Sit down and listen to this record, and you’ll feel yourself becoming a better musician by the minute. I believe that every drummer should listen to John Mayer’s Where the Light is live in LA record. Whether or not you’re a Mayer fan, you truly can’t deny the world-class musicianship on every track.
The record features two world-class drummers, Steve Jordan and J.J. Johnson, and a whole host of fantastic musicians including bass players Pino Palladino and David LaBruyere. Check out the credits here on the Wikipedia page.
Grab a pair of headphones and get ready to listen along with me, because I’ll be including a bunch of Spotify links to all the tracks I’m talking about. Without further ado, here are the 5 biggest things every drummer can learn from this record.
#1: Undeniable groove is created by simple, musical consistency free of clutter.
If you’re unfamiliar with John Mayer or this particular album, the style is mainly a merging of pop with blues, soul, and a bit of funk. This means that groove is everything on these tracks, and every musician plays a part in it.
My two favorite, heaviest, most compelling grooves on the record are “Vultures” and “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)”. The drum parts in these songs are so simple, yet tasty and loaded with feel. There’s something extremely musically compelling about deep, beefy drums laying down the most basic beat. You feel it in your chest, and you can’t help but move to it.
This constantly reminds me that great feel often comes from simple parts. More notes probably isn’t the answer - simple consistency is. Be steady in your dynamics, stay relaxed as you play, and your parts will feel fantastic.
#2: A ringy snare doesn’t necessarily sound bad to the listener.
I had to throw in this little technical point, because there’s a tuning lesson to be learned here. Listen to the 1:56 mark in “I Don’t Trust Myself” where the deep snare comes in with the drum fill. Notice the huge amount of ring in the snare. But also notice how the snare is tuned to scale degree 1 (tonic) in the key of the song. It’s super ringy (and potentially obnoxious), but because it’s ringing in the key you don’t notice it while the rest of the band’s playing.
Also check out the beginning of “Waiting on the World to Change.” In this song J.J. Johnson is using a much higher-tuned snare. But it’s still ringy, and you can hear a bunch of that ring while the drums are playing before the band joins. Guess what? This ring is NOT in the key of the song. But does it bother you? Nah.
A little ringiness never hurt anybody, except the OCD drummer who can’t stand to hear his snare ring. It’s ok - I’ve been there. At the kit we hear so much more ringiness than our audience does, and much of that ring gets lost in the room anyways. Once the band’s playing, nobody’s gonna hear it.
#3: A band doesn’t need a click to be tight!
I love this, because I’m a huge fan of not playing to a click. I believe that a band will sound its best when there’s no metronome in everyone's ears and they’re 100% listening to each other instead of to a clicking sound.
Check out the beginning of “Everyday I Have the Blues,” which is the beginning of the John Mayer Trio set with Steve Jordan on drums. They count off, come in screaming, and the groove just feels great.
But try to line up a metronome with it. Good luck! You’ll find that they start a little slow, and they pick up the pace a tad as they get into the verse. But you’d never know it, because the three musicians (Mayer on guitar & vocals, Palladino on bass, and Jordan on drums) are so tightly locked in with each other that they move in time together.
This is key: A great feeling band doesn’t have to play perfectly in time. They just have to play well together and stay exactly with each other.
#4: Three musicians can create a HUGE sound.
Speaking of the John Mayer Trio stuff (the middle part of the record)… When just those 3 guys are playing, the sound is huge and there’s nothing missing.
Why are we always trying to add more musicians to our bands and add more tracks to play with to try to make our sound bigger?? Why can’t we just play good parts and rock it out just the 3 or 4 or 5 of us? I could rant about this all day, but I won’t. ;) These 3 musicians know how to create a full sound that really grooves hard…just the 3 of them! I think this is awesome. Listen to “Everyday I Have the Blues” and any of the other John Mayer Trio tracks from the middle of the record, and notice how you only hear 3 instruments ever (4 including the vocals).
Great musicians know when and how to fill space and play dynamically in order to do so. More musicians and more tracks isn’t the answer - Better musicianship is the answer!
#5: Seven (or more!) musicians can sound great together when they know when to play and when NOT TO PLAY.
Alright…This is so great. Check out “I Don’t Need No Doctor” (on YouTube, because you have to see what’s happening on stage here). At 4:22, the band is jamming full force in double time, and it’s super rock’n roll. But check out how Robbie McIntosh (The gray-haired guitar extraordinaire front stage next to Mayer) literally isn’t playing. He’s just hanging out, enjoying the music. He knew right then that the rest of the band was carrying everything just fine, and anything he might play would be too much.
That is musical wisdom at its finest, and it makes me really respect this guy. These full band songs on the final third of the record sound so great because not everyone’s playing all at once. The band still has dynamics thanks to musical restraint from everyone on stage. They know when to play and when not to play, and they even pull off the two-bass-player thing from time to time.
Watch “I Can’t Trust Myself” on YouTube to see how both Palladino and LaBruyere are playing bass on the tune, yet they don’t step on each other. Amazing. (You can hear LaBruyere laying down the primary bass part in the center of the mix with Palladino throwing in some slaps & fills off to the right side of the mix.)
So. Go give this record a listen. I wasn’t a John Mayer fan back when this came out in 2008 (recorded December ’07), but as I got into college shortly after and began working to improve my groove, this record became a go to for years to come. It’s a timeless classic, and I think it’s the greatest live record of all time. Whether you agree or disagree, there’s a lot to be learned listening to a really great band make real music live in person with no help from a click or tracks. I love it. I hope you’ll dig it too!
Have a great day, and stay Non Glamorous, everyone!