DREW SCHULTZ (see our news archive) is a Cleveland-born drummer. Mentored by people like Motown’s URIEL JONES he’s played some prestigious gigs – none more so than becoming a key component in the 4 TOPS’ road band. DREW has just released his first solo album – ‘Back To Class’ which features vocals and input from some of soul’s star players including DENNIS COFFEY, SPYDER TURNER and, naturally, the 4 TOPS. What’s more some of the profits from the album are being used to fund music development projects in and around Detroit. We spoke with DREW to find out more and began by asking him about his background….
I was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1988! My Dad played the guitar, and my Mom was a piano and voice accompaniment major in college who found her way into law, but still played music often. My first musical experience was through her teaching me the basics of piano, but my first real musical fascination was watching the band she worked with rehearse in our basement. They still play together, they’re called “The No Name Band.” Watching their drummer, Brent Buckley, really made me want to learn to play. Almost all of the earliest music I can remember listening to was the music that they played: Lots of classic rock and soul. Somehow I ended up really getting into the Motown music they played, and it all snowballed from there.
Why did you decide to become a drummer?
My mother was teaching me piano when I was a little kid, and I was very bored with scales and exercises. I really enjoyed playing songs though, and would do my best to learn songs that I was listening to. Watching the No Name Band practice with Brent Buckley on drums made me want to learn to play ’em. I can remember learning “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” pretty early on. I saved up my small allowance for a few months in order to buy the “Hitsville USA Motown Singles Collection 1959-1971″… a four disc set. That was the first music I ever bought with my own money! Seeing my fascination with drums growing, my parents enrolled me in drum lessons when I was in the third grade. I took lessons from Scott Flowers, a Cleveland drummer for several years before moving on to lessons with Bill Ransom. Bill is a staple on the Cleveland music scene, having performed and recorded with Gerald Levert and leading his own quintet. All throughout school I played in several wind ensembles, orchestras, jazz bands, gospel choirs, musicals, and percussion ensembles. I was classically trained, but on my own time I was focusing on funk, soul, and jazz. David Garibaldi from Tower of Power was one of my biggest influences, and at I ate up anything he played, recorded, or wrote. William Kennedy from the Yellowjackets was also a huge influence.
Who else influenced you?
Then I was lucky to get to know two of my favourite drummers very well. I’m an enormous fan of Earth Wind & Fire, and I would go and see them every chance I could get. From the time I was 14 I would show up at EWF shows, and eventually got to know original member and drummer Ralph Johnson. Ralph would show me exercises, and let me come to sound checks to trade licks between the two of us and John Paris. The next big thing for me was when the great documentary on the Funk Brothers, “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” was released. They came to Cleveland and I had a ticket in my hand, but was not allowed in because I was under 18. The following year, my Dad and I drove to Niagara Falls to see them with Mary Wilson. Their manager, Mark Steinberg, was kind enough to let me backstage to meet drummer Uriel Jones. Uriel was too cool, letting me play his drums, talking shop about technique and groove, and even dragging me into some press photos with him, Bob Babbitt, and Eddie Willis. We kept in touch regularly after that, and I would call him to pick his brain about drums. He gave me some amazing advice over the years, and I was proud to conduct his last interview, which was published in my first article for Modern Drummer Magazine focusing on Motown drumming. After high school I was accepted into the jazz performance program at New York University. They were very supportive of my love for soul music, and within a few months I was leading my own eleven piece funk group. Our sophomore year, we became the official NYU R&B ensemble. We recorded our first original tune at the NYU studios, and played at school events and clubs around campus. It was the core of this group that became The Funk Machine – Emilio Tostado, Dan Sieling, and Jent LaPalm. They are the backing band for the entire “Back to Class” record!
What were your earliest experiences in the music business?
The first gig I ever played was at a small bar in the Tremont area of Cleveland with a group we called the “Vanguard Trio.” It was me, a pianist named Jacob Bergson, and a saxophonist named Nathan Davis. We had a few original songs, and my first foray into playing original music was with these guys! We couldn’t even drive yet, so our parents were troopers, dropping us off at the bar, and picking us up well after midnight when the bar was closing up. My first record credit came through an internship with Harry Weinger at Universal/Motown in New York. I met Harry when he came to speak at a class I was taking, and I was quick to pester him to somehow work with him. He has been the producer on some of my favourite Motown releases, including that first CD I ever bought, the Hitsville USA box set. Harry allowed me to come in and work at Motown doing pre-production mixes of tracks being considered for release. In 2009 I was listed as a pre-production engineer for The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back: The Unreleased Masters,” and several more projects have followed. Harry and the crew at Motown/UMe are the best!
How then did you land the job with the 4 Tops?
During my sophomore year of college, I was already a full-fledged Motown nerd. The 4 Tops were my all-time favourite group, and I had every recording I could get my hands on. Their drummer, Benjamin “Butch” Corbett, remains one of my favourite drummers to this day. Butch had been with the Tops since the early eighties, and I was floored by his playing on the live shows that I had been able to dig up. When they came to NYC, I got in touch with a trumpet player named Mart Avant who played with the Tops, asking if I could get in touch with Butch to take a lesson. Butch called me and asked me to come through to the sound check at Carnegie Hall, where he let me play, and showed me some great licks and grooves. I got to hang out with him and their longtime conductor/arranger George Rountree. Tree, Butch and I really hit it off, and the next time they came to NYC they called me to play hand percussion. I played percussion and did archival work for the Tops for two years, and in 2009 I got the call to join them on the road. I was actually in the Motown offices with Harry when that call came in, and I was very conflicted. I still had a year left in school, and had my own group. Harry gave me a swift kick to take the plunge, and Butch and Tree both gave me their support, so I took a leave of absence to move to Detroit and join the band full time!
What was it like working with such a legendary group and how hard was it for you to replicate that classic Motown sound for the stage shows?
It was an absolute dream come true to play with the Tops. I was already totally immersed in Motown music, and my goal was to replicate the classic Motown grooves and fills. It never felt like work. Tree and I would sit for hours and analyze the original recordings, looking for licks and grooves to incorporate into the current live arrangements, and we ended up with a long list of inside-music-jokes. For example, during the “didn’t I treat you right” portion of “Standing in the Shadows of Love”, I would play Uriel’s drum intro from “25 Miles” note for note. Tree would do his little march and shout “Come on feet! Don’t fail me now!” It was a blast, because I was surrounded by the music I love day in and day out. I really loved sitting in the bus while the Tops rehearsed their harmonies, and Lawrence “Roquel” Payton Jr would teach me notes to sing. It really felt like just playing music with friends. The Four Tops organization really is more like a family than a job!
Who else have you played with?
While living in Detroit, I got to dive into the R&B scene. When I was not on the road with the Tops, I would play regularly with Dennis Coffey, Melvin Davis, Spyder Turner, James Jamerson Jr, Pat Lewis, Buddy Smith, McKinley Jackson, Joey Kingfish, Rob Carter, The Wrong Numbers, and students from Wayne State University. When we were on the road, the Tops’ band would often back up other artists, which gave me the opportunity to play with Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Martha Reeves, The Dramatics, The Contours, The Miracles, Freda Payne, Chairmen of the Board, Harold Melvin’s Bluenotes, and The Velvelettes. I’m extremely thankful to have been able to play with so many of my musical influences!
Now your album… why did you decide to make a long player and how did you put it all together?
I started getting really into song writing while I had downtime from touring, and I started doing little recordings to sell at my own shows around town. However, the more I listened to them, the less confident I was in my own questionable vocal and production ability. When Duke Fakir heard my scratch track of “Crying in a Whisper,” he said it sounded like a Four Tops tune. I asked if he’d be interested in recording it, and he said he’d love to! That’s really what started the idea for me, and I started writing songs with some of my favourite soul artists in mind. Dennis Coffey was instrumental in the early stages too. He taught me the basics of budgeting, pitching, and controlling the scope of the project. Even more, he introduced me to his drummer, Steve Adams. Both a musician and a carpenter, Steve built his own great home studio, and is an engineer and producer who stands strongly against the over-produced method of recording. Steve is the co-producer on the record, and he is an amazing talent both behind the drums and the mixing board. It was with his direction that we achieved such an organic sound and feel on the record…I wanted to gather all of the great artists I had been playing with, and I thought that a benefit for the music programs of the Detroit Public Schools would be a great cause for the project, as so many of the guest stars grew up in the district. I recorded demos of every tune, where I feebly sang each part, and I passed them out to the album’s cast of musicians. The Funk Machine, my band from NYU, flew in to Detroit to record the basic tracks. For more than a year we added percussion, vocals, horns, and more. We mixed the entire record ourselves, and had it mastered by one of my friends from the Universal/Motown team, Kevin Reeves. With the benefit aspect of the record, the attempt to capture a classic feel, and my inevitable return to finish my college degree, “Back to Class” was an obvious choice for the record title!
Tell us about some of your favourite tracks on the album…
As the writer of all of these songs, I’m obviously pretty biased! Still, I think that “Crying In A Whisper” might be my favourite track off of the record, perhaps only for the simple fact that it’s the first song that I wrote entirely on my own. I had taken part in collaborative writing before, but “Crying” is the first song that I solely wrote all of the chords, melody, and lyrics for. It’s a simple song, but I’m happy with it. The other reason I love that tune is because it’s the Tops! They’ve been my favourite group for years and years, so it’s a dream come true to have written, produced, and performed on a track with the guys. I’m also very happy with “So Many Fish In The Sea.” That song, while also pretty simple, came from a pretty personal place! Many songwriters will tell you that sometimes a song is just a song, but “Crying” and “So Many Fish” were two that I wrote while in very particular frames of mind, and were definitely products of personal situations I’ve found myself in. Not only do those two come from a very real place, but the Tops and Chairmen of the Board (who supply the vocals) are two of my favourite groups, and it was an honour to be able to capture the sound of each group.
Some of the original Motown Funk Brothers offer their spoken memories for the album over the instrumental that is the album’s title track – how did you manage that?
My idea was to make the title track of a record less of a song, and more of a little “icing-on-the-cake” tune for Motown fans like me. These are the guys who are truly responsible for the Motown Sound. I met The Funk Brothers when I was still in High School, at the show I mentioned above. For the Motown article I wrote for Modern Drummer, I had sat down with Uriel to record our conversation. Much of what we spoke of was not used in the magazine, so I had a little treasure-trove of wisdom from Uriel on tape. I called Eddie Willis and Jack Ashford, and they were very receptive to the idea. Dennis Coffey and James Jamerson Jr were already on the record, and took part in the tune as well. Tree and Butch did the same! I just simply had to ask, and that goes to show that these are some of the nicest, most genuine guys out there! I truly regret not being able to involve Bob Babbitt on the tune. We lost a giant when he passed away, and just like everyone else from the Funk Brothers, a truly great person.
You’re donating half the profits to the music programmes in the Detroit Schools – tell us about that do you hope to achieve…
The recession in the US has been especially hard on arts education. When money is tight, it forces schools to pick and choose programmes that they have to cut in order to keep their budgets realistic. A good music programme doesn’t make a school look better on the scale of test results, so they end up a low priority. However, I think I’m an example of all the good that a strong arts education can do for a student. I was lucky enough to go Shaker Heights public schools in Ohio. Their district has one of the best music programmes in the country, and that environment is a large part of who I am today. Having supportive and challenging private lessons taught me diligence and persistence in practicing. Performing taught me how to be confident in myself, both on and off the stage. Being a part of bands taught me how to work with other people, and being a section leader taught me how to be assertive. These seem like very basic things, but it’s hard to glean that sort of experience from your typical math, science, English, and history classes…With this project, I obviously hope to raise money for Detroit’s music programmes, allowing them to afford more instruments for students, repairs for broken equipment, and sheet music for the groups to play. However, I also hope to bring attention to the type of good these programmes do in students’ social and personal development. After all, every guest artist on this record was a young student themselves at one point!
You also have your own band now – and play regularly I guess – and a live album – tell us about that?
I lead my own group, The Drew Schultz Funk Machine. The Funk Machine is the core of a band that I started way back in 2006 when I first came to NYU. It started off ridiculously large. At one point, we had myself, bass, two guitars, keys, four horn players, and four singers! Eventually we even became the official NYU R&B Ensemble, acting as a student organization with a school budget, performing at events and clubs all over campus. It was a great time, but commitments and school schedules forced the band to parse down to a smaller group… Now that I’m back in NYC finishing my college degree, we’re playing all the time! On Friday, December 14th 2012, we’ll be headlining a show at the legendary club The Bitter End, where Curtis Mayfield and Donny Hathaway recorded their phenomenal live records. To promote that show, we’re going to release a Christmas single that we will give away to anyone who comes to the performance. We also are hosting a monthly jam in Brooklyn on the first Monday of each month, at a club called Rhythm Splash. We also back up other artists, and in December will be performing with Martha Reeves. We recently released our first show back together on Soundcloud.com, recorded at Bar 4 in Brooklyn. We’re extremely glad to be back together!
Now what about the future?
For right now, I’ve really got my head back in the books trying to finish my degree. I’ve been trying my hardest to gain some momentum with the ‘Back to Class’ record, and perform/record as much as possible with The Funk Machine. In the future, I’d love to do a joint education and performance tour with the band; during the day we would go to local high schools and speak about writing, recording, performing, and networking, with an emphasis on soul music. During the evenings we would perform at local museums, libraries, and clubs where students could come and sit in! I hope to rejoin the Tops after my degree is completed, and remain as involved with soul, R&B, and Motown music as I possibly can. It’s my life! And just to finish I know I already spoke about them, but It needs to be said that none of this would have happened without both George Rountree and Uriel Jones. Tree really stuck his neck out for me by allowing me to play with the Tops in the first place, and was like a mentor, father, teacher, and best friend at once. Uriel took me under his wing when I was just a pesky kid following around one of my heroes. He told me that he regretted not writing more. When I was interviewing him for Modern Drummer Magazine, I asked him what advice he’d give young musicians, expecting tips for drummers. Instead he said “write, write, write,” something that he would repeat to me several times. I took it to heart, and this record is for Uriel and Tree.
How can we find out more?
You can always see my performance schedule, recordings, pictures, etc. at www.DSdrums.com, and I’m active on facebook at www.facebook.com/DrewSchultz88 …. People are welcome to get in touch any time!