Drumming in the snow, drumming night and day, playing different grooves and fills along the way. Bells on cymbals ring, making spirits bright, oh what fun is to play the drums all day and night!
My first shot at the drums was at age 6, on the same stage—in same theater—as where Michael Jackson first performed, the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia. By the time I stepped foot into the historic building in the early 1990’s, it was no longer a concert venue on the infamous chiltlin’ circuit, it was a place of worship. At the time I didn’t know our church was one of the most famous theaters in the world, but I did know there was something special about it; there was something special about the music being played.
The stage—from side to side—was packed with musicians: a bass player, a guitar player, two trumpet players, two keyboard players, a harp player and percussionist, and in the center – on an elevated stage with pink carpeting – the drummer. His name was Gary, I called him Brother Gary – he captivated my imagination. One Sunday, determined to be like him, I asked if I could play his drums, he obliged. He told the bass player who was on stage with him to play a groove, I followed along. He seemed impressed, or at least that would I’d like to believe. Truth is I didn’t know what he’s thinking, but I knew what I was thinking: “I’m going to be a famous drummer one day.”
That moment—in that place—I fell in love with the drums and spent every waking moment—even the ones in class—mimicking Brother Gary and daydreaming about my 5 minutes on the Uptown stage.
I remember vividly going in the kitchen—and I did this almost every day as a child—sitting at the microwave cart staring at the pot and pans, the containers of oatmeal and other things that made noise. I would arrange everything on the cart to look like a drumset—and until it was time for bed, or dinner, although I would sometimes skip a meal so I could keep playing—I would be in the kitchen, with two straws in my hand, playing the drums; or making noise, some would argue.
I couldn’t stop playing drums. I didn’t even need to have anything physically in front of me; most times I just played air drums. My teachers in school told my mom once they think I may have a learning disability; turns out it was just the opposite. They ran some test on me, called me “mentally gifted” and put me in a class with advance learners. They wanted to challenge me more because they said: “he’s finishing his work to fast and then he just sits there drawing pictures of drums on stage and banging on the desk with his pencils, he becoming a distraction to the class.”
Needless to say I became a “distraction” to that mentally gifted class too, but there they appreciated my creative efforts and didn’t make me feel weird for playing drums that didn’t exist.
One day my dad came and picked me and my brother up from our home in South Philadelphia. We went downtown and walked around, had a bite to eat and did some window shopping. After a few hours my dad took us home. When I turned the key to the front door, I saw my mother standing there with another man; he was setting up my drums. I don’t remember what I said at that moment, I probably didn’t say anything—I just jumped on the drums and started playing. My mother had also bought a keyboard for my brother, so we had “jam sessions” everyday; it was the best surprise of my life.
Now I didn’t have to play air drums, I could bother my neighbors, and boy did I. The usually called the cops on us, claiming we were too loud and not too musical. We explained to the officers that we were trying to become famous and we would keep the “noise” level down; I’ve never really been too good at playing softly.
Now that I had been practicing, I started to play drums with everyone and everywhere I could. I joined the jazz band at my school and usually got a few minutes to play every Sunday after church. I discovered a music store in Marlton, New Jersey, called Mars Music. It had a huge drum area where you could sit down and play any drum you want. That’s where I met Freddie Holiday, the legendary drummer for Boyz to Men. We jammed together and he showed me a one-stick hi-hat trick that I still used to this day. As a kid, the drumset was the coolest thing in the world to me, other than WWF. From elementary school to high-school to adulthood, my entire being has been centered around playing drums and playing loud.
At University High School I got the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with jazz legend Herbie Hancock. We played Watermelon Man and Cantaloupe Island. Also, while still in high-school, I recorded my first ever CD with my church’s praise & worship team, I played drums on the first song.
After high-school I tried my hand at college, but it wasn’t for me, I went to work at Guitar Center in the drum department, it was the closes thing to a Mars Music that I could find. I thrived, I was in my element and I loved what I did. I organized drum competitions, drum clinics, learned about the different woods and manufacturing styles and eventually became an A-Level certified drum specialist, qualified to appraise vintage and rare drums. By 19 years-old I was managing two-million dollars in inventory as the first-ever, under 21, African-American, department manager in the chain. When I wasn’t playing drums on the showroom floor, I was behind the counter watching all the drums DVD’s, trying to soak up as much knowledge as I could, while daydreaming about creating my own drum instructional DVD one day.
While employed at Guitar Center I met some of the most amazing musicians in the city, and even formed a band with a keyboard player in the Pro-audio department. We called ourselves “Broken Groove.” We used to rehearse in a studio out in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. After months of rehearsal we got word that we would be playing at the legendary Olde City club, the 5 Spot—also known as the Black Lily—a Philly institution where The Roots, Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild and others performed and often hung.
We were the last band to perform that night; we didn’t leave until about 2:30am. I got a phone call a few hours later that the 5 Spot at burden down, someone left a cigarette lit. Whenever I tell that story most people jokingly say: “Damn ya’ll was that hot that ya’ll burned the motherf**ker down?”
I went on from that moment to win the 2008 Guitar Center Drum Off Store Championship. In 2009 I was the only drummer in Philly to win MTV’S & P Diddy’s “Making His Band” audition, granting me an opportunity to skip the line for the New York auditions. I’ve done sporadic recordings for local artist and even began teaching drums to middle-school students at the Clef Club of Jazz. Earlier this year I was one of five drummers in the country to win Drum Channel’s “Drumless Drum Solo Competition” for my video submission, Water Ice Breakers. Now, as the only drummer in Philly with a dedicated channel on Comcast’s www.PhillyinFocus.com, I’m leveraging my assets to raise awareness of the health benefits of drumming, envisioning a world where people play drums together and are happy and healthy.
So whether its drumming in the snow, beside a lake, in a church playing and positioning one drum at a time, or on a South Philly sidewalk playing the street signs and poles, the process of drumming for me is a constant reminder of how one beat—one action—can trigger a lifetime of rhythm, of movements.
Much like the little drummer boy, the only gift we can bring that is truly of worth to anyone is the humble version of ourselves and our time. I wouldn’t be Flood the Drummer if it wasn’t for Brother Gary. And because of that, I must continue to pay it forward. I must and I will, live life and keep the beat.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
Source: TBO Inc®
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Photo: C. Norris