Sadly, it’s become somewhat of a dying art, partly because most players don’t work on this aspect of their craft, and partly because many of those who have, have not been especially musical, mindful or entertaining in their ultimate presentation of their solos in the context of a live show. This has created a bit of a stigma about drum solos in certain circles.
Nonetheless, I’ve always felt that a well-played, appropriately-styled solo could work in almost any situation, because drums and rhythm have such a primal, universal appeal. I learned this early on in my career, playing various bars around Houston. I noticed I could play drum solos in a rock environment, at a jazz club, in a honky tonk playing country (yes, I’ve done it), or even as the only white boy in the building of a funk gig in Houston’s fifth ward… no matter. Everyone would hoot and holler just the same.
Through the years, I’ve expanded my drum solo vocabulary and musicality considerably and have tried to become even more mindful about the audience at hand and how to best communicate with them. No more of this focusing on playing a bunch of super technical shit like I’m in a room full of drummers (unless I’m actually playing for a room full of drummers!). I try to think big picture: What type of solo might enhance the show and serve as an appropriate musical segue in the set, and what kind of vibe would this particular audience groove on?
It’s really no different than writing or speaking professionally. If you are going to write or speak for a particular audience, it helps to know who the audience actually is so you can tailor your communication to them in a way that will best resonate. Same thing with drum solos.
To Vary a Lot or Not?
The only thing I still struggle with sometimes is the idea of exactly how different to make the solo each night on a particular gig. I know the idea of radical variation is most prominent in genres where improvisation is a huge part of the style. In these cases, I find myself playing more off-the-cuff, which I like. But if your solo becomes part of the set, and you travel around and play the same basic set each night over the course of a tour, it seems natural to fall into some basic kind of form that’s replicable from night to night. This is what I seem to do, even though there is a lot of room for variation, new sections, different riffs, varying durations, etc. It’s never the same twice, although certain aspects of the beginning, middle and ending might be similar.
Accordingly, I sometimes wonder if it’s okay to be repetitive about key elements of the solo that seem to go over: stopping and starting again to elicit crowd reaction, playing with one hand while toweling off or drinking water with the other hand, ending the solo with some kind of signature “going ape-shit” kind of grand finale, etc. (You’ll notice all three of these examples in the solo below.) But at what point is it “Oh, I saw him do that last time,” vs. “Man, I hope he does that thing again like last time.” Of course, many of my faves had certain signature riffs they repeated – hell, even the great Buddy Rich had a similar ending to his solo for decades. So… I guess it’s cool.
Here’s the complete 4-minute solo I did at a recent Lita Ford show at the Mohegan Sun in CT. I initially shared it in two halves, as two separate excerpts, on Facebook, and folks seemed to enjoy them. Some also asked to hear the whole thing together as I had originally played it. And so… here it is:
(Special thanks to my “east coast” tech, Mark Chiaramonte, for the cool camera coverage.)
PS. And finally, my friends, this is blog #20 in my 20-blogs-in-30-days series for June 2014. Missed the goal by a few days, but that’s life. It’s been fun. See you guys next year. Kidding!
I plan on hitting it more regularly than I had been, but not as often as I did in June. Thanks for being here…