“Got the foundation on lock down, mmmhmm. If there’s no foundation I’m not going in the house.” -Rachelle Ferrell on her drummer, John Roberts
There’s nothing like a good groove. It’s a scientific fact. There are always certain songs that make us stop what we’re doing and start dancing. It’s very easy to enjoy these, but harder to create them. Grooves can be made by one person, but my favorite grooves include many people. Snarky Puppy, Parliament-Funkadelic, Earth Wind and Fire, Tower of Power, the list goes on. All of these groups are comprised of some of the funkiest human beings to grace the earth. Every instrument has specific roles to fill, but I find that drums have the most difficult, but most important job in this funky stew.
I first learned this lesson at American River College, in the combos class. My combo had selected “The Chicken” by Pee Wee Ellis, (made famous by Jaco Pastorius), as one of our tunes. One of the professors in that class, the great Dr. Joe Gilman, had listened to our most recent performance, giving us pointers on how to get better. He went around the room, giving people pointers and suggestions. As he turned to me, he gave me years worth of knowledge in one sentence. He said, “You’ve got a great feel, and great ideas, but you need to lock it down!”. What he said made perfect sense, but I was still a little bit puzzled as to what he meant. As he continued he said, “You know, lock it down! Pick a groove, and stick with it!” As I was playing this tune, I was being funky, but switching grooves and bass lines. Dr. Gilman told me, “Each member has a piece to contribute, and once you lay it down, they find their role. If you switch, they have to switch and constantly find a different spot.”. This conversation turned my playing around for the better.
When we play grooves, we need to be consistent, and not have commitment issues. I’m not saying you have to do the exact same thing for the whole duration of the song, but whenever we sit on a groove, we need to pick a story and stick with it. We would never tell the police a story about where we were, and then change our story right after we tell them. That is ridiculously fast way to become a suspect. He continued to tell me that when he played in George Duke’s band, they sat on one groove for a whole hour, just to see where all the players were, and what their roles are. A WHOLE HOUR! They played the same groove for a prolonged period of time, without moving, to display this exact lesson.
This small piece of advice made a huge impact on my playing, and made my playing more comfortable with other musicians. Isn’t that what we should strive for? Nowadays, I feel as if this lesson is overlooked. There is a large epidemic in the world of musicians, and it’s called Groove Amnesia, (as Rick Lotter says). We often play grooves without ever solidifying them, and sticking with our stories. This might create an unsettling feeling to those who listen to us and our music. I’d definitely be worried if someone came up to me and said, “Hey, my name is Peter, I mean Randy. Actually Tito, no Jermaine, actually Marlon……..My name’s Michael.”. If we look at our grooves as a statement, it can help us build more consistency in our playing, which will create a more solid and effective groove.
The moral of the story is, pick a groove, and LOCK IT DOWN!!!!!