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Ralph Rolle (Chic & Nile Rodgers + More) - Interview

Ralph Rolle, a musician who has certainly inspired me from my early days of playing Drums and has been a staple influence to me as I found my love for Disco, Funk and Soul. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. Could you tell us a little bit about how you started playing Drums and who you have had the opportunity to work with?

I started playing Drums at around eight years old because of my drummer who brought a drum set into the house. We lived in the Bronx, you may know of that as it’s one of the birth places of Hip Hop. I started playing because my brother played drums and I did everything my brother decided to do as he was may role model. We had the Drums in the house for a very short time but in that short time I really started to love drumming. My brother actually stopped playing and sold the drum set because his girlfriend had got pregnant and he needed money. I was very sad that the drum kit had gone and played on everybody else’s drum kit in the neighbourhood at that point. My cousin also lived out in queens which is about 2 and half hour bus ride (3 buses in total) to get to his house but that is how it all began.

The majority of your work is in a live environment and you spend a lot of time on the road. How do you keep yourself in touch with the ‘normal world’ going on around you and keep yourself healthy both physically and mentally?

I have mostly been not so much a road musician, that didn’t really start until I started working with Nile (Rodgers) meaning doing it year after year after year. Before that, I did tours. The longest tour I have ever done is with a superstar artist in Japan called Toshi Kubota and they called him the Michael Jackson of Japan many years ago but he has always done six year tours. The Majority of my work actually for about seventeen years was at the Apollo theatre and local sessions and gigs around town. From keeping the chops up and keeping money in pocket when things were slow, that was the main thing. The Apollo gig though, that was not only a regular Wednesday night amateur gig (a very prestigious gig to have) we also did the TV show for many years. My Family are the main thing that keep me mentally and physically healthy. I have a very crazy wife and daughter as well as two dogs that are out of control and I juice everyday believe it or not. Not to say that I eat well but I do juice every day.

How are you keeping yourself busy during these strange times?

You are absolutely right about that, these are very very strange times. What I have been doing is staying busy with my restaurant mostly and my cookie company. A couple of playing situations have come about and I will probably be doing more now that I have a place to do recording sessions that very near where I am. The other thing is I have been binge watching Netflix. Right now, I am loving a series called The Peaky Blinders. Before that it was called The Ozarks and I love a new show my family and I watch called The Goldbergs at dinner time. So, my day is pretty complete and I stay busy, I like being busy.

If you had any advice for your younger self what would it be?

The advice I would give to my younger self is okay now, everything is going to be okay as long as you stay focused and stay out of trouble. Practice and respect those that came before you and work hard with the ones that you are with and pay forward to the ones that are coming up.

Finally, can you share a quick tip or give us a small exercise you always use?

There is a teaching series that I worked on whilst in the UK by way of my Manager finding amazing opportunities for me (Thanks Anne Mccoy). The teaching series is called Drum.Dog. It has many of the tips and things I have done throughout the year that has helped me to play throughout the years.

One thing that I would tell as far as a tip is to remember that learning rudiments and technique is extremely important. Getting out of your own way and allowing yourself to be imperfect is also very important. Sometimes you can try so hard to do everything absolutely perfect and you will get in your own way because of your anxiety. Anxiety is a serious serious weapon against you and it is not good. As far as playing, practicing, everyday is important and listening to the people that inspire you and just copy what they do. Record yourself playing, it’s extremely important. You now have all the tools to do that, when I was playing we only had cassette players and I would record my self and listen back. You have video recording opportunities and tons of lessons out there, like I say I am doing mine on Drum.Dog. I have also included something below which was very very helpful for me in getting the proper movement and motion and mechanics with both hands. Learning grooves so you can get your feet right and having the right position are also very important. Go to Drum.Dog and you will see exactly what I am talking about.

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