I first met Hulk Drummer at the NAMM show in 2015. His presence is somewhat imposing and his stature could even be intimidating. But as soon as you feel his aurora and speak, even briefly with him, his amazing humbleness, gentleness and grounded energy flow through. He then introduced me to his father, Moogstar and his uncle, Karl “Animal.” After getting to know Hulk and his family I was struck by their amazing positive strength. When around them one feels a sincere sense of uplifted spirit and genuine caring. I found myself thinking, “wow, these are the kind of people I want to surround myself with. People who lift up in life!” Hulk Drummer is carrying on a family legacy of focused, disciplined and vital creativity. Something which the world needs, especially in these times of divide. Last week I spoke with Hulk Drummer about his life of music and drumming. Following is part of our conversation:
Gary: I know you have musical family. What moved you to play the drums?
Hulk: Drumming was always in my blood because of my family line. I started playing drums on pots and pans and my parents bought me a full drum set at 2 because of the interest that I showed. So I started playing when I was 2. I’ve been playing since and haven’t stopped.
Gary: Can you tell me a bit of background about your family?
Hulk: My dad, Moogstar, played with a lot people that you may still know of today. Everyone knows my dad from playing with Cameo. My whole family has played music for a lot of people that you can name. Many movie stars and famous musicians use to pass through our garage/studio when I was a kid. I didn’t know anything about who they were at the time. My uncle, he passed away 3 years before Prince did, he was the keyboard player for Prince. He went by the name Bear (Teddy Clemon). He was known for playing 14 finger chords with 10 fingers! His hand span was so wide. My other uncle, Karl, (Animal) use to be in the band behind The Clark Sisters. They have so much music history it’s crazy. They’re legends to me and I’m following in their footsteps. I feel I have to speak for them and my whole line. They’ve got so much to say. I’m just trying to speak like them and keep the train going on forever.
Gary: Your dad, Moogstar, where did that name come from?
Hulk: My dad, Larry “Moogstar” Clemon got his nickname playing synthesizers for funk and R&B bands such as the Zapp Band and Cameo. My dad is a keyboard master. I wish I could play the keys like him. But so far drumming is what I spend my time on.
Link: MOOGSTAR – NAMM Oral History
Gary: Did you have any formal training?
Hulk: I was able to watch my uncle and my dad play when I was younger but a lot more of my uncle, which is why he always said “my little young whipper snapper always following in my footsteps.” I’d do everything he was doing, of course! (laughs) I wanted to make it to the top just like him. Carry the torch. Yeah, I got to watch both of them play, man. I remember between the church and small music venues that were open to the family and especially being in the studio. They had studios all the time, everywhere. At each house they had a studio. I got to watch them play, watch my dad set the drums up. They would teach me on acoustic and electric kits. I think the first Roland kit. My uncle still has that. But yeah, I’d play to tracks in the studio. They kept my musical mind well rounded. They had me listening to everything from smooth jazz to tribal and funk. Especially funk, that’s their thing. Also gospel, R & B and rock. We’d play everything. We didn’t shun anything. Even if we didn’t know it we’d sit down and learn it because it’s music. If you’re a musician you need to learn everything. That makes you well rounded so you can play with anybody. That’s why I’m on that level to where I can play with anybody. I play all different styles. If I don’t know it I’ll learn it. I’ll look up a couple of people and get their different feels and vibes and after I learn that I come up with my own identity in playing it and there you go.
Gary: Even though you’re well versed in many styles do you have a particular style you prefer?
Hulk: I love playing funk/fusion and I love stuff with crazy odd times.
Gary: As far as your feel, do you play on top, center or behind the beat?
Hulk: I’m more old school, right on the beat. Lock the pocket down. I lock it down and groove hard. I’m known for my foot. Especially laying the foundation down solid. When it comes time for a solo then I’ll go everywhere but still keeping the pulse on that 1. No matter how far I go over the bar line I will come back to that 1. I love to groove and I love to let the music have its way.
Gary: Would you say gospel gave you that solid foundation? Did you play a lot in the church?
Hulk: Definitely gospel because I was raised in the church. The first song I ever played was God Is a Good God when I was 2 years old. That was on the drum set my parents bought for me. They took a video of me and multiple times I went back and watched that video. My mom said I would pout because I was too short to go up and play on the adult drums at the time. All you could hear was the pedal. (laughs) Mostly I’d look and stare at the drums.
Gary: Is your mom also a musician?
Hulk: Yes she is. She’s a singer. On my moms side there’s a lot of singers. On my dads side there’s mainly musicians (players) and I’m blessed to have a part of both. I don’t go out and sing but I can give somebody their note. As far as me singing professionally that’s not something I’ve sat down and mastered. I’ll sing background and I can definitely carry my note.
Gary: So drums are your main instrument?
Hulk: Drums are my main instrument. I do play trombone. I was in the marching band so I still know my trombone. Bass is my second love. I have a 5 string at the house. I can listen and play by ear but I wouldn’t call myself a true bassist. I play for the love of playing for myself. And then for the keys, I know how to make music on the piano but as far as me going out there and playing a gig that’s not going to happen. (laughs) I can go into a studio and listen and figure out the chords. I’ve done a lot of that. A lot of music I’ve made between my dad and my brother. Eventually some of the stuff is going to come out. Hopefully very soon.
Hulk Drummer and Karl “Animal” at NAMM Show:
Gary: That was my next question. Are you working on any of your own music?
Hulk: I working on a CD of my own music but I also write poetry. I’m not a rapper but I know how to speak in rapid form. I was in the studio with my brother and I laid down everything and my brother puts everything into formation as far as timing, 4/4, etc. I lay down everything from the music to the beats. Me and my brother, Marcus, collaborate together. We have some very nice stuff that people have yet to hear. Soon people will hear it.
Gary: I want to ask you about your name, Hulk. Obviously you work out…
Hulk: I grew up, of course, watching cartoons. I was always a fan of all the strong buff characters. I always said, “I want to be like that”. I remember when I was 4 years old and I watched Superman drink that gallon of milk and I tried to do that too, but that didn’t work. (laughs). Eventually I saw the Hulk. I just always loved that character. Then in high school everyone would call me “Hulk”. I was into power lifting. I was lifting 3 times per day. Before school started I’d eat my breakfast and lift before class then I’d lift in the football team and after school bodybuilders. I love lifting weights. I was like, “that’s a good thing, you know.” So, “Hulk Drummer” just came to me one day because I kept hearing it so much. The first thing I did was make an email named “Hulk Drummer.” After that I’ve just been carrying it.
Gary: You still lift, obviously. Do you have a lifting program that you follow?
Hulk: Yep. I go 4 days per week and I take 3 days off because I lift extremely hard and extremely heavy with very high reps. The kind of stuff I do people say is insane and they won’t do it. So I don’t ever have partners.
Gary: Do you find that lifting helps your focus in drumming?
Hulk: Yes it does. I like it because it keeps me calm and focused. It’s also like a reset button. When I lift I don’t think about anything but lifting. I’ll go play drums after that. That’s what I’ll do a lot. After I get done lifting I’ll go play drums, even when I’m sore and in pain, to make my body understand and get used to it, being tight the way I am. In body building you want to be and look tight. Same with music. You want to be tight and in the pocket, laying it down heavy and keeping it strong. All of that goes hand in hand.
Gary: That’s interesting. A long time ago somebody told me that lifting develops your “slow muscles” and with drumming you need “fast muscles”. Well, obviously that was completely false, because in watching you play you have no trouble with you fast muscles!
Hulk: Yep. (laughs) That is completely false. Everything is technique. You can do whatever you want. If you want to be fast you can build a fast technique with drum exercises. Certainly being big didn’t stop Gary Moore. That didn’t stop him from being super fast. He use to be almost 400 lbs before he dropped all that weight. That’s like saying if your overweight or have large build you can’t do anything fast. Gary Moore proved that wrong. Just look at the football players, the line men, running 4.5’s and 4.7’s. In short, you can do whatever you put your mind and body to do. You just have to train your body and mind to do it.
Gary: In drumming, has there been any large hurdles you’ve come up against that you’ve had to fight to get beyond?
Hulk: Of course I’d listen to other drummers growing up especially being around my dad and uncle. I’d try to do all this soloing kind of stuff. My hurdle was learning how to play the music and play it right vs just being noisy and playing all over the place. And I had to learn that through my uncle and my dad. They would pound me with that. They would get on my a**. They would make me feel so bad that I wanted to quit playing drums. It was all constructive criticism though. The way that they did it I’m thankful for because it made me into the drummer I am today. They helped me develop that very strong pocket in my playing. When I was young I didn’t have that. Every time I played they would say, “yeah, you’re a good drummer, you can play but you’re kinda all over the place”. They sometimes made me cry. (laughs) When I’d go visit my uncle Karl, he didn’t play no games! (laughs) That was my hurdle. Getting it down the way they were telling me. Telling me how I should play a shuffle, etc. I’m thinking I knew this stuff but I knew none of it. So I had to go back and learn to be a part of the music. That really expanded my horizon. I started mastering that. The first person who noticed was the keyboard player at my old church, I think in about 2006. I came back from my uncle Karl’s and he said, “man, there’s something different about your playing.” I said, “well, I did go to California and stayed out there for 6 weeks visiting my uncle Karl”. He said, “There’s something different about you.” I said, “I learned a thing called “pocket.” When I came back I played pocket on everything. All that crazy stuff I use to do, I didn’t do all that unless it was called for. You know, my uncle killed me on that when I was out there. Finally they told me, both my uncle and Wally Roker, producer for Tower of Power, because of the way I started to play in the pocket both of them told me, “with the grooves that you’re laying down you can play with anybody you want and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Keep focused and keep that groove strong and you’ll be just fine.” That was an honor for me to hear something like that. And now I’ve been playing with amazing people everywhere.
Gary: That’s great. That’s what counts. It took me a long time to learn not to play all over the place and to play for the music. Who are you playing with now?
Hulk: I’m playing with an artist by the name of Griffin Tucker. He’s from American Idol. He almost won. He’s now 17. I don’t put an age restriction on music. People will be like, “he’s only 17. You’re going to play with him?” I’m like, “Yes. Because he has skills. He’s well rounded in music.” Music doesn’t have an age number at all. Our vibe is strong. We’ve done a lot of shows. I’ve been with Griffin for about 2 years now and I’m loving every moment of it. He’s the main artist I give priority to. There’s a lot of other artists I have played for before. I’ve toured with Andrew Jones for 3 years. He’s a blues artist that use to be with Freddy King and Charlie Musslewhite. I was touring with Guitar Shorty. I’ve played with Lela James, Eta James granddaughter. Tony Cheesebourgh from the Ohio Players. I’ve played with a lot of old school cats because they have all the knowledge that I want to learn. They have the grooves, the music that lasts forever. Like Earth, Wind and Fire. That’s a big band that I really love and they have staying power.
Gary: How old were you when you first played a professional gig?
Hulk: I would say I was 17. It was my first professional gig. I was like, this is different. I’ve played stuff with my high school and school band in Jr. High 7th grade. But then I started playing with musicians out in clubs. Clubs that I wasn’t old enough to be in but the way I carried myself, I didn’t say nothing nor did I care. (laughs)
Gary: Presently, do you give drum lessons?
Hulk: Yes I do. Not as often as before because I’m so busy with my life and music. The number one thing I tell my students is about the pocket. I tell them, “hey, all this stuff is fine and dandy. Paradiddle this. Paradiddle that, but learn how to play the groove and then go back and put the paradiddles and fancy stuff in. Learn the song first.” Then if they build a true interest we start going deeper. Everybody wants to be a drummer but many don’t want to do the hard work. Just like if you want to be a bodybuilder but don’t want to lift any weights.
Gary: Do you still practice a lot?
Hulk: Yeah. I still practice a lot. I keep a drum set at the house and “shed” all the time. (for non-musicians “shed” means to practice intensely)
Gary: What would be a piece of advice, besides keeping it in the pocket, that you would tell a beginning drummer?
Hulk: I would tell them to learn proper form. Holding the sticks properly, sitting in the seat properly, proper foot technique. Then learn your paradiddles. Of course you can play a song without knowing paradiddles but with paradiddles you can speak on the drum set in many different ways that you may never have thought of. Then once you learn the paradiddles you take them home and combine them into paradiddle diddles and all of that. You know, learn all of that. Because every time you see people doing all this crazy stuff all over the drums, all that stuff is paradiddles. That’s all it is. Just slow it down. If you learn how to play paradiddles you will hear that within their playing. They just master paradiddles and know how to move them around. So, learn your form. Learn your paradiddles.
Gary: Are you planning on sticking to a career in drumming or are there other things you want to do?
Hulk: I’m definitely going to keep pursuing a career in drumming. Drumming is who I am. This is the way God made me. This is the gift I was given and I will never stop. I don’t care how old I am. Yes I do have other careers that I love to do that I’m beginning to rank very high in. Between bodybuilding and being a security officer and running my own business. I’m really good with my time like that. But my number 1, what I really love, my true love is music, drums. That will never stop. And I will pass that down to anyone else who is interested. Even if they just want to learn something quick. I’ll pass all the knowledge because the knowledge was given to me to be given to other people, not to be selfish.
Gary: Presently, do you play freelance or do you only play with Griffin Tucker?
Hulk: I play freelance as well. I get calls all the time to play with different artists and different styles. From straight ahead jazz gigs to R & B and rock. I actually want to get more into the music of China. I love their music. And different European music. I’m into everything and in the future would love to be in a band with many different influences.. And I will do that. That’s just what I do. I won’t stop until I get what I want. (laughs)
Gary: Can you relate a musical experience that has opened you up or enlightened you?
Hulk: I’ve learned something from everybody that I play with. I would say the touring life had a big impact on me. Okay, blues. Let’s take that. I was on tour playing that for 3 years. That helped me develop my left hand so strong. All the shuffles. Everything about the blues. That helped me develop, really strongly, all of my skills. I get asked the question, “How do you get your left hand to have that snap?” I say, “man, that happened when I met the blues.” The blues really installed so much into my left hand and into my mind, into my playing, period. It’s taught me so many different styles of grooves. I can’t believe, after all this time, I’ve actually developed this. I was happy to meet the blues!
Gary: Can you elaborate on how that developed your left hand?
Hulk: So, playing the shuffles. You know, da dat, da dat, da dat with my left hand. There’s flat tire shuffles, railroad shuffles, train shuffles. There’s so many different types of shuffles. I learned how to play the majority of these shuffles. There’s still many shuffles I don’t know how to play. Playing that stuff makes you tight. You develop a really strong sense of rhythm. That’s developed my hand so strong. I’ll tell people go play the blues.Get on a blues gig. Listen to this, this right here will help you build your hand, build some of your skills. It’s in the music.
Gary: In your typical shuffle do you keep 4 on the floor?
Hulk: I’ll keep 4 on the floor like that. But sometimes I’ll do a double kick depending on if it’s a fast shuffle. I’ll go around it with my foot. You’ll hear me do paradiddles with my foot to really enliven that groove. Look up on Youtube different styles of shuffles.
Gary: What’s your drum set up.
Hulk: A 5 piece. The brand of drums is Odery custom drums. I’ve been with them for 7 years. All my companies I’ve been with a long time. If I decide to go with them it’s what I actually like. I stay with them.
Gary: What brand of cymbals do you prefer?
Hulk: I play Arborea cymbals. I listened to everything the cymbal had and I decided I wanted to be a part of that company. My favorite ride is the 24” Knight ride. That ride cuts through every style of music.
Gary: Is there anything else you want to tell people about?
Hulk: Well, I have my poetry I’m finishing up and that will be out soon. I’ll be putting that together with live players.
Gary: It’s been a pleasure to talk with you today. I’ll look forward to seeing you soon.