Be­hind the kit with the Brit drum­ming star

Rhythm - - CONTENTS - Words: Rich Cham­ber­lain

With a ca­reer un­der his belt span­ning sev­eral decades as one of the UK’s top sticks-men, Steve White has more drum­ming knowl­edge than most of us will ever man­age to amass in a life­time. So, who bet­ter than Steve to sub­ject to a light grilling in our Be­hind The Drums fea­ture?

What was your first drum kit?

“It was a £35 com­bi­na­tion of a John Grey Drum with a Bri­tish-made Rogers snare drum. The bass drum was blue, the toms were red and the snare drum was a steel shell. The bass drum had a spur miss­ing so ev­ery time I hit the tom it fell over. I had no cym­bal stands.”

Who was your first drum hero?

“The very first drum hero that I had be­fore I dis­cov­ered Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa and Louie Bell­son was Sandy Nelson. When I was young and I first showed some interest in the drums my dad gave me a 7" vinyl of ‘Let There Be Drums’ by Sandy Nelson. That sound, which was very Gene Krupa-es­que, was so deep and had so much re­verb around it and I thought it sounded amaz­ing. For the first few months of my play­ing, Sandy Nelson was my hero. Then I got given a com­pi­la­tion record called Kings Of Per­cus­sion, which fea­tured

Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa and Louie Bell­son and that was it for me!”

What is the one piece of gear you couldn’t live without?

“Joshua Henry pro­duced the Bill Fay record that I’ve re­cently done and he said he thought I had a snare drum sound that was com­pletely of my own. He was show­cas­ing dif­fer­ent records I had played on and had me lis­ten­ing to the snare sound. So, I would say my snare drum. The snare is cen­tral to ev­ery­thing. I have kept it con­sis­tent on all of the records I’ve played on, I’ve had that con­sis­tent back­beat, I don’t rim shot, it’s ei­ther grace notes or a strong back­beat. So it would be a snare, but I have far too many of them to pick one!”

What’s the big­gest on­stage night­mare you’ve ever had?

“I have a mem­ory of be­ing on­stage at the Bar­row­lands in Glas­gow and my dou­ble pedal broke – and then the power went on­stage and we didn’t know whether to keep play­ing or not. We stopped, even though Paul [Weller] didn’t want us to and he was shout­ing at us. It was like one of those hor­ri­ble dreams where you have noth­ing on in front of 10,000 peo­ple! It was aw­ful. It was a bunch of things that hap­pened within about two min­utes. The au­di­ence prob­a­bly didn’t even no­tice but it felt like a life­time. You just feel so help­less and it is not the kind of sit­u­a­tion that I am very good at. I get pan­icky quite quickly.”

Who would you most like to take a drum les­son from?

“That’s an in­ter­est­ing one. I think if I could have a les­son with any­one at all I’d love to have had a les­son with Gene Krupa. He was clearly a learned drum­mer and he was an ed­u­ca­tor as well. He stud­ied with some great per­cus­sion teach­ers in his early days. I think Gene Krupa would have been a re­ally good teacher.”

What’s the proud­est mo­ment of your ca­reer?

“There was a com­ing to­gether when my­self, Paul Weller and my brother went down to see David Garibaldi, Chad Smith, Bernard Pur­die and Gin­ger Baker at an event called Drums In The Bush, around 1995. When we were on our way to this gig we met up with Paul and found out that Stan­ley Road had gone to No 1.I got to meet four of my ab­so­lute drum he­roes and I was there as a drum­mer on a No 1 al­bum at the same time.We smug­gled a few beers in to drink while we watched the gig and I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘It doesn’t get much bet­ter than this.’ Be­ing in a re­hearsal room with Paul Weller and Amy Wine­house was special as well. As was be­ing on­stage with Jon Lord play­ing to 40,000 peo­ple in São Paulo, Brazil.”

What is your big­gest strength as a drum­mer?

“My abil­ity to lis­ten. It’s as sim­ple as that. My great­est strength is that I am ac­tu­ally quite a good mu­si­cian. That tran­scends tech­nique, speed and all of the fire­works. It’s your abil­ity to lis­ten and in­ter­pret what a song­writer or com­poser wants. That’s why I get work.”

And your big­gest weak­ness?

“That I still have to prac­tise quite a lot to keep what I’ve got. I’m not in any way a nat­u­ral player, I work hard at it. I love play­ing but it is some­thing that I have to con­stantly work at. I work at it on a day-to-ba­sis. These days it is lots of rudi­men­tal pat­terns, sin­gle stokes, dou­ble strokes – things that keep my tech­nique in good shape. Then, a lot of stuff with a metronome: con­sis­tency and stamina. I’ll take a groove like the Amen Break and I’ll put a metronome on and play it for 10 min­utes and then I’ll take the metronome up to 120bpm for 10 min­utes.”

What is the track you wish you’d played on?

“The track that I am deadly jeal­ous of is Wuthering‘ Heights’ by Kate Bush. I love Kate Bush. See­ing her was one of my favourite ever con­certs, Omar Hakim was play­ing drums. The al­bum this song is from, The Kick In­side, was on end­less ro­ta­tion at home, I think my dad was a bit in love with Kate Bush when it came out in 1978. I love the pace of that song, it is an ab­so­lutely amaz­ing pop track. It re­minds me of my child­hood and get­ting into mu­sic.”

Self-taught or schooled?

“I was self-taught to start with. I joined a Boy’s Bri­gade band and I was shown what was then called a mummy-daddy roll and a sin­gle-stroke roll. I pre­served on my own for a year or so be­fore I started lessons with a drum­mer called Ge­orge Scott who was very strict about rudi­ments and got me play­ing from the Gene Krupa book, and the Buddy Rich book. He showed me the im­por­tance of prac­tice and ed­u­ca­tion.”

What’s the best piece of ad­vice you’ve ever been given?

“A mu­si­cian from Rhode­sia – which has, of course, since be­came Zim­babwe – named Louis Malanga said to me once that when you play the drums you should think about what it would be like to have to lis­ten to you play­ing the drums and could you dance to it? That, to me, as a mu­si­cian, re­ally stuck. In a lot of the work I have done over the years, all of which I am proud of, you are there to sup­ply the beat for a lot of peo­ple who have paid money to come and have a great time. When you hear a drum­mer play­ing with a lot of tech­nique but no emo­tion it might as well be the sound of a jar of bees be­ing shaken.”

Hats, kick and snare or Terry Bozzio-es­que set-up?

“I re­ally feel that I have be­come the kind of drum­mer that plays a stripped-back kit. On the re­cent record­ing I did for Bill Fay, ev­ery tempo was around 80bpm – play­ing quar­ter notes on the ride, sin­gle or a brush, or a very low 12/8 blues – and I ab­so­lutely loved it. I know the more drum-tas­tic read­ers of this magazine might think that there’s noth­ing re­ally go­ing on, but there’s ac­tu­ally a lot hap­pen­ing there. It’s more about how the drums are tuned and then get­ing the most out of the kit.”

“Your abil­ity to lis­ten to what a song­writer wants tran­scends tech­nique, speed and all of the fire­works”

“I’ve be­come the kind of drum­mer who plays a stripped-back kit”

Steve White: “The snare is cen­tral to ev­ery­thing”

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