Exclusive interview with Becky Alford – one of onlinedrummer’s talented – PatchMartin Osborne
What age did you become interested in music?
I became interested in playing music when I was 6 or 7 years old. The reason was because my sister was in the school band, and I wanted to be in one too. I’d listen to her practice her clarinet every night and couldn’t wait till I was old enough to be allowed to pick an instrument. Finally 5th grade came; that was the grade we could pick out our instrument and eventually join the school band. I made the appointment with the music teacher and told him that I wanted to play the flute. He said great and we tried it out.
However because of health issues, I wasn’t successful. We then sat down and tried every instrument available for the school band. In the end, the only instrument that you didn’t have to breathe a certain way was the drums; if I wanted to be in the band, I had to become a drummer. Went home and talked it over with my Mom and we agreed that I should give them a try. I knew drums wouldn’t be a problem at home because both my mom and my aunt played percussion during their school days. The following day, I made another appointment with the music teacher and told him that I wanted to be a drummer. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made was in 1979 at 11 years of age.
When you started drumming, did anyone around you discourage you?
No not really. Everyone was pretty supportive. If I had to say anything was discouraging it would have been the very first year I wanted to attend NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association) and Area All County. My band instructor did not understand why a drummer would be interested in anything like that.
What / who inspired You?
Inspiration – that’s a tough one for me because music in general inspires me and basically all drummers inspire me. I hear that drum beat and I just start tapping, If I can see the drummer I just start watching and learning. I can’t really say that there has been one main drummer that has influenced me because all drummers influence me. My favorite drummer always ends up being the drummer of the current band or song that I am really into at the moment. If I really have to list names I would end up listing or trying to list everyone, because if I hear something / someone I like, that person becomes my favorite drummer. I like it that way as it prevents you from sounding totally like someone else – even though I know that’s impossible – and keeps an endless supply of motivation and inspiration.
So, what gear did you start off with and what do you play now? Has there been much of a change?
My very first kit (which I still own) is a vintage Ludwig red sparkle 5 piece. All drums are dated from 1969 – 71 How I ended up with that particular set was pure luck.. I had been looking at this local music store that sold second hand kits. I did not know that much about drum sets at the time. I had been taking snare drum lessons for 5 or 6 years, but that was it.
All I knew was I wanted a drum set, my favorite color is red and this store had a red sparkle kit that I could afford and wanted. I had no clue what type of wood it was, if it a good kit, or if I should have stayed away from it. I didn’t have anyone to ask and we didn’t have wonderful places like OLD to help you out. I sound like our grandparents when they tell us they had to walk to school uphill both ways, but it true OLD wasn’t here and I didn’t know the differences between this drum set or that drum set. So as a “trade off” one day I was told that if I took care of this medical procedure that needed to be done I could go and buy that red sparkle kit. It has 12” & 13” rack toms and 14” floor. 14 x 5 ½ snare and a 20” kick. I love that kit, it’s not a real loud sounding kit, but it has a nice warm feel and sound. Actually if you look real close the second rack tom is not a Ludwig. It’s a Singerland drum that the previous owner added to make it a 5 piece. Never noticed at the time, all I saw was the red sparkle and knew it was coming home with me.
In 2007 I purchased a Gretsch Catalina Ash kit 6 piece. 8, 10, 12, 14 and 22” kick and bought a 16” floor tom as I wanted that really deep sound for the floor tom. That kit became my gigging kit and my Ludwig kit now sits up in my practice room. The Ludwig’s may not get played that much, but I’ll never get rid of my first “love”. For 4 years the Gretsch was my main kit. It looked a little bit more professional, it was louder than my Ludwig’s and I just love the sound.
In October 2010, a friend of ours we selling his Pearl Masters MCX orange to silver sparkle fade. I had seen him play it about a year prior. It was brand new, looked so pretty and sounded so incredible. My husband and I joked with each other about “wouldn’t you look good behind that kit?” and then we laugh because we knew that I was never going go out and purchase a brand new kit, and I was very happy with the Gretsch. So when we found out that he was selling, guess what we did. We knew it was only a year old, we knew it was extremely well taken care of and knew how it sounded. You guessed it, we made arrangements to go check it out, and maybe purchase it, knowing that it was coming home. Now I have purchased the last drum kit I’ll probably ever buy. My husband originally wanted to buy it for me as a Christmas gift but realized that really wasn’t going to work. For started how do you hide a drum kit in a small house. So instead he told me about it, he paid for half and I paid for half and brought her home. It’s a 5 piece rack toms are 10″ x 8″ and 12″ x 9″. The floor tom is 16″ x 16″, the kick is 22″x18″ and the snare is actually a black to silver fade Pearl Masters MCX 14″x6.5″. I am planning on purchasing a 8″x7″ rack tom in the near future, but for now I’m really enjoying the 5 piece.
The Pearls are now my main kit and I unfortunately had to sell the Gretsch. Really wished I could have kept them, but I don’t need 3 kits, as said above, I’ll never get rid of the Ludwigs and I just don’t have room in this house to keep them. Yes it was sad to see them leave my procession, however, I sold them to a really good friend who also happens to be our soundman and I can play them or borrow them any time I want and I know that they are in good hands and will be taken care of.
My cymbals are all (but 2) Zildjians. I have 14” New Beats, 15” thin A Custom, 16” Medium A Custom, 17” Projection Crash, Paiste Power ride and a Paiste 14” Signature china. Other cymbals that I don’t use in this set up I have are a 16” thin crash Zildjian and an 18” crash/ride Zildjian.
I also have an Animal Custom Snare Red Pearl wrap 14×7 and a Mapex Black Panther 13×6 snare.
When you first took up drumming, did you ever get harassed by people that said, “girls can’t be drummers”? If so, glad you didn’t listen to them. You’re a great drummer.
Wow, Thank You! That’s a great compliment, means a lot as I hear other drummers and think… If I could only play like them, or gosh I wish I was as good as them, so to hear that , Thanks!!
To answer the question, umm
That’s a tough one because I used to get picked on ALL THE TIME, because of my health issue. As far as music goes, yeah I had a few upper classmates say things to me like what are you doing in the percussion section? Girls play the clarinet; flute those instruments not drums but no I didn’t let it get to me. So yeah I’m glad I didn’t listen.
I must say however that I do regret not learning the marimba. My band director pushed real hard for me to learn the marimba/bells and at the time I refused I thought I had a good reason for my refusal, but now I regret it. Back then whenever you did see a girl in the drum section she was on the bells. I was positive that if I learned how to play bells, then that’s what I would be forced to do, and that’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to be the best snare drummer my school had. I wanted to play the snare, bass drum, cymbals; I wanted to be a drummer / percussion player; so I never learned, not realizing that bells were part of percussion and how much more it would have opened up for me if I took the time.
My other reason was there was this one guy in high school, who was a natural, everything seemed to be so easy for him and I had to work at. I always felt like I had to compete with him to get any of the “good” parts. That wasn’t really true, but when you are young you tend not to look at the whole picture, you just see a part of it. I saw this under classmate trying to push me out of the way, when now I think we all just wanted to play snare, and that was the real problem.
When you gig, what is your routine for getting yourself prepared or psyched up for the performance?
All depends on how much time I get before we have to play. I try to get a warm up in, but that can become difficult. If other band members are still setting up, they don’t want to hear the drums. But I like to stretch my arms and hands and if I get the chance I like to do some single stroke rolls, paradiddles, stuff like that. If we are having sound issues and I can’t do that, I wait till sound check and do some rudiments during that. Sometimes it nice to just sit back, relax and have a beer. I also like to take the set list and go though each song and mentally think about each song and its tempo, its beat, just try to get a feel for the song.
Do you get any comments at your gigs about being a lady drummer? If so, adverse or positive?
So far all the comments have been positive. When we booked our first gig, I was really nervous about playing and knowing other drummers were going to be in the bar and what would people think and all that stuff. People are used to seeing male drummers is this going to really work, but actually I think that having a female drummer has gotten some attention and hopefully a few followers. I’ve had people comment on my kit, really liking it which always makes me feel good. Just the other day I was approached by someone who told me that “I really wanted to come out to see your band play cause I’ve heard that you are an awesome drummer, and it doesn’t matter if you are a guy or girl.. a great drummer is a great drummer, and I’ve heard that you are a great drummer. When are you playing next? I gotta see this band.” So after blushing a little (because I don’t think I’m an awesome drummer or that great) I thanked him and told him when we were playing next.
This one other time, we finished our last song and this guy comes up. He says I’ve been watching you all night (I saw him, not used to that, it was honestly driving me nuts), he goes you are a great drummer. I said thank you. He goes I mean it. I’m a drummer, so I was watching you and you did a fantastic Job. I was looking for mistakes, and you did a great job. I just said thank you, but told him that I had made several mistakes. He just smiled and said, well keep it up. I enjoyed the performance and will look for your band again. I got to say hearing that makes a person feel really good!
Does being married to another band member add any extra tension, either at home or in the band?
Haahaaa YES! Probably want more detail than that, am I right? Most of the time the tension can come during setup as it usually takes me the longest to set up. We own the PA equipment and my husband is the best person to put it all together. The problem comes when he tells me to set up in this one spot and then I get the majority of it done (kit is on a rack) and he decides he wants me to move 2 inches. At this time I don’t want to. He told me to go there, that’s where I’m staying or if that doesn’t happen, as you know after you put your kit together you want to take 5 minutes or less and just play to make sure everything feels good and if not make the proper adjustments. Well I’m always getting asked to stop playing but yet it’s OK for the bass player, keyboard player, or lead guitar player to be wailing on their instruments, I’m the only one not allowed to make any noise.
The same goes at home. He can play the guitar anytime he wants and sees no issues, but if I pick up the drum sticks, I’m too loud and need to stop. There are times when that guitar is so much louder then I can ever be without the assistance from a PA, but in his mind that’s OK when NO it’s not. But, that being said, it’s also great having your husband with you. The two of you are doing something together that you both really enjoy. I can have my kit set up in the entry room and it doesn’t bother him. We can work on songs together. After a show and you are tired, I don’t have to drive, he does it.. hahaa Bottom line, yes there is some occasional tension between us, regarding set up, choice of song, the correct tempo, but part of that is because we are both so stubborn we bump heads, but if it didn’t work, then we wouldn’t still be in the band. I could go on and on about little annoyances and so could my husband, but I could also go on and on about how great it is as well.
Now some very straight forward quick questions…..
What is the most played album on your iPod?
Humm these are supposed to be quick and straight forward. Haahaa nothing is ever that quick for me. Currently the most played songs coming out of my ipod are songs the band is learning. But when not learning songs it’s still a toss up to a variety of bands. Here are a few that are up on top – Phil Collins, Cold Play, Foo Fighters, Huey Lewis and the News, U2, or Rush, Bon Jovi… but i’m always changing, so if you were to ask this question again in a week or two, I’d probably list different bands.
What is your proudest achievement in music?
During School I would have to say it would be getting selected to go to Area All State twice. Nowadays it would have to be fulfilling my dream of not only playing in a classic rock band, but getting that very first gig.
Who would you most like to have a one on one drum-off with?
Anyone from Onlinedrummer.. I just want to play.
If you’re stuck in a lift for one hour with the person of your choice, alive or dead, who would that person be?
Is it lame to say my husband?
Have you ever been asked for your autograph at a gig? If so, have you been asked to sign anything other than a piece of paper?
Unfortunately No. My husband had someone show him her chest before though… hahaa
What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
You mean besides wake up? Ok.. well, if the dog gets up with me; sometimes he waits for my husband – it’s cute actually he won’t go to “bed” till I go to bed and he usually doesn’t “get up” till my husband gets up, but if he does get up with me, the first thing I do is let the dog out. Then I usually make myself some breakfast, sit in front of the computer and either check out OLD or Face Book.
What type of car do you drive?
Jeep Commander and a Hyundai Elantra
When not drumming what do you get up to?
I work at a community college in the IT department.
What would you best like to be remembered for?
Living with and hopefully beating heart disease. (in my mind the only way I can beat heart disease is if when that unfortunate time comes, I die of something else) OK OK.. umm I guess maybe someone who’s always smiling, gives her best but most of all my love for drums.
Do you have any words of wisdom for the members of the onlinedrummer.com community?
Live for the moment and be thankful for what you have. Don’t worry about what others think of you. You are who you are! Make plans, but don’t be so set into those plans that you can’t do something spontaneous because that spontaneous thing might turn out to be one of the best things you’ve ever done. Most of all just live your life the best way you can and never give up your dreams. If you do then what’s left?