After finishing a corporate event on a boat in Portsmouth, NH, a couple of members of the band and myself headed over to our favorite watering hole, The Dolphin Striker. To our surprise and delight, crammed into the downstairs playing area was three of the best sidemen in the business: Marty Rowan on organ, Dave Brown (Billy Joel) and Dave Mattacks (Tull, McCartney, etc.) on drums.
Marty and Mattacks came over to say hi on their break. We sipped our beers, talked shop and had a few laughs. A long time ago, I had a bad situation with another drummer asking to sit in on one of my gigs. He broke the bass drum head and walked off without apologizing. I was feeling really upset to say the least. Since then, I maintained a strict no sitting in policy on my gigs. I wanted to know Dave’s thoughts on that so I asked, “Dave, how do you feel about people sitting in?”
I think he thought I was asking to sit in. I wasn’t but I understood how easily my question could be perceived that way. We chatted briefly about sitting in and then he said, “Mike, why don’t you sit in tonight?” I was at first honored that he’d even ask, but then embarrassed that I had brought it up. I never ask to sit in on a gig.
Dave kept encouraging me and after awhile, I agreed to do it. The combined talent and resumes of these players is tremendous and I wasn’t sure if I could handle it. I was a little intimidated and nervous but figured if Mattacks didn’t think I could handle it, he wouldn’t have asked.
Marty started playing a left-hand groove and I went with him. It was kind of a funk/shuffle thing. Dave’s Yamaha kit sounded so good which helped ease some of my anxiety. I could tell the packed house was enjoying the music so I began feeling more confident and comfortable being conscious to not overplay. When I looked over at DM he had his eyes closed, and being the consummate drum sound expert, I figured he was listening and analyzing the sound of his kit.
When we were done, Marty shook my hand and said, “Perfect.” When I walked past Dave Brown, he held out his hand and said, “I’m Dave Brown. Nice job.” I thought to myself, “I know who the heck you are…geez.”
It was so much fun to play with those guys. Dave Brown is a monster guitarist and at times while I was sitting in I’d look over and think of all the great Billy Joel guitar lines that he recorded, like Big Shot, etc.
The next day, I emailed DM and asked if we could have a “get-together” as he calls lessons. I was anxious to hear what he thought. “Well done” was his reply regarding my playing. Dave’s lessons are very informal. I usually keep a running list of problem areas and ideas that I want to discuss with him and when we get together we work through the list. He’s the best teacher I’ve ever met and has a way of explaining concepts that is uncanny.
When I brought up the Dolphin Striker, he said candidly that I still needed to work on my time. He thought it was a little shaky. I was stung at first but glad to get the constructive criticism. People that I work with have always told me that time/tempo was a strength for me.
I’m glad Dave let me know that it still needed some work. As I was practicing slow tempos and shuffles with a click for the first time after our “get-together,” I thought to myself, “Yeah, son of a B, he was right.” I guess that’s why Dave Mattacks is such a studio legend.