David Garibaldi's 12 funk drumming tips: "When I started playing more fills and being more concerned about that than the groove, I think my playing suffered. The root R&B concept is no fills. Zero. None."

 David Garibaldi performing with Tower of Power.
David Garibaldi performing with Tower of Power.

"You call it funk drumming but the guys I know that play that music have depth - a pretty serious range of influences that they draw upon to create those funky beats. To me, that's as deep as the jazz tradition," says David Garibaldi, the funk master behind the unmistakable grooves of the mighty Tower Of Power.

David was a key figure in the development of Oakland funk, named after the city that spawned the style. Since Tower's debut album in 1970, David has crafted grooves that are part of the funk canon on timeless tracks like 'Squib Cakes' and 'What Is Hip?'

"My biggest ally was our bandleader, Emilio," he says. "He loves drums so he loved all the crazy beats. He was my advocate. When guys would get bugged because I was turning things around and they couldn't find where the beat was, he was right there with me."

In the wake of the news that David Garibaldi has left Tower of Power, we revisit a 2012 interview with David, where he sat down to tell us his 12 Commandments of Funk Drumming.

1. The groove is the style

"The concept of our music is very orchestrated. Everybody has a defined role that really makes the music work. The dynamic of the jazz tradition is improvisation and the dynamic of the funk tradition is orchestration.

"It's about the beats and the parts. That's how it all locks together. You can still have an organic thing that goes on.

"For my interest's sake I've re-done a lot of the parts I had been doing for years. I got tired of a lot of the old stuff and wanted to simplify it somewhat so that's what I did, but still there are arrangements to be played and things within the arrangements that you've got to do.

"We had a really great guitar player with us for a while who would not play the music in the way we asked him to play it. This is a band with an established musical tradition like Count Basie or the Village Vanguard Orchestra. If you come into an established band, I think the first thing you have to do is stylistically behave.

"I believe our music is a style. The people that have stayed in the band and been the most successful, they have found a way to be themselves within that structure and create within that framework. This guitar player wouldn't do that so we had to get rid of him. The guy that we have now is a fabulous player and understands how we do things. It works, and it works tremendously."

2. Find the pocket…

"I think it is more consistency than it is necessarily time. Time can be fluid, it can be elastic, it can move, which is a different thought process because for a lot of r'n'b thinking it is supposed to be immovable. We move around a lot because it feels good to do that.

"It's not overanalysing. It's a beat, you play it. Let it go. It's a perception that can be developed and improved upon throughout your musical life but it can also be your musical handwriting, how you perceive time.

"In the end you have to accept what you are. If it speeds up a little bit, if it slows down a little bit, that's what happens in the course of your musical life. In a way, it's a reflection of your life but you can certainly work on it and as you develop your life to become more of a stable person that can be reflected in your music and playing in a more stable way."

3. Listen, do you want to know a secret?

"When you're playing with your band, do everything you can to play in time. Maybe that sounds simplistic but it's true.

"Watch the James Brown YouTube clips and you're not going to hear one fill. It's just not the way it's done."

"Listen to one another and play together as opposed to one person in the band saying, 'No, it didn't feel right here. No, it should be this. It should be that.' That person should not be in your band because the best bands play together and listen to one another.

"It makes it uncomfortable if there is always a discussion about the time because it is everyone's responsibility, it is something you do collectively. That's something we do with our band. If the time is going one way, we're all going there. We're in it together."

4. It's called the 'Rhythm section'

"One more thing about drummers and bass players, if one guy can feel the time better than the other guy the best way to change that is for them to find a place in the middle so that they can lock together.

"I guarantee you that the time issues will be solved if they will but listen to one another and quit talking about it. It's going to go where it's going to go.

"Rocco and I never discussed anything and those times when we've had discussions the outcome has been the poorest. We talk about ideas we want to try but we just play with each other.

"I once did a clinic with Randy Brecker for some school kids in Santa Barbara, California. One kid asked, 'If you could have us take one thing from this today, what would it be?' Randy said, 'I think it would be to listen to one another.' That's all he said but it was profound."

5. New Orleans grooves? Get some grease on the bolts

"Raymond Weber, [Dumpstaphunk, Dr John]. He's a big dude and he plays like a freight train, he plays big like he is but he's got that New Orleans thing. There's a great groove and great pocket but within that it's like not all the bolts are tight.

"That's an established tradition, a way of playing and I think you have to grow up in it, sort of like the way we play in the Bay Area. You can play those New Orleans-style beats but it's not going to have that grease on it like happens when you grow up there. All those guys have got bolts missing - Stanton Moore, Johnny Vidacovich. It's just amazing down there. It's in the air in that place."

6. Fat beats require a fat drum sound

"I like a fat drum sound, resonant drums. A lot of that has to do with having the proper size drums to match your conception of the sound you want.

"I played Rogers drums years ago and they had an A&R guy named Jim Ganduglia and he had really interesting concepts about tuning. I always used to struggle with tuning. The TOP guys would get so pissed off because I was trying to get a sound and I didn't know how to do it and I'd take hours. Setting up for recordings was a nightmare.

"What Jim taught me was to have toms that are equidistant apart in size. That alleviates one major problem. If you have 12-inch and 13-inch drums and then a 16-inch tom, you have a 1-inch difference and then a 3-inch difference. Really that's okay, you can get it to sound right but it's a lot easier to get it to sound right if it's 10, 13, 16-inch or 10, 12, 14-inch or even 12, 13, 14-inch. The big thing is to have the sizes equidistant apart then the tuning is even within that scale you're creating.

"I thought, 'This is brilliant.' It made a lot of sense. Then I could take that drum that was in the middle, the 13-inch drum, and I didn't have to be trying to get it to sound deep enough because it was deep enough by virtue of the fact that it was the right size. That allowed me to tune each drum within its range."

7. Tower of Tuning Power

"If you tune each drum in a medium range, the toms will all start singing because the pitches that your heads are at and the shell itself will resonate together.

"One thing Jim taught me was to have both heads on the toms the same pitch. He would take one lug on each drum and he would de-tune it slightly so there would be a bend on the end of each note. Phenomenal.

"With the floor tom he would de-tune one on the top and one on the bottom so that everything drops and the floor tom feels like it is connected to the floor, it sounds huge. You mic everything and you get an enormous sound."

8. Snare like a dampened Squib

"I like that piccolo snare sound. That comes from the James Brown, r'n'b vibe, I think of that as the basis of my sound.

"With the snare I use a little square of Moon Gel and that's it. The bottom head is very, very tight like a table top and I adjust the snare strainer so that when I tap the drum, like a ghost note, I hear the snare sound. When I play a rim shot I want to hear the rim and the snare sound.

"That snare adjustment is really important if you want to have the right texture on the ghost notes. If it is too tight you'll only get it on the loud notes. You can tell because if you play the ghost notes and it sounds like a tom then your snare is too tight. Keep tapping your drum and loosening the snare strainer until you hear just that right amount. If it is too loose you're going to hear rattling snares.

"Another cool thing that works with the de-tuning is you can make any snare drum sound big by tuning the drum how you like it so you get the nice crack on the top and take one or two lugs and de-tune them. As you hit the drum and de-tune, you'll hear the size of the drum start to deepen as the sound gets bigger and fatter so you've still got that real crack on the top but you have all this thickness underneath. So that's what I do with my snare. Even though it's a metal snare you can still get it to sound really fat in the middle."

9. Port your kick in the centre for maximum funk thud

"I use those Remo, Dave Weckl mufflers, those are really good. That's kind of like a cosmetic upgrade to the old Simon Phillips trick of rolling up a towel and taping it to the bottom where the head meets the shell. He would only do one side, the batter side. I use one for a 22-inch on the batter side and one for a 20-inch on the front side. That's all that's in the bass drum.

"I have a sound port in the centre of the drum so that the air moves straight out and you don't feel that compression of the front head. Who decided that the hole was going to move from the centre, which was a pretty cool sound, to a smaller hole off-centre?

"I believe that created a lot of problems sonically for drummers trying to figure out how to get that 'thud' and that feeling in the bass drum, not realising they weren't getting it because that hole was no longer in the centre. When the hole is in the centre, the air is moving straight out so you feel the weight of the drum when you play."

10. It's all about the ghost notes

"When I was learning how to play, to me, the drummer who had the greatest feel for ghost notes was Bernard Purdie.

"Purdie had an elegant sound. He had precision. He had the most polished sound and that really resonated with me because I thought, man, this is very sophisticated-sounding aside from being technically interesting. It was very precise and clean, which I always dug so I gravitated towards that and when I started doing it myself I practised it and used it like, this is how

I want to communicate my ideas and then set about to refine it within the context of my playing. It's an ongoing process still."

11. All killer, no filler

"When I started playing more fills and being more concerned about that than the groove, I think my playing suffered. The root R&B concept is no fills. Zero. None. Have the discipline to play one groove for the length of the song while resisting the temptation to 'make it better' by playing a fill. It's unnecessary.

"Those James Brown guys, you couldn't find a fill within a 150 miles but their commitment to the groove was so awesome. It's your commitment to what you're doing that sells it.

"I think a really good example of that is Steve Gadd. He sells the most simple stuff because of his commitment to it. The new Cinque album, Catch A Corner, with Joey Defrancesco and Steve Gadd, it's really good and one of the coolest things about it is there is nothing new under the sun but when you listen to him play it's fresh and alive. Places where you think there should be a fill, he's not playing any fills, all the places where we would think we'd be 'making it better', he doesn't do that. He just sticks the groove up your ass. It's like a probe.

"That's really how it should be. Watch the James Brown YouTube clips and you're not going to hear one fill. It's just not the way it's done in the world of James Brown. Keep those fills at home. Keep them locked up. That being said, there's nothing wrong with fills and, done at the right moment, they're an awesome enhancement to a great groove. What I learned is that fills are secondary to the groove and for them to work, they must be in time and in context."

12. The devil is in the detail when it comes to improving

"If that's happening to you, you're not really looking at the musical problems you are having that need to be addressed. I think that if you look at the areas that you need to improve upon then all of a sudden things appear that need to get practised.

I'm always looking at sections of tunes that I'm not performing right. There are always new things to develop, but the main thing is if you look at your areas of need then there will be plenty of stuff to practise."