benjamin Strange Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    New Orleans, LA
    Owner / Tech: Strange Guitarworks
    I'm not so sure it was a good thing to do. The drummer said "That was fun", and then you proceeded to take that away from him. Music is supposed to be fun; nobody would do it otherwise. True, there are many, many "musicians" who totally suck and are unaware, but who cares? They are making music for the fun of it, which is the most pure form of music there is. The guys on American Idol are not making music for fun - they are making it for fame and fortune. Critism is well placed in that format, because they are seeking to be professional, and need the objectivity. You critisized a guy who wasn't asking for your opinion - he was only asking you to make music with him and have fun.

    I think this is more about you than about him. You were embarassed, and took it out on him. Poor guy; he was having fun, and you may have ruined it for him. Critisism has it's place, but it has to be separate from emotion, otherwise you can make some people very unhappy. Could you have been a little gentler with your comments, or saved them for a better time? You will get more bees with honey than with smoke.
  3. Brendan


    Jun 18, 2000
    Austin, TX
    If he really does blow the big one, then if/when he goes on to tell others about "The dude Brad totally ripping on him for no reason," I'd wager he gets a lot of uncomfortable laughs and half assed reassurances and that lot.

    If he's actually not that bad, then it won't matter.
  4. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Fair enough.

    No offense but you're assuming quite a few things.

    First, he does want to do music as a career. It's not for fun. He even told me last month that he wants to enroll at Peabody. There's no way he could pass an audition.

    He's been needing the objectivity for a long time. By what you're saying, I should've bs'ed him when he tried to blame the two very competent musicians he played with (who BTW sounded fine with the other drummer) for what he caused. I blame myself... I should've told him much sooner. Either way, he needed to be told.

    You weren't there and in the brief retelling I gave of the situation you have no idea what tone I used.

    I'm not trying to get bees, I wanted to make a couple of things clear... he was the reason we sounded like we did, if he's really going to be serious about his craft he has a lot of work to do get to the level he thinks he's on. That blaming the other musicians was ridiculous.

    First off he needs to work on hearing what's actually going on... he didn't have a clue where the real problem was. Also, don't keep asking me every week to go somewhere to sit in with him... he thinks I'll make him sound better than someone who can't play as I do. The truth is, I can't work miracles and even I had no clue as to just how bad it could get... until last Friday. It became more than obvious that he needed the truth.

    I'm also not on this planet to make everyone happy. This was initially given in the spirit of construction criticism and he immediately started to point at any other situation he could think of instead of dealing with the point... including an open mic band I work with every Tuesday. Again, he looks at vocalists singing a verse twice because they don't know the entire song as being equal to a drummer who plays 120, 115, 154 and 135 bpm... all in the same measure. Who turns a 4/4 pattern into a 4.25/4 then 5/4 then 8.1/8... over the course of a couple of measures.

    After that, where he even criticized drummers who we both know could and did play circles around him, I asked how, even if what he was saying about them was true, that changed his situation one iota? That, after all, was the point.

    Yes, it probably spoiled it for him as he thought he had just done a great job and everyone else screwed up. That was delusional. Do I regret it? Nope, should've done it a long time ago. The only positives said about what he does are to his face, otherwise the exact opposite happens. I think he should know and go on from there.

    I'd do the same again.
  5. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    He's not a general acquaintance, we've been close friends for about 15 years. To let him keep thinking he was where he wasn't just made no sense anymore. I have no problem with him telling anyone what I said. Another friend had offered similar advice a few months back after hearing him play... he suggested that he needed to practice. The drummer laughed it off.

    He's a nice guy who doesn't hear what he's doing. There's a lot of that going around.
  6. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Thanks, that's what I thought too.

    The funny thing is that he really balked at this.

    At the end of the conversation I told him that no matter what he thought about what I'd said, trying recording along with something else and listening just for grins. Then maybe he'd hear what I was talking about. You can't hear this just playing live with a metronome.

  7. Benjamin Strange

    Benjamin Strange Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    New Orleans, LA
    Owner / Tech: Strange Guitarworks
    Ok, in light of this new infomation, it does sound like you did the right thing. I didn't realize he was trying to be professional.

    In all fairness, he probably won't listen anyway if he's been told before. He doesn't sound like he's very good at listening to the music; he certainly won't hear critisism of it.

    It sounded like you were pissed because you were embarrased. Did your tone reflect your emotions at the time, or were you level headed when you told him all this? It's possible that if you seemed mad, he would listen even less.
  8. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Nope, even tone, never raised my voice. I didn't say a thing until he started blaming the other guys for the problem. He knew it was messed up, he just didn't think it had anything to do with him.

    I didn't mention that he's in his mid forties and has been at this and keyboards for almost twenty years. I've been supportive of what he's trying to do ever since I've known him.

    He didn't even begin to annoy me until he started pointing fingers in every direction but his own. Then it went into what if Dennis Chambers showed up at the club I work at on a Tuesday and other such nonsense...

    That's when it got real.

    He may eventually listen to what I said, he usually trusts my opinion. I'd hope that if, for example, I started boxing tomorrow and two months from now I start bragging about how I could kick Mike Tyson's butt my real friends would pull me aside and give me a reality check.
  9. Good for you. Our drummer (who has also been a friend for many years) has a similar problem. He doesn't have too much of a problem keeping time but he has the incredibly annoying tendency of always playing really loud and fast. He thinks he has to play a fill every measure and he plays cymbal crash after ear-piercing cymbal crash - all regardless of what is going on in the song we are trying to play. He is a lot more interested in beating the crap out of his drums than playing something that sounds good. Everybody notices this and complains about it when he isn't around, even the people who know nothing about music. In fact, I think he actually tries to drown out the rest of the band. Even worse is that if we stop playing to try and work out the arrangement for a song or something like that, as soon as my guitarist and I start trying to talk to eachother he starts banging away again. When he is not around we have played his drum kit, and for the rest of us it requires all our strength to make the drums that loud. At times he completely overpowers our guitarist's 100W Marshall head and 4x12 cabinet.

    Most other people I know can take criticism, but if anyone mentions anything wrong with his playing he will get extremely offended and work harder to do exactly what they criticized him for.

    Your friend sounds like someone who doesn't takes criticism very well so I congratulate you on gathering the courage to confront him. That is something I haven't been able to do as of yet.
  10. rllefebv


    Oct 17, 2000
    Newberg, Oregon
    To me, the key words in the above statement are real friends... Maybe if he follows your advice and records himself, he'll come to realize that this is exactly what you were being on Friday... IMO, it's the casual acquaintance, (no emotional capital invested in the relationship), who will continue with the 'Sounded good to me' tripe... If someone I value as a friend tells me I stunk up the place, I get hurt... but then I listen.

  11. Bard2dbone


    Aug 4, 2002
    Arlington TX
    This reminds me to appreciate my usual drummer a lot more. I have mostly played with two guys since, like 1980 or so. Occasionally other folks, but nearly 75% of the paying gigs I ever had were with one (Or a few times both!) of these two drummers.

    I usually found myself wishing I could combine the two of them, because Mark had awesome feel and taste. Every note he played was in exactly the right place...but he had very little technique.Sort of a Charlie Watts vibe. Ron has great technique...and lots of it. He is a Neil Peart worshipper. But if you stand too close to him while you're playing he will create a 'soul vacuum' and suck all the feel out of you. A drummer with Marks' taste and Rons' technique would be perfect, the best of all worlds, it would be...Steve Gadd.

    Aw damn, and then he would have moved away to LA or something and I would be saying 'This awesome drummer I used to play with is on TV tonight with his current band.' Okay I'll learn to be glad of what I have.

    There is a continuum of drummer style. Just like for bassists. Way over on one end you have guys like Charlie Watts. On the other extreme you have guys like Mike Portnoy. Somewhere in the middle you have your Studio Cats like Gadd. Guys like Bill Bruford are closer to the Portnoy end. Guys like Danny Gottleib are closer to the Watts end. Which do you prefer to play with? And where would they end up on the continuum?
  12. I'm going to hug my drummer today ! This thread has brought back to mind a dreadful experience I had 24 years ago at the tender age of 17, I went to a blues night jam, it was a little rough but fun. Then the old guys got up, they'd supported Hendrix in 1968 orsomething at a club called the Cellar and since then they hadn't let anyone forget it, but they needed a bass player and foolish me jumped at the chance, the drummer was like a bad suit ... all over the place ! I prayed and prayed but no one shot me so I had to go on until the bitter end, the thing was the rest of the band had no clue, and my friends had the decency to be honest with me... Stu that was ****e ! I hung my head and said I know...... I don't think they meant me only.. but you never know...

  13. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md

    I have another friend who's also a bassist. He's been to a few gigs I've played on recently. He knows that when I come off the stage and ask how was it I'm not saying "Okay, BS me... how was it?". Because of that I have a set of ears I trust who give me real feedback not only on the group in general but also how I'm cutting through in the mix, how my tone sounds out front and even if I've hit "tilt" on the Wank-o-meter:D

    I know any critique from him is constructive. And I know well before anyone else if I've stuck up the joint. I am my own worst critic... well almost;)
  14. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    You've hit on something very important. I don't know if I'd really call it courage but it wasn't the easiest thing to do. It's something I'd avoided for years... I'd never pumped him up but I sure hadn't been blunt either. IMO it was time.
  15. NJL


    Apr 12, 2002
    San Antonio

    brad, you are one of my favorite TB'ers, BUT......you just walk into a place and they are playing some Jill Scott?......what else....a little Meshell or Erykah Badu!!!! I HATE YOU! Dam DC cats!!! :D trying to get people in san antonio to play some groovin' stuff like that is pulling teeth!

    anyway moving from the joking:

    it was pretty funny, but a great drummer in town (the son of a great sax player) came in to sit in with us - he was lit up - his breath smelled like gasoline - we started out playing a little stevie - didn't work - at all! we gave him another chance, so we went into some marvin gaye and he tried some wack attempt at a "go-go" groove and it really didn't work!!!

    i wasn't pissed, but just disappointed.

    well, about a week later, some friends and i are drinking at the same club and here comes you know who "guys, i'm really sorry for sitting in the other night"

    to me this had to be one of the funniest statements i have ever heard; i have never heard from a musicians mouth how sorry he was for sittin' in.

    you had to be there!

  16. Thor

    Thor Moderator Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    My ex-guitarist convinced me to show for an open
    mic at a blues place about 2 years ago. The singer
    he was working with on his then current project was
    running the lineup. I showed up at 8. There were 2
    bassists, the other one the singer was quite friendly with.
    By 12 he came over and said, "Well today's your lucky
    day, you're up in a few.'

    'Really, I said, No kidding? '

    45 mins later, when he calls me up, I notice
    my buddy the guitar player is off, and another wanker
    is there. I am barely plugged in when the singer starts
    a song with the guitar player, without calling the song
    or key. The drummer is struggling to get up to speed,
    having been trainwrecked by these two.


    Needless to say, I was pissed.

    We muddle through the number. I unplug, and
    leave. It wasn't even worth having a discussion
    about. I didn't need a friend to tell me not to play
    another number on that stage.

    But the bad thing was, it did sour me on open-mic
    and 'come sit in' type stuff.

    I like to know who I am playing with and to have a
    tight sound. Or I get upset, I HATE sounding bad. !!

    Brad, you did the right thing. You may have lost a friend
    over it, though. Time will tell.
  17. Gia


    Feb 28, 2001
    i love my drummer, except that he has terrible boy germs.

    we make him sit behind a plastic screen at shows :MAD:
  18. Well if he still doesn't believe you that he sucks, it sounds like he might be converted when he tries out for Peabody...
  19. Edwcdc

    Edwcdc I call shotgun!

    Jul 21, 2003
    Columbia MD USA
    Wow Brad, how painful it must have been. After reading that story I will indeed hug my drummer at the gig this weekend.
    I have always been reluctant to sit in or even fill in for for other bass players. I've been playing for 25 years but don't feel like I can just wing it like that. Maybe one or two songs if I am familiar with the material. I think it would be more difficult to play with 3 or 4 guys that haven't played together than to just sit in with an established band.
    Maybe I should quit being a sissy and just get out a little more and experience more than just playing in my band every weekend.
  20. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Brad, honey, I'm not sure if you really want to hear how anybody else really feels about this, you seem only to want to hear that you did the right thing, that it needed to be done. Otherwise, why jump on BASS TRICYCLE? Why jump on me now?

    I really get the feeling that it wasn't so much that he NEEDED to hear it as it was you NEEDED to tell him. And needed to tell him because of the way you felt at getting up in front of a bunch of people and a bassist you respect and not getting the result you wanted. It's OK to be dissappointed in a friend letting you down, it's OK for friends to be angry with each other. Just don't kid yourself, the reason that you unloaded on your friend (even if you didn't raise your voice or use "that tone" or anything) at the time and place you did was NOT because "he needed to hear the truth". You could have said "I'm glad you had fun" and called him a week later to talk about what he needed to work on. You called him on it then and there because of what YOU needed.