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.



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.