Johnny Rabb Interview – by Travis Marc – 2010.
What can one really say about Johnny Rabb that hasn’t already been said? He has become, without a doubt one of the most respected and innovative drummers on the clinic scene over the last few years. He has a unique drumming style has taken him all around the world, over and over again. Here’s what the drumming legend had to say during a recent interview…
Besides being regarded as one of the fasted drummers in the world, you’re also respected as one of the most innovative and educational drum clinicians. How exactly did you get into drumming, and what motivates you to continue trying to perfect the craft?
I got into drumming at an early age. My parents got me a toy drum set for Christmas when I was three years old. They also took me to local high school concerts and parades. I totally became addicted after attending these events. At first there was no formal training and I played by ear. The early days were frustrating, but fun! I finally began formal drum lessons with Michael Lawson at the age of 10.
I am motivated everyday to continue to improve and learn as much as possible on the drums. Each drummer I see has a different personality and style. This is what keeps me excited and headed down the path of never ending drum knowledge. There are so many great drummers in the world and I respect all of them. It is because of them that I am able to stay inspired and motivated.
As a clinician/educator you perform in front of thousands of other musicians/drummers each year. How exactly do you prepare your nerves for such a task? And what advice would you give to up and coming drummers in regards to preparing for such huge events, for example Musikmesse or NAMM?
As a clinician and an educator I try to realize that I am one of many that have something to share. When I was younger, I would get a little nervous in front of audiences. I never really had stage fright, but did worry about what the crowd might think of my performance. Then, I realized something after speaking to my friend and amazing drummer Nathaniel Townsley. Nathaniel always seems to play effortlessly and with such control. I love his playing and musicianship. I asked him if he ever got insecure or felt frozen about what he had just played. He responded by telling me that there was no reason why he should be worried. He then told me that he loved playing and always played what his heart told him during that moment. This made me realize that when I perform I have a choice to make. I can either worry and self-destruct my own performance, or not worry and play the drums to the best of my ability. When I start to worry or get a bit of stage fright, I remind myself not to worry, have fun and to play in the moment Thanks Nathaniel!
When preparing for NAMM or Musikmesse, I usually just make sure I have quite a repertoire of music ready. I use the Roland SPD-S to perform DJ like shows. So, I have a bunch of patches that I have made over the years that work for most any event. This combined with improvisation makes up 99% of my clinics, shows or other performances. For young and upcoming drummers I suggest that they learn as many different styles of music as possible. Also, try to get involved in other instruments so you can use this as a writing tool. It is a great feeling to play along with music that you compose. The last thing is to just keep going for what you believe in. I feel like we can do most anything that we put our minds to.
In 2003 you received an award for the #1 drum educational book from the modern drummer’s reader’s poll for your book – “Jungle/Drum and Bass for the Acoustic Drum Set”. I myself have this book and have found it extremely insightful toward the style of Jungle and Drum & Bass drumming. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved within the Jungle genre? Also, what is the process like when writing such a book?
The Jungle/Drum ‘n’ Bass book was my first major release through a publisher. I am still very happy that book got finished and is still in print. It took a long time to compile my ideas, transcriptions and exercises, but in the end it came out how I hoped. My introduction to Jungle/DNB was from a friend in Sacramento, CA. He asked me if I have ever heard Jungle. I had not, so at the time I went to Tower Records (wish they still were in business), and grabbed whatever I could that had Jungle or Drum ‘n’ Bass in the title. I bought many compilation CDs that included DJ Goldie, Roni Size, LTJ Bukem and more. As soon as I got home I listened to what I had purchased and immediately started to transcribe it. I loved the tempo and energy of it. It wasn’t because it was fast, it was because it was so precise yet broken phrasing. The next thing I bought was a sample CD called Jungle Warfare III. This had a ton of beats and cuts used for producing this type of record. I would practice to this sampling CD for hours just trying to get the feel and sound together.
The process of writing an instructional drum book can be very tedious. However, the end result is the rewarding part of the time spent working it all out. I started with many transcriptions and original exercises that I wrote out. I kept everything in a notebook and just kept expanding my library of information. The more that I compiled, the easier it was to develop a flow for the book. Then I eventually was able to make a Table of Contents. From there it takes months of working with the publisher to layout the book format, add photos, edit, proof read and finally print! There was also an audio CD included which was a lot of fun, but a big learning process. Just remember to do your audio after you have the final Blue line copy of the book in front of you. This way all your track numbers will line up correct with the contents of the book.
Hands down you are regarded as one of the most inspirational and technically profound drummers of the last decade. Who were your favourite drummers growing up and who would you list as your influences (drum wise) now?
I was inspired by so many drummers over the years. I think this is a great platform to try to name as many as I possibly can. Get ready!
Neil Peart, Steve Smith, Steve Jordan, Gregg Bissonette, Vinnie C., Dennis Chambers, Tony Williams, Phil Gould, Simon Phillips, Jonathon Mover, Charlie Drayton, Abe Laboriel Jr., Peter Erskine, Omar Hakim, Robbie Ameen, Dave Weckl, Terry Bozzio, Gerry Brown, Ignacio Berroa, GO TO DRUMMERWORLD TO FIND MORE!
To my knowledge, you’re busy finishing the touches on your new book about the freehand technique. Could you please describe how the freehand technique works and how you went about developing this amazing method?
The Freehand Technique started for me after watching a video called JUST ADVANCE by Kenwood Dennard. In his video, Kenwood demonstrates a one-handed roll using the rim as the fulcrum. This inspired me to create a full curriculum and method to allow the ability to play any rhythm with one hand. I created the term Freehand since it allows the other hand to remain free to play grooves or ostinatos. My first book and video was released in 1999 and was produced by Jim Keltner. He is the one person who convinced me to put out a video and book on the subject. I was still in the age of VHS videotape and now we are in the age of DVDs and downloads. So, my book and VHS went obsolete in the early 2000s. With the popularity of YouTube and the internet, my technique was broadcast without my consent and then unfortunately copied and made into a DVD method. This was very upsetting to me for many reasons. The main reason was the video was poorly executed and almost done as a cheap infomercial. I just don’t believe in stealing from people and quite frankly I felt that I was ripped off and profit was made off of my teaching formula. So, now a book is available through Hudson Limited entitled The Official Freehand Technique. The book comes with an audio CD with examples of exercises, solos, drumset grooves, and play-a-longs for you to check out. This technique works extremely well on both acoustic and electronic drums and other percussion instruments. I am now in the process of a DVD which will go into more details of the Freehand Technique. If you want to check out more about this please visit www.hudsonmusic.com or www.myspace.com/johnnyrabb
Can you tell our readers about some of the different groups that you have performed with, both, the past and the present? Also, how difficult is it to stay involved with a band when you have such a busy clinic/touring schedule?
Here is a summary of my recording and touring career outside of clinics and festivals.
While living in Sacramento, CA 1995-1996
Michael Lee Firkins-EUROPEAN TOUR
Larry Tagg-Recorded tracks for Album ROVER and live gigs
Scott Reams-Recorded tracks for Album
Tony Windle-Recorded tracks for Album Contemporary Jazz
Analysis-Recorded tracks for Album and Performed Live
Produced Hip House Groove-Instructional Video
1996-Moved to Nashville, TN
Tanya Tucker-Toured on and off from 1997-2004
Started johnnyraBB Drumstick Company- 1998-2004
Maynard Ferguson Big Band-2003
Roland V-DRUM Artist and Clinician 2004-Present
Mindy McCready-Substitute gig-2004
Formed DrumJockeys with partner Chris Patterson-2005-Present
Deanna Carter-Tour 2006
Joined U.S.S.A. Band-Recorded The Spoils Album and Toured 2007
Formed BioDiesel with partner Clay Parnell-2007-Present
Alain Caron and Frank Gambale-V-TRIO Tour 2009
I am now involved in three different band projects. BioDiesel, U.S.S.A. and DrumJockeys. The key to keeping these groups alive is to communitcate about scheduling. We use GMAIL calendar online to allow us to view each other’s dates. I try not to rely on clinics to make a living. I basically have to be flexible with drum festival and clinic dates. If something looks like it might be double booked, I will always attempt to stay with the gig that I committed to first. Even if the money is better, I find that it is very important to be loyal to what came first. The hardest thing to do is stay organized. I always make sure that everyone knows my current schedule so I do not end up double booking a gig.
What are BioDiesel currently up too?
BioDiesel is gearing up for some spring touring and festival dates. Clay and I are heading to Russia for some shows. We are scheduled to perform in Moscow and then I head home for a Canadian V-Drums tour.
We play a lot in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, New York and other states on the east coast. We have a bunch of festivals coming up including StarScape, Camp Bisco, Rochester Jazz Festival and The Projekt. This band is really fun and allows me to delve into the DJ side of drumming. I perform on a very small custom drum set and control Ableton LIVE with my Roland SPD-S sample pad via firewire. www.biodieselband.com
You seem extremely passionate about drum education and mention on your website that one of your goals is to try and share your approach to playing the drums, with other people. Drum education is a subject that I often find myself debating about among various groups of drummers. Could you please elaborate on why you feel drum education is so important?
Music and Drum education are both totally important for anyone serious about getting better at their instrument. I started playing drums for fun like most everyone else. I still consider it very fun, however have been able to take it to a professional level by studying with serious teachers and at the college level. I don’t think education ever stops. A large part of my professional career is spent writing articles, books or working on online lesson content. I recently joined forces with Mike Johnston doing online video lessons. Mike has made it possible to teach real-time lessons via web-cam to hundreds of students at once. I recommend that you check it out if you get a chance. www.mikeslessons.com
He offers great information on every topic you can imagine at an amazing price. All you need is a high-speed net connection and a subscription. This is where I will end up teaching lessons in the near future. For now I have some videos up and will continue to develop content for his site. I still study from books, DVDs and online. Remember, you never stop learning and can always improve your skills as a drummer and musician.
You’ve won the Worlds Fastest Drummer title twice and are featured in numerous interactive displays at various Guinness World Centre attractions. You’ve also done numerous clinic tours, with drummers such as Thomas Lang and Marco Minnemann. Many drummers would have to wonder what there would be left to achieve… Where do you see yourself and the drumming community within the next five years?
In the next five years I hope continue performing and recording as much music as possible. I am very happy to have participated in all the past tours and events over the years. I look forward to more touring as a sideman and with my band projects. I also hope to release more drum products and educational materials. The industry grows every moment and will continue to develop as we move into the future. I believe that the internet will be our main source of information and will slowly replace our other sources of media. I also think that drummers will be better and better since the amount of educational material available for study increases on a daily basis.
Do you currently have any sort of practice routine? If so, could you please describe it for us? Also, do you do any sort of warm up routine before performances?
I wish I could say that I had a set practice routine. Since I am on the road quite a bit, I never have a steady schedule of time to work with. So, I usually will practice on my pad in a hotel room when possible. I do plan on starting a new routine when the year slows down from touring.
I should warm-up before performances, but I don’t usually give myself enough time. If I do, it will be some light stretches, but mainly basic singles and double on a chair or pad to loosen up. I do encourage warming up to have a more relaxed and comfortable feel on the gig.
Can you briefly describe you drum set up and why you use the products that you do?
I use a few different drum setups depending on what I am playing for. I will say that if I was given only one choice, I would use a standard 4 piece drum set. However, each gig is different and the music styles call for different sounds. So, below is a list of my setups. Check out www.johnnyrabb.com for photos and tours of my gear!
BioDiesel and DrumJockeys- Custom City Kit (developed by me with DW)
DW and PDP
10” snare out of piccolo tom
14” bass drum (very punchy)
13” Safari Hi-Hats
16” Byzance Crash
18” Safari Ride
10” Electro Stacks
SPD-S Sample Pad
DW or PDP DRUMS
24” Bass Drum
12” Rack (placed in floor tom position)
16” Floor Tom with Legs
14” Brilliant Byzance Hi-Hats
18” MB 20 Crash
20” MB10 Crash (as ride)
18” MB 10 Crash
CLINICS / SOLO PERFORMANCES
DW or PDP DRUMS
20” Bass Drum
10” Rack Tom
14” or 16” Floor Tom
14” Byzance Extra Dry Hi-Hats
18” Byzance Extra Dry Crash
18” Generation X Safari Hi-Hats
20” MB 10 Crash (as ride)
10” Generation X Electro Stacks
12” Generation X Electro Stacks
13” Generation X Safari Hi-Hats
SPD-S Sample Pad
HARDWARE FOR ALL SETS
DW and PDP
DW-9000 Double Pedal
DW-9000 Hi-Hat Stand
PDP-Single braced boom stands (LIGHTEST WEIGHT=GREAT!)
PDP or DW throne
DRUMHEADS FOR ALL SETS
All Snares-Coated Ambassadors
Bass Drums-Clear Powerstroke 3 (ambassador on front)
Toms-Coated Ambassador on top (Clear Ambassador on bottom
D6- for Bass Drum
I-5- for Snare Drum
Micro Ds- for Toms and small snares
Two Over heads
Johnny Rabb Signature Model
I encourage everyone to keep drumming and listening to music. We are lucky to be able to do this and I hope we all continue to progress on the drums. Thanks for the interview!