Missing In Action (or the ones that got away)

To the majority of drummers, it would seem that there are some glaring omissions from my list of ‘likes’. Where indeed, do the likes of Steve Gadd, Vinnie Colaiuta, Dennis Chambers, Steve Smith etc fall into my sphere of appreciation? Well, it’s not that they haven’t been there at some point; it’s just that they don’t really appear in music I listen to on a daily basis. To explain…

Steve GaddSteve Gadd – Incredible feel, total pioneer in his field, first introduced to me on that old DCI ‘In Session’ video in 1986. Having had the privilege of seeing his ‘Mission From Gadd’ show, it’s clear there will never be another Gadd, like there’ll never be another Porcaro. So why is he missing from my list? Unfortunately, a lot of stuff he’s been asked to play on often falls into the Jazz/Fusion category which really doesn’t float my boat. I’m not a huge Paul Simon fan either…but I love Gadd’s contribution to great song based artists like Steely Dan, Rickie Lee-Jones or Kate Bush. Beautiful musician, but a few too many fusion recordings means a thin presence in my CD collection.

My Vinnie Colaiuta Signature Snare Drum (now sold)Vinnie Colaiuta – A lesson to all drummers; never go to a gig just because you like the drummer. If you don’t like the music, you won’t like the gig and not even a drummer you worship will make it any the more palatable. At least that’s how it was for me with Vinnie. To be truthful, I never liked Zappa and I don’t dig the Jazz/Fusion stuff Vinnie gets called to do so it was the work of Sting that got me literally hooked in the early 90’s on all things Colaiuta, even to the point of buying his Yamaha signature Snare drum. The man is a drumming genius, comfortable playing as simply or ridiculously complicated as the music demands. However, that does not make him infallible and he has freely admitted that there have been times when his approach wasn’t what the producer wanted, resulting in him being ‘let go’.

I got to see Vinnie play with Jeff Beck and to be perfectly honest, hated every minute of it. Why? Because I didn’t enjoy any aspect of the music. Sure, it was all played to genius perfection, but none of it grabbed my interest and I failed to make any connection whatsoever, with what was happening on stage. In hindsight, I should have gone to see Vinnie with Sting back in the day, but being an idiot, I didn’t. Lesson learned – don’t go to a gig just because your favourite drummer is doing it.

Steve Smith, back in the day!Steve Smith – The Journey man appeared in my life in 1995 after seeing him at Zildjian day in Birmingham, where he gave a fantastic lecture and performance on the history of the drum set. Setting my senses alight for more knowledge led me to further investigation of Mr Smith beyond his Journey days. At that period, the main project he seemed to be involved with were Vital Information, purveyors of all things Jazz/Fusion despite which, I made a leap of faith by purchasing their ‘Vitalive’ CD. Unfortunately, Jazz/Fusion and myself will never get on so ‘Vitalive’ quickly went onto my ‘for sale’ list…However, Steve has left me with a gem that stands as an example of his sheer dedication to progression.

Shortly after going back to school with Freddie Gruber, he made a video for Vic Firth in which he demonstrated his tribute to Max Roach. This made a huge impression on me, enough to upload to You Tube where it enjoys a healthy hit-count:

Despite Steve’s current musical projects not being within my sphere of interest, his contribution to the art of drumming and educating drummers about the history of their instrument is second to none. Who knows? Without experiencing his drum history lecture back in 1995, the fire for my curiosity in the evolution of drums in modern music may have never been lit.

Dennis Chambers video - another sidetrack from the pathDennis Chambers – Going back to the early 90’s again, the frightening chops of Dennis Chambers were introduced to me by one of those dubious DCI instructional videos – the must-have educational path for the emerging late-1980’s drummer. Once again, I was infected by the sheer virtuosity of another man who could seemingly play literally anything he could think of, with zero effort. Although he got to groove like a Mutha with Funkadelic, once again, to my disappointment, the majority of his engagements seemed to fall within the Jazz/Fusion fraternity. However, he did make a blip on my radar on Steely Dan’s 1995 ‘Alive In America’ album where he applied his unique slant on some classic drum tracks. This of course meant that I had to try and see if I could fit some of those Dennis licks into whatever music I was playing at the time…bad move…There’s only one Dennis Chambers and that’s why he’s hired to be himself. People don’t want to hire Nick Lauro trying to throw in badly executed Chambers licks into their music. It simply doesn’t work. If they wanted Dennis, they’d hire him; not a fool like me.

Thankfully, this foray into drumming stupidity didn’t last too long before the itch to find my own sound needed to be scratched. Although all of the above mentioned drummers are Gods within their craft, they’re not influences that I can honestly say helped shape me into where I am as musician in the 21st century. More than likely, this will be because I have no love for a great deal of the music they’ve been hired to play on. But that’s just me. Other guys get it; I don’t. I’m a traditional song man and will be until the end, thus, my exposure to their work has never been enough to radically change my playing long-term. If not understanding the intricacies on Jazz/Fusion makes me a musical halfwit – so be it. I’m more than happy to be hired for the little I know as opposed to force-feeding myself on a gamut of music that leaves me cold.

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