Simply sticking around can be the key to your success!
I started playing drums when I was 12 years old. While I did take to it fairly readily, I was never one to promote myself and, realistically, I was lacking the bravado and competitive nature that drives a lot of musicians. Nevertheless, I was fortunate that in my new senior school in the sleepy city of Adelaide in South Australia, there was something like an awakening of musical and artistic interest. In reality, this was not too long after the ‘Summer of Love’; the Beatles were on the radio, jazz was evolving and expanding in totally new directions, and folk were “turning on and dropping out” all over! I had a (borrowed) snare drum and my friend got a $29 K-Mart guitar which he ran through his Dad’s stereo. Before long, he bought an amp, I got a drumkit for my 13th birthday, and we collected a bass player, singer and another guitarist: we were a band! Soon we were playing ‘school socials’ and dances that friends would organise. From there I began to be invited to jam sessions with older players and I’m now the best drummer in my school (there weren’t many!). This led to mixing with musicians from other schools and a bigger ‘gene pool’, which meant stiffer competition. Kids can be so cruel (“Can we?” says Bart Simpson) and I found the bluster and put-downs from other drummers not to my taste and sensibilities. But while some people dropped out of this ‘band business’, I just loved playing so much and even though it scared the willies out of me, I loved being on stage! What’s more, this was a one-way ticket to popularity and respect, commodities that had been hard to come by previously.
One thing that I began to notice was that the drummer that had been ‘in my face’ for the last few months was now nowhere to be seen. Whether he’d gone onto some other scene or he’d given up drums, moved to another city or been kidnapped by aliens didn’t matter, he wasn’t around to compete with me. The fewer the competition, the more chances you have of getting the gig. Fast forward a good number of years and I’d been through similar scenarios multiple times. Now I find myself vying for the coveted drum chair with the local soul band and all-around Adelaide music institution, The Casual T’s. I’m not sure how many years the T’s were around for but while the singer and the bass player were core members, the rest tended to last a year or two and move on and the list of drummers reads like a who’s who of Adelaide’s best of that era. I auditioned not once, not twice, but three times for that band over the course of a few years and on the final attempt I got the gig! Basically I had outlasted the competition as at the time there was no other serious contender, so I got it. I’d hasten to add that it wasn’t that I was no good, in fact, as is my way, right from the lead-up to the first audition I had immersed myself in soul music and by the time I landed the gig I was pretty much ‘all over it’. But people being people, and driven by (mis)conceptions, the vibe in the band was pretty much along the lines of, “we’ll have to make do with him”. A note here also of what I’ve learned, that very many singers, guitarists, keyboard players and you-name-its, have little clue as to how good or otherwise a given drummer really is; it’s all voodoo back there behind the drums to them. My point was born out in spectacular fashion some months later. You see the singer was prone to occasionally come over my way on stage and swing his arm around in time with the music with a pained expression on his face. The message was plain, “the beat is here, stupid!” I continually swallowed my pride and kept my mouth shut; I knew that nothing I could say would change his mindset. But one fortuitous evening we were setting up for rehearsal and someone had put on a recording of our previous gig. With no idea of what the recording was, in came the singer snapping his fingers and declaring to all and sundry that, “This is what it’s supposed to sound like!” Err, that’s us, mate! Well, he never swung his arm around again on stage, not at me anyway! And if you happen to read this, Skull, I love you mate!
I could name many other instances in my music career where just sticking at it got me the gig but I’ll save them for a future blog. For now, do not be discouraged if someone else got ‘your’ gig. Keep at it, keep improving yourself and get experience wherever you can. Persistence pays off!