Yard Gavrilovic: Steve Gadd's Drum Tech
Published in PM January 2009
People + Opinion : Artists / Engineers / Producers / Programmers
We pick up sticks with leading drum tech Yard Gavrilovic, who's been working closely with Steve Gadd, one of America's greatest living drummers, for the past 12 years.
If you choose to raise the subject of truly great drummers with any serious sticksman, it's not long before the name Steve Gadd will pop into the conversation. The session legend, who first rose to fame towards the end of the '70s, has graced the records and concerts of artistes as diverse as Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, BB King, James Brown, Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, Dr John and George Benson. And for the last 12 years, Gadd has been counting on the drum teching expertise of Yard Gavrilovic, a man who's had a life as colourful and fascinating as Steve himself.
Between the ages of 15 and 24, Yard played in various small London outfits, working hard to try and break it through to the big time. But with a young family to feed and clothe, he opted out of his dreams of stardom and instead carried on as a carpenter and joiner, eventually setting up his own building company at the age of 23 and playing when he could. All the while, he continued both his love for the instrument and his associations with his London muso mates, and in the mid-'80s Yard was handed his first teching job for the rock band FM, whom his brother-in-law, Andy Barnett, played guitar with.
After staying with FM for five or six years, Yard began working for various heavy rock acts on the Sanctuary Music roster through Iron Maiden's Adrian Smith, before getting a rather nice call in the mid-'90s from old friend Zak Starkey, who'd just been handed the drum stool for the Who. "Zak called me up when he got the Who gig," remembers Yard. "That was the catalyst of when it took off really, to the bigger arenas. It was that simple break through knowing Zak and him taking me along for the ride."
Until just a few years ago, Yard Gavrilovic was still running the balance between teching for a slew of top drummers including Simon Kirke, Ginger Baker, Zak Starkey and Steve Gadd, while also falling back on his building business. In tandem with all this, Yard had built up a rather tasty collection of vintage drums, leading him to a bit of a brainwave.
"I decided a few years ago that I didn't really want to do building anymore, even though two of my sons are still in it and my workshop is fully operational," says Yard. "I thought if I did a nice little drum store where you deal in vintage gear and have it as a boutique, rather than a general drum shop where people drop in wanting to buy modern gear, I could specialise through my knowledge and collection of drums. And that's what we've done with Vintage Drum Yard. We cater more for the individual, rather than drummers off the street. We supply a lot of the world's best drummers, and for film and TV we specialise in recreating authentic kits for different periods, because you can't have a '90s kit with a '60s act. We have to recreate everything — the stands, the whole kit, the colours.
We specialise in drum re-covering and restoration, and we hire drums more than we do sales. We can provide original parts and so restore kits back to their original form. As a joiner, there's nothing I can't do really as regards to repairing any wood items. It is generally being practically minded and having a deep love of drums. It's not about the money; it's about the satisfaction when you turn a kit around!"
And with the kind of legendary clientele Vintage Drum Yard so regularly attract, Yard Gavrilovic certainly manages to turn around some truly legendary kits. "I just did one of Ginger Baker's for Steve Winwood," he enthuses. "It's actually on Ginger's Ginger Baker In Africa DVD and it's an old brushed silver Hayman early '70s kit. It was Ginger's kit and he gave it to Steve Winwood as a present, and Steve had it in his barn down at his property in Gloucestershire. When we toured last year, he said, 'Oh, I've got a kit I might get you to do. Ginger gave it to me, but it's got lots of missing parts!' So he dropped it off to me and I restored it, replacing all the parts that were missing, and tuned it up for him. I saw Winwood the other night at Shepherd's Bush Empire. He said he loves it and it's gonna be his studio kit. I managed to put it back exactly as it was and it's nice. It's a piece of history!"
As well as running Vintage Drum Yard and currently teching for various drummers including Abe Laboriel Jr, Ginger Baker and, of course, Steve Gadd (Martin, one of Yard's sons, now techs for Zak Starkey), Yard also enjoys a spot of production management, counting Annie Lennox and Will Young amongst his clients in this alternative touring capacity. "When I'm doing production, I love doing drums, and when I'm doing drums, I love doing production," laughs Yard. "It just depends really what comes up, so I flip between the two. Generally with the bigger acts, you know six months to a year before you're due out, so you can duck and dive!"
Yard's most recent drum teching work for Steve Gadd came during the early part of this year when they did the Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton US tour together. As has been the case for a very long time, Gadd still uses the same core kit for both live and in the studio. In fact, Yard holds one of Gadd's kits at Vintage Drum Yard for whenever he flies over for any UK session work, and again this is exactly the same setup. "Steve's one of these classic drummers who never changes anything unless there's a reason for it," says Yard. "He uses the same setup apart from just switching the toms depending on what music he's playing. It's the same Yamaha black kit he's used for years. He has a 22-inch bass drum, which is maple. Then he has a 10-inch and a 12-inch rack tom, and a 14-inch and a 16-inch. They're all in birch ply for more attack. His snare is the Yamaha Steve Gadd Custom 14 x 5.5-inch with wood hoops."
The occasional change to the kit will come with the toms. "He's got a 10-inch and a 12-inch tom, and also a 13-inch, so he can switch to a 12-inch and a 13-inch if it's more of a rock feel," Yard explains. "That's the only change he makes, and then he tunes either higher or lower depending on the music. He tunes his kit to suit the music he's playing!"
Tuned and ready
When Yard Gavrilovic is tuning Steve Gadd's kit, he does what he would with any drummer he's working for — try and get inside his head. "Basically, you have to get into the mind of the person you're working for, because everyone that you work for will want to hear something different," says Yard. "It could be the pitch of the snare. It could be different heads. Gadd striking his drum will sound totally different from someone else playing it. It's all in the body and it's all in the way you play. You can tune a kit the same as Gadd's and put someone else on it, but they will never recreate the sound he gets. Tuning, for me, is really when they turn up and they say, 'This is my kit and this is the way I tune it.' And then you have to recreate that every day, because you're working for them and they're not working for you, and if they don't like the sound it'll be hard for them to play it!"
Steve Gadd does tend to vary his Zildjian cymbal selection depending on how he feels and what is available. "Steve has been using the Class Orchestra Series for crashes, and he uses a K Custom Dark ride," explains Yard. "Then he'll use a 16-inch Rivet cymbal just above the hats and sometimes he'll use a china, but it depends on the songs they pick out to do. Then he'll use an 18-inch or a 16-inch china and a couple of crashes, like a Custom Thin crash. He used to use K Dry Light rides and that sort of thing, but I think they've gone out the window now."
When it comes to hats, Steve Gadd still regularly uses the pair he bought around 40 years ago, even though wear and tear is starting to take its toll. "He's got a pair of hats that he bought back in New York in the '60s and they're on every recording he's ever done," says Yard. "But the top one's keyholed where it's been worn out. Zildjian actually developed some Gadd hats a little while ago, but he still favours his old ones. He'll use the new ones over here for records, but generally on tour he'll use the ones he's happy with. He still hits them now and says, 'Doesn't that sound great?' and that's after 40 years. That's what I like about him. We get stuff from Zildjian and Yamaha, and what we don't need he just sends back, and that's a good sign. When I worked with Ginger, he had a lot of cymbals sent from Zildjian when we arrived from New York and he just went, 'Nah, I've got my cymbals!' and sent the whole lot back. The good thing about them is they know what they like and as soon as they get it they don't want anything else."
Heads-wise, Steve Gadd again knows exactly what he likes and knows exactly what they sound like to boot. "Steve uses Ambassador Coated on the toms, a clear Pinstripe on the bass drum, and on the snare he uses the PS3 Coated with a Diplomat snare bottom head," says Yard. "If you put an Ambassador one on the bottom, he can tell the difference. I pulled one out by mistake, thinking it'd just be a Diplomat, and he noticed during the gig! How he did that I'll never know, because the thickness difference is minimal, but he said, 'I'm not getting enough out of the snare!'"
Yard Gavrilovic only changes the heads on Gadd's kit when Steve says he wants him to. "I always leave it to the guy to tell me, because if I change it they could go, 'Oh, they were sounding good!'" explains Yard. "So we have this thing where if a head's really bad and all dented, we don't change all of them. He might get up after the gig and say, 'Let's just change the 12,' and then that's all you'll do. Some people seem to think that if one head goes you have to change all of them, but you don't!"
Gadd particularly likes to keep the snare head on right until the point it breaks. "Generally, he'll lean over and he'll say to me, 'You might want to get the spare up in a minute,'" explains Yard. 'He'll rub it with his hands and he'll say, 'We're alright for another song.' Then after that song, you'll go to change it and he'll say, 'No, let's leave it for a minute. It's sounding good!' Then it'll pop mid song. But he's professional enough. He'll just take his hand up and play the tom instead of the snare while I change it over. I just flick it out, put the other one in, put the mic back down and then get out of his way quick. And he'll then just drop back on the snare, really calm about it.
It's the same if the bass drum beater goes. He'll move his right foot over to his left double pedal and will carry on playing. Then, when I've switched the beater round and taken out the broken stem, he just switches back and carries on playing and never drops a beat. It's just his amazing confidence without being arrogant. He's such a nice guy as well as a great player."
Yard has also learned a nifty little head changing trick from Gadd during their years working together. "You put the head on, you centre it and you put the hoops on, but you can't do this with wooden hoops, because you'll end up busting the hoops," he explains. "What I'll do is crank it right up so you hear the head crack and all the glue is giving way. I stretch it and then I'll leave it for a while, go have a cup of coffee, come back, detune it, and then tune it up. After that, you don't get all the dents and dings in it that you get if it hasn't been stretched enough. If you don't do that, as soon as you start playing it, you start stretching it and it'll go out of tune. It just stays in tune longer and settles the head properly."
Sticks and metronomes
As far as drumsticks go, Steve currently has his own custom Vic Firth series. "He uses the Vic Firth Steve Gadd range, which are black," says Yard. "We generally have them sanded, which takes a little bit of lacquer off so they don't slip. They now do clear tips as well, but the heads still go black for some reason."
An extra piece of kit on the stage comes in the form of a metronome, which Steve Gadd will briefly utilise during the slower songs in any given set. "For certain really slow songs, I'll switch the metronome on while he's playing and then turn it off when he's kicked them off after a bar or so," Yard says. "If you go from a fast song to a slow one, he may just want to make sure he's in the right time. I'll start it while he's finishing off the last one, and he'll just look at the light and then count them in."
When Yard is on tour with Gadd and Clapton, the daily routine usually stays pretty much the same. "When I'm working with him, I'll get up, go and have a shower and go and have breakfast," explains Yard. "Then we'll start around midday, which gives them time to get the lights up in the air. We get the risers out on stage and start setting up. Then I'll tweak all the drums before I put them up at the back of the riser. We mike them all up and leave the sound crew to that. Then we do a soundcheck, and that's where I show Steve how to really play them! The band crew do the soundcheck, and then the band turn up and go straight on. They don't soundcheck — only on the very first day of a tour or if there's something that's unsettled them the night before."
Cleaning is kept to a bare minimum when it comes to Steve Gadd's kit. "I never ever use cymbal cleaner with Steve," says Yard. "It's just a case of a bit of furniture polish to wipe the fingerprints off. If he turned up and all his cymbals were shiny and back to nature, he would go nuts, because that's where the sound comes from. Never use cymbal cleaner. If you need to do it, use Ginger's method, which is to use warm, soapy water like in the old days, just to get the dirt out of the grooves. On the shells, we just use a bit of furniture polish too, a duster to get into the hard corners where the dust collects on top of all the hardware fittings and around the lugs, and that's it really."
When it's time for the band to finally take the stage, it's the day's most testing time for Yard; a time when he has to be as vigilant as humanly possible to make sure Steve Gadd's performance is not interrupted by any problems with the gear.
"Basically, I have a chair right behind his riser, as low down as can be behind the wedge," explains Yard. "I'm visible to the crowd, but not from the front where all the camera angles are. You do get to know everything he plays, and I'll have certain markings on the set list to know when to operate the metronome or when to do something else. Then it's just staying alert. Your eyes are following his playing around the kit so you're looking at the bass drum beater and everything else that might have moved a little bit. You're just wary of anything happening, because if it does you've just got to be on it as quickly as possible. You're just doing your job, I suppose, and you just do it all naturally!"
Whilst Yard has worked with some of the greatest drummers in the business, there is one sticksman that he would love to have had the opportunity to work with and that's the legendary Led Zep man, the late John Bonham. "John had it all!" enthuses Yard. "A great right foot makes all the difference! Anyone can keep 4/4, but it's the flicks you throw in that can change the whole pattern. I don't think anyone can touch him for the speed or the power, even though he wasn't really such a hard hitter. He sounds like he was a demon, but he wasn't a hard hitter. And I think one man that needs credit is Mick Hinton, his drum tech. Mick died last year, so he deserves a mention. He did a sterling job for Bonham and he never sold his story. He was an honourable man and such a decent bloke, but he wouldn't ever talk about Bonham unless it was about his drums."
Check out Yard Gavrilovic's vintage drum store at www.vintagedrumyard.co.uk. 0
Yard Gavrilovic gives us the lowdown on what he carries with him in his work box
"I keep different woodworking tools, clamps, wood glue, spray adhesive cleaners," says Yard. "I take wood screws and anything that might help me in case we hit a problem. I keep all the things I need close at hand. I keep his drum heads in there and I might have two sets of each, so if anything does happen I can get to it quick, rather than having to hunt around the back. I also keep some black cloth in there to cover things up on the stage, because it looks neater. I also have his sticks, brushes, various clamps, some batteries for his metronome, and just anything that I need close to hand."
Published in PM January 2009
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