If you are a drummer that has played with both Frank Zappa and the Beach Boys, two of America’s most iconoclastic artists, then you are one versatile musician. David Logeman is that versatile. Beginning with his Midwest upbringing that had him forming his first band at age 10, Logeman has always been a quick and ambitious study, and is currently the leader of the Surf City All-Stars, a group of former Beach Boys and Jan & Dean members playing that Southern California sound to audiences around the world. We spoke to David in the middle of his very busy schedule about the practice of practice.
Can you describe your earliest memory of learning to play the drums?
I had dual experiences. The first one was in the third-grade and I was eight-years-old. The junior high school band director came to our school and offered free lessons on any instrument a person wanted. I said, ‘Yes. I want to learn drums.” He would come once-a-week with a snare drum, and started to teach me drum music. Also, that same year, I found out that a friend of my father’s had a drum set in his basement. He said that I could come over anytime I wanted. That was a mistake on his part because I came over every single day. After a week of that he gave me the drum set and I took it home.
Was that your first exposure to learning an instrument?
I had taken piano lessons when I was five so I had some musical training. I was drawn to drums by God, I guess. My mom said I had to learn about music first- play piano first- which was a pretty good deal. I was also hearing a lot of stuff on the radio and I could hear what the drummers were doing. I had an interest and an ear for it at the same time.
How was learning from a teacher different from trying to emulate what you were hearing?
For me, I felt like I had a gift. When I was listening to a record or to the radio I could hear what the drummer was doing and have an understanding. But, when I saw somebody playing the visual impact was even stronger from what I was hearing.
So watching a drummer play was even more valuable than hearing him?
To see it in reality was a defining moment. The grip they were using. How the drum was on them. How they were playing the sticks on the head. Even though at the time I didn’t know how to accomplish all that, I took the curiosity to experimenting on the drum set and also to my teacher to try and become a functional player.
When did you know this is something that you wanted to pursue?
I knew immediately. Whenever I would see Buddy Rich or Gene Krupa on TV, or the first time I saw Elvis, and saw an actual band playing, I said, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ I immediately started practicing. I immediately put a band together.
What was an early hurdle to getting to a next level of capability?
To be able to play a piece of music, and be able to march on the field, I had to learn to read a whole sheet of music. That was an early goal. Also, what we were learning in class didn’t always translate to learning “Blue Suede Shoes.” That was tough, when you don’t know what you are doing.
When you tried to play “Blue Suede Shoes” were you trying to copy the licks exactly or were you approximating?
I was trying to copy it exactly. That’s how I learned.
Was a metronome a part of your learning experience?
A lot in piano, but it was difficult to implement that with a drum set.
Given the changes in technology since then, is learning with a metronome something you encourage?
Absolutely. Whenever I teach now I have students read music by themselves, and I have them record by themselves. Then again, with the metronome. It’s very important for students to get acclimated with that early on.
At what point did you start thinking of drums as a profession?
Another watershed moment came when I was 10. We went to play at a party and we got 20 bucks. We got five dollars each. I realized I could make money from this!
So, as you learned drumming at school and at home with your band simultaneously, did you allot separate practice time for each?
The practice time was broken up between playing music on the snare drum and music on the drum set.
Was that important?
I would recommend that. The earlier a drummer learns to play in different scenarios (the better). You have to be able to adapt.
You auditioned for Frank Zappa, primarily a rock musician known for composing his songs, with charts and sheet music for each player. Did you ever listen to what a previous drummer of Frank’s did with the material or did you rely on your ability to read the sheet music?
I didn’t listen to previous performances because of the time factor. I was a fan of his, but by the time I played with him I’d stopped listening to him. I was reading some stuff, and wasn’t that concerned with those that had previously performed it.
With written drum parts, do you ever stray from what is on the page?
My own personal philosophy is to play what is written. To me, you are dishonoring the composer (if you don’t). You should always play it exactly as written first.
In your estimation, what was it that separated you from the 50 or so drummers that auditioned for Zappa for that spot?
Even though I was replacing Vinnie Coliauta, he didn’t want a Vinne Coliauta-type player. The fact that I could play jazz and rock was a big deal.
How did you prepare for it?
I didn’t prepare. Every time I went in it was a different scenario.
Was it as grueling an audition as it has been suggested?
Absolutely. When I first went, there was a drum set there, and they were playing in 13/8 and 11/8, but they didn’t tell the drummer that. Frank would hand him the sticks and say, ‘Play.’ If the drummer could not find the ‘one,’ he would stop the band and tell the drummer to go home. I was smart enough to move to the back of the line. By the time it was my turn, I knew what they were doing.
How did playing with Zappa change your development as a drummer?
I don’t know if it changed my development, but it validated it. I was always intent, from early on, to try and learn all styles, to play in authentic situations to learn those styles. I wanted to learn to read as well as possible. I wanted to be prepared for anything that would be thrown at me, and, of course, that was the ultimate. Frank Zappa is the ultimate at throwing things at a drummer.
From there, you joined the Beach Boys. Were you a fan of the band?
The second record I ever owned was Surfer Girl. The Beach Boys struck me early on as a kid. I had a love for it.
Zappa’s approach was instrument-based, while the Beach Boys may be the most famous vocal pop group ever. How did you see the role of the drummer in the Beach Boys?
I saw drums as a supporting, foundational thing.
And how would you accomplish that?
Create a supporting environment with the dynamics, and also rhythmically. What I like to do is accentuate and complement the rhythmic aspect of what somebody is singing.
Now, you lead the Surf City All-Stars with former members of the Beach Boys’ band and Jan and Dean’s band. How’s that going for you?
It’s going great. I took the best singers and musicians from the (Beach Boys) band and decided to give it a shot. I’m much happier as a leader than as a sideman.
You have talked about enjoying practicing. What was the height of your devotion, and are you still finding the time to practice?
When I went to Berklee School of Music I was practicing five to six hours a day. I don’t practice quite as much now, but I still enjoy reading.
As a primer for anyone wanting to play drums, can you recommend some listening material?
I think some classical music. Bitches Brew (Miles Davis). I think a rock record like the first Led Zeppelin record. But, there are so many.