Not So Modern Drummer continues to celebrate the legendary Buddy Rich in 2017. Recognizing the 100th anniversary of his birth… Contributing their personal recollections and commentary on Buddy Rich are Billy Arnold, Jason Bittner, Sue Hadjopoulos, and Rick Shlosser… With additional comments by Not So Modern Drummer owner and editor – George Lawrence
I was influenced by Buddy Rich in the late 1950s. But, I really started listening when he was doing the drum battles with Max Roach, Gene Krupa, Louis Bellson, Art Blakey, and Elvin Jones…That was the ‘frosting on the cake’. The ‘cherry’ was ‘West Side Story’, and the ‘sugar on top’ was Buddy with ‘The Ray Brown Trio’. It showed me that a drummer could play, swing and be in the pocket playing in any type of musical situation, big band or small.
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Buddy Rich was the greatest drummer to have walked the earth...I know that’s a blanket statement but it’s the truth. I first witnessed Buddy Rich on the Tonight Show one time in the Early 70’s (I got to stay up way past my bedtime when I was staying over my grandparents’ house one night) - at the time I was a young kid into Kiss, but I still knew how amazing this ‘older’ drummer on TV was. My Grandfather told me it was ‘Buddy Rich’ and then the light bulb went off/“oh, that’s the guy on ‘The Muppet show!’ Remember- I was 7or 8 at the time...I would later immerse myself into his playing a year later when I was in high school and these were the things that stuck out to me
- His command of the single stroke roll is unmatched!
- Although known for being a ‘busier’ player, he also could say a whole lot with only a few notes.
- His, ‘can do/winner' attitude applied to everything in his life - it was all or nothing for Buddy!
-There will never be another like him!
I saw Buddy Rich for the first time when I was in my early teens. It was back in the late 1960s and Buddy was playing an outdoor concert at Burns Park in Massapequa Park, LI. My Dad, a Jazz drummer, took me to see him. After the show Rich mingled with the audience and we went up to greet him. He seemed in good spirits, and was relaxed and friendly. I don’t remember the conversation - it was quick and I was in awe. But the energy and excitement of his performance made a lasting impression on me.
As long as I can remember, I always wanted to play drums. Lucky for me, my dad had played in Jazz big bands in his youth, and had the requisite white Mother of Pearl Gretsch kit of his era sitting in our basement. When dad saw my interest in the drums, he started teaching me the rudiments.
Dad was a huge fan of Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich and had read every book or article about them both, and as we practiced he would recount these stories to me - Buddy had been a tap dancer, he broke his wrist and played an entire show with one hand, he was known to be ornery and he had a personality that was bigger than life.
Dad had a collection of Jazz records which included everything he could find with Buddy’s band. Part of our father- daughter bonding was to buy every new Buddy Rich album as soon as it came out and listen together…Trying to dissect what Buddy was doing. Back then there were no CDs, so the trick was to slow down the record player and then try to analyze Buddy’s drumming at a slower pace. I spent hours in the basement as a kid practicing to Buddy Rich records, imagining I was executing perfectly everything he was doing. Then I would pretend I was playing Madison Square Garden backing all the famous artists. As technology evolved, we then bought every video recording, DVD and CD we could get our hands on.
I will never forget the day we got the Swingin’ New Big Band album with WEST SIDE STORY suite live. His solo was impeccable, a perfectly constructed performance from beginning to end. I must have played that record so many times the grooves must have worn down to the other side. To this day the West Side Story arrangement and Buddy’s solo are my all time favorites.
Buddy truly was one of a kind. His technical skills were amazing. The man had total independence and speed. He could play faster with his left hand than most drummers play with both hands and feet. He could do a fast roll with one hand or one foot, paradiddles with his kick and hands! And he made it all look easy! Buddy did more with a snare, tom and kick than most Rock drummers do with their gigantic drumkits. He had perfected a double roll technique dubbed the “whipped cream” roll that gave his double more power and sustain. And his single roll was precise and fast, like a machine gun.
Although I saw Buddy Rich perform live quite a few times, I never had the opportunity to meet him again by the time I was working as a professional studio and touring drummer / percussionist. If I had, I would have thanked him for all that he taught me. I would have told him what a huge inspiration he has been on my playing and that I continue to aspire to incorporate his licks and technique into my playing.
Sue Hadjopoulos, Percussion
c/o OSueSana Music
Unfortunately, I never got to see Buddy play live, but every time I saw him on TV or listened to him on recordings, he never ceased to astound me! How could anyone could play with such precision, speed, and feel? Just when you thought he had reached his pinnacle, he'd take it up another notch or two...breathtaking chops! What really amazed me was, as he got older, he never lost his incredible speed and ability to play all those songs without charts...he must have had a photographic memory when it came to music. I also loved his cockiness and confidence...did he ever make a mistake? If he did, I never heard it! He was an inspiration to all drummers...a true force of nature!
Mucho thanks to David Barsalou, NSMD's most prolific writer, for all his hard, hard, hard, hard, hard and sometimes thankless work on putting together this twelve part series that celebrates the 100th year of Buddy Rich’s birth – and to all the contributors for their personal reflections about Buddy Rich.
Buddy's playing is still as exciting, baffling and awe inspiring to me now as it was when I was a teenager. I learned a lot from listening to him and trying to emulate what he did, which is an impossible mission. The greatest thing I learned from Buddy was to try to be unique and develop my own style of playing that didn’t sound like anyone else's. I recommend that everyone read Mel Torme’s authorized biography of Buddy called "Traps, The Drum Wonder" (Buddy's childhood stage name). It explains a lot about Buddy’s temperament - how he worked in his parents’ musical Vaudeville act as a drummer from when he was 18 months old and never had a normal childhood.
Buddy was one of the very few people who performed successfully in every major musical era of the twentieth century: Vaudeville, Dixieland, Big Band/Swing, Bebop, Rock and jazz/rock fusion music. The extremely long list of players, singers and bands that he played for as a studio musician is astounding: https://www.allmusic.com/artist/buddy-rich-mn0000539774/credits
He got the calls because he could be a very sensitive and supportive sideman on recordings for Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and many other of the greatest musicians and bands in the world. He is not as well know for his brushes playing as he should be because his fame as a soloist overshadowed it, but he was a favorite of the great female singers to play brushes on their ballads.
I only had one live encounter with Buddy and it was typical Buddy from everything that I’ve read. Buddy was playing at the North Park Mall in my hometown of Jackson Mississippi where I owned and operated a drum shop. The year was 1986, one year before his death, and I had never seen him play live. When I found out about this show I called every drummer I knew and we had quite a gaggle of local drummers at the show. I got there early to get a front row seat and dragged my then wife along (she hated jazz). I went looking for Buddy and found him in a greeting card store. I asked him for an autograph and he signed a drum head and the issue #1 of Modern Drummer that featured him on the cover. I asked him to sign the head to George’s Drum Shop but he said, “I don’t do that”, so he just signed it to George. I still have those. I left him alone because he obviously didn’t want to be bothered. He never looked at me. Right before he went on stage, a friend of mine (whose initials are VB) and I went up to him and my friend complimented him, shook his hand and palmed him a joint. Buddy never looked at him, took the joint and said, “thanks, man”. Cool as a cucumber. Buddy was an infamous pot smoker and made no bones about it. He would love living in California now, eh?
The show was great and I acted like a little kid shouting out my favorite Buddy Rich songs not ten feet away from him. He smiled at me a couple of times because he knew I was calling out the hardest and longest charts with long drum solos in his book. He was playing his last drum set, the Eames set that had Slingerland beavertail hardware on it. During the performance he played several things that seemed to me to be physically impossible to do - shocking things with the sticks that I never saw him do again. And he was laughing with the piano player while he was doing it. The wife was just as shocked, punched me in the side one time and exclaimed, “How did he do that?” and I said, “I don’t know and no one else does either, and that’s why he is Buddy Rich, the greatest drummer in the world”.
The main thing that impressed me about Buddy’s playing was that he did not play particularly loud or bash anything. He could hit hard, yes, but it was not just sheer volume, which anyone can do. His technique was so clean and strong that he was able to pull a report out of a drum at any dynamic level that was a stronger sound than a merely quiet or loud sound, if that makes any sense. It was a presence and beautiful projection of tone that only comes from the rarest masters of instruments. You had to have been there and hear it in person. I was. You can’t hear that acoustic phenomenon on a recording. He was a freak. One of a kind. He sits alone in the pantheon of the world’s greatest drummers as the most famous drummer yet whose name is synonymous with drums.
I’m sure that there will always be contenders for the title of world’s greatest drummer, but Buddy Rich was the first and only one so far that had the gonads to bill himself as the world’s greatest drummer and live up to it for decades during his reign.
George Lawrence is a national and worldwide professional recording and touring drummer based in Nashville TN, a private teacher and owner/editor of Not So Modern Drummer.
contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, business phone and text 330 338 6035
This is the 12th and final chapter of ‘Reflections On Buddy Rich’. I am deeply grateful to the following drummers who took the time out of their busy schedules to honor Buddy during his 100th birthday celebration. Thank you all for making this series such a huge success.
I could not have accomplished this tribute to Buddy Rich without your heartfelt contributions.
-- David Barsalou 2017
John JR Robinson
Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz