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Dyrol Randall

Interview by Sean Mitchell // April 02 2009
Dyrol Randall

With your kit you make music, and there is nothing more fun than that. And with reggae you need that immersion into the band in order to acquire the feel. It’s all about the feel.

There is an expression among the Rastafarian culture, “Ah sey one,” and its literal meaning, translated from Jamaican Patois to English, is to say that something is “really cool” and “great.” Case in point, a guy I found whilst surfing the net one night for some inspiration: Dyrol Randall. Dyrol’s style of playing struck me immediately as unique and innovative. I had, up to that point, never seen reggae played with such enthusiasm and intensity. Upon interviewing Dyrol I got to meet someone who is genuinely an asset to our industry. A guy who lives for the groove and listens to all things that speak rhythm. For Dyrol (as it should be) drumming is not only a means with which to make music, but a way of life.

What are the roots of reggae music?

Reggae music was born from ska and rocksteady in Jamaica in the 60s. One thing they all share in common is that their rhythmic style is characterized by regular beats on the off-beat, known as the “skank.” Then gradually the tempo slowed down, and by introducing accents on the first and third beat in each bar, reggae was born.

The origin of the name reggae is traced to a song by The Maytals named “Do The Reggay.” It was probably used in musical circles before that, but that’s when it gained prominence as a genre. Bob Marley and the Wailers is probably the most popular band to have gone through all the stages of reggae, starting from ska in the early 1960s, to rocksteady, to reggae. Marley’s drummer Carlton Barrett is recognized for having coined the one-drop beat, which is the basic reggae drum pattern with the hi-hat playing a 16th or an 8th note while the kick and bass dropping on 2 and 4.

How did you find your path to the drums?

I found the path to the drums in 1991 at the Montego Bay New Testament Church of God. Initially I started playing guitar, taught by the church’s guitar player, Maseno Williams. I thought that’s what I wanted to play. Then Edward Heron, the drummer of the church, came along. He is the one who put the first pair of sticks in my hand. He was very patient and wanted me to learn. I would often sit at the front of the church, so close to the drums that when he missed while playing I would be hit pretty hard in the face by the sticks.

To practice at home I would set up my mom’s pots and pans on the living room sofa when she was at work, and I played the dust out of them until I got the consistency of the 4/4 timing and the rock ‘n’ roll patterns. Meeting at church, I would go early before the service would start and practice the patterns. Then came my first opportunity to play in an open service. I was very nervous. The 4/4 timing was almost perfect but my rock ‘n’ roll was too slow, as I had not developed the foot technique in pushing the power of the kick.

I was using the flat foot technique and that was killing me. I was not able to keep up with the singers and was often given an upset face with messages sent to my teacher that he needed to come take the drums away from me, as I could not manage it. I felt so embarrassed because the congregation was 2000 members and all eyes were on me. I often felt like giving up. Many times I wanted to run outside and swear that I would never be around drums again, as it was too hard for me, but that was only discouragement speaking at the moment. I kept on practicing until I became the church’s number one drummer and kept that distinction for years to come, which I owe to Mr. Edward Heron, whom I consider a friend, teacher and big brother for life.

What can you tell me about Herbert Morrison Technical High School?

The school was named after the late Dr. Herbert Morrison, a very popular family physician in Montego Bay and throughout Jamaica. It’s where a lot of musicians who have now made successful careers worldwide emerged. The reason for that is because its standards and expectations from the students are very high. The high school band is the best in the entire Caribbean and has won countless competitions. The program is run by Mr. Carl Matthews (aka Slowchie). Mr. Matthews is a great theory teacher starting from grade one. We would have rehearsals every day during lunch time and after school for beginning, intermediate and advanced bands. Performances sometimes required us to miss class—with permission from the school’s principal. Herbert Morrison’s musicians earn the respect of great players, as the pieces that are given to them are extremely difficult and require a lot of dedication. To close this paragraph, one of my most inspiring moments was the surprise visit of Mr. Winard Harper, the legendary jazz drummer. He came once during our lunch time and executed the swing jazz patterns with precision and passion. That was truly inspirational.

Dyrol, tell me about your mentors.

Peter Brown, the renowned bass player, comes first. He plays a seven-string guitar. Mr. Brown is the only bass player in Jamaica that has mastered styles as varied as fusion, jazz, and latin. I’ve always heard of Peter Brown from the early 90’s. His reputation is legendary. Every one knew how he was capable of walking off the stage if the music wasn’t right. He would not compromise. He believed in practicing hard and everyday.

I remember our first rehearsal was uneventful but at the second one he gave me hell because I was messing up too much. The studio was filled with six ladies and a whole lot of musicians. Peter stopped the rehearsal and warned me he’d stop playing with me if I continued this way. I was so embarrassed! I wish there was an elevator under my throne to take me downstairs and straight home. We did a couple of shows together after but I was very much afraid of messing up. One day I decided to face my fear and asked him why he was so hard on me. He told me I have too much potential but I was wasting my talent. I immediately dropped my guard and got ready to be mentored. We started doing one-on-one sessions, just drum and bass, and, my God, that’s what I needed. To this day, I’m Peter’s favorite drummer. I continue to seek his approval on any musical production I undertake.

Isaiah “Onie” Palmer is the best reggae bass player who groomed me to hold the hi-hat tight and to adopt an approach that values precision and technique. I was introduced to Onie at a gig, and I told him of my desire of getting the reggae drum and bass technique down. We made arrangements and met at his house. He drilled me vigorously, and I also remember that while the session was going, he was cooking at the same time. Onie draws a lot of respect from the drummers for Shaggy, Maxie Priest, Gumption Band, Beres Hammond, Chuck Fenda just to name a few. I give Onie much respect and honor for life.

And last but not least, Tony “Ruption” Williams is one of the best Jamaican drummers ever. He used to work with Jimmy Cliff and now he’s playing with Third World. I met Ruption a few years ago at a gig. I was immediately taken by his energy and precision and his particular use of the double pedal during phrases. The other thing that caught my attention was his demeanor; he was always humorous while playing. We met several times at his house just to jam. He taught me how to keep the patterns clean and execute them with power and drive. He is the kind of person who is always willing to teach and help you find the best drummer in you.

Was that a conscious decision on your part to take up lessons with the “other half” of the rhythm section?

In reggae music it’s particularly important for a drummer to work with and learn from bass players. You can’t be a good reggae drummer without a deep understanding of how to work it out with the bass because in reggae so much has to do with feel and groove. So the decision to learn from great bass players was totally deliberate, as they are key to making you become a better reggae drummer. This may not be as crucial in other genres.

Why did you relocate to Dallas, Texas?

I met Sevan Melikyan on a cruise while he was vacationing with his family. I had a contract with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and his sister Sheyda came to the deck where we were playing. She called him to get to the deck immediately. From that moment, Sevan fell in love with my band because we were playing the real roots reggae, which he was passionate about. This was his first exposure to an authentic, live Jamaican reggae band. He introduced himself, told me he played the drums too so I invited him to sit in for a song – Bob Marley’s “Could you Be Loved”. That was a dream come true for him. While he played on the deck his family watched in support and love. After that, he promised to keep in touch and to build the band a YouTube site. He took publicity pictures of the band, treating us like real celebrities.

Eight months later, I resigned from playing on cruise lines and informed Sevan of my decision. He suggested that we shoot an instructional video on reggae drumming, as he didn’t know of any on the market. I said, “Tell me where and when.” He organized a concert in Fort Worth with some sponsors and my picture showed up on the front page of the local paper, the Star Telegram. The day had three parts: the video shoot, the drum clinic, and the concert in the evening as a finale. It was a huge success. My decision to stay in the US was based on a beautiful princess I met just a few months after my encounter with Sevan, also on that same cruise line. She also happened to live in Ft. Worth. What are the odds! She became my biggest support and inspiration, always seeing the positive side of things. She is now my wife and that’s the real reason I decided to make Dallas/Fort Worth my home.

What is it about reggae music that has maintained its extreme popularity throughout many fads and phases?

Reggae music was cultured from oppression during hard economic times and our era of independence from England in 1962. Reggae music carries messages of hope, love, freedom and a vision that there will be better days ahead. There is something deeply inspirational about this music that will always attract talented and intelligent musicians, no matter the times we live in. We also owe it to the great artists of the 70s and 80s—in particular Bob Marley—who have laid such solid foundations to the genre that it will always defy the passing times and trends.

For those who are not familiar with reggae styles of playing, who would you recommend listening to?

I recommend any record by Bob Marley. You just can’t go wrong with him. Survival, Exodus, Kaya, and Babylon by Bus are good ways to start a collection. Then there are others like Burning Spear (Hail HIM), Gladiators (Vital Selection), Abyssinians (Satta), Israel Vibration (Same Song), Gregory Isaacs (Soon Forward), Black Uhuru (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with Sly [Dunbar] and Robbie [Shakespeare] providing the rhythm section), Lee “Scratch” Perry, Culture, Aswad and Steel Pulse, just to name a few. In fact I plan on providing a list of essential recordings with my next instructional DVD. It’s incredibly important to listen to these great records. There is so much to learn from each and every one of them.

Who were Marley’s influences?

Bob Marley was influenced by the Rastafarian movement and artists such as the late Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, The Gaylas, Skatalites, Kingstonians, Toots and the Maytals, Bob Andy, Paragons and Ken Boothe, just to name a few.

What is “rub a dub” when you speak in the context of reggae music?

Rub a dub is the sound from drum and bass only during a recording or live performance. The keyboard occasionally adds special effects and sounds to create that feel Bob Marley speaks about: “When music hits you, you feel no pain.”

Tell me a bit about some of the other forms of Jamaican drumming like Nyabinghi and Burru drumming.

Nyabinghi and Burru drumming are the chanting musical culture of Rastafarism. It entails beating the drum in chant sequence. Smoking the herb forms the deep meditation to gain wisdom and deep insight. The rhythms of these chants were eventually an influence of popular ska followed by rocksteady and reggae music. Count Ossie was the first to record nyabinghi, and he helped to establish and maintain Rastafarian culture. Rastafarian culture promotes clean levity with no type of meat consumption, strictly vegetable nutrients (not fertilized), spring water for drinking straight from the head of a stream. Rastafarian culture takes one to the high hills where it’s very green fresh in atmospheric condition. Their religion is taught from the Maka Bee Bible.

You teach many of your students to express not only their feeling but to convey a sense of having fun behind the kit. Why is this important?

In order to express fun around the kit there are two ingredients that are extremely important, and these apply to all genres. I believe (a) passion for playing the drums, with which comes the disposition to want to learn; and, (b) listening to the entire band, not just for what you are doing on the drums. Once you listen to the music you understand where it’s coming from, and you foresee where it’s going. You are totally part of the music. With your kit you make music, and there is nothing more fun than that. And with reggae you need that immersion into the band in order to acquire the feel. It’s all about the feel.

Tell me about your new DVD.

This will be the second installment of a series of instructional DVDs we plan on producing on the art of reggae drumming. This one will include fills, intros, more hi-hat patterns, kick drum techniques to generate more power, an introduction to ska, more advanced one drop fills, rockers’ variations, etc. We plan on providing a booklet along with the DVD with phrases and fills written in notes for drummers who prefer practicing that way.

What do you have planed in the next few months?

I just produced a couple of songs for an awesome vocalist Queen Debra Owens. I should be heading to Jamaica in a few months, as the songs will be released there. I’m also working on two albums for a great pianist named Collin Obama. He is a bit like Monty Alexander, fusing reggae drum and bass with jazz piano. I also did a couple of other recording projects: one for Ras Kumba, a Dallas based songwriter and performer; and, another for a singer from Nigeria. Both CDs are set to be released this summer. And, of course, I played the drums on all these projects. Some of the bands I’m playing with right now are Ras Kumba from Dallas, strictly roots reggae; and, Bonafide, a great band based in Las Vegas specializing in dancehall. I am also in the process of forming my own band. I have plans to tour with Sister Carol in April, and join the backing band for the Mighty Diamonds, the Melodians, etc. There’s plenty to do!


Visit Dyrol online: http://www.dyrolrandall.com/


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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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