“Elvin Jones is vitamins. You gotta have Elvin Jones at least once a day.”
Johnny Vidacovich has been playing music for more than six decades. He is a jazz drummer from New Orleans, Louisiana and you can still find him at the Maple Leaf on any given Thursday night. He has been involved in many classic recordings throughout the years including James Booker’s “Classified”, Professor Longhair’s “Crawfish Fiesta”, John Scofield’s “Flat Out”, among countless others. Given the fact that Johnny has grown up and lived in New Orleans his entire life, he has the second line, syncopated New Orleans sound coursing through his veins. He is a highly respected instructor as well. A couple of his students over the years are none other than Stanton Moore and Brian Blade. It is safe to say that Johnny Vidacovich is one of the greats.
Why Should You Listen?
Well, because Johnny is a legend. To understand what second line drumming is, you must listen to Johnny’s work. To understand what he values as an artist, this episode will lead you closer to that. He has a lifetime’s worth of experience with music and to get an opportunity to hear what it means to him to be a musician is heartwarming. This is an interview that I felt that I needed to capture for the sake of history. I prepared a great deal for this one so that we can hear Johnny’s life story, which is fascinating, to say the least.
The title of this episode is “A Concerned Mother” because you can hear directly from Johnny how concerned he is about the state of the industry. And…well he is a mother (which is a term of endearment towards a high-level player…) I just left the last part of it out. But you catch my drift right?
This episode will capture your imagination in what times were like for Johnny and how truly humble it all has been. It has always been about the music for Johnny and to hear that in this episode is such a great reminder for so many of us.
Music Used in This Episode
“Deb’s Garden” - Vidacovich
Drumeo Gab’s Socials
“We can’t get passed this. Ya gotta do the work. No matter what you’re doing, if you want success…do the work.” - Dre Energy
Dre Energy is a drummer for the Cirque Du Soleil Quidam show. He has held that gig for roughly six years and the story of how he got that gig is very inspiring. The moral of that story is about why we sometimes need to follow our hearts and go for broke sometimes. Originally, Dre Energy began playing the drums at the age of two. He has also never taken a lesson but of course has utilized any resources available to become the exceptional player that he is today.
Dre is from Las Vegas, NV but he is almost always somewhere else. The gig with Cirque historically been one that requires Dre to perform some 300 nights per year. In addition to that he is also in high demand internationally for clinics. China seems to be a country that really enjoys Dre in particular. He is also an entrepreneur for his own practice pads, shoes, cymbal line with Samsun and a new innovation that is yet to be released and up until this point, it is something that has been shrouded in mystery. All in all, Dre Energy is a force on the drums and possesses an extremely high work ethic.
Why Should You Listen?
This episode is packed full of wise and pragmatic advice from a man who has been there and done that. Dre prides himself on telling it as it is. This episode will be helpful for drummers who feel that they need an endorsement to advance their career. This episode clarifies that hard work with direction and focus really is what gets things going in a forward motion. Overall, this episode is geared to inspire, educate, and motivate drummers into a state of progress and clarity.
I also recorded a special monologue at the very beginning of this episode where I talk about having a purpose and a trajectory for your practice routine. I share my own personal story with this and I hope that it puts the fuel in your tank to hit the shed with proper focus to achieve greater results with your craft. If you combine drive and intent with the amazing resources that are available online, including Drumeo, I believe that anyone can become the drummer that they want to become in this life.
Dre Energy’s Socials
Drumeo Gab’s Socials
Gunnar Olsen is a New York-based musician who performs both live and in the studio very often. He has performed with The Exit, Big Data, Mother Feather, The Goo Goo Dolls, and even the boss. Mr. Bruce Springsteen. You are going to hear all about how that came to be in this interview. He represents C&C drum company, Zildjian Cymbals, Remo Drumheads, Vater Drumsticks, GoPro, Big Fat Snare Drum, Big Ear N.Y.C., Ableton and Reflexx.
Becoming a session player
Gunnar talks about how back when he was playing with The Exit originally, he believed that what he wanted out of his career was to be a band guy. A rock star type. That was where his head was at. But as he continued on his path with music he started getting calls to do other stuff for other people. Eventually, The Exit fizzled out and by this point, Gunnar was finding himself doing a lot more session-based work. It wasn’t really the goal when he set out to pursue music but it became his experience either way.
As Gunnar explains in the interview, he was being taught many important things about how to do a session gig to best suit the music, artist, and the producer. It is a discipline to simplify your playing in order to get a thumbs up from the producer. Is it really necessary to get attached to your performance on the record or to just do what is satisfying everyone else who is involved? This is a very interesting point of the conversation. On the other side of the coin, sometimes it is a great thing to really push the envelope and create something particularly special on the drums. I suppose that is a matter of good judgment, experience, and intuition.
In any case, as you will hear in the episode, Gunnar has become a very active player in the New York scene and recording remotely for other people abroad.
The Bruce Springsteen thing
To lay down drums for the Boss has to be one of the greatest feelings a session player can experience in his/her lifetime. A major triumph and validation that you are doing something right. The tracking for Bruce’s new album “Western Star” happened a few years ago. Gunnar wasn’t sure if the music was ever going to be released, but sure enough this summer it happened. He finally had the chance to tell the world what he had participated in. And you are getting that story told for the first time publicly on this podcast. What a treat!
The story of how Gunnar got this gig and the events that took place at Bruce’s home studio at his ranch is larger than life really. You can tell that Gunnar has rehearsed this story by living with it for so long and telling his close buddies in sworn secrecy. I won’t spoil it in this article, but what I will mention is how Gunnar knew how to read a situation and provide what was truly preferred by Bruce. This must be incremental as well considering the other two cats who laid down tracks previously to Gunnar. But a combination of having a producer’s ear for drumming and intuiting a situation based on a keen observation made by Gunnar definitely had to play a role in why you are hearing him on that record. I actually included the tune “Sundown” at the end of this podcast from Bruce’s new record. And yes, that is Gunnar on drums.
A producer’s ear
I think that this is an often-overlooked “chop” by drummers. We tend to focus on the technical prowess that we possess on our instrument and less often employing a producer’s ear towards what we perform. Music isn’t just about drumming and I realize this isn’t news to many people.
What I am getting at though is that many of us, I think anyway, are looking to constantly improve our abilities on the drums and rightly so! But we cannot simply focus on that. We also need to look at how our natural eq is in the mix when we play, what sounds we select for any given song, the effectiveness of our fills that we use and this applies to the grooves that we use too. It all plays a role in the delivery of the music and drums have a lot to do with setting the pace on this stuff. Of course, all of the instruments involved in a piece of music have to be considered, but drums really do have a profound place in this and it isn’t something I hear much discussion about.
Like you, I see so many incredible session players who know what to do with this and can fit in nicely with their playing and even inject their distinct sound into a piece of music but we are observing that. So Gunnar and I have a go with this subject and I think there are some valuable nuggets in there for listeners to check out.
What should we focus on?
Gunnar talks about how he isn’t interested so much in being an engineer. Like any skill, much time is required to become great at something. With time invested in one thing, means that less time can be afforded for other things. Gunnar COULD dive headfirst into engineering but he is far more interested in producing and drumming. Between those two things, he could easily spend a lifetime growing and he just isn’t keen on including engineering into that mix.
I think what is important for people to consider is to really hone in on a couple things at a time. Take your time to truly explore a skill and develop it through your honest interest and passion for it. There is no better way to see what is possible within yourself by being selective and intentional like that with learning. I really like that message. It is really easy to get tempted into other things by the vast quantity of tutorials and so on out there but it is common to be really into something for a short while and discover that you aren’t truly into it once the honeymoon phase wears off. Be observant of your level of interest in what you pursue.
Music used in this episode:
“When Will Today Be Tomorrow” - Gunnar Olsen
“Sundown” - Bruce Springsteen “Western Stars”
Drumeo Gab’s Socials
Benny Greb is one of the most celebrated drummers over the last ten years. With his acclaimed educational content such as “The Art and Science of Groove” and “The Language of Drumming”, Benny has been opening up the minds of drummers in a unique way. He currently has another book that is due to launch in Q1 2020. Along with his educational content, Benny is well known for his original music with his Grebfruit albums and his fusion trio Moving Parts. Benny also holds clinics and camps worldwide to expand the knowledge and abilities of drummers. I would imagine it would be an amazing experience for anyone who attends.
A Big Opportunity
Since running this podcast I have always hoped that one day I would have an opportunity to interview Benny. Any content that I have viewed, Benny stands out to me as an exceptional communicator, teacher, and performer. He would bring up concepts that went further than simply the mechanics of drumming by also implementing the psychological and scientific aspects of how we play. He breaks these concepts down into very understandable smaller parts so that literally anyone can understand it. Looking at Benny’s performances will also very quickly indicate to you that he is very methodical and intentional about his musical decisions and execution. So with all of these ingredients, you might imagine that an interview with Benny would be very eye-opening and an event that I would be very excited to present to all of you. And you would be right — mostly.
If you have been listening to DrumeoGab, or in its earlier days, DrumGab, you will know that I like to promote the idea of pursuing your work with integrity and to push yourself to reach greater heights with your art. Stagnation usually leads to boredom. So, I think it is important to step out of your comfort zone and do things to the best of your abilities. With Benny’s interview, I prepped a lot and tried my best to design something a bit different for listeners that would challenge myself with being able to host it. It was all really deep subject matter that brought curiosities forward but I hadn’t fully established my own thoughts on it yet. Instead, I wanted to see what Benny would bring forward and discover what kind of conversation could be had from the questions I had. I also enjoy challenging my guests with these deeper subjects as well.
All was going quite well I thought and then towards the end, I asked a question that would end on one word that would essentially ruin the question. The question was whether a drummer should spend their time mastering one to three styles of music or if it is better to know a lot of styles — but just a little bit. Nothing too in-depth or “masterful” so to speak. We as drummers hear a lot of people suggesting that in order to have a better shot at a stable career that we should learn as many styles of music as possible. But how is that information being handled? This is my curiosity. Are people just dipping their toe in styles or are they spending a great deal of time in a style of music and as a result finding their own voice within that style? So the question seemed pretty interesting to me when it is phrased that way. It seems like something people may want some clarification on but I really flubbed the question. I said, “should you half-ass it all?” which is absolutely horrible wording. It also contradicts how I approach this podcast and I personally don’t think that anything should be half-assed whatsoever. But I said it. And instantly, I regretted it.
During the interview with Benny, I felt what was best was to just let it pass and try to continue with the interview without having to defend myself at that moment, even though my ego felt the need to pipe up to try and regain some worth. It was tough making a big mistake on the podcast with Benny. I don’t know why the word came out of my mouth. It just kinda popped out of there and before I thought to stutter a bit and readjust my question, I committed instead. It was this type of catastrophe that I used to worry about happening when I first got into doing this podcast. It is the kind of event that I never wanted to have happened because I am not good at feeling embarrassed and I have a perfectionistic approach with this show. Whenever embarrassment happens I have a tendency to ruminate on my embarrassment and it cuts away at my confidence quite a lot. So what did I learn from this?
The episode is titled “Growing Pains” because that is what I had experienced making this one. It connected me again with the fragile side of my ego that has always been a bit soft.
Before I continue though, I need to hit rewind a little bit.
When I started the podcast people were saying, “it’s really good considering you have practically no experience! Keep doing it!” What does that really mean? Well, I guess translated it means, “it isn’t very good yet but I think it will be good once you learn more about how to do it. Definitely stick with it.” So even from the beginning when I was incredibly uncertain about myself doing this kind of work, people were very gentle with their feedback. As the show grew and I felt that the content was becoming much better, I felt that the feedback was far more natural sounding. People were telling me often how much they look forward to it, that it was making a big difference in their personal lives and with their approach to drumming. The feedback has been really great, with only a few small comments stating otherwise. But that is the thing, I haven’t had much “bad” stuff to deal with while making this show. It has all been very good and it has been easy to feel positive about the work.
To clarify, I have also been very careful not to get too comfortable or confident either. Believe me, I still get nervous butterflies with every interview. I always want to hit a home run. It is very tough for me if I feel that I didn’t. This is why I prep so much and pour so much love into the work because I am actually really afraid to fail. That feeling of embarrassment is one of my biggest fears.
For my listeners, you must know the following about me. I grew up being incredibly self-conscious. Even something as insignificant as playing a game of basketball as a kid was stressful because I wouldn’t want to trip over the ball, miss a shot, miss a pass, or anything that put me in a place of inferiority to my peers. I didn’t want my teammates to say I was the reason why they lost the game. Overall, I wanted to be accepted. This mental strain actually caused a lot of these “misses” to happen and I felt like the loser on the team. In school, I was always the last person to be picked to be on a team for gym class because most of the kids didn’t like me much. And that became my truth.
Fast forward a few years later — I was always in a band, playing a lot of shows and having a lot of fun with music. I would come off the bandstand and my bandmates would tell me how tight the show was, and some members of the audience would say how they dug my playing. I got told this all the time. Hugs all around and everything is alright! I felt like I was competent at something! I was being accepted for a skill that I had.
Once I packed in playing music, due to Harrison arriving soon and needing something different for myself, I decided that I would start up a podcast. And again, I found something that really worked with me. I have felt a bit embarrassed or self-conscious a few times for sure, but I knew it was all part of growing with the show. The difference was that it was always in micro-doses, never a full blast of it. And that all changed with this episode. The thing I was trying to protect myself from by over preparing, over-editing, and playing it a bit safe with questions lead me to what I needed. A big jolt of something that would force me to make a decision that would test my comfort levels like no other time in this podcast. Do I keep the part of the podcast that I cringe at when I hear it? Or do I remove it and continue to be safe from humiliation?
Making A Tougher Decision Always Has A Better Outcome
Even writing this article took me about a week to visit. The reason being that I have to relive the bad feeling. As you heard in the intro to this episode I confronted it once already, and it felt GREAT when I faced my fear. I felt so uplifted and proud that I decided to keep something in the show that I felt was as embarrassing as running down my neighborhood naked with a cowboy hat on. But coming up to the release of this episode I am once again feeling a bit worried about what people might think when they hear it. Will any credibility I had built be lost? Will people make fun of me when they are listening to it and praise Benny for pointing it out? Is it going to be spread around on the internet as the big highlight to this episode? Will fans of the show email me about it to ask what went wrong this time? So now as I observe it again, I am hoping I can let go a bit.
As you build something and the momentum grows as this podcast has experienced, you feel even more need to protect it. It can become this thing that you place on a pedestal. Like a game of Jenga, you are more reckless at the beginning of that game than you are towards the end when you know it could all fall down. With the relationships I have formed, the wide listener base that comes here to get their weekly dose of podcasting goodness, and the growing sense of responsibility to everyone above, I am feeling the imposter syndrome more than ever.
I was told once by a good friend, Ned Burwell, that a decision should be looked at as a circle with a line running through the center. The center line represents a neutral state. On the right side of the circle starting in the middle is the hard decision. It is a vertical climb to get to the top and then an easy fall to get back to neutral again. An easy decision is represented on the left side of center on the circle. You can fall down the edge of the circle but it is a hard climb to return to neutral. This concept has become one of the most influential things to me when I need to make a decision. In this case, I felt it was no different. I had to make the hard decision in order to live with myself easier. I also had to do it not just for me but to inspire you too. I want people to make decisions that challenge them for the right reasons. I could have removed that part of the show and avoid my humiliation but instead, I thought it would be best if I just owned it instead. It is what I promote after all.
With More Influence Comes More Responsibility
As you become someone that people look to for inspiration and advice I feel that it is absolutely crucial that you practice what you preach. That might seem incredibly obvious and it kind of is. But doing it can be tough especially if you think there is a chance to avoid it. It negatively affects your confidence if you know in your conscious that you aren’t living up to what you promote.
We live in a world now with social media influencers everywhere. The potential issue with that is simple. Social media doesn’t have to be real to be believed. We can edit and filter out all of the stuff we don’t like about ourselves through it. We can essentially lie to both our audience and ourselves and only we will truly know that. Personally, I don’t want to live with that burden. That also means that I have to grow to become a person that truly doesn’t care what people think about me. If I know myself that if I am being honest with myself and my audience, that is all I can do. I should feel liberated to show my scars and insecurities. I should also feel liberated to show my successes too. Overall, we need to accept what is. We need to practice what we preach.
Ned told me another amazing thing once about trajectory and influence. Let’s pretend that we are a ship setting sail. The trajectory is going to be one hundred miles. In order to get to our destination, we must sail perfectly forward on the trajectory to meet our destination. If our moral compass is off by one or two degrees, it has less impact if we have only traveled five miles. You may only be off center by a few feet and it is easy to get back on course. But if we are have traveled one hundred miles and haven’t checked our moral compass we could find ourselves off course by many miles. So what do the one hundred miles vs five miles represent? It represents influence. As we gain influence in the world we must be more aware of our moral compass because we are now affecting more and more people. The intention behind our actions has to come from the right place. Many things can have an effect on our moral compass and so we need to check in with it every so often. As an example, I have heard of some people falling into what is called “the messiah complex” by becoming really influential. It is a real thing, look it up if you don’t believe me.
I am always trying my best to stay humble and remember that loser kid that no one liked. I feel grateful that I have an audience that adores this podcast. You come here each and every week to get your weekly dose of quality media that I try so hard to ensure it is good for you. (Hence the catchphrase for this podcast has always been, “It’s good for you”) I don’t ever want to be misguided by my desires, for acceptance. I just want to make my show and learn more about how to be a better version of myself, have great experiences (like this one), grow the show in every way, and develop more relationships. In addition to that, if people are learning, growing, achieving, facing their fears, working hard and being respectful and kind to other people too — then I am very happy with that.
Face Your Fears
With this decision to leave in something that I am insecure about is the very thing I needed. I needed it to see for myself where I stand with my own growth as a person and to ensure that you, my audience, understand my intent with this media. I hope that after you hear this episode that you feel that it is a great thing to own your failures, observe them for what they are, and move on as soon as possible. It is all part of the process. I can also guarantee each and every one of you that growth lies on the other side of your fears. It is better to face them now and see what they really are instead of allowing them to fester in your mind.
You have to prove to yourself time and time again that your fears are not what your mind makes them seem. It is nothing more than something your mind has conjured up in order to prevent you from moving forward. I also think other people are wanting to see other people set the example of walking through their fears before they take their first step. So be the person that shows others the way. Be encouraging to your peers who you know to struggle with moving past their fears. Once fear turns to worry, it only becomes harder to move forward.
I hope you all have a tremendous week and thank you for coming along on this leg of the journey to finding more growth within myself and maybe even you too.
I also want to say a huge thank you to Benny for spending his time with me on this episode to provide some incredibly thoughtful insights in this interview. Also, with teaching me more about myself.
Music used in this episode:
“Barking” - Benny Greb Moving Parts
“Stabila” - Benny Greb Moving Parts
“Bunker” - Benny Greb Moving Parts
Drumeo Gab’s Socials