Rich RedmondInterview by Sean Mitchell // July 02 2008
I play everything with a tremendous amount of passion and attitude. I think that helps. I treat myself like a character actor and approach each song as a role I have to play. Whatever style the song is in, I want it to sound like that is the only style of music I play.
Not since Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings has Nashville witnessed the emergence of a more colorful character. Connecticut born Rich Redmond has entered the city limits of Music City, USA, much like a Brama bull might enter a China shop. Flailing arms, phat groove, twirling sticks, and a twenty-six inch...errr...kick drum, Rich is among the select few who will go down in music history as a drummer who has broken new ground in country music. His power, groove and inspiration keep him at the top of his game as one of Nashville’s busiest sidemen and studio players. Redmond is no one-trick pony. When you listen to Rich’s tracks, you become painfully aware of how much more work you need to do. His freakish ability and understanding of playing styles is second to none. The precision and level at which Rich plays are shared by only a very few players on this planet. Add to this entire mix a guy who is so humble and passionate about drumming that he does all his own tech work. I have always encouraged people to seek enlightenment. As you read this interview, you will enter Rich’s world embraced by passion, energy, rows of semis, sound gear, and a tackle box full of spare drum parts. There you will find a person (never mind player) we should all aspire to be.
Rich, how is the tour going and what are the highlights so far?
Sean, everything is fantastic! We have been touring non-stop since early 2005. We spent the first year playing every club, college, and honky-tonk in the United States. The second year, we branched out to large theatres, outdoor amphitheatres, and began our two-year run as an opening act with The Rascal Flatts. It was a real thrill to play for fifteen- to twenty-five-thousand people a night. In January of this year we began Jason’s first headlining tour, playing larger theatres and civic centers. It’s been amazing to see the response from the fans who pay their hard-earned money to purchase a hard ticket to our shows. Most of the venues are one-thousand to twelve-hundred seaters, and they are sold out every night. I am also very proud to announce that we will be the opening act on Tim McGraw’s summer tour. We will play thirty-two amphitheaters between May 9th and July 6th.
How did you get hooked up with Jason Aldean?
I met Jason Aldean in 2000 through my good friend Tully Kennedy. I met Tully through our good friend Kurt Allison. Kurt recommended me to Tully for one of Jason’s showcases. This began Jason’s five-year “overnight” success story. Between 2000 and 2005, we showcased for every major label in Nashville four times, literally. We jumped into mini vans, took it to the people, and started to develop a band sound.
You are one of Nashville’s busiest session players. What does it take to be an in demand session cat like yourself?
I play everything with a tremendous amount of passion and attitude. I think that helps. I treat myself like a character actor and approach each song as a role I have to play. Whatever style the song is in, I want it to sound like that is the only style of music I play. I’m there to light a fire under the band, serve the music, and make the artists so happy that they continue to call me time and time again. People skills are 99% of the gig. Obviously you have to be a solid player, but you have to be pleasant to be around. I also know that positive energy makes it to tape, so I am always positive. It takes twice as much energy to create a negative thought as it does a positive thought, so why not be positive all of the time?
What do you have left to add to the “bands I want to play with?”
I’m what you’d call a blue -collar drummer, a journeyman, a hired gun. I enjoy every situation I perform in whether it be live or in the studio. To me, there are only two kinds of music, good and bad, and I like both. The craftsman in me realizes that even if the music is bad, I still get to play drums. Ha! Drums and percussion are the instruments to make or break a live band or the quality of a recording. A great drummer can make a mediocre band sound amazing. It’s a fact. I think we all have fantasies about playing music with our heroes and people we admire. My list includes: John Mellencamp, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Sheryl Crow, Pink, Aimee Mann, Radney Foster, Rodney Crowell, Rod Stewart, Kelly Willis, Cindy Lauper, Joan Jett, Ronnie James Dio, John Eddie, John Fogerty, Kathleen Edwards and Keith Richards, among many others. That’s a pretty eclectic list. The beautiful thing is that many of these artists are Nashville based or come through Nashville to write or record. A relationship with these artists is a handshake away. I also have friends that currently perform with these artists, so I’m ‘on the list’ if they ever decide to leave. A recent thrill for me was being one of ten drummers from across the country to be asked to audition for Peter Frampton, and yet another very connected friend recommended me for the drum chair with Matchbox 20.
Thus far, what has been your biggest moment on stage?
Every night is an absolute thrill for me, whether I am playing an arena or a small club, with a major artist or a nervous upstart. I revel in my support role as the musical drummer… the cheerleader. Most of the people I play with allow me to step out on a ledge with my own style, feel, and showmanship. I am very fortunate. Many events over the years come to mind. When I was at the University of North Texas, The One O’ Clock Lab Band did a performance in Portugal that featured jazz music from 1917 to 1994. I was responsible for recreating the sound, feel, and musical concepts of nearly a century of big band music. That felt good. Another moment that comes to mind is when my last band, Rushlow, performed for the world’s greatest fighter pilots on the deck of the U.S.S. Kennedy. Of course, hearing the roaring approval of 20,000 fans for Jason Aldean and our band during the Flatts tour didn’t feel bad either. It’s a testament to the hard week we have put into this thing for years. This is a business that requires a massive amount of determination and persistence. I’m proud that I have always surrounded myself with positive people that shared a common vision for their futures. Just recently, I played on some demos for the boys from the band Lit. It was an amazing time. I was always a big fan of that band and to finally make music with the Popoff (Jeremy and AJ) brothers was a thrill. That was the law of attraction in action!
What does a typical day entail for you?
When I am on the road, I like to get up as early as I can so I can be productive. It really depends on what I did the night before. I have to make sure I am well rested. I usually get up, eat a healthy breakfast, watch a little news, gossip with my band mates, and drink some coffee while I check emails. Our road manager lines up a gym for us, and I try to knock that out early. I’m usually good for ninety minutes of weights and cardio. On our headline shows, our sound check is from 2 to 4pm everyday. On big tours like The Flatts or Tim McGraw, our sound checks will be scheduled for later in the day. I also try to setup private lessons or master classes at the local drum shop with the help of my publicist, Ashley. I can usually fit up to four one-hour lessons in before show time. If I have no students in a particular market, I will use the time to do business (make phone calls, return emails, book sessions, advance cartage details, learn songs for upcoming showcases), etc. I may even jump in on a dressing room songwriting session with my band mates.
On top of all this, I have no drum tech on the road, so I do all my own setups, tear downs, head changes and maintenance. The local crew is always fantastic about getting my gear to and from the stage. I have my setups down to roughly an hour. This includes head changes, cleaning and tuning. Of course, my teardowns go much faster because I have hands to shake and things to do. You have to understand that country artists have a tendency to travel only four days of week. We get on the bus on Wednesday at midnight and we come back to Nashville on Sunday morning. This leaves Monday to Wednesday to do recording sessions, industry showcases, production projects, and select local gigs. I love the balance of live and session playing. My studio precision helps my live playing, and my live energy and attitude seeps into my session work.
My schedule in Nashville is more pampered. Drum Paradise (famed cartage and rental company) does all of my session setups, head changes and maintenance on my Nashville kits. They have everything marked and can get me in and out of a session or showcases in no time flat. My in town schedule is a mixed bag of stuff. Sessions in Nashville are divided into three-hour blocks of time scheduled at 10 am, 2 pm and 6 pm. I try to book myself as much as possible, so a typical day could be a 10 am publishing demo session, an afternoon showcase rehearsal, a 6 pm industry showcase with an up-and-coming artist, and then a 10 pm gig with me backing up several songwriters on percussion. An artist may book me for an entire day to work on their record and then I may be off on the following day. Those are the days that I knock out ‘business’ stuff, practice, or just smell the roses. I’d like everyone to know that I do teach in Nashville at my favorite drum shop, Fork’s Drum Closet. I also make house calls for lessons. I prefer teaching intermediate to professional players who want to sharpen their skills.
What led you to Nashville?
I attended the University of North Texas from '92 to '95. After I graduated, I moved into the Dallas Metroplex and began freelancing and teaching. I was playing in one of Dallas’s most popular Top 40/party bands called Random Axis. We were playing five nights a week. Around that, I played with the area big bands and jazz/fuzak bands, taught privately, and did lots of custom recordings and jingles.
My graduating class included amazing players like Keith Carlock (Sting, Blues Brothers), Blair Sinta (Alanis Morissette), Craig Pilo (Franki Valli) and Adam Gust (LA Studio). All these guys were making their moves to the coasts, and I knew I had to make mine. A friend of mine, Dan Nelson, came to see me play one night and told me that a gal named Trisha Yearwood (top Nashville recording artist) was looking for a new drummer. I had my sights set on LA, but I sent a cassette tape (yes…this was 1997) demo to Trisha’s bandleader, and he told me to get on a plane to Nashville and have a go at the cattle call. There were fifteen very established cats auditioning and one unknown, me. I went in very prepared and had a great time playing with the band, but the gig went to another cat named Shawn Ficter. A couple of cats in the band were impressed enough with me to recommend me for an audition with Barbara Mandrell. Barbara’s gig was more like a Vegas revue and had lots of cues for lighting and costume changes. They wanted all the drummers to play verbatim what the previous drummer (Shawn Ficter) played. So I transcribed his playing from the board tape and got busy memorizing it. I had a blast at that one, but another cat (Mark Nemer) got the gig. Again, one of the musicians from Barbara’s band recommended me for an audition with Deanna Carter. Deanna was exploding on the scene with her song “Strawberry Wine.” My audition was even included as part of an episode of “Access Hollywood!” The bandleader had to make a decision between me and another cat named Angello Collura, who already lived in Nashville. I still had my life in Dallas and the tour was starting the very next week. Angello got the gig. All of these auditions happened within a three-week period, so I was flying back and forth between Dallas and Nashville. There is a moral to the story. The bandleaders all told me that I was playing at a high level that equaled many established cats, but I needed to live in Nashville. I was not discouraged but rather inspired and excited about pursuing my new leads. I gave two weeks notice to my band in Dallas, packed up my drums and my cat, and was living in Nashville one month later. Sometimes you just have to make a leap of faith. On a funny note, eight years after Deanna’s massive success, I ended up doing a string of dates with her right before Jason started taking off. Needless to say, I keep in touch with all of the musicians that helped me along the way, and we recommend each other for gigs to this day. Time sure does fly because I have been in Nashville for eleven years.
I recently read that years ago drummers were forbidden on the Grand Ole Opry. Is this true? Is it true they used dark plexiglass for a while?
Yeah, crazy! I believe Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys were the first group to sneak drums onto the stage through the back door of the Ryman Auditorium. When I moved to Nashville in ‘97, they were still using a drum screen that was heavily tinted. Ridiculous! Things have really changed on the Opry. Carrie Underwood is a huge pop crossover artist, and they just announced that she will be inducted. The Opry is scrambling to bump up their ‘hip factor’ so the institution can survive. The first time I saw the Opry, I fell asleep… literally. Four years after that, I was a mainstay on the Opry with Pam Tillis and even played on the show when she was inducted as an official member.
Historically, the country drummer is a "boom chick" kind of player. Why has the industry gravitated towards a groovier, rock-influenced sound?
Sounds and styles can be deceiving. Traditional country music has its own distinctive feel and pocket. Getting a great two-beat feel, a grooving ‘train beat,’ or a soulful shuffle separates the men from the boys. These are styles that I wasn’t completely familiar with when I moved to Nashville. I was trained in rock, pop, jazz, fusion, and classical. I went to a used record store called ‘The Great Escape’ in Nashville and bought all of the legendary performers greatest hits on cassette, and I went to work absorbing the styles. I think a great drummer can play any style with conviction and authority. Every style is a dialect that has to be learned. You have to learn the vocabulary. You have to learn the rules before you can break them.
Artists have been combining country and rock sounds since the 60s and 70s. Every ten years or so, the sound shifts in Nashville. When I first got to Nashville in ‘97, we were playing shuffles and train beats with a beefed-up rock drum sound. Slowly but surely, the drums were getting hotter and hotter in the mix. Now we play straight up 70s and 80s style rock grooves. Cymbals shimmer, hi-hats bark, rim shots crank and bass drums shake like Godzilla trampling Tokyo. Things have really changed. I have to admit that some of it is really bad. I think Tom Petty said that the music coming out of Nashville now is like “really bad 70s rock with a fiddle.” There is some truth to that. Thank God I work with producers like Justin Niebank and Michael Knox. Jason’s records are pretty stripped down and raw. We add fiddle and steel to “countrify” the sound for radio, but we are a strict guitar, bass and drum band on the road. Less instruments equals more space in the mix, which results in a bigger, clearer sound. Justin makes very organic-sounding records with a classic sound. The new Doc Walker record that I played on called Beautiful Life is very classic sounding. It hits stores April 29th in Canada and the new single is the fastest rising single on Canadian radio right now. If someone wanted to know how I approach traditional country, alt. country, pop country and country rock I would point them towards that record. I’m very proud of it.
I also lead a production company with Kurt Allison and Tully Kennedy called 3 Kings Entertainment. We will be working towards achieving the next phase of fresh new sounds coming out of Nashville. We have a killer pop artist named David Fanning, and a country guy named Brandon LePere. We are very excited about this.
Rich say the first thing that comes to mind when I mention the following drummers:
Elvis’s original drummer. He was able to bridge the gap between swung eights and the new rock 'n' roll feel. I appreciate his tenacity and love for the instrument. He is still recording and touring. I want to die playing the drums.
He took Fontana’s lead and added a more muscular edge to the music with his multi-tom setups, deep groove and arena-friendly style. Anyone that can keep up with Elvis’s energy has my vote. I think he actually studied martial arts to enhance his ability to anticipate Elvis’s moves. I met Ronnie at an RMA (Recording Musicians Association) meeting in Nashville. He is a gentleman.
Chet Atkins called him “the greatest drummer in the world.” He could play any style with conviction and taste. He died after giving a clinic at The University of North Texas. This was right before I started my Master’s program there. I know my pal Jim Riley (Rascal Flatts/Nashville Sessions) was so inspired by his performance that he moved to Nashville soon after. From Journey to Diana Ross to Vince Gill, what a resume. I aspire to that level of greatness.
Wow! Eddie won The Academy of Country Music’s “Drummer of the Year” award thirteen times in row. The Academy ended up changing the rules so that no one drummer could win it more than two times in a row. That says so much. His musicianship speaks for itself. The average lifespan of a session drummer is five years. Eddie has been on top of the heap for twenty-five. Amazing! You can tell after two bars that it is an Eddie Bayers track. His feel, the sound of his kit, and his signature “Bayers” drum fills, the guy knows how to play and shape a song perfectly. When I auditioned for Trisha, I had to study all of his parts. I had to learn five Trisha songs but ended up buying five of her albums and transcribed every song. I learned so much from doing that. I see Eddie’s drums parked next to mine at the Drum Paradise warehouse, and it reminds me what I have to aspire to. Eddie was also very helpful and encouraging to me when I moved to Nashville. Eddie listened to my demo, welcomed me to town, encouraged me to dive head first into the scene, and to keep in touch. Lonnie Wilson was also very helpful. Lonnie has a style similar to Eddie’s but is a little busier and with more flamboyance (lots of cymbal crashes, china cymbals, cracking snare drums). He hooked me up with some showcase work and a road gig. I saw Lonnie at The Musician’s Union, and I met his son, who is actually a huge fan of Jason’s. Crazy! Time, patience, determination, and a focused mind will always lead to success. Thank you, Eddie and Lonnie, for believing in me early on.
He played with Patsy Cline, the first suicide girl of country music. He claims to have played on eighteen-thousand sessions, and I believe it. It makes me want to backtrack and start counting the number I have done (again, something to really aspire to). His daughter, Summer, used to work at Jason’s record label, Broken Bow. Nashville is a very small town. I see him from time to time at The Opry and at The Musician’s Union Hall.
The longtime drummer for Alabama. His band sold seventy-three million records. They set the benchmark for combining countrified harmonies and songwriting with arena-sized showmanship. I can relate to Mark because he’s a Yankee (like me). Jason is a huge Alabama fan, and we do a cool medley of their tunes for our encore. Jason’s fans dig it, and we are helping to bring Alabama’s music to a new generation of music lovers. I just did a showcase for a cat named Brad Long, who is being produced by Alabama’s Teddy Gentry. Once again, the world continues to get smaller, so I will probably meet Mark in the near future.
I am influenced by everyone in the Nashville scene, and I would encourage other drummers to check out Greg Morrow, Shannon Forrest, Chad Cromwell, Chris McHugh, Eric Darken, Steve Brewster, Jerry Kroon, Tommy Wells, and others. Read those liner notes and do your homework.
What are Nashville producers looking for in a drummer?
I think producers from all musical genres are looking for roughly the same thing. I think people want to be surrounded by creative souls with big hearts that can get the job done quickly and efficiently. You have to have amazing people skills and be able to take and give direction. You have to speak the language of music and all of its dialects. I encourage everyone to have a broad palette of musical influences and knowledge to pull from. You have to have amazing sounding gear. Give people options. I bring my wonderful Sonor drums to every session with a large selection of snare drums, cymbals, percussion, and electronics. It’s all there to choose from. Producers are creatures of habit. If they experience a string of success using one group of guys, they will continue to use those guys. “Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken” has never had more relevance than in the Nashville studio scene. You have to get on as many call lists as possible as a player. The call for a session may come from artists, songwriters, session leaders, players on the session, engineers, or studio owners. You really have to have a large group of people championing you to work on a regular basis.
What’s the secret to your success in the studio scene?
I never take any of it for granted. Even though I have laid a tremendous amount of groundwork and have many people requesting me for my services, it can all go away. It’s a very fickle business. That’s why someone like Eddie Bayers is the exception to the rule. I also don’t limit myself. I know that my live work creates studio work for myself and vice versa. If I enjoy working with an artist, I want to be working with them in all capacities. I loved playing on the new Doc Walker record. They have some showcases coming up that I can’t make due to scheduling conflicts. I’m actually upset that I won’t be able to perform those songs live in front of an audience.
I try to always be creative. I am positive all of the time. I try to inspire the musicians to play their best. I can provide options. If an artist isn’t digging the direction the drum track or the entire band’s performance is heading, I can make suggestions to take it where it needs to be. You have to be able to play a musical and groovy drum track with or with out a click. You have to be able to play or program loops and then play on top of it very precisely. I can also play my own percussion tracks right on the spot. Other cats can get lazy about this. My philosophy is that my tracks aren’t finished until there is some nice subdivision ‘icing’ layered on the cake (shakers, tambourines, hand drums). I maintain my own high standards for quality control. If someone asks, “Who played on that track?" and my names comes up, it has to be happening. I always tell guys just getting into the recording environment to play at the top of their game at all times. You can never just go through the motion and mail it in. Jason’s top-five single “Johnny Cash” was actually recorded as a publishing demo in 2002. I got it in a take or two. The label remixed it, put it on Jason’s second record and released it as a single. The next thing you know, I was in the desert outside of Las Vegas shooting the video, and we were playing it on all sorts of award shows.
Doing the percussion thing well has lead to other work avenues. Guys like Eddie (Bayers), Lonnie (Wilson), and Greg (Morrow) are so busy running from one tracking session to the next that I am called in to layer percussion on top of their drum tracks. I love it! I get to hear their approaches to music, and how they play with and around the click.
You have been touted as having the ability to learn tunes, record, and overdub in record time. How are you able to accomplish this without sacrificing the quality of your work?
I think lots of the cats in Nashville have this ability. It’s survival. Having these skills is required to be welcomed into “The Club.” When I was in college, I probably read three thousand drum charts, literally. There are only so many ways to write the same rhythms over and over, so you get good at sight reading. This is a skill that is way more important in NYC and LA where Broadway shows and movie soundtracks are recorded everyday. When I was at UNT, we read big band charts that were ten pages long and draped over three music stands. You had to practice turning the pages while playing at warp speeds. Ha! (I usually just asked the percussionist to flip the page for me). All of that training led to me developing my own way of creating cheat charts for recording sessions, showcases, and gigs. I have been doing this since ‘93. My first call in Nashville involved learning sixty songs for a Top 40 circuit band in two days. I scribbled out some charts on 4 x 6 index cards, notated the beats per minute, and put them in alphabetical order. This is a surefire way of impressing bandleaders and getting more work. In my journey, I have become comfortable reading chord charts and number charts.
The quality of the work can’t suffer. A demo session in Nashville is a three-hour block of time where the writer/artist tries to get five songs recorded. That leaves exactly thirty-two minutes per song. The writer will play the song on the guitar or will play a recording (usually cut on Garage Band) off of their laptop or on a CD player. The bandleader prepares Number Charts ahead of time, and I get the bpm (beats per minute) by tapping the tempo on my Tama Rhythm Watch. I read the chart down and make ‘drumistic’ markings (signature beats, phrase markings, scribble out figures, circle repeat signs, etc.) Then we are off to the races. I program the tempo into my drum machine or laptop. I may choose a loop from Stylus RMX or Reason to play over. It has been very common these days to have the engineer generate one of the ‘stock’ click sounds from Pro Tools. I always prefer to run it myself if the session doesn’t have to be “on the grid,” which is another pet peeve of mine but helps with digital editing later. I then choose the appropriate snare drum for the song (deep dish, muffled, open, piccolo) and then maybe change out a ride cymbal (dry, wet, rivets, etc.). The first run through is to determine if the tempo feels the best and if the general arrangement is working. We all make suggestions together with the bandleader and the writer, and we will maybe rehearse those spots in question. The next run through should be my keeper drum track. After that, the individual band members ask to do any fixes or punches which is very easy to do now with Pro Tools. Then the guitarists will do additional “color” of “fattening” passes. During those passes, I will knock out a tambourine or shaker part. I usually determine which one is more important. If I think it needs both, I will stay after the session to make sure it makes it to tape. This process is a tried and true working method in Nashville. Of course, on Master Sessions—which are the records you can buy in Walmart or Target—you get to take your time. It is not uncommon to record one song every three hours on this type of session. What a luxury!
What do you have coming up in 2008?
I am so excited about continuing to help Jason Aldean’s star rise and working like a beast to have my name move up the Nashville recording scene ladder. I am also very interested in adding clinics and master classes into the equation. I have the full support of all my sponsors. I want to share my knowledge of the music business and the skills necessary to succeed in this crazy industry.
I will strive to have my clinics be educational, motivational, and highly entertaining. The subject matter can be custom tailored to each student or group. My clinics usually have a theme, such as “Chart Reading,” “Music Business Survival Skills,” “Playing in a Band,” “Rudiments and Reading,” “The Nashville Number System,” “Studio Drumming,” “Incorporating Percussion into the Drum set,” etc. I will usually hit on many of these subjects and will let each group of students dictate where we go. I will pay along to tracks I have recorded and discuss how I came up with my parts. I have lots of stories to tell, and I think students will get a kick out of it and learn a lot. I also promote myself as a guest artist for percussion ensembles. I actually have a performance coming up on May 14th with The Elkins High School Percussion Ensemble under the direction of Brian Waites. It’s gonna be a blast.
As if this weren’t enough, I have a new production company (Three Kings Entertainment) with my bandmates Kurt Allison and Tully Kennedy called “The DT” (Dream Team). Our first client is a very talented and marketable pop/rock artist named David Fanning (myspace.com/davidfanning). Our goal is to finish a record on him and get him signed. We also have a country artist we are working with and the goal is the same. Our goal is to be ‘’the guys” in Nashville to produce fresh up-and-coming music.
To hear more of Rich visit him online:
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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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