Some Remembrances From My Time As A Student At The Randy Fowler Percussion Studio
May 3, 1979 To June 12, 1980 [44 Lessons]
Student Of The Week [12] Times
By Dean Mostrom


           Okay, let’s 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.

            His studio 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. 

            Okay, here 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 the side. 

            The left 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. 

            Later on 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.         

            As for 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 with.

            During a 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 clicking.

            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.

            Anyway, 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 $3.50.

Some of the things Randy used to say were:

1)      To be a truly competent drummer, you must study and master the hands alone, and then afterwards deal with the feet and the drumset.

2)      Although weekly lessons were good, a drum student could benefit even more from daily lessons, as in a school. 

3)      Buddy Rich was his favorite drummer.  One thing he liked about Buddy was that he “never played the same thing twice.”

4)      Rock gigs were the “bottom of the barrel.”

5)      Practicing single paradiddles with no accents was a worthy endeavor.

6)      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.

7)      Randy called the two-beat roll “daddy-mamas”.

8)      You don’t need speed to be “tasty”, but it doesn’t hurt.

9)      “I would have no qualms about doing a drum battle with Louie Bellson.”

10)    Matched grip players were often “cavemen” in their approach to drumming.

11)    Drumming is not a sound, as much as it is MOVEMENT.

12)    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.

            One 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. 

            I remember 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.

            Randy had 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 B. Fowler.

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