Friday, November 20, 2009

If I Could Only Make Black People Dance...

People lose jobs everyday, especially in the market we're currently in. And they lose them for lots of reasons...maybe they show up late, don't perform at the desired level, take too many smoke breaks, watch porn at work, call the boss an idiot while simultaneously posting a twit pic of his head superimposed over a woman, spend too much on the company account, sleep with the boss' know, regular stuff.

I've never been fired...ever....but I came really close one time...really close. You would immediately jump to the conclusion that I had done one of the above mentioned tasks...if only it had been that simple.

You see, when you're the drummer for the house band in a dance club, one thing is have to make people DANCE...otherwise, it's a stand club, and those can be real downers...standing and consuming alcohol isn't nearly as entertaining as doing the white mans underbite while awkwardly grinding on your favorite woman...or at least your favorite at that particular club...ok, it doesn't even have to be your favorite at this point, just one that lets you accost her with your "moves"...when you've got beer goggles on, it just has to lack an Adams apple and a bulge and we're good to go...then again, it was Bourbon Street, and those last two specifications didn't matter to some...Change of criteria: if it doesn't have chairs around it it's probably fair game.

I've strayed...oh yea, back to the point of this quickly plummeting post...

In order to make someone dance a drummer must possess one thing...not killer chops, not cool hair, not the latest and greatest kit...yes, that's must possess GROOVE (See "Steve Gadd" in the dictionary)...DUM-DUM-DUMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!

One problem...go ahead, ask someone how to get groove...

"You just gotta feel it man!"


The drummer for the night band, Jeff, (we played 4-9, they were on from 9-whenever people passed out and were dragged back to their hotel rooms) came over to my house one night...he was also my teacher at the time. Yes, I had pretty much the best learning setup ever...but he came over to give me a heads up...I was fixin to lose my job.


"People ain't dancin''ve gotta get people to dance."


"Groove man, you gotta get your groove on."

"How do I find my groove?!"

"You just gotta feel it man..."


I was freaked out...I had moved to NOLA by myself, I was 19 and only knew one person there (and he was telling me I was fixing to lose my job, so I wasn't particularly fond of him at the moment), and didn't really have the gig knowledge, connections, or experience to go out and land another gig by myself. I was tweaked...I didn't know what to do.

I lay awake all night that night...thinking, turning things over in my mind, trying to find my groove...

With his help I started on a journey I'm still participating in now...the journey to groove. I began to completely emerse myself in the music we were performing...I listened to it over, and over, and over, and over, and over...I listened to the hi-hat only, then the bass drum only, then just the snare...why were they doing the things they were doing? What made people want to dance to "Brick House" everytime it came on but when I played no one danced? Why couldn't I have been born an African American, therefore being given unlimited natural groove powers that I could use at my own discretion?

I would mimick these recordings repeatedly...I would play "Funky Music" all the way through with only my hi-hat, then just the bass drum part...I had to find out why this groove was universally danceable.

At the same time I was also having to continue to play these songs live five hours a day, 5-6 days a you even know how discouraging it is to perform a job everyday with the knowledge that you're doing it wrong and having no idea how to fix it? Not to mention if I lost this gig I had NO money...I was going to starve for lack of groove...This seemed ridiculous...

Then one day I devised a evil that just might work...

"Black folks have rhythm...If I could just make them dance I'd know I was onto something..."

I would watch the black patrons we had come in...they were like rocks when I played...take the same person and come back that evening when Jeff was playing and they'd be laughing and drinking and...DANCING! I couldn't get them to move if I picked them up and shook was horrible.

Day in and day out I would single them out...I'd change something I was doing and pay attention to their reactions...were they tapping their foot? Were they nodding their head? Swaying back and forth? Throwing up while having to watch this white kid try to play the drums...

And then one day it happened...the guy started moving a bit...what was I doing?! How could I replicate it on every song?!

As I emersed myself in the style of music we were playing and watched the crowds, things began to change. I began to change. My playing began to change. The things I worked on at that time were very small in comparison to what I normally practised...but they revolutionised my playing.

I wound up never losing my job...I found a groove, my groove. The key was that I accepted the criticism and ran with it. I wanted to figure out how I could fix it. And it helped that I wouldn't be eating if I didn't fix it. That's a different kind of urgency.

So here's to the black man. Here's to their rhythm. And here's to them saving my job by helping me find my groove...

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