Allan Schwartzberg and Jim Payne
Give The Drummers Some! The Great Drummers Of R&B, Funk And Soul
Warner Bros. Publications ISBN 96-86533
My parents were great ballroom dancers, but I really didn’t come from a musical family. I don’t think we had a record player in the house. We had the radio on, so I heard some music on that.
I went to Yeshiva, the Jewish school, and one day, when I was about 12 years old, I was walking to school and I heard a drummer playing some Cozy Cole/Gene Krupa type stuff. I went into an absolute trance, and it was like someone just reached in and lit the light inside. It never stopped from then on. It just went right up my spine and I said, I just have to do that. It was the most thrilling thing I had ever heard in my life.
From then on I went home and started banging on the washing machine and things like that. I drove my mother nuts, and then, finally, I took lessons.
Who did you study with?
I took lessons from Sam Ulano. He taught me to read drum music so that I could sight read absolutely any piece of music the first time down, which I’m grateful for. He was a great guy and an inspiration.
Then I listened to records – Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones and Max Roach. They were my idols. My parents didn’t encourage it as a profession so I kind of did it when I could. Then I decided this is what I really want to do.
I dropped out of the world for three years, stopped seeing all my friends, and practice eight hours a day. I just disappeared and became this other person. I listened to records and played along with records and practiced and practiced until I came up from underground and I could play a little bit. That’s all I ever wanted to do.
I was the house drummer at the old Half Note for two and a half years. I played with Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Jimmy Rushing, Roy Eldridge, Bob Brookmeyer and Ritchie Kamuka. I took Jack DeJohnette’s place with Stan Getz and traveled in Europe.
After that gig I was totally disillusioned with jazz. The money was not good. After I paid my bar bill, I was making $5.00 a night! And people just stopped coming out to see jazz – this was in the late ’60s, after bebop and before fusion.
Around that time I heard an Aretha Franklin record called “Chain Of Fools,” with Roger Hawkins on drums. I heard that back beat and I said, man, there’s something else out there besides Philly Joe Jones.
And I heard James Brown’s “I Got The Feelin,” with that great beat the Clyde Stubblefield did, and I said to myself, this is slammin’ stuff here, this is definitely happening!
So I wanted to do that, and what I tried to do with my drumming is, speak without an accent. I think that’s one of the things I’m most proud of – as if I were a character actor. You know that movie Sophie’s Choice? Meryl Streep played a Polish woman. She studied the language, did the whole movie with a Polish accent and didn’t crack once. She won the Academy Award for that.
That’s the way I wanted to treat drumming. When I played with Mountain, I tried to play how a long-haired kid with tattoos would play. I don’t think there are many drummers who could take Corky Laing’s place with Mountain, like I did, and then turn around and play with Stan Getz or James Brown. If you’re playing with Stan Getz or James Brown, those are two completely different situations.
James Brown and Tony Camillo:
How did you get involved with James Brown?
I was one of the hotter cats at the time and James had heard of me. When we did “Funky President” (1974), there were other drummers, or maybe they were guitar players, playing percussion in the vocal booth – shakers and cabasas. James wasn’t there for the tracking. He overdubbed the vocals. The engineer told me that when James came in to do the vocal, he heard it and he said, “Who’s playing drums?” They told him my name and it’s kind of a hard name to pronounce. I get Schwartzenberg and all kinds of stuff. Anyway, he just said – and these are his exact words – “Get that Jew boy back again!”
Fred Wesley did the arrangements on the date. Real thrown-together stuff. Gordon Edwards played bass. It doesn’t get funkier than that. I did some more things with Fred. Some of the things are one the “Reality” album. I also did a lot of R&B stuff with Tony Camillo.
Did you do that record, “Dynomite”?
Yes, I did. It was all one take. Actually, when I was doing that record I got a message that my wife’s water broke. She was pregnant with my first daughter. I said, “Goodbye, I’m outta here,” but Tony pulled me back. He said, “Please, let’s just do one take on this.” I said, “Okay, one take.” So we did it, and that was the record! No click track, no nothing inn those days. Barry Miles did the synth effects on there, and Carlos Martin, who was a great conga player, said the words “Dynomite.” And that was a number one record under “Tony Camillo’s Bazuka.”
We did a lot of R&B stuff at Tony Camillo’s place –
Gladys Knight, Dionne Warwick.
When I was working at the Power Station with Tony Bongiovi, I had the dubious distinction of coming up with the disco beat. The truth is, “The Love I Lost” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes was the first record that had the pish-ship on the hi-hat. That preceded Gloria Gaynor’s “Never Can Say Goodbye,” which I planed on, but “Never Can Say Goodbye” was considered the first disco treatment of a classic song. After that, a lot of songs were treated in the disc style.
I did “A Hurricane Is Coming Tonite” by Carol Doubleas, tracks with “Disco Tex & the Sex-O-Lettes” and a lot of other stuff like that. I also did Meco’s records: “Star Wars,” “Superman.” All that dancy, disco stuff. Those songs were big. That was the hot studio era. A lot of recordings were going on.
Actually, it hasn’t changed a lot. It’s back but you can’t say the “D” word. They call it house music. It’s the same stuff. It’s four on the floor with a couple of different sounds and you weave some jazz into it. House music and acid jazz have funky beats with bebop on top of it.
I just can’t get into the process of picking it all apart and then putting it back together again. I’d rather just get some guys and go in and play.
Yeah, but it’s like another art form. It’s like cutting things out of a newspaper. You know, there are some people that can paint. They can take oil and put it on a canvas. And then there are some people that can cut out things from a newspaper and glue them on canvas. They’re artists also. It’s just another technique, another language.
How did you manage to survive when drum machines came in?
I started programming, but ran into the wall, which is that everybody always wanted to be a drummer. We were the first to go. I mean, a guy can be at home and accidentally come up with something on a drum machine. You can be fooling around and come up with a really cool beat that you didn’t actually mean to do. Producers like that.
The line I would often hear in the early ’80s would be, “I’ll do the demo, and when we do the final, you [Allan] come in and do the final.” Then he’d come back to me and say, “You won’t believe it, they liked what I did. They’re gonna use the demo.” Of course they’re gonna use the demo, because they’ve been living with the demo and sonically it’s perfect because they’re digital sounds. Nothing sounds better than that.
I recently did some sessions for a jingle house. They put up Spin Doctors and said, “Guys, this is the groove we have to get – ‘Pocket Full of Kryptonite.'” So I said, “I’ll do the beat,” but I’m saying to myself, it’s not gonna sound like that ’cause we go a set of tubs in the room and the engineer is a jingle engineer. He’s a good engineer, but it took hours and hours, and even after that it really didn’t sound that good. So I convinced these guys that if they’d just let me bring in my triggers, we could do the same thing in half an hour. I could play on pads, with real cymbals and trigger the bass drum, snare drum and tom toms. The next day they tried it and they’ve used it ever since.
If you can play samples where you can get some dynamics out of them and live cymbals, it sounds great. So that’s how I’ve been surviving. I’ve been triggering for jingle houses.
And the recording studios are just hanging in there because everybody brings their MIDI equipment to the jingle house’s own little MIDI studio. You set up your pads in a four foot square area with a hi-hat and a cymbal and that’s it. That’s what playing has come to lately.
Some people like live drums. There’s a great jingle company in New York called Philinsky and Snyder that’s probably the hottest house happening now, and they like all live stuff. They like it the way it used to be. Now it’s a new thing because people have grown up with drum machines. I’ve heard music producers say, “Hey, what’s that?,” and “What’s that?” is jazz! They never heard jazz. And that’s why you’re hearing jazz now on so many TV commercials. They didn’t know that there was another kind of music other than dance music and rock ‘n roll.
Drum miking and drum machines:
The fact that producers are sampling all these old James Brown beats, including yours, and that they seem to gravitate towards that old sound of one or two mikes and a lot of ambiance, do you see a trend of going back to that?
Absolutely. I don’t think drums ever sound better than when you have one overhead mike just looming over the top of the drum set, like in the old days. With the close miking you almost had to play really soft. Or they make you play really hard and then they back you all the way off, and the meters are blinking, cringing with snare drum hits that are too loud. And then they bury you in the mix and there’s no feeling to the record.
Now, people are starting to like leakage again. Let the drums leak into the other tracks. They want to get that raunchy, hairy sound.
I’d also like to say that while the drum machine had an adverse effect on drummers and their lives, it also created a standard that we have to live up to, because now everybody knows when it’s in time In the old days, guys didn’t’ know when drummers were playing well. Other drummers would have to tell them that – “Hey, you know, this drummer’s good!” Now they’ve been listening to perfect time from the drum machine, or almost perfect time, and they have the gauge that they’re using on us. You can’t fuck up any more. If you get sloppy, it sticks out terribly. It just pops right out of the record when you’re not playing in quantization. When you’re playing a shuffle beat and you accidentally slip into a straight eighth thin because your foot gets a cramp or something, and you can’t get a perfect gon-gon out of the bass drum, that’s something you can’t get away with anymore. At that moment the record stops swinging, they know.
Do you play totally to clicks now?
What do you take with you to a session?
Yamaha sent me a bunch of stuff. I think it’s called a TX 80. It’s a new sound module. I use the Yamaha MIDI pads – they’re great. You plug the pads into the back of the machine and just hit them, and that’s it. It sends a MIDI signal into a computer, and then you can do anything you want with that data, afterwards. That’s the greatest – instant drum sound. The heads don’t break, the snare always sounds the same. I was using an Alesis D4 for a while and that also worked very well.
How do you deal with rim shots on these pads?
On the Yamaha pads you can assign another MIDI note to the rim so that when you hit the rim and pad together, you can get both sounds at once.
I want to carry as little as possible. All I need is the Yamaha bass drum pad – I take my own pedal – and I set up a tree with four MIDI pads on it, a small cymbal, a small hi-hat stand and that’s it.
Any words of advice for young kids starting out?
First of all, they should start playing with a click. Not to depend on it, but they should know what their tendency would be. It’s a great way to show where you go off, especially during an d coming out of drum fills. What happens to young kids is that after they do a half bar turn around, it’ll be such a tense moment going through the fill, that they’ll have lost it. You’ve got to go around the corner on four wheels. It’s fun to go around on two wheels – it’s nice to create that tension – but you’ve got to land back on four wheels after you’ve made the turn.
I would say the time thing is still the most important thing. I remember reading when I was a kid that Shelly Manne said that – and it’s still the most important thing. The time feeling’s got to be there. And also a thing called intonation. The sound of your drums has to fit the music. It could be an off-the-wall sound, or whatever, but the sound of the snare drum has got to be right for the music. Drums should be tuned according to the song you’re playing.