Dave Weckl

30 years with Yamaha and the new Live Custom kit.

The word “virtuoso” gets thrown around a lot, but when talking about Dave Weckl, it’s the only word that accurately describes the percussionist’s impeccable level of skill behind the kit. With more than 40 years of playing under his belt, and having sat in with such legends as Paul Simon, George Benson, Diana Ross and Robert Plant, Weckl is a true master of his cra — an artist who has spent a lifetime studying and perfecting his chops, and leading by example, passing his skills, techniques and advice on to the next generation of aspiring drummers.

“I always say, ‘I didn’t choose the drums. Drums chose me,’ you know?” says Weckl, casually spending the a ernoon at Guitar Center Hollywood, laying down some intricate, nuanced jazz and fusion with the kind of remarkable ease that only comes with such experience as his own. “From a very early age there was just a passion, and an attraction, and it’s basically an obsession with wanting to get better, to be like the people I saw playing the instrument like I envisioned and wanted to play it.”

Famously citing Buddy Rich among his biggest influences, Weckl’s invitation into the world of percussion was a combination of exposure, interest and encouragement from his family. “Everything is about what you’re exposed to. And my father and mother at the time—I was an only kid—so I was exposed to the music that was around the house. And they were music fans. My mother loved to sing, and loved good singers, and my dad was into Dixieland and big bands, you know?” Weckl goes on to say, “He had the insight to—I don’t know why, I wish I could ask him why he brought home a Buddy Rich record one day. ’Cause I don’t really know why. I was 12. And before that, I was playing to rock ’n’ roll records and I was also playing to Dixieland records with Jack Sperling on drums. Pete Fountain’s records.” He adds, “Jack Sperling was my introduction to playing jazz—he played it very simply, and very easy to dissect and to translate and to transcribe what he was actually doing, because he was very rudimentally based, but he was one of the big band drummers of the day.” Weckl describes Sperling’s sound, “It was the big, natural drum sound that was so prevalent in the ’50s and ’60s. Real open and airy … great recordings … very natural, so I was just attracted to that thing.”

In 1983, Weckl teamed up with Yamaha drums—and he’s been with the company ever since. “At home, in my studio, I have a Phoenix kit, which is their elite, top-ofthe- line, four diff erent woods, 11-ply drum set that is the most incredible kit I’ve ever played anywhere.” He continues, “[Yamaha and I have] developed a great relationship and a great team eff ort. They work very hard to provide me with what I ask for, which is basically any Yamaha kit that’s been made over the past 20 years—whether it’s oak or maple—Phoenix, of course, and now the new Live Custom as well. Basically, any drum set I get from them I can play without a problem, because they’re so consistent.” Weckl adds, “Every kit that I get—there has never been a bad one. Ever. It’s part of who I am as a musician and a drummer. It’s my sound … really, it’s been a fantastic relationship and [I] look forward to many more years of a fantastic relationship.”

In celebration of Weckl’s three decades with Yamaha, he and the company have teamed up to release two all-new signature snare drums. “For the 30th anniversary tour that we’re doing this year, [Yamaha is] making a limited-edition run of a brand new 5 1/2 by 14 brass shell signature drum, and they’re also going back to the original 5-inch depth by 13 maple.” He adds, “And the brass is new—I’ve had maple and I’ve had aluminum. Those have been my two shells for my signatures. So the brass drum is completely new, it’s an awesome, awesome drum.” In addition, both signature snares will feature Weckl’s dual-strainer system. “I really put my mind to work in thinking about what I hated about snare drums— and it always came back to the snare strainer, you know? Of it either being too choked or too loose, and trying to find the right sweet spot of the strainer. So the concept with the dual strainer is to have one—which is a stainless steel wire, which is a little brighter in sound— to have that one really loose, almost like a buzz. By itself, you would have no definition whatsoever. But the second strainer, when that comes on, it’s tight. So you get both the articulative snare from the normal wires—that’re a little more on the dull side, but they bite harder—and then you have the nice, high-end buzz of the loose wires. So with them together, you get the best of both worlds. And then you can, for eff ect, you can turn off one or the other if you want.”

It’s no secret that the music industry is a hard one to crack. The path of an aspiring musician is not an easy one, but according to Weckl, the dream is not impossible. “It’s most certainly doable for anybody, I think, that really has the perseverance and is smart about priorities, and fi guring out what matters and what doesn’t to get to that level—fi rst of all, which means practice, practice, practice, practice and get really, really, really, really good,” he laughs. “And I always sort of [subscribe] to the method of ‘be as versatile as possible.’ Understand the history of the instrument, be able to play as many diff erent styles as possible—and I think if there’s anything that I would say would be missing out of people and drummers today that want to do this, is that they don’t have interest or wanna spend the time to understand the history. You know, you can’t just start with today—with anything. In order to understand the depth of it, especially with an art like this, you have to go back to understand where all the players of today came from.”

Now a renowned clinician, Weckl is embarking on a worldwide clinic tour to coincide with his 30th anniversary with Yamaha. “The clinics will be out there for Yamaha, introducing and performing on the new Live Custom drum set. And then in each place that I go, I’m gonna stay and do a drumming intensive, just for 20 drummers … for a full-on day of pretty much one-on-one instruction and involvement with me, so we’re excited about that.” Having famously released numerous instructional videos throughout his extensive career, Weckl explains where his passion for teaching comes from. “When I was young, I was hungry for material. And I was always amazed that my favorite players at that time didn’t really have any instructional stuff out. And I just kind of made a pact with myself that if I ever got to a place where I had the opportunity to reach a lot of people—and they were interested in what I was doing—I would share it, and put it out there, as far as what I had been taught, to help them learn through experiences and teachings that I had been through to hopefully help them do what they wanted to do better.”

As an educator, Weckl understands the importance of applying one’s self to the study of the cra , and not simply relying on tricks or natural talent. “[Rhythm] certainly can be taught. I think that there’s a … honestly, I think there are higher levels of mental ability to do certain things better than others. Certain people have that ability for whatever it might be. I believe in that. But it’s not to say that somebody that maybe doesn’t have as much of the natural talent can’t also learn it—if they apply themselves and spend the time. ’Cause you can take somebody that has natural talent, doesn’t develop it, it’s the same thing. It doesn’t develop.” He adds, “For me, I try to make sure that parents also understand that if there’s a desire, a burning desire from the kid, to give them a shot … to let them do it. And it’s hard, because when you come from a background of blue-collar worker and that type of thing, most people look at being a musician as a joke, and not serious. But for people that really have that burning desire, and they have a talent, I try to inspire them to just keep doing it—and inspire the parents to let them do it.”

For more info on Dave Weckl visit daveweckl.com

Written by Brian Ruppenkamp / Photography by Ryan Hunter

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