While not teaching performance at The School of Rock in Bedford, NY, powerhouse drummer Lou Caldarola can be heard playing for Soundscape, Joe Gareri, Limelight, and Kicksville. A busy recording and session player, who opened for bands such as King’s X and Jelly Jam and performed in Randy Rhoads Remembered shows with Rudy Sarzo, Brian Tichy and Chas West, Lou has made a well respected name for himself without straying too far from the area he grew up in. I recently had the opportunity to reconnect with Lou over the phone, where we spoke in great length about music and drums.
Michael Cannavaro: You have cultivated an impressive music career. How planned was that direction?
Lou Caldarola: As far as the direction of drumming… a long time ago I knew I wanted to keep doing this. When we were kids and all got into doing the music thing, of course initially my brain was saying… “I’m going to get in a band and we’re gonna get a great record contract.” As the music scene was changing, I started realizing that my passion for playing and being involved with music wasn’t so much that I had to be in my own band, it was more that I loved interacting with people on a musical level (playing, recording or teaching). It was then that I started marketing myself as a session player as opposed to just being a drummer in a particular band. By calling myself a “Session Player”, it put me in a position where I was free to go and work with multiple performers at the same time. It seemed to excuse me from causing tension with the other artists I was working with. It was known all along that I was a session guy. I would be committed and nothing else will interfere with our schedule, but I’m not ‘exclusive’. It opened up many opportunities for me.
MC: How did you wind up drumming in the Randy Rhoads Remembered shows?
LC: The Randy Rhoads / Bonzo Bash connection was a happy accident as a result of becoming friends with Brian Tichy (Ozzy, Whitesnake, Foreigner, The Dead Daisies). Through some mutual musician friends on social media, I read that Brian was putting together the Randy Rhoads Remembered shows. He was looking to bring a few more people up on stage to play drums, so he could play guitar. He reached out to a bunch of drummers to see who was interested. I emailed Brian, and asked if I could send him a video. Long story short, he liked what I did. We spoke, he invited me to a couple shows and we kept in touch. We hit it off pretty good. Brian even came to work with my School of Rock students. I have to thank him for the wild opportunity. Brian is a great guy and a great drummer who gave me the opportunity.
MC: When I contacted you to schedule the interview, you said you are available Monday through Friday between 9am and noon or after 8:30pm. What contributes to such a regular and rigid schedule?
LC: There was a long time where I was trying to just do the band thing. I still needed to work a day job to survive though. It was busy and it made things tricky. I would go to work during the day and arrange all the band stuff at night. What enabled me to have the freedom to perform, play as often as I do, and work with so many people without conflict was drum instruction. As far as the “regular schedule”, the majority of the students I have aren’t available until the afternoon when they get out of school. So, lessons run from 2 through about 6 or 7 pm. Once I had a full schedule of students established, it allowed those remaining hours to be pretty open for other music related activities like performing and recording. The changing music industry had something to do with it as well. It’s hard now to survive just performing. Bands don’t play as often and don’t make nearly as much money as they used to. I started to fill my time more with instruction and recording, which I can do right from L.A.B.(Lou’s Audio Basement).
MC: Do you see yourself now more as an educator or a performer?
LC: I feel it has definitely shifted more toward instruction and recording. Especially with technology today. The creative process between musicians has expanded geographically without leaving your home. Currently, my time is split about 50-50 (performing vs. instruction/recording), but the percentages are changing. It is progressing more toward the instruction and studio side. Less on the travel and performance side. If it was up to me, I would love to keep it more weighted on the performance side, but as long as I am active and it requires a drum kit and sticks, I’m still pretty happy.
MC: What are the most important qualities of your drum kit?
LC: I was a long time Pearl player. I prefer a more tonal quality as opposed to a punchy attack. I like full, boomy, warmer sounds. Pearl always were the drums that captured that for me. Fast forward many years to a fellow drummer, Eric Wagner who I went to see perform at a gig in the Hudson Valley. His drums were small, but they sounded so full. I noticed a Precision drum logo and remembered it was that drum shop I drive by all the time. I started talking to Eric after his set and he told me about the company. He explained they are a custom drum company in the Hudson Valley and have been around since the 1960’s. He suggested I check them out. Shorty after, I called Gary Folchi (Founder George A. Folchi’s son and custom drum builder) to make an appointment. From there, I had built the first of a few drum kits made for me by Precision. It was a very unique and personal experience selecting the drums to build a custom kit. The relationship I have with Precision even led to an endorsement. Their drums have a beautiful tonal quality. Interestingly, although I have always been a wood drum kit player, not long ago I added an acrylic kit to my collection. I always loved the look of acrylic drums, but they had a reputation of not sounding great. Precision works with RCI (a Connecticut acrylic drum manufacturing company) who makes shells without the seam and they are incredible. The acrylic kit has all the warmth and tone, plus a melodic tom sound. They just sound phenomenal. Precision is a great company that produces high quality drums. They clearly love what they are doing and really take pride in their work. I feel there are very few companies that rival their product.
MC: Have you ever not felt confident at a gig? If so, how did you overcome it?
LC: Oh, lord yes. Earlier on, not so much though. I guess it was a young confidence thing. You think you are invincible. As I got a older though, there were a few times when I felt like I wasn’t as prepared as I should be. I didn’t like the feeling, so I became “a preparer”. For example… There was a period where I was busy playing music styles other than progressive rock, and at same the time I happened to be advised by my doctor that I needed a hernia operation. (The hernia was due to some heavy lifting and not a result of any drumming). My double bass playing was definitely not what it used to be. I’m soon turning 49 and have now had 2 hernia operations. (…again, heavy lifting and not drumming related). It has unquestionably affected my muscle strength for that type of playing. I have found I really need to prepare my legs much more to maintain the ability I used to have. The older I get, the harder and greater I have to work to prepare. Especially for opening gigs. There is usually no time to warm up. You load in, set-up, quickly sound check, and maybe have a few minutes to grab something to eat before you go on stage.
MC: What is your best musical achievement to date?
LC: It’s hard to pick one. I am very proud with what we do in Limelight [Rush Tribute Band]. It’s challenging, but still it’s learning someone else’s material to the best of my ability. Musical recording projects that stand out to me lately would be Kicksville. Their recent couple of releases I am most proud of. If I were going to pick one overall example though, Soundscape’s – Grave New World is absolutely up there. It was quite an endeavor. We put a lot into the creation of that.
MC: As an educator, is there one thing you constantly try to stress to your students or one single piece of advice to you give?
LC: I try not to be super textbook. To me the biggest, most common thing I share with my students is not about technique. It is to be aware of the musical situation around you and to listen. It you are a drummer and not aware of what is happening around you musically, you aren’t going to be able to hold up something and the whole song will fall apart.
MC: What is your goto ride?
LC: Zildjian A 21” Rock Ride. I have a set of the Zildjian Platinum cymbals (the ones they used to make before they realized the process was bad for the environment). I have a 21” Platinum ride that cannot be beat. I am very protective of it and don’t bring it out much. The bronze cymbals are pretty close, but there is definitely a little something extra in that Platinum.
Lou’s Gear List:
Endorsed by Precision Drum Co. Pleasant Valley NY
The L.A.B. (typical setup)
Precision Drum Co. wood shell kit (black/blue/silver stripe)
18×20″ kick (there are 2 but one typically used)
6, 8, 10, 12″ racks
14, 16″ floors
5×13″ 20 ply snare
8×14″ free floating snare
(Cymbal setup varies – Zildjian cymbals)
Precision Drum Co. wood shell kit (Buddy Rich style vintage wrap)
10, 12″ racks
8″ steel timbale
(assortment of Zildjian and Wuhan cymbals – splashes, crash, chinas, ride, hats, small zilbell)
Acrylic Coke Bottle Green Kit (used in various situations and configurations)
Precision Drum Co. /RCI shells
6, 8, 10, 12″ racks
14, 16″ floors
24″ gong drum
20″ acrylic canister throne
(all Zildjian Cymbals – setup varies)
Preferred – Gibraltar or Pearl hardware
Pro Mark 747 sticks