Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Reflections on Traditional Grip

Every now and then during some down time at a gig someone in the audience or a fellow musician might ask why I don't use traditional grip when I drum. For me it's one of two simple answers: I don't like it or it doesn't feel natural to me. They are usually taken aback when I say that because they have seen several drummers (and I'm guessing some well known drummers) use traditional grip so that's when I shake my head and say that it's not natural to me because I am not playing a titled marching drum but a drum set with a snare drum that is flat. Still, the conversation continues because most of them have seen drummers use traditional grip while they play the drum set so I do what I can to give what I think are credible reasons for my choice to use matched grip.

Of course there are many who disagree with me and that's okay. It's all about personal preference and in this blog I will do the best I can to state my reasons for using matched grip while also pointing out my thoughts on the opinions that others have offered on both grips.

In The Beginning...

I started taking drum lessons during the spring semester of my 3rd grade year. My first teacher's name was Swede Meredith and he was not only a great teacher but also a professional Jazz drummer who had performed all over the world. At the time he had settled in the area to work both in the Los Angeles music scene and to pass on his drumming knowledge to the next generation of drummers, which at that time included me. He was also determined to get me to be part of the next generation of Jazz drummers so right away he had me playing traditional grip.

I would guess that my teacher was like the teacher that the great Thomas Lang had in his earlier days. In an article written by Dave Constantin in Drum Magazine Lang said that: I learned to play traditional. My teacher said, "This is how you play the drums." No argument, no discussion, this is it, So I did. 

I know the feeling at let's be honest about one thing that is true in many cases regarding those who prefer traditional grip: it is a faction of drummers who simply believe that this grip is more sophisticated. No argument. No discussion.  

The truth is, I never liked it. During my lessons I would do whatever Swede told me to do but when I was at home I was rocking to my favorite KISS songs and reviewed my weekly lessons using matched grip. I was also playing drums in my elementary school Drill Team as I was one of the drummers performing cadences for the girls during their routines and we also used matched grip. 

In my teens I started studying with my greatest teacher named Greg Alban and he was not only into more modern styles of drumming but also had me using matched grip. Now we're talking! From that day forward that has pretty much been the way I rolled and I have never looked back. Greg was also a very disciplined technician so I was able to execute any type of stroke at any dynamic level in any type of music. Therefore, Greg taught me to play with power & precision along with dynamics and speed and I did all of this using matched grip!

Let the Debate Begin 

Again, it's all a matter of preference and I honestly don't care what kind of grip any drummer uses. Heck, there are drummers out there who are rather sloppy with their execution but somehow make magic with their drums so who am I to say that they are playing incorrectly? I only have a problem with drummers who look at the way another person plays and says that they should use traditional grip, whether its directly or indirectly.

As stated in the same Drum Magazine by Constantin the author offered a common belief among traditionalists: There is a belief that an asymmetrical grip forces a different kind of communication between the hands, resulting in more creative interplay with the limbs. 

In my opinion, such a statement is not only nonsense but a huge pile of pretentious manure. Such a statement is based only in musical snobbery and not reality. Of course we also know that most drummers who use traditional grip come from the Jazz world so to be blunt: need we say more! Then again, here's a kind reminder that I had a lot to say about such arrogance in my last musical blog:

What does grip have to do with creativity? If that is the case then why play only one form of an asymmetrical grip? Why don't you flip both sticks around so you can use another grip while also leading with the other hand? Wouldn't that also impact your creativity? Or, why not use a reverse grip in both hands and open up even more doors to your creativity? After all, if one's grip impacts one's creativity that much then mastering multiple grips would make someone a drumming god! Again, pretentious nonsense. And what about your feet? Yes, there are different ways to play the pedal but no one has suggested that one flip their foot around in order to increase one's creativity with their feet.


First off, creativity doesn't just happen when you're sitting in front of your instrument. You can be walking down the street when a great musical idea comes to mind. What does that have to do with your grip? If you play multiple instruments you can be playing your guitar and come up with a cool riff and then hear a great drum beat in your head. Again, no grip involved here. And, sometimes the great idea comes from a band mate who suggests a great beat or a fill and that too has nothing to do with one's grip.

Another claim by traditionalists is the grip's, ability to assist in the sensitive execution of quieter passages. Once again, I disagree and I will use my favorite Buddy Rich drum solo clip to make my point. In this clip: Rich does many of the amazing things that he is known for including playing with some amazing dynamics. Notice that when Rich does his famous deathly quiet single stroke roll (see 3:13) that his right hand is still in the overhand grip position so how is it not possible to do the same thing with the other hand? In other words, this traditionalist claim is easy to refute because their preferred grip is still a half matched grip and because the ability to play any instrument with sensitivity is also rooted in practice. 

The problem with grip as with so many other things in the arts is that we become emotionally attached to our methods, which at times leads to a closed mind. I too am guilty of this with my most recent updated opinion being on the choice of sticks that I use. For years I used wooden sticks because that's what drummers use. Then I was willing to try a pair of Ahead Drum Sticks and that was all she wrote. Sometimes such stubbornness can leads to opinions such as this one by the great Stewart Copeland:

"The whole point to using traditional grip is because it's the most efficient way to use your hand to hit a drum. You can hit 50 times harder with traditional grip than you can with matched. Matched gives you no power; you only use the muscles on the top of your forearm with matched instead of the big muscles on the bottom of your forearm with traditional. You can get a much stronger stroke that way." 

I love Copeland's drumming but I could not disagree with him more. First off, does reversing one's grip on the back beat hand increase one's power on their lead hand? No, one's power comes from the effort one puts into their playing as well as the efficiency of their motion. We can see in this clip that Copeland hits very  hard with both hands and that his left hand has no influence on the effort coming from his right hand: Second, in claiming that traditional grip is more efficient I would question the validity of that claim based on this famous photograph of him where he uses duct tape on his left hand.

In an interview posted on the interview archives of the Stingchronicity website Copeland said:

I used to wrap my hands in duct tape, but just last week I found some gloves and they're pretty neat, but they haven't got it quite right (for me) yet; at least someone is trying. This, unfortunately, is what happens after two or three gigs (holds up a pair with a worn-out thumb web in his left hand).   

Imagine what that would do to his hand had he not been using duct tape or wearing a glove. Of course this is also the hand where he uses a reverse grip, which makes me want to ask a simple question: if a grip is more efficient how could this be happening to your hand unless you are doing something physiologically wrong? And, why would such damage happen to his hand in the first place if reverse grip is that much better for gaining more power? It just makes no sense.   
Still, many traditionalists still claim that their grip is the correct grip and with that I credit Copeland for sticking to his beliefs even when he had to create his barrier to protect himself from any type of damage to his hand. Of course we can thank You Tube for exposing the hypocrisies of other drummers who aren't quite so consistent with their beliefs and in their blunt criticism of those who do something different than them.

Buddy Rich was never shy about saying that matched grip was (in his mind) incorrect: But if you go beyond this video we will see that he is in fact inconsistent with his claim. With that I would also like to know why he would change his grip instead of being like Copeland and sticking to what he claimed to be correct.

Here we see Rich go against his own method while battling the Muppet Animal of all creatures (start at 1:48 and go to 2:36): Notice that he seems to do this while playing a loud figure that would require a bit more power and seems to be getting to the floor tom without any problem (remember, he claimed that one gets around the drums better using traditional grip). He also does the same thing at 4:56 in this clip: during the fanfare where he is playing with again, more power so perhaps those who criticize traditional grip for its inferiority at producing the power capable of an overhand stroke are on to something. But Rich's inconsistency (don't forget, he referred to matched grip as being incorrect) went even further than wanting more power during this performance of Caravan (start at 0:52): So, will the correct grip please stand up and if it's so superior to other grips why do some of its apologists find themselves going against their own words?

Further, since we are talking about power here take a look at what some other legends do when they start pounding the drums and need that extra power. Let;s start with the late great Tony Williams and here we'll see how many times he switches to matched grip: and then we'll see Louie Bellson do the same at 4:42 when he tries to match Billy Cobham's power in their famous drumming duet: I wonder what Rich would have said about these two switching to the incorrect grip? Then again, it was for the same reason he switched, to get more power! 

Necessity is the Mother of All Invention 

As the debate continues it's safe to say that each grip and/or technique comes out of some type of necessity. For me it's nice to see it when these developments are used in ways that more or less justify their existence. While people make their arguments for their personal preference history tells us the the true source of what is called traditional grip:

With a snare slung awkwardly over one shoulder, the military drummer of pre-modern times needed to maintain complete maneuverability to perform his job with confidence. This was achieved by wearing his drum at a 45 degree angle with the head tilted towards his dominant hand. As a result, a unique grip evolved for the non-dominant hand to accommodate this angle. 

Therefore, if someone sets up their drums the way Rich does in this video: then yes, traditional grip makes perfect sense. Now while someone may prefer to use traditional grip with any set up one should not be criticized for using matched grip if they have their snare drum set up the way Vinnie Colaiuta does in this video: because we can see Dennis Chambers at the same event with his snare set up in a similar way: having the same type of stick control as Colaiuta. Therefore, I ask someone to show me why traditional is the superior grip over matched. If anything, these videos could suggest the superiority of matched grip because Chambers can match any stroke Colaiuta offers while also having more power in his playing.

To further make my point on necessity leading to specific techniques let's take a look at this video by Steve Smith, which is also my favorite drum solo that he has ever played: The part I admire the most is from 0:52-0:59 because here he not only does the flashy one handed roll but does it with a purpose. His other hand is busy adding to the orchestration of rhythms so for him to play the figure he plays on the snare drum he needs to use the one handed roll technique. I personally have never attempted this technique not because I dislike it but because I just never had a reason to. But here we see how knowing this technique allowed Smith the opportunity to contribute to this amazing drum solo. For that reason alone I applaud his learning of a technique that some might dismiss as useless.


However you look at it, does it really matter which grip someone prefers? No, the issue is how we look at others who might do something different from us. Why are we looking at their grip or even their body motion and not listening to their playing? I prefer matched grip but there are still intricacies within other schools of thought who also prescribe to this technique that differ from mine. For me, it doesn't matter. If your approach works for you then go for it. But if you start watching me and telling me that I am wrong in how I play the drums and you're not talking about something tangible like my timing then we have a problem. Every drummer has their own feel and our grip is part of what gives us our feel. But it's also something personal to us so while I think it's fair to suggest or recommend another way of approaching the drums don't sit there and judge someone in a negative way simply because of the way the stick in their back beat hand is positioned. Again, it's just pretentious nonsense. 

I would like to close this blog talking briefly about this amazing drum solo by Ginger Baker. This is the song "Toad" at it was performed during the Cream Reunion Concert where Baker played both World Rhythms and Jazz drumming in the same solo...while using matched grip! Go figure! And while anyone is welcome to assess his playing how they see fit many Jazz heavyweights have already given their nod to this amazing drummer (see 1:14:32-1:16:10): so if anyone wants to challenge their expertise on the issue then be my guest because it would be nice not to be the bad guy for once.

Carlos Solorzano


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Jazz Drummers Are Not Any Better: My Take On Musical Snobbery

Well it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing is the famous title of the song released by Duke Ellington in 1931 as well as the point of view of various Jazz musicians when it comes to the thing that makes something musical. While I certainly respect their "subjective" point of view I don't agree with it at all. There are so many different types of "feel" to different types of music and no feel is superior to another. We all simply gravitate towards a genre of music or even a song that simply moves us. Personally I love Rock, Pop, Country, World Music, Progressive Music, Movie Soundtracks and will even admit as a drummer of all people that I like some Electronic music. I will choose which CD to take in the car on my drives to work depending on how I feel at that moment with every bit of music in my personal library being a great gift to me. After all, many people are surprised to find out that I don't own as many CD's as most music fans because I am very picky about the music I like. That's just the way I roll.

Honestly, traditional or straight ahead Jazz is a genre that I never really cared for. The first reason is because my father loved Latin Jazz so while some people want that swing in their music I want some Clave. I grew up listening to music by Tito Puente and Rene Touzet and we all know that Puente had arrangements of Jazz standards that I frankly found to be a lot more interesting than the original recordings. This is the kind of instrumental music I grew up listening to: and aside from the amazing musical performances on the recording the sound quality is also pretty amazing. So, while some people like those distant sounding classic recordings I wanted clarity that one needs when you're recording multiple percussionists with a big Latin band. And, while some people like some of those out of tune performances Puente's arrangements were so good that they demanded perfect performances from each musician (hence the nickname he earned among recording engineers and producers, One Take Tito). Finally, if someone wants to question the absence of that swing I would dare anyone tell me that Puente's arrangements lack any type of rhythmic soul.

Aside from that I grew tired of those elitist snobs who were grouchier than a cranky grandfather who was annoyed by the neighborhood kids, which is why I stopped playing in Jazz combos many years ago (unless it's my band so I can decide who I play with). Finally, I also stay away from the Jazz scene because I prefer to have regular work and better paying gigs. I can't speak for other cities but my home town music scene of Tucson, AZ is as dry as bone both geographically and when it comes to the Jazz scene. So, you imagine how much crabbier Jazz musicians are here in the desert since they are already grouchy by nature and are without regular work.

Okay, that was my rant and to be honest my reactions were based both on my musical preference as well as too many negative experiences with Jazz musicians. During my music studies at El Camino Community College I was inexperienced with this kind of music and pretty much kept my mouth shut when those with the superiority complex unloaded on me. I knew that I was the weak link at times and had to do what I could to keep up because in most cases my grade depended on it. Sadly, this was a school and if there was a place to learn and make mistakes it was there.  Still, teachers and students didn't seem to care too much about that but thankfully I was able to get through it and learn all that I had to learn to succeed as a student and to prepare for work with many Jazz groups for many years to come.

At the end of the day I agree with songwriter Adam Mitchell when he says that all artistic awards are ridiculous because there is no objective criteria (see 1:15:32) I think this also applies to judging genres of music because one cannot predict whose work will have an impact on the world as a whole. Aside from not being a fan of Jazz I will go as far as saying that I despise Hip Hop. I may not care for Jazz but I would never say that it's not musical. Personally, I see NO musical merit in songs with pre-recorded tracks to the same old programmed beats with some fool talking trash over it. And, in Kanye West's case, the rapper is out of time with engineers who have obviously never heard of Pro Tools.


I do respect the fact that there are music fans out there that have been moved by what they have heard in this genre and would NEVER try to take that away from them. I really believe this because I must recognize that I am not the only set of subjective ears that is taking in the music. It's like eating food. I hate tomatoes but that's not the case for others. However, while I respect one's preferred choice of music I will give them the same room that I ask for when it comes to sharing one's dislike or disdain for something be it the music itself or the attitudes and actions of those who create it.

What is the Criteria? 

Do you ever notice that people judge the validity of a musical form or a performer based on their preferred style? Take these comments by Ginger Baker when he compared his own playing to John Bonham or Keith Moon: Of course the Jazz drummer wants swing to be the main criteria for judging a drummer's playing but that's just subjective nonsense because there's more to drumming than swing. One would figure that Baker knows this since he also has a deep love for World drumming. Honestly, I think what irritates him the most is that his candid criticism of Bonham and Moon will do nothing to change the minds of those who love their playing, especially if it was the thing that inspired them to become a drummer. I am not a fan of either of these drummers' bands but I recognize the impact they have had on the music industry and know that they were great drummers since I have learned some of their parts for cover band gigs over the years. Further, if Baker wants to prioritize swing as the criteria for being a great drummer I would suggest he listen to any 12/8 groove played by Nicko McBrain on any Iron Maiden song because those grooves swing baby! However, I would guess that Baker would still dislike it because it's Heavy Metal and not Jazz! 

Now let's look at what I would call focusing too much on one style and show how it actually impairs one's ability to do the gig the right way. As a working drummer there are certainly times when I focus on one style of music because that's the one paying the bills at that time. Then I get another gig and while it's a style I have done before it's also something I may not have done in some time so it requires some practice on my part, that is, if there's time to practice. But, if you're about to be part of a big performance then you better be ready because you only get that moment to deliver the goods.

The first example of this point will be the classic trio performance from Act One of the first Buddy Rich Memorial Scholarship Concert, which featured Gregg Bissonette, Louis Bellson and Dennis Chambers: No one doubts the beautiful swing feel in Bellson's playing that started the trio off or the funky shuffle groove that Bissonette started at 4:02 but, are we only supposed to look at swing and shuffle beats as the highlight of this trio's performance and if so, why? If that works for you then fine but for me I look for much more than that. When drummers get together I think it's also about the energy they bring so if that's the case, Mr. Chambers was in fact, the man when it came to who really brought it during this trio's performance. Once he joined Bissonette with the shuffle groove he more or less took over as Bissonette all but disappeared. We never really heard Bellson join in since the funk master's power had already dominated the stage before Bellson jumped in. Further, if you watch Bellson's body movement during this groove you can also see that this was not the type of groove he was used to playing but are you going to tell me that Chambers' beat didn't have any feel?

If you scroll down to the comments on this link there are those who preferred Bissonette or Bellson's playing and that's fine because we all have our preferred tastes. But to say that Chambers' performance was not good drumming is just ignorant. Chambers came to play and was the one who brought the most energy to this trio. One simply has to watch them trade solos and there was no contest. In fact, Chambers would have also dominated had he performed with any of the drummers from the second half of the concert (Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl and Steve Gadd) and mind you Colaiuta also went chops crazy during his solos. And if anyone wants to say that Chambers' playing was out of place keep in mind that this event was honoring a man whose solos were at times of a similar style to Chambers in terms of having a powerful presence and being able to wow the audience with intensity.

Fact: swing is not always the be all, end all of what makes something musical. Sometimes it is about attitude and power and if you're going to take such a gig you need to be able to bring it night after night. That attitude is displayed in lots of great musical genres such as R & B, Funk, World Drumming and dare I say it, Rock!

Take for example this clip from a Journey concert in Phoenix, AZ in 2016. I was at this show and can tell you that the classic song "Stone in Love" was not one of the highlights from that night. A musician friend of mine who was also at the show noticed what I am about to share right now: Steve Smith, the Jazz drumming legend who had returned to his old Rock gig appeared to be struggling on a song that he originally recorded and performed on: We all know that Father Time is undefeated so this performance really made me miss Smith's younger days or the time in the band's history when Deen Castronovo had the gig because after all, this is Rock and Roll and before Smith returned to the group Castronovo brought the power and attitude night after night. Be it age or the fact that Smith spent so many years after leaving Journey more or less focusing on Jazz, the drive in the groove just wasn't there. This certainly dismisses the myth that has been stated for years by many Jazz drummers that anyone can play Rock music. I disagree.

Noise Verses Expression 

Many Jazz drummers cite Max Roach as a drummer with great feel who played tasteful solos. This would make sense since he was also a composer, which meant that understood more than just rhythm when it came to creating music. He is also known as a master of the hi-hat and like Papa Jo Jones was able to take the stage on his own with just a pair of sticks and a hi-hat and perform a solo:

Now this performance was certainly flashy and appealing to the eye, which is important at times because he is in fact performing with us knowing that dazzling the audience is part of a performer's job. But, how is this musical? Where is this amazing feel that people talk about when he is simply running up and down the hi-hat stand with single stroke rolls? I was actually somewhat disappointed that he didn't roll around on the floor or beat on the stage because this performance looked like something some drunken college student would do at a frat party. Meanwhile, how many Jazz drummers would look a drum solo like this one from the late great Eric Carr and say it's just noise?: Sorry but I see nothing that Roach did that was superior to what Carr played other than the fact that Roach might have had nicer clothes than the Rocker stage outfit worn by Carr. But, at the end of the day I see both of them playing a lot of single stroke rolls. 

In my opinion, Steve Smith's performance with a hi-hat in this video is smoother and more creative: but again, it's just flash and dazzle. It's fun to watch and would surely get a nice reaction out of the crowd but I still don't see a musical value in this solo feature. Heck, he even starts twirling his sticks at the end, which is very interesting to me because if he had long hair, wore spandex pants and had 10,000 people in front of him we know that Jazz snobbery would insist that such a thing has nothing to do with real drumming.        
Perhaps someone might say, "Well, they're just playing a hi-hat so cut them some slack." Okay, then let's take a look at one of Max Roach's solos and for this discussion I chose the one called "Third Eye." because he is actually playing a foot ostinato under what appears to be improvisation with his hands.  I also chose this solo because of all of the You Tube comments praising Max's work. I will not take away the enjoyment anyone found in this solo but to me it's just a lot of noise. What does it mean to beat on the rim or the side of the shell? His phrasing around the drums is all over the place and as far as I'm concerned, he could use several lessons from El Maestro Tito Puente on what it means to have beautiful phrasing in one's soloing: All I see is that Roach came up with a somewhat interesting foot pattern and wanted to show off over this foot pattern. In my opinion, if you want to say something with your drums and do it over an ostinato then listen to this solo by drumming master Horacio Hernandez because he knows how to make the entire drum set sing:

Meanwhile, Bobby Rock's groove called "The Octopus" is criticized on this You Tube link for being a lot of noise: when, in my opinion he is in fact doing something much more musical than Roach. Let's face it, the main problem for some is that Rock (I guess pun intended) is a Rock drummer with a massive drum set and long hair. It doesn't matter that his foot ostinato is more consistent and musical than Roach's. It doesn't matter that we see a consistent pattern with him using a lot of his equipment in a melodic groove. Finally, it doesn't matter that we can see how much practice went into creating this groove because after all, it sounds nothing like a neurotic child sitting at a drum set for the first time.

Now let's focus on grooving. This is where we hear the most comments about the great intangible element known as feel. To me there is a double meaning for the word feel when it comes to music. Feel is that magic one takes in when they hear Ndugu Chancler's performance on a song like "Billie Jean" or "P. Y. T (Pretty Young Thing)." It is also the intangible thing that most people turn to when they speak against the abilities of a drummer that they don't like because that person's skill is obviously beyond their skill or the skill of their favorite drummer  (think Baker knocking on Bonham or those hard core Dream Theater fans who prefer Mike Portnoy's feel over Mike Mangini when it is more than obvious that Mangini is a much better drummer than Portnoy).

Many Jazz drummers will knock on Rock beats with a special disdain being reserved for death metal beats that many would describe as senseless noise. First off, we're talking about a musical style of total aggression so it's not going to have that swing or appeal to most people out there including those who like Classic Rock. But, can anyone really say that this clip of George Kollias is not flat out amazing?: Does anyone know how long it takes to not only get this fast but to be able to do that consistently for say, a 90 minute gig?! Compare it to people who like certain sports over others. If you're a true fan of athletic performance you can certainly see the amazing athletic skill in an athlete of a sport you don't like. At that point it's not about one's favorite sport as much as it is about admitting the fact that an athlete is great at what they do based on what you see them do.

Meanwhile, I'm supposed to look at this up tempo ride cymbal performance by Tony Williams: and say, Wow! That's amazing and so musical! I'm not saying that it isn't but how is that musically superior to the devil metal beat played by Kollias? I remember being in music school and drummers having that badge of honor when their ride pattern gained speed because we all knew the amount of work that went into it. I would argue that Kollias did even more work than a drummer that plays an up tempo beat (anyone is free to disagree) so for that alone he deserves the same amount of respect that Tony Williams receives. If anyone wants to argue that then I'll go back to the age old Jazz drummer claim that anyone can play that! Great, knock yourself out and show us. The fact is, any honest musician can be amazed at Kollias' performance the same way non-drummers could see the talent of the late Buddy Rich even if they didn't like the kind of music he played.

You're No Different

For those who have gotten this far because you haven't been turned off by my drumming blasphemies I thank you for respecting my opinions and for at least considering the fact that Jazz drummers are not the only great drummers out there. I apologize if I appear too hard on them but the point I am trying to make is that if you're willing to really open your eyes you will see that drummers in all genres are more alike than many of us choose to admit. It is simply snobbery that makes us think that one style is better than the other.

Personally, this drum solo by Mike Mangini: is the most incredible drum solo I have ever seen! To be honest, I had only read some of his interviews and heard a couple of songs that he performed on when I first came across this video and at that time saw him as pretentious and lacking in so many ways. Truth be known, I had yet to hear some of his best work and this solo really opened my eyes. First off, his groove (even without that swing) was spot on and his drums sounded amazing. Second, his display of polyrhythmic prowess was beyond impressive because the truth is, very few drummers on this planet can execute the rhythms that Mangini does with what I call convincing efficiency. Finally, his technique was down right frightening. Most drummers wow us with their hand speed but Mangini was doing things with his hands and feet that were just mind boggling, and I'm not just talking about his speed.

Mangini's also had great showmanship, which made the solo fun to watch. His cross over patterns that took us to the final shave and a haircut figure was again, convincingly efficient because it was simply perfect...and dazzling! More than that; let's be honest here; how many drummers who have ever lived could actually duplicate this solo? If so, I can't wait to see the Mangini tribute videos on You Tube.

Now, did anyone check the comments? It's all technique! He has no feel! Here we go again. Well let me tell you something, many of your other drumming heroes that you claim have a great feel pretty much do the same thing over and over with a lot of it really only being a display of technique and not feel. Further, another dirty secret is that this improvised form of music is really not as created on the spot as you think. Thanks to You Tube we now have the truth. Let's take a look at this Buddy Rich solo and ask ourselves some honest questions:

1) In this improvised form of music, how much of what we see in this clip is in fact the same thing we see in almost every other solo we find of Rich on You Tube? Come on, be honest? If you are willing to be honest then you will concede the point that a lot of what he did in this solo was the the same tricks he did for decades on end. 

2) When he's flying around the drums, doesn't it look a lot like the cross over patterns at the end of Mangini's solo? Single strokes everywhere, right? But of course, his (or Roach's solo) has much more feel. Ahem...yes, turn to the intangible argument again when you can't look anyone in the eye and say yes, Mangini, the man playing a Rock gig without a shirt on is just as amazing as our Jazz deities.

3) How much of it sounds more like a snare drum display than a full on drum set solo? Mangini had a lot of foot ostinatos going and soloed over these repeated patterns, thus having a much more orchestral drum solo. Further, give Mangini his due in terms of his hand technique the same way you would acknowledge Rich's amazing snare technique. Some would say that Rich was old school and that today's drummers built on what drummers did in the past. True, but these same people would also say that Rich could play anything, which is something I don't doubt because he was that good. Too bad he never left any of that behind. And, dare I say it...Rich also had drummers who influenced him because the fact is, no one is an independent artist.

4) Did anyone catch the size of the crowd during the over the shoulder camera shots at 2:10 and 6:32? If we compared that crowd size say to this crowd that Peter Criss played in front of at Dodger Stadium on Halloween night in 1998: I can only wonder if that had any impact on Rich's and some other Jazz drummers' views on Rock drummers? Oh, and if you want to talk about feel, the Catman brought that to the thousands of people in attendance that night and I am proud to say that I was one of them. He also loved Jazz but was willing to play another style of music in order to make a decent living and retire in great comfort. Meanwhile, his Jazz background helped him execute those amazing tribal type grooves that he is known for that have influenced Rock drummers for over 40 years! Of course we never would have known that if he chose to just ding-ding-a-ding in half empty clubs instead of daring to do something different.

One last shot at the one that many call the greatest because to me, it's a response to something that is just flat out rude. In this particular clip Buddy Rich appears to be criticizing not only matched group but those who play Rock music. He does this by mocking a common Rock fill that is a simple set of single stroke rolls around the drum set. Meanwhile, if you watch him jamming on his drums after making such ignorant remarks he is more or less doing the same thing. How is that any different than a Rock drummer other than the fact that Rich was faster than most drummers and the fact that a Jazz drummer has a different feel than a Rock drummer (in this case there was no swing)? Rhythmically it's pretty much the same thing and one doesn't have to read music to recognize that. Oh, and let's not forget that many Rock drummers do their thing, again, in front of bigger crowds.

I'm Not the Only One

The most famous critic of Jazz is the great Stewart Copeland. Of course we know that the Jazz aristocrats will dismiss him as a no talented Rock drummer but we all know that this is far from true. This man's drumming has influenced millions of drummers around the world because he has a rhythmic vocabulary that was formed by his love for rhythms from all over the world. He also used part of his fortune to travel the world in order to hear these rhythms first hand and learn from the masters themselves, which is something I know I would love to do. He is also a very successful film & television composer and has even performs regularly with Stanley Clarke so his talent is unquestioned.

Here is a Copeland quote posted on the Organissimo message board by Guy Berger on 2/15/2007 that is both tongue in cheek as well as direct:

It's a fun party trick, but I am allergic to jazz. I was raised to be a jazz musician, my father was a jazz musician and I was steeped in jazz from the moment my ears blinked open, which is why I am immune to jazz. And my main reason why I love dissing jazz is jazz musicians. (me too Stewart) The problem with jazz musicians is that they are all crap. It's sort of like jazz is the refuge of the talent-less. If you really want to be a musician and you are prepared to really work hard at it, but you don't have the gift and you don't have any soul and you don't have any talent, jazz is what you should do; because all you need to do is just spend hours training your fingers to wiggle very quickly and you'll be a hero in the jazz world. Not so in blues. In blues you need talent, you need X factor, you need heart, you need to have lived a life, you have to have something to say, you need to be an actual musician to play the blues. Jazz, any fool can do it; all you gotta do is practice.

Here is an interesting quote from Jimmy M posted on 6/2//2007 on the Talk Bass message board where he in fact depends Copeland's point of view on the issue:

Look at you babies cry! Jazz musicians...the nice ones without any prejudices against any other kinds of music are few and far between. The vast majority of jazz musicians are smug a$$holes who feel their path is the only right path and anyone who plays anything else is inferior to them. They take blues and pop gigs because they can't get decent paying gigs playing jazz, then they spend the whole night talking about how the gig is beneath them. They have so little respect for anyone who likes to play simpler forms of music, unless of course it's them doing it for twice as much as they could make on a jazz gig.

And now Stewart Copeland calls them out for it, and listen to them squeal like pigs! "Waaaaaaaahhh! Stewart Copeland made fun of me! He's a rock drummer and has no business making fun of me! Waaaaaaaaahhhh!" Stewart Copeland is right. Jazz has become all form and no function. It's all about showing off how scary talented you are, and hasn't had anything to do with conveying real human emotion in a long time. So take it like a man, you wussies!

Wow! I think it's safe to say that my criticisms weren't as bad as these two but if you set the wrong person off this is the kind of response you get. Maybe Copeland is over exaggerating himself in order to get a specific response but I can't say that it hasn't been well deserved based on the actions of some Jazz musicians over the past several years.  Like Copeland I too have Jazz musician friends but they are the honest ones that Jimmy M talks about as they too admit to the bad attitude that many of their colleagues have. 

Of course bad attitudes exist in all circles of music. I love Rock music but don't play in Rock bands anymore because the business end of it is one of the worst I have ever experienced in my music career. Club owners, promoters and band mates are always looking for an angle to rip everyone off and I won't work with people who won't give people their fair share. This might lead someone to ask, then how can you listen to or support this kind of music? 

That's when I turn to my intangible argument: because I like the feel of the music, baby!

Carlos Solorzano

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Back to Record Collecting

It all started for me when I was a young teen looking for a copy of the KISS classic KISS Alive II. For some reason none of the local music stores had any copies of the album so I was forced to order it from a record dealer that I found in a monthly rock magazine. Even though I was only looking for one particular album there was a title that caught my attention: KISS Killers. What was that? I already knew all of the albums and hadn't heard of this one. So after brief reading I learned that it was an album that the band had only released in Europe and Japan that was a compilation of classic songs with four new songs recorded in early 1982.


And this led to a passion of collecting not only every KISS album that had been released but also the band's rare, import and bootleg KISS albums that were being sold both my mail order, in special stores and of course from some interesting people that I met along the way. Sometimes they were packed in very creative ways as some people were very creative and made some really cool album covers. Sometimes they simply made a flier of the show and slid it into the packaging with the middle sticker of the record being written by hand. I didn't care because in both cases I had something that I didn't have yesterday as well as something that most fans didn't have at all.

It turned out the that album the version of Killers that I bought was the European release as the Japanese release had two additional tracks that were not included on the European release. Right away I felt the need to get both releases so the hunt began. That's when I also learned that some import records were sold as picture discs where the cover of the album was printed directly on the vinyl disc with many of these being rare collectibles since the record label would only print so many of them. Then I found out that it wasn't just European records that were of interest but also the German records specifically since they had a different KISS logo due to the normal SS looking too much like the Nazi SS. Therefore, KISS had to have a different logo for anything German including their stage logo whenever they toured in Germany.

I could see right away that I had a lot of work to do but I also knew that this would turn into a life long pursuit with me looking for things of specific eras and members. Also, I was only interested in records, pictures as well as magazines & books because I always loved reading interviews and other articles about the band (this also included merchandise put out by former KISS members who embarked on solo careers). Of course KISS has tons of merchandise with a lot of it being just rubbish in my opinion so I focused on the my main interests in order to keep me from overdoing it and from wasting money on things that are really of no value to me anyway.

Right away I started to do really well. First off, the company I purchased KISS Alive II and Killers from continued to send me catalogs. That's when I would ask my parents for certain things for my birthday and Christmas and to my surprise my parents were awesome about it. My mom was one of those mothers who took you seriously if something was important to you. She loved to encourage my passions and interests so whenever she could help she would. My father was a record collector himself as he had tons of Latin Jazz and Chicano rock albums so he understood how I felt about the music I wanted. Then we would frequent records stores as they were still a big part of our culture at that time and if you happened to walk into an independent record store it was amazing at times what they might have: KISS imports, bootlegs of both audio recordings & concerts and many other cool things. Many times my parents were more than willing to hook me up with these rarities so my collection continued to grow. Once I got a little older and was able to drive on my own I would frequent these special stores to see what they had and it was very rare for me to walk out with nothing in my hands.

Later on I would go to record shows and then meet some music dealers who will remain nameless who also had some interesting things to sell. That meant that a lot of what I had was not an official release and strangely enough, some of these bootlegs were also becoming collectors items. The music business is a dirty one so at times there were some homemade records that were either pressed to vinyl of put on cassette of everything from demo recordings of songs that had never been released (The KISS box set would not come out for more than 20 years), concerts from around the world that were copied onto VHS tapes and of course the audio of concerts from the sound board or from a radio broadcast. At times it might be a fan with a hidden tape recorder at a special show so while the quality of the recording might not be that great it was knowing that I had a special recording such as Eric Carr's first show with the band and/or recordings of KISS concerts that I had attended.

I kept everything that I collected over the years and have some records that are so rare that many KISS fans have begged for me to sell them. Of course I would never do that and now that vinyl is starting to pick up again the value of these records continues to go up.  Until recently the most valuable records I had were Peter Criss' first two post-KISS solo albums. Out of Control, which was released overseas in 1980 and Let Me Rock You, which was also released overseas with a different cover in Europe and Japan. Therefore, I have 3 records for 2 releases. On May 2, 1990 I attended a drum clinic of his in Hawthorne, CA and had the privilege of speaking to him afterwards. I brought these records along with many KISS items, all of which he signed but he was most surprised to see a 17 year old kid with these hard to find records.

As time went on I grew up and once I finished college I started my career, got married, went to graduate school, started having children, bought a home and all of the above so while I continued to buy music that I loved I wasn't really interested in the import and bootleg market anymore. Later, the internet changed everything for better and worse. The worst part was how anything and everything seemed to be on You Tube. Yes, it was kind of cool to have such rare recordings at my disposal but it also took away the thrill of finding something rare and then having it in my possession. The best part of course was eBay and other websites that still sell rare recordings as now I wasn't limited to the few record stores that still exist or to those anonymous music dealers.

Still, it wasn't enough to bring me back into the game until my son became a major Iron Maiden fan. Once that happened I started to see myself in him and it was nice to be on this end of things for a change. First, he wanted every CD he could get his hands on especially when he discovered rare recordings that needed to be ordered. Then, one day I showed him my vinyl collection and once I gave him my classic Iron Maiden vinyl records he was on a mission to get the rest. Right away I went back to my collector instincts and there I was again hunting things down for him and seeing the thrill on his face when he increased his music collection.

The next thing I know I started to get that itch again and there we were one day at our candy store, Zia Records in Tucson, AZ. While we were on our way to the cashier's stand to pay for his birthday present I decided to stop in the KISS section....and BOOM, I saw something that got me right back in the game. There was a German CD of KISS Killers with the altered logo and it was only $6.99. I grabbed it and brought it to the counter to pay and felt that surge again. Then I brought it home and was excited when I put it next to the Japanese release of the CD that I bought over 20 years ago!

My KISS Killers far! Japanese vinyl, Dutch vinyl, German vinyl, Japanese CD, English vinyl picture disc, German CD, Dutch cassette and German cassette

At this point I have no desire to be as committed to this cause as I was in my youth but there were still a few things that I never found and thanks to the internet I decided to take another look. One of them was the Japanese vinyl release of KISS Killers and the German release of the cassette. With that purchase I have just about everything one could have of KISS Killers: The Dutch, German and Japanese vinyl, the English picture disc, the Japanese and German CD's and the Dutch and German cassettes. This means so much to me because KISS Killers was the first import album I ever bought.

Aside from that there is also the what many call the Holy Grail of KISS collecting, which is a compilation called KISS The Originals II. It was released in Japan in 1978 in order to promote their tour of Japan that year and it is extremely rare because there was a limited amount of copies that were printed. Back in the 80's I was told that I would never find it but still, it never hurts to look. Then one day while searching on eBay I found it!!!!! The timing couldn't be better as I just had a weekend of good paying gigs so even my wife was cool with me making this big purchase.

Record collecting is a passion of mine and it's always fun to meet other enthusiasts so we can talk about all of the good stuff that we have. Here are some highlights of some "official" releases in my collection:

The Japanese release of the first KISS album. This was signed by Peter Criss

A Hotter Than Hell picture disc, which is rare since that was their second album

The Originals 

The Originals II

Creatures of the Night single. It is a double grooved album and features the autographs of each member carved into the album on the other side. This includes the late Eric Carr.

Dynasty picture disc and the I Was Made For Lovin' You extended vinyl single, which was an import.  This is one of my favorite KISS albums.

Music From the Elder Japanese release vinyl release with a different cover and the picture disc, German vinyl release and the picture disc single for A World Without Heroes

Japanese release of Lick it Up. It's the album where the band removed their makeup but they still had it on the Japanese release

Out of Control and Let Me Rock You, which were Peter Criss' first two post-KISS solo albums. These records were only released in Europe and Japan with Let Me Rock You having two covers, one for Europe and one for Japan. Peter Criss signed all three records.

Boy, it's good to be back in the game!

Carlos Solorzano

Friday, November 24, 2017

Ahead Drumsticks: Why Did I Switch?

For the past 5 years I have not only been playing country music but have also been playing 4 hour gigs! Aside from the toll it takes on my body it's also been pretty rough on my drumsticks! Most of the gigs aren't the hardest hitting gigs out there but let's be honest, 4 hours of hitting something will take its toll on you and your gear and that's on top of hitting drums for the past 35 plus years.

Recently I made the switch to Ahead Drumsticks and have never been happier. I am still surprised at my decision to do this because of the journey that brought me to using what is technically called a hyper-form engineered drumstick better known to the rest of the world as a non-wood drumstick. Let me share the details that led to this decision.

Let's start with my gear: Thanks to all that I learned regarding drumming technique from my old teacher Greg Alban I have never been known to destroy drum heads and cymbals. There are times when I do lay into my drums but I would never claim to be the hardest hitting drummer out there. Yes, you will definitely hear me from the drum riser but that's a combination of my playing and my drum sound (another gift from Greg as his tuning method is the best I have ever used). I have an open tuning yet many people are surprised to hear that I use Drum Dots on my toms. These dampening products help cut down the ring but don't choke the drum so my drums still have that big sound that people have come to expect from me. 

Then there are my sticks. Like just about every drummer out there I have pretty much used wooden sticks from the moment I started drumming. Regardless of the brand I was always told to use a hickory species of wood because hickory is good for rebounds. My preferred size was a 5B but would use a 2B for practice pad work in order to get a better work out. All of this worked just fine when I was younger and playing 1-2 hour rock gigs back in the Los Angeles club scene or gigs of various musical genres that I found myself in once I started performing in the Tucson music scene because many of those gigs were in venues smaller than a night club. Then I started doing 4 hour gigs back in the night club scene as well as at casinos and that's when I started to notice things that I didn't find to my liking.

The Reality of Wooden Drum Sticks 

First, I had grown tired of being covered with wood chips. At times I felt like I was caught in the middle of a termite attack but I just figured it was part of being a drummer. I would find it all over my drums, embedded in my Drum Dots, all over my pedals and all over me! The worst part for me was when I would find it in between the edge of my drum heads and the rims because that had an impact on the sound of my drums.

Second, I would love the sound and the feeling I got when I started a gig with a fresh pair of sticks. The drums had such a full sound, the hi-hats had a nice crispness to them and those grooves where I played the ride bell with the shoulder of the stick really moved. However, by the 3rd set the shoulder was no longer the perfect shape it was at the beginning of the night so my sound wasn't quite to my liking and that wasn't cool because that's when the set really gets cooking. Some would say that I should just grab another stick but it's not that simple. Yes, I had a drumstick endorsement for many years but since I am not a rock star I don't get my sticks for free. Even though I received a most generous discount I still had to pay for them so I'm not going to just toss the stick away or into the audience. Wasted money and a potential lawsuit for poking someone's eye out weighed heavily on my actions.

Third, I hate the feeling I would get when I broke a stick in the middle of a song. In the past I usually tossed a stick out when the shoulder was worn down but now with all of these long gigs and constant hitting there are times when my stick would just split down the middle or when the tip would just fly off. Again, I just thought it was part of being a drummer but it's not something I like to deal with. Most importantly, it's an obstruction to my performance and while it's not a big deal to just grab another stick and continue with my groove it still serves as a temporary distraction. To speak further on such an issue, wood is wood and while drum stick companies insist that they use the best wood there are times when a stick will not live up to the what is advertised by the drum stick company. So yes, there were times when I would simply do a rim shot with a fairly new drum stick and BOOM, it splits. Really? I just bought this and now it's already broken? Yes, that does happen.  

Finally, since I order sticks in bulk I don't have the chance to walk in a music store and roll the sticks to see if they are perfectly straight. Sadly, even though it was a rare occasion, there would be a stick here and there that wasn't straight and of course you can feel that when you're playing. Again, I paid for this and while I could send it back do I really want to deal with the hassle of sending it across country and getting another stick? Further, am I getting what I paid for?

Finding Another Path

Recently I had a full weekend of gigs and experienced something that I had never experienced before, pain. It was nothing major but the sensation I felt in my finger joints concerned me for two reasons: First, was I doing something wrong from a technical point of view? As we all know, it's not unheard of to develop some bad habits and when that happens it's time to reevaluate one's playing. So, that took me back to my practice pad as I took a good look at my grip as well as how I executed my strokes, rebounds, etc. From what I could see everything looked okay so I started to think of other possibilities. Perhaps it was the fact that I've been drumming for over 35 years so the constant striking of a drum and vibration of the stick had now taken a toll on my hands. After all, I've had numbness on the palms of my hands for years but there had never been any pain so again, this was concerning. Finally, arthritis does run in my family so I wondered if this was the beginning of a new experience due to the fact that I am also getting older. Whatever it was, I didn't like what I was feeling and it started to preoccupy a lot of my thoughts. That was when I turned to something that had been sitting around my house for some time.

Earlier this year I joined the artist roster for Ahead Sticks and Percussion Products. For a while I was using their practice pads and other gear while also buying their products for my percussion class at St. Augustine Catholic High School. I wasn't using their sticks because I was already on the artist roster for another drum stick company so my Ahead rep and I worked out an agreement for me to use their other gear. Still, I was curious so I ordered a pair of sticks just to see how they felt. They were okay and even though I did order the the grip tape I didn't wrap them around the sticks. I think my old school sensibilities got the best of me because I have never used any kind of wrap on my sticks and I didn't plan on starting now. The snob in me took over even though the instructions regarding the sticks state that you have to use the grip tape because it is difficult to grip aluminum when one is sweating because it is still a type of metal.

So I just put the sticks away and didn't give them another thought...until I felt some pain in my finger joints.

One day while I was home alone the thought crossed my mind to give these sticks another try since I had gone back online and read how they in fact cut out more vibration than wooden sticks. Since there was no one around to see me commit the crime of wrapping my sticks with grip tape I decided to go for it. Once I became a drumming fugitive I took the sticks to my practice pad and all I could say was WOW! I couldn't believe how light they felt and how easy they were to play. The grip tape didn't have any effect on my rebounds and it felt almost as if the sticks were dancing in my hands. This was very important to me because playing country music requires a lot of dynamics especially when we play ballads, waltzes and shuffles.

The next step was to take the sticks to my electronic set. Again, there was a difference in what I felt with me seeing how easy it was to go around the pads. Aside from that, I could feel a difference in my rolls as well as my ability to play complex patterns with more efficiency.

Now it was time for the big test, which meant that it was time to take these sticks to the stage and the timing couldn't have been better because I had a three gig weekend coming up and I planned to see how well these sticks would hold up. I showed the sticks to my band mates and asked them to keep an ear open to see if they heard any difference in my drum sound as well as in my playing.

The first thing that turned their heads was a fill I did during a fanfare at the end of a song. I went around my drums before hitting the last crash and kind of freaked myself out because I couldn't believe how fast my single strokes were when I went around the drums before the final crash. Apparently some of my band mates noticed it too as they turned around and offered looks of astonishment. Aside from that I was told during our first break that my drums sounded bigger and seemed to have more attack.

I agree! I use birch drums so attack is an important part of my sound but these sticks really brought out a more focused attack that really cut through the sound of the band. Most importantly, I was able to perform without a whole lot of effort. Everything just felt easier to play but the sound still filled the room like never before. Playing country music also means that I do a lot of cross stick playing and I was amazed at the sound that came from these sticks with plastic sleeves on the shoulder.  I also noticed the clarity of my crash cymbals, how easy it was to do those swing patterns on the ride cymbal and of course, that big and consistent sound that came from the bell on the ride cymbal.

I was having a blast so getting to the end of the last set didn't seem to take long at all. I was not as tired as I had been in the past and my fingers didn't hurt anymore. I couldn't believe how much vibration these sticks removed. During the last set I was curious about how much vibration these sticks actually removed so I grabbed a wooden stick out of my stick bag and played one song with that stick in my right hand. Unbelievable! I couldn't believe how much vibration I could feel. Had I really been dealing with this for the past 35 plus years? How did I only start feeling pain in my fingers now when it was obvious that I had been dealing with this from the beginning of my playing career?  This was eye opening to say the least.

Finally, there would be seven more shows after this first gig with my new sticks and I am happy to say that the sticks felt the same way they felt the first time I used them live. Even though the plastic sleeves were a little worn there was no change whatsoever in terms of how they felt and how they made my drums sound. Now I have more sticks in my stick bag, mostly as spares in case I drop a stick as well as some replacement sleeves and tips so it makes me wonder how long it will actually be before I have to buy any more sticks or replacement parts. I don't see that happening for quite some time. 

I am happy to admit that this was a time in my life when I was more than happy to swallow my pride. Here I was using a non-wood pair of sticks with grip tape of all things! Then again, why should I care what someone thinks? I don't set up my drums in the traditional way because I have an ergonomic set up. I approach country music in ways that are not typical of most country drummers. Even my solo drumming act focuses on things that are not typical of what many other drummers do. So, why should my choice of sticks surprise anyone?

Myth Buster 

When I first researched Ahead Sticks I came across websites and message boards with claims that these sticks ruin your cymbals and drum heads. I am pleased to say that this is not true! Nothing of the sort has happened to any of my gear. Drummers who bash their gear are what ruin cymbals and drum heads. I have long believed this because I have seen it first hand for years and none of these drummers used Ahead Sticks. You take any drummer with bad technique hitting their gear that is angled in a non-constructive way and I promise you that they will be buying cymbals and drum heads on a regular basis.

I have been blessed to have good instruction over the years and while that has spared me many injuries that are common to many drummers it has also saved me lots of money as I don't have to buy new gear on a regular basis. In fact, I am so confident in the way that I play drums that I never feel hesitant to play another person's drum set because I know I won't damage any of their gear. Meanwhile, do you want to sit in with my band on my drum set? Sorry Charlie because it's not happening because I don't know what kind of technique you have and I won't sit there and watch you damage my instrument. Am I a hypocrite? You're damn right I am but I'm an honest hypocrite to say the least.

Money doesn't grow on trees and knowing that one pair of Ahead Sticks is the equivalent of 6-10 pairs of wooden sticks. I have 3 pairs in my stick bag so imagine the money I will save this year considering the fact that I usually went though about a dozen 5B sticks a year (I told you that I wasn't a basher). Yes, my wooden sticks got chewed up during 4 hour gigs but I have been known to be able to use the same pair of sticks for 2-3 weeks at a time. Of course that meant I had to deal with balance issues as the wood chipped away but that was just something that came with the territory, right? Well, not anymore.

I just wish I have discovered these sticks much sooner.

Carlos Solorzano

If you'd like more information about these sticks please read this link:

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Still the Hottest Band in the World

There is a saying that one should never discuss religion or politics because it will be like talking to a wall. Well, if you're a member of the KISS Army that also applies to KISS fans who accuse the current lineup of being nothing more than a tribute or cover band. Personally, I disagree with those who make that claim and I will present my case using facts from what has taken place over the years in both the KISS & Ace Frehley camps and from my experience as a working musician. Let's start with what I think qualifies me to have a bit of an understanding of what goes on within a musical group that is active in the music business. 

My Background

I have been drumming professionally for over 26 years. My first 15 years of professional experience took place in the Los Angeles music scene. I worked in multiple original projects with some of them having management that were able to get us some great gigs along with some label interest. Sadly, none of those bands ever inked the big deal but each experience was a great lesson in the music business. Then I started working on my own original music and would go on to sign a distribution deal for my first EP since I had already finished the project on my own. At that time I also worked as a hired gun both live and in the studio with both of those experiences teaching me even more about the music business. This would also be the time I would earn my first drumming endorsement deal as I was starting to get around quite a bit in the music scene.

Now I live in the Tucson area and have been active in that music scene since I arrived in 2006. I have worked a lot in the country music scene as it keeps me quite busy while also giving me the chance to earn extra money for my family (I still have a full time career outside of music). I also continue to work on my own music and have now been involved with the music licensing world for the past several years. I have been fortunate enough to have my original music featured on television shows like CSI: Special Victims Unit, America's Top Model and on various shows on networks such as MTV, the BBC and E! Entertainment Television. Some time ago I was also in a local band that signed a recording contract with the an independent label with all of these accomplishment leading me to earn even more drumming endorsement deals.

So to be fair and honest, how many KISS fans have this kind of insight not only on the music business but also on what it is like to deal with people in the music business?

Therefore, I know what it's like to deal with disgruntled band members and have myself been one of those band members. I know what it's like when a band member betrays the trust of the group and having to make the realization that the band would be better off if that person was asked to leave. I also know what it's like to be unhappy with a group to the point where I had to walk away no matter how hard it was for everyone involved. On a positive note, I also know what it's like to form lifelong friendships with people because we have fought many battles together and stayed loyal to each other. Most of these battles were of course against those who gave us sour business deals, promoters who lied to us and/or stiffed us money that we had earned along with crooked record label representatives and so many other shady people in the music business.

Meanwhile, I still have the emotions that come with being a KISS fan.I know what it's like to be among the loyal members of the KISS Army as we celebrate the hottest band in the world. I also know what it's like to be ridiculed for being a KISS fan and having to stand up for what I believe in. I am not ashamed to say that my favorite member of all time is the late great Eric Carr with my favorite lineup being the 1980's lineup with him and Bruce Kulick on lead guitar. BUT....I too love the magic that could only come from the original lineup, even when they reunited after the death of my favorite member. It was so hard for me to see the band for the first time without my beloved drummer but dear God in heaven, they put on one hell of a show!

And I recognize that these are the same emotions that influence the opinions of many who insist that KISS is now a tribute/cover band so I definitely get where they are coming. But again, I disagree and here is why:

Unveiling the Spaceman  

(Note: some material has been taken from another recent blog of mine

What is the difference between a cover band and a tribute band? There is in fact no universal answer on the issue but I have performed in both and here is what I have found to be the case. A cover band plays a variety of songs from a specific genre so in my case, the two working bands I am in right now are cover bands because they both play country songs from several different artists. A tribute band focuses on a specific band and then has their vision of how they want to present their act. Some acts just focus on the music while others attempt to look like the band they are paying tribute to. I once performed in a Journey tribute band and it was true that we tried our best to actually become the amazing rock band from the Bay area so we studied their music and stage moves on a regular basis as we refined both our sound as well as the presentation of the group.

In my opinion, when it comes to KISS as well as their former members I would have to say that if any performing act is a cover band it's Ace Frehley's solo band. Take a look at his set list the night before his recent reunion with Gene Simmons in St. Paul, MN for the Hurricane Harvey fundraiser: About half of the songs are KISS songs along with cover songs from other bands with the best KISS songs on the set being ones that he didn't sing or write.  I find this to be most interesting because Ace supposedly left KISS both times because the success of his 1978 solo album showed him how much the band was holding him back in terms of what he could do on his own.  But this is nothing new because in so many ways Ace has led a cover band for years. In Peter Criss' biography he talked about touring with Ace in 1995 and actually criticized Frehley for performing 80 percent KISS songs in his set while Criss focused on performing his most recent solo material. (p. 270 of Makeup to Break Up: My Life In and Out of KISS by Peter Criss with Larry "Ratso" Sloman). Again, where was the break out solo musician that was now free to show the world what he was made of? Mind you, his two biggest solo hits were written by Russ Ballard with the both of them being, you guessed it, cover songs! (Of course we also can't forget that he didn't write "2,000 Man" either and the fact that he even covered the KISS song "Rock and Roll Hell" on his last album. Yes, it's a cover song because Frehley has stated for years that he didn't play a note on the Creatures of the Night album so it's even close to being a re-record like he did on other KISS classics on his cover song album).

Comments from the floor? Does anyone have any credible arguments to state the opposite of what I just said?

Meanwhile, KISS continues to do what they have always done and if you look at their set list the majority of songs were actually written by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons with the two of them still fronting the band that they co-founded in 1973. How in the world does this make them a tribute/cover band? Of course we know that they are called such a thing by some simply because they now have two other members wearing the makeup and costumes created by Criss and Frehley. Fair enough but we do know that they only reason this happened was because they went back to the makeup and costumes during the Reunion Tour and decided to maintain that image because it did well for the band in terms of resurrecting their career. Aside from that, I actually would like to question why those who accuse KISS of being a tribute/cover band aren't just as outraged at Frehley for covering KISS songs that he didn't write because they are creations of Stanley and Simmons. I mean, why not jump on Criss' bandwagon on that issue as well?

Yes, I am aware of the fact that original lineup shared the publishing on those early songs but again, here is a man who left the band twice to free himself from the shackles of what he thought was holding him back. Yet, here is he is making money by playing other people's songs because he knows that he has to not only perform KISS songs but the best KISS songs to get people to buy tickets to his shows with such songs being written by his old band mates Meanwhile, Frehley criticizes KISS for doing the something that also helps them push their brand. What's the difference? Is it about who created something or is it about makeup and costumes? To be honest we're actually creating different standards for different bands. 

Years ago Stanley said that they had invited Frehley to stay with the band but respected his decision to leave the band. However, Stanley said that Frehley's decision to walk away would not impact his own decision to continue with the band and brand that he helped create. Many hardcore KISS fans, including one of the band's biggest critics Eddie Trunk have not been in this position before as well as the position that Stanley and Simmons were in during the band's first run when they had to deal with Criss and Frehley's reckless behavior. If you don't want to believe me because of my lack of public stature in this business then let's hear from another person who would tell you the same thing, Scott Ian of Anthrax The fact is, if Trunk or any of these hardcore fans owned a business none of them would retain an employee who performed poorly, had a bad attitude or simply didn't want to be there. KISS, like every other successful rock band out there is a business and like any business it takes years to build your brand and just as much effort to maintain it. Welcome to the real world!

It's Not Even About the Most Important Thing, the Music! 

I have always hated it when people said that KISS was just a gimmick; nothing more than a bunch of guys in makeup running around a circus type stage. True KISS fans know that those two things are only a fraction of what we love about this band. When I listen to the music in my car I don't see the stage show nor do I see the members in their stage outfits or makeup. I hear the music that I have loved since the first time I heard them. This is the band that inspired me to want to be a musician. This is the band whose perseverance in an industry that just wanted them to go away gave me the courage to handle the struggles of being a teenage boy. This is the band whose song "Forever" was played at my wedding when I walked out with my new bride. Finally, this is the band that I have introduced to my children who now rock out with me in the car on a regular basis.

It's the music people and for real KISS fans, it's always been about the music! So why in the world are we talking about who is wearing the makeup when in reality, we only get a clear look at them when we look at a photograph of the band? Watch the band perform with Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer. They are just as good as ever because KISS has always been committed to giving their audience the best show ever. If not, you end up like Peter Criss or Vinnie Vincent in that if you do anything to jeopardize the brand in front of a paying audience then you are gone!

Still, people want to fight over the makeup so let's go ahead and do that right now. And, let's do that with the help of our friends from Three Sides of the Coin. 

If you watch this Three Sides...episode Michael Brandvold is very clear on the ownership of the makeup and anyone is free to challenge his claim that the KISS Company (Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons) owns the trademark on Frehley and Criss' makeup (see 36:10-57:40).  During the episode Michael invites everyone to look in the trademark database in order to see all that the band KISS has trademarked. They even cited Criss' statement in his book where he talks about giving up the rights to his makeup (p. 338).

Some of what isn't clear in this episode is made clear in another Three Sides...episode that featured  David Snowden. Here Snowden tells us that Stanley and Simmons got the rights to Criss and Frehley's makeup during negotiations for the Reunion tour that started in 1996 (See 1:28:45-1:31:12). This makes total sense because the Kiss My Ass album (the record that featured Stanley's bandit makeup from the early days instead of Frehley's makeup) came out before the Reunion Tour so that was still a time when Frehley still owned the rights to his makeup. However, did Frehley and Criss not really see the value of their makeup or more importantly, who they were both as musicians as well as public figures? Obviously not because they were unable to negotiate better terms with Stanley and Simmons.

Think about it: Frehley and Criss never saw how much leverage they had because without them there would be no Reunion Tour. Gentlemen, you didn't need better lawyers. You simply needed to stand your ground and ask Stanley and Simmons how bad they wanted their reunion pay day. Keep in mind that Stanley and Simmons bad mouthed them in the press for years before the Reunion Tour and now they wanted them back in the band? My guess is that they were trying to promote the brand of KISS that they were running at the time but they could never distract the KISS Army enough to squash the demands for a reunion of the original members. Stanley and Simmons are no fools, which is why they relented with their criticisms and brought Criss and Frehley back in the band because as Stanley has stated on many occasions, people hear with their eyes. And by giving such people what they wanted they all made a ton of money, including Criss and Frehley.

Still, we know for a fact that Frehley and Criss had, as Simmons would say, the keys to the kingdom. Criss himself in his book talks about how he wouldn't cooperate with the negotiations for the Reunion Tour because he refused to take less money than Frehley (Criss p. 278). Where would these negotiations have gone if Frehley hadn't pulled Criss aside and agreed to an equal share with him? Would Criss have agreed to do the tour for less money or would they have moved forward with only Frehley coming back to the band? Further, it wasn't just their participation on the tour that the fans wanted to see but also the whole band in their classic makeup. So, even more so, why agree to sign off the rights to the makeup? They had to see that there was a reason why Stanley and Simmons not only wanted them back in the band but also wanted the rights to their makeup so why give them everything they wanted? Perhaps it's as many suspected; both of them were so down and out financially that they sold the rights to their makeup to make ends meet. Whatever the reason, they gave those rights away and there is no one to blame other than the person who signed off on it.

Many people continue debate the issue of the Criss and Frehley's makeup but I would suggest we take it even further. What about the KISS logo? No one has ever denied the fact that Frehley designed the logo and that Stanley refined the logo. If it's all about a design that was created by someone then people like Trunk should have called KISS a tribute/cover band back in the 1980's when they did not wear the makeup because they still used the logo that was originally designed by Frehley who at that point was no longer in the band. Keep in mind that by 1987 when Frehley's Comet was active in the same music scene as KISS that Frehley was essentially competing with a band who used a logo that he designed.

Some may claim that the band logo is not as important as a person's makeup design but I disagree. I would argue that the logo is more valuable and memorable than the makeup of each member because people not only read the name KISS but also know the design of the logo and how the band's logo refers to the rock band and not some other brand. Do they really know the makeup design of each character in the band? The answer is no. The makeup design the general public knows the most is Simmons' design so most people would probably not know the difference between a picture of the band from 1976 or 1982. That is because the key to knowing if a picture of four guys in makeup is in fact KISS is if Simmons is in the picture. If it's another band that also wears makeup then they would probably think that this band is imitating KISS and not any specific member. So yes, let's admit which design or should I say designs have the most value. The KISS logo and Simmons' makeup. 

The Inner Circle 

Alright KISS fans from all points of view, let's talk about the thing that many of you don't know about and that's being in a band. The fans only see what's on the outside: the makeup, the show, the packaging on whatever merchandise we buy and whatever behavior the band displays when they are in the public eye. We are not privy to see what goes on behind closed doors.

If you have read any of the KISS members' biographies or read any of their interviews in the past 20 plus years you know that this band more or less NEVER got along. Sometimes that's just how it is because creative people always have different ideas and there are times when such clashing leads to some great things. In other cases, there is a point of no return and while our emotions want to see our superheroes stay together forever...well in the real world with real people behind the facade it's just not going to happen.

Even in the case of lifelong friendships I have made with former band members there is still the reality of knowing that I will never perform with some of the them ever again. Not just because of the fact that we have all moved on and in some cases have moved away from each but also because we are in different places musically with me not wanting to revisit my musical past. In some cases there are broken relationships where trust was broken and for that reason alone while there has been forgiveness and a willingness to be cordial on a personal level there is still enough of a scar for me to want to keep a respectful distance from those people when it comes to working together musically.

Do any of this think that the same isn't true for a super group?

As much as I hate to say it, maybe it's best that the original members never work together again. As fans we should just thank them for the memories and thank God that so much of what they have done has been documented so we can enjoy them over and over again. Consider the following and ask yourself if these people should in fact work together again:

...and this is just a taste of what is available for all of us to read.

If you don't want like what KISS is doing now then do what many KISS fans did back in the 1980's...disappear! The rest of us will stick around and enjoy the fact that the band is still around. Aside from that, let's also enjoy the fact that Ace Frehley is still out there performing, especially if he is indeed happy leading his own band and living a life of sobriety. Heck, let's even hope that Vinnie Vincent has some musical plans in the future and that perhaps even Peter Criss might consider releasing some new music even though he has retired from the stage.

Lacking Consistency

The first time we had an imposter (ugh, whatever) in KISS makeup was on April 5, 1997 in Columbus, GA when KISS had Criss' roadie Ed Kanon fill in for him for one night on the Reunion Tour when Criss claimed that his hands hurt too much for him to perform. It is true that Frehley felt that the show shouldn't go on but the band moved forward .....just like they did when Criss left the band a second time when the band brought Singer back to finish the Farewell Tour

Of course if you read carefully Singer reveals the hypocrisy of Criss, Frehley as well as some of the fans. When Frehley performed with KISS with Singer on drums there was no criticism from Frehley or the fans about Singer performing in Criss' makeup or costume. Many fans including Trunk state that Frehley did these dates because he was under contract but Singer, who was actually in the band at that point, has a different perspective on things when he claimed that Frehley was in fact happier without Criss in the band (I would like to hear Trunk press Frehley on that issue since he is a regular guest on Trunk's radio show). Interestingly enough, Singer also pointed out that the hardcore fans, Frehley and Trunk also said nothing about Criss returning to the band and making that KISS money when Thayer had now replaced Frehley on guitar, makeup and costume.

Hello? Anyone home? Are you people really against a KISS cover band or do 3 out of 4 original members make it okay based on a majority?

Here's what I see: Frehley is a hypocrite because if it really bothered him to see another person in Criss' makeup he would've have quit the band out of respect to Peter and let Thayer finish the tour. It's not like Thayer wasn't ready to take over because we all know of that moment when he almost filled in during the Farewell Tour when Frehley was late to the August 11, 2000 show in Irvine, CA.  As the band waited for Frehley to arrive Thayer was dressed for the occasion and ready to hit the stage as a last minute ringer (p. 400-402 in Face the Music: A Life Exposed by Paul Stanley). Oh, and guess who was scheduled to perform with KISS on drums that night?

Criss is a hypocrite for the same reasons as he did a full tour with KISS with Thayer in Frehley's makeup. And of course you can see this KISS lineup on the KISS Symphony CD/DVD with Criss looking completely miserable onstage and during the behind the scenes footage, right? Of course he tried to sell his participation on this tour as if he had been deceived (Criss p. 328) but the one thing that doesn't make sense is that he says that he was already rehearsing with the band in Los Angeles when he went to Stanley's birthday party and found out that Frehley wasn't going to be on the tour. is he saying that the band was only rehearsing as a trio at that point? Why would they not need a lead guitarist to be at such rehearsals? That just doesn't sound right to me because the only lead guitarist in the band's history that ever seemed to not show up at times was Frehley. Would Thayer, who has always conducted himself as a professional NOT show up to a KISS rehearsal? Stanley and Simmons are often accused of trying to re-write history (I'm not saying that they haven't or don't continue to do so) but I wonder if they are truly the only ones.  

My, my, my...isn't it funny how facts can be such an inconvenience? Let's face it folks, the hypocrisy that both Frehley and Criss have joined in at one time or another is not only a rusty wrench in the machine but also the wild card that proves that KISS is NOT a tribute/cover band. Because, if you really believe that then you have to admit that Frehley and Criss have also performed in this same tribute/cover band and did it for the same reason that many claim is the motivation behind Stanley and Simmons maintaining this tribute/cover band...the money! Believe what you want but the facts don't support the tribute/cover band claim. If anyone can prove's not hard to find me. Post your argument and let's do this.

I rest my case.

Now let's have some fun folks. I need some help with this last section. Help me find the real KISS!

Some would say that this is KISS because they have replacement members and they are NOT wearing makeup:

Not sure if this is KISS because it has 3 of the original members and since certain people love the original Catman they wouldn't want to take a shot at him for performing with this tribute/cover band:

Here is Frehley performing with what some call the KISS cover/tribute band. He even sings lead vocals on one of the songs:

For the hardcore Trunk circle, I guess this is KISS because they are NOT wearing makeup, correct?

If you want more than an acoustic set just go to soundcheck in order to see the real KISS because once again, they are NOT wearing makeup:

Carlos Solorzano