Rich Lackowski – On The Beaten Path – Exclusive OnlineDrummer.com InterviewMartin Osborne
Rich Lackowski is the author of the award winning series of music instruction books, “On the Beaten Path.” The first book in the series, On the Beaten Path: The Drummer’s Guide to Musical Styles and the Legends Who Defined Them (2007) is highly acclaimed by teachers, students, and drumming enthusiasts alike and earned Lackowski accolades from around the world. The book was voted “No. 1 Educational Book” in Modern Drummer’s 2008 Reader’s Poll and voted “No. 1 Book” in DRUM! magazine’s 2008 Reader’s Poll. Drumscene magazine (Australia) called it the “future groove and reference bible for a huge part of the modern drum set.”
The success of the book prompted Lackowski to author his next two books, On the Beaten Path: Progressive Rock (2008) and On the Beaten Path: Metal (2009), expanding his best-selling book into a series that further addressed drummers’ interests. Both books have been well received by the drumming community and have received praise similar to that of the pioneer book.
In addition to authoring these three successful music instruction books, Lackowski has written articles and features for TRAPS magazine and How to Play Drums magazine and has performed in various locations around the United States since 1985.
Lackowski was born and raised in Chicago, IL, lived in West Lafayette, IN and Detroit, MI until he moved to Los Angeles, CA where he has resided since 2001. He’s played the drums since age 10.
Welcome to onlinedrummer.com and thanks for taking the time to speak with us.
So Rich, you are the author of three books written about drumming, the On The Beaten Path series. How did you come up with the idea?
Well, the idea came from my passion for drumming and my love of sharing that passion with other people. I love talking about drums. It’s a part of my life – always has been and always will be. So I think the tendency to want to learn and share my drumming knowledge with others is built in to my genetic makeup.
Now, I didn’t think I was going to write this book when I first had the idea. One day I was talking to my boss and dear friend, Ron Manus, who works at Alfred Music Publishing, and I was telling him that someone should write a book that helps people see how various musical styles developed from the drummer’s point of view – a road map to the legendary drummers and the milestone recordings, beats, solos and licks that had a big impact on the music genre. I thought the book should blend music instruction with REAL specific musical examples, but beyond that, it should show information about each drummer… biographical information, the gear they used, milestone recordings, anything that helps people understand what that drummer’s “thing” was, why it was important, and how it impacted the development of a particular musical genre.
Also, I thought each musical style covered in the book should begin with a more “modern day” drummer and work backwards in time showing that drummer’s influences which eventually trace you back to the roots. It’s how I learned – I heard Chad Smith play something funky on the radio. Then years later I discovered the Meters, then years later I got to the roots and discovered the drummers of James Brown.
Maybe this book could accelerate that discovery process. Ron said “good idea, but maybe you could clarify it for me by writing an introduction that would describe the book in a little more detail.” So, I went home and spent a weekend hammering that out. I showed it to Ron and he said, “Sounds cool! Can you write an outline so I can see what would be covered in each chapter?” So, I went home and a few weeks later, I showed Ron what I came up with. He said “Great! Now write the first chapter” and before I knew it, I was writing the book! A year and a half later, I turned in the complete manuscript – all 250 pages!
The first book had a varied amount of drummers from all genres. The second book is centralized around Progressive Rock, and the third book centers around Metal. With the large array of very talented drummers in both genres, how difficult was it to choose the drummers to be included in the books?
Well, it starts out easy. There are certain stand-outs that inspired me to play and to write the book in the first place, so they go right in there. But then it starts to get difficult and tough choices start to present themselves. The great thing about writing a book though is that you can’t lose an argument with yourself! When I start to obsess about whether this guy or that guy belongs in a section, I ultimately end the internal mental wrestling match by realizing that I’m the author – I can do whatever I want, so I go with my gut. Every drummer in each of the On the Beaten Path books is monumentally important. Of course, I can’t include every important drummer in each book, but I do include ones that I feel contributed something absolutely critical to the art of drumming and whose stories need to be told. But, the deeper I get, the more great drummers I discover – that’s why I keep writing more books!
What steered you into the second and third book becoming genre related? Does it get easier from book to book?
After I released the first book, I was shocked at the response – it was more successful than I ever imagined. That was a good feeling! I really poured my life into it – I ate, slept, and breathed this book for a long time! So when it was winning awards (No. 1 drum book in both Modern Drummer and DRUM! Magazines reader’s polls) and receiving amazing reviews, I was invigorated! People I really respected in the drumming world – from Bill Bruford, to Chad Smith, to Jason Bittner, to Vinnie Paul, to Terry Bozzio, to Gavin Harrison – were all very supportive and talked to me about how they loved the book. Magazines all around the world were giving it rave reviews. Total strangers were writing me online, or approaching me with big goofy smiles and bright eyes at various drum shows around the country and just wanted to shake my hand and thank me for writing the book. It was crazy! And everyone asked me, “what’s next?” They wanted more! So, that was a huge gust of wind in my sails, and I decided to go deeper into a couple musical styles that I really grew up with and knew a lot about – Progressive Rock, and Metal.
The opening chapter to your books, called The Path, delve into the background of the genre. It’s a great way of introducing the rest of the book. How easy was it to write these one page introductions? Especially with the metal genre...
Those introductions start off being about 5-10 pages long! I just write and write and write. My fiancé, Nikki O’Neill, who has had a lot of writing experience and is an amazing singer and guitarist, by the way, once gave me some great advice. She told me to just write from the heart and edit yourself later – don’t edit while you write – just write. So that’s what I do – I write and just let the passion pour out. THEN I go back and refine, condense, and clarify everything so it flows well. This approach works really well for me.
After The Path there is a timeline of the history of the genre that’s being delved into. It’s very impressive and aided me in understanding the drummers present in the book. How much time is spent in getting that timeline right for the book? You must listen to loads of albums?
Oh man, I listened to TONS of music in order to write these books. I don’t take this stuff lightly. I am a huge drumming fan and a huge music fan, and I feel a genuine responsibility to choose excerpts that really get to the essence of what was unique about that drummer. When I decide to write about a certain drummer, I listen to EVERYTHING that drummer recorded. Then I whittle it down using my iPod playlists and tons of little notes all around me, and then go back through those to pick a beginner, intermediate, and advanced transcription and lesson.
There’s no quick way to do that. I ended up purchasing 5,000 songs to write those first three On the Beaten Path books! That’s in addition to all the recordings I already owned! I made the timeline for myself so I could keep it all straight. At one point, an entire wall was covered with pieces of paper taped together with boxes and arrows and sticky notes just mapping out how punk music developed – where it came from and what it grew into. The timelines weren’t intended to go into the books at first, but then when I had them complete, I realized that I had put together a pretty amazing piece of information, and I felt that I needed to include them in the book. They helped me understand how everything fit together. So of course it should help others too!
With the book comes a CD of the drumming that’s notated for each song. Was it you playing the drums?
I recorded most of the tracks on the CDs. My editor and an AMAZING drummer, Johnny O’Reilly Jr., played on a few of the tracks as well. Recording those CDs was as hard-or harder-than writing the books! I picked all these legendary drum beats and solos, by the world’s BEST drummers – it was glorious until I realized that it’s pretty tough to play these things! If it were easy, then everyone could do it. But, these beats and solos are legendary for a reason – they are tough to play like the drumming gods played them! I did my best, and followed my own lessons to learn to play the grooves – they worked beautifully breaking each beat into digestible bite sized piece!
With every drummer in the book comes a brief history of them and also their setup used in the songs explored within the book. Where do you start researching something like that?
Good question. A lot of times I thought to myself, I created a monster I can’t keep up with! I wanted to be genuine and accurate, and again, there are no shortcuts. You just have to spend an awful lot of time to get everything right. I worked with John DeChristopher at Zildjian, Scott Donnell at DW, and some of the drummers in the book to get all the gear pages right. I also got my hands on every picture I could find of the drummer playing live in that era, and watched every DVD and video clip I could get my hands on until I got it right. Nobody in their right mind would spend the time I spent doing this. I must really love this stuff!
Taking Metallica’s monumental song, One, there is so much drumming going on in that song. Was it really difficult to not throw yourself deep into the song and notate all of the drumming instead of the just the most memorable drum lick of the metal genre, the six kick beats to the one snare beat?
Oh yeah! Totally difficult. I have so many transcriptions laying around that I didn’t even end up using in the books! Taking that song for example, there is a ton of great drumming to choose from. But, that machine-gun kick thing that Lars plays in tandem with the guitars – man, that’s the climactic drumming moment! So those are the moments I tried to capture and concentrate on. I figure that if I could teach you a key part of the song, you can figure out the rest.
Are there any plans for more books? If so, which genre is next?
Yes, I’m pretty excited to keep writing. The next book will be a bit different than the last two “genre” books. Stay tuned – I think it’s an important building block in the On the Beaten Path series!
I can’t wait to read that one! Apart from writing these wonderful books, what else do you get up to in drumming?
I’m playing in a few bands right now – after all, you can write about your passions all you want but there’s nothing like getting in there and doing it! My hope and dream is that one day I can inspire others through my drumming, like the greats have inspired me. I would love to pass along some inspiration – if I can do that, I can die a happy man.
Now some quick fire questions…..
What is the most played album on your iPod?
Probably albums from two bands nobody here has heard of, but I love them – one is “Near Tonight” by Lapdog, and the other is “Somewhere about Here” by Dick Prall. Not even so much for the drumming – they just have some amazing feel good songs and writing!
Apart from the books, what is your proudest achievement in music?
Wow, that’s a tough one. Recording the CDs that come with the books are among my greatest musical achievements! That was tough! There’s also a particular drumming moment I’m very proud of – a song my friend Chris Moseman wrote called “Common Law Failure” that I just found very touching to the core. I worked on that drum part for ages, and when it all fell into place, it became one of the most amazingly beautiful drumming progressions I’ve ever heard – just perfectly complimentary to the song – It was a truly great song, and I spent a lot of time making sure the drum part was worthy of being there.
Who would you most like to have a one on one drum-off with?
Alex Van Halen. No, Chad Smith. No, Bonham! Man, no fair – that’s an impossible question! Hahaha.
Which other drummers do you chill out with?
Whoever is around and has a cool vibe. Drummer’s are so easy to chill out with!
You and your partner are having a dinner party at your house and you can invite two more people, alive or dead… who would they be?
Buddy Rich and Keith Moon. No, that might get too out of control! Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. I could sit in and play drums – we’d jam all night long!
What drum setup do you play?
I have three kits currently – A Sonor Force 2000 kit is my gigging workhorse – always ready to go! A ‘60s Ludwig Black Oyster Pearl 4-piece kit just like Ringo’s is my priceless gem and very sentimental kit (my first kit believe it or not! Got it for free from the attic of someone my dad worked with when I was 10 years old!). And I play a DW custom maple kit – you can hear that kit used on the Metal and Progressive Rock book CDs. It sounds unbelievable and is truly a work of art. I play Zildjian cymbals – always have.
What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
Pour myself a cup of coffee, then go workout!
What type of car do you drive?
Honda Element – great for lugging drums around!
When not drumming, what else do you get up to?
I love to bike on the beach path.
What would you best like to be remembered for?
Inspiring someone to be the very best they can be.
Rich, many thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Have you any final words of wisdom to say to the onlinedrummer community?
Thank you! It’s truly been a pleasure. Final words? Let’s see… if you don’t already own anOn the Beaten Path book, try and pick one up at your local drum shop and check it out. I hope you like it – it’s supposed to help us all become better drummers. And, if we all become better drummers, then we all get to share better and better music with the world!
My thoughts on the On The Beaten Path series of books by Rich……….
The award winning, On The Beaten Path series of books are downright brilliant and excellent in the simplicity of the layout to help any drummer learn more about the art of drumming and the great artists that carve out the beaten path. I’m mildly surprised that this route hasn’t been explored before now, but I’m very glad that Rich Lackowski has shown us the way.
Rich’s ability to explain in enough detail what he wants the reader to experience is mostly down to Rich’s excellent teaching skills and his severe passion for drumming. The two genre based books, Progressive Rock and Metal are detailed so much that no progressive or metal stone has been left unturned.
The artists in all of the books are a literal who’s who in drumming. The list is endless but let’s just say that there is at least three of everyone’s favorite drummers inside these books and some that you’d never expect.
All three books have a cd full of the drumming clips that go with the notation. There is a full legend of explanation of the drumming notation in each book, which I found very helpful. I found it easier to put the drumming clips on my iPod.
In short, these are very educational books at a really good price. You can almost feel what the artists themselves felt when playing these songs in the beginning. It’s difficult to comprehend unless you experience it yourself, so go out and buy all three of these books today!
On the Beaten Path: Progressive Rock was voted as a winner in the “Best Educational Book” category in the 2009 Modern Drummer reader’s poll! Thank you to everyone who voted!