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.


Friday in Austin, Texas: Pool, Country Music, and Chicken Shit Bingo

I happened to be in Austin, Texas last weekend, which bills itself as the “Live music capital of the world.” I was visiting my friend Rob, who took me out to a local honky-tonk to hear some. We went to Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon.

Ginny’s is  a simple rectangle of a building with an assortment of castoff decor. The pavement under the pool table had potholes. The paint on the ceiling was pockmarked and peeling. The door to the beer closet had no lock on it. You could call it run down, beat up or dingy. It was my kinda place.

Here’s my cruddy cell phone pic of Ginny’s. Those are some genuine Beautiful People (what other kind of man wears a pink shirt?) standing near the bar. Better still, that’s an elderly couple dancing in front of the band.

We bought a couple of beers, my friend asked for quarters for the pool table. We could play for free, the bartender told us. The coin-op part was broken.

The table was tucked into a corner between the excess chairs, and a spare stage riser. For certain shots near the rail, there was no other way to get behind the ball than to park your ass on the chairs.

The table’s felt was stained, one rail was warped, and one side pocket had a hole in it wide enough to let the ball fall out the side. At one point I sunk a shot in that pocket, and my friend ran out the front door like the joint had caught fire. He returned holding the ball.

The game paused when a large bug landed on the 8 ball.

But you know, the quirks were part of the fun. We shot pool and drank beer and listened to the band.  “Peewee Moore is a self proclaimed Honkytonk/Outlaw Country Singer/Songwriter in the same vein as Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Johnny Paycheck, and Hank Williams. He has been barnstorming around the country with his trio dubbed “Peewee Moore & The Awful Dreadful Snakes” doing an endless string of one night stands from Austin TX to you name it. ”

Deep into the band’s second set, Rob said that at some point, all the trucks, hard times, whiskey and women become interchangeable components of some greater country ür-song. “Freightliner woman, you jack-knifed my heart.” “I would drown myself in whiskey but my wife used it to bathe the dog” … But I digress.

Rob also mentioned that the table we were playing on was mildly famous. It turns out that one night a week, Ginny’s puts a board over the table, and a cage of chicken wire over the board. The board is a grid, and each grid has a number. Contestants pay money to stake claim to one of the numbers.

Then the chicken comes goes in the cage and cruises around does some version of the Poultry Strut. Sooner or later, the chicken takes a shit. Whoever owns the chicken shit-besmirched square is the lucky winner of Chicken Shit Bingo. Yee haw!

(You can skip the first three minutes or so, if all you really want to see is the, um, money shot.)