Tag Archives: Music

Mickey Roker: my moments with a drumming giant

Mickey Roker was one of my early influences, not just because he was a phenomenal drummer, but primarily due to a personal connection.

Mickey Roker w/Milt Jackson at Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, Half Moon Bay CA 1980s
© Brian McMillen
http://www.brianmcmillenphotography.com

It began around 1972 when Mickey was Dizzy Gillespie’s drummer. Dizzy’s trio had just played a matinée at Southeastern Community College in Whiteville, NC, where my dad was a dean. After their performance my dad invited Dizzy and his band to our home for dinner. Surprisingly, they accepted! Dizzy Gillespie in my house!

Somewhere during conversation before dinner I asked Mickey how long he’d been playing drums. “Long enough to know better,” was his immediate reply.

It wasn’t long before he found out I was an aspiring drummer (and by aspiring, I mean I owned a set of drums; it was too soon to call me a drummer.) With a big grin on his face he said to me, “Come on, let’s go see your drums!”

Mickey followed me back to my bedroom where my Sears blue sparkle drums were set up. “Let me see you play!” he practically shouted. I banged on them the best I could; I’m sure it sucked but Mickey was nothing but enthusiastic and encouraging to me. He did, however, admonish me to practice my rudiments. Must’ve been apparent that I hadn’t been…

Several years later while I was attending NC State University, I went to see Dizzy and band at a local nightclub. During a break between sets I walked up to Mickey and, just for fun, again asked him how long he’d been playing drums. “Long enough to know better.” (I loved it, and to this day I often use his line when somebody asks me the same question.)

I then reintroduced myself, and he at least pretended to remember me. He asked if I was still playing drums; I said yes, I was playing in a southern rock band. “Ah,” he said, “lotta shuffles, right?”

Oh, yeah, lotta shuffles. As a rookie I was impressed that an old school bebop and jazz drummer was aware of a very different musical style favored by us younger musicians. But Mickey Roker was actually much more than a jazz drummer – he was a role model for a kid who wanted to play.

Mickey passed in May 2017. I wish I’d had a chance for just one more conversation with him; if I had, I would have told him I never forgot his encouragement or his incredible drumming. And I would have confessed I haven’t always practiced my rudiments like I should, but I’ve tried to honor his passion for drums.

Rest in peace, Mickey.

Photo credit: By Brianmcmillen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Once a musician, always a musician

Last month I had the great fortune to reconnect with a childhood friend whom I haven’t seen since I was about 14 years old. I met Sam Hawkins after my family moved to north Raleigh when I was 11. He was one of the first neighborhood kids I met and we quickly became friends.

Me on my first drumset, age 12

Me on my first drumset, age 12

Though I speak often of my first band in high school, Sam was actually the very first guitarist I ever played with. Soon after I got my first Silvertone drum set on my 12th birthday Sam and I started jamming together in neighborhood carports and basements. We had grand visions of becoming rock stars.

Our moms drove us to a Battle of the Bands competition being held at Dorton Arena on the NC State Fairgrounds. We were not yet teenagers, too young and inexperienced to compete, but the event organizers agreed to let us set up on the floor near the arena entrance and play a couple of songs before the real show started. We were nervous, enormously self-conscious, mostly unnoticed, and I’m sure we stunk up the place. Nevertheless, we were bitten by the music bug in a big way.

Disraeli Gears album coverIt was Sam who turned me onto an album by a cool new band called The Israeli Gears. This band combined blues and rock in a way I’d never heard before and I promptly fell in love with their sound. Some time later we discovered the band’s name was actually Cream, and the album we were digging on was Disraeli Gears. Pretty heavy stuff for a couple of middle school boys.

My family moved away from Raleigh shortly after I turned 15 and I hadn’t seen or spoken with Sam since. We connected on Facebook last month and messaged each other briefly, which in turn led to a 45-minute phone conversation the next Saturday morning. It did my heart good to learn he still plays his guitar, and I was excited to tell him I’m still playing drums every chance I get.

For better or worse – once a musician, always a musician. Rock on, Sam!

What’s up with the name “Studebaker”?

If you follow me on Twitter, you know my handle is @ChipStudebaker. It’s a pseudonym I’ve used in various settings for nearly 30 years but I’ve rarely explained it.

The question came up again the other day so I guess it’s time to tell the story. I was sitting in the control room of Dark Pines recording studio with Max, the owner, and my old friend Steve.  We were getting ready to add some tracks to a song we’d been working on for Steve, with whom I played in several bands dating back to our late teens. This recording was being done under the name The Studebaker Brothers.

“So I gotta ask,” says Max…

“Where did the name ‘Studebaker’ come from?” Continue reading

Of Paul McCartney’s imagination, Marvel characters, and a shocking discovery

“Then it occurred to me you couldn’t be bad. Magneto was mad, Titanium too. And the Crimson Dynamo just couldn’t cut it no more….”

For over three decades I assumed Magneto, Titanium Man, and the Crimson Dynamo were figments of Paul McCartney’s imagination. After all, this was the same mind that gave us Rocky Raccoon, Eleanor Rigby, Billy Shears, Helen Wheels, and others.

Magneto and friends were featured in Venus and Mars, Paul’s 1975 follow-up to the astronomically successful Band on the Run album. (I actually have an original vinyl copy in my collection.) Being a deep cuts kind of guy, “Magneto and Titanium Man” has always been one of my favorite tracks. It really never occurred to me that these guys were anything other than a few more whimsical characters from the most prolific songwriter of the 20th century.

Fast forward a few decades Continue reading