A Snare And A Delusion

I haven’t written much about music lately, and have almost never, I think, written about my own musical background, other than as a recording engineer. But I have played the drums and the guitar since I was a boy, and before I landed my first job in a recording studio and began a career at the console, my plan was to achieve mega-stardom at the drum-kit.

This plan was obviously a flop, for a number of solid reasons. The first was that, having moved to the Big City in the late 70’s to work at Power Station Studios, I was living in a tiny studio apartment and had nowhere to keep and play my drums. The second was that I was working long and erratic hours, and could not make a commitment to a band. The third was that my work now brought me into contact with the greatest players of the age, and I began to realize that I was simply not in their league. The fourth was that as a staff member at Power Station I had effectively apprenticed myself to some of the world’s most brilliant and creative engineers, and began to realize that I had some genuine talent for the craft myself. So I abandoned my ambitions as a drummer, and contented myself with playing a little now and then on the records I worked on (I even got to bang a bit on a Rolling Stones album, but that’s another story), jamming with my musical pals at the studio, and playing my guitars at home.

But in recent years, having taken up software engineering as my primary source of income and therefore not being as immersed in music-making as I used to be, I began to miss drumming rather more poignantly, and decided to get serious about it again (inspired also by my son Nick’s extraordinary development as a guitarist and songwriter). I bought an electronic kit I can play at home without driving the neighbors mad, and have been getting back to basics, practicing my rudiments again, and taking a good close look at what the current crop of drum gods are up to.

My heroes growing up were Ginger Baker, John Bonham, Keith Moon, Clive Bunker, and other rock deities, and then, once I discovered jazz, it was Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Bill Cobham, Steve Gadd, etc. In my many subsequent years of record-making I have been fortunate enough to work with a long list of rightly renowned players. But there are some new faces out there, some truly amazing talents, and my boy Nick, who keeps his ear to the ground musically, has brought some of them to my attention. There is one in particular who has become my new favorite: an Englishman named Gavin Harrison, who plays with the progressive-rock band Porcupine Tree (and who has also just signed up for a hitch with the venerable ensemble King Crimson). Put some headphones on and have a look (and listen) here.

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7 Comments

  1. Ron D says

    Hi Malcolm,

    Long time listener, first time caller here. I am happy to see you talk about your musical background. I have had remarkably similar career path as you where I played drums for many years before I was led down the road as a recording engineer (complete with the realization that I also was out-classed by many other drummers). I, too, feel as though I was lucky to apprentice with some of the best engineers, yourself being one of them. I even have a son named Nick who is a remarkable musician, too (even though he is just five years old).

    I enjoy lurking on your blog and seeing what interests you. I am guaranteed to be enlightened in some fashion, good or bad. So, please feel free to include your incredible music/engineering background as a topic more often. No need to be modest, since I am a fan of many of the bands and records you have done. A little bit of “horn blowing” is warranted on your part and it would interest people like me greatly. I am reminded of a funny line I once heard somewhere (maybe even from you): “It’s not bragging – just fact.”

    Sincerely,
    Ron DiCesare
    Senior Recording Engineer
    Ultra-Sound, NYC

    Posted October 28, 2008 at 12:04 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    My goodness, Ron, how nice to have you join us. I certainly remember with pleasure the many recording sessions we did together, and your consistently outstanding work.

    That line, by the way, comes from Walter Brennan, in his eponymous role as the grizzled patriarch in the old TV Western The Guns of Will Sonnett. He explains that he’s the “best shot in the west”, then diffidently adds, in his croaking drawl, “that’s no brag, jes’ fact.” You probably did hear it from me.

    Thanks for the kind words!

    Posted October 28, 2008 at 12:25 pm | Permalink
  3. chris g says

    Seeing Eddie Martinez play on a jingle for Steve Tubin made me realize that maybe I’m not such a great guitar player!

    [Hijacking this to become the Look re-union thread]

    Ron – Congrats on your kid! I’m surprised you didn’t name him after Pat Metheny? I had a daughter (3 now), moved to the west coast and am not getting around much anymore (but thinking about Iceland and NYC for Xmas). It’s good to know you’re still alive and still turning knobs. Ciao! Chris Girand

    Posted October 28, 2008 at 4:18 pm | Permalink
  4. the one eyed man says

    Having been sworn to absolute secrecy , I have said not a word about the Rolling Stones recording for all of these years, and now it’s live on the Internet for all to see? Geez.

    Regarding Ginger Baker: my friend Fraser Botwright (British, can’t you tell?) was Ginger Baker’s landlord for a few years on a farm near Santa Barbara. He said that Baker always thought of himself as a jazz drummer, not a rock drummer.

    Posted October 28, 2008 at 6:00 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Well, Peter, I think the statute of limitations has probably expired by now…

    Posted October 28, 2008 at 6:14 pm | Permalink
  6. the one eyed man says

    I think if a monument were ever erected for me it would be called the Statue of Limitations.

    Posted October 28, 2008 at 6:21 pm | Permalink
  7. Hey Mac -this entry reminds me of our jams in Texas -just drums & blues-harp, and those good ol’ boys and gals loved us!

    Tho – I believe that the beer & Tequilla may have helped them find our NY groove –

    Posted November 3, 2008 at 12:56 pm | Permalink