Ronald “Dardenboy” Darden has been playing drums just over 20 years. Currently living in the Bay Area, he plays for a number of bands and also fills in when called. Ronald Darden is what I’d consider a pocket drummer. He learned to play in the church and you can tell that by listening to his solid funky groove. He’s a drummer forging out a musical career by hard work and perseverance. Kimball Hooker, Will Roc and ColdSol are 3 of his present projects. He also has many side projects and fill in gigs including Remembering James Brown, an awesome James Brown review stage play.
Gary: How old were you when you started playing drums? What is your background?
Ron: Oh man, I started really taking an interest in drums when I was about 7 or 8 years old. I’ve been a church drummer from when I was young and just kind of grew from there. I have musical family background.
“My mother would say, “get up and let somebody else play if you’re not going to”. So now when I play drums I play like it’s my last time every time I sit down behind the kit.”
I started to get it “right” around 12 or 13 years old. My mother, she really instilled a hard work ethic in me. She told me not to just hit the drums but to really play them, don’t mess around. She would say, “get up and let somebody else play if you’re not going to”. So now when I play drums I play like it’s my last time every time I sit down behind the kit.
Gary: You really honor the music that way. That’s great. Is there a reason why you chose the drums over any other instrument?
Clip of Dardenboy with Remembering James Brown
Ron: I started off on the guitar. My uncle’s played the guitar. I grew up in the same church that Chris Coleman played drums at. My grandfather was his grandfather’s assistant pastor. So you know, we grew up together. I came to church one day and I see Chris Coleman on the drums and I was just like, “What is he doing up there? What in the world is he doing or what is he trying to do?” I sat back and watched him. I was just amazed. He is an amazing drummer and watching him back then I didn’t quite understand but I could tell there was something going on that was phenomenal with his playing. We were both probably around five or six years old and he’s holding a whole church service down by himself. You know like, that blew my mind! I said to myself, “I want to do that.” That week my guitar strings popped and I picked up drumsticks and never put them down.
“Honestly I didn’t get drums until I was older so I usually just got out my moms pots and pans and some of my dad’s tool boxes and set them up and I just started banging away on them.”
Gary: Did your family buy you drums or mind the noise of the drums?
Ron: Honestly, I didn’t get drums until I was older so I usually just got out my moms pots and pans and some of my dad’s tool boxes and set them up and started banging away on them.
Gary: Have you had any lessons or formal training in drums?
“Chris Coleman said, “I never play for competition. I play because I love to play”. That really blew my mind because I had never heard a kid talk like that.”
Ron: No not with drums. With drums, I just kind of just watched everybody play and started picking up things here and there and emulating people. Since I was in the church with Chris Coleman I watched Chris. One year we were at our vacation bible school and Chris was sitting on the drums just playing and I’m looking like, wow, can you teach me something? He said, “I never play for competition I play because I love to play”. That’s always stuck with me since I was a kid all the way till now. That really blew my mind because I had never heard a kid talk like that.
Gary: From watching you play I see you have a real solid groove. What’s your favorite type of music to play?
Ron: Funk with a little bit of rock. My number one love would probably be Gospel. I grew up playing that so I’ve got to give love to that. That’s where my roots are.
Gary: Do you think playing gospel gave you a sense of groove and timing?
“Many situations don’t call for a bunch of “razzle dazzle” and rolls. It’s called accompaniment. You have to be mindful of what kind of setting you’re in.”
Ron: Oh yeah. That established my “pocket” as they say. I was told, growing up, forget about all that flash, find your pocket, get in there and stay in there. Hit it hard and in the pocket then all the right stuff will come. That’s another thing that really stuck with me through the years and I began to develop that. My pocket is nice and established and I enjoy being in the pocket.
Gary: Playing gospel has helped develop your pocket. Are there other practices that help your “pocket”?
Ron: I would say listening, counting and really paying attention to your musical situation. Many situations don’t call for a bunch of “razzle dazzle” and rolls. It’s called accompaniment. You have to be mindful of what kind of setting you’re in.
For me I listen to what people were saying, sometimes they would say “hold off on the rolls and find the groove.” So every time I played I would do that. I’d just find the groove and sit there in it. That keeps me working and the calls coming in.
Gary: Do you ever use a metronome?
Ron: I use a click track or an MP3. That helps my timing a lot, playing to an MP3 or even an album. Play to your favorite song will help your timing. If I can say anything I would say learn your counting and count while you’re playing. This is very, very important.
Gary: You will count your 8ths and 16ths so you know where the subdivisions are?
Ron: Exactly. And learn your time signatures so you can be spot on and count it out.
Gary: Any other recommendations for a beginning drummer to start?
Ron: First I would say, don’t worry about what anybody says. Don’t worry about what you can’t do because in time you will develop all of that. Practice, practice, practice! That’s all I can say is practice.
Gary: Do you still do a lot of practicing?
Ron: I have a practice pad that I use often. Normally I get my practice pad out and work on my rudiments. Also, I’ll put on a song and just go at it. I’ll play whatever I feel. I just try to keep loose. Keep those muscles loose. I’ve learned that muscle retention plays a big part in playing drums. If you don’t play you won’t lose it but I’ll be hard for you to get back into it.
Gary: Which rudiments do you like to work on?
Ron: Usually I’m working on my single stroke,double stroke and paradiddles. Then I’ll throw in some more abstract stuff, just hit the pad and play whatever sounds good.
Gary: How hard is it to be a to pursue a career as a pro drummer?
Ron: To be honest it’s hard, very hard. I think much of it is being in the right place at the right time. Getting in front of the right people. It can be all about who you know and who you play for. I tell my son, “if this is your passion and this is what you want to do then by all means handle it. But be smart about the situation. If you see it’s not taking off then you’ve got to have your contingency plan in effect.” But I would never tell anybody to stop doing what they’re doing. If drumming is your passion then go for it. I’ve had people tell me “oh you’re not going to get anywhere playing drums, that’s not what you’re supposed to be doing” And I tell them, “just look at what I’m doing now”. The progress that I’ve made has been good.
Gary: How many bands do you play in?
Ron: Currently I play in 3 bands. The Cold Sol Band, R&B artist Kimball Hooker out of San Jose and Will Roc. Sometimes I sit in with Bridget Marie and the Soldiers of Love, a SADE tribute band. Also I play with this theatrical play called Remembering James Brown. We have a show coming up Thursday at the Box Theater in San Francisco. We’re about to go on tour this summer going from Tahoe to LA and we plan to go national sometime next year.
Gary: Anything else you want to add?
Ron: I want to give a shout out to KickStrap for giving me my first practical endorsement. I get asked all the time on the gig, “Where is your rug? You don’t have a rug?” and say “No man, I got Kick Straps”
And love to my family and God for blessing me with this talent.
Ronald “Dardenboy” Darden’s Drum Set Up:
My setup includes 24” Kick, 10 12 16 Toms. I play Domain cymbals 16 18 19 Crashes and 10in fx. Splash and 20in Ride.