COVID Warmup / Stone Killer Redux


Thanks to homeschool and spousal work schedules, I have minimal time to warm up. On tour, I had enough downtime to do various hand and technique exercises and stretches for 2 hours if I wanted to. Of late, I have about 15 mins during the current COVID moment. Here’s what I’ve been doing and why.


I’ve always come back to various Stick Control based exercises, as they offer a blunt reality check about your hands and sound. Joe Morello was one of George L. Stone’s more notable students, and a lot of what you find in his book Master Studies is derived from Stick Control. The Stone Killer isn’t directly in Stick Control, but I think as a drum set specialist it’s a good way to get your hands ready for playing repetitive figures.


I turn on an NPR news podcast that’s generally 15 minutes long. I play the first written portion of the Stone Killer, stroked only from the wrist, with some heavy Vic Firth pipe band sticks of an unknown signature, at about half note = 60-72bpm… with a metronome of course, because ain’t nobody got perfect time. (That’s 4 strokes on a hand, then 8 on a hand, 12 on a hand, and 16 on a hand) This is on the soft side of a Reflexx pad. If that’s all I do for 15 minutes, and the podcast is over and I have to move on with my day, I can handle whatever sessions or lessons I have throughout the day and not feel or sound like garbage for the most part.


Usually, I realize I forgot to do any stretches and step away from the pad 3 minutes in to do a few, shaking out wrists regularly. I don’t know where I originally picked up this stretch, but Yogi Horton explains it 51′ into my all-time favorite drum video.

Have you ever googled “Yogi” and “stretching” without considering how many yoga videos might populate? It’s a lot, just follow that link.


If I’m keeping track of time, I’ll flip the pad over to the side without rebound and pick one of the accent variations. That means you’re accenting 1 beat of each 4 note grouping, like these, and looping them until you feel like moving on:


Some other variations:


-play different counts per hand, ie 3/5/7/10 or whatever beats per hand. I just play it until I feel like switching back to an even count on a downbeat, but if you wanna go full math-rock you can figure out where it lines up with specific counts.


-when you’ve had enough of 16 beats on a hand, play a clave as a tap/accent exercise, but continue to stroke everything from the wrist. That’s approximately a 12″ accent and a 3″ or less tap. Wanna get nerdy? Tape a ruler to a mirror and be vigilant about the stick heights like the drumline kids do. Something like these:


I stroke all of these from the wrist as my current manner of thinking is that as it’s the muscle group at the center of everything, other muscle groups you may use (fingers, elbow, shoulder) will warm up sympathetically, as they end up in motion sympathetically…next time you’re in a car, stick your hand out the window and make that up/down wavy motion, you’ll see what I mean. This is not to say that I don’t use fingers, elbow, or shoulder, but I’m trying to think from the wrists first if that makes sense. Feel free to email me and tell me how I may have that all wrong.


The point of this isn’t to work on chops or hot licks. (I have neither) The point is to get the blood flowing in my hands and make sure I can sit down and play whatever comes at me for the rest of the day. If I have a busy day, I should probably have a cool down as well. I have recently read that Jeff Porcaro, while on tour, had a post-show routine that was similar to a major league baseball pitcher: 1. ice bath for hands and wrists 2. hot shower 3. cold shower 4. hot shower. I’m of the mind that the sooner you start treating yourself like a professional athlete like this, the longer you’ll be able to play…I don’t know about y’all but I plan on gigging at 80.



Gaylord Birch

I love/hate the feeling of getting forced to reckon with and study a band or musician I’ve somehow overlooked. Pleasant surprises are nice and all, but that feeling of “WHY HAVE I NOT HEARD OF THIS UNTIL NOW.” kinda sucks. This COVID sojourn has been very rewarding with these kinds of gifts. One player in particular has turned out to be the missing brother in a holy fellowship of Oakland drummers. Funk comes from a lot of places, but you’re not really doing all your coursework if you ain’t dealt with Oakland. I have studied David Garibaldi and Mike Clark for years, and I owe Greg Errico’s work a deep dive I guess, but how in the world have I nearly miss Gaylord Birch? Here’s a playlist I started.

I was told, by Charlie Hunter (let me pick that name up off the floor), in the green room of Brooklyn Bowl sometime last year, that Birch played in an early version of The Pointer Sisters and was by some accounts the baddest of all the Oakland drummers of that era. It was a name I knew, but clearly I had some homework to do. There’s an easy starting point, you can find the first Pointer Sisters LP for $2 at most record stores with a good used section. I knew from watching old Soul Train performances that they were more than the ladies who brought you “Neutron Dance” and “Jump”. (I’m an 80s kid y’all). Seriously, go find that record, they could play standards, and show tunes, and probably hold down any manner of casino/hotel gigs…half the record is very-much-swinging vocal jazz with tight harmonies. Birch has a great straight-ahead jazz concept, but it’s the funky ones where you really catch what he had going on. He also lived in a time where you could play a really tasty drum solo over an Allen Toussaint song on live television.

Prior to this, or maybe simultaneously, Gaylord was in a band called Cold Blood. I don’t know how I missed this band, they funk way hard at times.

Does he not sound like the best moments of Harvey Mason and Mike Clark of this era? He did play with Herbie Hancock later on, but spent a lot of the 70s in Graham Central Station.

He played on quite a few solid blues albums, notably with John Lee Hooker and Charles Brown. He played straight ahead jazz with Eddie Harris, a handful of solid gospel sessions, and even briefly in an actually listenable Jerry Garcia collab.

If you’re some kind of fusion head, please check that Roger Glenn record in the playlist, I believe it features appearances from at least one of the Escovedo family. He may not dip into the linear funk concept as much as Mike Clark or David Garibaldi at the time, but he grooves just as hard if not more.

Birch also did some time in Santana’s band, both in the late 70s and the early 90s.

Sadly he lost a battle to cancer at age 50, but he left a pretty deep discography if you go digging. I went kind of funk-centric on the playlist above, but he had a mess of mean shuffles and some great samba ideas if you go down the rabbit hole.


As always if I missed some really dope record or misattributed any recordings, please email me!
If you like what I do, feel free to randomly Venmo monies to @hardproof with “insulin is expensive” as the description, so I know it’s for me…or find me on Patreon while I figure out how that works.

Go-go Research Part I

I was born in DC and grew up in a Virginia suburb about 20 minutes west. As a child of the 80s-90s, Go-go was this hyper-local sound that was always in the background. While there was a vibrant scene for it in the District, you didn’t find shows or hear much about it outside of the DC metroplex. As I understand it, it barely registered just 45 minutes up the road in Baltimore or south of Fairfax county. I don’t recall seeing a proper show in the district, unless maybe I heard something at a Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, but after the breakdancing era there seemed to be one go-go band at every school talent show and youth concert in my town for much of my memory. (Apparently Rare Essence played my hometown circa 81-82?)
As I understand it, the beat started at a Chuck Brown (and the Soul Searchers) show in the late 70s. Chuck’s claim to fame was his 1978 song “Bustin’ Loose” which peaked at 34 on the Billboard Hot 100. While it’s a dope funk bop, it’s not go-go. Chuck was running late to the gig one night, and the band had to start without him. They vamped on Grover Washington Junior’s tune “Mr. Magic” for a considerable amount of time, and kind of swung the beat a bit more. When Chuck arrived, he rapped, did call and response vocals with the crowd, and did much of the band’s rep over the vamp without stopping. This is where it started. The music of DC came from vamping on a 1974 instrumental by a tenor saxophonist from Buffalo. On drums that night was Ricky “Sugarfoot” Wellman. After a period as sort of a Go-go journeyman, Wellman did a few years in perhaps Miles Davis’ last touring band appearing on the records Amandla and Dingo, as well as stints with Herbie Hancock, Kenny Garrett, and Santana.
In a future blog, perhaps I’ll write out some sample drum set and percussion patterns, but it’s important to learn it by rote first. Like most great music, oral tradition is critical. If you’re from anywhere near DC, this is probably one of the first beats you learned, beat out on your desk, and jammed on when the band teacher was out of the room.
Here’s a few notes if you’re not from the mid-Atlantic US and you want to check out the right recordings. Studio albums aren’t the right source as Go-go is a live art. While I’ve heard a lot of fine studio captures of go-go bands, trying to cram the essence of a 45 minute set into a “song” is not the genuine article; you want board or PA tapes. The sound quality will be all over the place, but this is how it must be experienced. Growing up, either you got these from a friend, or a swap meet, or at show. You could also tape shows off WPGC (95.5 on your FM dial) on Friday night. I swear I would hear a Junkyard Band show while in the McDonald’s drive-thru on a Friday night, and again from someone’s Jeep in the school parking lot Monday morning.
Aside from certain obvious hallmarks (the beat, long 1-2 chord vamps, call + response vocals, etc), two percussive elements became mainstays from the innovations of early go-go bands: junior congas and rototoms. Maybe rototoms are optional, but many bands actually gave them their own solo. Junior congas are about half the height of congas, with a smaller diameter head, and usually played on a stand. You’re not gonna keep the party going without the junior congas, as they produce the high pitched offbeat accent in most stock go-go conga patterns. Bear in mind hand drums in go-go are usually tuned higher than Cuban or Puerto Rican traditions. I don’t know if I could get on a set of drums right now and play a convincing go-go pattern, but I do know that it was a weird foundation to have when I arrived at my first undergrad salsa band rehearsal. “You mean I don’t play these things cranked super high until my hands bleed?”
So I made a playlist on the youtubes. I tried to include every band I could remember. Some are household names (if you live in a really cool house) as bands like Trouble Funk and EU were on major labels and included in various film soundtracks. Some bands I totally forgot about or have been googling for years under incorrect spellings (Ayre Rayde, crankin’ jonx, questionable spelling). I’m having a chuckle knowing that Junkyard played the Safari Club in 1994, as that’s the first club I played in DC, probably 2 years earlier. It was a hub of both the hardcore scene and go-go shows. The genres worked together on occasion; one of Minor Threat’s farewell shows was a triple bill with Trouble Funk and the Big Boys from Texas.
I’ll revisit this at some point and add any tracks or shows I come across as this is a rabbit hole I head down regularly.

Hello + Willie Hall

This is my website. This is my blog, as apparently, I have decided to join you all in 2003.


Thanks Brendan Bond for building this site for me, it is beyond overdue, I owe you many sessions.


Like every other drummer post COVID, I am available to record your drum tracks at my house. I am available to teach via Skype or Facetime or Zoom or whatever your preference of conferencing app. I am totally game to write copy for your magazine or website or edit your chapbook.


Without further ado, here’s some exciting original content that perhaps tens of people will read.


Playlists may be the only currently redeeming feature of Spotify*. I still have one from my son’s birth, the full setlists of several wedding and country bands that hire me on occasion, and if I want to find a playlist dedicated to the work of one particular studio musician, some enlightened user has probably made one. As someone who absorbs music by osmosis, this can be a great learning tool. I spent a few days last month biking around at night with a Jim Keltner playlist, and then a Steve Jordan one, and I was delighted by David Garibaldi’s signature sound in a smooth jazz context, but then I wondered about some not-quite-household-name players. For starters, Willie Hall. He didn’t have a playlist yet, so I decided to fix that.

Who is Willie Hall? He was the second drummer in the Bar-Kays (replacing Carl Cunningham after the 1967 plane crash that took Otis Redding and most of the band) and thereby one prolific session player on the Stax Records output of the 60s-70s. He also followed Al Jackson Jr. in Booker T. and the MGs after his 1975 murder. That’s him on the theme from Shaft, and he was the drummer in the Blues Brothers movie. Apparently, when they were casting the band for said film and Steve Cropper was trying to locate him, Willie was driving a popsicle truck as Stax had folded and Isaac Hayes had closed his studio.


Of particular importance to me is his flawless showing on Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul LP…there’s a playbook he’s operating from on there that is worth studying, definitely go get it in your ear if not familiar. He seems to have a slightly heavier touch, especially in the kick drum when he wants to and has a real skill at making longer tracks just simmer for 10+ minutes without forcing them in any particular direction.


I’ll be adding to this, but here are some highlights of what I found:


  • playing a fatback under “Jailhouse Rock” with Albert King, not a stock Memphis move to my ear, pretty dope.
  • that whole Black Rock/Gotta Groove record by the Bar-Kays goes hard, spot the Liquid Swords sample on “In The Hole”.
  • the original “Funky Chicken”…and the “Funky Penguin”?! I wonder if Rufus Thomas wore his stage outfits to the studio?
  • if you think I’m leaving off an MGs track called “Space Nuts”, we haven’t hung out yet.
  • I’m leaving off his appearances on two Levon Helm solo records until I can determine whether he, Roger Hawkins, or Levon drum on them.


TL;DR here’s a dope playlist of tracks with Willie Hall playing drums. If I’m wrong on any of these, or you have one I need to add, feel free to email me.

*Spotify’s streaming rates are atrocious and their indifference to artists is appalling. Buy music directly from artists whenever possible.


If you like what I do, feel free to randomly Venmo monies to @hardproof with “insulin is expensive” as the description, so I know it’s for me…or find me on Patreon while I figure out how that works.