RS transparentthe official blog of the Percussive Arts Society

  • In Memoriam: Ron Vater

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Feb 24, 2020

    Ron VaterDrumstick maker Ron Vater died on January 25, 2020. Born on January 25, 1957, Vater spent much of his youth at Jack’s Drum Shop in Boston, which was owned by his grandfather, Jack Adams, who would take Ron and his brother, Alan, to see such drummers as Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, and Elvin Jones when they played in Boston. 

    During his late teens and early twenties, Ron helped run C. Vater Music Center in Norwood, Mass. along with Alan and their father, the late Clarence “Clarry” Vater. When the store experienced a drumstick supply issue from a well-known manufacturer, Ron and Alan started turning their own drumsticks for the store. This was the beginning of the Vater drumstick business.

    The Vater brothers drumstick manufacturing became a full-time endeavor in the mid-1980s. They were soon producing drumsticks for Pearl, Tama, and numerous drum shops across the USA. Vic Firth asked the Vaters to manufacture hickory drumsticks for his own brand. Ron and Alan worked closely with Vic at their factory designing many of Vic Firth’s models that still exist in the market today. That led to the design and manufacturing of Zildjian drumsticks and many other brands, until the Vater brand was launched in 1991. While the family continued to manufacture drumsticks for others, as they still do today, the Vater brand became their main focus.

    Being mechanically inclined, Ron Vater oversaw the activities on the Vater factory floor. He would troubleshoot, maintain, set up, and operate the machines, all while teaching other workers, including his son Dante. Ron would sharpen the knives for the lathes and keep an eye on the quality control portion of the factory floor production process. 

    According to a post on the Vater website, “Ron loved Vater Percussion. He loved his high school sweetheart and wife of many years, Susan. He loved their boys, Eric and Dante Vater. He loved cars, fishing, spending time with friends and the many Vater artists that became part of his extended family over these years. He loved that the drumsticks Vater Percussion made were being used around the world by passionate musicians. Ron Vater will be missed by all those who knew him and worked with him. His passion and commitment to manufacturing the best drumsticks in the world will be carried on by the Vater Family, the many dedicated Vater Percussion employees and by all of you who create music and express your percussive passion with Vater products.”

  • In Memoriam: Emil Richards by Rick Mattingly

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Jan 15, 2020

    Emil Richards
    Vibraphonist and longtime first-call Los Angeles studio musician Emil Richards—whose playing graced countless movie and TV soundtracks, albums, and jingles—died on December 14, 2019.

    Born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1932, Emilio Joseph Radocchia began studying xylophone at age six. He was soon attracted to the vibraphone after hearing Lionel Hampton. “My roots are from Hamp," Richards said in a 1994 Percussive Notesarticle. “I got all my early training from copying and playing along with Hamp's records, because he was the only one around at the time.”

    By the time Richards was in tenth grade, he was playing with the Hartford Symphony. He attended the Hartt School of Music from 1949–52, where he studied with Al Lepak, and after being drafted he played in an Army band in Japan, where he worked with pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi.

    After getting out of the Army Richards settled in New York and soon became a member of George Shearing's group, with which he stayed for three years. In 1959 he moved to Los Angeles where he worked with Paul Horn and Don Ellis, eventually leading his own group, the Microtonal Blues Band. He also worked with instrument innovator Harry Partch, toured and recorded with former Beatle George Harrison, and recorded with artists including Frank Sinatra, Louie Bellson,  Quincy Jones, Stan Kenton, Peggy Lee, Shadowfax, Nancy Wilson, Sam Cooke, Tom Scott, Marvin Gaye, Carly Simon, Phil Spector, Bette Midler, the Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, and many others.

    Meanwhile, Richards became active in the L.A. studio scene, playing on everything from the original Flintstones cartoons to TV series such as Mission Impossible(he played the bongos on the theme song), Falcon CrestCagney and Lacey, and Dynasty, to movie soundtracks for such films as Cool Hand LukeJawsTaxi DriverClose Encounters of the Third KindBatman ReturnsJurassic ParkMen in BlackPirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl, Star Trek, Indiana Jones and the Temple of DoomGhostbustersSpider-Man 2, and the various Planet of the Apesfilms.

    "My ideal situation for a session would be playing the hardest mallet parts conceivable," he once said. "I like to go home exhausted from playing good, hard music. By hard I mean difficult, because it's a challenge. I love a challenge."

    Richards also prided himself on being able to come up with the proper sound for any situation, and he amassed a collection of over 350 instruments from around the world. Composers came to depend on his knowledge of world percussion when scoring films set in exotic locations. Richards, in turn, especially enjoyed working with composers who used instruments in creative ways. "On the movie soundtrack for The River Wild, Jerry Goldsmith wrote melodic figures for timpani and three RotoTom players," Richards recalled. "Having the timpani and RotoToms playing melodic lines together in octaves was really a good noise."

    Richards said that one of the most important things he learned was to be selective about the instruments he used. "When I first started, I was very proud of all of these instruments I had collected," he told writer Robyn Flans in a 1985 Modern Percussionistinterview. "I had a tendency to pull everything out of the bag. I've noticed this happens to a lot of percussionists when they play live: They don't let eight bars of music go by before playing on a different instrument. They don't give one instrument a chance to do something. Naturally, if five instruments do work and they provide the colors and help the music, fine, but in most cases you can't really get going playing in a rhythmical context if you're trying to play congas and then jump to a shaker or hit a cowbell.”

    A longtime supporter of the Percussive Arts Society, Richards donated 65 of his instruments to the PAS museum in Lawton, Oklahoma when it was built in 1992, including his entire collection of Thai gamelan instruments and a Leedy "octarimba," which is similar in concept to a 12-string guitar in that it has bars mounted in pairs and pitched an octave apart that are played with a double-headed mallet. Richards also helped the PAS museum acquire other instruments, such as one of Shelly Manne's drum sets. (Those instruments are now housed in the Percussive Arts Society’s Rhythm! Discovery Center in Indianapolis.) In 1994, Richards was elected to the PAS Hall of Fame.

    Even while he was busy in the studios, Richards continued to do gigs on vibes. For many years, he and drummer Joe Porcaro co-led a group that was known both as Calamari and Contraband. Richards also did some composing, and his vibes playing and composing were heard to advantage on his solo album, The Wonderful World of Percussion, on the Interworld Music label. "I overdubbed all the parts, and I have as many as 25 overdubs on some tunes," he explained. "I did a piece I wrote in seven called 'Underdog Rag,' and besides playing the four marimba parts I embellished it with all kinds of kooky sounds. The album has some bebop, some straight-ahead vibes and marimba things, and some real fun stuff. I also used some of my real oddball instruments.” Other albums Richards recorded as a leader included Luntana (1996), Calamari: Live at Rocco’s (2000), Emil Richards with the Jazz Knights (2003), and Maui Jazz Quartet (2006).

    He authored several books, including Mallet Chord Studies – Chord Voicings and Arpeggio Patterns for Vibraphone and MarimbaSight Reading for Mallets,Melody & Rhythm Permutations,Exercises for Mallet Instruments (all published by Hal Leonard), andWonderful World of Percussion: My Life Behind Bars,published by BearManor Media.

    Emil Richards died on December 13, 2019.

  • In Memoriam: Neil Peart by Rick Mattingly

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Jan 13, 2020

    Back in the 1980s, before email, Neil Peart preferred writing letters to talking on the phone. Being that he was the one who wrote the lyrics to Rush’s songs, it made sense that he valued the written word. I received some of his letters when I was an editor at Modern Drummermagazine, during a time when we were coordinating a contest in which the winner would receive one of Neil’s old drum sets. I especially remember the first letter; at the top, where one would typically put something along the lines of “October 28, 198_,” he wrote, “A rainy, leafy night in Toronto.” His letters, like his lyrics, were filled with poetic imagery.

    In my dealings with Neil, which, in addition to his letters did, in fact, include a couple of phone calls and meeting him backstage after a Rush concert at Madison Square Garden, he always reminded me of jazz and classical musicians I knew. He seemed to have little interest in being a “rock star,” even though his drumming put him among the highest echelon of rock royalty. He was in it for the music, not the lifestyle. “Even as a kid, I never wanted to be famous,” Peart told the Toronto Star. “I wanted to be good.” His lyrics to “The Spirit of Radio” reflected that attitude: “One likes to believe / In the freedom of music / But glittering prizes / And endless compromises / Shatter the illusion / Of integrity.”

    When the Steve Morse Band toured with Rush during the 1985/’86Power Windowstour,drummer Rod Morgenstein got to know Neil. Rod recalled that Neil didn’t engage in the typical small talk that usually goes on before and after shows. As an example, one night when Rod sat next to Peart at dinner, Neil turned to him and said, “Have you ever considered how different languages affect the world dynamic?” Rod admitted that he hadn’t. But Neil had.

    Rod described a typical day for Peart on the road: “A typical show day often consists of travel, sound checks, meet and greets, interviews, the performance, followed by more meet and greets,” Rod explained.” A typical show day for Neil Peart on the Power Windowstour would usually begin in the wee hours of morning, as Neil would journey on his bicycle from the previous city (assuming said previous city was within 150 miles of the next gig). Neil would often be on his bike for hours, arriving in time for Rush’s sound check. Directly after sound check, he would have dinner, immediately followed by a one-hour conversational French language lesson with a local French-speaking tutor. Neil would then proceed to a private practice room and warm up on a small drum kit prior to the band’s two-hour concert.”

    Neil Ellwood Peart was born on September 12, 1952,in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. After taking piano lessons, he started drumming at age 15, greatly inspired by The Who’s drummer, Keith Moon. For years, Neil wore around his neck a chain with a piece of a cymbal Moon shattered at a Toronto concert. At age 18 Peart moved to England to pursue a music career, but after 18 months he returned to Canada where he worked for his father selling tractor parts and playing in local bands.

    He joined rock trio Rush in 1974. The group started as a blues-rock band in 1968, but evolved into a progressive group that incorporated elements of heavy metal and punk. Peart used an extensive drum set that completely surrounded him and included melodic and synthesized percussion instruments along with the usual drums and cymbals, and his intricate solos were highlights of Rush concerts.

    Many considered Neil to be the world’s best rock drummer, and he was honored in the Modern DrummerReaders Poll 38 times. Nevertheless, in the ’90s Peart took lessons from Freddie Gruber and Peter Erskine, and he credited them with helping him develop a more fluid approach and a deeper groove. “What is a master but a master student?” Peart told Rolling Stone in 2012. “There’s a responsibility on you to keep getting better.”

    In addition to his drumming, Peart wrote the lyrics to Rush songs, inspired by science fiction, classical mythology, philosophy, and literary works. The title of Rush’s 1984 album, Grace Under Pressure, was taken from Ernest Hemingway. Peart was also the author of several books, including 1996’s The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa, which chronicled a 1988 bicycle tour in Cameroon. After Peart’s 19-year-old daughter, Selena, was killed in a car crash in 1997, followed a year later by the death of Peart’s wife from cancer, Neil took a 14-month motorcycle trip from Canada to Central America, after which he documented his travels and sense of loss in the book Ghost Rider.

    In the 1990s, Peart produced two tribute albums to jazz legend Buddy Rich, titled Burning for Buddy, which featured such drummers as Bill Bruford, Billy Cobham, Kenny Aronoff, Rod Morgenstein, Simon Phillips, Steve Smith, Max Roach, Joe Morello, Ed Shaughnessy, Steve Gadd, and Peart, among others, playing tunes associated with Rich and backed by a big band made up of Rich alumni.

    During Peart’s time with Rush, the band released over 20 albums, 14 of which went platinum. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, Rush’s album sales put them third behind the Beatles and the Rolling Stones for the most consecutive gold or platinum certifications by a rock band. The group’s best-known album was 1981’s Moving Pictures, which reached No. 3 on the Billboardalbum chart and sold nearly 5 million copies. That album included some of Rush’s best-known songs, including “Tom Sawyer,” “YYZ,” and “Limelight.” Rush disbanded in 2015.

    When Rush was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, Peart said, “The highest purpose of art is to inspire; what else can you do for anyone but inspire them? It’s gratifying to think of us having inspired these youngsters to pick up a pair of drumsticks, a guitar, and a rhyming dictionary and torment their parents as we tormented ours.”

    Peart died in Santa Monica, California on January 7, 2020, of brain cancer.

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