Saturday, May 16, 2009

Drum Tech gives some Respect to the Craft - by David Burke

Don’t call Jeff Ocheltree a roadie.
His job as a drum technician in recording studios and at concerts is far more than that.
“All we were called was roadies” decades ago, he said. “We’d drive the truck, load the truck, set up the P.A. (public address system), set up the whole damned band. Our days were never done. We never had a fancy hotel to go to.
“It was hard work, but we were so passionate about it because every time we set up to do a show we knew the energy coming back to us was going to be magnificent.”
Ocheltree, who lived in Davenport as an infant and for several years during high school, has returned to the Quad-City area to conduct a master class at the Redstone Room in the River Music Experience, downtown Davenport.
The workshop is for both drummers and aspiring drum techs, teaching them that a percussionist needs to do more than just set up the drums.
“I’m probably one of the first drum techs ever,” Ocheltree, 61, said. “I learned not only how to tune drums and set them up, but I learned how to mike drums, how to work in the studio.”
His first job as a drum tech was with the 1970s jazz-rock group Mahavishnu Orchestra, working with producer Ken Scott at London’s famed Abbey Road Studios.
“It was a beautiful time in music because everything was wide open,” he said. “There was none of this technology.”
Ocheltree has put out an instructional DVD for drummers and drum techs called “Trust Your Ears.”
That’s especially important today, he said.
“There’s a whole different world — it’s digital, it’s contrived, it’s computerized,” he said. “The crafting of songs, the crafting of music in live performances is not supposed to be gathered together and pieced together.”
Despite their tough exterior, drums are fragile instruments and not enough people recognize that, he said.
“Drums weren’t made to go on the road. They were made to sit in one place and be played,” he said. “If you take them in and out of cases and on trucks, buses and airplanes, they’re going to fall apart.”
Ocheltree has been on the road as a drum tech for Led Zeppelin, Supertramp, Journey, Chicago and Chick Corea, among others. He takes a break this week from being on the road with singer Boz Skaggs. He’s designed two drum sets for the heavy metal band Tool.
He will be conducting the workshop tonight with Terry Hanson, a longtime Quad-City area drummer and drum teacher.
“It’s got nothing to do with us. It’s us telling folks what’s going on in the world of drumming and teching,” Hanson said, “what you have to do and what we still do after 35-plus years.”
Ocheltree said setting up drums for a concert can take as little as 90 minutes or as long as an entire day.
“You make it sound perfect, so when the drummer comes up for the sound check, he’s ready to go. You don’t have to change a thing,” he said.
He also works at getting the microphones on the drums at just the right angle for the best sound. Sometimes, he said, that means ticking off the sound engineers.
“I tell the engineer to stay up there and leave me alone,” Ocheltree said.
“You don’t get the respect you deserve. It’s the old drummer syndrome: ‘Oh, you’re just a drummer,’ ” Hanson said.
Ocheltree and Hanson will tell drummers and drum techs about the need to work together.
“With drummers and drum techs, there’s a camaraderie that’s unparalleled to any other instrument,” Ocheltree said. “The drumming community has always pulled together to help each other.”
Ocheltree, who just moved to San Francisco after living for years in Ashland, Ore., said drummers need to learn about collaboration with their techs.
“All these players are constantly evolving and working together,” he said. “And I get to work with them, so we all evolve together.”
David Burke can be contacted at (563) 383-2400 or Comment on this story at

1 comment:

  1. Man, this guy has been around the block more than a few times for sure! We need to do a "Drum Dungeon" exclusive interview with him as an ongoing series in 4 or 5 segments - has to have some killer stories from the road.