Independence, Eh?Article by Sean Mitchell // August 02 2009
For us Canucks, Canada Day marks the day we ceased being part of the British Empire, the day we no longer were considered colonists, our true independence as it were. However, as unpatriotic as it sounds, this past Canada Day came and went for me without even so much as a pang of pride, nor even a swell true patriot love. I don’t think I uttered even a single “eh.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not professing my anti-establishmentism (eeesh, is that even a word?). I love Canada and all that is in it, save for the bitterly cold weather in some parts of the aptly named Great White North. I took the opportunity on that very Canadian day to reflect on one very appropriate (and now seemingly ironic) word, independence. Being that my life and choice of livelihood have taken on some drastic changes and challenges, I reflected on my life as a full-time musician. Needless to say the independent drummer, writer, business man persona has its quirks, as I am sure many of you can relate.
It would seem that my choice of Final Word last month turned to sad irony as our industry lost yet another true giant just two days after The Black Page was published. While Jim Chapin’s passing is very much part of the end of an era of drumming, it was a mentor of mine (who was mentored by Jim) that wrote an appropriate forward for this edition of The Black Page, to pay tribute to Jim as we dedicate this issue to his memory.
Upon hearing of Jim’s passing I asked Dom Famularo to write a little something for this issue to shed some light on how big an impact Jim really had in the industry. I mean, can you imagine? This was one of the guys that taught Famularo how to play! Yikes, talk about a monster! But it was Dom’s words that once again brought the word "independence" back into my state of consciousness and had it resonating again just days after my Canada Day experience:
"He was called the Father of Drumming Independence, how ironic of him to pass away on July 4, America’s independence," ~ Dom Famularo.
Independence. I can’t seem to escape this word lately. The last few months has seen me and my kit go through a major overhaul and drastic set-up change. Many of the changes to my kit are to have at least 60% of my drums and cymbals on my left side to encourage the south paw in me to come out of his shell. Indeed it has worked. As my lovely future wife and I toil over material for our first CD, I have taken it upon myself to first come up with some musical drum parts as a righty then second, switch hands and learn to play them left handed as well. This is still very much a work in progress. Think three year old riding a bike.
But for me independence goes deeper than the old jazz ride pattern against sixteenth note triplets routine (although that is a great little ditty to warm up with). I am talking about the independence that shapes our very sound, the -isms that come out when we play, that “insert your name here” sound.
Jill (the lovely future wife, for those keeping score) recently asked me why I have such an affinity for one John Henry Bonham. While I will have to forgive her lead-singerness (clearly she did not know what she was saying) it got me to thinking. What was it about John’s style that draws me in?
I have heard a million players ask a sound tech to give them that-Bonham-kick sound. What is this sound? Can it even be defined? If you (or Jeff Ocheltree, for that matter) tuned your kick just as Bonzo had, would you then get that sound? Doubtful. What John had above all else was that inner independence. That “thing” that was just purely him. It wasn’t how he tuned the drum or how he played it, it was all of that and more. It’s the same as a proprietary eponym (when a brand name becomes the generic description of a product). There is no such thing as that Bonham kick sound now that he is gone, because no one but him could achieve it. You may come close or even emulate it, but you will never achieve it. What a huge accomplishment for a drummer that we can describe aspects of him as a sound. That Bonham kick, that Purdie shuffle, that Van Halen snare. This, my friends, is the independence we seek above all; letting the music inside come out. Jim Chapin would be the first to attest to this.
Lately as I sit at the kit I have been paying attention to the “mistakes” I make. Not to correct them, rather I have been using them as the blue light special. In my mind, anything that makes me take notice of something I have done (right or wrong) is myself saying “Hey, check this out! That was authentically you. Build on that.” In exploring some of these so-called blunders I have come up with some incredibly cool concepts for the tunes Jill and I write. I have come to believe that the only time we are truly being is when we have messed up. Why? Because we weren’t able to censor ourselves enough to prevent what came out. That lack of censorship is what I have come to trust is just the inside showing up to take part in the game. All that we have to say, all that we are capable of, all that we need to accomplish our greatest feats is on the inside right now.
If it weren’t for all my fears and self doubt I’m sure I would find myself in a state of revelation on a daily basis. Mastering my independence is deeper than two limbs working simultaneously yet separately on the bigger musical picture. It is about uniqueness and everything I do behind that kit while I’m there. There is one mantra I feel we all must remember to assert to ourselves and insert into our playing: There is no one better at being the drummer you are; never will be, never was.
About the Author
Sean has 15 years experience behind the kit, studying under greats like Mitch Dorge and participating in master classes with Dom Famularo and Zoro. It was these life-changing exchanges that prompted the Canadian-born drummer to create a global drumming community, The Black Page, that was easily accessible to drummers of all backgrounds and levels of expertise. In addition to his work with BP, Sean is one-half of the world soul group The Mitchells.
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