“Play To Satisfy What Your Ears Want” aka Drunk In NYC

In early 2016 Kevin Murphy (great drummer, great guy, currently working with Randy Houser) posted some great advice on the Nashville Drummers Facebook group. It was something every drummer needs to hear, but not everyone has the guts to tell it to us. I’m pretty sure he was snowed in, in NYC, surfing Facebook in the middle of the night, and was probably replying back to other postings he had read. He entitled it “Drunk In NYC.” Here it is: 

Every once in a while I see discussions here about professionalism or attaining/keeping gigs. Here’s an unsolicited opinion on both: 
No matter what heights you have reached or fallen short of, if you spend half of your time defining yourself by other people you have brushed up against in your life and the other half pissing and moaning about someone you once worked with, you aren’t professional, you’re pathetic, and no one will want to hire you or take you seriously. 
Always move forward, always try to play to satisfy what your ears want. If you’re right for the situation you will remain, if not, moving on is better than pretending. 
Surrounding yourself with enablers won’t help anything. Get it together and try. Introduce yourself to new people without feeling the need to announce who you play for or used to play for or the new thing you’re pushing. You’ll at least get credit for that whether you can play or not. 
Drunk in NYC 

There was one line that jumped out at me, that I have been thinking about on and off for years. “always try to play to satisfy what your ears want.” I bet Kevin meant that we should be more concerned about becoming the best player we can be, rather than all the other things he mentions. But it took me back to issues I’ve had from time to time with drum education and how it derailed my progress, until I figured out what was actually happening between my ears. Here’s what happened to me…. 

I was just out of college, working at a drum shop, developing a teaching practice, and studying anytime I could. Chick Corea’s Electric Band records had come out, and Dave Weckl became the new hot drum idol. Me and every other drummer bought his Contemporary Drummer + One. Everybody got piccolo snare drums and put a rack tom on the other side of their hi-hat. Of course these hi hats were his 13” K/Z combination. (That shows you how drum fads change; now the cool thing are 16-18” hats!) Then I got all the instructional tapes and DVD’s: Terry Bozzio, Steve Smith, Steve Gadd. I would work on them, but something wasn’t quite right. After awhile it dawned on me that a lot of that stuff didn’t “satisfy what my ears wanted.” About that time, I read an interview in Modern Drummer. I don’t remember who said it, but the quote was like, “yeah I would go out to see these great drummers, and I could hold up a card that said ‘10’ in terms of their ability. It satisfied me intellectually, but it didn’t grab me emotionally. And it sure wasn’t something that I could take my wife out to enjoy. She would hate it.” 

Then I began to realize one of the failed concepts of drum educational materials. I’m sure this applies to other instruments as well. We purchase, or download, or listen to the work of our favorite players. But what we’re actually trying to do is to learn what it took them ten, twenty, even thirty years to arrive at. I didn’t have all the formative experiences that Terry Bozzio went through, to allow him to be able to play this fabulous stuff. I had a hard time understanding it, let alone playing it, because I hadn’t experienced everything that brought him to that place. Thinking that if you get this Jojo Mayer DVD, you’ll play like Jojo Mayer, is a failed approach. That’s just as dangerous as walking into a music store, covered with pictures of your favorite artists and their gear, thinking that if you buy Joe Bonamassa’s guitar, you’re going to sound like Joe Bonamassa. Of course not, you haven’t lived all of those experiences that made Joe the great guitar player that he is. Buying a pair of Air Jordans won’t allow you to…you get the idea. 

Without even realizing it at the time, my ears started drawing me to other drummers and other music that was more satisfying. I started to just naturally feel a musical kinship to some drummers more than others, just like I ‘get along’ with some people better than others. For me at the time, it was guys like Bernard Purdie, Steve Jordan, Kenny Aronoff, Jeff Porcaro & Craig Krampf. Most of them were primarily known as groove players, rather than chops players. Their playing would hit me on an emotional level, as well as intellectual. Listening to, and practicing along to what they played, was more satisfying; I could do it for hours. 

So what’s my point here? Of course, I’m not suggesting you avoid material that is difficult at first. Just know how to deal with the frustration, so you avoid the roadblocks. For me, I dug back into some of the same materials that Weckl used as he was coming up, so I could also experience some of what made him so great. That lead me to studying Gary Chester’s New Breed. 

I guess Kevin’s original advice can be applied in a number of ways. “Play to satisfy what your ears want.” There are probably five other blogs that could be written from everything else Kevin touched on, but I’ll let someone else write ‘em. Thank you Kevin for the great thoughts! You are an inspiration to us all.

Leave a comment