This bass drum had a problem, and at the time, so did I. But how I ended up with this drum in the first place is a story of its own that’s worth telling.
I have this drummer friend named Alfred who does energy work. Reiki, shiatsu, massage, and things of that nature. He’s a warmhearted straight shooter of a dude. People like him. People trust him. In 2016 he got a call to do some energy work for an old man who was approaching his death. From what I understand, this man’s time was upon him. He was bedridden, fairly incoherent, and awaiting his moment. His wife had made the call to Alfred, trusting that he could provide safe passage for her husband. Alfred agreed, and the meeting was arranged.
The energy session went well, and as Alfred was leaving, the old man’s wife (knowing that Alfred was a drummer) mentioned the bass drum up in the loft of their barn. It belonged to her husband and had been up there for years collecting dust. She offered the drum to him in gratitude for helping out with their situation. Of course, one look at this old beauty, and any drummer in their right mind would happily accept such a gift. And so Alfred went home that day with a drum he didn’t expect, and naturally, the old man passed away soon thereafter.
But like I said, this drum had a problem . . . well actually, a couple of problems. The most obvious issue, that is, to any 21st-century jobbing drummer, is that this drum was musically obsolete. You see, this kick was born in 1928 and was designed for playing Dixieland jazz, military band stuff, and maybe the occasional silent movie gig. It certainly wasn’t cut out for laying down the modern punchy kick drum thing that is now commonplace. Alfred knew this, which is why he wanted to trade it for a drum kit I was selling at the time. I knew this, which is why initially it seemed like a foolish deal. And of course, the bass drum from 1928 also knew this, having sat in a barn for the last few decades unplayed. Unplayed. You see, that was the real issue here.
In my opinion, and probably in any musical instrument’s opinion, a musical instrument is meant to be played. Well, lucky for this drum, as soon as Alfred sent me a picture of it, I was sold. My intuition took over and I said yes on the trade, accepting a drum that I didn’t need and had no use for. Little did I know at that time that I would soon be recording with this drum daily. And that this drum, would not only serve as the inspiration for organicdrumloops.com, but would also heal me from the jaded working drummer mindset that had overcome me. This was the problem I had, but couldn’t see.
I suppose I was like a fish in a fishbowl. I had lost my way. I had forgotten about the creative world beyond the glass walls of my self-imposed dollar chasing reality. I felt stuck, conformed into a musician of ability, rather than a musician of artistic integrity. That drug-like feeling I got as a kid from playing music was merely a distant memory. It had become all about paying the bills and nothing about expressing myself as an artist. Although looking back on it, the signs were there for me to see, but I chose not to see them.
I had been out of NYC for a few years, living in Maine and working for a wedding band agency in Boston. I had nearly been fired for “putting too much interpretation into the music.” I was advised to “get into the details of the music” and “try to play it just like the record.” Come to think of it, most of my professional career was dappled with similar commentary. In fact, I’d say that since I began the sideman hustle in 2003, I more or less felt frustrated with the limitations and expectations of being a performing musician. Thankfully, this rickety old bass drum came into my life and showed me the way: the way back towards the creative spark.
So Alfred and I met up and exchanged drums. He kindly listened to me complain about the previous night’s gig and then sent me on my way. I was excited to have this old drum in the car, all to myself. It was like that feeling you get when you pick up your first pet dog and drive it home. The relationship is new. You’re both excited to finally be in each other’s company, anticipating what will come next.
We got home and I undressed the old girl (it came in a musty old canvas gig bag with a brass zipper). I tensioned up the calfskin heads, clamped a pedal to the steam-bent hoop, and gave it a gentle wack. Booooooom! It was amazingly resonant. Woody, warm and full of character. The beater had this beautiful bouncy feel from the natural calfskin, something I had barely experienced before: having come up in a plastic head era. From just one stroke, I could feel the drum making me happy. An almost childlike giddiness came over me, and I had an inkling that my musical life was about to change course.
We spent time together, and I fell in love with calfskin. The sound. The feel. Heck, I even liked the fact that it never stayed in tune. I found its unpredictability to be inspiring. The drum gave me permission to be myself. No rules, no expectations, just love and respect. Because it wasn’t appropriate, it encouraged me to play inappropriately. And this was a gift, something I had been missing in music for many years, that is, the ability to harness the creative spark without compromise.
Fast forward to today. The old 1928 Ludwig & Ludwig 12×26 has been relegated to other creative duties. There have been many other drums in rotation for this loops project since 2016, but the original spark remains present. In fact, I’d say that flame is burning hotter than ever. It came from an old man ending his life with grace. Because of a loving wife. Because of a warmhearted straight shooter of a dude. And because of a jaded drummer guy who took a chance on curiosity over money, and found a drum that needed to be played by a drummer who had no reason to play it. Creativity was rekindled, and love was found.
My fellow artists. Please enjoy these loops and sounds. They are meant to be used. Do what you wish with them in your music and follow your creative spark. If you have any questions, comments, or otherwise, please shoot me an email.
Cheers, Bill Mead drums & production for organicdrumloops.com