Jeff Randall is a professional drummer living in Nashville, Tn. He’s toured with artists ranging from Phillip Phillips to Love & Theft. When not on the road, Jeff stays busy with local gigs, teaching, and creating drum lessons and grooves for his popular YouTube and Instagram channels. Jeff’s “deep pocket” groove, professional attitude and strong work ethic keep his gig calendar full.
Gary: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. I know you’re busy and being a working drummer in Nashville is no easy gig! So I’ll get right to it and start from the beginning. Can you tell me how you got started playing the drums? How old were you and what inspired you to play the drums?
Performing with Love & Theft in Cleveland Ohio on August 6th, 2016. The first clip captures only a portion of the solo and was shot using an iPhone. The second clip captures the full length solo and was shot using a GoPro Hero 3+:
Jeff: I think I was 11 or 12 around 4th grade which in when, in public school, at least in Atlanta, they had you choose what instrument you want to play in band. I wanted to play drums but they had so many people who wanted to play drums that they forced me to play trumpet as my second choice. So from that point on I played trumpet in school and I started to play drums at home. I would arrange items in my room in a drum set fashion kind of like that stereotype of kids banging on pots and pans. It was literally that. That was late elementary school. I started to really get into it heavy in middle school. That’s when I started actually playing on a kit.
Gary: Were your parents supportive? Did they buy you a drum kit?
Jeff: Yes. I got my first drum set as a Christmas gift from my folks. They were always supportive. I was blessed to have a basement that faced into the woods so I didn’t bug anybody. That’s was just ideal.
Gary: You moved on from there playing in high school bands. What was your favorite music to play at that point?
Jeff: Well I started to play in church, which is where most of my friends were. That was kind of my social outlet at the time. So, my favorite music was worship music, contemporary Christian. Also, at the time, there were a lot of punk bands that were Christian punk bands. So I’d play in church with my friends. I was also in a band with my buddies, this little trio, we were called Finder. We we played a bunch of that Christian punk style of music. Music by bands like Reliant K and Five Iron Frenzy. There were so many bands in the genre. We played their music and wrote some of our own. It was terrible. (laughs)
JEFF WITH PHILLIP PHILLIPS:
Gary: So you kept playing through high school. Then what happened when you graduated high school? Were you on a path to make a career in music at that point or still not sure?
Jeff: Well, I was fortunate enough to have an accomplished percussionist band director in high school. He had done a bunch of drum corps, heavy duty drum corps. He played in some really good lines. He took an interest in me. He saw that I was really into it and seemed to have a natural talent for drumming. He recommended that I audition for the University of North Texas. He was still in touch with a couple of people out there. So he helped me prepare for the audition. Because, you know, if you audition for UNT you have to play snare solos, timpani solos, marimba solos and you do all the drum set stuff. He was kind enough to help me. So, with his help, I auditioned and got into UNT. So that pushed me in the trajectory of playing music for a living.
Gary: That’s great. At UNT you studied drumming and general music?
Jeff: In college I was a jazz studies major. That’s on the performance degree end. I didn’t play in a marching band. Mostly you’re taking with lessons Ed Soph, the drum set instructor there. I’d also take some supplemental lessons on vibraphone, marimba, timpani. Also some basic core credits. But for the most part you play in all the lab bands. Big band and jazz band.
Gary: At that point did you start getting into jazz?
Jeff: Yeah. As much as I could. I was surrounded by these people that had been playing jazz for years. I also kind of went there because it was recommended to me by my band director. I wasn’t a “jazz head” at all. So I got into it a bit. I was doing a ton of jazz gigs. I was good at playing it but I never really took to getting super into it. But it’s something that I really appreciate to this day. I like jazz vocabulary. I really like rock musicians from the 60’s and the 70’s because they were basically jazz musicians and I like that vibe. But that’s a long winded answer in saying, yes, I like jazz but it’s not my favorite genre. (laughs)
STAYING IN THE POCKET WHILE SOLOING:
Gary: I love your “feel” and I can tell some the the jazz swing and improv style runs through. I’ve watched a lot of your videos and your groove is incredible. It’s open and easy and feels good. I’m sure some of that has to do with your jazz training.
Jeff: I appreciate that. Yeah, I think so. A lot of what Ed would teach was about touch and dynamics. I’ve moved further from that as I’ve lost touch in playing jazz but yeah, that sticks with me. That type of touch and feel.
Gary: And so you graduated with a performance degree in music?
Jeff: Yes. A performance degree called jazz studies.
Gary: So after that you decided to start pursuing things professionally or did it just go that direction organically?
FACING YOUR FEARS ON THE DRUMS:
Jeff: Going to school with all these musicians you start to gig naturally. UNT is about an hour north of Dallas. So I started to do all of these top 40 gigs, wedding gigs, jazz cocktail bars and original stuff too. And I would be in the DFW (Dallas/Ft. Worth) area so I’d do church gigs there. All that kind of stuff. So I stayed out in Dallas, after graduating, for a number of years. Around 5 to 8 years. I was playing music full time in Dallas just from having naturally networked from going to school.
Gary: May I ask how old are you now?
Jeff: I’m 33 now.
Gary: When did you decide to move to Nashville and base yourself there?
Jeff: I was getting burnt out doing what I was doing in Dallas. I was deciding between New York, Los Angeles or Nashville. A lot of my friends were moving on and going to those cities. So I made the decision to move Nashville because I’m from Atlanta so I was familiar with the South East and it’s really my style. So about 7 years ago now I moved to Nashville and I’ve been here ever since.
Gary: When you moved to Nashville did you have a gig lined up or did you just move there cold figuring you would make connections?
Jeff: Totally cold. I had a friend who was already out here who had a friend who had an available space in his townhouse. For $50/month I could stay with this guy. And so I had a bit of savings and I just decided to go for it. With the few friends I had I started to network a bit and go out and meet people.
Gary: So now you’re a pro drummer and you earn a living totally through drumming and music?
Jeff: Yeah. I mean in Dallas I was full time for years and booked up. So when I first moved to Nashville I got some part time work. I worked at a car wash for a few weeks. I worked at a drumstick factory. Innovative Percussion has a drumstick factory out here and I worked there in the factory making mallets and drumsticks. Then I finally got a part time gig at Apple and worked part time at the Apple store while I was doing all my gigs. It wasn’t until I started to post a lot on the internet and begun to gain some traction online that I was able to pick up a touring gig with a country band called Love and Theft. I was able to then leave my job at Apple and go full time and just play with Love and Theft for about a year. Then eventually moving on and playing with Phillip Phillips when I got a call from him. I’ve been playing with Phillip for a couple of years now.
Gary: Were you playing country before that? Was that a different transition compared to what you were playing before?
Jeff: It was different. When I moved to Nashville that’s when I first started playing top 40 country. I played a bit on Broadway but not too much. My main focus was making videos for the internet because I thought that was going to be the best approach to landing bigger gigs. And so, what’s funny is I went straight to Love and Theft from there, which was my first big country gig, then I play with Phillip. And now that Phillip is in the process of writing a new record I have a lot more time in Nashville. So now I’ve been playing a lot of Broadway to have some work in the interim. Now I’m playing more country than ever! Which is pretty cool.
Gary: It sounds like cutting your teeth in Dallas and playing a wide variety of different gigs certainly helped out your flexibility as a working drummer. As a working drummer what would you say is one of your greatest assets for landing a gig?
Jeff: Man, you know that’s a funny question. It’s hard to think of ourselves objectively. What is my “n” factor? I think I would say that I’m pretty good at emulating whatever feel is happening on a record. Like, I can really hear it. When I’m listening to music I’m always listening to the drums. I’m able to really feel what that drummer’s doing. Not just what he’s playing but how he or she is playing it. So I think when I play with groups they get a deeper pocket, a deeper groove than they would with someone who is less experienced. I think that is kind of my “n” factor. That’s what I’ve always tried to do.
Gary: Would you say your timing comes into play on that? Do you use a metronome during gigs?
Jeff: Well, it depends on the gig if I play with a click or not. With Phillip, that’s 100% live. No click. No backing tracks. It’s in the moment and spontaneous. Phillip likes improvisation. But when I played with Love and Theft there were tracks I was queuing. I was playing to a click and also to loops. So, yes, time is definitely huge for me. I’ve always practiced with a metronome. Not just time. I think a lot of drummers have good time but don’t have good feel. They are two different things. So, I would say that my time plus my feel. In the end, on top or behind the beat? I’d say I play a bit behind the beat. But you know, if I’m playing for funk stuff I’ll try and play more on top. It depends on the gig.
Gary: I’m sure you’ve done a lot of studio work. Are you more comfortable playing in the studio or live?
Jeff: I’m much more comfortable gigging as that’s what I’ve done for the longest time. At this point I’ve done quite a few sessions but they’re still kind of pressure cookers. You know, you have a limited amount of time, you’re really thinking on your feet and then you have to go lay down a great take. It’s definitely more challenging. There’s an energy when you play live that’s much different compared to the studio. So I find the studio really fun but very challenging. It’s something I’m becoming more comfortable with as I do it more. I’ve played a few times at Blackbird and studios like that and you know the kind of players that have played there before. The engineers that are working there have heard all these great musicians, it’s quite a pressure.
HOW TO SOLO WITH TRIPLETS:
Gary: I know you teach drums and you’ve been playing pro for quite awhile now. Can you give any tips to drummers who want to become pro and make a living?
Jeff: Well, okay, so I think there’s two things there. You have to be able to play drums well and the other side of that is you have to be a good person to work with. You also have to be good financially. There’s the artistic side and then there’s the professional side. So, I’d say, as far as being good drummer, I have all of my students play with loops. I really emphasize the importance of playing with drum loops, not just a metronome. Because a loop teaches you to lock into a lope, to lock into a feel, where as you can kind of drift with a click. If you drift with a loop it’s going to clash. You’re going to feel a clash. So I really emphasize practicing to loops. And then, on being a professional side, I always recommend to my students to play as much as they can with people that are better than them and to never stop gigging. If all you’re doing is playing drums by yourself you’re going to get really rusty. You have to keep gigging, staying loose. Playing those 3 hour gigs where everything starts to feel good about an hour and a half in. Ideally you’re playing with people better than you.
Gary: Great advice. And playing with people better than you brings up your level of playing.
How many students do you have? Does that change when you’re on the road?
Jeff: I do house calls right now. Unfortunately my studio space is in a storage facility and has been for years. Many of the videos you see of me are in this storage facility that’s down the street from me. I live in an apartment so it’s a great option. So, until I have a studio space, which is definitely on my “to do” list, I’ll go do house calls here and there but generally my students are online. They’re watching my videos.
Gary: For the very beginning drummer, knowing nothing, what would you first teach them?
Jeff: I would never start them on the rudiments or something granular like that. I’ve made that mistake in the past and it’s totally turned someone off. I would start them with a song they like. I would let them take the lead a bit. If they want to work on a rudiment that’s fine but I think most people, when they pick up an instrument, have a song in mind, a band in mind. I would just try to inspire them and instill the fact that the drums are a fun instrument. I’d do that over the first few lessons. After that we can get granular, as the lessons go on. I’ve seen a lot of teachers just totally deflate beginners by showing them these crazy aspects of drumming. They should start by just playing some music.
Gary: Yeah. That’s funny. That happened to me in grammar school. That turned me off of drums for a bit. My instructor tried to force me to practice rudiments on a pad and that sucked all the fun out of it.
Jeff: Right. (laughs) I don’t know why we think that’s the approach. That made me think, I had this girl come in, years ago, back in Dallas, and I sat her down at a pad and I knew at the end of the lesson she was never going to come back. I wasn’t sure if she would even keep playing drums! I showed her some paradiddles and it defeated her. All she wanted to do, I think, was to play some kind of an AC/DC song or something.
Gary: With your online lessons do people have the capability to join a subscription?
THE ROCK GROOVE YOU MUST KNOW:
Jeff: Yeah. I do the YouTube thing. I do have a patreon page where I put all the feed transcriptions and practice loops associated with my lessons. So you can support me on patreon but it’s all free. On my bucket list is having my own studio, my own website like Mike Johnson and others. Right now I’m happy with YouTube and Instagram.
Gary: Well I really appreciated your YouTube videos. Not only your drum lesson videos but your “how to” and “tips” videos as well. I really enjoyed your recording tips video because I’m just starting out figuring out how to record my drums and set up a simple home studio. Also, the 10 Essential Stick Bag Items was a great one.
10 THINGS TO HAVE IN YOUR STICK BAG:
Jeff: What helped you the most in the recording tips video? (SEE VIDEO HERE)
Gary: For me, your video broke it down and made it feel simple. I’ve watched other “how to” videos and they were so complex that by the time the video ended I was overwhelmed. Your video laid it out very simply. You showed how one can do a nice recording with a couple of mics and a small budget.
Currently now, who are you playing with? Freelance?
Jeff: My main gig is with Phillip Phillips. I’ll play one off with Phillip, go off on tour with him. As I mentioned earlier, he is in the midst of writing a new record so things won’t ramp up with him until that record comes out, probably early next year. In the meantime I play regularly with a band called Jet Black and the Cadillacs. We play at the Tin Roof Bar off of Demonbreun in Nashville on Friday nights and the Tin Roof Bar off of Broadway on Saturday night. We play every week so that’s kind of my local gig that’s keeping me busy.
Gary: Any upcoming projects that you want to talk about?
Jeff: Yeah, I’d just ask people to check out and subscribe to my YouTube channel. I’ve been prepping some new things. I have a new take on drum lessons that I’ve been prepping for a few months now. I’m gearing up to start releasing it soon. I believe it will fill a void as far as drum education content on YouTube goes.
Gary: That will be great. Your drumming is amazing and I’m sure you have a lot of knowledge to impart. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. I will keep an eye on your Instagram and YouTube.
As you can see from the above videos Jeff’s lesson videos are fantastic. His teaching style is very easy to understand and grasp. Jeff helps to instill confidence with his straight forward and honest approach to teaching. I’ve already learned a ton from watching his video’s.