Each month in 2021, we will be featuring a member of the worldwide Gretsch community as our spotlight “featured player” of the month!
Our featured drummer for August is . . . Brandon Toews
Brandon Toews is an author, educator, and performer based out of Vancouver, Canada. He is the author of The Drummer’s Toolbox and the co-author of The Best Beginner Drum Book (find both books on Drumeo and Amazon). Brandon acquired his Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz and Contemporary Popular Music from MacEwan University in Edmonton, Canada, with a major in Music Performance, and studied with notable educators and performers including Jared Falk (Drumeo), Colin Stranahan (Jonathan Kreisberg; Kurt Rosenwinkel), and Brian Thurgood (Edmonton Symphony Orchestra; MacEwan University). He is also a Project Manager at Musora Media Inc., home to the award-winning online music education platforms Drumeo, Pianote, Guitareo, and Singeo, where he creates and produces educational and inspirational content with many of the world’s best musicians.
We asked Brandon . . .
How old were you when you knew you were interested in becoming a musician?
I started playing piano during elementary school, but it wasn’t until I first started listening to rock music when I realized I wanted to be a musician. I was eight years old, and I loved listening to drummers like Tico Torres, Neil Peart, Alex Van Halen, and Larry Mullen Jr. What I heard them play on the records I was listening to was so inspiring and made me want to start playing drums.
Why did you choose Gretsch?
The Sound. So many of my drumming heroes like Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Cindy, Nate Wood, and Mark Guiliana play(ed) Gretsch drums. That’s the sound that I heard on records, and it wasn’t until I sat behind a Gretsch kit when I realized that was the sound I was looking for.
The History. I’m a huge fan of music history, and there’s something to be said for a company that’s been making instruments since the 1800s. Gretsch played a crucial role in developing the modern drum-set, and it’s pretty incredible to be a part of that legacy by playing these drums more than a century later.
The Classic Look. Whether it’s a kit from 1960 or 2020, you know it’s a Gretsch. The badge, the hardware, the finishes – they’re instantly recognizable.
What Gretsch gear do you currently use?
I’m primarily using a heritage build 2021 Gretsch Broadkaster in blue sparkle – 20” kick, 12” rack tom, 14” floor tom, 16” floor tom. With this kit, I’ll go between a 14”x5.5” Broadkaster snare, 14”x8” Broadkaster snare, or a 14”x6.5” USA Custom snare.
I also use a mid-1960s Gretsch Progressive Jazz Round Badge kit in tangerine glass glitter that I restored. This kit has a 20” kick, 12” rack tom, and 14” floor tom. For this one, I’m typically using a mid-1950s 14”x4” Broadkaster Max Roach Model snare or an early-1960s 14”x5.5” Dixieland snare.
Which musicians were the biggest influence on you and why?
Tico Torres, Neil Peart, and Larry Mullen Jr. were some of my earliest influences and really got me inspired at a young age. I would learn their drum parts note for note, and play along with their records constantly.
As a teenager, Larnell Lewis’ playing made me realize what was possible behind the drum kit. It wasn’t until I first heard Larnell play with Snarky Puppy that I started to appreciate and enjoy jazz music. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Larnell over the years at Drumeo and am honoured to call him a friend. Matt Garstka also opened my eyes to rhythmic possibilities behind the kit. When I first heard his playing on “The Joy Of Motion” by Animals As Leaders, I was mesmerized. I had never heard anything quite like it. Both Larnell and Matt sparked my interest in music that was much more technical than anything I had listened to before.
I’ve been inspired by Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, and Tony Williams in more recent years – their control, dynamics, soloing vocabulary, etc. I’ve also been inspired by modern players like Marcus Gilmore, Nate Wood, Mark Guiliana, and Eric Harland. These drummers are pushing the boundaries like never before – rhythmically, melodically, and texturally.
How did you adjust and stay musical during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I primarily focused on creating video content during the pandemic, teaching over Zoom, and connecting with other musicians online. I would book some time in the Drumeo Studio every few weeks to film a new lesson or performance, which allowed me to focus on short-term goals and practice for the upcoming sessions. I also spent a lot of time teaching private lessons over Zoom, filming social content from my home studio, and connecting with other musicians through different online platforms.
Here are a couple of example drum lessons by Brandon you can find on Drumeo:
You could be featured in 2021 just like Brandon. Click to find out how!