After Bobby Faulds and the Stranger finally parted ways I went on to look for other gigs. There were a number of bands forming and looking for drummers but these sounded so speculative to me and after playing and touring with the Strangers I didn’t feel like I wanted to start out from square one again. Then one day I noticed an add in the paper for a drummer playing 6 nights a week in a ballroom dance band in Bristol. It sounded good and with the weekly pay cheque I would be able to pay my bills so I made a phone call. I was grilled quite a bit on the phone but eventually asked to come down to Bristol on a Friday night and sit in for a few numbers.
Now you have to understand that most of the musicians I grew up with were not great chart readers. None of us went to music school. We just Listened to songs figured out the chords, versus, bridges and the rhythmic feel and proceeded from there.
For some reason I’ve always felt very comfortable playing 40′ and 50’s big band tunes which is what this Bristol band did. I could fake like a damn and kind of new the structure of the tunes. Though I could read a bit, my music chart reading ability at that time was not strong. I could get by but was certainly not at the level of the other 12- 15 guys in the band who all had music degrees.
So I headed to Bristol and the ballroom gig. I checked into a bed a breakfast place, had dinner and walked over to the dance hall. The place was packed with dancers and this great band was really kicking it. The drummer also had great chops and I knew this would be a challenge for me. The band took a a break and I introduced myself to the bandleader. We chatted a bit and then he said “Let’s have you sit in for a few numbers on the next set” “Fine by me I said”. After the break I parked myself behind the drum kit and chatted a bit with Larry, an American guy who was on bass. To my left on the music stand was a thick book of scores with each tune having more writing on it than Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I was definitely up against it.
The first song up was a Jimmy Dorsey or Glenn Miller piece (can’t recall which) that I felt comfortable with. So off we go. Whenever the band leader looked my way I would pretend I was reading the music. When we hit the end of song the band leader looked up at me with a smile on his face and nodding his approval. He probably thought I was a good reader. Like I said previously I could fake like a damn. We did a few more tunes successfully and then the regular drummer returned and I head to the bar for a drink until the next break at which time the band leader came over, shook my hand and said you’ve got the gig. I was very excited but had to blurt out… “Thank you, but you should know I’m not very good at reading drum charts”. “No problem” he said “You did great”. So now I head back to London to get my drums. Lucky for me my girlfriend at the time had a car and drove me and the drums back to Bristol.
Now it’s the first night on the gig. I managed to get through the first set and we take a break. Everything looked fine from my point of view. We start out on the second set. About half the way through we are doing really fast blasting number and we come to the end of the song. I start looking toward the music to figure out what’s next. The dancers begin to leave the floor. I look around a bit and then notice the band leader glaring at me and nodding his head.
Then after a moment or two he starts waving his arms and counting the same song in again. The dancers on the floor are somewhat confused as I am. Anyway we come to the end of the song and I turn to Larry the bass player and say “Hey Larry, How come we played that last song twice. Larry, with his face looking down says “ We didn’t…There was a eight bar drum solo in the middle!! Can you believe it?? I sit there for eight bars while every guy in the band is counting time and I am looking around like all is peaceful in Gods’s Heaven. Talk about embarrassed!!! After a couple of nights of doing an ok job, both the band leader and I realized that the band would be better off with a drummer who could read big band drum charts. The leader was very gracious about things and I moved on but with a somewhat broken spirit and determined to learn to read drum charts.
It was a very valuable lesson. But then that’s what life is all about isn’t it? Most of us, including myself find the strength sooner or later to get back in the game, hopefully a bit stronger, a bit wiser and with some lessons, playing better than before. Without those experiences how could we possibly pass on the message to those coming up?
Thanks for reading this, and by the way I do teach my students to read drum music!
Please pass on my name to anyone you know interested in drum lessons and reach me at:
firstname.lastname@example.org or 250-721-2113 or www.drumboy.ca