Not So Modern Drummer continues to celebrate the legendary Buddy Rich in 2017. Recognizing the 100th anniversary of his birth. Providing their personal commentary on Buddy are Ryan Brown, Joe Corsello, Ian Froman, and Terry Silverlight
Buddy Rich: From Muppets To Master
By Ryan Brown
"As a kid, I remember seeing Buddy Rich for the first time on The Muppet Show, in a drum battle with Animal (drummer Ronnie Verrell). At that point in time I had a little Sears toy drum set and was playing rags and Dixieland music with my mom, who is a fantastic pianist. I didn’t have any real drummer references; I was only 4 years old.
In the time before YouTube and VHS/DVD concert and instructional videos, it was very difficult to find any music to watch. If you couldn’t go see concerts, there were only a handful of TV shows that had bands, especially during the daytime when kids could watch. The Muppet Show with Buddy was the first real chance I had to watch a drummer and to understand how it is possible to make the sounds you hear on a record. This was monumental at that age—Buddy on The Muppet Show basically connected the dots for me about how to potentially achieve these sounds from hitting drums and what it LOOKED like to play drums.
As I grew older, I remember seeing a rerun of Buddy sitting in on The Tonight Show, in a drum battle with Ed Shaughnessy. It was incredible. You couldn’t record these shows yet. You had to watch them when they aired, and you had to soak it all in during those few minutes. It wasn’t possible to rewind it to analyze exactly what was happening. I also remember during this time waiting all day for certain videos to show on MTV. If the one you wanted to see was on while you ran to the bathroom, you missed it!
I realize now how lucky I am that BUDDY RICH was the first drummer I ever saw on TV—he helped me see what drumming really is. He was so fluid; everything seemed so effortless. There always seemed to be this constant “churning” feeling under everything he was playing—him soloing with what seemed like an endless snare roll underneath everything. Speed. SPEED! He could play so fast it didn’t seem possible. It seemed like he never got tired, and he also never seemed to run out of ideas. And his dynamics! He had the ability to grab your attention by dropping way down in volume and building his solos back up. He would also slow down and speed up during his solos, to create an amazing dramatic effect. One thing that has always stuck in my head was his posture. That sort of hunched-over, leaning-to-one-side, looking-out-of-the-corner-of-his-eyes vibe. THAT was what it looked like to be a badass drummer! He also had so many amazing tricks; he was a true showman.
The first time I heard his West Side Story Medley drum solo I was floored. It was so smooth and fluid. No one else played like that. I would listen to that solo over and over trying to figure out what was going on. Rich Versus Roach was another recording I couldn’t get enough of. Buddy died when I was 10, and I never got to see him live. When I was in high school I was fortunate enough to attend the Mile High Jazz Camp in Boulder, Colorado for a few summers. The drum teacher at the camp was Butch Miles. Butch is amazing and was the first professional big band drummer I actually got to see in person. Being able to sit next to Butch and watch him play in that style, and talk to him about Buddy, was an incredible experience. He helped me decipher what Buddy was doing; he helped me break it down so it was possible to practice, and hopefully someday attain. Butch is an incredible drummer and teacher, and he was a HUGE influence on me as well (in addition to helping me learn Buddy licks).
Armed with this new knowledge, coupled with listening to lots of Buddy, I began trying to apply these patterns to my big band playing. As always with drumming, I know some of this has crept into all styles I play to this day. Because Buddy was the first drum soloist I’d ever heard, and the first drummer I ever saw play, he set the bar for me at the highest of heights. At first, he was a guy I didn’t know playing with Muppets; I soon realized he was the Master."
Ryan Brown lives in Los Angeles, where he’s been playing drums professionally for nearly 20 years. He tours with Dweezil Zappa, records and performs with numerous other artists, and teaches as well. He earned a Bachelor of Music Degree from Indiana University in Jazz Studies and Percussion, where he was a student of famed rock drummer Kenny Aronoff and earned the prestigious Performer’s Certificate. Ryan can be heard on Dweezil’s latest solo record, Via Zammata’.
Photograph of Ryan Brown courtesy of Seth Jacobson
The first time I met Buddy Rich was in the 70s at Manny's Music Store on 48th Street in New York City. There was a young man rolling drumsticks on a glass counter top. When Buddy asked the young lad what he was doing, he replied that he was looking for a pair of sticks of the same weight and not warped. Buddy looked at the young boy and laughed saying "what difference does it make"? Buddy then proceeded to find the worst 2 sticks, picked them up and played on the practice pad nearby, started slowly playing a single stroke roll, bringing it to an unbelievable fever pitch. The young man said to the salesman, "I'll take that pair".
My first drum hero was drummer, Buddy Rich. As a young guy just starting out, I would buy all the Verve recordings of Buddy with him playing with small groups to big bands. I remember the Buddy Rich/Gene Krupa drum battle on Verve records. I had to buy 2 because I wore the first one out.
Many years later, Buddy Rich and I played opposite one another at the home of the great Jackie Robinson where a yearly jazz festival was held to raise money for college tuition. Buddy was kind enough to ask if he could use my drums for his set. After the second tune, he broke my floor tom tom head. While we were changing the head, he said how sorry he was and that he would replace it. I still have the broken head - framed.
Buddy and I had a chance to sit in the Robinson home and talk drums where he emphasized playing slowly at first, learning the piece, and then slowly bringing it up to a faster tempo. I find this to be the best advice because when I teach students, I see that they immediately want to play the tune as they are used to in their head. This can be all wrong. You have to walk before you run.
“Buddy”. Who else can you mention with a one word name. Never referred to as Buddy Rich or even Bernard Rich. It was just … “Buddy”. A true once-in-a lifetime genius. The greatest drummer who ever lived. He profoundly influenced everybody!
I remember seeing him on TV as a kid growing up in Ottawa Canada. He used to frequent the talk shows. Buddy was a celebrity. A comedian. His greatest fan was the master of all talk shows … Johnny Carson. He was on the Tonight Show so frequently that you were always guaranteed another opportunity to watch him play. The other shows took notice. Buddy appeared on every other show too. Sometimes in the afternoon, I would come home from school and watch the Mike Douglas Show or Merv Griffin. What a treat to see him every time. He played on every show.
And watch I did. His technique was incredible. No one was faster or more fluid. He performed with big bands and small groups… A jazz education for a young drummer. I would also buy the LP’s. There was the famous drum battle with Gene Krupa.
By the time I was a teenager, my Father used to take me to concerts that he performed in. We would drive to neighboring towns. I saw him numerous times live. Always exhilarating, the last time being May, 1984 a few years before his death. I was studying with Elvin Jones at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Florida. He was playing with his big band in nearby Orlando. I was into Coltrane and Miles … Tony and Elvin. But I still had the respect for Buddy. I even waited backstage in his trailer … seeing him one last time, shaking hands and admiring his New York Yankees jacket! I had friends in the band - fellow graduates of Berklee.
I’ll never forget my “Buddy” years. Now with all the videos floating around, I can still check him out. Still love it.
It seems like I’m the only drummer in the world who hasn’t been influenced by Buddy Rich. Most other drummers I’ve read about or spoken with, famous and otherwise, have placed Rich at the top of their influence list and I’ve encountered the same level of reverence from non-drummer musicians.
My exposure to music goes back to my birth, owing that mostly to my brother, Barry Miles (ten years older than I), who was already established as a child prodigy musician on drums, piano, vibes and composer at that time. http://www.terrysilverlight.com/BarryMiles.html. At home, he had a large record collection representing all styles of music and enjoyed spinning them for me daily. Additionally, fantastic musicians would often visit our house to rehearse and jam with Barry. So, there was music around all the time and I inherited a golden start from which to build my musical library. Although Barry had a copy in his collection of the “Rich Versus Roach” album on the Mercury label, released in 1959, it didn’t make it onto his turntable often. I might have heard pieces of it here and there, but it wasn’t something that made an impression or stuck with me as much as other recordings with or by Max Roach that were more often on the play list. Here’s a story that gives an example of where things were at with my listening habits and musical environment as a child at that time.
In 1961, when I was four years old and my brother Barry Miles was fourteen, Barry was endorsing Rogers drums as was Buddy Rich. Keep in mind the “Rich Versus Roach” album had been released not long before this date and had become somewhat of a classic recording in the jazz world, especially amongst drum enthusiasts. In ’61, Rogers held a drum convention in Manhattan, a predecessor to modern day music industry events and Barry was invited to attend as one of the product’s endorsers. I got to go along for the ride into the City with Barry and my parents. I remember entering a large room with lots of people milling around and drum kits set up. A man (it was Buddy Rich), who had an entourage around him confidently walked toward me, lifted me into his arms and said, “Alright kid, who’s your favorite drummer?” I replied, “Max Roach!”. He wiped the smile off his face and instinctually, or perhaps jokingly, ever so slightly raised a fist to punch me. But, he knew he had a four year old kid in his arms and things hadn’t gone as he had planned showing off in front of this group of people who witnessed the backfired attempt, so he instead put me down, turned his back and went on his way to find other means to impress.
Though I made it my business in my adult life as a professional drummer and musician to research, study and familiarize myself with the work of Buddy Rich, he never reached or influenced me on the level Max Roach, Tony Williams or other drummers did. Nevertheless, I recognize Rich’s style, sound, chops, flash and realize the importance of how he helped the drummer come forward from the back of the band closer to the public eye.
Terry Silverlight - Wikipedia
In the link below, check out the Rogers advertisement under "Vintage Posters" and the photo of Barry and Max Roach under "Photos".