Class Is in Session with Drummer Keith Carlock
When Keith Carlock takes the small stage in the basement of the Music Loft he doesn’t say a word. He simply sits down behind the six-piece sparkling blue Yamaha Maple Custom Absolute drum set, taps out a few notes, adjusts his positioning, and then launches into a massive solo filled with changing time signatures and syncopated rhythms.
His hands become a blur and his face contorts with every stroke; his eyes close and he leans his head back in a meditative state. An audience of drummers sits on the edge of their seats, mentally counting and watching every skillful stroke. Carlock is impervious to camera flashes as he builds in intensity from what started out as a light rhythm of notes played with the fingers on a snare drum with the snares cut off. He is now pounding around the toms with sticks in jazz-fusion type patterns.
Then he places headphones on and an old jazz soundtrack starts playing, complete with vinyl popping sounds. When he comes in with the drums it’s as if the whole song becomes new. Launching into a whole new set of rhythms Carlock is off again, his head back and his fingers mixing up the time signature to create odd patterns over flowing bars of 4/4.
Twenty minutes later Carlock finishes and the room of silent gazers now bursts into applause.
‘“[I] need a shower,’” says Carlock, whose face and ‘“Rocky’” T-shirt are covered in sweat. ‘“These little lights are hot up here.’”
Ironically, it’s not the lights but the drummer who’s hot in this room full of aspirers.
This is Carlock’s first clinic tour and he’s on the road with his sponsor, Yamaha drums. He’s excited about being welcomed so warmly here in Greensboro and seems a bit overwhelmed at how the drumming community as a whole across the nation has been accepting him.
Carlock’s claim to fame that most musicians and non-musicians alike will understand are his performances with Steely Dan and Sting. He’s recently toured with both and is the drummer on Steely Dan’s 2003 release, Everything Must Go.
His career started long ago, in high school band where he learned rudiments, stick height and uniformity in the marching band. After high school he moved on to the University of North Texas where he studied under associate professor of jazz studies for the school of music, Ed Soph.
Carlock was a rocker and grew up listening to rock and roll, blues and R&B, but studying under Soph, and learning jazz completely changed his perspective on music and drumming. Jazz opened him up to a new way of playing, he says, teaching him improvisation and causing him to look at his instrument as musical rather than as a giant metronome. He learned phrasing and how to get different sounds from his instrument and in turn developed the confidence to know how to handle different live playing situations.
His technique changed as well. Carlock began using his fingers more, allowing the sticks to do the work, thereby giving him more speed and accuracy and less tension in his muscles. The six-foot, three-inch drummer also developed a drum set-up to accompany his height and long limbs. While the bass drum is as it would be on most any kit, the mounted toms are straight up and down, perpendicular to the floor or ceiling. His two floor toms and snare drum are angled away from him instead of toward him, like most people play. This, he says, helps him reach the drums easier and pull the sound out of them better.
He’s also given up on the smaller cymbals and splashes, at least for the time being. Carlock says he just doesn’t hear them in his style of playing and opts for 18-inch and 19-inch Zildjian A Custom crashes.
There’s no one major influence in the area of drumming for Carlock. He grew up listening to many of the drumming greats that most are familiar with ‘— Neal Peart, John Bonham, Tony Williams. But Carlock insists that every drummer has something to offer and that he can take something away from anyone he sees play; it doesn’t have to be a big name.
As far as his musical tastes Carlock says he’s a big fan of European musicians like Radiohead and Paul McCartney. Carlock is a huge Beatles fan. But when it comes to playing he often hits the New York clubs to play with guitarist Oz Noy or Wayne Krantz, two talented musicians whose styles are off-the-wall jazz, funk and fusion.
After college and after exhausting the Dallas scene Carlock was ready for a change, and ready to pursue his dream of becoming a professional musician. The choice on where to go was a simple one ‘— Los Angeles or New York. In either of those places Carlock would be surrounded by talented musicians, and those with connections. He decided on New York and soon afterward met Wayne Krantz. Krantz introduced him to others and eventually he was put into contact with Steely Dan, and his time with them led to touring with Sting.
Getting to where he is didn’t happen by chance, Carlock tells his audience. It took lots of practice, coming up with his own unique sound. It took confidence in his own abilities and the effort to get out and start playing in sit-ins and meeting other musicians.
‘“The whole thing is, you put yourself out there with people who have contacts,’” he tells his audience.
After taking the time to answer everyone’s questions in the room someone says they want to hear more drumming. An echo of ‘Yeah’s’ comes from the rest of the crowd and with that Carlock launches another track and sets off of another mind-blowing journey across his drums.
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