Back to work.

Posted: February 1, 2018 in Drums, I’m back., Music, Practice, Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

I often say that playing the drums is the hardest of all the instruments.

“Shut up, Fitch. You haven’t posted in a year, and you’re all blah blah blah baby, blah blah bikes, sometimes drums, blah blah.”

Okay, yes. Egg on face… it’s been awhile. And, truth be told, I haven’t been… inspired. I didn’t know what to write. This blog is supposed to be for the aspiring non-professional drummer, and I honestly have been clutching at my own straws as to how to keep going. Balancing a hard job and commute, my family, and my other hobby (mountain biking), I really was faltering.

I needed… a shakubuku.

*cough* A what?

“A swift spiritual kick to the head that alters one’s reality.” – Gross Point Blank

My friends, repetition is the angel of death to a musician. You will find comfort, and then solace, and then discomfort, and then discord. By only doing what you know what to do, you will be swallowed by… yourself.

And you won’t hire your own sorry ass for gigs.

So to my opening point… I know we drummers are special. Like all musicians, we think about our instrument all day, but drummers have to live an entire LIFESTYLE to be good. We have to have drums and cymbals to fit the sound ($$$), we have to have studied the specific style of music to fit the gig (time), and at the end of the day, drums are very physical – if we want to be good, we have to work hard. I’ve never shied away from working hard. Honestly, if you’re not willing to put in the time in the woodshed, then drums are not for you. I also acknowledge that finding that time is hard.

So what’s my point?


I’ve always grabbed ANY opportunity I’ve got to play drums. In high school in my parents’ basement, in college in the North Five room, at a Mars Music or Guitar Center lobby… in later years at Griffondor, and now… incredibly… in the basement of my own home. How?

“Fortune smiles upon thee…”

It’s a Roland TD6. A fantastic electronic drum set. I got it for the price of a dream.

And that dream is real. Tonight, I played for almost an hour while my 18-month old child slept upstairs. And no one told me to stop.

Drums are the hardest of all instruments… because we don’t have a volume knob.

But tonight? For a whole HOUR?

I turned down for WHAT.

I’m back.


“I have drums. Beautiful drums. And I have cymbals also. My dream set of cymbals actually. And I love these things. I wouldn’t replace them or sell them. Yet, whenever I find myself with a few free minutes, I find myself looking at new drums and cymbals.”

The above quote comes from friend and fellow-drummer Adam Alesbrook, who also happens to be the proprietor of Alesbrook Custom Cajons. Though we may love what we have as musicians, Adam nailed it on the proverbial drum head: it is always exciting to get a new piece of bright, shiny, new musical goodness.

This is the story of how that idea went tragically, frugally, awesomely wrong. This is the Ballad of Lil’ Joey Sh*tkicker.

A few months ago, I started entertaining the idea of gigging as a percussionist, rather than a drummer, and working with acoustic acts that wanted that little something extra while still maintaining a low volume.. you know, NOT a drum set. While I already had a nice shaker collection and a djembe, I found myself wanting a tiny bass drum, especially for supporting Brian Dollaway.

“New gear!” I thought. “I love buying new stuff!” I hopped online to check out 18” bass drums. Yikes. Okay, maybe 16” bass drums. Somehow more yikes. And then I figured I’d just get a cheap 16” floor tom, get some hoops, get some long lugs, spurs, and new heads, remove some hardware, drill holes, insert spurs, sand the bearing edges, put on new heads, and turn it into a small kick drum. Because I’m Scottish. Which means I’m frugal.

The opening notes of The Ballad of Lil’ Joey Sh*tkicker had been played.

WARNING TO THE READER: If you’ve followed my blog at all, you know I dig giving new life to an old drum, but technically-speaking… what I did was probably pretty awful.In fact, the rest of this blog may give my friends at Calderwood Percussion hives. You’ve been warned.


My score was pretty good off of Craig’s List: a 16”x16” black Starion (who?) floor tom, two black bass drum hoops (one inlaid with a gold stripe, the other silver), and 10 bass drum claws for mounting. A quick trip to the local music shop also netted me with standard retractable bass drum spurs.


My cat, Zeppelin, then sat on the drum. He informed me that I would want to check the bearing edges at some point and probably clean everything associated with this project. He also searched the exterior of the drum for treats. No treats were found.

Not being the patient type, I put a standard 1/4″ square socket on my electric drill, which works great for quickly removing a drum’s tension rods instead of spending your whole life with a drum key in your hand. Write that down.


With used gear, and I suppose anything used,  you may find a bit of… history, especially if it is a drum. This particular drum had some nasty debris built up along the edges under the rims, and the damn cat kept crawling into the drum again. After cleaning the edges, I lightly used some high-grit sandpaper to just freshen up the edges again and to remove any light splintering that existed. Zeppelin confirmed the interior of the drum also had no treats in it.

181Like most standing floor toms, this 16″ Starion drum had three leg housings for the standard vertical drum legs. As they were installed with only two screws, I removed two and left the third towards what I planned to use on the top of the drum in case I wanted to mount something in the future.You know… like a cowbell.

I was happy to find that the while my bass drum spur housings had three standard screws, two of the holes lined up just fine with the existing shell, meaning I only had two holes to drill for mounting – one on each side. More on that shortly.



Zeppelin continued to assist by checking for loose screws, rough edges, and seeing if there were any missing toys/ room for naps.


As the two of the three lugs on the new spur housing lined up with the existing holes from the leg mounts, I had to drill two more. I started with some pilot holes and increased in size until I had a snug fit. This was admittedly a very rough process and thoroughly non-artisanal. Drum shells are not cheap, thin wood – they’re made of multiple plies of varying wood, and I had neglected to clear away any of the plastic wrap that gave the shell its glossy black exterior. Therefore, I was delicate in this drilling the way Lars Ulrich is delicate in counting off a song. Eventually, after a protein shake, progress was made and I could mount the spur brackets and slide the spurs through, neatly fitting them into the shell. Since the existing holes were perpendicular to the rims of the drums, the spurs now protruded at an exact 90-degree angle. Brilliant! I hugged the cat and made a mental note to never become a professional carpenter.


Total artwork, right? Yeah, you heard me, Modern Drummer: Where’s my write-up?.

With drilling and alignment now complete, I had a problem: as bass drum hoops are thicker than a standard triple-flange drum hoops, the lugs I had wouldn’t reach the lug housings on the shell. So the188 old hoops went on, and Lil’ Joey Sh*tkicker was green-lit to see a stage for review. I gave the drum a test drive that night with Brian Dollaway utilizing the rest of my percussion setup, which was a mixture of shakers, djembe, and the new drum. The result? Well, it was cool, but there was much untapped potential and some sound to be desired.

Back to the drawing board… and a lot of internet searching. After being pointed to Drum Factory Direct by some very talented drum builders, I was in business!

238A few days later, my new lugs arrived in their black nickel finish glory. These things look cool. In my mind, and for what my goals are, the role of the percussionist-for-hire is to be heard and not seen – I’m there to support the main performers, so I didn’t need any shiny hardware.

As mentioned, my new bass drum hoops were an inch in depth; much larger than a standard tom-tom hoop. You can see here the standard lug in the middle versus what was needed to secure the new gold and silver hoops.

The last step was to add some muffling and replace the existing poorly-ported resonant head with something better. I opted for a DAMMIT, ZEPPELIN, GET OUT OF THE DRUM!


Anyone else hearing that squeak coming out of the kick drum?


Excuse me. Anyway, I put an Evans Onyx Level 360 head on the resonant side and was very happy with the appearance. The Ballad of Lil’ Joey Sh*tkicker was done.


Lil’ Joey Sh*tkicker

So how does it sound? Well, I first used the final product with Brian again in December supporting him as a percussionist, and we were both very happy with it. The drum gives a tuneful, dampened (muffled) thud that adds just the right push to an acoustic guitarist’s set. An off-set felt beater is a must, and for the first time in years, I played the bass drum with my shoe off to ensure I wasn’t laying into it; I’m known to have a pretty heavy foot. Check out this sample video of it here:

Mini-Bass Drum Sample

This past weekend, I decided to have a little fun and attended The Jam In the Ham, a weekly open jam at The Tavern in Framingham. Knowing full-well there would be a five-piece set available, I brought something a little different for some additional color… a hi-hat (made of two old 10” splash cymbals), a 5×12” Gretsch steel snare drum, and Lil’ Joey Sh*tkicker, rounding it all out. This time, I got to put my foot down, and the drum and tuning did not disappoint!

So after some good fun, Lil’ Joey Sh*tkicker has certainly found his voice! It’s not supposed to be big and loud, and it’s not, but it makes a fantastic addition to an acoustic combo that wants a little of that bump that goes thump to make `em shake the rump.


“The little drum set was a HUGE hit!” – host of The Jam in the Ham

And yes, this drummer is absolutely for hire.

Wow, I am rusty.

Posted: December 12, 2016 in Drums, Inspiration, Music, Practice
Tags: , , ,

“Wow, I am rusty.”

That was the thought going through my head earlier this fall when I sat down at my drum set for the first time in awhile to practice. And I mean to really practice. I. Am. Rusty.

Rusty? Dude, I flat-out suck!

But you know what? I was okay with that. Back in August 2014 when I started this blog, I wanted to write the blog for the aspiring non-professional drummer. That means we’ve got day jobs, we’ve got families, other commitments, other hobbies, and plenty of things to take up time we could be spending working on progressing at our passion: i.e. the drums.

So on August 1st, when my beautiful child arrived in this world, I suppose I was vaguely aware that I was about to lose out on some practice time. I’ve been playing some form of percussion since the 5th grade, so I was keen to try and at least stay (mostly) sharp on my instrument, though I was well-aware this wasn’t going to be the time for any technical prowess or sudden advances in my double bass shuffle.

loud1Come September, when the opportunity to fill-in for a great rock cover band popped up, I was eager to take the gig. And then reality kicked in… I was really, really rusty.

So how does one add some ammo to the I’m Rusty Arsenal? Being that there are countless blogs, videos, articles, and websites dedicated to getting your hands and feet in better shape, I’ll skip that and share some pointers that may help you the way they helped me get through the gig. Remember: only you know how rusty you are and how much time you have to be gig-ready. You may have an hour a day, an hour a week, or maybe you don’t even have access to your drum set until show time. I believe it’s my job as the drummer to be as prepared as I can be for any given gig, so let’s get into some exercises that may be the WD-40 your groove machine needs.


A rested drummer is a happy drummer!

Get some sleep.

No. Seriously. Make sure you’re well-rested and your brain is working. A few days before the gig, make sure your exercise and nutrition are good and you’re getting sleep. Try not to dream about the drums! There’s plenty of sleep to lose over that later.

Own it.

You’re not a professional. Being out of practice happens to everyone and it’s okay! Give your mates the head’s up and ask for a little forgiveness and understanding; you’re a team and you’ll support one another. No one is always 100%, right? Communication is always key with your band mates, and hopefully everyone saying “don’t worry” will take your anxiety down a bit.

Prep the best you can by knowing the music.

I know your little secret… you already know how to play the drums. If you’re in any half-decent band that makes a few bucks at shows, it’s because you’re already decent at your instrument. A little time off isn’t going to impact the average drummer physically nearly as much as it’s going to impact you mentally, so knowing the music the best you can will pay off. Not having to worry about form, changes, dynamics, and what you’re going to play is the biggest weapon you can have in the I’m Rusty Arsenal.

Boy listening to music

Picture yourself playing the songs.

Back in my high school marching band days, on the way to the show, we’d turn off the lights on the bus and sit in silence to run the field show in our heads. All the field work, the song count off, and all the chart. By the time we hit the field, it was as if we’d already run the gig. You can do the same thing when you’re listening to your playlist as the days lead up to your show. Start to finish, every single note – play it in your head as much as you can. When you think of the songs, know what you’re hitting when, how, and why so that when it’s time to do it live – you’ve already done it in your brain.

Play it safe.

It’s safe to say every drummer and band is different, but there’s a time and a place to stretch boundaries and push yourself. For me, going into a gig after what felt like 2 months away from the drums… I chose to play it safe and make sure I was “in my wheelhouse.” This led me to being much more confident, which led to it sounding better, which led to more fun… and then much more dancing (and tips)!

Don’t mess with your setup.


My setup for the above-mentioned fill-in gig with the Road Dawgs.

I’m probably in the minority here: I use a bit of a different setup for every band, and even then, it often changes gig by gig. But another key tool in the I’m Rusty Arsenal is going to be a set that you’re very, very comfortable and experienced with. Your cymbals, heads, and layout should likely be something that you could utilize in your sleep.

Have a beer.

After all that, what’s left? Well… you’re going to do great. When you’re on stage, people in the crowd aren’t actually judging you, ya know. They paid their cover charge and are there on their free time to have fun, so they know you’re going to be great. The promoter/ bar owner? They already know you’re good, so they have no concerns. Your friends and fans? C’mon – they love to hear you play!

In fact, the only people there who will notice or care if you do anything wrong are on stage with you!

So you may as well get setup, warmed up, have a beer, and do what you do best – get your groove on and play some drums!

It’s Saturday morning, and I’m calmly drinking coffee, watching my cats roll around on the sun-lit floor, and looking forward to a show tonight with Loud, my hard rock cover band. Everything is going, I dare say, as planned currently. Ah, if only that had been the case on Thursday night.

Let’s face it: drums are kind of violent. We pick up pieces of wood and hit thin pieces of metal, synthetic plastic drum heads, and any number of percussion instruments. So I suppose it shouldn’t be that shocking when things break. Being on stage, this is not an ideal situation.

FullSizeRender(1)It was St. Patrick’s Day, and Snake Oil Caravan was a few songs into a rollicking set when “Black Earl,” my Ludwig Black Galaxy snare I’d lovingly renovated, suddenly went from a throaty snare sound to a delightful steel-shelled timbale tone. Crap. The strap that connects the snares to the strainer had absolutely burst clean through, reducing my snare tone to something better suited to a Cinco de Mayo gig than everyone’s favorite Irish drinkathon.

I admit that I didn’t handle it that well. In fact, I kind of panicked. After the song ended, we got the attention of the sound man who provided the house snare drum… which also happened to have a broken snare drum head. Sigh. Thank you, Mr. Murphy, for reminding me that you’re always one step ahead.

The reality of it, as a drummer, is that things will break, and it will sometimes happen on FullSizeRender(2)stage. This leads to a level of panic that your band mates and audience will absolutely recognize, and as the drummer, you’ve got to make the choice of what you can do.

Control What You Can: Is the problem something you can fix? If yes, then fix it. If not, then don’t. For example, if your crash cymbal boom stand shears off at the knuckle, then you’re likely S.O.L. and you just became a garage rock drummer, wailing on your ride cymbal for the crash. Don’t sweat it – you can still support the music. The point is that if you can’t control it, like having your snares be a distant memory, you need to simply do your job and play the drums. I mean, will the crowd even know?

Don’t Let It Show: For most issues on stage, like a broken cymbal, a torn drum head, or a lack of a cowbell (Nooooo!!!), your audience won’t even be aware anything is missing unless you draw attention to it being gone. So relax and again… do your job.

Learn From It: Every mistake and accident will make you a better performer. Your next gig will have one less scenario Mr. Murphy can lean upon, and that makes you better. So your snare drum broke? Bring a spare for the next show. Your bass drum keeps walking away? Get a gig rug and always bring it. Kept dropping sticks? Buy a stick caddie and get some Gorilla Snot. Keep breaking sticks? Get better sticks.

My drummer friends — if you hit, it will break. Having terrifying stage experiences is part of “earning your stripes,” and I promise that as these things happen to you, you’ll learn to roll with it and gain confidence.

I’ve had cymbals break, crash cymbals fall off stands, sticks break, sticks go flying out of my hands, snare drum heads break, bass drum heads break, bass drum beaters fall off the pedal, drum thrones break (ouch!), tom-tom holders break, monitors go out, lights go out, bass drums, snare drums, hi-hats, and ride cymbals start to walk away, I’ve fallen off the stage, and I’ve even spilled my beer, which is the drummer equivalent to having recess cancelled on a sunny day.

And I’m still here.


Just going for it.

Posted: February 29, 2016 in Uncategorized

There’s something delightfully gratuitous about throwing things like taste and control out the window once in awhile and just going for it.. An exercise in frivolity like this could certainly come at a price if you’re not in the right musical situation, but as a drummer, many of us spend much of our time thinking about supporting the music, playing with dynamics and control, and supporting the groove. And then you look at the smarmy S.O.B. to your left, drinking a beer and going at the neck of his guitar with reckless abandon, demanding the adoration of the crowd as he whips out every trick in the book to cheers.

 And you’re sitting there keeping a steady back beat like a jerk.

 So when the opportunity does arise for you to open your proverbial can of drumming whoop-ass, I think it’s important to do it. Whether it’s an allocated solo, the end of the song, or even just doing your own shtick while practicing, go ahead and impress yourself. Swing for the fences, play too many notes, and see what happens. You may inspire yourself.

 Last fall, I made a bet with a good friend who is also a fantastic guitar player. Adam ripped it up in a great band called Brookfield while I was kicking drums with Griffon in the mid-late 2000s. A few years later, a gentlemanly bet was made over some weight loss goals, and the loser would have to make a video and share it showcasing us covering one of the other’s songs on our respective instrument. I conceded my loss graciously and got to work.

 The result of that bet is this video. A sophomoric and china-cymbal laden exercise in 32nd notes dedicated to my good friend and now skinnier Adam Bilz.


The Value of Vague

Posted: January 10, 2016 in For laughs, Music
Tags: , , , ,

A quick thought, but have you ever read a “musician wanted” ad that slowly crawled into an extremely specific reference to the former band mate?

Like “no drama, especially around work schedule” or “must own good gear and not always need to borrow my pick?”

Yeah, don’t do that. You end up looking like a schmuck. For example…

“Let me buy you a shot!”

“Dude, want a beer?”

“What can I get you to drink?”

These are the words that some musicians just love to hear. It’s money saved, it’s a cheaper course to your buzz, and it’s delightful bonding with your fans and friends. We all enjoy a good free drink, right?

… Unless you’ve got a job to do. And alcohol can affect that job.

July 2007, I sat at a clinic and watched Mike Mangini (Dream Theater, Steve Vai, Extreme) jam with the illustrious Dug Pinnick (King’s X, Grinder Blues, KXM) to impressive results. These are musicians known for wildly different things, yet their passion and intensity made for a great performance. As a young gigging musician, I asked the question about “how do you feel about chemical influence to your performances?”Dug Pinnick dinks

Dug just laughed, held up his bass pick with a marijuana leaf on it and said “you mean this?” Mike, on the other hand, said “I will not have a sip of red wine along with my ravioli on a night prior to my gig.”

Two amazing musicians, each with a lifetime of musical achievements, that had completely opposite thoughts. So were either of them right?

dont drink and driveAuthor’s Note: At this point, we enter the discussion of drinking alcohol. It goes without saying that all this is assuming you’re 21+ to drink , you’re safe in your decisions on transportation post-gig, etc, etc. Don’t drive drunk, don’t drink illegally, blah blah blah. Don’t be dumb so I can have fun writing this. I also just finished my first beer.

I want to say it was about 2007, and Head First had just started playing shows. We were booked for a private gig at a fish and game club in Spencer, MA, and we arrived early and set up, eager to be pros. “When do we start?” we asked, sticks and guitars in hand. It was our second show.

“Oh, maybe like in an hour and a half or so?”

My band mates hit the bar. I hit the wall of boredom and frustration. You see, when I started playing out, I never drank when I played the drums. Nowadays… well, I mean, if you’ve seen Snake Oil Caravan, you know that’s not the case anymore. I don’t look back at the past and say “I was silly,” though. For who I was as a drummer, I wasn’t ready to combine alcohol and drums, and some drummers never are.

The reality behind it is that every human being metabolizes alcohol differently, and drummers, as awesome as we are… are still human. So deciding if you want to knock any back on stage – here’s the good news – takes practice! Cheers!


You, my fellow aspiring non-professional drummer, need to know how well you can hang. It’s simply irresponsible to you, your band mates, and your fans to go on stage and assume a beer or a shot will help without knowing what that does to your ability to keep steady time or keep your ghost notes loose. Make no mistake: when someone enters a venue to see you play, your job is to perform well. And that’s why you do your delicious, fermented homework. Look, I get it. After some scotch, I think I do EVERYTHING better; my wife would disagree. So… know your limits. Band practice is a great venue for this – it’s social, it’s fun, and it’s a controlled, safe, environment. But… what do you drink? (Author’s Note: Second beer done.)


When Fitch makes a good choice…

Beer: Beer is my go-to. I love beer. Want to make me your friend? Buy me a beer. I justify it by saying it’s lower ABV, it Sebago beer.PNGcontains more water by volume (drummers need to be hydrated!), and… it’s… beer. It makes me happy, it makes me peppy, and it makes me want to give you a hug. Buy me a beer. I’ll play better. (Just finished my 3rd beer – Sebago Runabout Red. Yum!) True professionalism. Beer is good for all styles.

Whisky: Note the classic Scottish spelling. Whereas I prefer scotch, I enjoy scotch, whiskey, and bourbon. TaliskerWhisky affects me less and I stay energized, but the 40% + values do certainly catch up. Best for playing with a deep feel that doesn’t require too much technicality. Expect lots of shouting between songs. Good for blues, pocket rock, country, and punk music.

Jagermeister: No, seriously – Jagermeister. One shot and I just get more physical in my playing… but just no more than one shot. Come to think of it, no one should ever do more than one shot of Jagermeister for any reason. Good for rock, metal, and doing everything I would’ve done with beer, just more aggressively.

When Fitch makes a mediocre choice…

Wine: Wine will make me amorous, thoughtful, and charming. It will

Merry Edwards

You won’t have a better wine than this.


make me drum slower and probably want to stop drumming to drink more wine to talk with you and create a deep, life-long friendship. Not a bad choice for blues, admittedly. And maybe slow jazz, if I had ever played slow jazz.

Vodka: Vodka = drunk. Just… drunk. There’s no particular emotion associated with vodka, just mathematical blood/alcohol elevations. Good for nothing, just makes me slightly worse at whatever I was doing.

When Fitch makes a bad choice…

Rum: Mai Tai’s are a form of liquid happiness. “Rum” is even in the word “drum.” Awesome, right? Rum will make me hug everyone in the room and then fall asleep somewhere shortly after the 2nd set begins. Rum is good for people who aren’t actually playing music and didn’t actually go to see live music.

Schnapps: Schnapps is great in like your coffee, and… wait, what? Schnapps?

Bailey’s: Who the crap drinks Bailey’s at a bar playing live music? What’s the matter with you?

Potcheen: Are you serious? I hate you. Potcheen is Irish moonshine and is so awful and terrible that you can only buy it as an export OUTSIDE OF IRELAND. It’s so bad the Irish make it and then won’t sell it to their own people. The Irish won’t drink it. Good if you’re Dave Archibald.

tequilaWhat Fitch drink when Fitch wants to sound awful

Tequila: Tequila and music do not mix for me. Even like half an ounce. I will drop sticks, I will miss notes… I am chemically unable to play music and drink tequila. Do not put me in the proximity of tequila. Please contact Snake Oil Caravan for reference.


This is where I may not see eye to eye with some musicians… some of which I even play with. I’m sorry to say… it’s not about you. It’s certainly not about me – I mean, drummers sit in back for a reason. People come to your gig when they can do anything else, but they put $7 at the door and came in to see you do what you do. Despite what we all want to think, which is that we’re rock stars… we’re not. At our level, people at our shows are our friends, our families, our co-workers, and as such, our fans. And you do not let your fans down.


Only you know the answer to that question. Personally, I love having some drinks during a show with my friends and band mates. After 10+ years of playing shows, some stone sober and some more than a little inebriated, I have some experience on the subject, and my only advice is this: only you know what you can and still do your job. You’ll do it right, and you’ll do it wrong – that’s part of learning how to perform. Playing music should always be fun, and I beg that you don’t let alcohol be the factor you need to give you that joy. It can be an enhancer to some, a limiter to others, and a great way to strengthen your relationship with both your fans and the venue, but the nectar of the Gods giveth… and the nectar of the Gods taketh away.

So cheers!… and me? I’ll take that whiskey shot or beer.

SOC whiskey