January 2, 2012: NEW SERIES coming, exclusive to T Bruce Wittet.com. Session drummer Dave Mattacks will share pages from his recording diary—beginning with Jimmy Page! DM and Page worked as a duo (think “rich man’s Black Keys”) and recorded a major film soundtrack. Session bass, keys, vocals, strings, etc came later. That’s but one page in the life of a drummer who lives in the recording studio.

Drummers are always asking me about “tuning for the mic”, getting rid of snare buzz, choosing drums/cymbals for studio vs live, and how to get a great drum sound. Dave Mattacks answers all of these questions & hundreds more, starting in, oh, 48 hours….

Dave Mattacks, session drummer, photo T Bruce Wittet

Session drummer Dave Mattacks

For DM, life is in the details

You’ll see this manifested as Mattacks recounts the finer details of drumming on hit records featuring Paul McCartney, (Sir Elton) John, Joan Armatrading, Chris Spedding, Susan Tedeschi, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Chris Rea, Richard Thompson—an endless list. Fairport Convention, of course, figures first and highest; that’s where DM redefined “English folk rock drumming” and, incidentally, garnered heavy praise from John Bonham.

I began this series months ago and paused. I felt that although I’d logged thousands of hours recording jingles, folk albums, and CBC broadcasts I was “cheating”. Fact is, I learned 90% of what I know (and played) by virtue of the ever-patient Dave Mattacks. Why shouldn’t you get it, like I did, from the horse’s mouth? (No offence re horses, Caron!) And believe it, as you’ll see DM is in a one-horse race when it comes to studio drumming expertise and how a drum part becomes a piece of music.

DM often used to invoke the old adage life is in the details, which he always took care of and, which, as he knew, I tended to leave dangling. I know from your emails that you dote on details. How do you know which snare will work on a given track? How do you pop a rimshot and enliven a track without alienating the engineer? When should you muffle and when should you go wide-open? And what’s all this about Glynn Johns and “the 3-mic technique”? Mattacks was there and will explain it to you…and how all this bears on touch, head tension, consistency, maintain kit balance, etc.

Here’s a taste of what’s coming:

UK Recording Session: Jimmy Page Death Wish II Soundtrack/album. Recorded August, 1981. Studio: Le Sol, Berkshire, England

Dave Mattacks and Jimmy Page, working as a duo, recorded the majority of the film cues to-click, working as a duo and giving form to the Death Wish II (starring Charles Bronson) soundtrack before calling in session guys (strings, vocals, bass, keys etc for overdubs. DM describes his choice of kit, why he favored a specific old brass shell snare, 42-strand snare wires (but without the die cast rim!) and suggests rationales for his tension scheme, his maintaining of a strict balance of attack, drums vs cymbals. And humble as the day is long, DM offers us an insight into what he might have done differently in light of the thousands of tracks he’s cut since he did this project at the dawn of the 1980s.

Note that this scoring session marks Jimmy Page’s first project since the death of Zeppelin band mate John Bonham, whose shadow looms large over this soundtrack. Although I find DM captured Bonham’s spirit and massive sound on several mid-tempo rockers, it wasn’t intentional.

Jimmy never suggested that I go for a John Bonham feel or do anything but what I felt suited the cues,” Dave recalls. “You have to remember that Jimmy and I,by that time, were friends from way back. We’d done many sessions together and since, at that time, he lived near me in Sussex, we’d take the train to London together. And John (Bonham) and I were old friends, too.”

Why Dave Mattacks and not some other drummer? DM responds, “He called me up for the film session because he knew my playing, both in the context of Fairport Convention and sessions. He knew I could handle film cues, get a good sound, and play various styles to click….

The studio (The Sol) was a mid-sized room, high ceilings but not huge and not exceptionally live. We put the drums dead center of the room and used ambient mics in addition to close mics. Jimmy would sit beside me playing guitar. Sometimes he’d have an amp right there, others he’d place it in another room. He told me he didn’t want to change the drum sound—have guitar bleeding into the drum mics….”

More to come. I’m transcribing recent taped interviews with DM to get the details sorted out. When you read his words and get to know his meticulous modus, you’ll discover why he’s been a first-call studio drummer for decades. “It’s about how you tune ‘em and how you hit ‘em”, Dave told me years ago. But you’ll go beyond that and begin to understand that by enhancing music in his selfless manner, DM dignifies drums, drumming, and drummers. You sort of have to be there. And you will be there very shortly.

Inspired by my own 5-volume recording diary, which is peppered with diagrams and notes on tuning and miking, which DM would kindly mail me (this was pre email), and by a series I created for Modern Drummer that ran for a couple of years, Inside Track, I know you’re going to love the current DM series if you love drums.

Once upon a time, “somewhere in England…”

Nod to George Harrison for that one: right, I forgot to mention that DM drummed on “Blood From a Clone”…the morning after John Lennon was shot (Jim Keltner is all over that album, too).  See what kind of company we’re keeping here?

I remember my first meeting with Dave Mattacks in an upscale tea room in London, Fornun & Mason—DM’s choice for a midday get together. I was twenty-something and so excited I’d grown zits and would have drank double whiskeys to calm the tremors but settled for tea and scones. “Try the clotted cream, Bruce”. Although Dave was only a few years older than me, he was the guy I’d been following when trying to get my studio chops together. This was a few years before I met Jim Keltner, who hooked me up with Jeff Porcaro. Mattacks was a legend, a drummer who got a monstrous, immediately identifiable drum sound on albums by every major artist I could mention. I was shaking, not quite as a fan but out of anticipation of what I could learn from a true master…and return home with and apply in the studio. Selfish bastard.

Guess what he told me on that first occasion. “Bruce, you’ve got to listen to Jim Keltner playing on ‘Married Man’s a Fool’. Nobody can capture that amazing feel and get a sound like Jim”.Turns out, DM had steered Jim to the the same London outlet as me, Raymond Mann’s in London. You entered the dark shop and if you were basketball height you’d bonk your head on any of a number of traditional mainland China cymbals hanging from colorful silk wound tassels. On a good day you’d be off out the door carrying an extra-thin 22” that you’d place right side up on a stand, confident you could ride a Frank Sinatra vamp or punctuate a rock minor bridge. Not a Welsh miner.

The series starts the moment I finish sifting through long, long interviews. Long means more detail to share with you—good reason to watch these pages. Again: it’s all exclusive, every last word and lick, to tbrucewittet.com…none of it seen or published anywhere, anytime.

Tbw Jan 2, 2012