Friday, July 29, 2011

Interview With Drummer Extraordinaire RANDY COOKE

I'd say I'm quite blessed to be surrounded by and connected to so many extremely talented people. I assure you, today's interviewee, Randy Cooke, is no exception.

I could bore you with a long bio on his entire life story, but rather than do that, I thought I'd just make it really simple and share what it says on his Twitter account in 160 characters or less:

"I hit the crap outta drums for some pretty awesomely awesome singers/songwriters/bands."

So who are these 'awesomely awesome' people he speaks of? Well, I'll mention a few so you get the idea: Ringo Starr, Mick Jagger, Alanis Morissette, Hilary Duff, Kelly Clarkson, Smash Mouth, Ian Gillan, Dave Stewart, Alannah Myles, Kim Mitchell, Five For Fighting and many, many more.

So, without any further ado, let's begin!


Dr Sean: How long have you been playing drums?

Randy: Got my first drum kit for Xmas when I was 15 years old. So, from then till now. (Or many, many, many years).

Dr Sean: Were you in any original independent bands before you started playing for major artists?

Randy: Indeed I was! My first 'true musical love' was a band called Phase IV. We were an old school funk/reggae band comprising seven members all around the age of 15. The singer and bass player were brothers, the keyboard player and percussionist were brothers, one of our guitarists was a cousin to those four, and those five as well as myself. At the age of ten years old we were in a Cub Scout troop led by my parents. We had one more guitarist making up the complete seven. (he wasn't a brother, cousin OR Cub Scout - but he was awesome). :) Guess you could say it was a family affair.

Dr Sean: What was your first gig playing as a hired gun for a major artist in the realm of live performance and as a studio session player?

Randy: For live touring, that would've been with an incredible British blues artist who resided in Canada named Long John Baldry. I was lucky enough to get a recommendation from my drum teacher at the time (incredible drummer/human Rick Gratton) who at the time was his main drummer and needed a sub.
I was around 19 or 20 at the time.

For studio stuff, my first main full CD recording session was with a band called The Jitters. A couple of their songs got on the radio and were quite popular in Canada at the time. It was my first time hearing myself on the radio. Such a rush! :)

Dr Sean: Do you have a preference for live or studio?

Randy: I definitely don't have a preference. It's apples and oranges.
There's nothing like a group of people applauding your efforts during a live performance. It's so very gratifying, humbling and exhilarating.

In the studio - knowing that someone or some band has entrusted you with the task/honour of providing the drums for recordings that will be etched in stone (vinyl? digitally?) forever is incredible, nerve racking, and well, more nerve racking. It comes with a certain amount of responsibility to the project as well as yourself. It's a portrait of a musical moment that (hopefully) will be heard for many years to come.

Dr Sean: What particular skills and abilities do you think give you that edge when it comes to landing a gig?

Randy: I think it's a combination of things and definitely more than any one thing in particular. Rounded musical abilities, solid technique, the ability to play to a click track well, having good gear, and being an all around nice chap, all play a part in securing 'that' gig.

Dr Sean: How would someone go about breaking into the arena of live and studio work?

Randy: I wanna answer this one in two parts. They apply to both being a sought-after touring musician or session musician.

The first part, although somewhat frustrating at times, is the reality of breaking into the session scene. Session work isn't something that you 'go and get' per se. It's sort of a rite of passage that comes 'to' you. It comes to you because eventually enough people see you play, hear you play, hear about you and meet you and they wanna call you to play live with them, or play on their recordings.

The second part, which is my guide to being a more in-demand live player, absolutely applies to getting session work because most of the time one is a result of the other and it goes both ways. You can end up getting live work as a result of a session you did or vice versa.

Here are some things to consider (of course I'm coming from the 'drummer' angle, but most of this could apply to any instrumentalist).

Have great gear! You wanna do a country session? You wanna do a funk gig? You wanna jam a hard rock thing? Every genre needs its own 'sound' - that's half the battle.
So, it's important to have as many musical options as possible (different snares, kick drum sizes, cymbals, etc.)

Be able to comfortably play all of those genres and try and study with as many different teachers as You can (or college etc). Regardless of the music you dig the most, you gotta round your playing if you wanna work - especially in the studio - because generally speaking, there's way less of that than live work so why narrow your options by only comfortably playing one genre?

A lot of guys 'think' they can convincingly play a lot of genres, but in reality they can't. They think so, their friends think so, their girlfriends think so, but the people who matter know better (producers/other schooled musicians etc). So take a hard look at yourself and be honest. The quicker you do that, the faster you'll be on the road to bringing your playing level up a notch. Be realistic about your strengths and 'really' work on your weaknesses. Or just turn down jazz gigs like myself because who's kidding who - I'm lousy at jazz.

This next point's probably the most important, believe it or not. Play with everyone, everywhere at anytime for whatever money is offered, IF ANY.
If that means you need to sell Girl Guide cookies to pay your rent in order to be able to do gigs for nothing... do it!

Remember, you don't have to be a massively huge fan of the music you're playing. Just do a great job at playing it and you'll always find the joy in being a part of something great musically. Bottom line? EXPOSURE! People need to see and hear you playing as many different types of gigs possible. This has always played a key role in the popularity and demand for any successful musician.

Be able to play to a click track GREAT! Make sure your feel is comfortable and it doesn't stiffen your playing cause you're concentrating on being in time. People can tell. This in itself can be a huge learning curve.

Dr Sean: For those who aspire to get out there and attract the kind of work you're enjoying these days, what advice do you have to offer?

Randy: Be a nice guy, be on time, don't complain and don't have an attitude. Play what someone wants you to play, not what you wanna play. Leave your musical ego at the door. They may be paying you, so the bottom line is give'm what they want/need.
And of course, re-read the answer to the last question. ;-)

Dr Sean: Please tell us about some of the live and studio gigs you've been involved in recently.

Randy: I just spent a month touring in brazil with Colin Hay (singer from Men At Work) and I'm also on some of his tracks on his latest solo CD. I've been touring with Smash Mouth and recently recorded their new cd due out this fall. I'm still doing live dates with Five for Fighting with whom I've been playing since 2006 and I'm on a live DVD of theirs. I'm also doing live dates with a new Hollywood Records band called Red Light King and I recorded the drums their debut cd as well.

Dr Sean: And for all the drummers out there, tell us about all the gear you're using while on the road or in the studio.

Randy: Yay drummers! For a very long time now, I've been proudly playing/endorsing Yamaha drums, Zildjian cymbals, Remo drum heads and have my own signature stick with Regal Tip sticks. :)

As far as the configuration of shell size, cymbal selection and snare preference I'm using currently, it varies with every single session/gig I do. I can, however, tell you in my studio at home in Los Angeles, I have the Yamaha Phoenix kit set up and mic'd 24/7!


  1. It's good to hear Randy talk about the need for learning to play different styles, simply to become good in the first place, never mind being known as someone who plays that particular style. This knowledge comes too late for most young musicians, who figure you should only play what you think is cool in order for it to be any good. Of course my being a music teacher, I'm always musing on how to make someone understand that developing skill is more important than enjoying the music taste wise, and that the taste will just be all the sweeter when you have greater facility to make music, and at some point, music that you love.

  2. Great Article from a REAL perspective!

  3. Thanks for this! Very nice. Max Senitt