Modern Drummer Magazine
The club was filled; filled with people of
all ages, and lots of young wide-eyed drummers, there for a glimpse of the
living legend called Buddy Rich. MD met up with Buddy and his youthful band at a
club in St. Louis. Entering informally through the front door, he watched as the
road crew set up; he signed some autographs and shook some hands. His
performance, as usual was flawless. Colossal technique combined with total
control and dynamic propelling drive. His playing, always alive with imagination
and humor, was colored with fiery fills and subtle nuances, never losing his
instinctive sensitivity, good taste, and total musicality. The left hand, always
active, interacting with astonishing bass drum work, always in motion, swinging
and exciting, executing rhythmic figures that leave the listener wondering if
his ears and eyes might be playing tricks on him. That's impossible; nobody can
do that; nobody can do what he does, and yet, you know he's done it. To say that
Buddy Rich is a phenomenon in the world of drumming is an understatement. In
terms of total technical mastery of the instrument, it's probably fair to say
that no one has yet come any closer. It is doubtful that there has ever been a
single musician anywhere who can spark a band the way he does. When it comes to
interviewing Buddy, one must learn to expect the un-expected. You can end up
with a first rate story, or no story at all. He's a very intense human being,
with beliefs as strong as his hands. He can, at times be curt, intimidating,
cutting if necessary especially if he senses any kind of insincerity. At other
times, something will hit a soft spot and he is capable of elaborating in the
most calm and literate manner. He has some very definite opinions, perhaps
controversial. He's outspoken and filled with self confidence. There is no
denying it; Buddy speaks the way he feels, no editing; total honesty at all
times. But beneath that tough exterior, one will find a man who's deeply
concerned about the state of music and drumming today. He is well aware of
what's going on and he's not always thrilled with what he sees and hears. He has
little patience with bad musicians and bad music. Aloof? Unfriendly? Not really.
The man made time between shows, to sit with members of a young and relatively
unknown magazine staff to discuss music, drums, and drumming. Sorry folks, we
don't call that aloof or un-friendly. Relaxed, in his dressing room, MD was
greeted by a most cordial and receptive Buddy Rich. We later found a line from a
piece on Buddy by big band critic George Simon a few years back. It seemed to
capture the essence of the man we found. "To some, he is cocky, sometimes
overbearing, at times unnecessarily arrogant. They only have the outward,
extroverted exhuberance to go by. Calm Buddy down, show him that he doesn't have
to spark every gathering the way he sparks every bunch of playing musicians and
you've got one of the warmest, most sensitive gents you've ever
MD - Where are you originally
BR - Brooklyn.
MD - Is it true that your parents
were in vaudeville and that you were a pretty good tap dancer when you were
BR - Yes, that's right, I used to
MD - What about your formal
back-ground, Have you ever taken a lesson or been to a music school?
BR - No, I've never taken a
lesson. As far as music school goes. I walked through Berkeley one time to visit
with some people I know.
MD - Do you rernember the first
set of drums you ever had?
BR - Well, l've seen pictures of
one of the first sets of drums I had. When I fjirst started playing. they
weren't making turnable tom-torms, they weren't making sets like they do now.
MD - When you were travelling
with yonr parents and they sat you in the or orchestra pit, did you always take
an interest in drums first?
BR - Yeah.
MD - Did you practice much?
BR - Well, I never really
practiced because I never had the opportunity to practice. I've been working all
my life ... I've been playing drums all my life, and now, I'm to lazy to bother
with it. I have other things that I have to do - practice my martial arts , take
care of my cars. I don't put too much emphasis on practice anyhow.
MD - Would you mind elaborating
on that a bit.
BR - I think it's a fallacy that
the harder you practice the better you get. You only get better by playing. You
could sit around in a room, in a base-ment with a set of drums all day long and
practice rudiments, and try to develop speed, but until you start playing with a
band, you can't learn technique, you can't learn taste, you can't learn how to
play with a band and for a band until you actually play. So, practice,
particularly after you've attained a job, any kind of job, like playing with a
four piece band, that's ...... an opportunity to develop. And practice, besides
that, is boring. You know, I know teachers who tell their students to practice
four hours a day, eight hours a day. If you can't accomplish what you want in an
hour, you 're not gonna get it in four days.
MD - You were good friends with
the late Gene Krupa, weren't you?
BR - Yes, he was a very good
friend of mine.
MD- Do you consider him an
BR - I consider every drummer
that ever played before me an influence, in every way. There were so many
individual styles thirty or forty years ago. Every drummer that had a name, had
a name because of his individual playing. He didn't sound like anybody else, So
everybody that I ever listened to, in some form, influenced my taste.
MD - Was there any one person who
really influenced your style? Any certain kind of music?
BR - Yeah, I think probably
Goodman, and the Casaloma band were my first two influences in jazz. And, well
of course, Count Basie, and I think all of the black bands of the late thirties
and early forties, bands with real players. They had an influence on everybody,
not just drummers. They had an influence on the entire world of jazz. There were
so many creative artists, so totally different from one another.
MD - Did you like the music you
were playing with the big bands of thirty years ago better than you do now?
BR - I think I liked everything I
ever played. I mean, I think I liked every band I ever played in because each
band was different, each band had a different concept, and each band leader was
different... different personalities and musical tastes. So, if you don't listen
to all that, well then you become stagnant and you stay in one thing. But I've
played with so many varied bands with varied musical tastes, that I feel
qualified to have my own musical tastes at this point in my life.
MD- Have you ever thought about
playing with a symphony orchestra, or playing other percussion instruments?
BR -I've thought about It. It's
interesting, but simple. To have everything written for you ... It's not really
creating. That's why I think symphony drummers are so limited. They 're limited
to exactly what was played a hundred years before them by a thousand other
drummers. And, you know, I think the original recording of Ravel's Bolero,
probably whoever played percussion on that, will never have It played better
than that. So, what do they do? They're simply following what was laid down in
front and they play the same thing. So, there's no great challenge In being a
MD - I believe there's a music
school in the East where the professors prefer that their students do not know
how to read music. Their belief is that students can learn more by playing by
ear. What do you think about that?
BR - That's right. But, I think
it's very important that you read. I think you should read in order to know what
the chart is all about. But, I don't think any arranger should ever write a drum
part for a drummer because if a drummer can't create his own Interpretation of
the chart and he plays everything that's written, he becomes mechanical; he has
MD - A symphony musician once
said that all musicians copy, that there are no original musicians because
everything that will ever be played has been played before. What do you think
about that statement?
BR - I don't think so. Idon's
think anybody ever played like Charlie Parker. I don's think anybody ever played
like Lester Young. I don't thint anybody ever played like Coleman Hawkins or
Dizzy Gillespie or Miles Davis ... or Art Tatum .. - or Charlie Christian. I
could go back and name a thousand musicians who were the total creators, and
what we're hearing today is an upshoot of what they originated. So, the symphony
musician who said that has no idea of what he's talking about. If he's a true
symphony artist, he knows better than that because he knows that the only truly
creative musician is the jazz musician. Because after he gets done with all the
classical stuff he learns In school, he then has to develop into a jazz player
and that takes originality, and creativity. So. any symphony musician who would
make a statement like that, is in sad neglect of a musical education.
MD - Does your band have a heavy
road and club date itinerary these days?
BR - We don't play too many
clubs. We play mostly schools. In the summer-time, the schools are closed, so we
do more club dates.
MD - Do you pick the personnel in
BR - Yep,everything up there, I
MD - Are you doing any recordings
in the near future?
BR - We have a brand new album
out now, and well start getting ready to do our next album sometime around the
first of the year.
MD - Do you like recording?
BR - No, I don't like recording.
It's a bore.
MD - Does it take long for you to
record an album?
BR - Not really. It takes us
about four or five days to get an album out.
MD - It seems as though you have
no set format on the bandstand. You seem to select each chart on the spur of the
BR - That's how we do it. The
format is never come on the job knowing what you're gonna do because, then
again, it becomes mechanical. You can't play the same thing tonight as you did
last night. The reason you have such a large library is so you can change pieces
of music. It gives the band a chance to be fresh. It gives your eyes a chance to
read something different every night, rather than play the same thing night
after night. So, to come In with a set routine it's something I've never
believed in. It should depend on how you feel, because you play what you feel.
MD - When you play a solo, is it
BR - No, I count the band in.
MD - Do you do any limbering up
before you perform?
BR - Yeah, I usually take my
hands out of my pockets.
MD - Have you ever played with
your bare hands?
BR - Yeah, why destroy your hands
though? I can think of a lot better things to do with my hands than to cut them
up on the rim of a drum.
MD - You're into martial arts.
Does this help your playing in any way?
BR - No. I do it for relaxation,
recreation, and for the art.
MD - How long have you been
practicing martial arts?
BR - About fifteen years.
MD - Are you a black belt?
BR - Yes.
MD - About the thing on "What's
My Line", you know, the playing upside-down thing?
BR - That was something that one
of their directors thought of doing. I had never done anything like that before.
Until you've tried it, I's very difficult to explain. You're playing against
gravity and... it was a real challenge, it was interesting. I didn! know what to
expect because I had never done that kind of thing before.
MD - What do you think of
drummers who use theatrics of that sort regularly?
BR - I think they 're full of
MD - Hiding their abilities, or
their non-abilities so to speak?
BR - Well, I think its a matter
of making a statement that you're saying In essence, "I can't play, so look at
all the gimmicks". I've never known a player, whether it's in sports...
whatever, if you can do something without any fanfare, you can do. it. But, when
you have to resort to turntables, trick lights, flashing lights, fire and all
that, you're actually saying, I need this because what I do is not all that
MD - That little trick of using
both ends of one stick to play two different drums. Is that something you
BR - Almost everything I've done,
I've done through my own creativity. I don't think I ever had to listen to
anyone else to learn how to play drums. I wish I could say that for about ten
thousand other drummers.
MD - Your set-up is simple and
basic. Have you ever used more drums?
BR - The difference between a lot
of drums as opposed to a few drums is just the amount of drums. You could have
five sets of drums up there, what does that mean? If you have two bass drums,
six tom-toms, twelve cymbals -what does that mean? You only use the basic four
cymbals, a bass drum, a snare drum, a pair of hi-hats, and a couple of tom-toms.
Any more than that is superfluous. They're not really basic drums, but a perfect
set of drums.
MD- What are your feelings on
drums and amplification and electronic effects?
BR - I play a percussion
instrument, not a musical saw; it needs no amplification. Where it's needed,
they put a microphone in front of the bass drum. But, I don't think it's
necessary to play that way every night.
MD - What do you think of some of
the new, young, up and coming drummers?
BR - I think some of them are
MD - Do you have any preferences?
BR - I like Bobby Columby, I like
the kid with Chicago... Seraphine, Danny Seraphine. There's a bunch of good
ones. What's that kid's name from New York...Steve............. Steve Gadd. There are about eight
or ten drummers that I think have good taste, good application with their hands.
All the other drummers try to cop what they do, which isn's really that hard to
cop. But for what they play, they play it very well
MD - We noticed you looking at a
Roto-Tom before the show. What do you think of that kind of thing?
BR - I imagine that anybody who
wants to strive for something different, who's looking to latch on to some
"trick" ... well - -- but after they get through with the trick, they get back
to playing basic drums. So why go through all that other bullshit to get to what
you're gonna do anyhow? Why not get to it?
MD - Did you ever try
BR - No, I've never tried that
because I think that's really nuts. What's the point. When you buy a set of
drums, you buy them for the sound and the resonance, and you destroy the tone by
taking the bottom heads off. What's the purpose in that? And then you stuff a
blanket in the bass drum so you can 't hear it anyhow.
MD - Don't you use' any type of
internal mufflers on your drums?
BR - I use a strip of felt across
the bass drum, about two inches wide. That's it.
MD - How about drum heads?
BR - I use Weather-King Plastic
MD - Do you prefer a certain
weight drum stick?
BR - I use a medium weight stick
that's comfortable in my hands.
MD - What do you think about the
BR - I use it sometimes, when I
play a rock-shot.
MD - Do you find it more
BR - It's of no dimension at all
to me. It's just something I do, sometimes.
MD - For years, you've set your
crash cymbals flat, without any angling. Do you get a better sound that way?
BR - No, that's the way your hand
moves. The downward stroke is the normal stroke.
MD - What can you tell us about
BR - I don't tune them, I tension
them. There's a great difference. If you tune a drum, that means you're looking
for a note. If you try to tune to any given note, as soon as the audience comes
in, or the weather changes, or it gets hotter or colder or damp, the heads go
down. They can't be tuned. You can only tension them.
MD - Are any of your drums
BR - Nope; right off the rack.
MD - That's interesting. I
thought many name players used custom made equipment?
BR - Yeah, well that's because
they can't play. I mean It's obvious you know ... you put a race driver in a
car, if he knows how to drive, he can drive anything. If he can't drive, he
can't push a kiddie car.
MD - Do you have several sets of
BR - I can get a set whenever I
want. If I need another set of drums, I call the factory and they send a set
MD - Just how particular are you
about your drums?
BR - Well, they have to be set up
exactly the same every night, and I don't let anybody touch my drums. Nobody.
And, when I finally do condescend to let someone use my drums, they have strict
rules and regulations when they get behind them. Not one thing is to be
disturbed. You can play on them the way I leave them. I don't allow a cymbal to
be turned. Nothing.
MD - What advice do you have for
BR - None. I don't give advice to
anybody. Everybody has to make their own decisions and everybody should make
their own decisions.
MD - Do you think it's harder for
the young drummer today to make it to the top than it was when you started?
BR - Well, I think it's a lot
easier. In those days you had to be able to play. It's easier now because the
kids that are playing today have no musical background. They luck out with an
album and they become stars. I mean, where is their staying power? Where is
their creativity? Most drummers I hear today play what every other drummer has
played on record. I don't hear one bit of originality. I hear triplets coming
off tom-toms by every kid that's been able to hold a pair of sticks. That's not
my idea of playing drums.
MD - What do you see, in the
future of drums?
BR - Somebody asked me that
question about thirty years ago, and siting here being asked the same question
thirty years later, I'll have to give you the same answer. The people who play,
will continue to play, and the people who steal and copy will continue to be bad
imitations and thieves. So, it's up to the young people who are totally creative
in the instrument, to ever progress any place. But, I don't see that
Modern Drummer Magazine