Recollections: Buddy Rich - Chapter Six

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: Harry Cangany, Marko Djordjevic, Billy Drummond, Jeff Indyke, and Steve Maxwell.


I wanted to play drums after I saw Ringo Starr play. After I saw Buddy Rich play, I thought I should switch instruments. It’s funny how your memory locks you in time. I met Buddy when I was 19, and walked into a bar to see him play. I got caught, but the owner realized that I was there to just watch, and see if Buddy would sign the Slingerland publicity shot that I carried. I knew who Buddy was long before that evening. I owned his records and tried my best to emulate anything I could hear. But that night, I stood transfixed…big set in that little dive—big sound coming from it and his guys in the band, and Buddy alternating between being a master of ceremonies and dealing with heckling drunks, and demonstrating what we all knew…He had the most amazing ability, fantastic power and agility and the will to make it all work. The bar owner allowed me to go to the dressing room during the break. It was a tiny, cluttered mess. I can remember thinking, “what is a star like Buddy Rich doing in this horrible place?” as I was trying to say something intelligent. I was out of my element. Everyone had heard that Buddy had a really tough side, but I wanted to meet him. He wasn’t unfriendly, but he was “to the point”. He played my Ludwig Ed Thigpen model sticks in the air and handed them back and signed my “100% equipped with Slingerland Drums” picture (which I still own and have proudly hanging on my office wall). All I could think to ask him was if he liked Slingerland’s then new Set-o-Matic tom holder. His words are still with me…”a tom holder is a tom holder”.  Our in person moment was over, but I will never forget him. I told my mom that night that “I saw what he did and I heard what he did. I just have no idea how he did what he did!”

Of course he influenced my playing and my set up. Every set I have owned is 1 up and 2 down with a splash cymbal mount near the front hoop. I even owned his last Slingerland set for a few years. I can tell you that I knew, after I first played that kit, that the “magic” was not in the drums.

There are lots of great drummers. We have had a long line for the last 100 years…Baby Dodds and Chick Webb...Gene Krupa and Louie Bellson…Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Sonny Payne and Joe Morello - and on to the many fantastic players of today.  But, Bernard “Buddy” Rich, first known as “Traps the Drum Wonder” blessed with wit and strength, memory and metronomic steadiness, firepower, speed and endurance, and just enough chutzpah to push it to new heights, remains king in my book.

I saw him on Ludwig. I saw him on Rogers. I saw him with Fibes. I saw him on Vox. I saw him on Slingerland and I saw him on his last set, the restored Radio Kings. In closing, I must mention that the Smithsonian allowed me to visit and inspect those Radio Kings years ago, not long after Buddy died, for a story for Modern Drummer. I looked at that last magnificent, historically significant musical instrument with its scratches and scars, with wood loss where the 13 was rubbed constantly, and with vigor, by the snare drum. The three point strainer, of that snare drum, was held in position with a bungee cord! I looked at a pair of vice grips that secured the vintage Leedy tom holder to the bass drum. I looked at the burnt orange colored seat of his canister throne. And as I looked at Buddy Rich’s place of work, I thanked God that we had him. We, the mortals with varying talents, witnessed the man, the artist, who was the reason American music created the drum set...Mr. Buddy Rich.

Happy Birthday, Buddy!


Fall of 1984... I was a regular 12 year old school boy in Belgrade, Serbia: 'A' student, getting chemistry tutoring from my first cousin Vuk (he went on to become a science researcher with a PHD in Molecular Biology), playing as a goalkeeper for a U15 local soccer squad, hopelessly in love with classmate, Tanya I. One thing did stand out: In February of '84 I started taking group drum lessons with Miroslav 'Karlo' Karlovic, a great drummer and wonderful pedagogue.

Early afternoon, seven months later, my father called from work to tell me that Buddy Rich was going to be performing in Belgrade in a matter of days. Not a man of many words, but with a great sense of humor, the opportunity to have a bit of fun at my expense was not lost on my dad; Buddy who? asked yours truly; Some drummer you are - replied my dad... Never heard of Buddy Rich?!?!  Oh, he is only the greatest drummer on the planet, nothing to worry about. If you give it a miss, you can check him out next time... Knowing full well that I had high hopes and aspirations when it came to drumming, my dad knew exactly how to get me interested in the upcoming concert. Greatest drummer on the planet?! Hm?In my first group lesson that February I heard a rock drummer, Nebojsa Visnjic, from the group 'Kakadu' (I still remember his name and the name of his band, I was so impressed!!! He sounded like the greatest drummer to me:-)! It was the loudest, strongest beat I had ever heard -  it felt like the building was coming down!!! I had never been so close to someone drumming before that day - in fact, I never sat at a drum set or played one before that day... 

My dad got me a ticket for the concert - he would have gone with me, but my parents had a dinner to attend that evening, so I went with Karlo and Dusan (one of his best students). The two of them opted to sit in a balcony gallery, from which they had a birds eye view of Buddy; quite reasonable, as they stood to gain quite a bit from an unobstructed view of the man at the drums. I, on the other hand, decided against being that far - there was only one spot for me (to this day I do this whenever I can) - first row - FRONT and CENTER and as close as possible! I did not regret it... I could hear and see everything, and relating back to Paul Wertico's article, no disrespectful idiot yelled anything during the rims and stick clicks bit of the solo, which was absolutely mesmerizing - the textures, rhythms,  the "how does he do it and what plays what???" quandary...

I was going back over my physics and chemistry lessons: does the air make a sound when it is struck  just right with a drum stick?! It seemed to me there was disdain shown for laws of nature! (I eventually figured out how to play stick on stick single rolls and rhythms, but can only do it matched grip, not trad.)

Fast forward almost 33 years :-). I can't say that I remember many specifics about the concert itself, but I do unequivocally recall the notion of witnessing something special. I had the same feeling a year later when I heard the song Resolution from Coltrane's A Love Supreme... As a pre teen and barely teen I was operating on limited knowledge and experience, but intuitively realized that these 'renditions' were both definite and defining... And to this day, these Buddy impressions stand true in my mind: his big band mastery is unsurpassed, his memorized repertoire seems infinite, the orchestrations and set ups he played were incredible, his dynamic range impressively wide, beautiful driving swing feel, super human intensity and energy, a stunning technical proficiency, and with it a knack for coming up with new drum set vocabulary...  

Very recently, after being asked to perform and conduct a workshop alongside long time Buddy Rich big band lead trumpet player Eric Miyashiro and sax master Jeff Coffin, I had to dive into some of the Buddy repertoire. It has given me some fresh ideas about things I could steal (rather, work on - outright stealing is impossible:-) from Buddy's immense treasure chest in order to respectfully add to my palette. Much the same way, I remember exactly what I did right after I parted with Karlo after the show. He surely didn't have to tell me (although he did): "Now, go practice!" My Calato rubber practice kit was waiting for me at home (my parents bought my first drum set about 3-4 months later...)

Last, but certainly not least: the audience that night was at once respectful and electrified! After the last song, as Buddy was getting ready to leave the stage, I  heard a person at the edge of the stage yell out "Buddy!" Buddy looked over and bent down to shake the man's hand. The man took Buddy's hand and kissed it! I did not understand it at the time. I seemed like an act of self humiliation - kissing someone else's hand, as a servant would do... Much, much later I realized, this was a kiss in warm and sincere appreciation of a shared moment in time, as well as recognition of the mastery involved. True art blurs the lines between artist and audience. What remains is a shared experience that could not have taken place without either one.  

Buddy Rich passed two and a half years later. There would have been no other chance for me to see him live, had I missed the concert that evening in Belgrade. I owe seeing Buddy Rich live to my dad, who knew how to get a twelve year old novice drummer jazzed about some old timer he had never heard of!


Buddy Rich was my first DRUM IDOL!! When I was very young (I started playing at age 4) I became aware of Buddy Rich. My Father was a former drummer and had a wonderful Jazz Record Collection and it included a record that I was fascinated with: Krupa and Rich on Clef Records, in part because of the cover photograph with the two of them with their Drum Sets. At that time, that was the thing for me. The drums, the pictures, etc. I had all the drum company catalogs from Slingerland, Ludwig, Gretsch, Rogers and the Cymbal Set Up catalogs from Zildjian and Paiste! I sent away for an 8X10 glossy B&W photo of Buddy with his Slingerlands. I was a real die hard fan. Also, at the time Buddy was always on TV. He was a regular on the Johnny Carson Show as well as Hollywood Palace, Playboy After Dark, etc. So I would look at the TV Guide to find out when he was going to be on and ask my parents if I could stay up late to see him! The first record that I ever bought was "The Best of Buddy Rich" when I was about 7 years old which I still have and it still sounds incredible. 

During these years my Parents were of course very supportive and my Father was telling me about other drummers I should be checking out from his collection: Max Roach, Art Blakey, Joe Dukes, etc plus the fact that his idols were Chick Webb and Sid Catlett. At that time (or any time basically), those people were not on TV so as a youngster, I gravitated towards Buddy Rich. It's interesting that of course he was incredible but it wasn't until I was older that I realized just how incredible he was past the razzle dazzle. 

I saw him live twice. My father took me to see him at The Hampton Jazz Festival in 1971 or 72, on the same bill as Cannonball Adderley, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Roberta Flack!! Buddy was INCREDIBLE!! We went back stage and I met him and he was really nice to me. He gave me his autograph!! I was 12 or 13 years old and on cloud nine!!. Then I saw him again in 1975 or so when the band came to my high school. That was a real treat because I was the drummer in the stage band at school so I had access to him and the band and was able to see him play up close!! I'll never forget it!! It was absolutely JAW DROPPING!!! I wish I could see it now, as an adult and a professional so I could make sense out of it or at least try to. I feel so fortunate to be able to have witnessed that in person!

I never really wanted to play that style and I eventually gravitated to the people that my Father was trying to hip me to, like Max Roach. Philly Joe Jones, Art Blakey, etc, which lead me down the road to the style of music that I ended up doing myself. That being said, I have to say that Buddy is still one of favorite drummers and one of the Greatest Drummers ever. I have a ton of VHS Tapes of him and still binge watch him on YouTube!! His former road manager (Stanley Kaye) sent me a few VHS Tapes of Buddy many years ago that are incredible! Now all that stuff is on YouTube. I have the Mosaic Boxed Set of the Small Group stuff that's really incredible. I also made several recordings with saxophonists Walt Weiskopf and Andy Fusco, who were in Buddy's bands for some years. I would ask them about what he/it was like and so on! It was sort of intimidating thinking that here I am playing with them on their recordings knowing that they had heard and played with BUDDY RICH night after night!  But the music was completely different and was what WE were into stylistically, so it worked out great. They would tell me that he absolutely KILLED EVERY SINGLE NIGHT without fail!!!! That's that old school way of giving up blood on the bandstand which is sacred. You can see it, whenever he's behind those drums. NO BULLSHIT!!!!!!!!

The way Buddy played the snare drum is still the best I've ever seen or heard. Now if I could do that, I certainly would!!! I've heard that Chick Webb was in there like that. Even Buddy talks about him, so imagine what that must have been like!! I hear Buddy's influence on Philly Joe Jones and Tony Williams, who were also great snare drummers and both LOVED Buddy. The way he plays brushes, which is not discussed too often is also just incredible. There are clips of him just playing brushes so tastefully and with such command, control and finesse that's so inspiring. I'm not sure how he developed all of this incredible ability. His hands; just so beautiful.  I have the book Mel Torme wrote "Traps, The Drum Wonder" and The Burt Korall books on Jazz Drummers, which are really great, but none tell the real nuts and bolts about what he did behind closed doors to get this super human, but all natural ability!! It's really astonishing what that man could do! Buddy was very, very special. His picture is on the wall of drummers in my practice room.

I teach at The Juilliard School and New York University, and I have to say that most of the young drum students, really have no clue about Buddy!! That's really disappointing but I guess it's just the time we're in. At the time I was coming up, you couldn't help but not have him in your life as a drummer but now things are scattered and a little unfocused with too many options.  They're missing out on what shall always be a State of The Art example of a man playing the drums. He's one of those musicians that is all by himself in what he could do. I love Buddy Rich!!!!


"Buddy Rich had a tremendous impact and influence on my drumming career. I got my first drum set when I was 13 years old. When I was 14 or 15, my uncle Mel bought me a Buddy Rich record - it had the songs "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy", "Love for Sale", "West Side Story", "Channel One Suite". At the age of 14, I was actually attempting to play those arrangements for hours and hours in my headphones. Of course, at that age, I probably had no knowledge of proper drum technique. But, by attempting to play this music, by the time I was 16-18, I already had a pretty professional sound. I really think it was because I was rehearsing to the Buddy Rich's records. As his career went on, Buddy always played things differently, but he got better and better and better at it!  I'm really honored to be asked for my thoughts about Buddy Rich. He should never be forgotten. I'm really honored."


I'm 65 years old now and have been a jazz drummer all my life. I started when I was about 12 years old and am a big band jazz fanatic. Given my age, the players who influenced me the most were some of the true giants of jazz drumming, including the likes of Louie Bellson, Papa Jo, Rufus Jones, Sonny Payne, all of whom were great big band drummers. But, of all those great names no one had more impact on my playing than Buddy.

Being older, I have an advantage that most younger players never had; I got to see Buddy in person, probably fifteen times at least. The downside is that it's impossible to articulate what it was like to sit ten feet away from him and watch the magic unfold. Today, there are many very talented players and I don't want to take anything away from any of them. But, one of the most amazing things about Buddy was that he covered every base and did it all perfectly. He could go from being as subtle as Papa Jo to driving the band like a rocket blowing through the roof of the club. There was NOTHING that he couldn't do. I saw it all myself. The level of technical skill that Buddy possessed was beyond anything anyone could do then, and is beyond anything that anyone can do today. And it was all done with style, grace, drive, passion, fire, and let's not forget, an incredible sense of dynamics. Despite all of the mind blowing things that I saw him do in person, I can say with confidence that he never seemed to even get close to running out of steam. It was as if he had an endless supply of reserve fuel.

He drove the ensemble perfectly. And then there were the solos. What can you say here? Thankfully there are video clips so that younger generations can see what I'm talking about, and it's great to have that source. But, the videos don't even come remotely close to seeing Buddy in person. Johnny Carson (the king of late night) said it best. Johnny was an amateur drummer and loved Buddy. In remembering Buddy, Johnny related a story of how Buddy always cranked it up even higher on nights when other famous drummers were in the audience. He talked about Buddy appearing in a club in LA, and on this particular night there were maybe ten guys in the audience who were well known drummers, and Buddy knew they were there. Johnny said that by the end of Buddy's big solo, it was so completely amazing that these guys were openly crying.

Sometimes in life things come along only once. Such is the case with Buddy. For me, I still have the wonderful memories of seeing him in person, and in my own way I do what I can to keep his legacy alive so that future generations appreciate the incredible contribution he made