Stray Dog Strut

Back in february I ended up recording some drum tracks to hopefully make a demo good enough to get me into the Red Bull Music academy this year. The deadline to send out the application was in March and I got mine sent out the weekend before. I still haven’t heard anything back from Red Bull yet, but that doesn’t exactly matter right now.


When I sat down behind the drums to record, I had no idea what to play so instead of coming up with a plan, I just did a series of one take improv tracks that eventually ended up getting cut and laced with reverb for effect (yes that was a drug reference, no I don’t do drugs). In doing all of that I listened to the tracks non stop and became very critical of my playing. For a while I was beginning to think that I’m completely awful and I should give up playing entirely, but over the course of the passed few weeks since then I’ve been kind of taking a step back from critically looking at myself and my playing to focus on getting my students ready for Rock Shop at Mel Booker Music.

A good friend of mine told me that I need to quit being so critical of myself and re-learn my strengths (not just with music, but also in other areas.) which seemed kind of strange at first. My whole life people have been telling me how to improve, but the thing that was always missing was acknowledging what was already there. My friend was just trying to point out that I suffer from the fishbowl effect.

[The fish bowl effect is just simply the idea that you can only interpret the life right in front of you.]

Needless to say, they were absolutely right. I spent four years in a bad relationship (which ended badly), that paired with the fact that back when I was in high school, I was considered one of the lesser players by my fellow students, kinda made me realize that my lack of confidence is totally reasonable.

Of course I don’t know how awesome I am, I can’t ever actually observe myself objectively the way someone else can.

I told you all that stuff to tell you about the more recent developments leading to this post. Last Sunday, I packed all my gear to set up for Rock Shop rehearsal and while doing so I took a minute to consider them. My drums are unlike any other I’ve ever seen, because they’re pieced together from different companies. On top of that, I stripped them down and painted them myself to fit what I wanted them to look like. They’re equipped with coated heads to make them sound more dry (still tonal, but without much sustain). My cymbals are all beat and destroyed. But you know what? My kit is an extension of me. As eclectic and strange as it may seem, it is very much a product of my own doing. I didn’t realize how similar it is to my personality.

I don’t like to talk so when I do, I usually speak in short replies and almost never strike up the conversation (thats kinda the same thing as using dry heads to reduce the amount of sustain). The colors I picked for paint were a satin olive color with black striping (reminiscent of world war two era military equipment). Really the most interesting thing though is the fact that its made from so many different pieces. Personally, I like to learn everything I can about things I’m interested in, which includes different stylistic ideas. My kit is a patchwork behemoth of excellence, just like my own soul and that is pretty much the coolest thought I have ever had.


That same day, I watched two of my students go through the rehearsal and thought about how much they have improved. That is a direct result of my teaching skills and their interest in the activity. Another strength that needs highlighting. I often question whether or not I’m teaching anything of real value, but to see quality improvements like that was another one of those eye opening moments.

After the rehearsal was over, I decided to go and check out an open mic that my former teacher put together. They played a set and then took a break. During the break Tre’ came over to say hello and to ask if I’d like to sit in. I had never done something like that before because there aren’t any real events like that in the AV, so needless to say I was hesitant at first but I decided that I should at least try.

So Tre’ gets me set up to play on a Hall and Oates jam that of course I have never heard. I step into the hall to listen to it quickly to at least get an idea of what we’re doing. Then I’m called to the stage, only to be told that we aren’t doing that one any more. Normally I would have panicked and probably just ran off screaming, but seeing that there were other people around, I opted to pretend like I knew what I was doing.

I sat down behind the kit and adjusted for comfort. Then the bass player starts and helps me find the groove we’re looking for. After that it was like what I’d imagine the countdown in the space shuttle is like. Strapped in, systems checked, ready to burn some atmosphere, sitting there in anticipation of the most intense ride humanity has ever come up with. In that moment of absolute petrification and disbelief at what I was about to do, the only thing I could manage to do was take a deep breath and count to myself. This is the moment where one has to make a choice: A) Run with it and do what you can to the best of your ability or B) let fear paralyze you and feel stupid after.

After we got through the song, I was complimented by the bass player who shook my hand as I was getting off stage. I probably should have stuck around to network and hang with the musicians that were there but I was totally elated. Not only had I never done that before, but I pulled it off.

I go and sit down on a bench in the lounge area. I’m sitting there when someone sits down next to me and says “Hey, I like your style. You have a real knack for what you’re doing. Are you playing with anyone?” This dude offers me a paid gig, right there on the spot.

Imagephoto credit: Tre’ Balfour

All of this amazing stuff just happened after a string of demoralizing events all because I decided on a whim to go do something I wouldn’t normally do. Call it what you want, but it doesn’t change the simple fact that it was mind blowing and totally spontaneous (i.e. Miracle, serendipity, phenomena).

They say that stray dogs don’t leave their homes because of lack of loyalty. Often it is because of boredom and frustration that the dog chooses to wander. It is a simple choice when you look at it that way; complacency or adventure?

In a way I feel like that is exactly how this all started. Boredom and frustration with my circumstances.


2 thoughts on “Stray Dog Strut

  1. Duuude! Russell! I wish could play like you haha. But why would you stop playing? Its like with us in drumline, i know I’m not good at snare but I know I won’t give up because its too hard. I know I’m not a good snare drum player but I know I will get better. BTW come watch us more often! I love seeing you there & help us out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks man!

      Its just that when I started… I was in the pit and it never really felt like anyone took me seriously. I just didn’t see my own potential because no one else really saw it either, except Tre’ who never gave up on me.


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