As I studied the 30-odd strong song list, I took note of the versions from live recordings Leo had done on more recent gigs as the endings, tempos and arrangements would be similar if not exactly the same. However, I was also given the original recordings for reference. The original recordings date back to the 70s where Leo and his producers were using all the great, legendary drummers on his hit records. How legendary you ask? How does Steve Gadd or Jeff Porcaro strike you? It suddenly dawned on me that I was going to be playing these hit songs with some truly incredible grooves, made famous by my biggest influences. The learning experience turned a corner at this point. The sounds on the recordings were old school and the feel was mighty. Every fill was chosen carefully and I could hear perfect examples of musical approaches to playing only for the music. Tempos of course were rock solid. I had a challenge on my hands but it was so good being able to study the songs, learning from the masters. I took this ‘for the music’ approach when attempting the tunes with the understanding that I would add my own thing where appropriate. It’s a live show after all.
I decided the old school 60s Ludwig Super Classic was going to be the kit of choice. I also decided to use Zildjian K cymbals – dark and big and I’ll keep the snare drum (Ludwig Black Beauty) tuned lower and dampened. I really dig this sound anyway but it really appeared to be the best option for the tunes regardless of what the live recordings sounded like. When production rehearsals started, the head sound engineer admitted to me that the old kit looked like it was going to fall apart and he wasn’t sure but he loved the sound coming through the desk and it was agreed it was a good option to channel the 70s sound from the original recordings. I played the tunes as close as I could to the originals with the live recording arrangements but I also added my own thing. Regardless of how much I try, I can never be Steve Gadd or Jeff Porcaro. I’ll never actually sound like them because I sound like me. So in the end, I just did my thing. It was a good choice. We’re all heavily influenced by other musicians but ultimately; we still end up playing like ourselves. That’s the way it should be anyway.
Challenges Of Touring
Those of us that play gigs regularly will be familiar with the usual three sets on a Saturday night but touring has its own kind of match fitness. A typical day may include catching a flight to the city of choice, or driving for five hours, getting the hire car and checking into the hotel, heading to the venue, sound check, dinner, then the creative juices need to start for the gig which may only be one set, but it’s likely to be around two hours and you have to be on it the whole time. It’s not a covers gig you’ve done a thousand times. You’re playing for a well-known artist who has an audience of adoring fans that have paid good money for the experience. Add this to the fact you might be playing venues like theatres where you can hear a pin drop and this adds immense pressure, regardless of whether the songs are “easy” or not. Oh yeah, repeat the next day. I found that after even the fifth show in a row, the brain fatigue started really kicking in. Letting the guard down would yield silly little mistakes – like counting in the wrong tempo for example. We’re all human right?
The Cool Stuff
There’s good stuff about touring right? Yes there is. Having your gear set up is a good thing for sure – although I would still pack up my own kit. We had the drum rug marked out with the theory that the kit would go back on the stage exactly the same way each night. It worked and it was fantastic. I also had a sub and top box for my own monitor. During full production rehearsals, I got my foldback sorted out and it was the same for every gig thanks to digital desks that can save settings. This made sound checks much more effective and simpler. Overall, I was challenged in ways I didn’t expect on this run and I was rewarded for the work I put in. I was really able to sink my teeth into the songs over a series of shows. Yes, like any job, it has its ups and downs but really, I’m on the drums playing for Leo Sayer. Life could definitely be worse.