When I listen to music, the first place my ear goes is towards the drums. I think I have trained myself as a bass player to listen to the drums first so that when I’m playing I can sync up with the drum beat.
In my mind, the bass and drums together provide the groove, and grooves are the basis of modern music. I would argue that James Brown almost singlehandedly revolutionized music by basing his tunes on grooves rather than chord changes. He used chord changes for sure, but they felt secondary to the groove- what the bass and drums were doing was what defined his songs. That style was carried on in funk music, and has been gradually incorporated into popular music. In a lot of pop songs today, the chord changes are simplistic and almost irrelevant- grooves seem to predominate.
I love beautiful harmonic movement in music as much as anyone, but it’s grooves that I’m really passionate about, the kind that make your face squinch up and force your feet to move and booty to shake. Thus my predilection for drummers; I have basslines in my head all day, weaving in and out of my thoughts, just waiting to be wrapped around a great drum beat.
In this post I want to introduce you to the drummers I have the great privilege of playing with on a regular basis.
I play with Adam more than anyone else, because I play in Adam’s band Empty Pocket every weekend. Adam started the band about 7 years ago and hired me 4 years ago, and we work almost every Friday and Saturday night. Adam is not only an accomplished bandleader, but runs a full teaching studio, has just published a method book with a major publisher, is an incredible player and my outdoor adventure partner for when it’s adventure time.
A few years ago, I was helping lead a 3 week kayak tour, and I got Adam to come camping with me one night; he ended up coming back the next night and stayed the whole 3 weeks! Since then he and his lady Carrie have been the people I call when we have a day off to jump in a river, climb a mountain or just go drink by a fire in the woods. Adam makes being in a cover band fun. He’s always down to improvise on stage, change a groove in the moment or orchestrate some hits in the midst of an otherwise boring groove. My kind of drummer!
Jon is my podcast cohost and bandmate in RKIII, and is on track to be the best drummer on the world before too long. Every time I play with him, even if it’s several times a week, he surprises me with some new ideas or techniques and pushes me to play better, constantly. In fact, I’ve probably learned more from playing with Jon Greene than I have from all the bass lessons I’ve ever taken. Not only that, but he’s one of the few musicians I’ve ever worked with who doesn’t shy away from a challenge- I’ve thrown some crazy charts in front of him and he just steps up and plays it better than I could have even imagined. He’s also a hard worker and constantly pushes me to create, produce and be inventive. I feel extremely lucky to be able to work with this man. He’s also very cuddly.
I don’t currently play in any bands with Daniel, but we’ve worked together on literally hundreds of gigs in all different styles for 7 or 8 years. This guy is ALWAYS on point- his time is perfect, and his feel and style are perfect for the music, whatever the situation. He plays music; there is no flashiness or ego with his playing, it’s always about the music. He plays dynamically and always fits his sound to the room and the ensemble, so playing with him is effortless. I’ve never worked with another drummer who is as easy to play with- he is just always right where he needs to be, and he listens and anticipates my ideas as I play them. Unfortunately (for me), he is touring with Mount Moriah and some other up-and-coming rock bands and will probably be snatched up by an even bigger act soon. Drummers like him are rare!
Larry is a legend in Winston Salem. He’s played with everybody who is anybody, and I have the honor of playing with him about every Sunday morning at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In fact, most of my earliest memories of seeing jazz music around town were with Larry on drums, so his playing is probably etched into my brain from seeing him as a kid!
Larry is a huge influence on me, both in music and in life. He’s older than me, but still has an almost childlike passion and curiosity about music I really hope I can retain as I get older. He’s always down to try new things, play something in a new way, or improvise on stage. He’s a very spacious drummer, and leads the music by allowing it to happen rather than forcing things. I feel like every gig with Larry is a music lesson for me! He’s also a master fisherman, and one day I’ll get him to teach me that too.
I met Jason playing with a hip hop group about 10 years ago, and I think we clicked pretty much instantly. I’ve never had as much fun playing with another drummer. Jason is a stand up comedian as well as ridiculous drummer, and his joy and energy are unstoppable on the stage. I’m actually sitting beside him right now at our early morning church gig- even at 8 am after a late gig last night and with a hurt back, he’s still full of humor and jokes! He plays with an effortlessness I’ve rarely seen. Music and drums in particular are just a language for him, and playing a gig together is like wandering through a surreal, spiritual comedy routine. Things are always different but also always perfectly solid. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to communicate better with another drummer. In fact, I don’t know that I understood how closely music, joy and humor were connected until we started playing together. I feel like I just laugh and smile the whole show.
Dude. This guy. I don’t have a regular thing with Calvin right now either- he’s too busy touring the world with R&B legends Frankie Beverly and Maze. But I’ve done dozens of studio dates, session gigs and a weekly jam with this guy and he has never failed to impress me with his professionalism and musicality. He plays exactly the right thing all the time, any style, any time of day, any situation. It’s never been anything less than perfect. He listens extremely well, learns quickly, and has endless ideas. And his ideas are so mature and perfectly executed it’s like he spent weeks writing every groove and drum fill. I have this memory burned into my brain of a gig we played a couple of years ago where he took a solo over a rhythmic vamp. His drum solo was a symphony. It lasted probably 5 minutes, and took us from delicately small, breathy rhythmic flutters to full on symphonic climax, all while telling a story and somehow never dropping this ridiculous groove. I’ve never in my life heard a solo that musical, where the entire story was told with rhythm.
I could name 20 more great drummers I work with on occasion, but these are the guys I work with the most. I realize while writing this that I take my great drummer situation for granted- I’m a lucky bass player! Check out any of these dudes the next chance you get.