When I was growing up I heard a lot of classical music around the house, as well as all of my Dad’s old 78 rpm jazz records. He had a record of Ella Fitzgerald singing “A-Tisket A-Tasket” with the Chick Webb Orchestra, and on the flip side was an instrumental tune called “Liza” which started with a drum solo and featured the drums a lot. I can remember getting chills up my spine when my Dad would put that one on. Then when I was about 12 I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and my real love for the drums began in earnest. The whole British invasion thing had started and I was hooked.
I grabbed all the wastebaskets in the house and started playing those with a pair of chopsticks. That was my first kit. Then one Friday night after work my parents took me up to ABC Music and bought me my first snare drum. It was a Coronet and had a little arm with a 12″ cymbal off to the side. I remember bringing it home and putting Beatles 65 on the record player and then playing along with it. “No Reply” was the first tune and it had a bossa nova rhythm. I could play it, but I didn’t know what it was. My mother, seeing me playing on the rim insisted that I was doing it wrong, but I knew better!
By the time I was 14 I was in my first band-The Hobbits, but I still didn’t have my own kit so on his way home from work on Friday night my dad would stop at Long and McQuade and rent a kit for me for the weekend. I think it cost $5!
At the time we were into the Who in a big way and we would play “My Generation” and I would kick the drums over at the end à la Keith Moon. That all stopped when I got my own kit, which was an English “Autocrat” kit made by John Grey. Serious psychedelic finish on that one….but they sounded good.
When I was 18 or so I traded that kit in on my first set of Gretsch drums. I think I had the first natural maple kit that Long and McQuade ever sold. My Dad thought that they were pretty drab after the psychedelic ones!
But I digress…….this is supposed to be about influences…..
So, my early influences were Ringo, Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, Mitch Mitchell, Carmine Appice (later in 1985, Kim Mitchell was opening for Carmine’s band King Kobra so I got to hang out with one of my all time heroes), Dino Danelli, John Bonham, Mickey Waller and Ian Paice. Back to Carmine for a second……I saw him with Vanilla Fudge at the CNE Colliseum in 1968. He had just gotten his BIG Ludwig drums and they sounded like cannons. That band definitely gave me the chills up the spine, as did Jimi Hendrix when I saw him at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1969. But getting back to the Vanilla Fudge show…..there were two great Toronto bands who opened that show-Nucleus, with Danny Taylor on drums, and Leigh Ashford with Dave Cairns on drums. Great bands and great drummers. Somewhere around this time I saw the Paupers with Skip Prokop, and the Rock Show of The Yeomen with Len Lytwyn on drums. Both of those guys had rudimental backgrounds and blew me away with their chops. Skip later helped me out with some technique issues I was having by giving me a drum lesson on the tire of the Lighthouse equipment truck. I’ve always remembered that…
Another local guy that was great was Ed Pranskus who played with the band Thundermug. Their tune “Africa” has the best one-bar drum fill ever recorded! I remember going to a drum clinic of sorts with Elvin Jones that took place in the rental department of Long and McQuade. I watched Elvin and I knew something heavy was going on, but I didn’t quite get it yet. A little bit after that though I started studying with Pete Magadini and he opened my eyes and ears to Elvin, Tony Williams, Max Roach, Jack De Johnette, and Philly Joe Jones. I started really practicing seriously around this point. I was listening to jazz a lot, but at the same time digging Bill Bruford, John Weathers, Carl Palmer, Michael Giles, and Phil Collins as the prog movement took off.
Around this time I saw Buddy Rich at Massey Hall, and that was an eye-opener to say the least! Wow!!
One drummer I really loved was Michael Shrieve. He had such a hip approach to everything he played, and by the time Santana got to the Caravanserai album he was just smoking! Later he played in a band called Automatic Man. Their first album is still one of my favorites.
Danny Seraphine with Chicago, and Bobby Columby with Blood Sweat and Tears were big on my list too. Now I play with David Clayton-Thomas, so I get to play a lot of those great tunes. And I play with a Chicago tribute called Brass Transit, so I get to play those classic songs as well.
On the funky side of things I liked Greg Errico with Sly and The Family Stone, and then of course David Garibaldi with Tower Of Power.
And speaking of funky, when I was about 16 I went to the Broom and Stone and saw Whitey Glan for the first time, playing with The Mandala (with my future boss-Domenic Troiano). The power onstage went out and Whitey grooved by himself for about 15 minutes. That was the funkiest stuff I had ever heard and he never repeated himself!
Later I saw Whitey play at the CNE Grandstand with John Kay from Steppenwolf. That was a magical night. His groove was amazing and every fill was incredible. Perfect in every way. And of course his playing on the Bush album still sounds amazing to this day.
The real major turning point in my musical life came on May 4, 1973 when I saw the Mahavishnu Orchestra at Maple Leaf Gardens. I remember that they started with “Birds Of Fire” and as the guitar solo built I got the old chills again, then I felt myself starting to shake, and then I started to cry. I didn’t know that music could have that kind of emotional impact, but I found out that night! The sight of Billy Cobham on those clear Fibes drums and McLaughlin all dressed in white with that Gibson double-neck guitar….it all seemed surreal, and by the end of “One Word” I was sure that these weren’t mortal men. I have never witnessed anything as emotionally powerful, except for seeing the birth of my children! I got to play on that same stage with Kim Mitchell a couple of times….the same stage that I had seen Keith Moon, Mitch Mitchell, John Bonham, and Billy Cobham. That was a thrill to say the least.
Mahavishnu paved the way for the whole fusion movement, with Return To Forever, Weather Report, and The Headhunters following quickly behind. Speaking of the Headhunters, Mike Clark’s playing on the Thrust album really blew me away at the time and still does. I’ve seen and heard many versions of “Actual Proof” but nobody (including myself) has ever come close to the original. And how about Harvey Mason on Mr. Hands and Lee Ritenour’s Captain Fingers? It was such an amazing time for music and creativity.
The next wave for me started with Narada Michael Walden. The way he exploded out of the gate on Visions Of The Emerald Beyond blew my mind. Then there was Jeff Beck’s Wired album. Which reminds me, Richard Bailey-what a great drummer!! His playing on Blow By Blow was truly unique.
And then Tony Williams re-invented himself with the heaviest fusion album of all time- Believe It. That was the first time I had heard Allan Holdsworth. A bit of a jaw-dropper that one… And did I mention Steve Gadd? The man changed everything. His sound, his linear grooves, his chops, his feel, his time. Perfection and intensity. I think it was the Leprechaun album that first turned me onto Steve Gadd, and then he was on almost every landmark record after that. That break in Chuck E’s In Love, the Aja solo…etc. etc…
Then came Gary Husband with Allan Holdsworth and in terms of intensity, nobody matches Gary. He’s been a huge inspiration for years, and a friend.
Speaking of intensity, I saw Terry Bozzio for the first time, playing with The Brecker Brothers at the El Mocambo in Toronto and later at the same venue with Missing Persons. Omigod!!! Then of course along came Steve Smith,Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl, and then Dennis Chambers.
Lenny White always did it for me though. Something about his touch and feel and the sound of those drums. Romantic Warrior still has the best recorded drum sound I’ve ever heard. It’s funny, but before I started studying with Pete Magadini (around 1972) I thought that I was pretty hot, and that I had it all pretty well covered. Then I found out that I had only scratched the surface…..I remember Pete putting on a Miroslav Vitous record called Infinite Search with Jack De Johnette on drums. The tune was “Freedom Jazz Dance” and he asked me to play along with it. I couldn’t get past the first four bars. Rather humbling to say the least…I realized I had a long way to go…
After that I went through a serious period of transcribing all my favorite fusion grooves and fills. I still have a binder with pages and pages of that stuff. I call it “The DeLong Bible”.
When I was about 40 I got a Canada Council grant to go to L.A. to study with Peter Erskine. That was another eye opener for me. I took advantage of my time down there and had some lessons with Ed Shaugnessy, Alex Acuna, Tony Braunagel, and Chad Wackerman. I also took a lesson or two with Joel Rosenblatt and Tom Brechtlein when they were in Toronto doing clinics. More recently I’ve taken lessons from Jim Branly, Ari Hoenig and Dafnis Prieto. So I’ve done more studying in the last 20 years than I did when I was a kid!
I have to also mention Domenic Troiano as one of my major influences. He gave me a chance to play in his band when perhaps I wasn’t quite ready to, but inspired me and encouraged me to rise to the occasion. He was a man with great honesty, loyalty, and integrity and I will always think of him as my mentor.
Okay, I have to just list a bunch of great drummers that have influenced and inspired me, but this is in no particular order…..
Ian Wallace, Sonny Payne, Robbie Macintosh, Bernard Purdie, Rick Marotta, Jerry Marotta, Jim Keltner, James Gadson, Jim Gordon, Ritchie Hayward, Gerry Brown, Russ Kunkel, Peter Erskine, Tony Smith, Ric Parnell, Phil Rudd, Nigel Olsson, Paul Motian, Al Jackson, Larrie Londin, Hal Blaine, Paul Wertico, Mark Mondesir, Kenwood Dennard, Daniel Humair, Joey Heredia, Tommy Campbell, Casey Scheurell, Graham Lear, Mark Craney (some serious Gino Vanelli drummers), Omar Hakim, Alex Van Halen, Don Alias, Rufus “Speedy” Jones, Simon Phillips, Chad Wackerman, Stewart Copeland, Manu Katche, Bryce Wassy, Paco Séry, Jeff Porcaro, Tony Braunagel, Joel Rosenblatt, Billy Kilson, Bobby Economou, Brian Blade, Levon Helm, Ignacio Berroa, Barriemore Barlow, Jimmy Branly, Nathaniel Townsley, Tom Brechtlein, Trilok Gurtu, JoJo Mayer, Jeff Hamilton, Carlos Vega, Zach Danziger, Will Kennedy and Alex Acuna. My latest favourites are Gary Novak, Ari Hoenig, Dafnis Prieto, Bill Stewart, Jeff Ballard, Cliff Almond, Antonio Sanchez and Mark Guiliana . Then there’s the gospel chop guys! Aaron Spears….Omigod!
I know there’s a lot I’ve left out, but I’ll update as I remember more……
There’s another set of influences that I’ve always had. Funnily enough, everyone thinks that I’m a fusion diehard, and that there must be mega-drums or I’m not happy, but one of my major loves is great song writing. I always liked Todd Rundgren, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and of course Stevie Wonder. I LOVE Burt Bacharach! And Jimmy Webb….. Later came Don Henley, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Paula Cole and Seal. This music can affect me the same way virtuostic drumming can. It’s all the same to me-it hits me on an emotional level, and if that isn’t there then it’s not happening, as far as I’m concerned. I was once at the National Gallery In Ottawa and saw a Van Gogh exhibit. There were paintings of flowers that took my breath away. It’s the same impact…..it could be Pat Metheny playing First Circle, or a movie like Midnight Cowboy…..
One of my favorite Mahavishnu tunes is “A Lotus On Irish Streams” and there’s no drums on that one at all. Sometimes I just don’t want to hear or think about the drums, but most of the time, the love is there….
One other influence……BRAK!!!! Brak is my hero. Looks menacing…but he’s really harmless…just like me!