BY PHIL HOOD
You apply to play at the world’s largest gathering of drummers and you get accepted. Now what?
I thought I’d ask some of the artists who are playing or teaching at PASIC 2018 what and how they plan for that. First I called Glen Sobel, the Alice Cooper drummer and Drum! columnist who has played with a who’s who of metal, hard rock, and guitar pyrotechnicians. Glen was quick to the point, as direct as one of his dead-on backbeats. “I’ll be talking about what it means to be a drummer’s drummer in a work environment where collaboration, restraint, and discretion are necessary. Maybe in some ways it’s an anti-clinic. But of course there will be talk of influences and [skills like] reading, subbing.” Sounds great.
Next I called Paul Wertico, who came to fame during 18 groundbreaking years with Pat Metheny, and a celebrated author and teacher who has worked with numerous artists, to get his take on how to approach a PASIC clinic. That was not so direct. My questions led to a long conversation about approaching performance, teaching unusual approaches to the kit, drumming, and life. Here are nine questions with Wertico.
DRUM!: Is a PASIC clinic different from other events?
Paul Wertico: Obviously, it’s a big event with people there from all different fields. PASIC is universal–world, rock, jazz, marching, classical, there’s all these people. But when I perform at a clinic—any clinic—I like to look at who is out there. Whether it’s a school, a university, or a store, there are still all kinds of different people who come to hear you and I want to present something at a level that they can all get something out of it.
So you prepare the same way for this as any other show?
You can plan or just go up and be an artist and just enjoy the freedom. I’m ready. One time I went to the Chicago Drum Show just to meet some people, and (organizer) Rob Cook said, “There is a clinic in one hour and Lenny DiMuzio is sick, so can you play?” So I borrowed sticks and did a clinic. One year at PASIC I subbed in the big room for (jazz legend) Billy Higgins. He was sick. Other times I was there as the “famous drummer” with Pat Metheny Group. There’s some pressure there. At the time I had to prove I was worthy of being there.
Is the audience there for learning, for chops, for inspiration, or all of it?
If the audience is filled with hobbyist drummer, they may not care about playing in 15/8 but you want to give them enough information. I teach all the time (at Roosevelt University) so it’s not anything new for me. For a drummer who doesn’t do a lot of clinics preparation could be different.
How many times have you performed at PASIC?
I’ve done four or five performances at PASIC. This year I’m going to be in the second-biggest room. They have these different rooms. The big one is huge–I’m going to be in the second room, which might be good. People are coming to learn. The big room is for showing all the chops you can. I’m not putting it down. There’s a sort of pressure when you’re young and a lot of people are watching for you to show everything you’ve got. At age 65 it’s different. Now I’m happy with what I’ve done and I don’t give a crap about what people think [laughs].
So how do you see yourself as a musician now?
With Metheny’s band I got to show one side of myself: melodic. That’s great because it was so great to be recognized for anything. But when I was just starting as a player I thought of myself as loud and radical. I had snare strainers taped to the bottom of tympani and I was playing on hubcaps. I thought I was adventurous. Now I don’t think of playing jazz or rock or whatever. I just think of myself as an improvisational musician.
You wrote a book last year, Turn The Beat Around. Will that material find its way into PASIC?
Absolutely. It’s all about front beats, playing on the 1 and 3 instead of the 2 and 4. Alfred came to me about writing a book and I immediately thought about front beats. They are so important. The 2 and 4 are important to drums but in classical music it’s about the 1 and the 3. Other instruments too. So I started putting together exercises. They were great to work with and kind of let me do whatever I wanted. One problem we encountered was that I was using Finale software for the notation and I was placing the stems of the bass and snare differently than Alfred does them. And, there’s like 1,300 exercises. I thought, “Do I really have to do this?” Fortunately, they have a great (music copyist) who did all of that for me.
How do those exercises go over with students?
It’s another way of looking at how to play drums and it really works as exercises. After playing 1 and 3 on the snare drum and going through all these exercises the students would go back to 2 and 4 and sound much better. The 1 and the 3, those are the strong beats in classical music. They have to be strong for the weak beats to work. There’s this balance, the 1 to the 2, to the 3, to the 4 [starts rhythmically singing the beats].
After these exercises they were playing things I could barely play. They’re not pushing the downbeats as much. Some people really push the downbeats and they’ll drop a 128th-note beat or something. These exercises make them play the whole beat and it gives the groove a much wider feel.
Did you study like that when you were young?
You know, I have hundreds of books but usually I’d never play the entire book. I was not one to go through every exercise in Stick Control endlessly. When I was younger I’d get the idea of the book and then work on that. It’s the same way with rehearsals. Now I’m usually too busy to rehearse because of teaching and other gigs so I usually get the tunes and go through them once. I’ve been playing a lot with a Brazilian singer Cecy Santana, which is great. But I don’t need as many rehearsals. When you get to be experienced you can roll with the punches, you memorize the music and then when it’s time to play, you play.
What’s the biggest thing you try to impart through teaching?
When I teach I see my students grow by getting out of them what they are, who they are. I want students to get in touch with themselves. Why are we doing this, playing drums? It’s not just to impress the audience. It’s really to inspire them. When you’re on the bandstand don’t be afraid of who you’re playing with. Listen, and react. Don’t come in with an agenda. You learn the forms, the kicks, the styles, the groove. But when you play, you play.
Listening Lessons: Playing 1 And 3
Wertico says, “There’s not many songs where the drummer emphasizes or feels the 1 and 3, but there are some. It’s really worth looking up ‘Forgotten Road’ with Dennis Elliott. He was a great drummer.”
Here are a few songs that emphasize the 1 and the 3:
- “Woman Don’t Want To Love Me” (Chicago), Danny Seraphine, drums
- “Bell Bottom Blues” (Derek and the Dominoes), Jim Gordon, drums
- “Sunshine Of Your Love” (Cream), Ginger Baker, drums
- “Forgotten Road” (If), Dennis Elliott, drums