Todd Sucherman had reached success being in a legendary band for years and recording with some music legends. Now he’s made it again shining with his own light as the author of Methods & mechanics, with no need of magic tricks or esotericisms.
Don’t wake the dragon
Todd Sucherman has taken a step forward. It’s been quite a surprise. Anyone who had found himself in the same situation as him in 2007 would probably feel fulfilled and happy. He became member of the legendary band Styx, which is able to sell over one million concert tickets year after year, with the lack of pressure and the freedom you get from that. He is happily married to singer Taylor Mills. Through many years of effort and good personal manners he has made good friends in the music industry. He’s been offered constant recording jobs for all kinds of pieces from commercials to collaborations with living legends of music…
But probably it really was no surprise to those who know him well. Talent cannot remain hidden that long, let alone with that open, positive mind. Until 2008, the greatest professional achievement for Sucherman has been remaining from 1996 as the replacement of the late John Panozzo, Styx original drummer. Both on albums and on live shows, the drumming lines for the songs have been improved a lot. Just watch one of the last live DVD’s by Styx to realize the obvious: that guy sitting back can’t shine, but clearly he has more talent that it seems. Be a drummer or not, everyone can see that Todd Sucherman is one of those hidden monsters, professionals who can play anything, who are working constantly. They know many people and get to be known within the halls of the studios… But for whatever reason -possibly the lack of time, or chance- they never really come to shine for themselves, remaining in the background just behind the stars. So one wonders how many monsters are hidden out there which may never come to be known.
The stars have aligned
We can feel happy that Todd Sucherman has taken this step forward, crossing the line that gives access to the drumming stardom, and because he’s done it by his own means and with no fireworks. In fact, Sucherman had nothing to lose and so much to win. Just take a close look at the Modern Drummer Festival on 2008. Last editions were unbeteable, and that year was not to be an exception. The bill seemed stratospheric, full of legends and aspirant princes. Todd had recently released his DVD, he wasn’t very known and the level of his competitors suggested that you simply go there, do your thing and have a good time.
I can only judge by what I have watched from the Festival’s DVD, but for me it is very clear. We expected more from someone as skilled as Simon Phillips, that was a pitty indeed. The number by Carmine Appice & co. was entertaining for a couple of minutes, watch it twice and it’s a bit ridiculous, specially if you are young enough to not knowing who that old man is. Gavin Harrison followed his script knowing himself as unique. And as for Derek Roddy, well, despite his good speech, all this is too big for him…
So what happened? Well, veni, vidi and vinci. Sucherman’s extense solo based on a wide deployment of rudiments and their applications, the possibilities of orchestration and his mastering of dynamics was more than spectacular. It was fast and clean, with no circus juggling. Given his great shape and skills, he was also elegant and honest, since he could have been full of himself throwing a couple of impossible tricks just like others do, even though those tricks are for nothing but showing-off. Once with microphone in hand, he showed himself as someone nice and funny, giving a clear idea of what kind of guy he is. It’s not difficult to think that Hudson Music’s bosses Ron Wallis and Paul Siegel were feeling they had been proved right again.
So here we have one first DVD that on paper didn’t seem to be a big deal. Over the last few years, we had enjoyed all kinds of superb drum videos that seemed unattainable, each one with its own goal. On the other side, Todd Sucherman is no jugglar nor does he have any extraordinary new vision to enlighten us. Then, simply another DVD… or not.
Opening the Book of Secrets
Methods & mechanics presents the technical and musical vision of someone who has been concerned with drumming beyond learning how to play well or finding the perfect method to reach this or that goal. Think of this DVD as the continuation of that fantastic Drumset technique & History of the U.S. beat by Steve Smith, but with much grateful, advanced lessons.
He starts giving an overview of the rudiments on a pad. He talks about the grip and a little bit about the Möeller technique, advising us to watch other DVD’s covering the subject (first warning: we won’t be repeating what others have done). A few comments about the stickings and we start to notice that he wants us to understand what all these things are for, where do they take us to and what we can do with them (second warning: yes, we’ll talk about rudiments, but this isn’t just a list). Sucherman explains perfectly what is a paradiddle (finally after 40,000 years of human evolution!) and he shows different types of inversions, double and triple paradiddles, and half-paradiddles in triplet shape like Buddy Rich used to play them. He also gives us details on how these rudiments provide conjunctions to us. He plays six-rolls with binary shape and then with ternary shape. Finally he opens Pandora’s box with some combinations of simple and double paradiddles that open countless ways for being creative with licks and solos. Not content with that, he continues with some compound stickings that will open more doors for us: paradiddle-diddles in different shapes and applications, inventions like the ones that he calls “2P6/half-paradiddle/2P6”, “8D/4 singles” and some others.
Of course, then there come the flams, and as before he is not limited to flam-taps or flam-accents, no no. The list is kind of… you guessed, exhaustive: alternate flams, flams in groups of 3, 4, and 5, flam-accents in groups of 5, 7, and 9, he crumbles the swiss-army triplet and its derivatives, the “brata”, the pataflafla, the pataflafla with flam-accents, the famous lick by Tony Williams that was previously disclosed by Steve Smith, the flam-drags, a funny one that he calls something like “goo-blush” or swiss-army flam-drag, flam-rolls, flam-fives, another one called “straight goo-blush”… Anyone asked for an instructional, educative DVD?
Oh, you thought we were done. Well, not. There are some more hand and feet combinations, nine-stroke rolls, hybrid rudiments, comments on dynamics… The list goes on forever.
Once on the drumset, we will apply the list of rudiments in different shapes and combinations, but giving them purpose, just like when he explains what paradiddles are for. Sucherman gets cracking, and what starts out as a simple demonstration of some rudiment soon turns into an exhibition of applications, and I think this is very positive because it’s a direct way to understand how far you can get starting from a really basic point and then using a little bit of imagination, speed and dosification.
Moreover, while other drumming masters tend to do nothing but show a huge number of unrecheable and esoteric drumming resources, Sucherman takes a couple of steps back and adds more value by explaining where these combinations work best, why is better to do this or that. He gives us few songs that include some examples and styles where they suit better and clues on how you can manage certain tools.
Above all, Sucherman wants us to be attentive to every detail. For example, when playing a double-stroke roll he puts emphasis on the little differences between accenting the second stroke or simply let this second stroke be the rebound of the first one. Similarly, he insists on paying attention to the flavor of the rhythm section, applying peaks and valleys for instance, or changing between snare and toms, or considering the stiffness of a particular lick. His explanations are really enjoyable and entertaining, such as when he comments the usual drummers tendency to overplay or to repeat a good lick twenty times per minute. When the bulk of lessons is finished, we can relax and enjoy the music.
Sucherman plays four songs from the last album of his wife, and discusses the musical decisions he has made when creating his drumming parts. These songs aren’t really complex, and because of that it is very interesting to learn what he has decided to do in order to imprint his own style without overplaying. Later, he plays the amazing Tears of joy, a great theme based on compound time signatures. Then, he takes the opportunity to explain how to understand and play this kind of time signatures, with some examples in 21/16 and a pattern from Vinnie Colaiuta in 19/16. He also plays a solo based in samba patterns, some exercises on combinations with the feet and gives some indications on how to play song endings and other interesting issues.
The pupil surpasses the teacher
Todd Sucherman wants to cover a lot of things and he also sprays his program with considerations and advices on how to manage life as a musician, be professional or not. He feels very thankful for his achievements and fortunate for having played with some musicians that have opened some doors for him. He states that you have to seek your own luck by being as solvent as possible for people to trust you as their partner, employee, sesionist, etc.
Towards the end, he recalls that being a young kid he felt a “click” in his head when listening to Steve Smith’s drumming in the 1977 album Enigmatic ocean by Jean-Luc Ponty. The young Todd wrote a long letter to Smith and received an extensive and detailed answer. Years later, he found himself answering an e-mail from a young fan during a flight, just like Smith did long time ago. In Steve Smith’s DVD there is a solo dedicated to Tony Williams called Thank you, Mr. Williams, so now Sucherman pays a nice tribute to his hero with a solo called Thank you, Mr. Smith. He also pays tribute to the late John Panozzo, Styx original drummer. While we listen to a live cut of Styx playing their classic hit Renegade with Sucherman on drums, now he plays along his own drumming trying to capture the intensity and vibe of that moment, ending with an epic grand finale.
Throughout the DVD we can see short interludes with quick tips, short pieces and funny little solos between chapters.
I can’t stress enough that this DVD is excellent beyond merely drumming aspects. We find in it a true musician that has seen many things, has been in all kinds of situations like playing in his own city stadium in a sold-out concert of rockstars Styx and, on next day, he has packed a few drums and cymbals for a small gig in a wedding where nobody knew who he was or what he did last night. Todd Sucherman has used his time and wants us to use ours, he gives us good advices from arriving on time to discretion or the complexity of relationships between musicians, producers, managers and studio crew.
As for extras, we take an entertainig and demystifying walk through the backstage of a Styx concert. We meet some of the members of the legendary band and their guests for this tour, Def Leppard. We watch Sucherman warming up before the battle and we meet his drum-tech for some years now, who shows us the actual Pearl kit that has been played on more than a thousand gigs. Also we pay a visit to Sucherman’s home studio.
In the last speech, Todd encourages us to keep being related to music or any form of art and expression. He tells us to “find our thing”, to get away from tv or computer and to experiment life, get exposed to music and arts as often as possible, and do the same with children. We must know that “playing drums is cathartic and therapeutic, and one of the best experiences that can happen to anyone is to sit on the drums for twenty minutes and that it’s been three hours. It’s like a magic trance, an spiritual unique experience. If everybody could experiment something like that, how different our world would be”.
As you can see, this DVD has all the attributes to become a classic video. 30 years from now, there will be people who still would consider it a true educational and inspirational product, one of the best. There’s just one more thing to say:
Thank you, Mr. Sucherman.
This post is also available in Versión en Español.