Something that I've never been a fan of is meeting my heroes. Nine times out of 10 it turns out disappointing. It might not necessarily be the fault of the person I admire. They're human just like anyone else. Maybe they had a bad day. Maybe my expectations weren't realistic. Or maybe they're just an a%$hole. Either way, it's usually never what I want it to be...
So that's why one of the best experiences I've had here at Meinl as the Artist Relations Manager for the US and Canada has been the honor and privilege of working with one of our cymbal artists, Bill Stevenson.
A bit about Bill...and I have to tell you this so you see why he has been such a big influence on me musically...
For those of you that don't know, Bill rose to fame as the drummer for the Southern California punk rock legends Black Flag. Before Bill joined the band, they definitely fit into the more proto-typical mold of "punk rock." But all that changed when Bill came in. Here was a drummer who made "time" his own. His sense of placement with the beat was so off kilter and bizarre that it made Black Flag feel even dirtier and strange than they previously had. Black Flag's mastermind guitar player, song writer, and leader - Greg Ginn - had found a true musical ally in Bill. Through albums such as My War, Slip It In, Loose Nut, and In My Head, Bill helped Black Flag cross into a realm of musicality that was completely their own. No one could sound like them. The album The Process of Weeding Out, an instrumental album featuring Bill, Greg, and bass player Kira, sans vocalist Henry Rollins, showed a musical trio that defied labels and conventions.
The famed music journalist and musicologist Robert Palmer once wrote of Black Flag in a review in the New York Times, ''The Process of Weeding Out,'' Black Flag's instrumental EP, is what jazz-rock could have become if the best of the musicians who first crossbred jazz improvising with rock's sonic fire power had followed their most creative impulses. In a sense, this Black Flag disk takes up where ground-breaking jazz-rock albums like John McLaughlin's ''Devotion'' and Tony Williams's ''Emergency'' left off in the early 70's.
Most of the jazz rock albums made since those two disks have concentrated on efficient ensemble virtuosity, with solos as exercises in ego gratification. Many jazz musicians seem to have forgotten that improvisation, the heart of jazz, is more than just noodling and display. In the best jazz, it tells a story, but now it is the punk rockers, rather than the jazz rockers, who most successfully create atmosphere and convey feelings and ideas in their improvisations. This is exactly the sort of thing Mr. Ginn is after on ''The Process of Weeding Out,'' and with the help of Kira and Mr. Stevenson he achieves it."
All the while he was in Black Flag, Bill also helped form and lead another Southern California musical icon, The Descendents. Bill and his best friend vocalist Milo Auckerman, wrote album after album of songs that had blazing, smart, surf-music inspired "punk" rock, that spoke to the humor (Enjoy) and heartbreak (Cameage) of every adolescent out there. I dare say that without The Descendents, bands like Blink 182 would never had existed.
After Milo left to pursue a career as a doctor of science, Bill and the rest of The Descendents picked up a new vocalist and carried on as ALL. Another decade of strong releases followed in the tradition of The Descendents, but with the musicians honing and refining their craft into a razor tight unit.
It goes without saying that Black Flag, The Descendents, and ALL had a HUGE impact on me.
From there, Bill made his way into the world of producing. Bill and ALL built The Blasting Room in Fort Collins, Colorado, where to this day Bill produces records that have gone gold in sales. While The Blasting Room has recorded bands of all genres, it's widely known to punk rock bands that getting to record at The Blasting Room and with the man behind it, Bill, is akin to a trip to Mecca.
All of this must be said to show the monumental impact that Bill has had on so many drummers out there, me included.
So it was with some dismay a couple of years ago when I learned that Bill was in bad health and was going through some serious issues. About all I can say about it is that it was very bad.
Fast forward to two days ago, and I get a call from Bill, sounding like a teenager again! He had conquered his ailments and is almost completely recovered. The Descendents are planning shows again and so is ALL. Bill's back at the helm at The Blasting Room and the world is as it should be.
I am writing this blog as a tribute to a guy who in one way, shape, or form had some indirect part in me sitting here at my desk at Meinl. Through his drumming and the bands that he was a part of, he helped me listen harder, he helped me care more for music in general. He played a part in my life's daily immersion in all things drumming and music. Whether it was behind a drum kit covering The Descendents song Coolidge with a band or being able to talk cymbal sounds with a Meinl Cymbal artist and use Bill's ride cymbal sound on Allroy Sez as a reference point for what the artist was looking for, Bill was involved in my progression in life. I realized that the other day while talking to him. So I was immensely glad to hear him sounding fit and happy.
Getting to meet Bill a couple of years ago when he came to Meinl, getting to have beers with him, getting to eat Skyline Chili with him, and getting positive interaction with him as a Meinl Cymbal artist has been one of the most quietly satisfying perks of my job that I ever could have asked for. I met one of my all time heroes and it was a near perfect experience!
One last thing...Bill just told me the other day that after playing live with, and recording with them, that his and and The Blasting Room engineers' favorite cymbals to work with, are the Meinl Mb10 series. Thought you should know that. :-)