When you talk to most top flight drummers you get inspired to go and practice harder but when you talk to Dom Famularo something else happens entirely. With the level of enthusiasm and energy that he constantly exudes you are compelled to go and take on the world.
In this Interview Dom shares some insights into his career trajectory and reveals his most important concepts and lessons.
You’re a man that needs no introduction, but not too many people know how it all began for you. Can you tell us how you got started with the drums?
What’s amazing about my life is that I really believe in fate and destiny. These two words are very special to me as I’ve gotten older and help me to understand how I began. Fate, to me, is a greater power that sets a path for us that we have no control over. And destiny, is once fate opens the door you then make the decision of free will in how you choose to enter it or not. It happens, I believe with everyone who walks on this planet.
I come from a very musical family and when I heard The Beatles play it was such magic in 1964 that everyone wanted to play music. I got attracted to drumming through the dancer, Fred Astaire. There’s one movie called Easter Parade where he plays drums and I just though how cool would that be to play drums. At that time, hearing The Beatles play, drumming just seemed to kind of find me and I began to follow that path.
My two older brothers played rhythm guitar and bass guitar so immediately we had the basics of a band. From that, the fun of playing at family parties, learning songs in the basement of our home, listening to The Beatles and the excitement of what happened in the mid 60’s I kept on playing and then before you know it at the age of 12 years old I was working in the band and being payed to play music.
I started getting calls from different bands. I had a pretty decent feel and It slowly entered into this world of playing music. To me there’s no greater high in life than performing music and having people accept that. That was the hook that brought me in when I realized that I could inspire people, I could have fun when I was playing and they paid me money.
At a young age, I said, ‘What could happen if I could do this for a living, inspire people and travel the world playing drums. Wouldn’t that be an incredibly exciting life?’ And here I am now, 45 years later, still growing and developing the globe of traveling and it has been building ever since.
What made you choose to become an educator and did you ever think that you would become one of the greatest in the world?
Well, thank you so much. The education thing kind of found me, again through fate. I was playing drums with these different bands and I was taking lessons with two very inspiring local teachers here on Long Island – Ronnie Benedict and Al Miller. As I was performing other drummers would come up to me and say, ‘Wow, I like the groove you were playing. I liked your solo, I like the way you use your left hand. How do you do that? What are you doing?’ The questions began and so I began to explain what I was doing.
Both of my parents are wonderful educators in there own right. The way they were as parents. My father who was a mechanic and also chief of the fire dept. has great skills in teaching and explaining. My mum is just one of the greatest – the way she explained things to us. So, between her enlightenment, my fathers enlightenment and then me realizing that if I just explained to these students the way my parents speak… well, as the students grew and learned they came back for lessons and my teaching business began to grow.
When you see the students learn something and they grow from your energy and your expertise, that’s a pretty inspiring feeling so I kept on going with it.
When did the globetrotting begin?
Well, I was teaching privately here on Long Island and from that I realized that I wanted to reach and inspire more kids. I began to go into all the different local public schools and perform free clinics for the music teacher and there class. I would play for young kids from the ages of 8 to 10 years old, then the middle school from 11 to 15 and then in the high school from 16 to 18. I’d call the band director up and I’d go into these schools with my drums and play for these students. I was helping the teachers out by making there drummers better which made their band sound better so they kept on calling me back to visit the school. After a while I was playing between four and five hundred schools in the New York area while I was also teaching private lessons while I was also in three or four different bands. So, my schedule became very intense even at a young age.
A representative from TAMA drums, Al Marinara, heard about me doing these school clinics and he attended one one of them. This was about 1982 and Al was very impressed with what I was doing. He said, ‘I’m going to talk to my boss and see if there’s something we can do together.’ Then, Al showed up to one of the next local, Long Island, clinics I did with the president of TAMA drums. They happened to be in the New York area visiting stores and I happened to have a clinic – fate spoke again. They showed up and watched me doing my clinic to about 25 drummers and when it was over they asked if they could have a cup of coffee with me. We went to a place and sat down and the president said, ‘I would like to have you as our Education Director.’ I said, ‘Well that sounds very interesting, but what’s an education director?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, I’m hoping that you can help us define it because I think you’d be a great one.’ So, It started there!
With TAMA drums I began to do clinic tours by opening up for other drummers. They organized a tour across America opening for Simon Phillips in November of 83 and I believe we did 26 cities in 27 days – it was baptism by fire! We hit the road, I opened up, Simon played then we played together. We had large numbers of crowds, It was exciting and the crowds went crazy. My next tour was with Billy Cobham in spring of 84 and people loved it so much that for my next tour all the music stores wanted me back alone.
That was the beginning of me doing clinics in the schools, the different stores and then it went from the US to Canada, Canada to Europe and word just spread out from there till where I am today. I’ve performed in over 50 countries and this year alone I will perform in easily about 20 countries.
This blows me away!
The countries that I attend and the drummers that I meet, I am equally as inspired as they tell me they are inspired.
You’ve travelled the word and shared the stage with most of the biggest names in the business. Can you share some of your career highlights?
It has to be the drummers that I get to perform with. I am so humbled that I get to call them my friends because many of them were my heroes. I got to meet Buddy Rich in 1971 and Louie Bellson and Joe Morello, Ed Thigpen, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Max Roach, Billy Cobham and Steve Gadd. These legends were my heroes. As I began to go on stage and perform with them it was extremely exciting and I was probably never fully prepared for any one of those performances. But, that’s kind of the skill and the trust of your own personal instincts – I just trusted my passion and played the best I could. I became friends with these people.
Through the years of continuing to perform I became friends with the next level of players – Virgil Donati, Simon Phillips, Thomas Lang, Marco Minnemann, Benny Greb, Jojo Mayer, Steve Smith, Greg Bisonnette, Liberty Devito – all these incredible drummers that I am such a huge fan of their playing.
Then there are the many drummers who have taken lessons with me who are in great bands and even though they come to learn from me, they don’t know it but, I also learn from them.
Through all of your lessons, clinics and books, you’ve influenced thousands and thousands of drummers – do you have a core philosophy that you are trying to get across?
My first love is performing. Just last week I performed with a band in Vermont for the KoSA camp (www.kosamusic.com) which is an incredible camp that we have at Castleton College here in Vermont. Aldo Massa, a wonderful percussionist, organizes this camp with his extremely talented wife Yolan.
We went to rehearsals and all the other performers (about 15) were rehearsing the songs. When I came to meet the band I said, ‘Gentleman, do you know the song Yesterday’s?’ (an old Jazz standard). They said ‘Yes, we know the song.’ I said, ‘We’re gonna play it in a half-time feel, kinda funky with a little bit of a shuffle feel to it.’ They said, ‘Great!’ I said, ‘Piano player play the melody and take the first solo, bass solo’s, I solo, then watch me for the ending. I’ll see you on stage.’
So the piano player said, ‘Wait, aren’t we going to rehearse it?’
I said, ‘We just did that!’, ‘If you want to play it through, I don’t do that because I believe rehearsal is for cowards.’ They laughed hysterically and I said ‘I want our first performance to be creative and spontaneous, in the moment and in the now. I want the audience to experience our creativity at the same time we do. I’ll see you on stage!’
That’s what we did. I told the audience that story, introduced the band, we played and it was incredible. Part of the message was to live your passion for music and trust your instincts. With all the books that I write I try to explain techniques and give ideas about the skills of learning this instrument but it all goes back to your passion – live your passion everyday, live in the moment – and to trust your instinct.
You are a great student of the instrument – what kind of things do you focus your own study/practice time on?
With all of my students, I put them on a specific course. We work on hand & foot technique so we understand how to fine-tune our movement. We work on reading using the different classical and rudimental books. And then we work on drumset and there are many types of drumset books – there are jazz books, funk books, and play-a-long material. For example, the Tommy Igoe book, Groove Essentials, has 88 play-a-long tracks that you can work with and learn.
For me, I put myself on that same kind of a course. I’ll work out of a book like The UnReel Drum Book which is a Vinnie Colaiuta book by Marc Atkinson. He’s a phenomenal drummer and he transcribed some Vinnie Colaiuta stuff. When that book came out he mentioned the fact that you really need to have my book, It’s Your Move, to learn the techniques to play this and you really need to watch Jim Chapins dvd, Speed, Power, Control, Endurance and that’ll help you to play the book. Well, I wrote the book It’s Your Move and I produced the Jim Chapin dvd and now I’m going through the Unreal Book. As I’m going the book those techniques sure do help and I practice the book and try to step into the world of Vinnie Colaiuta – and how exciting it is.
There’s also a book that Jim Chapin wrote many, many years ago back in 1971. It’s a very thick version of his Volume II and it’s a $120 book. It has all these different overlays and It’s kind of like a big reference or resource book. I open that book up to any page, I’ll look at the page and I’ll say, ‘OK, I’m gonna play the top line with my feet and the bottom line with my hands.’ Then, I’ll change it around. Sometimes I’ll play the top line with my left hand on the ride cymbal and the bottom line with my left foot. I purposely try to confuse myself and jam myself into a corner but I believe this opens you up tremendously to question your talent, your ability and of course your future of learning this instrument.
Who and what are some of your biggest influences?
I’d probably have to say, for the quality of person that I am, the two biggest influences would be my parents. They are in there early 80’s and they are such inspiring people in the way they speak and how they listen to others. Plus, they are concerned to be compassionate people. I believe that’s the first place to begin because without that, trying to learn anything is difficult. To have an open mind all the time is very, very important.
I would say the next tier would be my immediate family, my wife and my three boys. My wife is my life partner and she understands how to keep me focussed and how to keep me inspired. My three boys, as any parent with children will tell you, offer a whole other level of excitement. That inspires me and it gives me hope, which for me basically means, as great as each day is, we look for tomorrow to be even better. As a person I reach for them in the scope of my inspiration.
When it comes to music and I think of non drummers, I think of great musicians like Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellingotn, Count Basie – players that were so musical. You know, Frank Sinatra with Charlie Christian on guitar. George Benson a great singer and guitar player, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie. All these great, great musicians. To me this is where you pull from all the drama and excitement of music.
When I think of drummers, that list is endless. Tony Williams, I can still listen to his playing and from the grave he inspires me every time. A contemporary player like Vinnie Colaiuta, I think he is breaking boundaries that is literally (and I’m very careful how I use this word) pure genius. Steve Smith who is pushing some of the Indian style rhythms into Jazz, this is incredible. Players like Billy Cobham who are still pushing the boundaries of learning. Absolutely amazing.
With all your achievements to date, what’s left for you to do?
Someone asked me recently, what were some of my greatest performance achievements and I answered it very simply by saying I have had the opportunity to play with my children and there school band. To perform with my boys in the school band in front of our entire community. My oldest son Dominic plays trumpet, my middle son Jonathan plays snare drum and my youngest son Maxwell plays Tenor sax. I’ve had the chance to play with all of them and those have been the greatest performances to date. I have played on stage with some of the greatest musicians in the world but those performances will be on my mind forever. So, to me the magic of seeing the next generation continue on is just unbelievable.
This year I came out with the new drum book, Pedal Control, that’s published by Wizdom Media and distributed by Alfred Publications. The book is about double bass playing and understanding pedal control. The book is doing very well because it teaches the technique of foot movement and then has exercises to practice. Never before has a book like this been written and I’ve got ideas for about eight more drum books I’m working on. My motivational book, The Cycle of Self-Empowerment is still a book that I have been using and doing different lectures on. I’m working on several more motivational books for my global travels which is so exciting.
I just see this entire thing going on and now I’m working on live lessons that I can do out of my studio here in Long Island. Every drummer in the world can log on and they can have me live in their living room. That’s the next step and were going to have that ready in the next few weeks.
Do you have any final words of Wizdom?
First of all, I thank you so much for putting this energy into what your doing. We need more of these efforts to connect drummers together and that Drum Ninja mentality is really what it’s all about. We need to heighten our skills to get to that Ninja level so we can have the best way to express our emotions which is what all of art is about.
So, to every single drummer out there, follow your passion and understand your responsibility – learn your instrument and then share it with everyone. This is how we will continue the cycle of all these great drummers before us, where we are right now on this day of August 10th 2010 and to the future of people who may here my voice – keep the cycle going.
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