The Best Drum Video/DVD of All!

Q: What’s the best drum video? Pretty hard to decide isn’t it?

A: No, it’s easy. A no-brainer. If I had money for just one video, it’d be Steve Gadd Up Close.

Q: (Audible gasp) But that’s an old, amateurish production—really clumsy and lacking flow. Gadd looks as if he’s hung over. The talk is really slow-paced. Steve’s not wearing a nice shirt.

A: Nonsense.

Best Drumming DVD Steve Gadd Up Close

Let Me Count the Ways

This video set the standard. It changed drumming. As for production values, Steve Gadd Up Close is admittedly naïve, tentative, as well you’d expect—it was shot almost thirty years ago. It doesn’t take away awards for cinematography, script, editing, or audio.

And that’s part of the charm: the dialogue is honest, sincere, and the camera is continually scouring for angles that permit the viewer to glimpse salient details of Gadd’s astounding drumming.

Viewed in a historical context, at the time of release, meaning the early 1980s, drummers were universally in awe of Steve Gadd. His much-heralded appearance in this pioneering video was that of the benevolent, and even humble, monarch—the king of drumming who generously shared each tenet of his technique and philosophy.

Okay, so Steve looks a little wasted. Give the guy a break. At the time this video was shot, he was doing sessions around the clock for days on end, literally cutting recording dates from dawn ’til dusk. I confirmed this years ago with Gadd’s colleague, bassist Will Lee, who, incidentally, recently sent me his DVD production of the tribute to Hiram Bullock, held in New York a couple of years ago. Featuring Charlie Drayton and a roster of name guest drummers performing with an all-star band live, without rehearsals, in a Soho club, the DVD makes a statement about the beauty of an unaffected live performance, unscripted and sincere. If you’d like to hear any more details on the Bullock tribute DVD let me know.

One on One with the Master

You are there: Steve Gadd sits at a drum kit, surrounded by four plain walls—could be your practice room, your basement—and the master speaks to you as teacher to student. Rob Wallis (now Hudson Music/Video director), asks Steve the questions you might have asked. Steve illustrates each of his sensitive, measured responses with a mind-boggling example at the kit, played at various tempos. Gadd deconstructs each hand/foot phrase into component parts and demonstrates it, often amazingly slowly, until you get it.

Back to Gadd’s demeanor, ragged is not bad. Ragged is natural, organic, disarming. Steve Gadd may look a little spaced/fatigued but there are very few drummers on the face of the earth who would not trade their middling repertoire of “drum beats” for a sniff of Steve Gadd’s wicked chops, unerring sense of time, and overwhelming musicality.

The DVD, furthermore, is not colored by any jazz, fusion, or metal bias. This is drumming for every man (and woman). Nor is there any hint of a suggestion that bare simplicity is somehow inferior. After a few moments of viewing Up Close, it’s obvious that Gadd can do it all—simple and intricate. Catch him on DVDs with Clapton, Jarreau, and Taylor for proof. If the music calls for simplicity, Gadd plays simple. And he illustrates step-by-step how a bog-standard groove—mere quarter-notes, four per bar and accenting the backbeat—can be dignified and made elegant. When Gadd plays 2 and 4 you get goosebumps. He drums where people naturally tap their foot. Veteran players from around the world watch Gadd and weep, cursing their flailing, bastard limbs.

Remarkable Foot Pedal Technique

Highlights include a section in which Gadd demonstrates definitively his heel-toe bass drum technique, which, at march-tempo, can make a single bass drum/pedal sound like a double bass drum/double-pedal. Another is Steve’s careful explanation and demonstrations of the Gadd/Marotta style of interspersing foot controlled hi-hat chicks in lieu of stick-against-closed hats. And then there’s Gadd’s application of the rudiments to drumset, wherein he employs crisp, clean double strokes and precise flams—sometimes with left hand striking with the butt end of the stick, presumably to “even out” the natural imbalance of timbre when playing traditional left hand grip. If there’s a theme, aside from the importance of musicality, it’s that drummers can create excitement by twisting simple (and not so simple) phrases in novel ways. The original VHS release of this video spawned a generation of drummers (ahem, mine) who found it necessary to perform the Gadd Salute—a little windup consisting of a five, six, seven, or nine-stroke roll preceding the backbeat. This has become a cliché—except when Gadd does it.

The great thing is that you can sit and watch Steve Gadd in motion, with stress on “motion”. He puts every fiber of his body and soul into each beat—again, without favoring any one application/genre.

If you were stranded on a desert island, Steve Gadd: Up Close would be the only DVD you’d need, begging the question. Over the years, you’d grow a long white beard, mutter to yourself, and resemble Tom Hanks/Steve McQueen/Dustin Hoffman, but your drumming wouldn’t disintegrate for want of new ideas, nor would it lose touch.

Gadd Up Close: What the Doctor Ordered

In 1989, give or take two years, I experienced pain in my hand, from applying undue pressure with my thumb and first finger. I couldn’t find a teacher who had it together enough to examine what I was doing and prescribe a remedy. You guessed it, I watched Steve Gadd Up Close closely for a few weeks, studying the way his fingers looked at rest, and in action, relative to mine.

I discovered something I hadn’t noticed in previous viewings of this video, namely what I viewed as some novel technique (it wasn’t, as it turns out, and was subsequently explained in detail by Gruber/Weckl/Wilson) that advocated relaxing (and sometimes extending) the first finger of the right hand (matched) and incorporating the second finger into the essential fulcrum/pivot/lever system. The conclusion I came to, from repeated scrutiny of Steve Gadd, tweaking to his reference to the “Bobby Thompson grip”, had everything to do with the first, second and third fingers.  I queried him on this when researching a feature you may have read in Modern Drummer entitled “Get a Grip”. I began to wonder if the dogma of the thumb-first-finger fulcrum was an ill-founded technique (unless we’re talking buzz rolls) that confuses a pivot point with a more complex (and more natural!) fulcrum/lever system in which the thumb and first finger were not “prime motivators” of the stick but, rather, guides. At any rate, my discovery and subsequent grip change arose directly from viewing Gadd in this video. And the tendonitis vanished.

Steve Gadd Up Close is one of those rare gifts that keep on giving. If you’re a beginning drummer in Aberdeen, Atlanta, or Antigonish and you’re pursuing excellence, you ought to be studying this video. Your teacher will verify what I’m saying is true. If your teacher doesn’t know about Steve Gadd, and if the closest drum shop is baffled at the mention, it’s time to consider tossing your belongings into a pickup truck and moving elsewhere. Unless you are an idiot savant, Buddy Rich, or both, you cannot become a great drummer without an