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The Prof is in...Zoro

Posted by Gareth Makin on

If there was one drummer responsible for schooling the rest of us in the history of the funk, it may well be Zoro.  He wears a hat, is always impeccably turned out and has such a smooth groove, L’Oreal would do well to bottle it.

He is an ordained minister, motivational speaker and all around good guy.  He even finds the time to put out fabulous educational books and DVD’s too (‘The Commandments of R&B Drumming’ – Alfred Publishing).  He’s played with a plethora of artists from the old school (note the spelling young people) R&B of Frankie Valli (go find the Northern Soul classic ‘The Night’) to the hip hop groove of Bobby Brown and Jodi Watley, to the stadium rock of Lenny Kravitz.

He has been voted the No.1 R&B drummer for many years in both Modern Drummer and Rhythm magazine, which goes some way to highlight his profile in the industry (and how well he’s thought of too).

I had the pleasure of seeing the ‘Minister of Groove’ at a clinic with (the ever wonderful and accommodating) Gregg Bisonette in Manchester and from the outset, I knew I was going to have a great night.  He convinced the two company representatives that were attendance, covering Vic Firth, Mapex and Sabian, to lead him to the stage wearing dark glasses and black jackets, with Zoro sporting a white towel over his head (ala a prize fighter being led to the ring).  This doesn’t sound all that funny until you notice that representative one is not really that tall, but representative two, well, really is.  Couple this with a few smart moves from Zoro and the backing of ‘Rocky’s Theme’ and the audience were putty in his hands, even before he’d picked up his sticks.

He got the (normally quite reserved) Manchester audience to whoop and holler as he ripped through funky tracks and gave us all a complete schooling in the origins of R&B and how we can use those grooves to make us all better players, whatever the musical box we tend to put ourselves in.

But heads down now as we head to our cymbal church and find out what helps him bring the funk…

Zoro has been playing Sabian cymbals for some time now and was instrumental in the design and development of the HHX series ‘Groove Hats’ and 21” ‘Groove Ride’ (they have an older sound to them, classy, washy and mellow, but still retaining clarity, definition and cut).  They really are worth checking out at your ‘go to’ drum store, you may find you leave with your wallet lighter and a new cymbal to grace the kit with.

Zoro’s (general) set up goes a little something like this…

14” HHX Groove Hats

21” HHX Groove Ride

18” HHXtreme Crash

18” HHX Legacy Crash

It is rare when looking at ‘named’ drummers to find that that their cymbals are pretty standard models.  The terms ‘prototype’ and ‘discontinued’ tend to crop up a lot which basically means that you either have to have financial clout or a small time machine to get them.

Not so with Zoro as you can waltz (or sashay) into that ‘go to’ store I mentioned earlier and after due consideration (and good stock on the stores part) and some money changing hands, walk out (you’ve danced enough really) with his exact set up.  As an added bonus, the models he uses are really versatile and would suit any player with a top 40 function band gig to a small jazz date.

These blogs are never really complete without a track or clip recommendation and for Zoro there is one for me that stands out (from the DVD ‘The Commandments of R&B Drumming’).  In fact, I’m going to be greedy and give you two.

The first is a cover of the Janet Jackson track ‘You’ as Zoro takes the (originally programmed) drum part and sets up a blistering sixteenth note groove, punctuating the track with some tasty bass drum accents (simple, yet effective).  Just a great study in time and motion (and not the boring type that you have to go through at work to ‘improve productivity’) with feel thrown in as standard.

 Sneaking in as the second track (from the same DVD), we see Zoro emulate the great James Gadson (Bill Withers’ go to drummer) on a track from The Charles Wright Band (Gadson took the vocal on the original I think) called ‘Loveland’.  For me, the bit that stands out in this song is towards the end of it, as the 'minister of groove' puts in a small dynamic fill which bridges the end of the chorus with the vocal ‘outro’.  Try and find the clip on youtube and you’ll know the bit I’m talking (well, writing) about.  Perfect timing and a beautifully simple part, rolling from rack tom to floor tom.  Such an effective use of dynamics within a fill.

Until, next time (as usual) we’ll be keeping the feel and not the volume by choosing cymbomute.

 Cymbomute, for all your home and practice room needs’  

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