Embracing Excess – Ladies and Gentlemen, The Octopus!

A few years back I featured a special groove on my DVD, The Zen of Drumming, called “The Octopus.” It’s a one-bar pattern that utilizes 22 individual sound sources, and it had become a much-requested favorite from my solo drumming appearances.

By special request, I’m including two different videos here… and a bit of a behind-the-scenes explanation:

First, just to get a vibe on what this thing is all about, here’s a quick 43-second excerpt from the DVD that shows just the groove performed.

The Concept

I spent the better part of 10 years – through most of the 90’s and into the 2000’s – earning my living primarily as a solo drum guy. I did hundreds of clinics and exhibitions, and tons of shows with my own instrumental funk-rock power trio, mainly around North America. It was a grand period of my life.

Part of what you have to do as an educator, or proponent of the drumming arts – however you want to call it – is constantly dig deeper into the how and why of what you do. And part of my message, which extends all the way back to the mid-80’s when I first started doing drum shows, is that you always start with something basic, then expand from there.

“The Octopus” is kind of an extreme example of this concept. It’s based around a particular sticking pattern that one could play with great effect on a mere two sound sources… but that really takes on a new life when split up over 22, on a drum set that includes nine individual foot pedals.  It’s a statement on what an ultra-expansive approach might mean to a basic musical idea. And – perhaps most importantly –it is, to my ears, joyously musical and not something you hear everyday.

The Less-Is-More Culture

Of course, the more common approach is the good ol’ “less-is-more” vibe, and I do understand this. More often than not, we creative folks find that, indeed, less is more. That’s largely how great editors help writers, or great producers help musicians. By pointing out ways that we can “tighten up” on this paragraph, or that second verse, we find that the story or song is actually more impactful to the reader or listener… even when it feels like a creative amputation is taking place when we have to lose the excess!

This is a great Truth in the creative process, but it’s not an absolute Truth… although I get the impression that many might disagree with me.

Ya see, back in the grand and glorious 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, excess was a common part of the creative landscape, particularly where music was concerned. For example, you could go to a number of different kinds of concerts and see the drummer play an “excessively” long drum solo, often on an “excessively” large drum kit. It was part of the culture. (I’m not saying it was all great… I’m just saying it was an acceptable part of the landscape.)

Then, as it always happens, the pendulum swung the other way and it seemed like the opposite became the norm. Instead of large drum sets, these understated “Ringo Starr” type kits were suddenly everywhere. Instead of the long drum solo or guitar solo – NO solos became the norm. And with this new “norm,” (which, by the way, has been with us for a couple decades now), came – in many cases – an underlying snootiness toward anyone still interested in larger, bigger and longer. (Believe me, I know about this first hand… although it obviously never really bothered me.)

So my point is this: it’s truly all good, and both polarities – the less and the more – are great to have in the ol’ arsenal. These days, the touring world is largely about using back-line gear at concerts, since most of our travel is done by plane. So the “less-is-more” thing works fine, both as a simplistic approach to playing rock music, and a matter of logistics.

But… there is always something to be said for seeing how the other side lives. And to just dismiss something you perceive at first glance as extreme or superfluous is a bit short-sighted and limiting in my view.   Why not have the “more” approach as an option? For drummers, what could it hurt to consider how a second snare drum or some Latin percussion additions may be just the thing for a particular song. And who says your audience wouldn’t enjoy a 90-second “percussive interlude” somewhere in the set? (We just saw Bruno Mars open his show with a drum solo at the Superbowl this year, for Christ sakes!) Even for writers, maybe that wordy paragraph that over-describes should be left in. (Works for King and Dickens.) Maybe the cadence of the narrative would be heightened to great effect in that instance, who knows?

So the question could be: How could more be better here?

I have a feeling that the creation of my latest thing – alphabet drumming – would not be in the discussion had that question not been asked!

alphaThe Alpha Kit – 2014

In closing, here’s an excerpt from the DVD that deconstructs The Octopus for you:


PS. This is blog #4 of my 20-blogs-in-30 days series for June 2014.  Thanks for reading….

About Bobby Rock

Bobby Rock is a world renown drummer, the author of nine books, and a recognized health and fitness specialist with certifications in exercise, nutrition and meditation. He has recorded and toured with a variety of artists, released three CDs as a solo performer and is recognized as a top drumming educator. He is currently touring with rock icon, Lita Ford. Through speaking, writing and activism, Bobby remains committed to a number of animal and environmental causes. Bobby lives in Los Angeles.
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2 Responses to Embracing Excess – Ladies and Gentlemen, The Octopus!

  1. sister says:

    O…is my missing link

  2. amoyer2013 says:

    As I age, I realize that less is more. I could play a 24 hour marathon solo that would soon sound monotonous, or play a simple groove with no fills that people will dance to all night. What I have noticed with many drummers, even the great ones, is their solos all sound the same after awhile. You hear one, your hear them all. Neil Peart is one of the few that has used electronics and other means to break the monotony. Bozzio is cool too, but even he get’s to sounding like a bunch of buzz rolls in different tones after awhile. However, pushing the limits is a good thing for self-improvement.

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