Pro Drummer Interview: Joe Crabtree

  • Posted on: 6 December 2011
  • By: Sheldon Kreger

With over 20 years of playing experience, Joe Crabtree isn’t just a professional drummer. He’s one of those hyper-obsessed, fanatical nerds who truly lives his art. Whether he’s transcribing a Dave Weckl fill, touring with Wishbone Ash, or designing software to analyze polyrhythmic, multi-limb orchestrations, Joe eats, sleeps and breathes the drums.

I had the great opportunity to speak with Joe Crabtree after finding him on Youtube. Looking through his channel, I was shocked. “Could this guy be REAL? It’s like we have EXACTLY the same taste in music!” It was a very pleasant surprise.

So, I decided to send Joe an email explaining our similarity in taste. I also gave him a few recommendations - especially the Lyle Workman album “Harmonic Crusader.” A few days later, I got a response back from Joe. But, not just an email message. Joe decided to transcribe the entire Gary Novak solo from the Lyle Workman song “Nothing Left Unsaid.”

This. Was. Awesome.

I was so impressed with his transcriptions, videos, and explanations that I purchased a membership to his premium video collection. I realized that I had found not only a fantastic drummer, but one of the best teachers I could ever ask for.

Eventually, I decided that I wanted to feature Joe on ProDrumBlog. I hope you enjoy learning more about Joe Crabtree - it was certainly a lot of fun for me.

I began by asking Joe how he got started on the drum set.

“In Britain, we have primary school and secondary school. I was in primary school, and I remember asking for a drum set for Christmas. I don’t remember where the idea came from. I just thought it would be cool. I wanted REAL DRUMS, not one of those dinky things with rubber pads and the sticks. I asked specifically for the real drums.”

“A week before Christmas I went into the spare room and found them covered with a sheet. It was REAL DRUMS, and I was so amazed because I really didn’t expect it. Then, on Christmas I had to feign surprise. It’s a shame you couldn’t see my face when I first found them!”

With just a bit of knowledge of piano, Joe was completely confused by the drum book that came with the kit.

“The notation made no sense at all because there was no length to the sound. I had no idea how the snare drum was supposed to be set up. It must have been four or five years before I figured out how the hi hat clutch was actually supposed to go on.”

“My mother found a drum teacher from a local music shop. He asked me what bands I liked. I told him that I liked The New Kids on the Block. He just put his head in his hands.”

After a few years working with this self-taught instructor, Joe started to get a feel for what drumming was all about. This was where he first experienced the joy of learning one of his favorite songs.

“The first song I remember being really excited about was Please Please Me by the Beatles. He taught me how to play the groove, all the fills. And, I went home and just played it over and over and over. I had no clue then, about how you would write it out, or any stickings that might be involved. I just went home and played it - it was just the sound. And, I think I’ve lost that - the magic. But, I feel that when I do an involved transcription. The Gary Novak solo, for example. I get a lot of joy out of doing things like that.”

“I wasn’t a particularly schooled drummer - I just went to a guy who showed me how to play songs, but didn’t know much about technique. He didn’t have any idea about how to hold the sticks, and a lot of the things I work on today wouldn’t have ever crossed his radar. But, I really wanted more detail. I remember asking early on if you could play two and three at the same time. He had no idea, the thought had never occurred to him before.”

“I figured a lot of stuff out on my own. I just tried different things and arrived at the same place a lot of more schooled drummers are today. But, my path was different. I explored and made my own map. But, maybe I’ve missed things that I could have learned if I had a more formal training. I don’t think it’s a bad or a good thing. But, it makes me think about what makes my playing different from others.”

“A lot of the time I look through books and see these dry exercises. Just looking at them, I don’t see any reason to play them. But, then I’ll be doing a transcription of something I really like. And, I’ll realize that it’s very similar to the things I’ve seen in these books I find to be so dull.”

Nowadays, Joe is busy balancing his practice time, touring schedules, blogging, and developing software.

“When I’m on the road, it’s mostly about warming up before the gig, working on the pad. Sometimes I can think of ideas and work on the blog. But, I always get a lot of new ideas for things I want to work on when I get home.”

“When I’m at home, it’s all about getting more content on the sites and developing the software. That’s the major focus right now.”

Joe now has quite the presence on Youtube. You can check out his channel at http://www.youtube.com/pfefftube

“I put the first video up in 2006 or 2007. I wish I’d named the channel something different, since Pfefftube isn’t really memorable or related to drums.”

That doesn’t seem to matter much anymore. Because Joe loves transcribing fills from so many famous drummers, you’ll find him explaining how to play the coolest licks of the top professional drummers today. If you’ve ever searched for “Vinnie Colaiuta" on Youtube, you know that you will see lots of Joe’s videos.

Other than Vinnie Colaiuta, you can find Joe explaining some great material from Stewart Copeland, Manu Katche, Gary Novak, Dave Weckl, and countless others. It’s Joe’s dedication to accuracy which really makes him stand out in the crowded Youtube scene.

“I’ll hear things that I do that annoy me. But, I started thinking that this might be what style is. For example, I saw some footage of Vinnie Colaiuta playing in the studio. And, I saw all these great things happening. But, at the end of the take, he tries explaining why he liked the first take better than the second. He complains about how he feels like he’s repeating himself, or that his playing was too static and dry. But, those could be the very same things that everybody else finds to be exciting and original.”

Regardless of HOW Joe learned to play, the results are fantastic. Be sure to check out his websites and learn some neat licks on his Youtube channel.

Joe is currently working on a polyrhythmic composition tool for the iPhone. You can check it out here: http://www.facebook.com/PolyNomeApp

You can also visit his web page: http://www.joecrabtree.com/

Or, add him as a friend on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/joe.crabtree.drums

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