A fifty year old guy named Clarence sits behind the drum kit and gets ready to play, adjusting the height of the stool and taking preliminary taps on the toms and snare. He's a really rough-faced guy with short blonde hair and bad teeth. He told me that he was an amateur boxer through his twenties, and to be honest he looks and sounds like a boxer. He's got the kind of cheek-bones that look like he spent a lot of time getting punched, and he talks slowly, not quite stuttering, but you get the idea that he might have had his brain rattled around inside of his skull a few times.
We had a cigarette outside of the practice facility before we got started. He told me a little bit about his experience as a drummer and other things he'd done, such as construction work and so on. He's been around the block a few times, that's for sure, but he hasn't been drumming for that long. I'm here though, and he's here, so we might as well get on with the try-out. After all, I need a new drummer.
The only thing that bothers me before we got started, and this is really picky, but when he smokes his cigarette he holds it between his second and third fingers like he's got it clutched between crab claws. When he takes his last drag, inside of flicking it away like most people would, he throws it like a baseball, sending it only half as far as I do with a simple two-fingered flick. It makes me wonder what kind of drummer he could be if he uses so much unnecessary energy just to discard a cigarette. There's one thing a drummer needs to be to achieve the highest levels of performance and that is efficient. There's nothing less efficient than using a big baseball pitcher's throw to chuck away a tiny butt when a simple flick would do. You can tell a lot about a person by how he smokes a cigarette.
Anyway, Clarence gets behind his kit and I get my guitar ready. I ask him if there are any songs he wants to play and he suggests we just find a good rhythm and jam a while. I shrug and agree. He starts to bang the drums and I start to strum a rhythm line to go along with it, just repeating some chords, G, D, and C.
I need a drummer as soon as possible. My old drummer, Bobby Metronome, played with me through the end of ten-show tour we had, but we barely spoke for the last two shows. The performances went fine, but they were cold and detached. Maybe the crowds at the clubs in Hamilton and Burlington could tell that we weren't really having fun. I'm not sure. I smiled when they cheered, but even so it all seemed a bit frosty. The whole time, standing at the front of the stage, I felt like I could sense Bobby's eyes drilling holes in my back.
This old guy sounds rough when he hits the drums. Clarence plays like he's been taking lessons and maybe spending an hour a week at his scheduled time in the rehearsal studio playing along with a Doctor Hook record. He's not bad, like, bad-bad, but he's definitely inexperienced, and I'd rather not get involved with another half-assed inexperienced player when I'm trying to get my career back on its feet.
We play for half an hour, trying out a bunch of different rhythms, playing through some songs he knows, and then I call it to a halt. Okay, Clarence. I think that's enough. Um, there are a few other drummers I'm going to see in the next few weeks, and if I decide we should play again I'll give you a call, okay?
Yeah, sure, he says, very enthusiastically. Sounds great. Just let me know.
Not likely, I think as I carry my gear out. Not unless you're the only drummer available in all of the Greater Toronto Area.
The next day sees me all the way out in Mississauga to try out a couple of kids. As soon as I got back from the tour I printed off a stack of posters advertising for players: guitar, bass, drums, whatever, and put them up in music shops and guitar stores all over the damn place. I got a call back a few days later from a couple of buddies, one a guitar player and the other a drummer. So off I go on the bus with my bass, ready to take chances on newbies.
These two particular fellows, although twenty-two and twenty-three, remind me very much of high school kids. When I get to the suburban home and ring the bell, a woman almost my age answers the door. This is the drummer's mother, and she leads me to the basement where the two boys are playing. She seems a bit confused, not sure whether to treat me like a young buddy of her son's or whether to talk to me like a grown up (perhaps she thinks 'Should I offer him iced tea or a beer?'). I feel like an old loser who has to hang around with young kids because he's got no friends his own age. Oh well. I can't really argue that that's not true.
The two guys are in the basement playing, and they don't stop when I come in. They look at me and continue jamming while I get my bass out and plug into the amp they have set up for me. I start to play, and we jam for about ten minutes. When we stop I ask them if they know any covers we could play through.
No, we don't play covers, says the guitar player. We just play our own stuff.
Okay, I say. Well, do you want to play some of your songs and I'll just jam along?
We don't really have any songs written, he says. Do you want to try and write something?
I'm not sure if we're ready to start writing songs, I tell him. We've only been playing together for ten minutes.
Right, right, he says.
We jam for a while, and these guys show me 'their stuff,' which mostly involves the guitar player sitting on the floor doing tiny fuzzy noodles, while the drummer fumbles around finding rhythms and only staying with them for an odd minute or so before changing. The shit is impossible to jam along with and pretty soon I find myself losing interest. The session concludes with a similar line that I fed to Clarence: Don't call me, I'll call you.
I end up back at the dingy little apartment I moved into six months ago when everything with my wife Sheila fell apart. I'm in the student ghetto, down near the University of Toronto. We both ended up moving out of our nice apartment because neither one of could afford it on our own. She's living in a place that's probably as nasty as this one, but I bet she's decorated it better.
Home from a disappointing tour and now finding myself without a band, it's sad to look around the one room place, seeing a few bags with some dirty clothes, a mattress on the floor without proper sheets, an amp and a few guitars, and think that this is as far as I have risen in nearly forty years.
That night I get a phone from Jason, the guitarist I was hoping to drop.
Hey Terry. What's going on?
Not much, I say. I've been trying to hunt up a new drummer, but I haven't had any luck. How about you?
I'm bored, man. There's a jam at the Fox and Hound tonight. Do you want to go play a few songs?
I think it over for a minute. If I do end up needing to keep Jason around, then playing open jams would be a good way for him to get some stage experience, which he definitely needs. On the other hand, I'm not crazy about playing with the twit again. Finally I shrug. Sure Jason. Sounds good. I'll meet you down there, all right?
The Fox and Hound is a pretty plain old rock joint. It has a reputation for having good live music, so it draws a pretty diverse crowd. It's got some bikers, but it's also got some students. I mostly go because I figure there's a chance I could hook up with a drummer there, provide it's a well-attended jam.
Jason is already there when I show up, and we get beers and watch the host band. They're nothing special about the group on stage, except for the cute lead singer who's wearing a leather vest top.
Remember, I say to Jason. If you see a good drummer, kidnap him.
Eventually the host band finishes their set and after a short break, they invite players to get up and sit in. A few of the regulars get first dibs, but after a couple songs Jason and I are able to get up and jam. We play with the band's drummer, so there's no luck there, but a bit later, after we're off stage a new drummer gets up to play. He's a tiny, wiry guy with close cropped hair and tattoos all over his arms.
I manage to get up and switch off with a guitarist on stage so I can play with the tattooed drummer, and along with the leather-top singer and the mullet-wearing bass player from the host band, we blast through an up-tempo version of Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone. The drummer sounds great, really hard and thrashy, but without getting ahead of anyone else. He just drives the number along, and it sounds brilliant.
After the jam ends and the host band gets back up, I seek the man out. He's wiping sweat off of his brow, sitting at a table with a couple other young guys. Hey, I say to him. That was good shit. Can I get you a beer?
Aye, he says, smiling up at me from his chair. That would be great. He speaks with a thick Scottish accent.
I bring a couple of beers and sit down with him and his friends. Jason floats around nearby, maybe not wanting to crowd in and scare the guy off, but more likely trying to scope the leather-top singer of the band.
I'm Terry, I say to the drummer.
Mark, he says back, rolling the 'r' comically. Cheers, he says, and takes a drink.
Do you have anyone to play with here in the city?
No, he says, shaking his head. I've no been here too long. It's no easy finding new mates to play with.
My friend and I are looking for a drummer. Would you be interested?
He shrugs. Aye, I wouldna mind. What sorta stuff do you play?
Hard rock, mostly. Originals with a few choice covers. We gig, and we need somebody reliable.
I've no other commitments. Would ye like to get together some time and make some noise?
Sounds good, I say, and we exchange contact info. I get up and find Jason. He's in, I tell him. We'll jam with him sometime next week. Hopefully it works out.
Awesome, he says.
I finish my beer, and then head out to get the bus home. I feel a little buzz, like I'm back in business.
2006 Nolan Whyte