Saturday in Austin, Texas: Frosty and the Amazing One-Handed Drum Solo

Last Saturday I was in Austin, and my friend and I went to Antone’s to see a few bands. One of them was Mike Flanigin, who was groovin’ on a Hammond B-3 organ. Since I play the drums, so I sidled up close to watch Mike’s drummer, a veteran session musician named Barry “Frosty” Smith.

Frosty can play, which might explain why his discography is two pages long and includes names like Delbert McClinton and Parliament/Funkadelic. Frosty also plays with his eyes closed.

Barry "Frosty" Smith playing the drums

Barry “Frosty” Smith playing the drums. My cell phone takes such bad photos, they look like they’re printed on cheap t-shirts.

So, Mike and their rhythm guitarist (I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t catch his name) do their thing, and their thing is goodly. While they power through their set, I was content to watch Frosty put on his drumming master-class from about 10 feet away.

My sometimes drum teacher Justin Matz suggests going to see drummers who are a bit better than you, because you’ll see how they fit things together. Justin’s advice didn’t really apply, because Frosty is a bit better than a bit better than me. He was doing some pretty slick things on his kit, such as playing a polyrhythm by alternating between the surface and the bell of his ride cymbal, and keeping time with both feet. But that was part of the fun.

Then came the last song of the night. Mike or the guitarist (I forget which) played the first few bars of the intro, and then Frosty was going to join in. Only just as he was about to get going, Frosty dropped a stick.

This happens when you play the drums. Unlike Animal in “The Muppets,” to be any sort of drummer you can’t clamp your sticks in a death-grip and swing your arms like windmills. To play with speed and finesse you need to hold the sticks lightly, so that they bounce off drum heads and cymbals. When you hold them lightly and your hands are moving quickly, sometimes you drop ’em. Sometimes you drop more than one, as one of Justin’s cute young students demonstrates:

Anyhow, since drummers drop drum sticks from time to time, they have a little stick bag that they typically attach to their floor tom. Frosty, his eyes open for a change, quickly pulled out a stick, and away he went…

… Until the end of the song. When he somehow he dropped another stick.

And this is where it got really interesting. Miles Davis once said, “It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note — it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong.”

So how did Frosty cope? For some reason either didn’t have a backup stick, or couldn’t reach it because it was in the middle of the song. At this point, as the song was reaching its crescendo, Frosty’s eyes were open really wide.

He was managing to keep the beat with the stick in his left hand, but he was clearly having to rethink how he did everything. Then he switched  his one stick to his right hand to play crash, ride and hi-hat, played the snare with his left hand … and finished the drum solo.

And Mike Flanigin, his band leader, never even noticed.

[Insert Your Tuba Player Pickup Line Here]

These things always start kind of innocently. Today it started during the afternoon dog walk, when dog and I strolled past a home and heard the unmistakable blatting of a tuba.

I came home and immediately made some inane wise-ass remark on Twitter:

“Walked the dog past a house where someone was practicing the tuba. I didn’t know people took vows of chastity like that nowadays.”

But the Twitter hive-mind was having none of my japery. “Tubas are so hot right now!” said @janedonuts. As incontrovertible proof, she steered me to America’s foremost authority on cultural/tuba trends, The New York Times, which is reporting that ‘Tuba Raids’ Plague Schools in California.

At this very moment I can almost hear you starting to utter “What the …” so here’s the gist:

In the last few months, dozens of brass sousaphones — tubas often used in marching bands — were taken from schools in Southern California. Though the police have not made any arrests, music teachers say the thefts are motivated by the growing popularity of banda, a traditional Mexican music form in which tubas play a dominant role.

The story quotes a music teacher who says that banda used to be uncool, but now it’s cool to have a live band with a tuba, or to be a tuba player. Not only that,

As a result, sousaphones have made work in bandas more lucrative. A banda can make at least $3,000 for a night’s work at a wedding or quinceañera, said J. D. Salas, who teaches tuba at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas. And the tuba player, who is often the leader of the group, usually gets the largest share.

Gimme all your lovin'

Big money! For tuba playing! (Who says it’s impossible to make a living as a musician?) Since I’m already playing three instruments that are not the tuba, I sadly admit I don’t have time or oompa-power to hoist a fourth. A shame, really, since I could have been the next version, of … well, this guy.

And two women on Twitter leapt to the sousaphone’s defense. One said, “Do not diss the tuba! Tubas are awesome!” And when I teasingly asked Jane Donuts if she’s dating a tuba player, her response was, “Not yet.”

Hmm, eh? Hmm.

But wait — in a third shockingly unforeseen event, it turns out there are tuba player pickup lines:

  1. How deep do you want me to go?
  2. In my section of the orchestra pit, we all have big brass
  3. It’s not every day you meet a guy with a huge instrument and
    great tonguing.
  4. Wanna play Baby Elephant Walk?
  5. You’re so fine, I’d drink outta your spit valve.
  6. Stand back, I’m not sure how big this thing gets!
  7. Your lips say “oom,” but your eyes say “pah.”

[It’s a good thing I don’t have to try and use any of those. I just can’t see the elephant one ending well. ]

Still, I’m not persuaded that tubists are now the hawtest musicians on stage. When the nation’s other revered arbiter of culture, The Onion, updates their story “Area Bass Player Fellated” to something involving a sex act and a tuba, maybe I’ll change my tune.