Cris Cohen: And then another bit of great advice that I got from reading through some of your materials online is… you said something along the lines of, “If you don't define success for yourself, you're pretty much lost.”
Chris Fryar of the Zac Brown Band: Well, it's true. In order to achieve anything, you have to set a goal. You can apply this to anything. Not just drumming or music. You have to set a goal. You have to define what it means to be successful.
This is probably my biggest soapbox I always get on, especially with young musicians. People ask me, “What's it like to finally be a successful musician?”
I tell them, “I've been a successful musician since I was about 17 years old.”
And they go, “Well, I've never heard of you before the Zac Brown Band.”
My definition of success and their definition of success are two totally different things. I've always defined success very clearly and concisely as: At the end of my tax forms every year, there's a box where you sign your name. To the right of that box there's another box that says “Occupation.” For me, success has been clearly defined as writing the word “Musician” in that box.
So (for many years) I have been successful, because of the bulk of my living has come from making music.
Ben Sesar, drummer for Brad Paisley: Some friends and I were talking about practicing on a pad. I was like, "I've got to work on my chops." My friend Kevin said, "You don't need any more chops!" And we had a laugh. It's true. Of course you want more, but what I generally strive for in my working life… it isn't more power. Because I have hit the apex with that. I don't need more power. I don't need more speed. What I need more of is space. How wide can I make things feel? And sometimes that turns into accuracy. How can I make my margin of error smaller, make my consistency better?
I interviewed singer / songwriter John Hall. Best known for his work with the band Orleans, John has also written songs for his solo projects as well as for / with Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt, Chet Atkins, and others. In a very different career move for a musician, John was elected to the US House of Representatives, serving from 2006 to 2010. We discussed:
- His new album, "Reclaiming My Time"
- "Every song is a message"
- Co-writing and playing guitar with Steve Wariner
- Recording with people in remote locations during the pandemic
- His smooth approach to the guitar
- And more
Cris Cohen: You said in one of your interviews, “The consistency of a groove, a pulse, it’s inherent in our souls like a heartbeat,” which I thought was a great way of expressing it. As a teacher, how do you get students to tap into that?
Sandy Gennaro: There is a natural ability that's called “feel” that you really can't teach. You can teach somebody to play the drums, technically speaking. But it's very hard to teach that natural feel.
I have taught seven year olds and I have taught 87 year olds to play a beat, to play drums. I could do that with anybody on a technical level, on the ingredients… right hand does this, left hand does this, right foot, left foot, etc. I can teach anybody how to do that.
Listen, you've heard a song like “When The Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin. You learn that's not a difficult drum beat to play. Fifty drummers play it, no one will sound like John Bonham.
It's like, how do you describe love? How do you describe when you love your wife? How do you describe how you feel? You can't. It's one of those esoteric things that you can't describe. You know it when you hear it and you know it when it's not there. But you can't put into words what you feel.
Cris Cohen: One thing that jumped out at me was the opening of the title track, "Prison of Life." There's that line, "It takes reason to understand pain." You could write a whole dissertation on that line alone. Do lyrics like that just come to you or does that take effort to find a way to express so much in so few words?
Guitar Gabby of The TxLips: Things like that kind of just come to me. Growing up I didn't intentionally get into philosophy. But when I got to my undergrad, I was required to take a philosophy class. I was like, "I really don't want to take that." But I had one teacher who made the world of philosophy make so much sense to me. From that point, I continued reading different types of philosophy and trying to figure out a way to apply that to how I look at life, how I look at the world around me. Then I started integrating some of that reasoning into my music in a simple way that could connect with somebody who may not be into philosophy or be into Nietzsche. By this point, it's become natural, because I read so much philosophy and try to figure out a way to integrate it into how I look at the world around me.
Cris Cohen: How long did it take you to get comfortable on stage, to know how to work a room?
Huey Lewis: About 27 years. The first 27 years were a little shaky. Now I've got it nailed.
Cris Cohen: What was the turning point?
Huey Lewis: It was gradual.
Cris Cohen: So there's a bit of a learning curve.
Huey Lewis: No question about it. My favorite story there is… Paul Newman was interviewed as part of a big retrospective of his career. They asked him, "What do you see when you watch your old films?" He said, "I think about what a lousy actor I was. I had no idea that for my first 10 years I was just terrible."