Stanton Moore: New Groove Gold
Images: Eckie & Hudson Music
Reprinted with permission from Drummer Magazine, January 2010
Stanton Moore adopts the mantle of alchemist, providing elements to produce golden grooves.
Digging deep in his new instructional DVD and book, Groove Alchemy, Stanton Moore explores the ideas that made some of the most influential funk drummers sound the way they did, where their ideas came from, and the concepts used to develop those ideas. The New Orleans-based drummer digs deep into nothing less than the groove itself, its history and its secrets. What he finds is fascinating: did you ever think about the link between John Bonham from Led Zeppelin and Zigaboo Modeliste, drummer for The Meters? No? You see, there’s still a lot to be discovered, and Stanton Moore can be your guide.
Groove Alchemy is released through Hudson Music in January. Stanton explains how it all came about.
“Paul Siegel from Hudson Music would come to Jazz Fest in New Orleans every year, and we would hang out and we started talking about a follow-up to the Take It To The Street package, which was my take on New Orleans grooves, as I strongly believe that a lot of things begin there. So I started with my interpretation of that, and from there moved towards my interpretation of funk, with Groove Alchemy being my take on funk. The New Orleans stuff leads into the funk stuff anyway, so it was a logical order. New Orleans music is definitely coming from a mixture of African and European culture. In New Orleans, it was just different than any other city in America, mainly because they allowed black people to play their music in Congo Square. Of course, all the European influences from around the city crept in as well. So people started to play at events, and in particular, funeral processions. And they did it with European instruments: snare drum and bass drum, and the brass bands. They finally took it through the streets and played gospels, spirituals, and traditional tunes from that time or earlier. The whole idea of the funeral procession itself can also be traced back to an African tradition and culture. So the whole thing is a mixture, and once you start playing European marches and have some of the rhythms that had been kept alive in Congo Square, those things start creeping in. That was the beginning of Second Line: an adapted kind of 2-3 clave starts creeping into European marches, and eventually it becomes its own groove. That whole thing is very danceable and funky in its own right.
A simplified version of a European march being ‘Africanised,’ I guess, turns out to become the backbeat. A lot of this stuff can be traced back to New Orleans. So, if you take the backbeat, slow it down and straighten it up a little and throw it into syncopation, you get funk. You can hear a clave in a whole lot of music, from New Orleans up to James Brown and even Bob Marley.”
Stanton firmly believes that if you want to get serious about groove and drumming, it helps to understand where it all came from. “I wanted to touch on certain things that work as building blocks. I focus on Clyde [Stubblefield], Jab’o [Starks] and Zigaboo [Modeliste] for the funk stuff. But I also think about where they got their ideas from, and that’s the reason why it came from a historical perspective. This approach will deepen your understanding of the whole groove concept, as opposed to trying to understand just that one groove.
“Groove Alchemy is all about taking one element and combining it with another element and then combining those elements with your own style, creating something that would be valuable to any player. “With this project I tried to really submerse myself as deeply as possible into that world. It has been a real educational process for myself, like going to a groove graduate school. On the other hand, it has been so much fun, because it’s stuff that I always loved. And I really put myself in the hot seat, where I had to learn it inside and out, to really be able to express things in a clear way that would make sense to people. It’s not about ‘take a bit of this, take a bit of that.’ You hear guys saying that all the time, and I know that this is the way we create something in art, and especially on the drum set, but I wanted to get more specific. And then I also wanted to show where the guys that played these things went back to. During my investigation I found out where the tracks may have come from and where the drummers may have found their ideas. But of course, I can’t demonstrate the grooves that these guys played better than them; you still have to listen to their records. But I wanted to show where some of my ideas came from. If you understand the nuances and the creative processes that led to those players creating those grooves, then you will begin to understand things on a much deeper level. “‘Can you make a groove to fit to this song?’ is often a question we all get asked, and Groove Alchemy is all about giving players the tools to do that, and helping to understand the creative process.”
Getting all the pieces into place is just one task, but Moore’s method can add so much more to any player’s palette. “I talk about where Clyde and Jab’o got their ideas from, as I do with Zigaboo too, and I show how maybe Clyde and Jab’o took pieces from a James Brown drummer that came before them. I take that and slow it down and play it in between a straight and swung feel, and then I’ll apply a ‘feel juxtaposition’ by imagining that same groove played by, say, Zig and see how that turns out. Both ways are very funky! I also then change some of the kit by adding a 26” bass drum and using a Bonham- sounding snare drum, and that then becomes ‘tone juxtaposition.’ Imagine playing a groove with Zig’s feel, with the tones of John Bonham and the notes of Clyde and Jab’o. It’s all about unlocking the doors and having fun with the creative process. “There will be around 500 MP3s in the Alchemy package, and we offer a slow-motion facility to help players understand and learn the grooves and how they all come together. It is a great package and I’m really excited by it all and think that drummers will enjoy working with it and developing their own creative processes.”
In the Stanton Moore Trio, Moore plays in a bassless situation, relying on the source of the bottom end to come via Robert Walter’s Hammond. Drummer wondered how that worked for him?
“The difference between a Hammond player playing bass and playing with a bass guitarist is that the Hammond organ player playing bass with his left hand is rarely trying to impress you with their bass guitar skills! They’re not going to be sounding like Jaco! Or playing harmonics or poppin’ or slappin.’ In some instances they are playing the role of the bass more appropriately than perhaps some bass players might and they’re not trying to show you something that they just learnt; mostly they’re trying to hold on for dear life! (Laughs.) Because they have all this coordination going on, they can’t do anything fancy. Robert’s left hand is incredible, but he’s not trying to show you any of the maths problems he’s worked out on his six-stringed bass! Having a Hammond player provide the bass allows the drums more air and space to act freely, and I can play a fill without worrying about the bass player playing a fill at the same time. If I’m playing six duple triplets and he’s playing some ridiculous fill, we’re all in trouble! No one is going to hit ‘the one’! Robert serves the function of the bottom end without getting in the way, and he is one person playing two parts, which means that I’m locking in with two parts too. It helps that we’ve played together so much that it sounds like two guys sounding like three. It’s one less person asking for ‘some’ too. If we are doing something that is not on the page, or pre-planned, then there isn’t someone else trying to get into the mix.”
“For the Emphasis record we took four days, which is actually longer than normal, as we’d usually take two. Robert Walter and I had come up with a couple of ideas before we went in, but this time we wrote a lot of the material in the studio, writing as we went – though the new trio record that ties up with the Alchemy package took us three days.”
And for gear? “I used two Gretsch kits – both 12” 14” and 18” – one a vintage ‘round badge’ and the other a new walnut kit, and I traded them out for different tunes, giving me a dryer, vintage sound, with a better focus that the vintage wrapped drums provided on some tunes, and then a set of new walnut drums that are lacquered, so they give a more open sound and seem to breathe a little more. We don’t generally close-mic but we went with an overhead ribbon mic pointing across the floor tom, one ribbon mic in front, and one as an overhead, and then separate snare and kick mics. I didn’t use a specific hi-hat mic. We raided some of our engineer Mike’s mics (laughs); he’s got some interesting gear, some of which are vintage, like an old RCA, and I brought three old Cole ribbon mics which, if you look at old photos of Ringo’s kit, you’ll see Coles up there. I think the Coles are still made here in the UK, and they still make them the same way as they always did, and they sound great with the drums.”
Discovering the elements that went together to make up the birth of the funk style, Stanton started to see a much bigger picture, one that would allow him to tie in Galactic, the Stanton Moore Trio, and Garage A Trois, as he went about promoting new records from each of these acts, as well as promoting the Alchemy package.
“I thought, why don’t I do a record with the trio that would tie in with the book and DVD, but have it all come out at the same time? I discussed this with the Hudson people and also with my record label, and everyone thought that was a good idea. Again, it was binding all the elements together so that things could work hand in hand, as I often perform masterclasses or clinics as I tour with those bands, fitting them in before live performances.”
AND… THERE’S MORE MOORE
Apart from the Groove Alchemy package, new Stanton Moore Trio record, new Garage A Trois record and a new Galactic record, all of which will be toured and promoted during 2010, Stanton has a 14 x 4.5” Gretsch signature snare released in January too! The solid-ply bird’s-eye maple mirrors the same dimensions as his Titanium signature snare, and both drums are employed on the Alchemy DVD. Bosphorus, as well, are releasing a set of newly designed 15” Stanton Fat Hat hi-hats. Clearly, it has been a highly productive time for Mr. Moore!
Drummer also asked about recording the SM3 record Emphasis (On Parenthesis), and Stanton gave a track- by-track account. Here’s how it all went down. There is also some exclusive notation, showing some of his grooves and fills from that record.
‘(Late Night At The) Maple Leaf’
This groove comes from me experimenting with‘feel juxtaposition’, and I was experimenting with different stickings, and this came about from checking out some of Mike Clark’s things, and slowing them down and playing them with a feel between straight and swung. I mixed Mike’s things with some of Johnny Vidacovich’s stickings and created my own thing. Some of the sticking is like Actual Proof and very similar to a 3-2 clave sticking. It’s almost got two claves going on at the same time, as it has the slow 3 clave and the fast clave, and you get the ‘slow’ by accenting every other note of the‘fast’clave. So I’m basing a lot of my rhythmic ideas off that. Even if I vary the sticking I’m still rooted in that. I’m feeling the big clave – the straight clave that a lot of New Orleans music has like‘Big Chief’. At different times I’ll let the left hand accent just the‘big’one and ghost all the in-between notes, and sometimes I’ll play all the notes. It helps if you just pick some of the big notes, leaving some space there. You can throw in all the notes occasionally.
That comes from our love of riff-rock! When we tour, Robert [Walter] D-Js with his iPod. He’s often playing early Who, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd, showing our love of early British riff-rock! We all worked on that together, but Robert came up with the main riff and I then came up with the smaller breaks. The way that we usually work is to rehearse something for an hour or two and then add to it and compose the tune more. We just recorded the ideas on a hand-held recorder and built it from there.
‘Wissions (Of Vu)’
I had been listening to a Wu-Tang tune and thought it would be interesting to go into the studio and improvise over that tune and see what happened. Wu-Tang Clan are notorious for working‘off the grid’– meaning it’s not all lined up to a click track. I then had to piece it all together – something from two minutes in on the third take with something one minute in from the first take, and it’s not exactly right tempo-wise as you’re playing to a tune that’s not been recorded to a click! It just posed a bit of a challenge to put it all together. It’s our impression of them working in the studio.
‘(Sifting Through The) African Diaspora’
This has elements of The Meters and Afro Beat, and another part that reminded us of Larry Young. It was a fun track as we drew influences from African-based music. Tony Allen is as deep as Zigaboo and Idris Muhammad, but of course, he sounds different to those guys, so, if you check out those three and then try and make a blend of them all, that’s some beautiful stuff to draw from!
With this track it’s got a very Meter-esque feel. The title comes from a friend that said I ‘sound like an overcompensating Zigaboo!’(Laughs.) I tried to get as near to Zig on this track as possible without overcompensating! (Laughs.)
‘(Smell My) Special Ingredients’
That definitely comes from checking out Tony Allen, but then trying to do my own thing with it. I was listening to Home Cooking, where he plays in a very similar style to that which he did with Fela, but on Home Cooking you can actually here the drums! With this whole record I was already doing a lot of research, hence‘Special Ingredients’.
‘(I Have) Super Strength’
Robert’s son, who was about four at the time, was into superheroes and he was running around the house shouting out, ‘I have super strength!’and it made it onto Robert’s home demo of the track. So we took loops of that and enhanced it and improvised to that, turning it into a reoccurring theme throughout the tune.
‘(Who Ate The) Layer Cake?’
That is predominantly a Will Bernard tune, again one of our riff-rock tunes, and we may have added a little bit to that. I like the dynamics, where it breaks down in the middle of the tune before the lead up to the solos, which is really nice, and I like the subtle way we play the groove.
I was trying to say‘thanks’to Clyde Stubblefield for inspiring me. Sometimes I try to be very free with my influences, to the point where I might not know where I’m pulling them in from, but I was doing a lot of research for the Alchemy package and a lot of that came out in my playing. There are plenty of records with me playing with a much freer interpretation, but here I wanted to be more specific with the influence.
‘(Put On Your) Big People Shoes’
This is another tune from Will. We recorded at Dockside Studios, a residential studio outside of New Orleans. A lot of times we’d start recording and it would become lunchtime, then dinner time, and often everyone was still walking around in socks and even pyjamas! It was that relaxed. When we would finally get ready to leave the studio, Aletta [Stanton’s wife] would say, ‘Okay, it’s time to go out for dinner, so put on your big people shoes. (Laughs.) We just got so involved with the recording process that we’d not thought about how we were dressed. Often, when you name instrumental tunes, you pick up on something that someone has said, and that sticks.
‘(Here Come) The Brown Police’
This also comes from the research, and combining different styles, and I took some of Stewart Copeland’s ride cymbal ideas with Clyde Stubblefield’s left-hand chatter notes. It ended up sounding a little bit drum and bass to some extent.