Q&A from the upcoming DC LIVE 3-part round table featuring Jim Keltner, Terry Bozzio and Ralph Humphrey - Part 1 to be online December 10th.
Question: How do you create the half swung, half
straight feel, like going in between a shuffle and straight eighth notes?
Jim Keltner: I used to ask Earl Palmer that because to a great degree Earl Palmer invented that. Listen to all those great Little Richard records, like Lucille. Earl never talked much about his Rock playing as he considered himself a Jazz musician. Also, listen to Chuck Berry and you hear the swing while the drummer is playing straight which creates the illusion that the drummer is doing it. So, every time a drummer plays that song after hearing it, he’ll swing it a little bit and that is wrong. You should just go in and out of the swing feel when it feels right to you.
Remember in a band we are not playing drums by ourselves, playing drums alone is fairly uninteresting. Terry Bozzio, can play alone, and he will keep your attention all day long. But, if I just play drums for you alone there is nothing to it. So, I play strictly to what I am hearing. That’s the only thing that makes me want to play drums. I have to hear something. So, whatever is going on in the guitar part, the piano part that’s going to dictate whether I swing it a little bit or straighten it out.
But let me say this to you as we are in a class setting, you could get in trouble with that. I used to tell Jeff Porcaro this all the time. He would always say he’s listening to this groove or that groove, this song or that song, and I said, “Jeffery, listen to Jim Gordon or John Guerin and if you really want to learn how to play a shuffle, listen to this," and I played Bernard Purdie. And when he discovered Bernard Purdie, it was all over. He made all that stuff his own.
But what I was trying to tell him was, when you are in the world of recording it’s often about being precise and you can’t get away from that a lot. I’ve been very fortunate to play on records that sound very careless and I’ve been able to get away with it but that doesn’t happen all the time, so you really do have to learn how to play precise. These two guys here, Terry and Ralph can play everything precise, groove and feel all at once. Today’s drummers are really lucky to have great teachers like Terry, Joe and Ralph to teach you the instrument and then add your own thing to it. It’s so important if you want to be a drummer and make a living at it.
Terry Bozzio: To over think these things can make them seem too difficult. I think much of it is motion oriented. It’s like playing pool, sometimes you put a little spin on the ball.
If you watch Jim in the Traveling Wilburys, there’s a thing he does it’s like a dance when you watch him. I can’t imitate it, I can’t do it, though I know precisely what he is playing. He is playing this great pattern, with the hi-hat and snare drum and what’s happening is his body language is exactly the way that beat feels, so the way that it feels is the way it looks. I can’t imitate it, maybe somebody can, but as Jim said, don’t over think what you’re playing.