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Daniel Glass

Interview by Sean Mitchell // January 03 2013
Daniel Glass

If you look at the story of the drum set, in a way, it tells the story of America.

This week's interview is the one and only Daniel Glass, drummer extrordinaire for The Brian Setzer Orchestra. Daniel is also the creative genius behind The Century Project, a four-hour DVD that follows a hundred-year evolution of modern music. If you are a drummer, you owe it to yourself (and the rest of your bandmates) to own a copy. 

Most of the interview has been transcribed below for your reading pleasure, however, we chatted for well over an hour so make sure you listen to the full audio interview.

If you enjoy the interview, Like, Tweet, Google +1 or comment below ... we love to hear from you! If you have vintage gear to show off, post your kits on our Show Us Your Kits Wall or post your videos on our Woodshed wall. Now get yer butts out there and have an awesome 2013, everybody!


Hey, everybody, Sean here from The Black Page talking with none other than Mr. Daniel Glass. Daniel, you’ve been out with The Brian Setzer Orchestra for the past two weeks. How’s the tour been going? What’s been going on?

It’s been amazing, man. I’ve known this band for many years, of course, like many people. It’s kind of been a part of the scene that I was part of with my band Royal Crown Revue. We actually played Brian Setzer’s wedding back in 1994, and we opened for his big band many times over the years—we actually had the same management for quite a while. So, over the last couple years, Brian and I had been talking. The guy that was doing the big band gig before me, Tony Pia, joined The Doobie Brothers. He was sort of subbing and then that became a more permanent thing for him. So he was transitioning out of [Brian’s] band, and he wasn’t able to do tours. So last year I did a couple sub gigs with the big band, and then this year I’ve kind of just moved into the chair, which has been great! It’s everything that I love about music. It’s an 18-piece big band, and it’s one that’s based around roots-music styles, but it does have a certain amount of big band hits and stuff in it. I absolutely love the gig. It’s so much fun!

Dan, pardon my stating the obvious, but you’re a drummer who is really into the vintage sound. What do you think attracted you to the whole vintage side of drumming? 

Before we get into that, I just want to ask you …. I hope that in addition to being encyclopaedic and informative that the DVDs were entertaining as well? 

Oh, gosh, yes. I haven’t seen my wife for two days! I’ve been busy watching DVDs. 

(Laughs) Well, I want to make sure that people understand that these DVDs are really accessible. You don’t have to know anything about vintage drums or drumming history. You don’t have to play this kind of music. I made these things as a way for people to learn about their history and tradition—drummers and also musicians, in general. The subtitle of The Century Project is 100 Years of American Music from Behind the Drums, and the idea was to show people what an incredible, incredible story the drum set has—the story of where the drum set comes from, why we play it the way we do today. It’s not just a PBS documentary; it really is something that tries to just (in a very, I hope, entertaining way) take people on this hundred-year journey, so they can learn about where they come from. And when they do learn, it’s like, Wow I had no idea that this was such a great story!

And that’s why I wanted to tell this story because being absorbed, to answer your question now, in what I like to call classic American music, which is a lot of pop styles—going back to ragtime, early jazz, swing music, rhythm and blues, rockabilly, early rock ‘n’ roll—all these styles … if the music has a swing feel, [people] sort of assume it’s like bebop. In reality, these were pop styles; this is what people danced to, what they listened to when they went out and threw money in the juke box, you know? I just sort of want people to make connections between what they do today and what came before, and for them to realize that, hey, it’s not all that different, and that we can learn a lot, and that we could be better drummers (and more employable as drummers) if we understand more about where we came from. And so that was kind of the reason for doing it.   

What I got out of both these DVDs is, number one, how young our instrument really is by way of the trap set. Drums are probably one of the oldest instruments, per se, but the trap set is clearly quite a young instrument and actually did a lot of its evolving from this century period you’re talking about. I know that it’s evolved into the electronic field and we’ve done some minor changes, but when you’re talking from New Orleans jazz era (early 1900s) to the ’60s, our set went through a lot of changes.

Yeah, it did. It’s unbelievable.

It is, it really is. And one of the things I didn’t know was that the reso-heads used to be tacked on to the tom itself, and it was Krupa that had that changed. 

I talk a lot about Krupa in the DVD because in addition to being a great player, of course, he brought the whole position of the drummer up in the world. I mention people like Tommy Lee, Dave Grohl and Travis Barker, people who are mainstream celebrities (in addition to just being drummers, they are known to the general public); that kind of a guy could never have existed without a Krupa. He was the first drumming superstar.

What’s interesting about Krupa though, in addition to all that, is that he was responsible for instituting a lot of important changes in the drum set. One of those being he was playing with big bands … and he really worked with Slingerland on designing a drum head that could really be properly tuned—dual-tension tuning—which really didn’t exist much before that time. I mean, the first tom toms are these little Chinese ethnic instruments where both heads are tacked on, and you can’t tune them. If you were to break a head, you’d either have to pull all the tacks out and put on a new head—or throw the drum out. And by the time that Krupa came to prominence, you could tune the top head (they had a snare-drum style lug and you could tune the top head) but the bottom head was still not tuneable. So he was responsible for dual-tension tuning on tom toms. We take a lot of this stuff for granted today, but back then it was a big deal and it changed music. With the ability to tune the tom that way, it allowed drummers to do certain kinds of things they couldn’t do before, and we were able to move forward.

Tell me about double drumming, which was really the birth of the drum set.

Double drumming is a drummer playing a bass drum and a snare drum with their sticks, playing both instruments with the sticks and no pedal. And, double drumming, as I’ve learned, was hugely popular. One of the things that always cracks me up when people talk about the history of the drum set is that the first pictures of the bass drum pedal appear in the early 1890s, and that couple pictures I have that I use in The Century Project are from New Orleans. So everybody just sort of assumes that the bass drum pedal was invented in the 1890s, but if you think about it, photography itself was in its infancy at that time. So it’s like, why would anyone waste a precious picture taking a picture of a bass drum pedal, for crying out loud?

So the fact that photos of bass drum pedals show up in the 1890s doesn’t mean that the bass drum pedal was invented in the 1890s, it just means that’s the first time somebody took a picture of it. And when I went back and was looking at all of this, there’s this huge kind of relationship between guys that were double drumming, which you could trace back to the 1860s, maybe even earlier (there was a lot of stuff happening: theatre orchestras, Vodvill-type entertainment), and those drummers were using double drumming techniques. Some of the earliest pedals were already on the scene.

The shear amount of information you must have had to compile. How long did these DVDs take you? To amass this amount of information, where did you go, what did you do? You must have been reading for years.

I basically started really digging in, like I said, the late ‘90s. I’d been playing with Royal Crown Revue for years. It’s interesting because our little retro-swing movement influenced a lot of people all over the world. A lot of bands got excited about that, realized that, hey, if I pick up a saxophone, put on a suit and learn how to swing dance, girls will be interested in me. Amazing. And, you know, the music had a big impact. And so, drummers would always come up and say, “Well, where’s that grove come from? What drummer was playing on this record? What’s influencing you?” And I didn’t have a lot of great answers. So when I got into Zoro’s book, I went looking for instructional materials, and there was nothing that would teach drummers about these particular styles. What I realized was that a lot of the drummers that actually played on records that were influencing us were still alive and a lot of them had retired in southern California. So I started going around and digging up all these old guys, and over the next bunch of years, I interviewed probably sixty different drummers.

One of the interesting things for me, as well, is that unlike a lot of instruments, the way the traps are actually played is uniquely American. There were other variations of this in other countries because of the American kit.

A lot of people in the vintage/history community say that the drum set is America’s instrument. And what’s so great about this—and this is what I try to share with The Century Project—is if you look at the story of the drum set, in a way, it tells the story of America. There were all these immigrant groups coming and bringing their ethnic instruments with them, but you also have this European influence of marching. The rudiments were invented in Europe. But then you’ve got this African-American feel coming out of slave times. Once slavery ended and African-Americans were able to start participating in American society, what they brought to the picture was essentially the “swing” feel. And, guess what? That same feel has been at the heart of the world’s popular music—going back to ragtime, early jazz, swing, rhythm and blues, bebop, rock ‘n’ roll; you could go forward to funk, hip hop, rap. All of it comes from this African-American place. All of those styles went on to be huge around the world. It’s not that it’s a super Ameri-centric thing; it’s that this country did the same kind of thing in many industries. It’s just this is how it was expressed in the musical industry.

Dan tell us about the stick shot. It is a very old technique, whereby you actually hold one stick against the snare head and strike it with your other stick.

The whole thing with the stick shot, you have to remember when the drum set began guys didn’t have a hi-hat, they didn’t have big tuneable toms, they didn’t have a ride cymbal. So they kept time on the snare drum and they started out by using rudiments, just like a marching drummer would. Then they started to swing these rudiments and play fill-ins. And where the ideas for fill-ins came from was kind of from the idea of ragtime, an African-Amercian rhythmic concept that used a lot of very simple polyrhythms. If you’ve ever learned to play triplets on one stick and eighth notes on the other, that’s what we call a polyrhythm … It creates a triplet against a quarter note. And this comes from ragtime music that was introduced by ragtime piano and guitar players (i.e. “The Entertainer,” “In the Mood”). It’s a three-against-two, syncopated idea that really became the underpinning of the popular music of that time, and drummers would want to play a lot of different ideas as well. (editor’s note: Daniel does examples of these rhythms  in the audio version of this interview). So using the stick shot was a way to get another sound out of the snare drum. And you’d be amazed at how many ways those guys could play the snare drum to get the feel. That’s kind of the idea. It’s been a real journey for me learning to play those styles.



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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.

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