Being a drummer in the Country & Western/Western Swing world

& You Dont Stop

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As much as I fancy myself a rock/contemporary drummer. My most regular gig is playing a country dance 2-3 times a month at a city-run rec center. Most of the music is C&W from the '50s-'80s along with some Western Swing in the tradition of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. I often share the stage with players in their 60s and 70s (I'm in my mid-40s). My experience as a drummer in these circles is different from our local rock scene in a few different ways.

First of all, drummers almost seem to be second class citizens. What I mean by that is there seems to be an attitude that the drummer doesn't bring the same value as the player of a melodic instrument. Kind of an "Oh, he's just a drummer" sentiment. Can't make the gig? Fine, our second fiddle player hand hack away on the drums in your stead.
While I enjoy most of the players I perform with. I have never played within a network of musicians who seem to be so rhythmically challenged. Some so much so that they'll begin singing the verse a half measure early or late.

Oh, and god forbid you should play over mezzo-piano !

Am I the only one?
 

Mcjnic

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I toured and recorded all over Texas back in the 70s. We played the usual stuff in the bars and halls. I didn’t play the tunes “correctly” though. I played my own thing behind those cuts. It worked for us.
It was usually piano and guitars and sweet vocals ... and I was the rock drummer doing my thing.
Honestly, it sounds funny typing it ... but it really did work. We had an edge that kept us booked and I kept plenty busy doing country sessions and sitting in with other country bands. I guess some of them appreciated whatever the heck it was I was doing.
 

dangermoney

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I played the stuff quite a bit back in the 80's. I also played the Modern Country stuff coming out of Nashville recently which is completely different in that it is more energetic and rock-like.

For the country you're talking about, the music calls for basic beats that the people can dance to and the other instruments are in the limelight. If the drummer goes unnoticed, he is doing his job. Otherwise, he might be replaced.

For the newer country, the drummer is pretty much in the limelight along with the others and is free to play with an more energetic rock-like approach.

I like to play both styles and try my best to stay true to style. I think that it's fun to play the older stuff and sit back, listen to the other musicians play the melodies, and watch the people dance their hearts out.

To answer your question, as long as I play within the context of the music, I have never experienced the other band members making me feel like a second class citizen. I didn't get that impression at least ...
 
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crash

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I find that playing with the acoustic guys they'e time is pretty all over the place. Most are used to playing by themselves, or jamming without a drummer. Time kinda floats for them. Doing those sort of gigs, I use a basic setup and keep it simple. It's what's called for and works for me. I have a lot of fun playing that way.
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shuffle

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A large majority of the old-timers are prone to doing that because they grew up around Bluegrass music with no drums or they only played by themselves at home or a few annual church socials, ect.

Hence, accurate timing, rhythm & phrasing wasn't and still isn't a big priority with so many of those guys.
It's just the way they're gonna play, regardless. Yep, very frustrating for any drummer backing them.
Did a Southern Gospel thang in the 80s.
The piano player roller coastered every song when we played live.
When i called him out on it,he called it ' expressive tempo'!
In the studio,he had to play on time.
My first country gig in the early 70s was with guys my age now.
We played a club full of Fly Boys and 16 y.o. girls!
I was 20 and theyd yell as the tunes are played at the gig: Do this! Dont do that!
Yeah,thats it!
Guess what: I learned my dynamics from those old boys!
Made me better!
 

JDA

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"Well you could be Willie Nelson's drummer and after 40 years....they took his whole set away except for a snare..." Kidding!!
And yeah.
rhythmically challenged. Some so much so that they'll begin singing the verse a half measure early or late.
Willie does that , too! ( so did frank Sinatra( it's, called "style' 'phrasing'..
course, Willie's drummer probably gets 30G's a month- for good behavior! (lol
 
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moodman

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The prejudice against drummers isn't limited to Country, it is ignorance of what is really happening in the music. The better the players, the less that happens in my experience.
With the Bluegrass players I've worked with, I thought they had some of the best dynamics and chops I've seen.
I love traintiming with a good new grass tune but, I must admit bluegrass has all the rhythm it needs without drums and drums step on the lament of the 'high lonesome sound'.
 
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pwc1141

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I played with a band that was styled "Americana" with many bluegrass feel country songs mixed in. Used just a snare drum as that was all that was needed with a strong bass line and two guitarists/vocalists. It was fun but limited in skill needs.....The band broke up after a year but we had 33 gigs in that time and I never felt unnecessary to the band's sound and appeal.
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moodman

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I played my first country gig in 1965 backing Stringbean and Charlie Louvin at the local fair. Both told me to use brushes and no bass drum. I got a quick lesson in country drumming that day.
The gig was supposed to be the Louvin Bros (a reunion of the bros ) but Ira had just been killed in a wreck and when the announcer said 'Louvin Bros', Charlie got mad as hell and nearly quit the show.
Stringbean showed up behind the outdoor stage in a big black caddy, crawled under the stage in civilian clothing but emerged as Stringbean. He held up his banjo and said "this has made me a lot of money over the years, I buy a new caddy every year" (this to an 18 year old kid ) It is a well known fact that he was murdered in a robbery of his home, not trusting banks and bragging about how much money he made. I could see how that happened.

(The guitarist in the band that day was future Nashville studio player and buddy of late forum member Tommy Wells, Gregg Galbraith. He went from high school to Nashville working with Skeeter Davis then Bill Anderson and you've heard him play on Alabama tunes)
 
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BennyK

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I got my first drumkit in 1972 . I had big hair,platform boots and big ideas too . I was a huge fan of King Crimson, Mott the Hoople and Johnny Winter .Within a few weeks I was in a C&W band, getting paid to play the drums, drink free beer and trying to get the cymbal bell notes right on " Knock Three Times " .Since then I've been in dozens of ' serious' bands learning diddleywinks from a wide panorama of different styles , but the steadiest money and most stable rotation I've ever experienced in this business has been Country/Western and that means a lot when you're careening through life on a quarter tank of gas .

Many thanks to Waylon Willie and the boys .... and of course Merle and George too .
 
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yetanotherdrummer

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When I hooked up in the local country music scene in the mid 70's, it was a real eye opener for me.

I was 19 and had only ever played rock. I still have a recording of my first gig with a country band, it sounds like what it is, a kid playing rock drums on country songs. I finally got the hang of it and became an actual country drummer.

One thing I did have to learn was to follow the guys in the band, because they sure didn't follow me! I used to play with a bass player who would just drop beats at random, and if I didn't follow him, the whole thing would have just fallen apart. It was interesting to say the least.
 

mebeatee

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The prejudice against drummers isn't limited to Country, it is ignorance of what is really happening in the music. The better the players, the less that happens in my experience.
Exactly....doesn't matter what kind of music it is....although the drummer would get a few more condescending nods in a C+W situation as the drums aren't as prominent as in some other forms of music.
Playing old time C+W authentically can be and is real tricky because of the relative simplicity and again irregardless of any music if a person has lousy time then they have lousy time.
I play on occasion, with an country/"new"grass band that has no drummer for the most part and they have some of the best "band time" ever because of no drummer. The individual players all have impeccable time and meter. The bassist and myself play in many situations so we are locked in depending who we are backing up.
One must also learn the art of playing out of time to keep the folks you are supporting in time....by this I mean you must really listen to see who rushes and who drags and adjust accordingly in any music. If any of you has played to a variable click track or does film scoring you'll understand what I mean.
bt
 
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pwc1141

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Because I am a much better drummer with brushes than I am with sticks, I found myself suited to this kind of music and while I said above that the band I was in was not skill testing for me, I meant it didn't need massive chops but did need the skill of keeping good time and the discipline of just laying it down without adding unnecessary frills. You learn to just love how it all swings and recognize that it ain't about you the drummer.
 

Stickclick

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One of the country bands I was in had poor timing. They often skipped beats or the singer would come in too early. But it was a steady paying gig and sometimes the audience was standing room only. They didn't need a drummer. Bass would have been sufficient.
 

shuffle

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Because I am a much better drummer with brushes than I am with sticks, I found myself suited to this kind of music and while I said above that the band I was in was not skill testing for me, I meant it didn't need massive chops but did need the skill of keeping good time and the discipline of just laying it down without adding unnecessary frills. You learn to just love how it all swings and recognize that it ain't about you the drummer.
It's using your ears and getting that feel for the song,a vibe thing.
 

Old Drummer

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I fancy myself a rock/contemporary drummer.
This coupled with your being relatively younger than your band mates and the title you chose for the thread may frankly explain all. (Sorry, country musicians are no slacker at keeping time than others.)

In my experience, musicians who don't have C & W in their bones find playing it beneath them. It's also generally a lower class musical genre that's looked down upon by people who feel themselves more sophisticated. I meet players all the time with this condescending attitude toward country. Yeah, they'll do the gig for the money, but they won't be proud of themselves or into it. This attitude shows.

For drummers especially, country may be the pits. I dare you to name a superstar country drummer who's a household name. There aren't any. The superstars are all jazz or rock drummers. No wonder ambitious drummers gravitate to jazz or rock.

Traditionally, country music doesn't even have much in the way of drums (and sometimes no drummer at all). The other day I happened to watch a clip of George Jones doing "The Race Is On," and although a drummer was present, he was irrelevant. You couldn't even hear him. I don't know whether he was playing with brushes or what, but he might as well have been backstage taking a nap. Yet, "The Race Is On" is actually a great drumming song, basic rock with a lot of momentum. Later drummers have played it that way, but not Jones' drummer.

I myself played my first country gigs in 1969 or 1970 in the North with the father of my girlfriend at American Legion posts and the like. I then aspired to be a rock drummer, but I enjoyed the good times those old guys had and created for others.

I continued to fill in with some other country old country warhorses during the 1970's, and by the 1980's found myself in the South playing real country. I ended up liking it to the point where I prefer it. There is so much melding of genres that it's hard to play country without playing other stuff at the same time, and with the melding drums have become increasingly important. You can't play "The Race Is On" with brushes these days.

So country is kind of what you make of it. Fortunately, it's never difficult. (You can leave your double bass pedal at home.) But there's ample room for adding and expanding drum licks.

But you have to like it. Many players don't like it. Country has a feel, a spirit, that if you take to it is a gas. If you don't, well, playing country gigs is an exercise in endurance.
 

pwc1141

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To the point about some country musicians not having good time etc. I must say that I have watched many Bluegrass festival vids and was always amazed that most bands seemingly start each tune without any count in, go straight to the first note in unison and hit the tempo spot on and keep it. Some bands had drums and some didn't but time was immaculate in most.
 

bongomania

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The genres where I’ve found the least adherence to steady time, or equal-length measures, are early blues and Appalachian folk. Some listeners might call those “country”, and not be entirely wrong. And I’ve heard plenty of modern singer-songwriters lean on that historical styling either intentionally or ignorantly.

But I wouldn’t paint “country” in general with that brush.
 

& You Dont Stop

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Funny story - this band I play with (referenced in the OP) invited me to their Friday night dance which brings a little more volume and a slightly faster pace. 80% of the material was the same as what we play at the rec center. The bass player (de facto leader) warned me that we were going to play these songs faster than I'm used to. So I assumed maybe 5-7 bpms.... holy crap was I wrong!

Well, it felt more like 15 bpms or more. Most of these songs are shuffles and I found out the hard way that playing a shuffle quite a bit faster than what you're used to can be daunting. I was really struggling to keep up (the tension of trying to keep up made it even more stressful). I made the joke at the end of the show (holding up my right hand) that 'my shuffler wasn't shuffling' and that I 'might have to take it to the shuffler shop'.

I think they found that amusing . . . I think
 

blueshadow

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If you haven't read this https://scottkfish.com/2014/04/19/innovator-country-musics-first-drummer-smokey-dacus/
gives a really good background on country drumming. Also PBS/Ken Burns History of Country music is on this week, first show was last night.

Like said in an earlier post, traditionally there were not drums in country music. Bob Wills was the first to have drums on the Opry. I've played the genre for almost 30 years and yes have ran across some players that felt like I was "second class", I decided to combat that about 20 years ago by learning some chords on the guitar and read up on a little bit of theory including the Nashville Numbers system so that I know a little more than "just a drummer" would.
 

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