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Interview with David Garibaldi - Tower Of Power

David Garibaldi

David Garibaldi -Tower Of Power
David Garibaldi is the original drummer of Tower of Power from their humble beginnings back in 1970 and, apart from a break or two, he’s been with the band for over forty years. His loyalty and belief in the band is to be admired in an era where musicians are finding it increasingly difficult to commit to a single band or artist.

He is renowned for his approach to the funk groove with their classic tracks, ‘Squib Cakes’, ‘What Is Hip?’, ‘Only So Much Oil In The Ground’, ‘Don’t Change Horses’ and many more. The fact that these grooves aren''t easy has meant he''s highly respected by many drummers and he''s a great player to study for beat displacement and groove syncopation.

His many educational books, DVD’s and videos as ‘Tower of Groove’, ‘Talking Drums’ and his recent ‘Code Of Funk’ and its companion ‘Breaking The Code’ demonstrate the ‘linear’ aspects and cover the many facets of the Garibaldi groove.

We caught up with David in Central London over lunch at the beginning of Tower of Power’s UK/European leg of their tour.

So David - 40 years with Tower of Power. I just wanted to ask you to reflect on the band’s history, where the band is now and how it’s developed over the years.

It’s actually been 44 years. For us the story is still being written. The band has a life of its own. It’s a big family, I couldn’t think of being in any other situation, and for me, this is where I belong. I think I was born to do this. There are probably other situations I could be in but this is where you get to be with people you really enjoy, the music is really great, no one’s looking over your shoulder and it’s challenging.

Would you say you''re a team player?

Yes. I think the star of our show is the music. We have some very good players but we’re the sum of our parts, it’s not based on any one individual. Everybody contributes and gets the chance to be a part of what we are. We function as a group.

How do you keep all those songs as fresh and vibrant as it was when they were first written?

We rotate the songs in and out of the set list. Every few months and sometimes every few weeks, we’ll add things and take some of them away. Pieces we’re tired of playing or we’re not able to give it everything we want to, we put away for a while. It’s more than just playing the song - it’s our life and our heartbeat. It’s kind of like ''if you don’t play the song, you don’t live''. We enjoy ourselves and we enjoy each other.

There’s a great chemistry in Tower of Power, where do you contribute from a song writing perspective?

Yes, definitely. I’m a voice in the fabric of Tower of Power. Everybody gets a chance to say something and contribute musically. I’m an active participant in our musical family.

You’re immediately identified as the drummer with Tower of Power but over the years there have been many drummers who have taken the drumseat, how did they fit in?

I heard the band with both Herman Matthews and Russ McKinnon and they played the music really well. When we did the 40th Anniversary show, I got a chance to actually spend time with them and we’ve become great friends.

Rhythmically, they had many challenging parts which you laid down. Having interviewed Herman Matthews, he thought that some of the parts were a challenge but it was also a learning curve.

Those guys did a great job because they made the drum chair their own. I think when you’re in situations like that you learn what the music is. If I were in Count Basie’s orchestra I’d have to learn how to play Count Basie’s music. I’d study Sonny Payne and then ultimately, I’d have to do it my way. I say that Herman and Russ did a great job because they didn’t play what I played. They played the songs how they heard them and stamped their personality on the music – it’s the only way you can make that work.

You’re known for being a ‘funk’ drummer. What threw you in that direction?

I grew up in the jazz tradition and went through the school band tradition and concert bands. When I was in those bands it was the beginning of the era of ‘rock’. What I heard when I first went to see James Brown was a very big moment because I’d never heard anything like that before. Cool beats, precision and discipline. I was really excited by that. That experience gave me a musical vision as well as personal vision. So I thought, this is what I’m going to pursue. From a drumming perspective, on the surface there’s all those 16th notes but when you look closer, there is serious vocabulary. There are a lot of elements in funk drumming that are like jazz components. Technique; you have to understand how your hands and feet work. To play funk in a sophisticated way requires ‘chops’. It’s creative and as creative as the jazz tradition, but in a different way. The JB drummers were brilliant. Great funk drummers have quite a depth of knowledge that they draw on. To me, funk drumming is a multi-dimensional and always has been.

Dynamics play a key part in the delivery of your groove.

Yes. Having good technique and a good concept for the music makes that happen. If you really want to take your playing to another level, you have to study. If you want your sound to go to another level, you have to study. The primary component of the drumset is the snare drum and I grew up in the tradition of studying snare drum. I was taught that you’ve got to have good hands.

Let’s move on to your sound and how you tune your kit?

You can have great ideas and a poor sounding instrument, so those ideas are not going be as good as they could be. Combine great ideas with a great sound and then you really have something. I think it’s a very big part of playing. Understanding the importance of having a great sounding instrument and tuning is a big part of it.

I used Rogers drums back in the 70’s and there was a gentleman in the Rogers R & D department named Jim Ganduglia. He was brilliant. Jim had some really great ideas about tuning that I never understood before. At that time, for me tuning was really a great struggle and I would piss people off because I would take so much time trying to get a sound out of my snare drum. It was pathetic. Once I understood what Jim was telling me, I was then able to get a total sound out of the drum set.

The first thing that Jim taught me, was that your toms must be equidistant in size. That takes care of the tuning issue with the traditional 12” and 13” rack tom sizes. 16” in the traditional drum set configuration, you have a 1” difference and then a 3” difference. You want that equal distance so you tune the drum within its own range and the drum to speak the way it should.

In that traditional configuration, you ideally want a nice “scale” from high to low. Placing a 13” tom in between a 12” and 16” means that the 13” won’t be tuned within it’s proper range. Either the 12” or the 13” will suffer sonically.

Equidistant in this context means an equal distance apart in size. Whether it’s 10”, 13” and 16”, or 12”, 13” and 14”, or 8”, 12” and 16”, the scale that you’re creating will have a nice even sound and each drum doesn’t have to compete with the others to be in the right space scale-wise.

Then, with the proper tension, all the drums will sound big and fat. That was biggest thing that Jim taught me. Tune both heads to the same pitch using a medium tension. Medium tension on both heads will allow each drum to be within its tuning range so you get a huge sound. This allows the note that you’ve tuned it to and the note that’s within the shell to work together. Then there’s synchronicity and each drum sounds enormous.

Another great idea, which I use all the time, is to detune each drum slightly for pitch bend. Once each drum is tuned the way you want, then loosen one or two lugs on the top head about ½ turn. This gives each tom a pitch bend or a slight downward dip at the end of the sound.

The type of heads is also a factor. I use Remo heads, but whatever you like will work with an effective tuning concept. For years I used Pinstripes or Emperors, which are double thickness heads. Enter J.R. Robinson, who suggested Coated Ambassdors on all the drums…he said I’d get a bigger sound. Of course, I rejected this advice for a long time. Then finally, one day, I decided to give it a try…needless to say, I’ve never looked back. He was absolutely right. The thinner heads have max resonance, plus, the bass drum was much easier to play. Remember, this is all personal preference. What has worked for me, might not work for you.

I don’t use any muffling on the toms and very little in the bass drum. Inside the bass drum I use the Remo Weckl Mufflers, which is the “new and improved” version of the Simon Phillips rolled up towel that he used years and years ago – those work absolutely amazing. The drum really speaks and you get a big fat sound. On the front head I have the sound port in the middle as opposed to off to the side. The reason is because I want the air to move directly out of the drum so that when I hit the drum, I feel the air moving out of the drum and that’s very important. When you have the sound port off to the side, you create a tuning issue with the bass drum because it feels like you have a front head on the drum.

The air is hitting the front head and instead of going straight out of the drum, it’s redirected off-centre, giving that feeling of compression like you get with a double-headed drum. The sound port off-centre changes the way your bass drum responds and also its sound. I don’t want too much ring in the sound because I’m looking for that tight “thud”. Yes, you want to have roundness and bottom, yes, you want to have depth but if there’s too much ring, it doesn’t sound right. A small amount of ring is good.

Once your kit is sounding great, you then add a great sounding set of cymbals. Drums and cymbals…a complete instrument.

You have a great sounding snare drum, which is tight and ambient.

There’s a Clear Diplomat on the bottom and a Coated Ambassador on top. I tune it pretty tight but then detune it slightly, which produces some amazing results..

The first thing I do is tighten the bottom head as tight as I can get it…like a table top…this allows for a crisp snare response. Next, I tune the top head reasonably tight to get a bright “crack” when playing a rim-shot.

Then, I fine-tune the snare response by adjusting the tension on the snare strainer. This is an important step because it will allow you to get the right texture when playing ghosted notes. With the snare strainer on, tap the drum lightly as you would when playing a ghost note… very light… you should hear a snare sound. If the snare strainer is too tight it will sound like a tom, the snare will not respond when you play that ghosted note. If you hear a tom sound, start adjusting the tension on either side if necessary, while tapping the drum in the centre of the head until the snare sound becomes distinct and crisp.

Once that is done, then the final step… detuning. Detuning the snare drum slightly is a great trick to add mid-range and low-end to the drum while still retaining the crack on the top when playing a rimshot. After getting the desired tension top and bottom, and the proper snare response, loosen one or two lugs right in front of you, about ½ a turn, then maybe one or two on the bottom as well. Experiment…this is what works for my snare drum.

You have many educational videos and DVD’s, for those not familiar, what is linear drumming? Is it just one drum or cymbal playing at any one time in a groove?

Linear instruments such as the flute or trumpet…play lines and melodies, but no chords. By this definition, drums are linear. The individual drum set components are linear. Although, three or four limbs played together loosely form “chords”.

The first time I heard the ‘linear’ term was from Gary Chaffee who was the first person to use the term “linear drumming” When I started listening to and studying different drummers and trying to figure out what I wanted to do musically, I focused my attention on Bernard Purdie and Zigaboo Modeliste. What I noticed was all this layering of notes in their hands and feet. I then started to develop a layering concept for myself.

Rhythms that you play with your hands often stack one on top of the other. At times they touch and at times they don’t. There’s this shifting back and forth which creates moments where there is thicker sound because of the layering. So Gary’s thinking was that he felt control over his sound when things were more linear. So he developed that more linear approach to his drumming and that was where the term came from.

You’ve got the Talking Drums, Burning For Buddy, Tower of Groove and many others but your most recent is the book, ‘The Code of Funk’ and then the companion DVD, ‘Breaking The Code’. In the DVD you dissect that concept to the max, what were you trying to illustrate?

Yes, I was trying to illustrate the application of abstract concepts and how I approached learning them.

I’ve had some great teachers whose explanation of their concepts was brilliant. I could put together what they were teaching me from their words. That always impressed me how they could use their words in such a descriptive and powerful way to communicate abstract concepts so that I could then do it myself. My high school band director, Mr. James Campana, introduced me to playing in a big band. In college, my teacher Mr. Gene Graves, taught me about quality, creativity and enthusiasm. In Oakland, I studied with Chuck Brown, who taught me about discipline and jazz drumming. In Los Angeles, I had the honour of studying with the late Murray Spivack. He was a fabulous teacher who taught me how to play the snare drum. His explanations were always profound and simple.

Funk drumming is a complex genre. There’s so much to it because of it’s wide range of influences. To articulate your own ideas requires developing your own vocabulary. Study rhythm in the same way you study language. Develop “conversational” skills. The biggest thing I’ve learned about drumming is that there is no ceiling. The only limit is my imagination. Because rhythm has a maths base, there is endless variety in sixteen sixteenth notes. It’s absolutely astounding. For sure, it’s a life’s work. Drumming is very individual, can be uniquely personalised and be equally meaningful to anyone who is willing to work at it.

Tower Of Power

The music business has changed over the years. How has that changed for Tower of Power and how has that changed for you?

Tower of Power is a different animal. We’ve had record contracts and lost them. As a band we’ve never relied on record contracts because we’ve always had a great belief in ourselves. We felt this way even though we came up in an era where that was how business was done…contracts and record deals. As we move forward, every generation has its way in which things are accomplished. If you’re in it for the long term you have to learn to adjust. I can’t say that today is any tougher than it was 40 years ago because 40 years ago we were talking about starving artists and today we’re still talking about them. When TOP started, everything was new. Rock n’ Roll was emerging and on it’s way to becoming a legitimate art form.

Anyone focused on their life and what they want to accomplish has the chance to be very successful. That is irrespective of countries, economics, social status or ethnic background - it’s really important to not lose sight of that. Success and failure has no respect of persons. I’ve had the privilege of travelling all over the world and have found passionate, successful people everywhere. 

During my late teens and early 20’s, when I was figuring out what I wanted in my music life, there were no music schools that taught how to be in a rock band, how to record, or how to be a professional…there was none of that.

There was a jazz tradition and jazz education, but rest of it was undeveloped. There was no Tower of Power school. So we made ‘shit’ up and enjoyed that we doing something of our own, just like our heroes! We played all the time. I was always playing with somebody. 24/7 there was music and learning. In the beginning of my professional life, I was doing gigs for whatever money I could make and I was around musicians all the time. I was feeding and stoking my fire all the time. Listening, watching and playing is how everyone learned. There wasn’t a Tower of Power school and there were no schools to teach us how to be what we were, and what we were discovering about ourselves.

When I realized that I wanted to play funk drums and take it to another level, there was no one around to show me how to do that. I had to learn how to read and write until I was able to set out doing it for myself.

Today, I’m still working at becoming the drummer I dreamed I could be when I was 17 years old. Some of it will happen before my life is over. Tower of Power has gone from being a band to being an organism. Our music is our life and we’re blessed and grateful that we can still love what we do and be relevant.

From your experience is there anything you pass on to an upcoming drummer?

I think for any musician, just be yourself. That’s the only way there’s going to be any satisfaction as an artist. At best, you can only be yourself. Take learning seriously. Assess what your abilities are and then start building. Save your money…you’ll need it when you get older.

There may be situations where young drummers may look through rose tinted glasses in the hope their life would be like their heroes, what’s your take on that?

You have to believe in yourself and believe in your dreams. Don’t allow yourself to be discouraged and deprive yourself of the opportunity to dream. Anything is possible if you believe and are willing to work toward it. History proves that. Focus on your drumming, your life, and your relationships. Make everything about you the very best. A successful life isn’t for a select few…everyone has a chance to be great.


Drums: Yamaha
Cymbals: Sabian
Heads: Remo
Sticks: Vic Firth

For more information:

Interview: Jerome Marcus
Photography: Rob Shanahan

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