Band: Toby Keith
Q- What’s it like on Toby’s show?
DM- It’s great! Toby likes things to be fun. He has really clear ideas of what he wants to happen onstage. He is constantly focused on keeping the crowd alive. Last year, there were only a few times when the crowd ever even sat down. When they did, even though they were still into the show, you could feel Toby kicking in an extra notch to get them back over the cliff. I respect that coming from an artist of his stature.
Q-How is Toby to work for?
DM- I get asked that question more than any other. You can always see Toby’s confidence and attitude when you see him in concert or on TV. I think people expect him to be difficult to work for, and for me, it’s the opposite. I always know which Toby I am going to get, because he isn’t a moody person. I have worked with more than one moody artist, and it puts you on edge, wondering how to act around some of them. I never have to act around Toby, because he is always the same. That might seem surprising to some people, but it’s the truth. He treats us well…he isn’t too big or busy to show us respect. It is easy to do my job well every night when I know he likes the way I play. I am as confident as he is when we are up there!
Q- How did you get the gig with Toby Keith?
DM- Well, it is a long story, but the point of the whole thing is visibility, and networking, along with whatever reputation you can keep in the circles. I have always gone out and met all the working musicians I could meet. I still do that. I had met Toby many times over the years, and had jammed with him on a few occasions. He had asked me half jokingly a few times when I was going to play with his group, but I was always already deeply involved in whatever act I was in at the time. Then, of course, he hit it big. I figured that would be one spot that would never open up! Then, in late ’99, his drummer got asked to join Ricochet and be part of the record deal, and get some face time in the magazines and such. He had always been a side man, and he was a terrific singer, so he decided to do the vocal group thing. I was reading about him in Country Weekly a few months later! I have his recipe for corn chowder in a scrapbook somewhere! I think that was a cool thing for him to be able to accomplish, after being with one artist for so many years. Anyway, through my playing with so many people, my name came up when they needed a drummer, and Toby hired me. He said, “You’re going to come and play with me now, right?”(laughing), “…Cause I ain’t gonna ask you again!!” Of course, I said yes!
Q- Toby added a horn section last year. What’s it like to have horns in a country band?
DM- (laughing) I think THEY get that question all the time! I will tell you, they could have really been in the hot seat. Had they not been amazing musicians, it may not have worked so well. Also, it is important to note that Toby never had any doubts it would work. He has a terrific sense for what the people will like. I was excited about the possibilities, but it came out better than I was expecting. Joey, our utility guy, picked them, and single handedly wrecked 3 of the better horn sections in Dallas!(laughing) Rich, our guitarist, wrote most of the arrangements for them to start with, and after they got settled in, they have been rocking ever since! Toby decided it worked so well, he hired them permanently. It would be strange without them now!
Q- Gear! What about your gear?
DM- I use Yamaha drums, Paiste Cymbals, Vic Firth sticks, and Aquarian heads. Together with Tim, my drum tech, I am well taken care of these days!(laughing) Yamaha is sending me a brand-new line of drums for the Ford sponsored “Shock-n-Y’all” tour, and I am excited to get my hands on them. They are a Birch Custom Absolute Noveau kit, with revolutionary lugs, and a brand new finish. It is truly an honor to get to help debut a new line for such a large company. Joe Testa has been great! I use Paiste signature series cymbals, which I constantly get comments on live, and in the studio! I am always amazed at their versatility, while at the same time, they are the most consistent cymbals I have ever used. Rich Mangiacaro is terrific to work with. I have used Vic Firth sticks since college, when I had to scrape up the four bucks it cost then to buy a pair. Marco Soccoli has been awesome, and he just sent me a whole box full of new products they have introduced. I am so comfortable with Firth sticks in my hands. Again, it is a matter of consistency for me! Aquarian heads are my newest endorsement. I used another brand for almost twenty years, and they were great, but I was looking for a little more personal touch in the drumhead A&R department. Chris Brady is a great guy and I feel like we are similar kinds of people. I can try out whatever kind of head combination I want for whichever kit or situation I am in, and I can absolutely count on him to get me whatever I need! I work from four kits most of the time nowadays, and each is a bit different. I have found the Aquarian combination for each kit, and I am truly happy with the durability of all of their products…and consistency comes to mind once again!(laughing)
Q- It sounds like you have the dream gig…is there a down side?
DM- Hmm…It would be difficult to truly name something I hate about it. Of course, as hot as things are right now for Toby, we can spend quite a bit of time on the road. Sometimes, that can be tough, but I am happiest when I am playing drums. I get busy when I’m home, too, and I am always excited about it. I still can tell you how it felt to dream about all of this. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world that I have gotten to spend almost 20 years drumming for a living! My golf game has gone to hell, but I can live with that.
Q- What advice would you give aspiring and younger musicians, in terms of maintaining a viable career like you have over an extended period?
DM- I always stress working on feel. I hear musicians talking about drummers’ feel more than anything. I have said before, if you are erratic, or paying too much attention to impressing the other drummers in the world, you can’t be the rock that serious musicians want to work with. Of course, there is a time and place for all things, but I am speaking about what my experience as a working drummer in Nashville has taught me. Once you have the trust of the other players, they start playing with more feel and they get to let go a bit more. A good drummer has to play the whole arrangement musically. There are many little things that some drummers do that just never get the full trust of the good players. If you have “hitches” coming out of fills, or tendencies to rush leads or drag verses, you will become known for those tendencies in Nashville. If you feel more natural than remarkable, you can really achieve things. What I’m trying to say is a bit hard to understand, but it has been HUGE for me. The key word is remarkable. If you make little time mistakes, or you are erratic when entering sections of songs…if your fills are sometimes breaking up the flow of the songs, the good players will notice. If you don’t understand that concept, those will be the “remarks” you’ll be remembered for when those guys decide to call you or not. If you have none of those annoyances, you may seem unremarkable in a sense, but when they think of how it is to play with you, they will think, “Yeah, it’s easy playing with him…” It sounds simple, but the overwhelming majority of working drummers here in Nashville will tell you that. Many drummers miss that whole idea…more of them than you would think. I tell up and coming drummers to think of the feel of the whole song….and focus on enhancing without disrupting.
Q- Why did you choose to be a musician?
DM- I knew I wanted to be a musician from a very early age. I believe I was born to be a musician, particularly a drummer. I was drawn to any sort of live music I heard as a child, from bands at the county fair, to marching bands practicing at the local high school. I still remember the first time I saw a high school drum section march by in a parade. I could hear the drums approaching for a long time, and the anticipation of finally seeing them was killing me. When they actually passed by, I knew I didn’t care about the rest of the parade. I just wanted to follow them. I was fascinated by the power.
Q- How did you start performing?
DM- I was a very fortunate kid, in that every school I ever went to had an inspirational music teacher. My Dad was in the Army, and later my parents divorced, so I went to a few schools. I was always nervous when we moved in the middle of a school year, but I always asked about the music programs. I think I thought of myself as a musician even in grade school, because the teachers had told me I was good at playing the drums. Every kid remembers the first time a teacher told them they were good at something. Eventually, the grade school bands would do little assemblies for the rest of the school. It was exciting to perform for the audience. I was hooked by the third grade. After the performances, the teachers would tell us we were great, and the students we played for would tell us how they saw us playing, or how they liked it. Those were great experiences for a shy Army brat who was always the new kid in school. In junior high, it was concert band, and neighborhood bands. In high school, it was marching band and the boys club dances. I knew then I wanted to be a professional musician.
Q- Why did you choose to primarily play country music as a professional?
DM- My earliest experiences with music are the memories of my Dad’s old cars. He always listened to AM radio, and country music. He turned on the radio and adjusted it like the car wouldn’t have run without it. We never even backed out of the driveway without the radio on. He is 83 years old and he still does that. We lived in Lawton, Oklahoma when I was a baby, and that is Country music heaven. He listened to the Grand Ole Opry, and whatever television shows we could get that had music programs. Late at night we could get reruns of Austin City Limits sometimes, and there was always Hee- Haw. My dad thought most of Hee-Haw was too silly, but he would change the channels back and forth until the live music segment of the show would come on. My parents were great swing dancers back then, so music was just always on, and it was usually Country. I ended up in Ohio for high school and college, so I listened to all kinds of music there. I think I always missed country music when I couldn’t get it. Part of what I looked forward to when I visited my dad was the music. I moved back to Oklahoma after college, and it was the natural place for me to start playing music for a living.
Q- What factors have kept you motivated for all of these years?
DM- Again, I have been very fortunate in my 20 years of drumming and singing for a living. My original goal was to earn a living as a drummer, and to be ONE of the best drummers in Nashville someday. I looked at it like a membership. There were always so many great drummers there, and if I could just be ONE among them, I would have made a dream come true. I was lucky in that almost every gig I ever had led to another one. I always wanted to work, so that kept me networking and working on my reputation as a good drummer to have in a band. I think Country music has to have a certain feel for people to really be moved by it. I tuned into that early on, and I worked on my feel harder than anything else. I always wanted to have the respect of my fellow musicians, and I still want that today. If you believe that respect is constantly earned, and you want it badly enough, that alone will keep you motivated.
Q- What goals do you still have with your career?
DM- I would love to be a full-time sessionist. I have had my share of masters, and I make a great living touring AND recording, but I still do both. The guys that are the A session cats are not touring much, if at all. To make that leap, you have to start by giving up the big live gigs, so you have the kind of availability you need to work regularly. I have made my living touring, so naturally it is a daunting task to think about giving up tours altogether, and only playing sessions.
Q- What type of legacy do you hope to preserve as an artist?
DM- I hope I have inspired a few young drummers that I have met through the years. I would also hope that anyone who has seen me live or who has worked with me knows that I just LOVE playing. Having said that, I hope I would be remembered for having been solid and dependable. The job of a drummer in any band is part leading it through the woods, and part supporting it as the other parts shine. Many times live, on a huge tour, there can be so many things going on that just by being solid and stable, a drummer can keep the rest of the guys confident. If the guys in the band know that the drummer is never going to pull the rug out from under them, they can take their show to the next level, out on the ledge, so to speak. If the drummer is suspect, those guys will never trust it enough to take it there. I have always taken every show seriously, and I believe in doing my homework. Once you own your responsibilities, the ledge becomes the comfortable place to be. If your show is billed as an experience, or something like “larger than life”, you need to be out there every night. You can’t fill arenas night after night if you don’t take the crowd somewhere.
Q-What current projects do you have in development?
DM- We just filmed the newest Toby video for the single, “Get Drunk and Be Somebody”. It is a live concert video, shot in Portland, Oregon at the Rose Arena. It was a blast and it came out great. I have an album coming out with the “62 West” project. That is a recording project I have been working on with Dave Smith, a longtime friend, songwriter and studio owner. He is one of my favorite musicians, and we have amassed many songs together over the last 10 years. We have been re-mastering some of the songs, and re-cutting others to put together on a CD. It will available soon on the internet at http://www.62westmusic.com . I also have a baby on the way, due in October!