Chad Wackerman

By Robyn Flans

Modern Drummer, December 1988

When one learns that Chad Wackerman landed the gig with Frank Zappa when he was just 21 years old, it conjures up definite images.

He must be a whiz kid, you think, with a head full of math equations to work out the ridiculous rhythms that Zappa writes expressly to stump his musicians – or so his musicians have been known to say.

But Chad emphasizes more than the need for an incredible technical prowess; he stresses the necessity of playing many different styles authentically. He adamantly tries to shed the image that first comes to mind: that of a fusion drummer.

In preparation for our talk, Chad made a tape of some of the recordings that he is most proud of. It's obvious from this selection that he can run the gamut from the complexity of Zappa and Allan Holdsworth to the simplicity of Colin Hay or Albert Lee. (If you want to hear Chad at his simplest, check out Barbra Streisand's One Voice concert on video.)

Chad started playing drums at age six under the expert tutelage of his father, Charles Wackerman. He went on to take private lessons from such notables as Chuck Flores and Murray Spivack, and participated in Stan Kenton's jazz clinics at an early age.

A gig at Disneyland and an association with keyboardist Jim Cox lead to gigs with Leslie Uggams and Bill Watrous. Executing the varied styles in those formative years, he says, was a major contributing factor to his subsequent gigs, although nothing, but nothing could adequately prepare him for the audition with Zappa, as he revealed upon his recent return from the road with him just days before a tour with Allan Holdsworth.


RF: I was amused by the story you told in your last MD interview about the Zappa audition. [1] The way it came across, it didn't go too well. You didn't know how to do some of the things he wanted. So why did he hire you?

CW: [laughs] Well, no one else knew how to do those things either. I had a certain understanding of things like the polyrhythms. Polyrhythms are basically large groupings of small, odd groupings, but there were a lot of drummers who didn't know how to play five 16th notes per quarter note. So if you couldn't play that, you couldn't play five 8th notes over two quarter notes. I, at least, knew how to play things like quintuplets, which are five per quarter note, or septuplets, which are seven per quarter note. So when I saw those things, I could play them properly, but I didn't know about the large groupings. That's kind of the next step.

RF: Did you have to spend a lot of time trying to understand polyrhythms?

CW: Yes, as soon as I got the gig.

RF: Before that, what did you know about polyrhythms?

CW: Not much, but if you can understand a figure like quarter-note triplets, then that's the concept you use to understand those larger odd groupings. If you can play five 16th notes per quarter note, and then you see five 8th notes over two quarter notes, that's got to be half the speed of the five 16ths – half as many notes in the same amount of space. So if you think of five 16ths per quarter and play every other one, that's going to be the rhythm. So I started figuring out these formulas to get the basic concept of poly rhythms down. After a while, it's like anything else; you can hear it. If you see it on paper, you know exactly what it's going to be, and you don't have to count every note out.

RF: So this was after you got the gig?

CW: Yes, once I got the gig, I realized I'd better start practicing to keep it.

RF: What else did you do after you got the gig

CW: We started rehearsing the next week, so I had a week at home with an unbelievable stack of music and albums. He's put out 50 albums, and a lot of them are double albums, so there's so much material to learn.

RF: What was the hardest piece of music you had to learn, and how did you go about learning it?

CW: "Mo And Herb's Vacation." That one took me quite a while. I just continually practiced it. Even on the road I'd try to brush up on it. It's a classical piece, and the clarinet has the melody, which is very, very bizarre. It has all sorts of polyrhythms right next to each other, like a 15 next to a 14, each one over two or three beats. It's a clarinet solo, but the drums are in unison with the clarinet, so you have to play every note exact. In fact, we did a version of it with the London Symphony when we went to London to do a classical album of Frank's work, and the orchestra had a terrible time playing it. I had practiced it and had it down exactly, but they hadn't seen it for very long, so their rhythms weren't quite as accurate. So I actually had to lay out on parts. After a few years of working on this piece and getting it down, I couldn't do it properly, because they hadn't had enough time to work it out.

RF: When you first looked at this piece of music, what specifically did you do?

CW: I began to dissect it bar by bar, just trying to figure out the subdivisions first, and playing the notes where they belonged, in the right rhythm and at the right speed. The next step was figuring out the sticking, because there are so many notes, and certain stickings will make it easier and make it flow better. Then the dynamics come into it along with all the accents and the final details. But with this sort of piece, the first thing is just getting the notes played in the right places.

RF: How long did you practice that piece?

CW: Frank thought we might do it at first, so I practiced it a lot, but we ended up not doing it. I think Vinnie [Colaiuta] and Ed Mann had done it with the rock band as a duo. Ed played the melody – the clarinet part – and Vinnie played the drum part. It's much harder than "The Black Page."

RF: With music like that, how do you make it feel good when you have so many notes to play?

CW: There are so many ways. A lot of different drummers can play the same music, but they all turn out sounding different. I always try to be very relaxed about it and still have feel – even if it's something in 17 or 19. My concept of it is that you have all these small subdivisions – all these different two's and three's strung along together – and you find places where you can put backbeats and make it a long phrase. Instead of making it very, very choppy, I try to flow over the whole thing, and I know Vinnie and Terry [Bozzio] do that as well.

RF: Can it become more technique than feel?

CW: Well, you have to have a lot of technique to play that kind of thing. But now a lot of Frank's stuff is reggae, and it wouldn't be appropriate to be as flashy or to put all those subdivisions into the music. With other tunes, though, that's the way the music is written, and you're playing that part, which has to be exact. Then there are the rock 'n' roll tunes. A lot of it is very open, where he hasn't specified a part, so we end up making up our own part – unless he doesn't like it, and in that case he'll tell us another part to play. A lot of it is up to us, and I tend not to be as busy on a lot of those parts, because the classical sections are so busy.

When you play with Zappa, a lot of people assume you're a fusoid drummer who just plays very busy. I wouldn't want to be known as a fusion drummer, because a lot of music that is called "fusion" music,

I don't really care for. Obviously, I couldn't do a Barbra Streisand gig playing like that.

RF: Streisand's One Voice concert was perhaps the most opposite to everything else you've done, because it was very sparse playing. What did that gig require of you?

CW: It required playing a part that complemented her singing, that didn't get in the way, that was tasty and appropriate. It is definitely more pedestrian, but there's a certain flavor that's still me; I'm just playing a different style of music. With Barbra Streisand, you're not there to do anything flashy. If it's a groove tune, you're there just to supply the groove and set up a nice feel. It's not your place to come up with anything wild, too over the top, or too creative. You have to have good time and groove when that's appropriate, and play nice ballad brushes when that's appropriate, and be as tasty as you can and support wherever the music is going. You have to know when to play a fill, when a chorus is coming up, and not to overplay on the fills. You have to play something with enough space, yet still with enough intensity to build it when it's supposed to build, and bring it down when it's supposed to come down. In a case like that, where you're not playing too many fills, people are more aware of them when they do happen, so you have to be more careful with them. You're there to fit in with the music and not get in the way, whereas a gig with Allan or Frank is much more drum-oriented, so you're much more in the spotlight. She's so amazing that I didn't mind doing that at all. It was a fun experience. It's amazing just being in the same room and hearing someone who can sing like that, let alone playing along. I have the same kind of respect for her that I have for people like Albert Lee or Allan Holdsworth, because she's reached such a high level of accomplishment. She can do things with her voice that I've never heard anybody else do.

RF: Back to Zappa – could we take a song and talk about your approach? Take "Zomby Woof," which you included on the tape.

CW: Well, that's a very old song, so I just listened to the arrangement.

RF: Did you have creative allowance on songs that were played before?

CW: I pretty much played what was played previously. On that tune we pretty much kept the same feel, though on a lot of them Frank will change the feel. He might do it halfway through the tour; he might do it on stage one night while we're playing. He gives visual cues to immediately change styles, and everybody just shifts gears. It doesn't matter if we've rehearsed it as a waltz or a swing tune; if he bangs his head, it means heavy metal. If he twists his hair like dreadlocks, it means reggae, twisting both sides means ska, and a baton in the mouth means to play "Carmen." These cues can happen any time, so we really have to keep our eyes on him. We never know what he's going to go into; the show is different every night. We rehearsed four months for this tour, eight hours a day, five days a week.

RF: How much material did you dissect in four months?

CW: I think we learned 106 songs – seriously. Some aren't as long as others. Frank changes the show every night.

RF: So you might do a certain song one night and not do it again for how long?

CW: Maybe three weeks. Most bands get a set together, go out and do that set for months and months. It drives everyone nuts to play the same music over and over, but Frank changes it all the time.

RF: Within the songs, how much improvisation goes on?

CW: There's probably more improvisation between me and the bass player during the guitar solos. That's the most open that it gets. Every once in a while he'll give me a solo or give some of the horn players solos.

RF : I know you always get a solo with Holdsworth. What is that gig like for a drummer?

CW: That's very, very open. Basically, I write my own parts, and the bass player writes his own parts. First, Allan writes the guitar parts; then we write parts that fit with that.

RF: What about material that was previously recorded?

CW: It's still pretty open. Actually, Frank said the same thing when I joined his band: "Whatever you do, don't become a Vinnie clone or a Terry clone. I don't want a replica of someone I've already had." Allan feels the same way. Allan's approach is that he likes to get guys in his band who play the music the way he wants to hear it, but he never gives us any instruction at all. We never talk about it; we just play it.

RF: Take one of the songs you did with him and analyze that – maybe "Clown."

CW: That's off the latest album, Sand. I think I was away when he did the basics, because he did it with a drum machine first. He took the drum machine away, and I played over it.

RF: That was probably more confining than others, so pick a song where you feel good about the drum part you created.

CW: There's one called "Tokyo Dream," which is on the Road Games record. I could play it for you, but I can't really describe it. There's a part that matches up to the guitar part pretty well, where the rhythms and the punctuations are the same. The accents on guitar are the same as the drums. I used my bell cymbals to match his harmonics, my garbage cymbals to match the bass line, and a couple of different hi-hats.

RF: How was that piece brought to you?

CW: Allan played the guitar part for us. He usually has a song section and then a separate section that is the solo section, rather than using a jazz form of A-A-B-A, and just going over and over that. The tune section is fairly strict rhythmically, which isn't very typical of him, but then on the solo section, it's much more open and a bit floater. I usually try to hear the music first. I normally don't think of drum patterns first. I try to fit in with what's going on musically.

RF: So that's a lot of improvisation live.

CW: Yes. There's still form to pieces, but they're very open.

RF: Where did you learn the art of improvisation?

CW: Through playing jazz. My father's a jazz drummer, and I started learning from him. He'd take me to jazz concerts. When I got a bit older, I played in the school jazz ensemble and jazz bands and went to a few Stan Kenton clinics and met Peter Erskine, who helped me a lot. I just started listening to jazz a lot and played it throughout high school. I got into rock later, during college.

RF: Who were some of your influences?

CW: There are loads, and a lot of them are really typical ones – people like Steve Gadd and Stewart Copeland and David Garibaldi. I did listen to them for quite a while at one time. That was when I was in my transcription mode – when I was trying to write a lot of things out just to figure out what other guys were doing, trying to build up a bigger vocabulary. I was probably 18 or 19 at the time, just trying to figure out why these people sounded so different.

RF: Take a few key people that you might have listened to a lot and whose concepts you might have studied and made part of who you are.

CW: Peter was a big influence at one time, because I met him through the Stan Kenton clinics. We hooked up when he moved out to L.A. to play with Weather Report. I wanted to take lessons from him, but because he knew I was playing gigs already, he said that, rather than sitting behind a drumset, we could spend afternoons talking – which we did – and if I had a gig, he'd go out and hear me.

RF: What did you talk about?

CW: Just concept things. I was playing with Bill Watrous's big band at the time, and one of the first things he told me was that I was playing it much too safe. I was playing the parts fine, but playing kind of pedestrian fills.

RF: Is that how you felt about it?

CW: I didn't realize it at the time. I was just trying to set up the band, trying to make it easier on the horn players, because it's a hard job playing in a big band. But he was right.

RF: So how do you change a safe approach?

CW: That was up to me. He would throw out these different ideas, and then it was up to me. I didn't really want to learn licks from anybody, because I had done loads of transcribing off records, like David Garibaldi's Tower Of Power stuff. Before that, it was Blood, Sweat & Tears records. I knew it wasn't good to do that too much, because then you start mimicking people too much – becoming more of a parrot than having something original. I did that a lot, so I felt I got enough from a lot of other drummers. What I could do was take the beginning of a fill and change the end of it by putting something of my own in there, so it didn't sound like a Tony Williams lick or a Billy Cobham lick.

RF: Can you actually pinpoint things in your style and say, "Gee, I got that from so and so"?

CW: I hope that at this point things like that aren't obvious for people listening to me, saying, "Oh, he got that from so and so," or "That's a Steve Gadd lick." I really desperately try not to do that. Sure, I've had a lot of influences, but now I'll listen to whatever type of music and try to get the flavor of it. I don't transcribe licks anymore. Even when I practice, I really don't practice that many patterns.

RF: I guess I keep asking about influences because there are readers who are wondering, "How do I become like Chad Wackerman?"

CW: Number one, tell them not to become Chad Wackerman. Really, that's crucial; that must be emphasized. I completely understand the importance of learning things from other drummers, but you should learn things from many different drummers. A lot of people have really analyzed Steve Gadd as much as they can, and it's as if they're looking at him through a microscope. You need to do a bit of that. But if you can do it with many people, you can have a kind of comparison, which I think is much healthier. It will also open you up to different kinds of music. You should check out Larrie Londin as well as Steve Gadd, as well as Neil Peart, as well as Tony Williams, as well as the guy playing down at your local club. Even if you're in a small town, you should go out and listen to a lot of music. Even if players aren't so great, you need to hear them and think, "Why doesn't this drummer sound as good as so and so?" It's really good to hear all levels of players. I hear quite a few young drummers who are trying to clone someone like Steve Gadd.

RF: Growing up, it's a real issue learning how to listen to someone like Tony Williams without becoming a clone. How can it be used to further who you are?

CW: I always tell people to steal from everybody. Don't concentrate on one person so much, because you need a huge musical vocabulary. Then, if you have all these statements you can make, you can make up your own musical sentence.

RF: Who else did you steal from?

CW: I listened to Tony Williams a lot. When I was younger, my dad took me to see Louie Bellson – big band gigs and things like that. Also, I took lessons privately when I was pretty young, so I knew how to read and write music.

RF: Is that important?

CW: Yes it is. It's helped me a lot.

RF: Were there things you had trouble with growing up, and if so, how did you work on them?

CW: When I started taking lessons from Murray Spivack, that changed the way I played in a very basic way – in as simple a way as in making a stroke. The way Murray teaches, you really analyze how to make a stroke, how to play very basic rudiments without using any extra energy, being very concise and relaxed with it. Many drummers do waste a lot of energy; you can tighten certain muscles so much that it can actually hurt you. That was a big milestone for me. With basic strokes, he showed me how to make an up-stroke, then a down-stroke for the accent. Instead of coming from a very low place on the snare drum to a high place for an accent, he had a way of doing it that prepared your hand to go way up, then down for the accent. It was a much more natural way to do it. That was his method in a nutshell, dealing with up- and down-strokes, and it worked with flams, ruffs, and all the roll strokes.

I really believe that studying privately sped up my learning process. My other teacher was Chuck Flores, and he's a fantastic teacher. At one time I was just going to Murray for hands and reading snare drum things – mainly rudiments and basic strokes. With Chuck I studied drumset. He had me reading out of books with four lines – a cymbal line, a snare line, a bass line, and a hi-hat line – and then going back and switching all the lines. So you would be having the bass drum or hi-hat doing more complex patterns than you normally would.

I was very lucky to have such great teachers, and they really saw what I needed to work on. And whenever I did a gig, I would tape it and bring it in, especially to Chuck, so he could hear what I was doing drumset-wise and make suggestions.

RF: How has your formative training had a bearing on your career?

CW: In various situations, it's been very helpful. There are a lot more employment opportunities if you can read. For gigs where there is no time to rehearse and they need somebody immediately, you sit down and read the notes. I used to rely on reading a bit too much. I wasn't listening quite enough.

RF: Why is that a problem?

CW: On Frank's gig, you can't read music, because then you won't be able to see his visual cues, plus the lights are going on and off. So you have to memorize things rather than rely on written music. In a rock 'n' roll situation, where things don't have to be so specific, reading music is that extra step you don't really need. When I started rehearsing with Frank, I started using my ears a lot more.

RF: What did you do when Peter Erskine told you that you were too safe?

CW: When Peter said that, I knew I had enough technique where I didn't have to be playing like that. It didn't necessarily mean I should play faster or flashier, but just with a bit stranger fills, a bit more random. I think it was more the fills I was concerned with, setting up things, not starting from the first tom down to the last one, mixing up all those voices much more. Also, I started thinking more orchestrationally. Instead of learning a bunch of licks and repeating them, you can think of things like voices. I keep my tom-toms wide open, and they're the closest things I have to melodic notes, so I think of those voices melodically. I think of other things percussively, like snare drums. Or they could be brass sounds like trumpets – which cymbals are like – or the bass drum could be the bottom voice, like how a choir might play over a brass ensemble or something, and having things answer back in statement and answer.

RF: What do you mean by that exactly?

CW: It's like we're having a conversation; it's like jotting down the rhythms of our conversation of the different pitches and intonations, and having that all over the drumset. It's like thinking of things as a voice instead of just keeping the bass drum on four beats, or every time you hit a cymbal, having to hit a bass drum with it. I'll do things like hit a cymbal by itself and let the tone of the cymbal ring out where it's more obvious. If you hit a cymbal by itself, it's isolated, and nothing is covered up by any other instrument. If it's a large crash cymbal, you can do that, or if you have a small splash cymbal or quick-sounding cymbals, you can play rhythms on them. If you play those kinds of rhythms on a large cymbal that is very sustaining, it'll just wash out. I like things to speak out individually. It's kind of like a lot of people talking at once, and you can think of people shouting at each other or whispering. I do that a lot when I'm soloing. I try to start with some sort of theme and try to make it a bit more musical, because I hate most drum solos. I think most drum solos are hard to listen to. Though Peter Erskine plays amazingly beautiful solos that are melodic. Max Roach also does that, and there are other drummers as well. But most drum solos sound like a circus act to me.

RF: Do you think your background on violin and viola had any kind of melodic effect on you?

CW: [laughs] I don't know; it may have.

RF: You laughed when I brought it up. Why?

CW: Because I put that away after high school. But yes, it probably did, and I think it made my reading a bit more musical, too. I think the other thing it did for me was that it made me realize what other instrumentalists have to go through. A lot of drummers just get so wrapped up in drums – especially younger drummers. Younger drummers are learning and trying to get a big vocabulary together to have something to say, and often they don't think rhythm section-wise to begin with, let alone what other people have to go through – like a sax player having to wet a reed and stick it on his instrument and blow through this plumbing to try to get notes out. Playing violin kind of showed me what violinists have to go through, and that, yes, they have reason to get upset if they can't hear themselves. Drums are a very powerful, loud instrument, so I think I can understand things a little more from a string player's point of view.

RF: What about that concept of rhythm section playing as opposed to solo playing? When you were learning how to play, you were in your room alone transcribing and becoming an instrumentalist, as opposed to an ensemble player.

CW: As I was transcribing, I couldn't write down what the other instruments were doing, but I was checking it out, and I could hear it – how the bass drum was working against the bass, or noticing, "Hey, those guitar beats are also being played by the snare drum," and these things set up different types of grooves.

RF: Some drummers only listen to the drum part, and that limits the concept of playing with others.

CW: The drum part alone doesn't mean much.

RF: So you always knew to listen to the whole?

CW: Pretty much. Not patting myself on the back at all, but I think that's usually how you can tell when someone has played for a while; he or she usually plays to help the song and the music, rather than, "This is what I've practiced in my room." That doesn't mean a thing.

RF: You must have known that pretty early, because you were playing professionally at a very young age.

CW: I was with Frank when I was 21, but I was 19 when I started professionally and went on the road with Leslie Uggams. She is very good, and the band she had was great. In fact, the keyboard player was Jim Cox, who got me on the Barbra Streisand gig and also on The Late Show.

RF: It was Jim Cox who hooked you up with Albert Lee, too. I was thinking what a strange pairing that is. Was that odd to do?

CW: It was great to do. It was a blast, and I loved it. I don't play country music very often, and he wanted that album [Speechless] to be a bit weird anyway.

RF: There were some jazz inflections in there.

CW: We did a Duane Eddy tune, and we took it completely left. The bass player was a very country bass player, and I think he thought we were absolutely mad, because on the solo section, Jim started taking it out, and Albert was saying, "Yeah, yeah, that's what I want."

RF: So in a situation like that you get to infuse some of yourself in there.

CW: Yes, although on other tunes we kept it very, very safe and straight and more appropriate.

RF: There is one that is a train feel, and I wondered how you even knew how to play country music.

CW: I had played country music gigs before – not a lot, but I've played a few clubs. I've played the Palomino a few times. I think it was someone Jim Cox was working with again.

RF: And you didn't have an attitude about it?

CW: No, we had a great time. Jim is amazing at it, a real specialist. He gets an unbelievable steel guitar sound just on a Prophet. I've played all sorts of gigs. Before I played with Frank, I played with Leslie Uggams, which is a Vegas-type show with strings and that kind of thing.

RF: And you didn't get crazy?

CW: No, we had a good time, and at the same time, the rhythm section had a fusion band going, and that same rhythm section became Bill Watrous's rhythm section. After a while, people were just hiring us as a rhythm section because we could play jazz and rock and most styles.

RF: Has there ever been a situation where you felt creatively stifled?

CW: When you start playing a style you're not used to, you feel a little bit strange. When I first played with Bill Watrous, he would count off tempos that were so fast, I don't know if they're even on a metronome. And he's so amazing that he can solo for 15 minutes, cycle breath, and go on and on and on. That took a while to get used to.

RF: How did you work with that?

CW: I had to practice just a basic swing beat – ding dinga ding, dinga ding – for a long time at home, and make sure I could do it. If you ever tense up, you're not going to last. You're going to hurt yourself and have to stop playing, especially in that situation where you have to play fast for a long period of time. So I started analyzing what my hand was doing, making sure it wasn't working more than it had to, using all the energy, making as much out of it as I could without playing too hard. I'd try to play lighter and make sure I wasn't using a bigger stroke than I had to, which would take up more time or energy.

RF: Take each situation you've been in for a length of time and tell me what kind of playing was required of you and how you attempted to fit the bill and approach the music.

CW: In Frank's situation, a lot of it is dictated to you, so you often have the role of basically doing what you're paid to be doing. A lot of that is taking music home and practicing it – multiple percussion parts that are like classical parts. That, for me, is probably the hardest side of that gig – just memorizing all those notes and all the different figures.

Allan's band is just the opposite of that. You're more of a composer as far as the drum part goes; that's what you're hired for. There may be only a few people he likes, but he is not going to tell them what to do; he wants them to play the way he likes to hear it. It's a real problem to find somebody, and just until recently, there hasn't been any music written for Allan's stuff because Allan doesn't write it down. Jimmy Johnson, the bass player, finally wrote some of the drum parts out because there have been a couple of times when Gary Husband or I couldn't do the gig. Gary and I have been juggling it around for quite some time. Allan has had a few really amazing drummers play, but it may not be just quite the way he wants to hear it. But he's still not going to tell them how he wants to hear it. You don't get any direction; it's a lot of luck, I guess. And if you're going to have a situation that's that open, when somebody steps in, it's going to make it completely different. The way Gary Husband plays and the way I play are completely different. He's probably even wilder than I am. He's really, really amazing, and we approach the music differently too, so that gig is a strange one, because it's so open. Every other gig I've done, somebody has said, "Now, put the backbeat here," or, "we're going to half time." None of it is ever talked about with Allan, whereas with Frank, a lot of it is talked about.

RF: Does it still feel creative?

CW: It still does, because once Frank puts on the guitar, it's an open section. So in parts of it you're more like a classical percussionist, playing the notes. It's like somebody playing Mozart and being asked, "Are you being creative?" It's not really your job at that point to be creative. You're not in a composer's role; you're in a musician's role or a sideman's role. But for solos and improvisation sections, it's now your job to be creative. That's how I look at it.

RF: Is there anyone else that you might have worked with that required something completely different?

CW: Those are the extremes. Everything else kind of falls between them. I worked with Men At Work for four months, and that was all grooves, which was completely different.

RF: Who were your influences in that respect?

CW: One who really impressed me and who can do that type of thing really well is Jeff Porcaro. Another drummer named Bob Wilson, who played with a group called Seawind, was a great groove drummer. He didn't play anything that was terribly technical, but just the way he laid it down was amazing. I would go out and see that band a lot, and whenever Jeff Porcaro was playing, I'd see him. Also, when I was a bit younger, I listened to John Guerin. I'm sure those drummers can do a lot of things, but when I heard them, they were playing a lot of groove stuff. I always practiced grooves.

RF: How did you practice that?

CW: Different ways. Often I'd get a bass player friend to come over and just play all day – just grooves and feels. Or, if I was alone, I'd set a metronome and try to play different feels, or try to get it exactly locked, or try to play with an edge a tiny bit, pushing or laid back. I was pretty aware of those type of things.

RF: What was it like going from a Zappa mindset to something like Men At Work?

CW: I was playing grooves much more before I played with Frank, because I was doing demos and recording a little bit. I wasn't really playing a lot of fusion stuff. I was playing some jazz, and any session I did was pretty much a pop tune or a rock 'n' roll groove – which did help with Frank, too, because a lot of times you have to play patterns. They can be simple patterns, which you probably don't notice as much as the musical Olympics. So it was just getting back into that mode.

When I'm on tour with somebody, I like to listen to the opposite music of whatever music I'm playing on the tour. It's a good change. Often with Allan Holdsworth, we'd listen to pop music, Top-40 radio. I worked at Disneyland with Jim Cox in a Top-40 band when I was younger. I was very fortunate. I went to Long Beach State University when John Ferraro and Gordon Peak were there, and I learned a lot from them. We all kind of gave each other gigs, and Jim Cox was the keyboard player at school at the time. John Ferraro had the gig at Disneyland, and when he got called to play with Larry Carlton, he called me to take over his gig at Disneyland. That's where I got pretty tight with Jim Cox, which led to Leslie Uggams and a lot of other things. So I've been playing grooves for a long time.

RF: What would you say is your forte? You play all this music and you don't seem to have an attitude about any of it. So what do you think are your strengths, if you would pat yourself on the back for a minute?

CW: I really don't have any kind of problem with reading, and once again, by playing Frank's gig, that's brought that to another level, even though I might not read for six months. I do like playing pop music. It's really fun to just sit back and play a real strong groove, and try to play very simple fills that can lift a tune before a chorus, and do it in a way that is pedestrian enough, but not so much so that it could be anybody. I love working with Allan. It's so free, and I just love the way he writes. I feel I can do that pretty well. I think I can play in Frank's situation pretty well, too. Odd times aren't really a problem. I've done it so much. I think a lot of people get tense about doing that, because they don't get to practice it very much. I'm not the world's greatest brush player. I haven't done that for a long time, not since Bill Watrous or Leslie Uggams or any jazz albums I've done. That's something I could work on.

RF: How would you do that?

CW: That's something I've been thinking about lately, actually. I'd like to take a few lessons from a few players. I haven't taken any lessons in about ten years, so I'd like to take some from somebody who plays completely different than I do. Peter could show me some brush things, actually, and Jake Hanna. Jake's amazing. He plays beautiful brushes. I haven't done it, but I've been thinking about calling up Alex Acuna, because I haven't played a lot of Latin things.

I feel that my Latin playing is too jazz-influenced. The way I play a samba is a jazz samba; it's not a true Brazilian samba, because I've played with some bass players who have played true Brazilian samba, and it's not the same as a jazz samba. They leave half of the notes out, and I'm not sure if the samba I would play against that would be completely traditional. I like to know what the formula is to make up different styles of music.

At this point, I feel pretty confident, especially coming off of a tour. Your chops are really up when you get off the road, and in Frank's situation, I do get to play a lot of different styles. I usually don't get nervous in the studio. At first I did because I was worried about how my drums were really going to sound, getting along with the engineer, what he was going to do to the sound, and things like that.

RF: That was something else you mentioned in your last article that I wanted to get more into. You said drums should sound different with every different thing you do.

CW: It's like a synthesizer player. He can be more elaborate than you can be with drums, but you have to know the right kind of sounds to put out for the music. If James Taylor calls, you're not going to walk in with a Stewart Copeland-sounding snare drum. You have to be aware of that. It's going to be a bit lower pitched, unless he wants to change. But he's pretty much established a type of sound that fits his music, and I imagine he likes to hear that. And the same thing if, say, Ziggy Marley would need a drummer. You wouldn't walk in with a Russ Kunkel or Carlos Vega snare. You have to be aware of these things – the different tunes. For reggae you can tune it very, very tight, make it very timbaleish sounding, maybe use a sizzle cymbal, something Bob Marley used in his band.

RF: What do you do with Frank?

CW: We have to shift gears all the time, so it's a pretty general-sounding kit. It's a rock sounding bass drum with a blanket in it; it's not a jazz bass drum. The toms are 10", 12", 14", 16", and 18", and they have white heads on top and clear on the bottom. They're all completely open, so with that sound you can pretty much do anything. The snare drum is fairly tight; we don't do any James Taylor-ish songs.

RF: What about with Holdsworth?

CW: I use pretty much the same thing with him. I often use more cymbals, though. It's very spacious music, and I want to use more bells and more variances in sounds.

RF: You changed drum companies from Slingerland to DW since your last article.

CW: I ended up buying a kit of DW's since I liked them so much, and then I thought, "This isn't right. I don't want to be endorsing something I wouldn't want to use in the studio," so at that point I changed. It was hard to do, because Slingerland took me on when I was very young, and they were terrific – really, really great people. But the DW stuff is amazing, and it's all handmade. They take a lot of pride in it, and a big reason I like them is that their bearing edges are really true, so there's a wide range for every drum. I can tune them way down and way up, and they won't sound choked when they're too high or too papery when they're too low. I can go for the Megadeth sound or a jazz sound.

RF: What about getting a drum sound in the studio as opposed to live?

CW: My drum sound is very similar in both situations. The room is always different in the studio, and live you have to deal with a PA, which can be a real problem if you don't have enough EQ on the mixing console like you would in the studio. Sometimes you're working in a club and you can only do so much, but I always try to get really tight with the engineer and try to work with him to get the best sound possible.

RF: What about tuning?

CW: I'm really careful about tuning. On my kit, I have all even sizes. I purposely avoid 13" and 15" toms – not because I actually go for pitched notes, but I try to go for a wide enough interval between each drum so you can actually hear the tone of the drum. With a 10", 12", 13", and 14" setup, I find I can't get a big enough space. I like to hear each drum individually. I can really hear when I'm on the 10" tom as opposed to the 12". There's a fairly big gap, pitch-wise. Each tom is very independent sounding, so on solos, I try to be more melodic about it. I think of them more as tones than as tom-toms, and I think that my setup helps me do it. I also do that with cymbals. I don't get too many cymbals that have the same frequency range, which is a big reason I like my Paistes. I have a 14", a 16", and an 18", and each one isn't completely covering up the other's frequency range. You can hear a bit of a tone to each one and you can hear more of the note. And I have mic's in all of my drums. Really good mic's make such a difference going out over the PA. In the studio, I tune for the song. If I'm in the studio with Barbra Streisand, I'm not going to go for as high a pitch snare sound as I normally do with Frank and Allan. As far as snare drums go, I'll either use Drum Workshop brass drums or I'll use Noble & Cooley wood drums.

RF: Do you take the same equipment into the studio?

CW: Yes I do. I basically have three drumsets that are very similar. I have two with the setup I just mentioned. The set I use with Frank has an 18" floor tom as well, because he wanted a really huge floor tom.

RF: What do you want to do at this point with your music?

CW: I'm trying to write music.

RF: What kind of music do you write?

CW: Kind of a bit of everything, like what I play. I've got a couple of tunes that are finished; one is a light reggae tune with vocals on it, and the other is more of an R&B funk tune. Allan has helped me out with these and played on them, and my brother played bass.

RF: What do you compose on?

CW: Either keyboards or a Chapman Stick. I got the Stick a few months ago and took it on the road. I think it's a great writing tool. And I have a Macintosh. I would eventually like to be a composer. I would like to be a solo artist and put out an album. These tunes don't sound like a drummer wrote them. But I have other things that don't fit that mold either and are a bit wilder.

RF: What about the recording work you do in town?

CW: I do a lot of jingles. I work for John Trivers and Liz Myers a lot. They're the greatest people, and it's usually me and Jim Cox or Alan Pasqua. The first one I did was a Nike ad, which involved basketball players playing, so it was all drums. They wanted kind of a Police feel – really wild – and it was basically a drum solo that they put some sound effects to later. You never know what they're going to be. The client might say, "We just want piano," or "It's got to be Van Halen," or "Did I say Van Halen? No, I meant a polka." Those things are often like Frank's gig; they change all the time. They really write great music and still keep the ad people very happy. It's not the normal way of doing jingles. From what I understand, that's usually guys in and out of the studio in an hour. We spend a good hour or two just getting a drum sound. They do it at Village – studio A or studio D – at Capitol B, or at Studio Ultima, and they spend time with the sounds and hire great people.

RF: What would you bring to that gig?

CW: My usual set plus my electronics.

RF: Do you use electronics with Zappa?

CW: Yes I do.

RF: Can you give me an idea of what you use?

CW: I use the Dynacord ADD-one and an Akai S-900 sampler – basically the two brains – and it's all wired into a Switchcraft patch bay. I had it done properly, so that there are no hums and no buzzes. We did 85 gigs with Frank, and it hummed one day, which is unbelievable. Ron Aston put it together for me. Every sound comes up at the patch bay and the mixer. I have outboard gear, a couple of Roland delays – an SPX-90 and an SRV-2000 – and I trigger off the drums. I have Octapads and Dan Dauz pads, which are little electronic pads that you can put all over the kit. I'm into electronics in a big way. On the '84 tour with Frank I used a real bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, and ten pads.

RF: Why do electronics interest you?

CW: Engineering interests me a lot. On tour, I'm usually hanging out with the sound engineer. Allan is an engineer as well, so I've learned a lot from him. I'm always picking his brain. Before the '84 tour, I was using the Simmons SDS-7 and had 16 different patches that I could use. I use a lot of different sounds. For Colin Hay's record, a lot of those rhythm parts were being played from an Octapad, not keyboards. Sometimes for a really ridiculously huge snare drum, I'll use white noise on a Prophet and some other sound on a DX, plus the other samplers. On the jingles I use different sounds all the time. It's great, because you can get an instantly huge sound by having multiple units being played together.

RF: How electronic do you sound?

CW: I didn't start triggering until this tour. I always pretty much kept them separate and used them as effects or for solos – and not only drum sounds either; sometimes I'd use marimba sounds, so I could play melodies and chords. But I wanted more sound possibilities.

RF: Is Frank into this?

CW: Oh, yes. For the '84 tour he wanted everything electronic, but we decided to keep the kick and the snare drum acoustic. RF: How did you feel about playing pads? CW: It was pretty strange at first, because at that time it was the SDS-V, which had the very hard pads. I couldn't imagine playing those for a whole tour. Some of Frank's roadies were working with Missing Persons, so I went over to Terry's [Bozzio] warehouse where he had his electronics setup. They tapped on it for me and it sounded so amazing, really hi-fi, and I thought, "That would be really amazing if you could actually get a great sound wherever you are." So I thought, "That's another completely different way to think." It would be great to have everything sound really expensive on stage, coming out in stereo with the correct reverbs and correct delay times. I used the electronics with Men At Work, too.

RF: With Men At Work, was it weird coming into a situation where there had been another drummer?

CW: There had been another band. Colin [Hay] and Greg [Hamm] were the only ones left. This was kind of a version two. The tour was going to be amazing. They had booked a month in China after Wham! had played there. We rehearsed in Melbourne for a month, and the bass player, Jeremy Alsop, was great. It turned out we had all the same influences, and he was really into Zappa and Weather Report. But China got cancelled, and they panicked because they had us all on salary. So they ended up booking all of Australia, and we went to the outback, to Broken Hill, and these mining towns. It was a wild experience. But I met my wife on that tour, who was singing with the opening band, so I'm glad I did it.

RF: So what's your focus?

CW: Can't you tell I'm not focused at all? [laughs]

RF: What about burning desires?

CW: I have a burning desire to do this solo thing. That's a huge goal. That's not much to do with drumming at all, but it just seems like the right step to take at this point. Sometimes you can get tired of being a sideman. You finally get to the point where you think, "I should be doing something on my own as well." Not that I would do that 100% of the time, but I have a lot of ambition to do something more.

1. Chad Wackerman: Enjoying All Challenges, Modern Drummer #37, May 1983.