During my recent conversation with the warm and congenial Brock, he related an event from a recent performance. "Last week, a man who must have been eighty years old, wanted to come back stage and he didn’t care who was going to try to stop him. The stage guys told me about this old guy and said that he didn’t need to be up there. (They said) he was liable to get hurt. (The stage guys) told me he wanted to talk to me really bad and they asked me if I could meet him halfway so something didn’t fall on his head. He (the old man) shook my hand, and he hung onto it for the longest time. He told me that he felt everything that I was playing (Brock’s voice gets emotional). I thought, 'Wow, of everyone in the audience, that he would be the last one to get it.' That is what keeps me packing my bags and going out there."
On his website (www.jimbrock.net), Brock continues to enrich the lives of others through the section he has named Tips And Tricks, which any aspiring drummer would do well to check out. "Websites are places people can go and learn something about me, who I have played with or where I am playing, but I wanted to give them something else. I wanted to get them involved in it without the website just being all about me. I get a lot of comments on that page, and people thank me for it because they walk away with something more than just what I have done. Now they can take something with them that they can use. I wish more sites and more players would do that. Maybe they could put a little notation or lesson on their (website). A lot of people will keep what they have to themselves and they will horde it. I don’t see it that way. If I discover some trick or something, then I should share it with people so they can better themselves. They appreciate it, too. I see a lot of things in the younger guys that they are doing wrong or (something) they don’t even know exists, and this is a way to get to them. They don’t know that they don’t know. They might remember something that they read from that page that will help them out. We are all in this together," he says.
I had noticed in one of the videos on Jim Brock’s website that during a performance he would place his elbow down on the head of the drum. "It is just one of my quirky things that I do. Applying pressure on the head with my elbow makes the head bend. It gives you a (he imitates a sound). What you saw was the floor tom, and it is a big drum. It takes a lot to bend the head far enough to get a difference in pitch. I use my elbow so I have a whole lot of weight behind it," Brock explains.
Continuing to discuss his penchant for innovation Brock says, "The most musical things that they (drums) do, they are not designed to do. I always take a drum, look at it and try to find the secret that lies within it and just not take it at face value."
Brock’s professional career started out as an eleven year old in the small town of Washington Court House, just south of Columbus, Ohio. He says, "My parents used to load me up and had to stay there (at the gigs) all night in order for me to be able to do them because I was so young. (I played with) bands at the local skating rink and sock hops. (laughing he says) I think the skating rink that I played paid me twenty dollars. It kept me from having to have a paper route or mowing lawns. (Later) an older couple who had a band would hire me to play. I was maybe moving fifty miles outside of my area (town) three to four times per month."
Reflecting back to the beginnings of his drumming career Brock says, "I started on (a drum) kit because I didn’t know anything else. I came from this little farm town of 14,000 people. You don’t get exposed to a lot and the only music that you know is on the radio. It wasn’t until 1962-63 that I discovered that whole other world (of percussion). There was a guy who lived in the area who was advanced on the world percussion side of it. He is the one who exposed me to all of this stuff. It only took five minutes for me to know that was the direction that I needed to go. Once I saw these instruments and put my hands on them, I knew. They sounded so cool and they looked great. It was just instilled in me at that moment that was what I had to do (musically)."
An innocent question from me concerning how many drums Brock now owns brings both an astounding and surprising response, as he indicates that he owns literally hundreds of drums. If you are wondering, no I did not ask how big his house is.
"The drums that I enjoy playing the most are the drums that I am playing at the time. I don’t really have a favorite. The ones that I tend to play the most are the ones that are most common and that I get hired to play, even though I tend to weasel my way in with other instruments. I play a lot of the conga drum and a lot of udu which are clay water jugs from Nigeria. I also play the bodhran from Ireland and bendirs from the Middle East, Morocco and northern Africa. It is basically the same instrument with just one skin stretched across a frame, "says Brock. The bodhran and bendirs are what are commonly referred to as frame drums.
The percussionist says that over the years he would seek out people who played various types of drums, acquire the instruments and learned to play them without the benefit of taking lessons.
"I don’t listen to a lot of music because I learned early on that the more I hear the less original I become. It will permeate your brain in some way and come out as being somebody else’s stuff. I just listen to the music that is in my head and try to find ways to play these instruments in (a fashion) that is the most original to me. Teaching is a wonderful thing but the whole time they (the teachers) are instilling themselves in you, and I want to be able to have my own thing. You have to learn the basics, but once you do, I think it is time to forget about that, move on, and try to find your own thing," he says.
Brock credits fellow artist Janis Ian with being one of the people who both challenged him and caused him to stretch the most in his craft. "I spent probably eight or nine years with her and she would stretch me to the point where I didn’t think I could do it. I would come up with a great rhythm for one of her tunes and she would say, ‘Wow, that’s really cool, can you flip it around?’ I would flip it around and she would say, ‘Now add this in.’ (laughing he says) I would say I don’t have any more hands. I would find a way to incorporate all of the elements that she wanted into a single thing. That taught me a lot because I will now (take that approach) every time that I sit down to play something," he says.
With some parting comments about Janis Ian Brock says, "The cool thing about her is she pushes herself the same way. That in my eyes makes her a true artist."
Brock says of all the aspects of his career, "I like the studio scene the best. I think that is where I am most comfortable, just because I have done it for so long and I have found my place in it. I like making things from scratch and the creation of it all. You can go out on tour and people love it, but it is pretty much the same thing night after night. You paint the same picture every night and the only thing that is different is the people who are listening to it. In the studio, you can paint it once and then move on to the next one. I like being presented with a raw demo from somebody and then thinking this needs to be a finished thing presented to the world. How are we going to do this? That is when the creativity comes out. I think that is why I enjoy it (being in the studio)."
As one would suspect because of the vast array of quality artists that Brock has performed and recorded with over the years his musical preferences are very eclectic. "If it is good I like it and it doesn’t matter what it is. It doesn’t matter if the music is an R&B thing, jazz or country," he says.
There are however some things about music that Brock does not like, "I don’t like bad renditions of good music. If it is not played very well or not taken seriously enough, those are the things that drive me crazy. It doesn’t matter what the genre is as long as it comes off good, professional and sensitive."
Brock then steers the conversation in the direction of a style of music that he admits a fondness for, "The music that I like the most is Brazilian. That is my favorite music. The melodies are so beautiful. The rhythms are melodic, if that makes any sense. It just touches that thing in me that moves me the most. The Portuguese language is really musical and beautiful. That music is really sensitive to human emotion and they are not afraid to evoke that emotion. The Brazilian music is about heart, love and all of the good things that I want to experience. My Portuguese is really weak so I don’t have a lot of insight into what they are singing, but it doesn’t matter because the voice, even if you don’t understand the language is like a beautiful instrument."
I spent a little less than an hour with drummer Jim Brock on the phone, but I came away being even more impressed with the man than I am by his tremendous gift for creating good music. He confesses to finding it difficult to accept a compliment concerning his craft, but he certainly deserves all the ones that come his way.