Extras: Rich Vs Shaugnessy


An un-edited conversation with Ed Shaughnessy
(Vol. 11~Issue 2~2011 Classic Drummer Magazine)

Gene Krupa, Louie Bellson, Max Roach, Ed Shaughnessy, to name a few, gave it up to do battle with "the ultimate competitor" Buddy Rich, "The World's Greatest Drummer".

The first battle was the 1955 recording "Krupa and Rich", produced by Norman Granz for Clef/Verve. Buddy's last televised battle took place August 11th, 1978 on The Tonight Show staring Johnny Carson with Doc Severnson and The Tonight Show Band. The arrangement: "Legs & Thighs" by Mike Barone.

What does it take to battle Buddy Rich? Courage, a cool head, lots of great ideas, stamina, lots of confidence and of course lots of chops, a.k.a., a great drummer! You must know Buddy, be liked by him and know that he is not ever going to be defeated!

Ed Shaughnessy was The Tonight Show drummer for 30 years and performed over 5,000 shows. Ed's battle with Buddy has received over 1,000,000 hits on You Tube to date!

My interview with Ed was full of amazing stories, information, insights and lots of laughs...

Ted MacKenzie: How did you and Buddy Rich meet?

Ed Shaughnessy: Our friendship spanned many decades. I was just 17 when I first met Buddy Rich. After setting up my kit for a trio gig in a jazz club in Manhattan, I realized I had only one pair of sticks. One stick was broken and un repairable. Sal, the tenor player, was an old friend of Buddy's from Brooklyn. He sent me three blocks to the Paramount Theater where Buddy was performing. "I'm sure you'll be lucky enough to catch him between shows right about now. He'll give you some sticks." I made it over to the Paramount stage door in time and dropped Sal's name. Buddy came down in an elegant silk robe, "Hey kid, you work'n with Sal?" "Yeah man, were working a little gig- " "What's your name -how are ya? What's your problem? Buddy, I'm so embarrassed! I broke my stick and I don't have any extra sticks. No problem! ...Joe!" Buddy sends Joe, the band boy for the sticks. "Buddy, I came to see the show with Tommy's (Dorsey) band and I really enjoyed it! -Oh, that's great!" The band boy comes back with a brown paper package and Buddy says, "Here's is a dozen pair of sticks. This will do you for a while. -Oh, Buddy how could I ever thank you! The only thing is this. Don't tell anybody! You'll ruin my reputation!" Buddy laughs his ass off, shakes my hand and says, "Good luck!" I still have some of those Buddy Rich Model sticks to this day!

TM: Did you ever sit down with Buddy and drum with him at any other time?

ES: He wouldn't drum. Two things he told me after knowing him for thirty or forty years. He came up to my studio to pick me up for lunch. I had a studio over Henry Adler...

TM: When I studied with Sonny Igoe (his studio was next door to Ed). I'd show up a half hour early, stand next to your door just hear you practice and teach!

ES: Oh! Well -thanks! Anyway, so Buddy comes in and I'm changing a shirt, "I've known you for ten years, maybe more and you've never shown me shit! Can't you show me something?" so he said, "OK." He took a stick, hit the snare drum and let it bounce up and said, "Did you see that?" (Laughter) Now wait -I want you to know, he wasn't pulling my chain!

TM: No! -I know! (Note: in 2005, Ted revised Buddy Rich's Modern Interpretation of Snare Drum Rudiments written in collaboration with Henry Adler, revised by Ted MacKenzie)

ES: I said, "Did I see that? What did I see?" He said, "I'll do it again." He hit the drum, let the stick bounce up and held it up in the vertical position. "That's the thing most drummers don't understand."

TM: That's what I teach everybody!

ES: They (drummers) don't understand. They get help from the rebound -from the surface of the drum and like I said to him, "Yeah, easier said, than done! That will give me your single strokes, right?" He said, "No, not necessarily..." (Lots of laughs) But, I mean... he was making a valid point! I thought at first he was putting me on, but he wasn't. He said, " That's something I really believe, that most drummers can't get out of the drum. You don't play into the drum. You play off the drum...I've seen you play Ed! That's what I'm talking about!"

He came up another time to pick me up for lunch. I said, "I'll tell you what. If you show me one more thing, I will never ask you anything in fifty years. He said, Oh boy, that's good." I said, "I want to know if you have anything that you do that you have found helpful to get this remarkable speed with your bass drum foot?" He said, "No. Accept for one thing. I don't play straight on the pedal, I play over to the right. In fact I put grooves in a lot of expensive shoes from the post on the pedal." I said, "That's a good tip, I'll try it. I've played that way ever since, not because Buddy Rich plays that way. I think the control is slightly better. I didn't get a miraculous foot, but I did find out its easier. I've played that way ever since -about forty years. I've showed it plenty of students, half of them like it, half of them don't." It's like ice cream -everybody has a different flavor

The "deal" that never happened...

TM: How did the idea come about to have a drum battle with Buddy Rich?

ES: I had wanted to do it. I mentioned it to him one or two years before and he said, "Any time!", that's the way he was, "When ever you want -any time!".

It was hard to get musical numbers on (The Tonight Show), especially if it was jazz. We had a producer that thought people would turn you off if you had any jazz, but I asked Johnny and Johnny said yes! "Let's schedule it for a Friday night when we'll have the biggest audience." Then we went ahead and did it!

TM: After watching the long version of the drum battle, Buddy pre-empted Johnny announcing that there would be another drum battle. Was there a second drum battle? Did that happen? Was it recorded?

ES: He (Buddy) said to Johnny, "You're going to get up there too!" Johnny, by then, would not get up and play anymore. We didn't do a second one -just the one. I'm so glad we did and I'm so glad we did because he's gone now and it's kind of nice to have.

TM: After Johnny gives you a plug, the Modern Drummer cover-

ES: Buddy says, "You didn't have to show that!" He looked up at me and yelled, "Are you a Modern Drummer?" -I yelled back, but it nobody could hear on television, "Not so it hurts (lots of laughter!)!"

TM: You didn't use your signature double bass drum kit?

ES: I deliberately put up a one bass drum outfit and when he came out to the rehearsal, he looked at my drums and said, "Oh! -You brought a real drum set didn't you! Good for you!" I deliberately wanted to play a one bass drum set. I wanted to play what he was playing on. I didn't want to do an imitation of Louie, "ba-da-ba-da, ba-da". I mean everybody knows you can do that with two bass drums! I thought it would be more fun to play a set like he plays. Do the best you can -God willing!

TM: "God, have mercy..."

ES: I saw him play with Louie Bellson, many ages ago at a thing called Jazz at the Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. Louie Bellson played a two bass drum pattern by itself. "Da-ba-de-ba-de-be-ba-ba-da-ba-de-ba-da" and Buddy Rich sat there and played it with one foot! May God, be my judge -I was there! "Da-ba-de-ba-de-be-ba-ba-da-ba-de-ba-da" and Louie went, "AGHHHH!!! -what am I gonna do with this guy!!!

I saw him when he took a cast off his left arm that he broke playing handball. He took the cast off at five o'clock and played an eight o'clock show. Jo Jones, the great Basie drummer was there and said, "He should have broken the other one! He played better than ever!"

TM: I've talked with a lot of drummers who have watched your battle with Buddy on You Tube and we are all blown away by your ability to almost be Buddy's equal.

ES: Almost... I'm not trying to play humble pie. I feel I came fairly close to him at times in my career, like Louie Bellson who was a great, great artist in his own way. It's not that I bow at his throne, but he had a certain something extra that nobody could really match. I used to say, "I escaped with my life if I didn't get embarrassed and felt I was ahead of the game." I wasn't afraid to play against him, I had done it in a nightclub, or two and I know I could hold my own, which doesn't mean you beat him -ever! But, holding your own means you sound pretty good too!

TM: You pulled it off, it was stunning...

ES: It was fun! But, I think it's more fun to hear our "deal" that never happened (chuckles). So, he and I went to rehearse with the band and I said, "Lets not play any solos, lets just play with the band and Buddy said, "You organize it."

O.K. We'll both play with the band. Band stops, you go ahead and play. It doesn't have to be eight bars, just a little while. Then I'll play a little while. Then you play a little while. Then I'll play a little while. After we do that at least three times, they want everything to be short on television, I'll play single strokes on my third, or forth one. I'll go, "diddle-diddle-diddle. I'll look over at you and you join me and go "diddle-diddle-diddle" and get the single strokes going. Then, because you are nearer to Doc -you count Doc in; "1", "2" and we'll bring the band in for an ending. (Buddy)"O.K., that sounds fine".

So, I said to him in the dressing room before the show, "Now look...don't do your crazy monkey shit with your arms and make me look like an idiot out there!" I know who's the better drummer, but don't announce it too much. He says, "do you think I'd do that to you!"

(Lots of laughter)

ES: You want an inside story on saying something, but it doesn't get over? I once had the (Tonight Show) prop department make a fake drumhead on his 16" x 16" (floor tom). It looked exactly like a Remo head. After rehearsal we put the fake head on and when he hit the drum during his solo the stick went right through the drum down inside. He turned around right away and said, "You son-of-a-bitch Shaughnessy!" (Lots-o-laughs!) But, it didn't get on the microphone! -He didn't have a talk mike. Then, I waited five years and had the prop department make a bake-o-light cymbal that looked just like a regular Zildjain cymbal. We put it up on the right-hand crash. The first time he hit it, it broke into a thousand pieces!

TM: Do you have a video of that?

ES: No! It's funny you said that. I might have been away on the road. I should have had that taped -it would have been fun to see it! I waited five years for him, cause I know he'd be lay'n for me to do something else, you know? He was a real prankster!

So, now here's what happens...

ES: The band plays. Buddy plays a little while. I play a little while. Then Buddy plays a little while and I play a little while. The second time I played, I move around all the tom toms. Nothing-particular fancy, but it looks like I'm doing a lot. For the first time the audience applauded! They hadn't applauded Buddy. At first the audience hadn't applauded me, but now they applaud me and Buddy pulls all the stops out! The left hand under, the left hand over -the kind of shit nobody else can really do the way he does it and of course my time came -I did the single stroke "diddle-diddle-didlle..."

Later, after the show...

ES: I said,"Hey! What ever happened to our deal?" He said, "You know the truth? I got carried away..." I said, "you bull-shit-artist!

It was like, "They applauded for what he just did? Wait till you see this!" ...And of course he got great applause! Don't you think that's funny?

TM: I think it's a riot (Lots of laughing)!

ES: Of course, I don't have to tell you, he was the ultimate competitor! Even with a friend, everything would have been fine if I hadn't gotten the applause. He would have kept it at a more even level, but once I got the applause he was, "Aauugh...!" He pulled out all the stops and I'm glad he did because it was remarkable! . Johnny Carson was very happy with the event. He received more fan mail about the drum battle than any other musical event!


"Studying with Ted has been a blessing: My drumming has improved astoundingly since the first lesson." --Tom Best

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