Building the Mapex “Billy Cobham 20th Anniversary Custom Kit”

Mapex Cobham Ad_sm

In 1991, drummer Billy Cobham became one the newly formed, Mapex Drum Company's best known endorsements and consultants, between his previous deal with Tama Drums, and before he subsequently signed with Yamaha. Cobham was soon seen playing Mapex kits on tour with a variety of live acts: With Peter Gabriel, Terje Rypdal, Wayne Krantz and many others. A 1994 customized, Emerald Green Mapex kit that he once used with Gabriel was recently seen on eBay for a whopping $10,000, and listed a “Certificate of Authenticity” signed by Cobham himself. The CoA listed each drum, and even included a previously sold, nearly identical, Cherry Red Mapex kit that Cobham would also use whenever he needed to leap-frog from venue to venue to save time setting up his monster kit. That maple kit was a bit too pricey for me to say the least, and to be honest, I was never fond of how those vintage Mapex "low mass" drum lug and rod systems really looked. Nevertheless, Mapex had revolutionized the world of drums in the early '90s by coming up with a “low mass, single point” tom lug to minimize the vibrations that typical drum lugs and mounts employed. Mapex would ultimately eliminate the rods and change all of their drums with only the low mass lugs; a trend that even Yamaha, Ayotte and others use to this day.


Mapex "Low Mass" Lug

Cobham played maple drums from Mapex’ “celestial” series; Saturn, Orion, etc. Later, Mapex would add the Mars, Venus, and Voyager series. Cobham’s kit featured 5 power rack toms: 15”, 14”, 13”, 12” and 10”; 3 snare drums: 14” x 10”, 13” x 4”, 14” x 7”; 3 bass drums: 24", 22” and 20”, and two floor toms: 16” and 18”. After years of setting up his rack toms traditionally high to low, Cobham continued to experiment with yet another approach during his tenure with Mapex.


Cobham live with Peter Gabriel in 1994

With Tama, Cobham added multiple snare drums, triple bass drums, octobans, a gong drum and even a modular drum rack system. However it was while drumming with Mapex that Cobham began arranging his toms in what he called his “tonal array”. From his left to his right, Cobham ordered his rack toms in an alternating sizes; 15”, 13”, 14”, 12” and 10”, or 15”, 13”, 14” and 12”. Cobham’s open-handed patterns, and his desire to constantly evolve and grow, also challenged him to avoid the cliched high-to-low drum fills we’d all become accustomed to. Cobham has kept that unique approach to this day, using a 15”, 13”, 14”, 12” and 10” tom set up with a 16” and 18”, and occasionally adding a 12” snare, and 8” tom.


The hybrid Ddrum kit

I’ve already been experimenting with a similar set-up with my hybrid acoustic-electric Ddrums for some time; Re-wrapping them; adding new Evans blue hydraulic and coated heads, and a modular Gibraltar rack system. As you can imagine, breaking that kit down and moving it back and forth could be a challenge, so like Cobham and others, I’d keep the Ddrums at home, and decided to make a Mapex live and studio rig, with all the drum and hardware cases already assembled. The Ddrums looked gorgeous with their custom-made badges, new wraps, heads, and Gibraltar hardware, and since I’ll soon be going out on the road, something needed to be done. So, with my replica Yamaha Billy Cobham Signature Snare drum project awaiting more parts, I turned my attention to my assorted collection of orphaned Mapex drums. Cobbled together from finds on eBay, Craig’s List, Guitar Center and Reverb, my Mapex kit really needed a "MyDentity" makeover. Once again I looked to Cobham for inspiration and after discovering his history with Mapex, I thought about how to re-create his set-up, based on Cobham’s years with Mapex, Yamaha and Tama. Well, if Tama could make an anniversary kit for the great Simon Phillips, I could do the same for the Mapex/Cobham kit. I got my first Mapex drum back in 2011, which coincidently was about twenty years after Cobham and Mapex first got together; With that in mind, the idea of a commemorative, one-of-a-kind “Billy Cobham 20th Anniversary Custom Model” drum set really appealed to me...


The vintage Mapex and the "20th Anniversary" badges

My Ddrum kit also took some customizing and assembly, due to some of the sizes needed, so I was no stranger to what lay ahead. For the badges, I looked at the Mapex kits Cobham used; They had the classic Mapex 2” x 2”, black and gold, vented badges, seen on most of the surviving photos of those kits from that era, with the exception of his custom “U.S. Maple” kit he used with Peter Gabriel. That brass badge was 3” x 1.5”, however my Mapex kit wasn’t all maple and I didn’t find that badge all that attractive. Based on the aforementioned black and gold badge, and the Saturn and Mars badges, I decided to use that design, without the vent, featuring Cobham’s Yamaha Signature and the Mapex “Handcrafted in the U.S.A.” slogan. After a little bit of Photoshop, an order was placed to the folks at PlaqueMaker, and the new badge would be made. Next, it was time to assemble the rest of the drums I needed for the project.


Cobham live in Cannes, France 1989 

Since I decided that I would configure the Mapex kit just like Cobham’s modern drum set-up, I needed to do a little more research. To do that, I found his old profile on a Yamaha website, as well as his new one on the current Tama website. I also found Cobham’s equipment riders for his 2008 Spectrum 40 band, his European live bands, and his solo performances. While my replica Yamaha Cobham Signature snare being built, I seemed to recall that Cobham didn’t always use it live; (He doesn’t use it with Tama), and in researching his riders, I noticed that he always requested the now classic Yamaha 14” x 6.5”, SD-4106 brass snare. Well, those snares are are discontinued and hard to find, plus, this needed to be a Mapex. Now, which brass Mapex snare did Cobham use back in the day? Turns out he used an assortment of them, and in a wide variety of sizes. Mapex made a monstrous, 14” x 8” “Brass Master” snare that Cobham used quite a bit, before moving to smaller sizes. An 8” snare is too much for me, so I needed to find a brass snare comparable to the Yamaha. 


14" x 6.5" Mapex BR4665 with custom badge

Turns out there was; The Mapex BR4665. After a bit of a search, I finally found a brass 14” x 6.5” snare with matching low mass lugs. The only other drum I needed was the ever challenging 15” x 12” tom. Most drum companies offer your basic kit sizes; 22, 10, 12, 13, 14, 16 inch, shells. You’ll get the little 8”, and the big 18”, but the 15” is the exception. No worries; tons of folks make these out of the Keller maple, so I had one made. I managed to buy a bunch of low mass lugs on eBay, and got more wraps from Jammin’ Sam in Arizona. I'd already stripped a 12" x5” Pearl Firecracker snare of its hardware to make a new 12" x 5.5", and a Mapex MPX 14” x 5.5” snare, I decided to give them a chrome facelift from Sam too. Cobham once said that a great player can make almost any drum sound good, but it helps to add the best drum heads you can. I added the same heads Cobham uses; Evans G2, Hazy Snare Side 200, etc. With the drums assembled, I started thinking about the mounts. The Mapex L-Mounts were okay, but they weren’t suspension mounts. I’d had RIMS and Gibraltar systems before, and I happened to have one of Gibraltar's new Universal mounts, so I thought I'd give it a try. Unfortunately, the Mapex tom mount brackets didn't work with Gibraltar's system or any of the other suspension plates! The top plate holes didn't line up with Mapex's triangular configuration. It seemed I had only a few choices: Either get a new suspension system and mounts, or return to the original mounts and give up the whole idea of a suspension system. Actually, there was another alternative...


Mapex Maple 15" x 12" with Yamaha YESS Mount

While sifting through my containers of drum parts, I came across a Yamaha tom bracket and on a whim, I matched up to the holes on the Mapex shell. Surprisingly, they lined up perfectly! Now in recent years, Yamaha had incorporated their hexagonal toms brackets to their unique suspension system; "YESS". These new Yamaha mounts attached to the shell in only two places, with a stand-off on each bolt; Less intrusion on the shell and for much better resonance. These were also the same mounts used by Cobham on all of the Yamaha kits he played during his tenure with them. I'd managed to track down a bunch of Yamaha's "RK-TT" retrofit kits, so I was able to convert my old Yamaha brackets to YESS mounts; For now, the problem was solved. They weren't Mapex, but they definitely work. Well, if they were good enough Cobham...

Next, I delicately removed all of the various Mapex badges from the drums and cleaned away the residue to make way for the new, custom badges; Silver badge for the chrome snare, and gold for the brass snare and the rest of the drums. It was time to affix the new badges, new Evans drumheads, and  Yamaha TH904A tom mounts for the cymbal stands. The vintage Mapex "Billy Cobham 20th Anniversary Custom Kit" was now complete!

Mapex Kit-ES2

Building the Yamaha Billy Cobham Signature Snare Drum

Well gentle readers, it's been awhile since my last post, but now that 2018 is here, I'm ready to roll! Being an artist, and a man who likes to work with his hands, I’ve managed to build more than a few drum kits from scratch, as well as several snare drums. To date, I’ve restored 2 vintage 14” x 5.5” Gretsch maple snare drums; a 14” x 5” Ddrum birch snare; a Yamaha 14” x 6” Mahogany Rock Tour snare; and a 14” x 5.5” Mapex maple snare drum. Finding parts on ebay, adding new wraps from Jammin’ Sam in Arizona, and new Evans drum heads have breathed new life into these aged beauties.

Being a fan of drummer Billy Cobham, I always dreamt of owning one of his Yamaha Signature snare drums, however they are now discontinued and the $1000 price tag for this collector’s item now seemed a bit much. Having previously built all of these snare drums, I wondered; Could I actually make my own Cobham signature snare from scratch? To quote the Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks, “I think I could…”

Cobham’s Yamaha Signature snare was a 14" x 6", 6 ply maple drum; That’s thinner than most snares and not particularly easy to find, as most Keller VSS shells come in a thicker or thinner ply, like 5, 7, 8, or 9, and smaller or larger depths, like 14” x 5.5”, or 14” x 6.5”. Fortunately both drumMaker and Precision Drum could make them to order.

Cobham’s signature snare drums came in either a Silver Sparkle, or Black wrap, so I decided on the Silver Sparkle version. A quick call to Jammin’ Sam for a 14” x 6” JS Sparkle wrap was in order; With all the tools, clamps, drills, bits, and a template from drumMaker already at my disposal, it was now time for the fun part; identifying and acquiring the authentic parts to this discontinued, classic drum…

In order to faithfully build this snare drum, I needed to gather the rest of the authentic Yamaha parts. They weren’t easy to find, but I patiently combed ebay, Salt City Drums, Drum Factory Direct, Drum Center of Portsmouth, Lone Star Percussion, and Reverb to assemble them all. I already had an old Yamaha tom that I was able to strip twelve Absolute lugs from, so I only needed to get an additional 4 lugs from Salt City Drums. A complete list of all parts I needed to find and gathered are listed here:

14” x 6”, 6 Ply Maple Shell with Snare Bed and Bearing Edges
14” x 6” JS Silver Sparkle Wrap and Chrome Vent
Yamaha XH8 14” 8 Lug, 19 Ply Vintage Wood Hoop Snare Top
Yamaha X8HS 14” 8 Lug, 19 Ply Vintage Wood Hoops Snare Bottom
16 Yamaha U0031051 Lugs
16 Yamaha U0035660 5mm x 14mm Hexagonal Lug Bolts
16 Yamaha 50mm Tension Rods
Gibraltar 14” Extended 20 Strand Snare
2 Yamaha U0200350 Snare Guide Assemblies
Yamaha U0200970 Adjustable Snare Butt
Yamaha U0201211 Snare Throwoff-Strainer
14” Evans G2 Snare Batter Head
14” Evans Snare Side 200 Head
2” x 2” PlaqueMaker Brass Replica Yamaha Badge

I'd already converted my 14" x 6", 8 Ply Yamaha Rock Tour snare to resemble Cobham's black snare, with Gibraltar wood hoops, faux Yamaha taillight lugs from WorldMax, and a basic Yamaha strainer. It sounded good, but it wasn't in the same league as a real Cobham snare; For one thing it was an 8 Ply drum; 6 Ply Mahogany with 2 Ply Ash, and had 10 lugs instead of 8. I had recently recorded a few tunes with it at 25th Street Recording in Oakland, and as nice as it was, I could tell it wasn't a maple snare. I needed a snare that was more versatile; I needed the warmth, the sustain and the depth that could only come with 6 Ply maple using the best Yamaha parts.

So, with all of parts gathered, it’s time to put all the authentic pieces together to create that Yamaha Billy Cobham Signature snare drum sound! It was a little tricky to find a 14" x 6", 6 Ply maple shell; There were tons of 14" x 6"maple shells to be had, 5, 7, 9, etc; but not 6 Ply.  Fortunately for me, Andy Foote of drumMaker was able to help. I placed an order for a Keller VSS shell and I was good to go. When it finally arrived, I got to work on it right away. I laid out all of the lines for the Yamaha Absolute lugs, and drilled the pilot holes the lug nuts. Next, I added the JS Silver Sparkle wrap from Jammin' Sam, and installed the Yamaha lugs. With the holes all drilled, I added the last of the Yamaha hardware; the Yamaha strainer wires, throw-off, adjustable butt and extended roller guides; Perhaps the most challenging part of the entire project. The only thing left was the Yamaha Vintage wooden hoops and the Evans snare heads. After a bit of tuning, the sound of that maple shell began to reveal itself; Crispy, yet warm; bright and woody- Just as Cobham intended. Really looking forward to performing and recording with it, and adding it to the rest of my kit...:)


John McLaughlin's Warfield Farewell; Walter Kolosky's Mahavishnu ebooks

Friday, December 8th at San Francisco’s Warfield Theater, saw the penultimate performance of the legendary jazz guitarist John McLaughlin. Following his final show in Los Angeles the next night, McLaughlin officially retired from all live performances in America, ending this tour with his stellar 4th Dimension band. It was a bittersweet show indeed, however McLaughlin didn’t disappoint his fans, closing out his career with an incendiary outing of music both old and new alongside bassist Etienne Mbappe, keyboardist/drummer Gary Husband and drummer percussionist Ranjit Barot. Earlier in the show, McLaughlin recalled his 1981 performance at the theater with the late guitarist Paco De Lucia, Al DiMeola, and their memorable live album “Friday Night in San Francisco”, described by jazz author and critic Walter Kolosky as “a musical event that could be compared to the Benny Goodman Band’s performance at Carnegie Hall in 1938; And may be considered the most influential of all live acoustic guitar albums…”

I count myself among those fortunate enough to have witnessed McLaughlin numerous times and might I add, in a variety of incarnations since the early 1970s. From my first concert with his Mahavishnu Orchestra at Washington, D.C.’s American University (and later on my birthday at Constitution Hall that December); his subsequent Mahavishnu lines ups with Jean-Luc Ponty, Narada Michael Walden, and Ralphe Armstrong; The original Shakti with Zakir Hussain and Al Shankar; organ trios with Joey DeFrancesco and Dennis Chambers; his One Truth Band, his trio with Kai Eckhardt and Trilok Guru; seeing his Remember Shakti tour in Montreal; and so many, many others.

Longtime McLaughlin biographer Walter Kolosky has now released a pictorial follow up to his previous and critically acclaimed book “Power, Passion and Beauty – The Story Of The Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra”, entitled “The Mahavishnu Picture Book”. This new “ebook” features a foreword, written by the aforementioned, master musician Gary Husband. “The Kindle book contains more than seventy impactful and inspiring never before seen images of the band, and the histories behind them. Also included is special commentary from members of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Sean Lennon, Steve Lukather, Neal Schon, Chick Corea, Mario Batali, Jon Anderson, Todd Rundgren and many others. The Kindle book also contains bonus pictures, extras, and an exclusive — the only known audio interview, never before heard, of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra!”

Kolosky’s first book has also been updated and released as an ebook; “The Mahavishnu Orchestra, founded by guitarist John McLaughlin, was the first band to fuse jazz, rock and world music into critical and commercial success. The Special Edition eBook “Power, Passion and Beauty” is the updated version of Walter Kolosky’s critically acclaimed work first published in 2006. The Special Edition eBook is brand new to those who have not read the original printed version of this riveting story. For those that have, many new anecdotes, insights, opinions, and an extra chapter updating the story of Mahavishnu have been added. The list of those sharing their views and memories of Mahavishnu for the original book was staggering. Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Pat Metheny, Sir George Martin, Jeff Beck, all of the original Mahavishnu members and almost 150 others helped tell the tale. This time around, Carlos Santana, Chick Corea, Steve Howe and many other noted artists, producers, audio engineers and spiritual travelers join in to add their views….”
Both books, are a must have for McLaughlin/Mahavishnu fans, the latter featuring footage in both black and white, as well as color; many by the photographers Peter Duray-Bito, Al Faaet and Don Smith. Seeing McLaughlin’s double-neck Gibson guitar, Billy Cobham’s classic clear plexiglass Fibes drums, and Jan Hammer’s vintage keyboards were worth the $10 price tag alone. Coupled with photos of Narada Michael Walden, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, and the rest of the second incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra were an added bonus. Perhaps just as intriguing was the commentary by so many of the Mahavishnu’s fellow musicians, fans, and photographers who candidly recalled that era, bringing so many memories back to life.
I’ll always carry with me my own memories of those bygone, yet unforgettable shows by McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra; they made an incalculable impression on me and so many others, and changed the way we looked and listened to music. For more info on Kolosky’s books, photos, and informative podcasts, you can visit

The Full Ponty

When it comes to open handed drumming mastery, Rayford Griffin is among the very best I have ever seen. Proponents of that "left-handed" technique include the legendary drummers Lenny White, Simon Phillips and of course, Billy Cobham. I was taught to play open handed by the great Paul Sears after seeing the Mahavishnu Orchestra with Cobham. I immediately knew that I wanted to learn how to play drums like that.

Last June, I was able to catch violinist Jean-Luc Ponty's recent "The Atlantic Years Tour", reuniting him with guitarist Jamie Glaser, keyboardist Wally Minko, bassist Baron Browne and of course Rayford Griffin. A few months earlier I saw this line-up in support of the "Anderson-Ponty Band", featuring the founding member and lead vocalist of Yes, Jon Anderson. As much as I enjoyed it, I longed to see the Ponty group performing their all-instrumental material. This most recent tour didn't disappoint. For this tour, Griffin added an addition bass drum and another rack tom. However, unlike his double bass drum set-ups of earlier years, Griffin chose an asymmetrical approach, akin to the set-ups currently used by Billy Cobham. His set-up featured the higher tuned rack toms on both ends, with the middle rack toms in their normal place; a sort of "high-mid-low-higher" arrangement. 

I'd been experimenting with Cobham's set-up for quite a bit, so it wasn't difficult for me to put it into practice right away. Cobham described his set-up as a "tonal array"; which also avoided the so-called clichéd tom fills. Truth be told, Cobham's arrangement of "lower-mid-low-high-higher" rack toms were a bit of a challenge at times, and I often found myself reverting to the trusty, conventional rack tom arrangement of most drummers, including Simon Phillips, "highest-higher-mid-low-lower-lowest". There's nothing like the sound of cascading tom fills!

Having seen Cobham many times with that set-up, I was curious to see and hear how Griffin would approach it on his kit. Like Cobham, Griffin used the middle rack toms and his floor toms for all of the regular drum fills. Cobham however has his lowest rack tom placed next to his ride cymbal, and would often roll from the outside toms inward, creating very cool fills; (Phillips also uses that quite a bit as well). Griffin appeared to play many of his tom fills in sets of three; the first three rack toms, and the fourth rack tom with his two floor toms. The result was very, very cool and I decided to try it myself. 

One of the things that helped me to become a strong chess player was to immerse myself into the repertoires of the great chess grandmasters. By playing over their games and using their openings, I would get a better feel for how they thought, solved problems and thematic nuances. Drumming has been the same for me. I'd listen to all kinds of drummers, but I paid particular interest to the open handed players and how they approached music. To get into the mind of Rayford Griffin and his work with Ponty in particular, I added an identical Paiste PSTX 18" cymbal for my live Yamaha kit, and an 18" Sabian B8 Pro O-Zone cymbal for my Ddrum home kit. After practicing along to bits and pieces of Ponty's tunes like "Tender Memories", "Jig", and "Cosmic Messenger", I turned my attention to the music I'm currently performing and recording with keyboardist Steve McQuarry's electric quartet "Echelon", featuring violinist Michele Walther and bassist Ted Burik.

So far the new set-up has worked great on Michele's piece "Dolphin's Dream", Ted's "Open Ended" and Steve's "Light the Sky"; I'm really looking forward to diving in to more their tunes very soon! We recently recorded a demo of those songs at the amazing 25th Street Recording studio in Oakland... Seeing both Ponty and Griffin has had an enormous influence on both Michele and myself and we had the time of our lives at the show in San Francisco which also featured guest local violinist Mads Tolling. In fact, I even bumped into both Jamie Glaser and Rayford Griffin "on the streets of San Francisco" before the concert, which was spectacular! My preview of that show for Beyond Chron can be seen here:

My musical adventures with this latest set-up will continue; I'm going to be trying it out on my Yamaha kit when I get back to the studio with Echelon later this month. At home, I'll continue tweaking, practicing and creating as much as I can on my customized, hybrid acoustic-electric Ddrum kit, a virtual duplicate of the Yamaha kit I used for the the road, which features internal Pintech triggers, a Gibraltar rack, Zildjian & Paiste cymbals, an Alesis DM 10, and another MacBook full of samples. The Alesis SamplePad Pro is the only equipment I have to bring with me.

Enough about me, here is a link to the master himself, the incomparable Rayford Griffin, and his drum solo in Chicago from the tour I've affectionately dubbed "The Full Ponty"... Kudos and thanks to "Undercover Steve" Truglio for the amazing photos and videos he shared of this phenomenal tour...

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The Bill Bruford Simmons Kit Project

My 10 piece, Simmons SDS 9 electronic drum kit was actually inspired by drummer Bill Bruford's Simmons SDS 7 kit, and the music of his 1987 groups; Earthworks, David Torn's Cloud About Mercury and Kazumi Watanabe. Following his forward thinking and Rototom driven solo group, Bruford burst back onto the scene with the Simmons electronic drums in 1981 with the reincarnated King Crimson, using the brand new Simmons SDS 5 kit and pads. After the success of that tour, Bruford would receive the new SDS 7 kit, and put them to good use during subsequent tours with King Crimson and others, before moving on to the ill-fated Simmons SDX.

I was fortunate to see Bruford's original Earthworks group, featuring Iain Ballamy, Django Bates and Mick Hutton at least 4 times; in Boston, two shows in NYC and in Washington DC. Seeing me outside of D.C.'s Bayou nightclub, and wearing a new Earthworks t-shirt; (I got it from one of Robert Fripp's guitar students-turned drum tech), Bruford asked me how I got that shirt. I told him I'd seen him at all of the aforementioned shows; he laughed and told me I deserved the "Bruford medal of valour". I thanked him and said "This is how I spend my summer vacation. It was then that he said m to me, "You look remarkably like Billy Cobham..." After the show, I was allowed onto the stage an watch the disassembly of the kit Bruford dubbed, "The Beast"...

Bruford would tour again with David Torn's "Cloud About Mercury" group, featuring the late Mick Karn and Michael White; I was lucky to catch them right after moving to L.A... His shows with Kazumi Watanabe were seen only in Japan. These were the last performances using that particular drum set-up before Bruford would move back into the world of King Crimson again and duo performances with Patrick Moraz using the Simmons SDS 9.

Needless to say they all blew my mind, and Bruford's use of those all-black Simmons drums were nothing short of amazing. Back in those days, I was also working quite a bit with my friend Stephen Bray and Madonna. Bray had several electronic kits lying around; Yamaha, Roland, Simmons, and Madonna's keyboard player/producer Patrick Leonard even had a Dynacord Rhythm Stick I could play around with. The fast moving world of electronic percussion eventually saw Bray moving away from the Simmons and into the world of the Linn Drum and programming, so the "old" SDS 9 kit gathering dust in the studio ultimately became mine.

Bruford came to NAMM that year, demonstrating the new Simmons SDX with drummer Chester Thompson, and made a few in store appearances at Guitar Center in L.A... As fate would have it; I did some side work for Guitar Center, and got my hands on 5 of those "in store" Simmons SDS 9 pads; bought some extra Ultimate Support Drum Rack extensions and my 1988 "Bruford" kit was nearly complete.

I couldn't afford the outrageously over priced SDS 7 brain, or the DX 21 Bruford used, however Roland was already well on the way to putting Simmons out of business with their user friendly and quite affordable brain: The Roland PM-16 MIDI interface! 16 inputs, layering, multiple MIDI channels per pad, and I was good to go. I added an assortment Alesis D4 and DMPro drum modules, an Akai S9000 sampler, and with some great programming by my chum Seth Elgart, a Yamaha TX-7 module I got from Bray to duplicate Bruford's Yamaha DX-21 sounds. After seeing Bruford and the videos of his performances, I taught my self how to play many of his tunes using that kit; patterns rhythmic figures and the like.

That came in handy and for the next few years, I put the kit to good use in a variety of settings, recordings and performances; in Boston with my group "Feat of Clay" (which covered some of the music of Cloud About Mercury), in Dallas and NY with Steve Ellison's "Bangtime"; my duo "K2" with Seth Elgart; in DC with the Zappa tribute band "The Other People", my first incarnation of the "Unidentified Flying Quartet", and later "The Madmen", with Drummstick bandmates Jack Wright and Neil Mezebish.

By 1995, I'd begun to build what would become my original, digital MIDI drum controller, "The Drummstick". That took a life of it's own and set me on the path I still tread today. As time wore on, I loved not having to cart the "Beast" or any other  kit around! In 2007, bought my first Zendrum, and in 2013, bought the very first "Zendrum EXP", made to be played more vertically, (just like the Drummstick) and was honored to be featured with it in digitalDrummer magazine.

Still seems like yesterday, but 20 years have passed since those halcyon days. Technology in the world of digital percussion has far surpassed the 1980s, even so, after Bruford's infamous SDX equipment meltdown during the Yes re-Union tour, he refused to use the Simmons or any other electronic drum equipment, heralding the era of the all-acoustic Earthworks and his subsequent retirement from public performance in 2008. Bruford told me that "Everything is designed to go bad..."

Nevertheless, the electronic drum world continues to grow; Yamaha and Roland still dominate the market; Ddrum, Alesis and even Simmons has made something of a comeback. That being said, I never cared for the look of the modern electronic drum pads. Call it nostalgia, but nothing compared to the iconic hexagonal look of the Simmons; even they have abandoned their iconic hexagonal look in favor of the circular style.

Recently, I've been working on a variety of projects that re-visit the classic, fusion music of the 1970s, like pieces by the Mahavishnu Orchestra with composer Steve McQuarry, using my Billy Cobham inspired kit. Then the thought occurred to me;  "Why not revisit some of the music of Bruford with the Simmons kit?"

A quick visit to the Simmons online museum, gave me all the info I needed for refurbishing my old pads (with Kiwi Express shoe polish!), and links to ebay to replace a few of the pads and tom holders that were on their last legs. I'd taken very good care storing the kit over the years, which saved my bacon, and my friend Jim Lang gave me a bunch of old, black, Ultimate Support tubes to update my drum rack. Since I've been using the Zendrums, I've gotten a variety of MacBooks and software over the years; BFD2, GarageBand, iDrum, Logic Pro, etc. I've still got a bunch of Roland PM-16s lying around, but I couldn't bring my self to use it's 1986 technology anymore, so I've updated it with an Alesis DM10 and a MacBook Air for all of his sounds and samples. The latency issues with the PM-16 were gone, and before I knew it, the Bruford Simmons kit was reborn!


I've also outfitted it with an old Viking 14" x 6.5" snare, with a Pintech trigger mounted inside and a Hart Dynamic Magnum mesh head. I've got my pair of Mackie SRM 450 watt monitors, or my 500 watt Barbetta SE 41 for live performances and my Raxxess rack with a Mackie 1602 Mixer, Alesis NanoVerb, PreSonus AudioBox and the old Alesis D4 for those classic '80s sounds if I need them. Don't get me wrong, these pads aren't anywhere near as responsive as mesh heads or the newer technology, but I use the ProMark "HotRods", another thing I learned from Bruford playing on the often unforgiving surfaces.

It is interesting to note that like Bruford, I also use an acoustic snare and cymbals, (mine however are all Zildjians, not Paiste), and the percussion stand that duplicated the one Bruford used in his Earthworks/David Torn kit, (he used a remote hi-hat with Kazumi Watanabe), with cowbells and wood blocks. I'll be recording and performing with this kit in 2016, alongside fellow Feat of Clay bandmate, trumpeter Eric Dahlman, and with FutureJazz founder, guitarist Peter McKibben, (McKibben's group ironically featured one of the newer Simmons kits!).

Bruford would return with the aforementioned SDX kit with his second Earthworks line-up for the "Dig?" tour, ("Every time I'd get used to playing and learning on one kit, Simmons would take it away and give me the new one..."), however by the time he returned with the 1990s "All Heaven Broke Loose" Earthworks tour, the kit more resembled his hybrid acoustic/electric kit with Patrick Moraz. The days of the all-Simmons kits were gone; the "wall of pads" he used with King Crimson and Yes were no more, and when the $10,000.00 SDX and it's back up died during a solo with Alan White at Madison Square Garden, his relationship with Simmons had finally come to an end.  For those of us that were lucky enough to have caught Bruford in that brief window in time, witnessed the birth of electronic drumming that had never been seen before; "chordal drumming", melodies, tuned sounds and samples that gave rise to the world of electronic percussion we live in now. I'll be forever grateful.