One Night at Ron’s

When I was 18, I was in a band called IZONU (eyes-on-you) Yeah… they were a fairly well-known band in Akron, despite being in the twilight of their existence. The singer Ernie was much like you’d expect an early ‘90’s singer to be–with the hair, the pants, the attitude… and also dumber than a stick. He later became an Akron City Councilman (he no longer holds that position due to something about accepting a bribe…:). The keyboard player, a guy named Scott, who could have been cool if it weren’t for the fact that he tried way too hard to be Ernie. My best friend Jamie, played bass. One night we played a gig at Ron’s Crossroads. It used to be called the Temple Tavern until it got shut down for overly expensive drink prices… well I guess the drinks weren’t as expensive as the drugs they sold you WITH your drink. 

Anyway, now it’s Ron’s and we have a gig there. I don’t recall much about the actual performance, but I remember quite a bit of the antics that went on around the show. My sister was there as well as some of her friends and my dumb stripper girlfriend. My sister and her host of friends and my dumb stripper girlfriend came to a lot of our shows. My dad was also there, and this was rare as he didn’t come to many of my shows. And of all the shows to attend, he came to a complete shithole of a dive bar. But something makes me think he was more comfortable being there than I give him credit for. Perhaps this was the type of bar he was used to hang out in. He was playing pool. I was getting ready for the show. My sister was frolicking around, drinking and most likely fucking with someone. And my stripper girlfriend was certainly astounding somebody with how dumb she really was.

Not long before we were scheduled to go on, my dad came up to me and said, “If I’m not here when you finish playing, it’s because I just bet this guy $100 I could beat him at pool… I don’t have $100.” 

I didn’t have $100 either. But for some reason, I knew my dad would still be there. And he was. You see, Bob spent much of his younger years hustling pool and bowling. He would tell stories of his outings when he would do just as he is tonight at Ron’s; go to pool halls and bowling allies and hustle almost any taker. Oh sure, sometimes he didn’t win, but it was not often. He proudly tells the stories of when he didn’t win and had to run. But the majority of the stories were of him winning. 

After our set, my dad and I joked about the fact that he was still there and hadn’t been shot or beat. My sister, still fucking around and bringing a sense of fun to the entire place. And the girl in the corner, looking dumb as fuck?  That’s my stripper girlfriend. 

We hung out. Had some drinks. Smoked whatever we had left and began the tearing down process of the gig. We had a couple guys to help us with our gear. Not real Roadies, as we could not afford to pay people to carry our shit around. These were friends who just wanted to get to the show for free and indulge in the bands inebriates. And this is when it got interesting.

Upon the band attempting to get paid, the club owner gave us about $200 bucks less than we felt we should’ve been paid. In response to our protest, the bouncer apparently thought it would defuse the situation by pulling out a Mac10, install the magazine into the gun and inform us that the amount of money was indeed correct. We continued to protest. Name calling and threats ensued. Even some minor pushing and shoving. I’m not sure why we thought it was a good idea to get tough with the people with guns, but nothing was accomplished as we did not get what we were owed. But at least we got some money and they didn’t keep our shit! And of course no one got shot or any shit like that. 

So with our gear, our bullshit money and our tails between our legs, we all went to Jamie and my apartment which was in the same neighborhood of North Hill.

We often partied after shows at whatever place Jamie and I were staying at the time. The parties were always great! Plenty of booze, boobs and bowls! Except that this time, Jamie and I did not hang out at the party. This time we got back and immediately changed into camouflaged clothes, grabbed a couple bats, got back in Jamie’s van and drove back to the bar. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and we did NOT intend on beating anyone. We were not violent guys. However, we would fuck your shit up! 

We are waiting for the gun guy… Gun Guy was a rough looking dude with long hair and a long goatee. He wore big, baggy, ugly Z Cavericcis and a muscle shirt with some sort of Chinese calligraphy on the front. He was definitely very in shape and despite the shirt, looked like he probably knew Karate or some shit anyhow. In fact, he looked like he really would enjoy doing a bunch of coke and beating the shit out of things. And even without the gun, most likely he could have whipped the hell out of both of us and our bats. So, lucky for us, we weren’t there to fight.  

When Gun Guy finally came out and got into his Camaro with shiny mag-wheels and white-letter racing tires on it, giant ones on the back, jacked up all “late ‘80’s” style. We were ready with the van running. Hoping he didn’t live too far away, as we may run out of gas if he did. 

We followed Gun Guy to his apartment in Cuyahoga Falls. Making fun of him and the apparently “custom” but shitty paint job he probably paid for with coke. We watched him park the car with his stupid fucking pants and go inside. We then drove about 15 or so blocks away and parked the van. In our camo, bats in hand, we trekked through yards and alleys back to Gun Guy’s place. 

We devised our plan on the way. How long we would beat his car, alternative routes back to the van and the plan if we had to run. Which was to ditch the camo and make your way to the all night restaurant on Front St. Not the van… They’d be looking for us. Ditching the camo was part of the plan anyway (we had regular clothes under them). But not until we got back to the van. Never IN the van but in a trash can, or hidden somewhere close by. We would come back and get them later.

When we got there, no lights were on in Gun Guy’s place. We lurked in the shadows and reminded each other of specifics of the plan: Hit the car as fast as you can. But only hit it 8 times. Then run to the alley and creep back to the van or the restaurant. Ready? GO! 

Bam! bam! bam! bam! bam! bam! bam! bam!

We fucked that shit the fuck up!!!

I don’t know if Gun Guy ever heard us, or even if his lights came on; “Don’t look back; it slows you down!”. But we made it to the alley, crept back to the van and dumped our camo under a pile of rubbish in an adjacent alley. The van started. Which is notable, because sometimes it didn’t. In which case, Sleeping in the van was the plan.

Now, perhaps we were pussies for handling the situation like we did. But like I said, Jamie and I were not violent people. We saw it as a “pay it forward” type of mentality; You owe us money. If you’re not going to pay us, pay someone else! And we were 18… So Gun Guy was going to have to pay someone else. I know it was the club owner and not Gun Guy who shorted us the money. BUT!!! He was the guy with the gun. He was the guy in “real” charge. He was the guy. So he had to pay it forward.

As we drove back to our apartment (the party), we commended each other on the execution of the plan. It was flawless, except that we both sorta wished we would have had to go to the restaurant… We loved that restaurant! I’m certain that no one at the party even knew we were gone. We melded right in and partied as well…

The next day after we picked up our camo, we went to that restaurant. And we didn’t run out of gas!

Speaking of Practice…

I had a drum teacher named Bill Roth. I took lessons from him when I was 15 for only about three months because for the 15-year-old me, he was old and said lots of weird stuff. I later went back to him when I was 24 or 25.

He ended up being not only the greatest teacher I could have asked for, he became a dear, dear friend.  He was a humble and compassionate man in character and in his drumming; A deep and spiritual person. Just like the Guru on the Mountain except he was a drummer in Akron. Sometimes our drum lessons didn’t even include drumming or anything pertaining to drums. Often he’d stump me with some crazy Guru on the Mountain question. When  I would come up with an answer, I’d ask if it was right and he would say, “I don’t know.” With his eyebrow cocked, like he really did know, but wasn’t going to tell you ‘cause you gotta figure that shit out on your own.

Anyway, he was a brilliant and perfect guide, teacher, person and friend. The only teacher I’ve ever had, school, music or otherwise who actually pushed for me to study with other drummers/teachers. Even recommending teachers to me.  It eventually came to where I didn’t take lessons with Bill anymore.  Which was a great thing because instead of seeing him for only 30 minutes a week in a tiny, little room. I saw him 3-4 days a week for hours.  We became very close and he was definitely my Sage in the truest sense of the word. He passed away in 2000, and needless to say, his lessons in drumming, music and life will be with me forever.

One question in particular he asked me was, “If you could only ‘practice’ one thing. What would it be?”. At first I looked at him much the same way he would at me, with my eyebrow cocked. Except I didn’t really know what the hell he was talking about. I said, “I don’t know.” and he told me to just think about it and let him know. But to keep in mind, it can be anything. Not a bunch of different things, only one thing and of course variations of that one thing. (a rudiment, a specific groove or even something you come up with on your own). But ONLY one thing.

I never did get the chance to let him know. Although he never brought it up again… but I did go on somewhat of a quest to find what this one infallible thing could be. So I started asking other drummers the same question.  I often got the same answer, ‘That’s impossible’. Which I guess is not a wrong answer. After all, everything IS one thing, right? I don’t know.

Throughout this quest, two people’s answers stuck with me the most:

I asked Gregory Hutchinson when he was on tour with Ray Brown, and he answered immediately with, “The jazz ride pattern. With your right and your left hand.  Because if you can nail that… whew!”. Then he walked away.

So I spent a lot of time doing just that. This was not the only thing I practiced but it was a big part of the time spent with my instrument because it really made sense. I mean not only the pattern itself, but working on ‘Swinging’.  Because if a drummer swings, then he swings, PERIOD!  In any style of music that he plays. “If you can nail that…” it translates into everything you play, always. Everyone can feel it and it is undeniable.

Then, after attending a Jack DeJohnette clinic, I got the chance to talk to him and I asked him the question.  After holding his chin and thinking about it for a few seconds, he said, “I’m not sure, but I don’t think you would necessarily need to be at the drum set when you did it. You could do it sitting under a tree or painting.” Damn, Jack!! That’s why you’re so bad!! I thought to myself.

This is also something I’ve ‘practiced’. Spending time with my instrument while not actually being at my instrument. Because if playing music is what you “DO”-your passion, then your instrument is always with you. Much like that dear friend who is with you even when they’re not ‘with you’. Whether you’re sitting under a tree, painting, shopping, whatever you’re doing. It’s always on your mind in some way (and I’m sure your instrument thinks of you often as well).

Now in an attempt to not get too philosophical, let me just say that fortunately for us, we don’t have to choose only one thing to practice. We could, but we don’t have to. So practice everything. Practice one thing. Practice whatever you want. Just make sure you enjoy what you’re practicing. That is the most important thing. If you are practicing something you don’t enjoy, that is your fault. If it’s boring, that’s your fault, too, because you’ve lost sight of what you’re really doing… Spending Time With Your Instrument.

So go!  Sit under a tree and practice! Paint a picture and practice!  Even wash your dishes and practice!  Your instrument will be right there with you.

Practice? There’s no such thing!

All our lives as musicians we are told to practice. At every age and every level of expertise.  Whether it’s, “Timmy, you have to practice your piano lesson for 30 minutes everyday!”. Or, “Aw man I gotta practice my trombone if I’m ever going to make the pep-band!”. Even, “Dude, you have to practice those Trane solos if you want to be ‘one of the cats’!”.

Practice!  Practice!!!  PRACTICE!!!!

The word ‘practice’ and all that is attached to it can really bring on a lot of unnecessary stress. We as players and as parents & teachers may not be aware of it, but it is true. Of course we ‘practice’ to get better or lift our skill level to achieve a certain thing (get the gig, make our parents proud, impress our peers). But with all this ‘practice’ I think we put too much emphasis on the “thing” we are practicing and lose sight of what is really important– Developing a relationship with our instrument!

As with any relationship we want to develop, we have to spend time on it. You want to create a friendship it helps to spend time with that person. Whether it’s going out and having fun or helping them move (not so much fun). You’re still spending time together, accomplishing things together and learning a lot about each other. And the same goes for your instrument. Therefore, I choose not to use the word ‘practice’. It is “Spending Time With Your Instrument”. You may spend three hours improvising which is definitely fun! Or two hours learning tunes for a gig that you’re not that into. Or an hour working on a certain rudiment. Whatever the case may be, all of these things can make you better, some more fun than others, but if executed correctly and with the proper ‘spending time together’ attitude, you will build a deep and strong relationship between you and your instrument.

So please, NEVER ‘practice’ again! Spend time with your instrument, get to know it and love it and the limits of what the two of you can accomplish together will be endless!