Give Me Some Skin

Dave Brogan

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Dave Brogan by John Margaretten


This is the word more than any other folks have used to describe Dave Brogan. Well, at least in my company, this one comes up a lot – more than 50 times by my count. I first picked up on it in 2008 as I was really getting to know Brogan and began keeping a loose count. It’s a word often uttered like a foodie savoring a morsel of artisanal charcuterie as someone watches him have his way with a drum kit. His movements are pleasurable continuity, a confident player who loves swinging just outside his comfort zone, fingertips stretching into chaos and improvisation but his main punch reminiscent of iron percussion machines like John Bonham and Jim Gordon (Derek & The Dominoes, Delaney & Bonnie), where wicked technique and brawn mingle so, so nicely. Dave lets you see the work of drumming only when it is work, mostly rolling smooth, a smiling foundation behind whatever musicians he’s backing at the moment.

While his main gig is California pop-rock gems ALO, he plays in a variety of settings, studio and live, and always adapts like butter on warm toast – be it pounding the living hell out of his gear in M8 Mailbox, streaming along all modern like in Beck tribute Newfangled Wasteland, or working the brushes like a proper SoCal cowpoke in Brokedown In Bakersfield. No less than a half dozen really good bands have let slip in my company that they’d snap up Brogan in a heartbeat if he came up on the open market. My theory to his widespread appeal is not just his raw talent and practice/road time won skills but his general vibe. Musicians feel secure in stretching themselves towards their best stuff with Dave Brogan at their back.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s a heck of a budding singer-songwriter in his own right – his 2008 solo debut, Thunderbird Sun Transformation, is a real jewel (it’s actually better than my original glowing review might suggest) – not to mention a thoughtful arranger, quality harmony vocalist and general catalyst for good music. So, more than a terrific drummer, Brogan is a terrific musician who happens to specialize in percussion.

Oh, he’s also a pretty darn good writer. He was one of the Impound’s initial cadre of contributors, chronicling ALO’s travels last year for DI. And he’s got a swell drum blog that’s been evolving nicely this year. He’s definitely onto some next level drummer stuff, and while non-drummers may not grock it all there’s still a good deal to glean from Dave’s observations.

Here’s what Brogan had to say in the Impound’s drummer survey.

Favorite part of a standard trap drum kit – bass drum, floor tom, snare drum, tom-toms or cymbals?
Cymbals, for sure. I know I play them too much, but it’s just because I love them so much! Like winemaking, cymbal production is a mysterious Old World art. Cymbals are a by-product of the Bronze Age – first made in ancient Mesopotamia and later adopted by the Turks for military and religious purposes. The instrument migrated along dominant trade routes throughout history, traveling from the Middle to the Far East (the Wuhan province of China has historically been the second world center of cymbal manufacturing) and later to the orchestras of Europe, where they were increasingly favored by composers in the 19th and 20th century for their explosive sound. The “ride” cymbal became the dominant percussive voice, and the main time-keeping element, in jazz, which in turn advanced the art of cymbal manufacturing in the U.S. In modern rock music cymbals are, by far, the most ancient instruments used (unless the keyboardist happens to be playing a Yamaha DX7. He he!).

The first cymbal makers in America, the Zildjian family, have been crafting the metal discs since the 1600s. Alchemist Avedis Zildjian discovered the family’s secret alloy formula of tin, copper and silver in 1623 while searching for a process to turn base metals into gold. Zildjian Cymbals is one of the oldest companies in the world and the oldest family run company in the United States. Although they employ many workers and engineers, the entire process and alloy composition is only known by blood relatives of the Zildjian family, passed down from generation to generation. I once took a tour of the their factory. The alloy mixing room was behind a huge metal door, pulled down about three feet off the ground. It was pure Willy Wonka- “What’s behind that huge metal door?” – “That’s the… ‘alloy’ room… come this way to the lathing machines please!” Our tour guide was the granddaughter of Armand Zildjian, the company’s charismatic leader through most of the 20th century.

I love cymbals because they express so much emotion. Behind any great, long developing and transcendent lead solo, there is a great cymbal, marshalling the emotional forces of battle – at least if I’m backing the solo. In a way, cymbals are still used for a similar purpose as they were in Turkey during the Ottoman Empire- to provide rousing support to those in battle (the musicians) and to rattle the nerves of the enemy (the haters and non-dancers).

Tastiest drummer ever? Tastiest drummer today?
The word tasty makes me think of a dish that is well designed and balanced- a food that makes an impact but doesn’t overpower in any one area. There are dozens of jazz drummers that would qualify as the tastiest drummer ever (Vernel Fournier, Amahd Jamal’s guy, comes to mind) but I’m going to keep it to rock and R&B. I’ll give tastiest-drummer-ever to Steve Gadd (although Al Jackson, the great Stax Records drummer could easily claim the title as could any pro country drummer from 1950 to1980). Gadd may be most known for his loping, march-like beat on Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” He mixed precise rudimental (marching band) drumming with a super laid-back feel for an extremely tasty result.

Of course, Gadd is still alive and working. But a slightly younger drummer who has more recently become so gosh-darn tasty is Peter Erskine, an all-around drummer who specializes in jazz. Very melodic- which isn’t easy on the drums.

A drum solo I never get tired of listening to is…
A Peter Erskine solo I found on You Tube. Check it and you’ll know what I mean. (video)
Preferred brand of drums? Why?
I love Yamaha drums and hardware (cymbal stands, pedals, etc.). They make drums that are very user friendly in real-world applications. I tour with their entry-level model and they sound great. I record with their Recording Custom kit and it does exactly what you need it to do in the studio. I gig locally with a really nice set of solid maple drums and they are total ear candy. And they look beautiful, too. Unlike a lot of American drum companies, Yamaha has made consistently great drums for over 40 years.
John Bonham, Art Blakey or Charlie Watts – which one gives you the biggest drum boner? What makes them SO sweet?
Watts is a human metronome and was the perfect drummer for the Rolling Stones. If you listen to the earlier Stones stuff like “Paint it Black,” he was a bit of a shredder, too.

Blakey was one of the few jazz drummers of his era to have the balls to keep it simple and drive the music. He simply swung his ass off. And he had the best press roll in New York at the time, maybe ever. Always reminded the listener that jazz came from the blues.

But Bonham has to be my favorite because he had the ‘tude, and, I’m a hard rock guy, so that’s where my love lies. Plus, he studied the jazz greats. I hear a lot of Elvin Jones in Bonham’s playing. Whether that came directly from the source or from checking out certain British jazz drummers as he was coming up, I’m not sure. Bonham was a big, big influence on me growing up. In fact, until I got to college, it was all about Neil Peart, Stewart Copeland and John Henry Bonham for me. Bonham had power and finesse, a combo that I’m always striving for. Equal parts mind, body and soul.

One lesser known drummer folks should check out is…
Well, drummers and jazz heads know about him, I’m not so sure mainstream listeners in other genres do, but Brian Blade is one of the most amazing, genius, uncontrived, artistic and musical drummers working today. He came out of Louisiana, studied with Johnny Vidacovich, Stanton Moore’s teacher, and came to prominence in Joshua Redman’s band. He has also played with Seal, Daniel Lanois, Joni Mitchell, Chick Corea and is currently giving Wayne Shorter a much-needed infusion of energy in his quartet. God, I can’t praise him enough. He’s beyond beyond. He can deconstruct a drum solo down to the level of complete absurdity and still make your ass dance itself out of its mezzanine-level assigned seat. Oh, and his beats are hella solid, too. Now I need to watch a Brian Blade solo…
What aspect of being a drummer always makes you happy?
I like being a part of the drum brotherhood. We are a tight guild. Drumming is very hard, involves a lot of responsibility and is fairly mysterious combination of timing, musicality and bizarre four-way limb coordination. We practice strange exercises to acquire strange skills that no other musician would ever need to consider. That creates a common bond in all of us and it shows whenever drummers hang out. I’ve never hung with a drummer and thought, “Wow, that guy’s a real asshole.” Though I heard Buddy Rich, the greatest drummer of all time, was an asshole. Maybe that’s because he knew everything. Anyway, among most drummers there is a common, deep respect for the art and craft of drumming. Being a part of that is something I don’t take for granted and always enjoy.