Sunday, May 16, 2010

Drumming diary: I don't have a staircase handy

Working away on "When the Levees Break." The biggest thing tripping me are the breaks in the bottom half of the song. John Bonham likes his triplets.

At 70 bpm, it's one of the slowest songs I've ever played, right down there with "Violet Hill." Some of the counting gets tricky, though: the groove goes 1----2---a--&a4, and then the breaks build off of that with 1e&-2---a-e&a4 then 1e&-2---a-e&a4-&a and so on, skipping between the bass and snare while the hi-hat just drives and drives relentlessly.

The one break that throws me every time, though, is the one with triplet on the kick. I seriously don't know how Bonham did those with just one bass pedal. I've got a double pedal and it's still difficult to count out 1-&-2-&ea3ea&ea4ea between my feet. I do it earlier in the song, circling between the snare, high tom, and floor tom, but to do that between the hi-hat and kick? I keep getting muddled. My feet aren't accustomed to moving that fast.

I guess it's time to do some more feet exercises. Here, you can do them with me. Sit with your feet flat on the floor. Now, without moving your heels, tap the toes of each foot, right-left-right-left. It sounds simple, but do that for five minutes without whimpering and you get a cookie.

No matter how much I try, of course, what I play is never going to match what the song sounds like. That's because Zeppelin recorded the song in a stairwell. Bonham had his kit set up in the hallway and was playing the song; the mixer overheard it and decided to use the natural dynamics, so they wound up putting Bonham at the bottom of the stairs and the mics at the top. That's how they got that big, echoing sound to the song, and that's also why Zeppelin hardly ever played "When the Levee Breaks" live at their shows.

What you hear every time you listen to that song is a one-of-a-kind sound, that can never be properly duplicated, even by the goddamn people that made it.

That's rock and roll.

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