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Tiger Bill

Interview by Sean Mitchell // October 02 2010
Tiger Bill

I strive to make every clinic fun and exciting. I always try to do something original, something that people don’t expect. 

Chances are if you have a pulse, you have heard of Tiger Bill. If you have not, stop reading now, have your vitals checked, and get yer butt over to www.tigerbill.com. Not only is Tiger one of the most talented and recognizable drummers in the industry, but he is by far one of the drumming industry’s best friends. The dedicated New Jerseyite has spent the better part of his life exceling at the musical, martial and multimedia arts (among a ton of other things). It would be a shorter list to write out the things Tiger can’t do. For a guy who was born (just slightly) before computers were invented, it would be an understatement to say that Tiger has the most cutting edge and interactive drum website to date. As a former television camerman, myself, I can tell you that Tiger has made some serious leaps and bounds ahead of everyone with some of his CG effects and video layering. Add to his ever-growing list of technoligical feats and experise Tiger’s boundless skills as an educator with his brand of Tension Free Drumming. His concepts dig deep into the heart of not only what it takes to be a truly gifted drummer, but also into what it takes to be a genuinely sucessful person.

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First off, do I call you Tiger or Bill? Where did the name "Tiger" come from?

I normally use Tiger Bill because anyone who remembers that can easily find me on the Web. As for the origin of Tiger, most people who learn that I’m a martial artist think it came from that, but it’s actually from my former drum instructor Joe Morello. He gave me the nickname when I first started studying with him, due to the way I quickly tore through all the lessons he would give me.

I, too, study in the martial arts field as a boxer/kickboxer. Is there a parallel between the martial and musical arts? And how do the two disciplines compliment each other?

After performing at Bruce Aitken’s Cape Breton Drum Festival a few years back, where I opened with a Kali stick-fighting routine, I was amazed at the number of drummers who had a background in martial arts. In case you’re wondering, I use Kali sticks to aid in stretching and warming up my arms, wrists, and fingers before drumming. I would definitely say there is a huge connection between the martial arts and musical arts, especially drumming. And not only a physical but a spiritual connection. Studying a martial art improves your balance, strength, endurance, precision, concentration and coordination while it also teaches humility and respect. All of those happen to be major attributes of what I refer to as the artist drummer, or, to stay in the martial art idiom, a drumming master. A drumming master is a musician who has mastered all of the basic principles of the drumset including musicality, coordination, hand and foot technique, chart reading and interpretation, solo skills, and the ability to groove in all genres.

Tell me a bit about your martial arts? What do you study and how did you get involved?

I’ve been studying martial arts for about as long as I’ve studied drumming, which is a long time! Although my base art and black belt is in the Korean art of Taekwondo, I have studied more than two dozen martial art styles over the past 30-plus years. From the beginning of my training, I was always interested in practical self-defense aspects as opposed to sport applications. It’s an unfortunate fact that most people who get involved in the study of traditional martial arts learn many techniques that could actually get them killed in a street fight. A bright spot is the popularity of mixed martial arts because it’s bringing more attention to a lot more of the practical techniques. And you won’t find a more practical fighting concept than Jeet Kune Do, which was originally developed by Bruce Lee. It’s my favorite approach. Most of today’s mixed martial artists and organizations credit Bruce as the founding father, and rightfully so. Bruce spent his all too brief lifetime searching for techniques that would be useful in actual self defense situations. He chose techniques from a variety of styles, which was blasphemy back in the 1960s!

Although I never had the chance to study directly with Bruce, I was fortunate to have been able to study with many of his students including Dan Inosanto, Larry Hartsell, and Richard Bustillo. I also had the honor of studying Brazilian jiu-jitsu under the Gracie family, which included founding father, Helio Gracie. An amazing person and incredible martial artist, Helio Gracie continued to teach and train right up to his passing of natural causes at the age of 95. Now that’s the way to go—still functioning at top form right to the end. I’ve found that drum students who have studied and understand at least one martial art find it easier to learn my concepts of Tension Free Drumming (TFD) because TFD techniques are based directly on martial art principles.

Tell me more about Tension Free Drumming. What is it and how can a player start down the path?

Tension Free Drumming is a system of drumming that I began to develop more than 30 years ago and continue to modify and improve to this day. Basically, it allows me to play at top speed with as much precision, power, and endurance as I need but with minimal physical effort. It’s the technique I used when I won the World’s Fastest Drummer Competition for fastest hands at Winter NAMM in 2004, where I also set a record for feet. Aside from the fun aspect of it, the main reason I competed was to prove to the world the superiority of tension free hand and foot techniques. When I first began developing the system I knew that it could vastly improve existing drumming techniques, but, until I started sharing it with my students, I had little idea of what its health benefits would be. Although I realized that it could prevent repetitive motion injuries, such as carpal tunnel and tendonitis, I had no idea that it might actually be able to reverse the effects on people who already had these types of injuries.

Over the years I have had a number of students who came to me with various repetitive motion injuries and, after working on TFD core techniques, were able to play again without pain. This is incredibly important especially today when so many drummers are jumping on the metal-style bandwagon and beating up their bodies in the process using Tension Full technique. Drumming under tension is terrible for the body and is similar to driving a car with one foot constantly on the brake. Your car will move much faster and more efficiently (in other words, you’ll play much better and without causing damage) if you take your foot off the brake (i.e. avoid tension).

Drummers who would like to learn the techniques involved in Tension Free Drumming have a number of options. They can take private lessons with me at my drum studio on the East coast, USA, or they can check out my book and DVD series TigerBill’s Concepts of Tension Free Drumming, which is available from DrummersWishList.com. They also have the option of taking private lessons online, which can be done using a computer, webcam, and internet connection.

Where did you grow up and how did you get into playing drums?

I grew up in Wayne, New Jersey, and actually got my first taste of drumming after playing on my cousin’s drum set. I was about five years old at the time, but I can remember playing on it all day. Come to think of it, that was the first and last time my cousin ever offered to let me play his drum set! Later, after seeing Gene Krupa on TV shows like Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin, I was hooked. The clincher was when my dad took me to see Buddy Rich play with his big band. It was then that I knew I wanted to be a professional drummer and I knew exactly what kind of drummer—a pyro-technician. I loved Buddy. He could play everything Gene could play except twice as fast. And, contrary to the popular belief that Buddy was self-taught, he actually learned to play from the greatest teachers in the business. Growing up as a young kid drummer in Vaudeville, professional pit drummers like George Lawrence Stone and Billy Gladstone regularly gave him lots of informal lessons. By the way, the techniques of Stone (author of Stick Control) and Gladstone have become the core of my Tension Free Drumming method.

Over the years I have gotten to personally know and work with many of my favorite drummers, including legends like Louie Bellson, Roy Haynes, and Shelley Manne, but my biggest regret is not having had the chance to work with Buddy. I had actually approached him about it and he agreed to do it. Unfortunately, he passed away before we could get together.   

As a teacher, tell me about some of the more prolific lessons you have learned in the drumming world.

I have always loved a challenge, and teaching provides me with new challenges all the time. Over the years I’m sure that I’ve learned at least as much from my students as they have learned from me. For example, when I see a student having trouble grasping a particular concept, it forces me to discover a different approach and that makes me a better instructor. I’ve actually made modifications to and, in some cases, developed new techniques based on interaction and feedback from my students.

What are the most important lessons for you to convey when you put on a clinic?

Well, it’s a fact that people learn faster when they’re having fun. So, first and foremost, I strive to make every clinic fun and exciting. I always try to do something original, something that people don’t expect. That’s why, for example, I chose to open my performance at Cape Breton Drum Festival with a martial art stick-fighting routine. Who would expect that at a drum show? After I get the audience’s attention, I find they are much more open to learning. I’m also a big fan of audience participation. A favorite of mine is to test them by having them try to play a certain sticking pattern up to a speed, which automatically points out any problems they have with tension. Once they experience the problem for themselves it’s much easier for me to help them learn to avoid tension, which is one of my main messages at clinics. But it isn’t the only one. Technique is important, but it’s just one piece of the entire drumming pie.

I also stress the importance of being a team player. By that I mean listening to what your bandmates are playing because playing with a band is the first and foremost job of any drummer. Making the music sound as good as you can is where it’s at. No matter how great your chops are, the fact is that no one is going to pay you to play a drum solo. A problem I see with many drum clinics today is that the emphasis is too often on the artist showing off for the audience instead of teaching them something of value. My main goals in a clinic are to have people come away having had fun, having learned something of value, and with an understanding of the health benefits of playing tension free. 

Where are we headed in the future of music as the internet expands into areas like a Semantic Web or Internet 2?

I feel the web is truly the future of music, as far as musical performance and instruction goes. It has become such an important part of my life that I couldn’t imagine living without it! I really consider it amazing that I actually now make a living from something that wasn’t even invented until I was in my thirties.

During the 1970s I traveled the globe performing with various bands but never got nearly the recognition or reputation that I received from simply putting up a website. It seems unbelievable, especially to me, but (to date) I’ve taught drummers from all fifty states and from nearly two dozen countries—many of whom took the time and expense to travel to my drum studio on the East coast of the USA and most of whom learned about me from the web.

The last couple of years I’ve expanded into teaching lessons over the web because the technology is now good enough to allow me to duplicate the actual live in-studio, one-on-one lesson experience. The result is that I can now reach students around the globe who couldn’t afford a trip to my studio. And the internet, with its ever-expanding capabilities such as Web 2.0, 3.0, Semantic Web, etc., will become even more valuable (and easier to use) in the future. And the worse the economy gets, the more important the web will become. Regardless of your livelihood, you can always find a way to make it better and more profitable by incorporating the Web.   

For example, since 2004 I’ve been producing an annual drum event, TigerBill’s DrumBeat Festival, where I feature both well-known and up-and-coming drummers in a mix of performance and educational segments. Last year was the first time I produced the Fest as a web-only event, and it was a huge success. Most of the companies that normally sponsor the event remained on board. The few that didn’t were afraid because it was something new, but I’m sure they’ll soon realize that the web is where it’s all going. Last year’s online Fest not only allowed me to reach drummers worldwide, but it allowed anyone to experience the show easily and inexpensively in the comfort of their own home. Although my virtual Fest was the first of its kind, I’m sure this will eventually become commonplace.

Your magazine is another prime example, Sean. By the way, you guys do a beautiful job producing just the right balance of entertainment and education. Congratulations! But, if it weren’t for the power of the world wide web, there would be no Black Page!

What do you see for the future of players with the web as a tool?

The web has already changed the entire record business. When I was growing up you were always looking for that record deal with the huge company. Now, with the low cost and high quality gear available in hardware and software, musicians are starting their own labels and producing and distributing their own CDs—again all with the help of the web. Musicians, who have never met in person, are already coming together on the web to produce entire performances. As web technology improves, this will become even more common because it’s a much easier, faster, and less expensive way to produce an album. It also opens up the entire world to musicians who can perform together without ever physically being in the same room.

I can’t really stress the importance of the web enough, especially to musicians, except to say that anyone who doesn’t have a website of their own (in addition to the social network sites) is really missing the boat—big time! The web is definitely the future for almost everything, but especially for music performance and education. It’s the only place where the little guy gets to be on an even footing with the huge corporation.   

You have spent quite a bit of time in a lot of different jobs. What is the weirdest job you have held?

That’s a tough call because what’s weird to one person might be considered normal to another. For example, today a guy raising his kids as a Mr. Mom is not strange at all. But when I did it back in the 80s, it was quite a bit less common. And although you may not consider raising kids to be an actual job, it is a job as demanding as any and more demanding than most. Believe me! But aside from all of the work involved, I consider myself extremely lucky and blessed to have had the opportunity to be a Mr. Mom. There’s nothing you could ever do that bonds you more to your children. I highly recommend it.

Another strange but exciting job was musician sidelining. This is a profession that sprang from the requirement that every extra appearing with a musical instrument in a Hollywood movie needs to be a card-carrying union musician. I experienced this when I was living in Los Angeles, California, in the late 1970s, and I had a ton of fun appearing in movies and TV shows. Thanks to musician sidelining I had the opportunity to jam with Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong fame) during a lunchtime filming break. I had no idea that Tommy even played guitar, but he does and he was cookin’ too! I also ran into Lou Ferrigo, who was made up and painted all green for his role in The Incredible Hulk TV show.  We literally almost crashed into each other turning a corner, and I think I scared him almost as much as he scared me! Those shows were filmed on the studio lot, but musician sidelining pays even better when you shoot on location.

I remember one movie, Private Benjamin starring Goldie Hawn, which was shot at an army base. They hired about 40 musicians to appear as the army band. They gave each of us haircuts and close shaves and they paid us union scale for eight hours a day for two solid weeks. Plus they fed us for free because we were working on location (another union rule). And I’m not talking sandwiches but stuff like swordfish for lunch! During the entire two-week period they filmed us for about five minutes, and we actually ended up appearing on screen in the final film for about 12 seconds. Aside from having a ton of fun, this experience taught me why Hollywood movies cost so many millions of dollars. Talk about wasting money! But I wasn’t about to complain. I received a large paycheck for next to no work at all, and it was daytime work, which was perfect for a musician who gigged at night. If you’re a fan of TV, you might have heard of the guy who originally got me involved in musician sidelining. His name is Jonathan Wolff, a musician and composer who became famous for his work on Seinfeld and other hit TV shows.

As someone who has mastered more than one talent, where do you see yourself headed next?

That’s a great question. I’ve always felt that life was way too short for everything I really want to do. Although I have already done quite a few different things, there’s still so much more I’d like to get involved in. I have an interesting project coming up that’s been a longtime dream of mine. It’s a documentary film that I’ll be producing. I can’t release the working title or give you any specifics yet but stay tuned to my websites and you’ll hear all about it. I also have a really huge dream that I share with at least one other family member but I’m keeping that totally under wraps for now. Actually, it’s so far under wraps my wife doesn’t know about it. That way if it ever actually happens, cool! And if not, then less people will think I’m totally insane.

Tell me about your work in video. Judging by your Tension Free Drumming video, it is clear you are not new at this medium.

Thanks so much for the kind words about Tension Free Drumming. It took a lot of time for me to produce those effects but I’m proud of the end result. It was a very satisfying labor of love. Again it all goes back to my desire to entertain as well as educate my audience.

Growing up as a kid I always had an audio tape recorder with me and used it to tape people when they weren’t aware of it, which led to some funny conversations. Considering the smallest tape recorders in the early 1960s were pretty large, using 7½ inch reel-to-reel tapes, it wasn’t easy to record someone on the sneak. Although I would have given anything to be able to do the same with video back then, I was way ahead of my time. Affordable consumer-type camcorders had yet to be invented. Fast forward to the 1980s with the introduction of camcorders, computers, and a product called the Video Toaster, and technology finally caught up with me. So I bought into it. Finally I could videotape people with good quality sound and great special effects that looked as good as anything you saw on commercial TV.

At that time I was working as a computer consultant for a major corporation. One day the boss asked if I knew anyone who could produce a corporate video and I said sure I did—me! So I got the job and, preferring video production to computer programming, I started a new gig making videos for major corporations. When it came time to produce my own instructional drum video, I went to the guy who I felt would be able to create exactly what I wanted best—me!

When I decided to put my Tension Free Drumming techniques down on film, I wanted it to stand out from the average (boring) instructional video. And because I refer to TFD as the future of drumming, I thought it fitting to create a little outer space sub-plot that would be an excuse to include some cool special effects interspersed with the instructional material. It really worked out well. I’ve had nothing but positive responses to the DVD from both the production and educational aspect. The other reason my training DVD stands out is the split screen view I use that shows the normal view of my hands as if a student were watching me during a lesson, and a simultaneous view of the hands from the student’s viewpoint. A two-camera shoot like this takes a lot more time and work than your average single-view instructional video to pull off, but it greatly increases the viewer’s chance of actually being able to learn the material without the help of a live instructor.   

Are you still producing Fun With Drums and how can one tune in? What can we expect to see?

Yes, it’s still in production and currently runs on Comcast cable in various areas of the USA. It is made up of a combination of drum set and percussion performances and educational segments targeted at drummers of all ages and experience levels. Anyone interested in receiving the show in their area of the USA can contact me via email at info@tigerbill.com and I will send them information on how to make it happen. I also have something in the works that will soon allow drumheads all over the globe to tune in to the show. (Hint… over the web!) 

Tell me about tigerbill/mix.com. How did they get started, how many fans do you see on a daily basis, where do you see them going? What can a person get out of either site?

My life on the web started when I was hired as Drum Expert on a site called About.com. The job consisted of building a site all about drums and drumming that consisted of whatever I thought would be of interest to drummers. The minute the site went live I had the benefit of the millions of viewers who normally visited the other so-called vertical sites at About.com which, at that time, was the fifth most viewed site on the entire internet. But all good things must come to an end and when that gig ended, I took my copyrighted material with me and started TigerBill.com. That was over ten years ago. I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun!

Today TigerBill.com is the most comprehensive free site on the internet. It contains a massive amount of free information on drums, drumming, and drummers. Everything from bios, photos, exclusive videos of famous drummers, to free lessons, free drum forums, free drum tabs, free monthly product giveaways, and—I think you get the picture. It’s all free! And the site is updated regularly. Although it will take a long time for anyone to get through all that TigerBill.com has to offer, I guarantee that any drumhead who does check it out will have lots of fun and learn some very cool stuff along the way.

I’m proud of the fact that TigerBill.com currently has over 200,000 registered members who receive my newsletter each month. It’s especially satisfying since some of those members have been with me from my first site at About.com, which is over ten years ago! How’s that for a dedicated fan base?

My TigerMix.com site came from the name of my company TigerMix.com, Inc. It originally started out as my online drum shop but I have since opened DrummersWishList.com, which is dedicated to selling drum products. TigerMix.com is now the place to go for anyone looking for help with projects of their own. This doesn’t necessarily have to be drum or music related projects. Regardless of whether it consists of producing a book, audio CD, video DVD, website design and implementation, or even a one-time event, you can find the help you need to make it happen at TigerMix.com.

What other web presences do you have or plan to have?

When I put out my first DVD, TigerBill’s Concepts of Tension Free Drumming:Hand Technique, I opened TensionFreeDrumming.com. That site will soon become the next major force in drum education. It is currently being restructured and will be re-launched as a premiere membership site that will contain an incredible wealth of performance-oriented and instructional material for drummers of all ages and experience levels. It will be the place to go for drummers who want and need the highest quality drum instruction but can’t afford the cost of high-ticket drum lessons. Members will receive tons of invaluable instruction regarding every aspect of drumming from Tension Free Drumming techniques to the practical experience of playing along with a band. Drummer/percussionists who are preparing for college entrance exams will also find help there and that’s only the beginning. I have literally poured over 30 years of my experience into the lessons that will be available to my members of TensionFreeDrumming.com. I encourage anyone interested to sign up for my monthly newsletter at TigerBill.com for notification of the grand re-opening. And anyone who mentions this interview will receive a free bonus when they register.

What do you have coming up in 2010?

I’m glad you asked! I’ve got the release of some new instructional products, including the long-awaited reprint of my original book DoubleDrum: A Double Bass Drum Text along with more titles in my Tension Free Drumming series of books and DVDs.

I’m also devoting more time (whenever I can find the time) to performing live with a band and studio recording. I started out as a performer, but, over the years, my reputation as an instructor has far out-shadowed my performance side. Lately I’ve been working with musicians in a variety of genres, such as jazz with Lou Pallo and classic rock with the original lead guitarist of Vanilla Fudge, Vince Martell. I’ve recently played B.B. King’s and the Iridium, which are both prime New York City venues. My reputation as a teacher is known, now I’d like to make sure everyone knows I can actually play too! 

I’ve also got another new website coming that’s designed to help people live longer and healthier through drumming. The site will contain techniques based on my own experiences in the field of health, physical fitness, and nutrition including practical methods for losing weight without dieting and natural approaches to mental and physical fitness that are easy to live with on a daily basis. I’m not interested in living to be 100 if I can barely move under my own steam, but to live to that age and still be doing what I’m doing… now that would be cool! The site will also include stories and testimonials from my students who, before coming to me, had injuries and even debilitating diseases and who all literally regained their ability to play drums again by applying TFD concepts. Many of these are stories I myself would have never believed had I not witnessed it. It all goes to prove there are more health benefits to drumming than any of us have ever imagined.

Sean, I’d like to thank you for your interest and for taking the time to chat with me. My wish is that you, and all Black Page Magazine fans around the globe, always have fun, stay well and stay loose. Thanks again!

Visit Tiger Bill online: http://www.tigerbill.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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