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The Zappa Drummers
March 29, 2009 12:03 AM   Subscribe

Frank Zappa was renown for his quality band members and even more for his legendary audition process. The Drum Channel has a 7 part video series which brings together Zappa's drummers from his previous bands (Ralph Humphrey. Chester Thompson, Terry Bozzio, Chad Wackerman and Ruth Underwood) to discuss the behind-the-scenes process of these auditions(Pt1, Pt2, Pt3, Pt4, Pt5, Pt6, Pt7). It also culminates in a drummer jam.

Notable highlights: Ruth Underwood discusses how Mahavishnu Orchestra gave Zappa a musical wakeup call (Parts 2 and 3) and Chad Wackerman discusses in great detail his harrowing audition experience (Part 4). A lot of names are dropped as well in terms of those who didn't make the cut. Even if you're not a Zappa fan, there's a lot of musical talent represented in this very insightful videos.
posted by KevinSkomsvold (30 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
The 'Drum Channel'. Damn. Wonderful world. I would've liked to have had the internet when I was a young drum nerd.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:30 AM on March 29, 2009


just in time for a lazy sunday morning. thanks!
posted by es_de_bah at 12:48 AM on March 29, 2009


Excellent, although a rather prominent Zappa drummer appears to be missing.
posted by Wolof at 1:00 AM on March 29, 2009


"Excellent, although a rather prominent Zappa drummer appears to be missing."

Jimmy Carl Black died last year.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:05 AM on March 29, 2009


Chester Thompson was always my favorite. The band from that era, especially '74, was just amazing. Terry Bozzio is a very close second. Really amazing drummer, but I always loved the way Thompson played.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:08 AM on March 29, 2009


Jimmy Carl Black died last year.

OK then, let's call it 2.

Still, very enjoyable.
posted by Wolof at 1:16 AM on March 29, 2009


Jimmy Carl Black died last year.

The MeFi thread.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:34 AM on March 29, 2009


Vinnie would have been nice, too.

A great set of videos, these things.
posted by gcbv at 4:07 AM on March 29, 2009


Steve Vai: That's impossible.
Frank: Well, I hear Linda Ronstadt is looking for a guitar player.


These are all excellent links, thank you Kevin.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:15 AM on March 29, 2009


Wow. Epic post! But just how in the hell has this Drum Channel escaped my notice until now...
posted by mannequito at 4:46 AM on March 29, 2009


But just how in the hell has this Drum Channel escaped my notice until now...

The site says it's in beta, so that'd explain it!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:11 AM on March 29, 2009


I always wanted to be a drummer, and even bought a drum kit and lessons years and years ago. But I just didn't have it. This post reinforces something I've come to believe: that being a professional drummer isn't a job, it's a vocation.

I'd be full of jealous rage watching these guys if it wasn't so damn soothing.
posted by Elmore at 5:33 AM on March 29, 2009


The site says it's in beta, so that'd explain it!

Ohhhh ... You've won this round Drum Channel! *shakes fist clutching drumsticks*
posted by mannequito at 5:40 AM on March 29, 2009


*shakes fist clutching drumsticks*

Hey watch it, you'll put your eye out with those things!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:26 AM on March 29, 2009


OK, now I am amazed.

Two Zappa references in one day!
(See the post above with the China pictures. Radical Images)
posted by Drasher at 7:33 AM on March 29, 2009


I really like Ruth Underwood. She has a great memory about the late 60s Zappa stuff and seems genuinely dedicated to his work.

Spoliers Below:

Steve Luthaker and Carla Bley both auditioned and didn't make the cut,

After seeing Mahavishnu Orchestra, Zappa decided to go more groove oriented (and louder).

My favorite Vinnie Colaiuta story:

"I'll tell you a really great Vinnie story. He's one of the most amazing sight-readers that ever existed on the instrument. One day we were in a Frank rehearsal, this was early '80s, and Frank brought in this piece of music called "Mo 'N Herb's Vacation." Just unbelievably complex. All the drums were written out, just like "The Black Page" except even more complex. There were these runs of like 17 over 3 and every drumhead is notated differently. And there were a whole bunch of people there, I think Bozzio was there."

"Vinnie had this piece of music on the stand to his right. To his left he had another music stand with a plate of sushi on it, okay? Now the tempo of the piece was very slow, like "The Black Page." And then the first riff came in, [mimics bizarre Zappa-esque drum rhythm patterns] with all these choking of cymbals, and hi-hat, ruffs, spinning of rototoms and all this crazy stuff. And I saw Vinnie reading this thing. Now, Vinnie has this habit of pushing his glasses up with the middle finger of his right hand. Well I saw him look at this one bar of music, it was the last bar of music on the page. He started to play it as he was turning the page with one hand, and then once the page was turned he continued playing the riff with his right hand, as he reached over with his left hand, grabbed a piece of sushi and put it in his mouth, continued the riff with his left hand and feet, pushed his glasses up, and then played the remaining part of the bar."

"It was the sickest thing I have ever seen. Frank threw his music up in the air. Bozzio turned around and walked away. I just started laughing."

posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:01 AM on March 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


Colaiuta's Wikipedia page also has an amusing story...

His dedication to self-improvement is legendary: Dom Famularo, a famous drum educator and Colaiuta's friend, once told a story about Colaiuta opening his door while practising on a drum pad; after a few minutes of a chat on the door step, Colaiuta said: "I'm such a bad host, I haven't offered you anything! Do you want a pad?"
posted by Joe Beese at 9:27 AM on March 29, 2009


Great Post

I turned 21 in '69. No musical ability. Except for a vast appreciation of all kinds of music. And, was it sure happening.

So, I bought a cheap set of drums and played myself silly. The "therapy" was amazing. But, like an above poster, very little talent. Oh, I could pound out basic rock. But, unfortunately, my passion was jazz and rhythmically complex music. Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Keith Moon, Billy Cobham, Steve Gadd, Tony Williams...

Ah! I "played" for about 5 years. As bad as I was, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Have often thought of buying a set in the intervening years. For the "therapy."

I suppose there are thousands of us with no musical talent, who felt, like so many, that the drummer wasn't a "real" musician. That we could pick it up without bothering with "notes." Hah! Ringo Starr and Charlie Watts were and are genius. Not for pyrotechnics and flash, but for being perfect ensemble players.

Sorry for the ramble. And thanks for the link. My "ears" are quite talented. I plan on exploring this new site.
posted by private_idaho at 9:53 AM on March 29, 2009


But, unfortunately, my passion was jazz and rhythmically complex music. Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Keith Moon, Billy Cobham, Steve Gadd, Tony Williams...

Keith Moon? I mean, unstoppable, manic, wonderful energy and musical joie de vivre, sure, but, rhythmically complex? Hmm...

Ringo Starr and Charlie Watts were and are genius. Not for pyrotechnics and flash, but for being perfect ensemble players.

Very good point.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:05 AM on March 29, 2009


Flapjax,

Keith Moon. Good point. I guess I should have included him in another "class" of drummer."

John Bonham, Ginger Baker, Carl Palmer, Ainsley Dunbar, Mile Shrieve, hell, even Mick Fleetwood and Phil Collins. And I'm leaving out the Motown drummers, James Brown's drummer, and all the timbale and Latin Percussion players. Airto. Just chops.

The Band would not have been the same without Levon Helm. Nor the Eagle's without Don Henley. My greater point, that I failed to address, is that some drummers have chops, others are supreme musicians. One thing that I never mastered, was silence. Creating rhythm and tension by knowing when to use that most powerful tool. Like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, et al. My inability to master silence taught me that I had no business with sticks in my hands.

Thanks for the response.
posted by private_idaho at 11:15 AM on March 29, 2009


The Band would not have been the same without Levon Helm.

Ah, hell yeah, Levon's a superb drummer. He's a guy who drummed for the songs. It was all about the songs for him, because he was a musician first, and a drummer second. And I don't mean that in the derogatory "three musicians and a drummer" punch line way, either. I just mean the man is musical. I was actually pretty disappointed when I went to hear The Band in NYC back in the early 90s (or was it late 80s? anyway...), and they had twin drummers... I guess Levon and/or the other guys felt like maybe he couldn't really drive the group like he could when he was a younger man, but, damn, that touch, that certain propulsion that he had, and his sound, they were steamrolled by the 2nd drummer, and The Band wound up sounding way more generic than they should've. That was unfortunate.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:39 AM on March 29, 2009


Levon Helm, I was really happy to see him up at his place at his "Midnight Ramble". Even got to smoke a little something something out back with his posse.

If you are anywhere even vaguely in range, go do it.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:59 PM on March 29, 2009


Interesting fact: Frank Zappa was also the Czech Republic's Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism for a brief period.
posted by knguyen at 1:05 PM on March 29, 2009


The drummer jam link has been taken down by YouTube. Bugger.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:30 PM on March 29, 2009


Thanks for this. I didn't like Bozzio for a while after his new wave stint, but then I remembered he could to stuff like this. That said, chalk me up as another Chester Thompson fan.
posted by assoctw at 3:19 PM on March 29, 2009


This is very cool...Zappa's drummers have always been my favorites. BTW, I saw Frank in 1987 and Chad Wackerman played a stupid crazy drum solo.
posted by pepcorn at 3:06 PM on March 30, 2009


I would've liked to have had the internet when I was a young drum nerd.

The thing that kills me is that I can go on the Net (to this database, for example) and find out exactly who played, and what was played, when I was going to see Zappa 30-35 years ago.

Including the first time (5-18-73) when the drummer was Ralph Humphrey. If you'd asked me today who Humphrey was, I would have said "Who?" Likewise, I've been thinking lately that Chester Thompson (who was drumming the second time I saw Zappa, 10-29-74) was Carlos Santana's keyboard player. (Same name, different guy.)

These videos are a wonderful refresher memory course for us old people. Thanks, Kevin.
posted by LeLiLo at 1:27 AM on March 31, 2009


The thing that kills me is that I can go on the Net (to this database, for example) and find out exactly who played, and what was played, when I was going to see Zappa 30-35 years ago.

As we used to say...

far out!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:39 AM on March 31, 2009


Having now watched all seven episodes, I agree with Kevin that a most interesting part is the Zappa/Mahavishnu discussion. I should add that one reason I probably don't remember Ralph Humphrey from that 5/73 concert is that I was completely (as were all of the Zappa drummers, they say) blown away by Billy Cobham's drumming with Mahavishnu as that tour's opening act. Which was my favorite (and Bozzio's too, he says) group at the time, and the main reason I'd gone to the show in the first place.

Cobham was (probably still is, about to turn 65) astounding in so many ways as a drummer, but when we were backstage with him (I was covering the show) he mostly wanted to talk about photography, and the camera gear my photographer had brought along.

Speaking of astounding (to change the subject slightly), I don't know that much about Bozzio, and not until yesterday had I come across any photos of his drum kit, which the Wiki says is nicknamed the S.S. Bozzio. This video shows it being set up before a show.
posted by LeLiLo at 8:56 PM on March 31, 2009


Funny - I was listening to The Best Band You've Never heard in Your Life for the first time on a long bus ride yesterday. When I got home and turned on the computer, someone (a friend who'd been over while I was away) had serendipitously left a browser window open with this post loaded.

I love the name Chad Wackerman. It just sounds great, never mind that he's teh drummer.
posted by not_on_display at 6:36 AM on April 20, 2009


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