David Garibaldi Interview

Learning From the Greatest


David Garibaldi is regarded as one of the most influential drummers of all time having inspired generations of players with his innovative approach to the instrument. As long time sticksman for Tower Of Power he will forever be known as one of the true funk pioneers.

In this interview David shares some of his career highs and lows and offers some useful advice for aspiring drummers:

What inspired you to start playing the drums?
We always had music going on at my house when I was little and I started with the violin. I wanted to play trumpet but there were no trumpets left in the school band so they gave me this violin, which I hated, so that lasted only a very short time. I hope violin players aren’t offended by this, but I couldn’t stand it. I was really attracted to the drums, started playing and pretty much stayed with it.

What were your main goals as a kid learning his craft?
Well, I guess when I was in my last year of high school, 17 years old, I was taking piano lessons and the piano teacher got me involved in a big band at the music store where I was taking the lessons. They were playing Glen Miller music and that kind of thing and my parents let me out every Tuesday night to go and rehearse with them. That was kind of a big deal for me and when we did our first performance and I got paid I realized that I could make money playing music. That got me really excited about it and so it sort of just went from there. I got out of high school and started playing in different bands, having my own bands and things progressed from there. I knew when I was 17 that this is what I wanted to do with my life, so really since then it’s all I’ve ever done.

How did you approach your own development?
I guess the main thing is to have a vision for yourself. You have to know what it is that you want then you have to just get down to the business of working towards it. There are no short cuts in this – if you really want something you figure out how you’re going to go about doing it and just start. Practice is big – I think that’s a really important way to develop yourself and then just play as much as you can until you find your voice.

My attitude sort of put me in situations where I could develop and grow. I always wanted to be around good players and so I was always looking for the people that could really play. I wasn’t really interested in playing in nightclubs, you know, doing Top 40 music or anything like that. I wanted to play! I always worked with bands that were doing original music and things where I could express myself in an individual way. I was always attracted to that. I wasn’t interested in sounding just like someone else as much as I wanted to have a sound of my own like all my favorite players have.

Do you still set goals for yourself today?
Yes – I’m very busy playing all the time. With Tower Of Power we are on the road right now and it seems like we always are. Sometimes it gets a little monotonous – we play a lot of the same material because we work so much so I have to always be redefining my goals and making things stimulating for myself so that I can keep moving forward.

What was the turning point in your career?
I guess when I was 23 years old and I joined the Tower. That was kind of the biggest event in my life I guess you would say. Everything that I am today as a musician is because of the freedom I was given in this drum chair. I was able to find myself and find my voice and still get a lot of enjoyment out of it – I obviously still enjoy it, I’m still in the band and it’s still a lot of fun. This is home base for me.

What’s been the toughest point in your career?
I’d have to say when I wasn’t in the band. We had a lot of drug problems in the early years – we were young and we made money and had a lot of success so we also liked to get high, you know. That really destroyed a lot of the creative things that were going on in the band and it also destroyed a lot of the personal relationships. When I decided early on that that was not how I wanted to live my life, I tried being in the band straight while everyone else was really loaded. That didn’t work at all because when you are around a lot of people who either drink or are using they don’t like you so much because you’re not doing what they are doing and you don’t like them so much because they’re not doing what you’re doing. The dope and alcohol comes between people – it sets up a lot of barriers.

I left the band in the early years I think two or three different times and it was always for the same reason. Eventually when I did leave again, I think it was in 1980, I said I’m not coming back because this is where these people are at. You know, never say never, but that 18-year period was really an adjustment. I had to learn how to function in music without the band – I had to develop a lot of things in my playing that would allow me to work with others and fit my playing into other situations. I couldn’t really have a signature sound, a recognizable, identifiable sound in a lot of the work that I was called to do. People didn’t want that so I had to turn it on and off
– that was tough.

How do you handle nerves?
I’ve gone through periods where I got very nervous and my hands shake and that kind of stuff and then there’s periods where you are just totally calm and I think a lot of it has to do with the importance that you attach to events. I always have a tendency to look down the road, maybe there is a performance coming up, and sometimes my mind will go “you’d better play well on that one”. As soon as you start thinking like that, looking down the road and telling yourself “you’d better do this”, you’ve put yourself in a bad spot – you’re creating a lot of pressure for yourself.

I do a lot of gigs where there’s a lot of other great drummers around – you can be intimidated when there are people that you admire and you respect and you’ve listened to their records, then they are standing by the side of the stage checking you out and enjoying what you’re doing. But that’s the thing you have to remember, if your peers are sitting there watching you the chances are that they are enjoying it. They want you to do well and that’s why they’re there. If you are sitting there thinking they are judging you or looking at you really critically then that really cuts down you’re peaceful time.

How do you prepare mentally for a big performance?
When I’m on the road I meditate everyday. I find it to be really helpful. Even though we play a lot of the same music night to night I still want to do well – I still prepare for it and go to areas of songs that I still have problems with and then I go and rehearse those things. I always have a practice session during the day – It doesn’t have to be a lot but just something to connect me with what’s going on. You know, just get ready. I also like to exercise so I workout everyday – I find that to be really relaxing and it helps me stay in the moment.

Have you picked up any tools over the years that have really helped you perform better?
I think the main thing is realizing that it all comes from within. You can have a great day from the way you look at things or you can have a horrible day from the way you look at things. That applies to your viewpoint and it controls everything. No matter what the circumstance try not to take it too seriously so that you can step back from things in a sort of detached way rather than letting things control the way your emotions go. That’s what I try to do, just keep things on as even a keel as possible, which is difficult sometimes (a good concept on paper), but it seems to work pretty well. Just take things a day at a time, which is always difficult for me because I’m always looking ahead. You always want to have a plan, a view to the future but at the same time you don’t want to live your life in the future because that’s not where life is lived – life is lived now!

What do you think makes a great musician?
I guess to use what abilities you have. I know people who are supremely talented but don’t use what they have in a really great way so they don’t get out of themselves what they could. I also know people who don’t necessarily have a lot of talent but use what they have and work hard at what they do. They say, slow and steady wins the race and I think that’s true. You don’t have to be super talented, you just have to be motivated. If you’re motivated all kinds of great stuff happens.

Do you have any good advice for young (or old!) musicians who are trying to make it?
The biggest thing is to stay away from alcohol and drugs, control your habits, you know. Really develop a vision for yourself – What is it that you want? What do you want to do? I don’t know that being a musician today is any more difficult than it was when I was young. To have a life filled with your art and be able to feed yourself and your family with your art…it seems like that problem has been with artistic people throughout the ages. If you are a person who is really motivated, you have a good idea of what you want, you just go out there and do your thing.

Really assess yourself because not everyone is suited for a life where you are feeding yourself with your art. For most people it’s a hobby and to have something that’s fulfilling in your life you have to have it in the right perspective. You have to enjoy it and view it as a way to enrich your life. If you attach a pay cheque to it sometimes that ruins the fun and then it’s not art anymore – it becomes something else. You want to strive to keep things in the right perspective. All the musicians that I know that do this for a living and are successful at it are not afraid to do it, they’re not afraid to step out there and be themselves.

Interview taken from The Psychology Of Drumming.

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