Ace Argent drummer — hopefully to be contributing to IM in the future - talks about his approach to drumming.
Bob Henrit's recent illness gave him time to think — with hepatitis, he could hardly do anything else. It was the first extended rest the drummer had taken for quite a few years and although stricken with lethargy of the body, his mind remained as active as ever. The results of the illness were mostly bad. Argent had to call off their U.K. tour which was to have been their biggest ever, not only taking the band to the people but also a circus set that included acrobats and jugglers in a fantastic package put together by Bowie's U.S. stage designer.
But thoughts occupied Bob's six weeks of idleness and after the initial frustration at the loss to the band, the loss to himself and the loss to Argent's fans (not in that order of priority, he insists), his thoughts turned to more constructive things like opening a drum shop, writing some articles for International Musician and having a go at recording a "drums record".
The drum shop idea is something that's been kicking around the list of "future plans" for Bob for some time. "The real reason that I decided that a drum shop might be a good thing to do is that I've never been able to get any service for drums. Each time I go to the States I make a point of visiting the drum factories, the Ludwig plant and so on, and I collect all the little bits I find hard to get here. The problem in this country is that you just can't get spares. If you can get spares for American kits a nut and bolt costs £5 so it's ridiculous really.
As far as I understand it, the U.S. manufacturers grant a U.K. concession for their drums on the understanding that £20,000 worth of drums is bought in a particular period. Naturally, an importer wants to get a return on his investment and £5,000 worth of spares sitting on a shelf isn't nearly as attractive as £5,000 worth of kits that can be sold immediately.
"The result is that you can buy the kits but you can't get the spares very easily. To a lesser extent U.K. manufacturers' spares are also hard to come by and once a drummer has bought a kit, he's got to pray that nothing breaks on it. I'm planning the shop to open fairly soon in my home area (Enfield) and I'm going into partnership with somebody who's already quite well known in drum retailing.
"Another important aspect of the business is that I'm going to hire out complete drum sets. Believe it or not, it's impossible to hire a complete set of drums in London. With the cost of shipping drums to the U.K. from the States I'm hoping that the idea of hiring a kit will be very attractive to visiting musicians. I've got a garage that is stacked high with my kits and all of those will be available for hire. I really don't mind other people playing my drums, and I'm sure that the idea will be attractive to many drummers.
"We're also going to stay open late in the evenings so that semi-pro drummers can get to us in the week — I think that's a very important factor".
Bob's mind was obviously working overtime during his layoff and his energies were expressing themselves in planning projects for the future.
"Argent are due to record a single," Bob admitted, "I suppose I'm really letting the cat out of the bag, but we're going to record a proper single. It's a song of Rod's that's in the same vein as 'She's Not There'- you know, a commercial single, not something from an album. I'm hoping that I'll be well enough to play on the single, but I don't know. I'm under a doctor in Harley Street and unfortunately he knows me too well. He's told me that if I was just going to play sessions, I could drum, but as I'm a bit more energetic than the average drummer, I'd better lay off a while".
Despite being a corner stone of Argent and enjoying an elite pedigree that goes back to the Zombies out of the Roulettes, Bob has remained a drummer capable of stepping outside of the group format. He has managed to live with the pressures of touring America and Europe each year, of making a couple of albums and all the obligations he has with the band, and still finds the time to do enough sessions to keep his name on everyone's lips as a drummer to use if available.
"I believe that a good drummer should be able to play all types of music. If someone rings up and asks you to play on a C & W session I think it's important that you're open enough musically to be able to enjoy playing it even if it isn't your particular type of music.
"Once a drummer closes his mind to certain musical areas he's stopped improving. That's what happened to Gene Krupa really. I'm not criticising Gene Krupa at all but he was a truly great innovator and having made the amazing start he kind of stayed there while other drummers like Buddy Rich came along and kept innovating and improving. I was talking to Lenny White in New York a while ago and he was explaining to me how he woke up one morning and decided to completely change his technique.
"All his life he'd been playing with the left hand on the snare and the right hand on the cymbal and he woke up and realised that his best hand, the right, was doing less work than the left and if he put his cymbal over on the left and played the snare with his right hand he might be able to do a bit better. He also reasoned that rolling round the drums from centre to right would be easier if he led with his left on the way back. He sat down and for day after day he practiced getting his new style of playing together. I mean, can you imagine someone like Lenny White having to go through a situation of weeks and months where he was allowing his whole technique to suffer because he wanted to improve his overall style.
"During the time that I've been inactive I've been thinking about my drums. I think I'm probably going to get a new Pearl outfit. Lot's of people in the States like Ed Shaughnessy have got turned on to Pearl and I do like them quite a lot. It's become a trend now for drummers to use bigger and bigger tom-toms and I've been wondering about this. The problem with big toms is that the sound is hard to get over. In the old days when a drummer wasn't miked up it would have been impossible to get the sound over and I've decided that I'd still be a bit better off with smaller tom-toms because of the penetration. In the smaller sizes, tomtoms are usually made as single-headed drums but I'm going to get double headed models. With single heads they sound too poppy and light and I want a small drum sound, but one that's got a bit of depth. I'm going to have a 6", 8", 10", 14" and possibly a 16" and an 1 8" as well. Of course I'll be keeping my double bass drum set up but one problem is that few people are making an 18" bass drum these days".
Drum records are the peculiarities of the record business. Sandy Nelson started the genre and more recently Cozy Powell has proved that it still exists but it's a dangerous and, some might say, foolhardy thing for a highly respected drummer to do.
"I made a drum record ten years ago with Bobby Elliot. That was for EMI and because of some bickering within the company between the A & R men of mine and Bobby's, the thing never got released. I'm still quite proud of that record and at that time Bobby Elliot and I had some similarities in our playing.
"The thing I'm going to release will probably be a maxi single and it's a song that Russ (Ballard) and I wrote that's been sitting around awhile waiting to be used. It's not like Sandy Nelson and it's not like Cozy Powell, but it's a funky thing and I'm really looking forward to seeing how it goes".
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