This past summer, Gordy Knudtson and The Steve Miller Band rocked the MGM Grand Theater at Foxwoods Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut.
“The Heartbeat of the Band…On The Drums – Mr. Gordy Knudtson!” -- Steve Miller
It was a truly memorable night, considering Steve Miller had emergency dental surgery just hours before the concert. Onstage, Steve was still recovering from the effects of the anesthesia, and was in rare form… Cracking jokes and having a great time with his numerous fans. They were crowding the front of the stage experiencing Steve’s awesome vibe…Loose yet focused - with the band following suit. A distinctive party-like atmosphere occurred that night, with the audience absolutely loving it. At 73 years of age, Steve Miller hasn’t lost anything. His vocals and guitar solos sounded just as powerful as the early 1970’s.
Steve opened up the show with ‘The Stake’ right into ‘Swingtown. By this time the audience was going crazy. The rest of the show was hit after hit, including: Abracadabra, Living in the U.S.A. Take The Money and Run, Dance Dance Dance, Space Cowboy, Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma, The Joker, Fly Like an Eagle, Rock’n Me, and an encore including - Jungle Love, and Jet Airliner.
It was another epic show featuring the long-time talents of Steve Miller Band members, Kenny Lee Lewis on bass, Joseph Wooten on keyboards and Jacob Petersen on rhythm guitar. Together with Gordy Knudtson’s truly amazing drumming – It was a night to remember.
"Even after multi-decades of commandeering the drum chair for rock icon, Steve Miller, Gordy Knudtson continues to remain one of the most-underrated trapsmen in rock. Perhaps it's because his power, agility and technique make it all look too easy. Any aspiring player who is serious about the instrument should catch G.K. live and see for themselves what Steve and many of us knew from the onset. Pure and simple: Gordy is one of rock's best practitioners...taking care of business and delivering the goods all the way."
Bob Girouard, Modern Drummer Magazine
The sentiments expressed by Bob Girouard are shared by numerous musicians worldwide. Gordy Knudtson has turned drumming into an art form. His amazing open-close technique has to be seen to be believed. Watching Gordy demonstrate his unique style in a multitude of You Tube videos is a visual and aural shock to the system.
“In the late 1980’s Gordy began exploring an obscure old drumming technique called open/close, push/pull, or drop/snap technique, which allows you to play a very fast, continuous stream of notes in one hand at a time. Even though this technique had been around for many years it was far from commonplace because it was tricky to do, and appeared to have only a few esoteric uses. It’s also interesting to note that prior to 1999 it seemed no one had figured out how to synchronize it in both hands at the same time to fulfill it’s most obvious potential, a single stroke roll!
Gordy was the first to publish this Open/Close Technique single stroke synchronization solution, which he now calls the SINGLED FOUR, in the April 1999 issue of Percussive Notes Magazine. The article titled ‘A New Approach to the Single Stroke Roll’ noted that the synchronization was actually comparable to the old heel/toe hand drumming technique.”
In 2002 Gordy created and published the first books and instructional videos on his Open/Close Technique. These materials introduced nomenclature, notation, and synchronizations, then showed how it could be used to create a family of single stroke rolls built from multi-note strokes which directly parallels double stroke rolls.
Upon seeing Gordy play, Ed Shaughnessy declared:
“You have developed a historically important form of technique that ranks with the Moeller system!”
This endorsement from Ed Shaunessy generated an invitation from the Percussive Arts Society. Gordy was one of three presenters chosen for a special clinic series on hand technique at PASIC 2003. It was titled the “Hand Development Series”. The other two presenters were legendary drummers Joe Morello and Jim Chapin.
After Gordy’s presentation Joe Morello said…
“I’m so glad you did this! Billy Gladstone was messing around with this when I was studying with him, but he never documented it. I think you took it further than he did!”
Gordy’s first YouTube video was posted in 2002…The Open/Close technigue – All Parts. The video has generated numerous positive comments including those below…
“You, Sir are a Godsend!! I'm a 48 year old drummer that has been forced to "power down" my style of drumming (due to a lower back and shoulder injury). After watching in amazement you play with Steve Miller on Austin City Limits, I turned to my wife and said, "Look at him! He's nailing every beat perfectly and not even breaking a sweat!...I need to be Gordy, LOL. You're playing ‘Take The Money and Run’, for example, with one hand while adjusting your mixer without effort…So, Awesome. I thought I had my drumming heroes/mentors pretty well prioritized until I started studying you, and your technique. After watching your (Drum Technique Fundamental) videos, you have most definitely climbed to the top of a very vast array of my mentors. I'm referring to true musicians, not members of the 300 BPM club. I can't thank you enough, sir. You very well may have literally saved my musical future.”
-- Derek Burleson
“Wow! I've been playing drums for several years and never knew about this technique. Excellent job explaining the technique and showing how to apply it on the set.”
-- Dave Yoder
“First of all, I would like to say that out of hundreds of videos posted online in regards to everything that has to do with stick grip and open/close, you are the only one that explains things the best way possible.”
-- Constantinos Onislou
“Truly amazing technique and truly amazing graciousness and sharing this with us. Thank You!”
-- Justin Shannon
Gordy has numerous videos on YouTube. His series is extensive so it’s best to become familiar with the Open/Close technique from his videos which are clearly explained and demonstrated in detail. Gordy’s prodigious talents as a drummer are only surpassed by his teaching abilities. He has that rare gift of being able to lead by example. Everything is broken down into its basic parts leaving nothing to chance.
“An open, engaging and forthright conversationalist, there appears to be not a trace of guile or pretension in Gordy Knudtson’s personal makeup. A bandmate’s description of Gordy’s drumming applies equally to his personality: ‘No Bull’. So you know you’re not getting a line when Gordy explains how he may change the way people play the drums.”.
-- Pat Courtemanche
Gordy’s educational skills were honed as a founding faculty member and Percussion Dept. Chair at the McNally Smith College of Music in Minnesota. Sadly, after many years of educational excellence the school closed its doors at the end of 2017.
St. Paul, Minnesota Mayor Chris Coleman lauded the college and lamented its closing writing that: “it was a critical partner for many years as we have developed a vibrant downtown with arts centering the rebirth. A generation of artists have been nurtured and developed within the walls of the school. Young musicians have found a place to develop their talent. I am deeply saddened by McNally Smith’s closure.”
“The closing was very sad and completely unexpected. We had a really great team of teachers. We built that place together. We did good work, and it was fun! I will miss it. I believe the closing was caused by a combination of two things: less than wise business decisions made at various points in its history, and current market forces. Pursuing music as a profession does not seem as viable today as it did when I was coming up in the mid-1970's. Music is less valued in today's culture. But everything goes in cycles. I hope this one turns the corner sooner, than later.”
-- Gordy Knudtson
Although this chapter in Gordy’s life has closed, his energies are still focused on education teaching privately and on Skype when his schedule allows. Between The Steve Miller Band and his GK Headphone Company, he’s as busy as ever.
Bassist Billy Peterson describes Gordy as “the concept master.”
“Whatever he’s playing, man, whether it’s bebop or rock or Latin or big band, whatever, Gordy has mastered the concepts and he’s right on it and completely appropriate “You will never, ever, hear Gordy play something that’s Bullsh*t”.
That is why Gordy has been an in-demand drummer since the 1970’s. Including his long-time associations with Steve Miller and keyboardist, Ben Sidran… He has worked with numerous internationally renowned musicians, including Jack MacDuff, Jay McShann, Dave Brubeck, Ernie Watts, Eddie Harris, Bobby Watson, Eric Gravatt, Bobby Shew, Richie Cole, Phil Woods, Georgie Fame, Howard Roberts, Gene Bertoncini, Phil Upchurch, Othello Molineaux, Diane Schuur, Patrice Rushen, Kevin Mahogany, Geoff Keezer, Keith Jarrett, James Williams, Manfredo Fest, Sergio Mendes, Patty Austin, CeCe Winans, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Leo Kottke, Peter Ostroushko, Ann Hampton Calloway, Garrison Keilor, Chuck Berry, Bob Hope, Don Rickles, Bob Newhart, Dick Van Dyke, Willie Murphy, Alexander O’Neal, and The Smothers Brothers.
End of Chapter One
In Chapter Two – Not So Modern Drummer delves deeper into Gordy’s groundbreaking Open/Close technique, and additional aspects of his extensive career history.
On a personal note…My Facebook posting from last years’ Steve Miller Band performance at Foxwoods says it all…
Many Thanks to Drummer Gordy Knudtson, and The Steve Miller Band for Backstage Passes and Great Seats at Foxwoods Resort Casino on June 24, 2017. Interviewed Gordy for my upcoming Not So Modern Drummer article. He's a Really Incredible Drummer with some Seriously Amazing Chops. These Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Tore It Up Big Time.
-- David Barsalou