start at the beginning. I saw a drummer wanted ad in the Recycler one
day in the year 1978 or 1979. It looked interesting. So I called. The
guy who answered was a drummer and didn’t need any drummers. But he
said something like, “Hey listen man, if you want an awesome teacher who
will take you to the top levels, you gotta call this guy: Randy
Fowler.” And, he gave me Randy’s phone number. I was really stoked,
just because of the enthusiasm this guy had about Randy Fowler and his
teaching. So I called the number later that day. Randy answered. His
voice was rough and a little gruff. I instantly visualized him as a guy
in his 40’s, with gray hair, and maybe a beer belly. He said that yes,
he was available for lessons, and we set up a time.
was in the Winnetka area, in an apartment complex on Sherman Way. It
was about 6 miles from my house in Van Nuys. Anyway, I was quite
surprised when I first saw Randy. Rather than a sloppy old dude, he was
a slim, trim, dapper, and YOUNG guy, in a suit, I think. Turns out, he
was only about 4 years older than I was. Anyway, during this first
lesson, Randy pretty much told me about what I would be learning there.
At one point, he demonstrated some playing on his pedestal-mounted
practice pad, using, as I recall, some dark wood antique marching-style
drumsticks. The blurring, yet precisely moving sticks stunned me,
pumping out a flurry of kalidescoping patterns, accents, rolls, and
flams. I was floored and amazed. Randy played using the traditional
left-hand grip, which was what I wanted to learn, having admired the
great drummers who used that grip (Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, etc.). I
remember telling Randy during this first lesson something like, “This is
just what I want to learn: the art of drumming!” and Randy responded,
“Yep, that’s what we’re all about here.” The main topic of my first
lesson was how to hold the sticks, and how to make a stroke, with either
hand. So, my first assignment was pretty simple, but very exacting. It
had to be done just right! Happily, Randy was pleased during my second
lesson when he saw how well I had practiced and learned “the stroke”. I
remember him saying, “I’m impressed!” Man, that made me feel good!
When I got
home from that first lesson, I couldn’t shut up to all my relatives and
friends about the awesome teacher I now was studying with. I was so
excited, I was practically coming out of my skin! After years of
feeling kind of inadequate and hopeless as a drummer, I felt like a door
had been opened to the future I had always dreamed about.
are some things that I remember about Randy and his Studio.
Randy’s studio had two pedestal-mounted, old fashioned drum pads on
wooden pedestals. The pads were for Randy, on the left, and the
student, on the right. When seated at the pads, both Randy and the
student faced in the same direction, and directly at a wall-sized
mirror. So, both Randy and the student could easily see themselves and
each other. But here’s where things get really interesting. Randy had
five or six smaller mirrors installed in various places on the ceiling
and on the floor, positioned at various angles, with which he could see
the student’s hands from various angles that would be impossible for him
to see directly from his seat. I gotta tell you, I was quite impressed
by this. I told everyone I knew about it!! I would never have guessed
that a drum teacher would set up something like this.
Randy was very particular about how I held the drumsticks.
He liked the right stick to be held between the pad of the thumb and the
first joint of the index finger. The middle finger was to be placed
snugly against the index finger, and curled around the stick, so that it
could propel the tip of the stick downward by pulling the butt end of
the stick upward towards the palm. The third and fourth fingers were to
hang down naturally away from the stick. The butt end of the stick would be located at approximately
the place where the hand meets the arm at the wrist. The hand was to be
held palm-down, and preferably in line with the forearm, not angled to
hand was the classic traditional position, but Randy had definite
preferences. For example, where the stick sits in the crook of the
thumb and forefinger, Randy wanted the stick held there not too far from
the butt end of the stick. He liked the extra “meat” that you get if
you hold the stick closer to the butt end, rather than closer to the
center of the stick.
in the year or so that I studied with him, Randy invited me to bring the
fourth finger of my right hand around and under the stick, joining the
middle finger. He said it would give the stick a little more support.
He also said I didn’t have to keep my right hand strictly palm-down; I
could relax a little and let the hand turn a bit towards “thumb-up”.
But Randy never endorsed the fully thumbnail-toward-the-ceiling position
that some drummers promoted.
Randy’s own left hand, he did things during fast daddy-mamas that I can
only imitate but not really pull off, to this day. His hand was cocked
“backwards” so that the stick was nearly parallel to his forearm. His
elbow would come up as his wrist came down—and vice versa—and his third
and fourth fingers would move in unison, in toward his palm, and out,
alternately releasing and supporting the stick. He did it like a truly
well-oiled machine, and I still don’t “have it”, even after all these
years. Curiously, I remember him saying and showing me that during fast
daddy-mamas, the path of the tip of the right stick was not straight up
and down, and he couldn’t remedy it; it was just something he lived
typical lesson, Randy would get things started by having me play my
assignments from the last lesson. He would locate the page in his own
copy of the book being used, and would follow along, making sure that I
didn’t get away with any undetected errors. If I made some mistakes, he
would sometimes have me give it another try. If he thought that it was
appropriate, he would sometimes carry the assignment over another week.
He was very good at detecting that I hadn’t practiced enough during the
week! But usually, I was good about sticking to daily or almost daily
practice, so most of the time, Randy was pretty satisfied with my
performance. After showing that I had learned the assignments
satisfactorily, Randy would assign the next material. Often it was the
next page in the book, which was logical. Usually, Randy would play
along with me while I did it for the first time, with the metronome
Randy didn’t expect a perfect performance during the first reading. He
just made sure that I knew what I would be trying to achieve during the
next week of practicing. Sometimes I would feel bad about my rate of
progress, but Randy was always encouraging: “You’re doing great—keep it
up” I remember him saying.
here are some things I remember about Randy himself. He was a big
Abbott and Costello fan. I remember him taping some episode off the
television once. I think he also liked The Three Stooges. He also used
to wear full three piece suits, and sometimes a hat, like men wore in
the 1940’s. He had several pairs of dark-stained, large diameter,
antique-looking drumsticks that he often played with during lessons. He
also told me, early on in my lessons with him, to get a pair of Gretsch
Perma-Sticks to practice with. He always said that it’s better to
practice (and play?) with a heavy stick, rather than a lighter one. He
told me I could find a pair at a music store on Ventura Blvd. in the
Topanga Canyon area. That’s actually where I went and was able to pick
up a pair of Gretsch Perma-Sticks. Because these sticks were unusually
brittle, unfortunately I broke mine and don’t have them anymore.
Some of the first books Randy told me to get were: Stick Control
(Stone), Odd Time Reading Text (Bellson), and Podemski’s Snare Drum
Method. Randy also had small strips of paper, with individual rudiments
printed on them, which he’d hand out to students from time to time. I actually still have some of
these, with his writing of the date in pen on the upper right corner!
Later on in my lessons, Randy told me to get Accents and Rebounds
(Stone). I still have that copy today!! I think the price marked is
Some of the things
Randy used to say were:
To be a truly competent drummer, you must study and master the
hands alone, and then afterwards deal with the feet and the drumset.
Although weekly lessons were good, a drum student could
benefit even more from daily lessons, as in a school.
Buddy Rich was his favorite drummer. One thing he liked about
Buddy was that he “never played the same thing twice.”
Rock gigs were the “bottom of the barrel.”
Practicing single paradiddles with no accents was a worthy
Being able to control the number of strokes in a buzz roll was
not unthinkable; actually, a drummer should be able to do a buzz roll
with exactly three taps per hand.
Randy called the two-beat roll “daddy-mamas”.
You don’t need speed to be “tasty”, but it doesn’t hurt.
“I would have no qualms about doing a drum battle with Louie
Matched grip players were often “cavemen” in their approach
Drumming is not a sound, as much as it is MOVEMENT.
To play around a set of drums involves merely REACHING
Randy had studied with Murray Spivack, the renowned drum instructor. In
fact, Randy had a plaque at his studio, which read, “Randy Fowler
Percussion Studio--Murray Spivack method”.
I think that Randy said that it was Murray who first introduced him to
the book, LAWS OF SUCCESS by Napoleon Hill. I remember Randy telling me
that the book changed his life. “The book tells you that, basically,
everyone is out to screw you over, and so you have to be ready to deal
with that” I believe Randy once told me.
I went to
Randy’s first wedding. I saw Murray there. At the reception, Mike
Appleman played drums, as a tribute to Randy. The drum set there in the
back yard had two hi hats!! I remember Murray talked to me a little
that day. Randy introduced me to him, and Murray kind of laughed at me
when Randy told him I was his student. I figured he’d dealt with lots
of young guys in his time, so it didn’t bother me.
I once saw
Randy play a full evening gig at a bowling alley in Orange County, I
think, with Livacious. Randy had invited me to go along with him, so I
traveled from the San Fernando Valley to the gig with Randy in his van,
I think. He let me sit in on one tune. It was “Something”, by George
Harrison. Randy was impressed: “You didn’t miss a beat!!” he said.
I remember watching Randy warm up before the gig, doing daddy-mamas on a
practice pad. Some guy was watching, and I wondered if the guy was as
amazed as I was with Randy’s chops.
I remember Livacious doing the tune Too Hot (Oh, oh, it’s too hot… too
hot lady. Gotta run for shelter, gotta run for shade…). The guys in
the band were friendly and the girl was nice, as I remember. I wonder
where they all are now…
I was in
the audience when some of Randy’s students took part in a drum contest
at a music store somewhere in the Reseda or Tarzana or Canoga Park
area. I remember that Henry Bellson was there, and some of his students
were competing. Randy’s students Mike Appleman and Gary (I don’t
remember his last name) were among the competitors. As I remember, Gary
won the contest! His solo was dynamic, for sure. I was impressed by
Mike Appleman’s tasty rolls around the toms. Great stuff! Randy must
have been proud of his students.
Another event Randy and I attended was PASIC (Percussive Arts Society
International Convention) held at Cal State Northridge. I remember
telling Randy that some presenter there said that matched grip promotes
more evenness of sound between the right and left hands. Randy
responded, “That’s incorrect, and based on a misconception”, or
something to that effect. Randy always had strong opinions, and was
ready to argue his point at any time.
weekend, Randy brought his drums over to my house in Van Nuys, and we
had a “drum battle” morning. It was challenging. I tried hard, but it
was obvious to me and Randy that he beat me easily!! But it was fun.
Randy took a couple of pictures of me at his set, mugging. I think I
still have one somewhere. It’s embarrassing, ‘cause I have this monkey
expression on my face. The set he brought that day was a Slingerland
set, with lots of tom-toms.
one day, Randy asked me to help him move some stuff. I agreed, of
course. At one point, some neighborhood kids came around on their bikes
to where we were (it was on Balboa on the west side, just north of
Sherman Way), and looked at some of the drum equipment that we were
moving. At one point, this kid starts picking at the snare wires of one
of Randy’s snare drums with his fingers. I remember saying, “I think
you’d better go”, as I gave the kid a mean look. The punk said
something like, “Oh, scare tactics, eh? Okay, I’ll bring my big brother
around here.” And he took off on his bike. Randy and I agreed what
punks some kids are these days.
a Student Of The Week program at his studio. I was often pleased to see
my name up on the board in large letters. That program was another
thing that made studying with Randy so rewarding.
Whenever someone asks
me about how I learned to play drums, I tell them that I had various
private teachers. If they don’t mind hearing more details, I never fail
to mention the guy who “really taught me about how to use the hands,
about stick technique, and the fundamentals of reading.” That’s Randy