Roy McCurdy: Taking More Private Students


SKF NOTE: From Roy McCurdy’s Facebook page. What a great opportunity for drummers. If you need Roy McCurdy backgrounder info, here’s Roy’s interview with me late last year.

Roy McCurdy
October 13 at 1:39pm ·

I have decided to take more private students for drum lessons at my home studio, drummers interested may contact me at my email address:


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The Dog Chewed My Drum Heads

rawhideSKF NOTE: Wiiliam F. Ludwig Jr., former President of the Ludwig Drum Co., comes to mind everytime I walk by rawhide dog bones or chews in pet products sections of food stores.

Specifically, I  remember a conversation Mr. Ludwig and I were having about the birth of plastic drum heads and the demise of calfskin drumheads.

The base product for calfskin drumheads, said Mr. Ludwig, are now those rawhide dog bones.


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Fred Below on Backing Singers (Audio) July 9, 1982

SKF NOTE: Fred Below was always on my short list of drummers to interview, who, as far as I knew, had never shared their stories for posterity. My first chance to right that wrong came while I was at Modern Drummer. The short version of how this interview happened is posted here.

In this part of our interview, Fred Below was answering my question about drummers backing singers. One of Mr. Below’s trademarks is his ability to, using his own word, “blend” with other band members. In answering my question, Below gives a mini-history of drummers working with popular music groups. First, he says, popular vocal groups like The Mills Brothers, relied strictly on a “strong guitar” for rhythm. When these vocal groups recorded with drummers — it was an adjustment for everyone.

Later on, Below recalls, small rhythm sections became part of Rhythm & Blues groups, and then Rock ‘n Roll bands.

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Papa Jo Jones: We Played Who We Were at the Time

: Chip Stern‘s 1984 Modern Drummer feature interview with Papa Jo Jones is still, in my opinion, the definitive piece on the great drummer. “It could only happen once,” Papa Jo says, telling drummers born after Papa Jo’s heyday, it’s impossible to play like Jones and his contemporaries. If we weren’t there, we missed it.

Over the years, every time I hear someone singing like Frank Sinatra or like Billie Holiday, for example, I think of what Papa Jo Jones says here. Our musical pioneers are teachers compelling us to learn from them to be ourselves.


Papa Jo Jones: It takes a whole lot of living to do what we did. That’s why I tell these little kids that came after us not to try to play like us, because that’s impossible. We were having a conversation about our lives. You weren’t there; you can’t know what we were talking about.

What I played had to do with who I rubbed elbows with…. We played who we were at the time. You can’t recreate that. You can’t copy that. It could only happen once. I didn’t have to play a thing. All I was doing was sitting there listening. I always was an audience, and I will be an audience as long as I live.”

Source: Chip Stern, Papa Jo Jones, Modern Drummer, January 1984


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The Secrets of Chick Webb’s Drumming Technique 1938


John P. Noonan

SKF NOTE: John P. Noonan‘s terrific piece, The Secrets of Chick Webb’s Drumming Technique, (Down Beat 1938), which I’m excerpting here, is a valuable inheritance. John Noonan is a noted percussion player and teacher who studied with Ed Straight, Roy C. Knapp; he was percussion instructor at Illinois Wesleyan University, a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and is a member of the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame.

That 1938 Down Beat was among a couple boxes of old Down Beat magazines I bought in the early 1970’s from McKay’s Music Store, Davenport, Iowa. Pre-internet, those magazines were a great find for an aspiring drummer and writer. Any magazine articles, such as John Noonan’s piece on Chick Webb, out-of-print, and not included as part of a book, were tough to find.

On top of that, to have such an insightful piece on Chick Webb’s drumming technique written by a respected drummer while Webb was still living, still performing, is rare. At least, in my experience. I’ve used Noonan’s article as a source in a couple of my published writings. Almost 80-years after its publication, and 40-years after I first acquired it, here I am again sourcing Mr. Noonan’s piece on Chick Webb.

Drum heads mentioned in Noonan’s piece are made of animal skin, most likely calfskin. The first plastic drumheads were about 20-years into the future.


“[Webb] spends a lot of time balancing the tone of his snare and bass drum, until they sound right to him,” John Noonan writes. “He uses the conventional separate-tension bass drum, equipped with tympani heads and the regular type of separate-tension snare drum.”

Webb’s bass drum is played “free… no mufflers or pads dampening the tone. This is a fine effect when the drum in tuned low, but calls for good pedal foot control to balance the volume of the drum.

“[Webb] watches all his drum heads closely and at the first sign of their drying out or losing their life, he changes them. The snare drum is also tuned low pitch (not too tight) using the regular type heads.

“His cymbals are the finest Turkish, both for stick work and on his High Hat. Webb like a light drum stick (7-A) for general use.

“The outstanding part of Webb’s drumming, I think, is dynamic control,” Noonan continues. “He is a past-master of the art of shading on drums. His playing drops to ‘nothing’ and up to a frenzied roar, as the arrangement demands. He does this effect with either sticks or brushes….

“[H]is drumming always remains solid (the test of the swing drummer). He makes good use of the high High Sock Pedal [sic] in the usual ways, holding four in a bar on the snare drum with the left hand — the right on the High Sock for solid ensembles, here again controlling the volume to suit. The band seems to depend entirely on Webb for these changes from piano [soft] to forte [loud].

“His use of brushes is a study in itself. Fast rhythmical figures or swishes of exactly the right length are used. This latter trick is a Webb art.

“Webb is a firm believer in the ‘play what you feel’ school. He advocates this system to all drummers. He advises young drummers to work on the rudiments for stick control and then apply their beats as they feel them, never losing sight of the type and style of the arrangement,” Noonan said.

“Every drummer is familiar with the famous Webb breaks. [T]he breaks are ad-lib…according to the arrangement of the tune. Webb looks over the arrangement containing breaks or solos for drums, and gets clear in his mind, the type and kind of break he believes will fit. Then he experiments a few times until he finds a solid idea for his solos and then phrases them in this category.

“The man is also a fine showman, combining the rare combination of virtuosity and showmanship.”


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Brubeck on Roach and Odd-Time Signatures


Dave Brubeck 1957

SKF NOTE: In July 1974 I bought the current issue of Different Drummer magazine in which Doug Ramsey interviewed Dave Brubeck. A few years up the road I copied a this Dave Brubeck quote on Max Roach and odd-time signatures, for a magazine story I was writing on the history of jazz drumming.

Doug Ramsey is still writing and has an excellent blog, Rifftides, which I follow and recommend.


Dave Brubeck: “Max is one of the greatest drummers who ever lived. When we were young, Max and I played on the same programs and got to talk a lot. He was interested in what we were doing, and I was interested in what he was doing, because at the same time we were both getting away from 4/4 times. Our things just happened to become hits. I’ve always thought [Max Roach] should have a lot more recognition.”

Source: Dave Brubeck on Max Roach, Interview by Doug Ramsey, Different Drummer, July 1974

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Art Hodes: That Was the Big Thing – The Story

hodes_artSKF NOTE: Art Hodes wrote wonderful columns for Down Beat magazine from his vantage point as a jazz musician (pianist) who mixed company with some of the early great jazz pioneers. Plus, I love Art Hodes’s writing. Here’s a quote I kept in one of my notebooks.

“Go back as far as you like — to the very beginnings of jazz. You’ll find that the jazz people were making this music on any instrument they could lay their hands on. Before store-bought instruments were available, they made their own; bass on a jug, fiddle on a cigar box with broom-stick handle plus gut string, washboard drums, kazoo-like toys to express the lead melody.

“People were saying something on anything they could find; the lack of a lacquered horn didn’t keep you from telling your story. That was the big thing — the story.”

Source: Art Hodes, Down Beat, February 13, 1964.

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