For anyone into vintage drums, or the love of drumming, I caught up with Bristolian drummer Richie Paradise for a natter about things that go Boom…
Mr Paradise, introduce yourself….
Captain Richard de Paradis, better known as Richie Paradise. Whilst I’m not the best drummer in Bristol, I maybe one of the better dressed. I tend to love things vintage, whether that’s drums, music, fashion or whatever, it somehow fits my persona. And I like that.
At what age did you start drumming? What was the first kit/drum you were given?
I accidentally started about 16. I had started a band as singer, we had no drums but one of the lads dad’s had an old kit and my house was the only one with a spare room so I reluctantly took it up. Took a while, and then it clicked.
What were your early drumming days like?
The usual dire Sixth form bands followed by playing Fugazi style hardcore and some indie stuff. None of the bands really got anywhere despite a few singles and an album but I enjoyed the scene. Funnily enough I’ve just been to see Calexico and there were lots of old musos from back then. All older, fatter and in some cases balder.
What was the first kit you bought with your own money and why did you buy it? Where is it now?
Black Tama Rockstar with Zildjian scimitar cymbals. This was the new Rockstar and had received quite a good review in Rhythm. I got them new in Gloucester. Solid workman like drums that served me well. I replaced the snare with a 12” x 7” Pearl piccolo which I still have but rarely play but I couldn’t sell it, it’s too personal. My first pro kit was one I won. It was a Pearl Masters and looked and sounded brilliant but playing the kind of gigs we were, sometimes in squats and the well journeyed ‘toilet scene’ meant it stood out a bit so i swapped it for a Premier Genista. I’d say the Genista is a good example of ‘modern vinatage’.
Who did you listen to growing up? Who influenced your style the most?
John Wright in No Means No was a massive influence. Interesting and heavy beats. As was Sim cain who played in the Rollins Band. They both had a huge jazz feel even though they played heavy music. I’d grown up listening to Dave Brubeck with Joe Morello as my Dad is a huge Brubeck fan, so I cottoned onto that style. John Stanier in Helmet also had that interesting but bombastic style. with Brendon Canty in Fugazi doing great stuff as well, and those ringing snares they all had, it kept me playing for the song but also trying to do something other than a backbeat.
And now, who are your top three drummers? Not based on technical merit, but you’re personal 3 favourites?
Joe Morello. Is there anything else that can be said about him? he swings so smoothly, his technique is unbelievable and yet he had so much soul. His brush work was fantastic.
John Convertino. One half of Calexico and he plays in all sorts of side projects too. Has a sound, I love that, it’s so rare to have it. He doesn’t just play the drums, he paints with them. Reminds me of those old school American drummers like Levon Helm or Jim Keltner. Seeped in the roots of American music they’re playing melts into the music. Brushes, sticks or mallets, they play the right thing.
Buddy Rich. I’m still amazed how brilliant he was and he did so much for big band music. As a big band drummer myself I know I can never get anywhere near to what he did but he is still my first reference when it comes to the approach to a swing tune. Of course there are loads of other great big band drummers and I look to what they did too but Buddy just hit the music on the nail. I recently picked up a few albums of his in a smaller band scenario and you can really hear him swing, which sometimes the big band was a bit guilty of not doing. It could be overly muscular at times but what power. Amazing.
Right, lets talk drums…
You do a lot on the Bristol music scene; tell us about your various musical projects.
Big R Big Band. I co-lead this with sax player Richard Thomas. A couple of years ago I realised I knew enough people to get a big band off the ground and in that tie we’ve really progressed and I’m immensely proud of it. We play classic swing of the 30’s and 40’s mainly. Count Basie being a huge part of that sound. Big band music, for me, should not be safe, it pains me to see boring old bands playing through the same old tunes without verve or drive. We’re starting to attract the local swing dancers to the gigs which is brilliant as I love a dance myself and it looks amazing. We like to do interesting gigs, for example we played before a screening of ‘The Artist’. We opened with ‘Sing Sing Sing’ just as the curtains opened.
Narco Lounge Combo – I love this gig. We’ve just released our second album. basically it’s Space Age Bachelor Pad music. Think Lounge and exotica with a touch of surf. Once again it’s all quite retro in style though Mr Thomas who writes all the material (not the same Mr Thomas that I play with in Big R) uses Tenori-Ons and loads of other new technology. I add the drum vibe. The band that used to be on ‘French & Saunders’, Raw Sex, are also an influence, we like to put on a show. I can play a song one handed with a mallet while I drink a pint with the other, that sort of thing….
I also sometimes play as part of the house band for the monthly East Bristol Jazz Jam. Seat of the pants stuff at times.
You promote your own nights too. Some shameless publicity for those please… what can the punter expect from one of your nights?
I’ve been putting on an occasional cabaret at the amazing The Cube Microplex, for about 5 years. I co-compere and book it. Expect all sorts of things, a bit of music, comedy, magic, dance, well dressed people, all sorts. Always sells out, always great fun.
I’ve seen some of your lovely kits and snares in person… talk us through some of your faves.
In Big R Big Band I play a (USA) Rogers 72 Fullerton. These are such great drums. Really thin shells that project wonderfully. I got them in a right state from a shed in Yeovil and had them covered in WMP and hunted high and low for enough hardware. It’s a bit bigger than what I like to play, 22, 13, 16 but it has the power to push the band when I need it too.
I used to have a really nice Champagne Sparkle Ludwig of various dates, it was my first classic kit. I got a nice geezer in Wales to sell it for me when I realised I was using it less and less because of my..
60’s Slingerland. Boy this is a great kit. 20, 12, 14. Classic sizes and I tune it to have a classic sound just like Joe Morello. I use it for everything.
I’ve been slimming the snares down a bit, I just sent a lovely Leedy Shelley Manne snare to a guy in the states who made me an offer. I like drums to be played not sat on my shelf. I mainly like wood snares. Particular favourites are my WMP 60’s Slingerland Hollywood Ace, it just has that vintage sound. Mind you so does my Champagne Sparkle Ludwig Jazz festival. Alan Tee sorted the edges out on this as there was some rattle due to mis-use. Vintage wise I’ve also a Slingerland Buddy Rich snare in 14×4 which I used to use a lot but not so much recently, a 50’s Leedy and Ludwig in the same sizes which is great, a Slingerland Artist, a deep WMP Leedy and my most recent addition, a 60’s Camco in black and gold duco. It’s not all vintage though, i use my modern Slingerland Radioking probably more than any other snare. Similarly my modern Ludwig COB is perfect, I kept dreaming about it so had to go back and buy. Plus a tasty little Joe Montineri 12” snare shows how good modern drums can be, it sounds massive considering the size. Looks pure sex too.
That isn’t all the snares, just most of them 🙂
Leedy snares. Tell me more about why you love them.
The great under rated American drums, maybe because they’re not so easy to find. The main thing about Leedy is they have this Art Deco look that sets them apart, it is both retro and futuristic. On top of that they are brilliantly made, the build quality on all the ones I’ve come across has been superior to any other. That might just be coincidental as they seemed to have been owned by Ludwig and Slingerland at some stage so all three makes were, I think, made in the same factory.
Head choice. What do you generally use and why? Any new tricks / products that you’ve come across?
Remo coated ambassadors, clears as reso heads. The only exception being I quite like Vintage A’s on floor toms, gives them that Krupa vibe. Bass drums heads I’m still not settled on, I like no dampening inside of them and no hole on the front head so either a head with some dampening on it already or a felt strip on the front head just to take the boing out of it.
Any advice/tips for someone about to dip their toes into vintage drums? What kit would you go for on a low budget and how would you get it to perform at full potential?
Don’t be afraid to make someone an offer, that’s how I got my Slingerland kit. Otherwise vintage UK kits offer great value, Ajax and Beverly especially. Old Premier kits see to be more sought after than few years ago. I’ve also seen some 60’s Yamaha kits go for not much on ebay. As far as getting it to perform to it’s best potential it’s one of two schools; either strip everything and make sure it works or don’t mess with anything less you do more damage. I probably have a foot in both camps.
And if you had a bit more cash to play with, what would you buy and why?
Good question. Probably Radio kings like Buddy.
What are your perfect kit sizes? Reasons for choice?
I prefer to play 20, 12, 14. It can sometimes be hard to get a 18” bass drum sounding sufficiently ‘bassy’, 20” covers a lot of ground. I’ve tried using 10” toms but I really like that classic vintage sound and a 12” is so easy to get that with. It’s a lot more versatile too. As are 14” floor toms so I prefer to use them when I can. Even when I played heavier music that tended to be the sizes that I used but with my big band I do play 22, 13, 16 as they’re louder. With 16 of us all playing at the same time there’s times when I need to make sure I’m loud and pushing the band.
Are you into cymbals too? If so, what’s your set up?
Not as much as some people are. I’ve moved away from using crash cymbals and use different rides to crash on. I mix it up a bit depending what I’m playing but I always play my Istanbul 18” sizzle ride and a Zildjian 21” left hand ride with 2 rivets.
And your favourite ride cymbal?
The Zildjian 21” left hand ride. Sounds great.
Right, some quick questions…
Snare drum – metal or wood?
Your house is on fire, you can grab one snare drum – which one?
Slingerland Hollywood Ace.
The Holy grail in your opinion? The drum that has eluded you so far, or have you finally sourced it?
Impossible to answer. There are so many fabulous drums out there, old and new. I loved that anniversary kit Yamaha bought out a few years ago with the finish that was scenes from Japanese Shogun era history. Sizes were all wrong though. It wold be great to own a drum or kit that was Joe Morello’s or Buddy’s.
Phone rings, you’ve got ½ hour to throw a kit in the car and do a dep gig.. what’s your ‘go to’ kit?
60’s Slingerland. Sounds great, looks great, has my shield on the bass drum.
Best story you’ve heard/read about yourself?
Ha! I actively encourage lies and half truths so there’s plenty out there.
Tom mounted on rims, snare stand or original mount?
Original mount preferred. I’m lazy and don’t like to carry extra gear.
Your dream gig?
Count Basie Orchestra. So many great tunes and great players, it’d be an absolute ball to play.
Thanks for your time.