Sunday, April 5, 2009

Phil Rudd-Less Is More (Cliched, but true ! )

"Less Is More" You've heard that so many times, that it's become a cliche, right ? Well, I have to say that it can't be more true, in my opinion, especially when it comes to "Commercial Drumming"(that is, songs that will make it to rotation on commercial radio.) Legends like Ringo Starr, & Charlie Watts have come to personify this philosophy to most players.However, on the heavier (yet still quite commercially viable) side, the one name that personifies this for me is Phil Rudd (Full name :Phillip Hugh Norman Witschke Rudzevecuis-You try to pronounce it correctly, I can't !) of AC/DC.

I discovered AC/DC in 1979,at the age of 13, & my intense enjoyment & love of this band continues to this day. At that age, I was so "Wide Eyed& Eared" to everything that I was exposed to in that magical year. Having been playing drums for about 3 years at that point, I soaked up everything I heard & saw. While I was fascinated by the complexity, & difficulty of Neal Peart for instance(who wasn't, right ?), I was equally captivated by the "Deceptive Simplicity" of Phil Rudd.

Having been aware of the name AC/DC through advertisements in the music press of the day(Circus/Creem/Hit Parader/Rock Scene magazines,etc), & all important "Word Of Mouth" I had yet to actually hear them. I knew they were just one of many, many "Cool Bands" that it was imperative for me to discover. A guy that I was in my first band with bought(he was 2 years older than I, & had a paper route!) their then new "Highway To Hell" album. He called me one day, & was frantic on the phone saying "Steve, you've GOT TO come over as soon as you can, you MUST hear this band !! " Our next rehearsal was later that week, so as soon as I was dropped off at his house, we raced upstairs to his room, & slapped H.T.H. on his turntable.(yes, glorious vinyl, folks !) Within literally 30 seconds of hearing the title track, I was absolutely transfixed ! While I knew the pattern that Phil was playing was within my grasp, there was something about the feel & the sound that left me slack jawed ! Needless to say, we immediately attempted to add H.T.H. to our very sparse & limited repertoire of songs. Easier said than done ! After attempting about 1/4 of the song, the other two guys(2 guitars, no bass!) stopped the song & said "That doesn't sound like the album, Steve" I was frustrated by that comment, as I knew they were right ! All I could come up w/ as a retort, was "Well, I'll never be as good as that guy !! " 30 years later, that's still quite true !! HAA !

You must take into consideration that this was WAY before the internet, & all that was available was pictures in the aforementoned magazines,etc. So information on things like gear, were very hard to come by. I say that because this was also the time period that I began my almost life-long obsession w/Sonor drums & hardware. The first pic. I saw of Phil's kit was of the beautiful Oak finish "Phonic" kit that he used on the H.T.H. tour. The sizes were 22", 12"13",14"16" F.T. & 18" F.T. I have since found an almost identical kit in the same finish, but w/the sizes 24"(always my preferred B.D. size, by the way) 13",14",16"18" w/ a matching 8" snare ! If I had a 12" tom, it would be almost exact ! (Yes, I have been scouring EBAY to no avail !) One of the things I found peculiar, was the way Phil muffled his rack toms. He had Gaffer tape on each resonant head in a sort of crescent moon shape. While I personally loathe any kind of dampening on toms, I have to say that his drums sounded quite unique to me. I still feel that way when I frequently spin (there's another vinyl reference, folks !) AC/DC's older albums. A great track for Phil's then "Signature" tom sound is "Walk All OVer You" from Highway To Hell. The fills in the intro are just so....PERFECT ! The sound is of course a combination of gear/room/player, & the incredible production talents of Robert John "Mutt" Lange, who would later go on to much success w/Def Leppard, among many,many others. The kit he's using here is what was used on the "Powerage" tour the previous year, & are the same sizes, in the Mahogany finish. The muffling is curiously absent, assuming that it was deemed unnecessary for the video, since no audio was being recorded.

I got to see AC/DC for the first time in 12/81 at N.Y.'s "Madison Square Garden", whilst touring for the "For Those About To Rock...We Salute You" album from the same year. (How I missed the "Back In Black" tour the previous year, I don't know ! And, tickets were a mere $8.00, w/ Ronnie Montrose' "Gamma" opening !!)Naturally, I was glued to Phil the whole show ! The first thing I noticed was "What happened to all his toms? " Phil had removed his 12" & 14" toms, & moved the 13" tom up to the position previously held by the 12". The 16" & 18" F.T.'s were left intact. That configuration stands to this day.

Just how much Phils unique "Feel" was missed is evident on the recordings & tours he was not a part of. Phil left the band just after the recording of the "Flick Of The Switch" album from 1983. I'm still not exactly sure why that transpired. His replacement, Simon Wright(another Evans endorsee, & great guy !) was absolutely the right choice for the band at that time. While there are minor sylistic differences between Phil & Simon, the overall sound of the band was left pretty much intact. The major change in the sound of the band came upon Simon's departuare in 1989.

His replacement was Chris Slade, best known at the time as a member of "The Firm" the partnership between Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) & Paul Rodgers (Bad Co.) in 1985&'86. While I always thought of Chris as a great player, what he brought to AC/DC didn't fit, in my opinion. The commercial success of "The Razors Edge" (1990) & the subsequent document of that tour, "Live" (1992) are undeniable, but the change was too great, to my ears. That is a matter of some debate amongst AC/DC devotees, so I'll leave my opinion at that.

All was right again in 1994, when Phil returned to the fold. 3 more albums, & world tours followed w/"Ballbreaker" (1995), "Stiff Upper Lip" (2000) & the excellent "Black Ice" (2008). I began "Chasing" Phil's long time tech, Dick Jones in 2002, & I didn't let up until things finally fell into place in 2008, & Phil tried Evans Drumheads, & became an endorsee ! Phil & Dick settled on the EQ2 batter for the B.D., clear EC2, & EC Resonant for the toms, EC Reverse Dot, & Hazy 300, & PureSound "Blasters"for the snare. Speaking of the EC Rev. Dot, that was the head that sealed the deal w/Phil. He said : "This head feels no pain". Apparently, longevity of the snare batter during a show has been an ever-present issue in the past. Not anymore !The Gaffer tape on the toms is long gone, but Phil's sound is still his sound, & Evans is there w/him all the way !

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A new pair of shoes part 1

I remember as a kid getting a new pair of shoes. It didn't really matter what brand they were, they just seemed to make me faster. I always think about asking my Dad to time me, to see how long it would take me to run around the house. He was usually there when I got back, and he would tell me that I had topped my old record and it had to be the shoes. It's the same with fresh heads. How many of us feel that our drums are not performing properly after weeks and months of playing without changing the very target of our abuse? Drum heads are plastic and are not meant to last forever. Like sneakers, tires, underwear, toothbrushes, and the comedy of Robin Williams, old drum heads need to be thrown out and replaced. I have the great honor of hosting 20-30 drum tuning nights a year in some of the finest drum shops in the US. It's amazing to me that while the talk about batter heads is fairly well received and nods of approval are quite common, but when the subject of changing resonant heads comes up and i recommend changing resonant tom heads every third time you change the batter, I become Frankenstein's Monster and the villagers are looking for torches and wooden rakes. The fact is, all of your tone is coming from the bottom head. Typically to get a fuller and warmer sound, the bottom head will be tuned higher, to bounce the vibration from the top head back up like a trampoline. The top head being looser will vibrate slower and allow to sound to die out without losing tone. Think of Matt Chamberlain on Edie Brickel's "Mama Help Me". The general feeling is that bottom heads don't get hit, so they don't need to be changed. The bottom head being tighter is vibrating at a higher rate than the batter causing the molecular structure of the plastic to break down, thus leading to a decrease in tone. Think of it as the soles of your shoes going smooth.
New heads mean a new or updated sound and allow for greater tuning range than worn heads. I have found that I have more confidence when I present myself better than normal, this falls into my rule of a shower every Thursday, whether I need it or not.
I have been building drums and tuning professionally for over a decade and dealt with a lot of inconsistencies with heads. I can honestly say that Evans has been a huge step in being able to find a sound and duplicate it consistently. My new pair of shoes is the G Plus. The G Plus is a 12 mil head but still a single ply. I get a very warm tone that holds up for me, better than a regular 10 mil head. Since I am such a huge fan of warm, organic tom sounds, I have started using the coated G Plus on the bottom head as well. I use thin shells. Thinner shells vibrate more than thick shells and have a longer voice. Adding 12 mil heads top and bottom darkens the tone and when combined with a thin shell, lengthens the note. I have looked for a head combination for years and have gotten close with coated G1's, but The G Plus allows me to do this every time. Please take the time to check out the site and find your sound at
I am still that kid with the new shoes. I run around the house every time to try something new to see if I am faster. I feel better and play better with fresh heads. When you make the investment in your gear, you invest in your sound and your skill. This is a new day and there are so many ways to improve your sound with Evans drum heads. Who knows, maybe my dad will time you.

My re-introduction to Evans

My first set of drums was a Mickey Mouse “kit” that my parents bought me when I was about 7 years old. I think they were tired of me hammering on our pots and pans while they listened to their Led Zeppelin and Chicago records. I can still remember the picture of Mickey on the front bass drum head, playing a guitar and dressed up like someone from the Monkees during their heyday in the early 70’s. Man, that makes me feel old…..

Obviously, time passed, the Mickey Mouse drums found their way to the garbage after wearing out, and I joined the school band. I hammered around the percussion section while there, and got my first real kit soon after that. I now clearly remember that at that point I didn’t even realize drum heads could be changed…replaced. That they wore out after awhile.

Fast forward to 1985. While in high school, I was still heavily involved with drumming, from rock bands to musicals, and from community orchestras to drum corps to symphonic wind ensembles. I was also becoming more aware of various drum equipment available, as most drum geeks eventually do. I was using drum heads from another major drum head manufacturer at that time because that was all I knew. That brand of drum heads also seemed to be the only brand that the local music stores stocked.

When I discovered that my favorite drum hero was using Evans, I thought I would give them a try. He was using Evans Hydraulics in red, because his kit was red, so I tried them in blue, since my kit was blue! Why not? I had to special order them from my favorite local music dealer since they didn’t have them in stock, but I eventually got them.

The sound I got was what I expected out of Hydraulics; The deep “thud” that easily characterizes their signature sound due to the light coating of linseed oil between the two plies. I loved them because my drum hero used them. As far as I was concerned, I was now officially COOL because I was using some drum gear that this immortal drum god was using. Surely, I was well on my way to being a superstar too, right?

You see?? Product endorsements DO work!

I discovered, however, that the Hydraulics lost that “sound” fairly quickly. If I remember correctly, I tried blue Hydraulics one more time when a friend of mine got me a new set for my birthday. After some time however, I eventually went back to the drum heads I previously knew and was comfortable with, and kept it that way for awhile.

Although my mother wanted me to be a dentist (or something like that), I eventually went off to college in 1987 as a music business major at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. I remember my parents didn’t really understand what I was going to do with a music degree. In fact, years later, my father admitted to me that, at the time I had made my little announcement that I wanted to major in music in college, he felt he was going to be supporting me for the rest of his life…..however, they supported me in my decision, and off I went.

Fortunately, it didn’t work out that way. I was able to earn a living in the music products business and was eventually hired in 1998 as a district manager for the Yamaha Corporation of America, calling on dealer accounts throughout New England and upstate New York. See, mom? See, dad? I TOLD you I could make a living in the music business!

It was at about this time that I learned another large and respected company within the music products industry, D’Addario, had begun to branch out beyond manufacturing strings, of which the company was best known for. I was interested to discover that the company had purchased Evans, moved it from Dodge City to New York, and was now under full control of manufacturing the heads, along with employing a massive research and development effort to make them better than ever, in terms of consistency and high quality construction processes. As a drummer, this interested me greatly.

In the years prior that had passed (late 80’s to mid 90’s), I had become more aware of the sound I was trying to achieve behind my kit, as all drummers who gain a certain level of experience do. I had tried a number of different types of heads from a few different manufacturers while gigging quite steadily throughout this time period, which gave me ample opportunity to “audition” any heads I wanted to try out. I admit that Evans was, at that time, not on my radar. My previous experience with them while I was in high school made me feel there was perhaps no reason to go back. They weren’t all that heavily promoted within the dealer community at that time either, making the heads difficult to try and discuss with dealers’ sales staff members. Evans was, at least for me at that time, “out of sight, out of mind.”

In early 2001, I was calling on a dealer near Cape Cod. The store owner had just installed a new Evans display full of heads. I needed some new heads at that time, and I felt by looking at the display and the great things I had begun to hear about Evans that I would perhaps get reacquainted to them…a “re-introduction” to these heads, as it were, from the original time I had tried them back in the mid 80’s. Fortunately, this dealer had a percussion specialist who was able to answer all of my questions. After concluding my business with the dealer, I spoke with this staff member at length about what I was looking for in a drum sound. We carefully went through each drum head offering they had on their display, and after quite a bit of discussion, I decided to go with clear G2s for my tom batter heads, clear resonant heads for my tom bottoms (very important!), coated EMADs for my bass drums, and a simple coated G1 for my snare drum. Armed with my new set of heads, I got home and put them on my Yamaha Beech Custom kit that I had had for a couple of years.

I never looked back after that.

The sound and feel I experienced was tremendous. The consistency of each head was, in my opinion, as good as one could expect. I was getting plenty of cut and warmth out of the tom heads (8” to 16”), ample “crack” from the snare, and a sound from the EMAD bass drum heads that has, literally, changed the way that we now think as drummers of achieving our ultimate bass drum sounds. All heads I had tried before offered something, but also left me wanting something. These specific models of Evans heads on my kit left me wanting nothing. I had found what I was looking for.

Fast forward to 2006. After a number of years of working in the industry, I was now given the opportunity to work with D’Addario…that same respected company that was manufacturing those exceptional drum heads that I had been reintroduced to about five years earlier. I took that opportunity and, again, haven’t looked back since. Sometimes, I simply cannot believe how fortunate I have been working in this business. D’Addario simply continues the journey for me.

D’Addario has done amazing things in the world of drum head manufacturing. Without question, the bar has been raised, and, from being on “the inside,” I can tell you the future looks even brighter. I encourage all drummers out there reading this to continue to keep your eye on the future of Evans. We have many more exciting things planned…stay tuned…!