The Myth of Tony Williams (or, Why Are Drummers So Neurotic?) - Part 2

Part 2 - The Myth of Sound

So, what we have here is a case of drummers chasing unicorns, because they think if they can catch one, life will be better. That brings me to another topic that reappears with alarming frequency: people chasing after a myth in hopes of recreating it and perhaps incurring some special grace or karma because of it.

I have just never understood the desire to copy someone else! Really. I’ve never had much inspiration to do that. My thoughts are that, well, it’s already been done, so maybe I should do something else. A good example is the book I did with drummer Bill Bruford: When In Doubt, Roll! I did all the transcriptions for the book and have had people say things to me like, “How long did it take you to learn all those drum parts you wrote out?” To be honest, I never really learned to play any of those parts on drums, unless there was something I needed to play to figure out. I had no reason to actually learn the parts because I never played in any of the bands Bill played in. So there was really no practical reason for me to learn how to play any of Bills drum parts. But what I did learn was how Bill constructed drum parts, and how he thought in a very forward thinking manner as he moved through different musical situations. Sorry to burst another bubble.

As far as cymbals and drums go, yes, I was influenced to a point to buy something because other drummers played it, but in a much more general sense. If I was to list my favorite 10 drummers, and then list the gear I have vs the gear they have, you wouldn’t necessarily see a lot of overlap. And what did over lap, would be items I bought because I liked how they sounded, rather than “my hero plays the same thing.”

Let’s look at some of my gear, and explore why I use what I use:
  •  I have 3 sets of Rogers drums that I bought back in the early 1970s. OK, some of my heros at the time played Rogers, but I think the fact that I am still playing those drums 40 years later, when both Rogers and my heros are long gone, says something: I really like the sound of these drums!
  •  Other drums I have include various Pearl Export and REMO Legero toms. These are cheaper drums, but hey, they sound good to my ears and that’s all that matters. My criteria for buying a drum: if it’s round and has a flat profile on the bearing edge, allowing me to tune it to a pleasant sounding note, then it works for me. The type of wood, type of finish, and type of mount is rather secondary to being round and able to easily tune to a note.
  •  For cymbals, I’ve been playing Paiste since the 1970s and am still playing the 602/2002/Sound Creation cymbals I’ve had for ages. I bought them all because they had a particular sound that I heard in my head, not because any hero played them. In fact, for many things I prefer cheaper cymbals because they are heavier and don’t sound so refined. I have a big fondness for Paiste’s PST5s. I also have some great old Pearl cymbals, and some funky bent & broken cymbals. All of them produce a sound that I hear in my music.
  • And while we’re at it, just because I play Paiste doesn’t mean I don’t like other cymbals. In fact, I really think all the companies out there today make some great sounding cymbals. Over the years I’ve played Zildjian, Sabian, UFIP, Meinl, and other brands, but for my music, I prefer the sounds I can find with Paiste.
  •  Gongs: I’ve got Gongs from Paiste, UFIP, Japan, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and various Gongsmiths like Michael Paiste & Steve Hubback. I’ve chosen each one because of its sound, not because anyone else uses it.
  •  I’ve also got boxes of percussion and random thrift store items that make interesting noises. And I’ve even made various things because I heard a sound in my head that I could not find anywhere, so I made what I needed.

And where does all of this diatribe lead to, you ask? Well, it’s always been my opinion that the music resides within the musician, not the instruments they play. And I think it’s way more important to spend your time and creative energies on being just that: CREATIVE, rather than chasing after what has come before. As much as I love John Bonham’s drum sound, I see no point in buying a re-creation of his drum & cymbal set up—I’ll never sound like Bonham (or anyone else) in a million years.

To quote a few of my favorite drummers
  • I’m the best at what I do...I create my own rhythms...who could do that better than me. Ronald Shannon Jackson
  • Being a drummer is hard. To be a drummer is a life force. You have to be motivated to even deal with this instrument. Roy Brooks
  • If you approach drumming seriously, then everything you put together to make your sound brings you to your own, unique world. Robyn Schulkowsky
  • If you have something in your heart to do, you should do it. Terry Bozzio
Find yourself, be yourself…

~ MB


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