Learning by Example: Larrie Londin

Larrie Londin “stick charts”
to songs from Fosterchild’s first album (1977)
Scan provided by Gerry Wand

Drummer Gerry Wand has previously written of how his music career commenced in Western Canada, including playing with legendary artists Billy Cowsill and John Witmer, among others and, after joining the band Fosterchild, being part of the backup band for Chuck Berry. He’s also written about a memorable “staredown” encounter with a moody Mitch Ryder.

Fosterchild was a band considered to have great promise, having been signed to Columbia Records for two albums, and later releasing a third, on Edmonton-based Vera Cruz Records.

Since he first sent me a comment on John Witmer–a lengthy comment which I turned into an article, with Gerry’s consent–I have encouraged Gerry to consider writing more about his music career; he has done so. I find that he writes well, and that his perceptions of places and times add to an appreciation of music history generally, and to an appreciation of Canadian music history in particular. I am grateful that he takes the time to write, in circumstances where so many others with histories as professional musicians either do not, or cannot.

Here Gerry writes about learning much about musicianship and character from famous session drummer Larrie Londin. Londin was contracted to play drums on Fosterchild’s first album, while Gerry Wand, a who had recently joined the band as its drummer, ended up with a number of important learning experiences.

In 1977, there was no Google or Facebook. A person couldn’t just type in a name and find out almost everything you needed to know about someone. You either had to meet someone directly, in person, or cross paths with someone who did, and share stories. Or just hear rumours about them, and wonder if they were true or not.

I don’t know of any other drummer who can honestly say that he spent almost two weeks in the same room watching, learning and listening to one of Elvis Presley’s drummers. That was me, listening to and learning much from the late, great Larrie Londin.

Scan of Larrie Londin photo
provided by Gerry Wand

Larrie Londin was one of the most recorded drummers in music history. I had the honor and privilege of spending about ten days with him in Little Mountain Sound Studios in Vancouver B.C.

It was 1977, and I had just joined Canadian band Fosterchild, about two months before they were going into the studio to record the first album. Larrie, who I was told was the house studio drummer for CBS Records at the time, was pre-booked to do the session. He had just played on Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch”. Larrie later played on Steve Perry’s 1984 solo album, Street Talk, and was then asked to record with Journey. He played on their 1986 album, Raised on Radio.

Bob Gallo, our producer, raved about him to me. Told me who he was, all of the great things that he had done, and all of the fantastic people whom he played with, and so on. Other than that, I had never heard of him before.

To the producers, Bob Gallo and Don Lorusso, I was like a Triple A ball player who needed a little more time. Larrie was going to be my Hank Aaron, my hitting coach, and someone I quickly looked up to.

When I first walked down to the studio from the hotel, he was there before anyone else, setting up his drums and chatting it up with Bob Gallo about the game plan. He knew what his job was. We were a bunch of young talented guys in a band who needed direction. His job was to help to set that direction and, given his own vast experience, to contribute to establishing a sound for the band.

Larrie had only a small degree of familiarity with the songs we intended to record. Rough versions had been sent to him in Nashville, a couple of weeks before.

I can honestly say that I was a little anxious about the fact the rest of the band was recording, and I wasn’t. Larrie was quite friendly to me when I was introduced to him, but he knew.

Bob Gallo was encouraging—and, as it turned out, quite wise. “This will be good for you,” he would say. “Just listen to Larrie. Not too many people get this chance. He played with Elvis, you know.”

“I know, you’ve told me a hundred times,” I said.

He went about his job very professionally, and he was a ringer; no doubt about it. After he set up, did a sound check and a quick going over of the song, which included a stick chart for reference, he then laid down the drum track for “Hero Of The West”:

He could get it down in one take. For him, every song was one take, and one song per day. He prepped himself and put all of his energy into that one take when it was time to roll. So, that’s one thing that I learned from Larrie Londin on my first day. “Play it as if it was going to be the last song you’ll ever play,” he said.

Either Jim Foster or Vern Wills, whoever had written the song, would play it for Larrie privately, in a quiet corner of the studio, and then Larrie would make these stick charts up. They would then be taped to his bass drum, so he could follow them as a guideline, if need be.

He called them Nashville Stick Charts. He started using them during his time with while he was with Chet Atkins. He told me that a lot of the studio guys in Nashville at that time couldn’t read traditional music charts that well back then, so they developed these. It was all about feel for them though, and the stick charts were just a guideline.

He also told me of a show he did with Chet Atkins in London, England, when they were backed by some members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. I guess they got a kick out of the crazy stick charts. You can see from the one I have included here that he added a few musical notes here and there, so he must have learned to read some later on. Lots of musicians, including me, could never understand the charts, though a lot of Nashville drummers could. I think it’s something that they got use to doing and stuck with it, since it worked for them.

You will note from the stationery that he was also a (misspelled) Playboy Club member.

I spent most of my days in the control booth with the producers and engineers, just taking it all in. There was a thundering rolling drum intro into the first chorus of the the song “Until We Meet Again” which I still consider to this day to be a drum masterpiece. It is short, subtle and powerful, all at the same time. It shook the room, and everyone in it, watching him play it. Lots of “Holy Jesus what was that!” going on in the control room by the sometimes overly emotional Bob Gallo and sidekick Don Lorusso. All I could think of was “Holy crap, I have to play that roll live!”

Also in the control booth, taking it all in with me, was Bob Rock. At the time, he was an apprentice engineer at Little Mountain. In time became one of the most in demand record producers in the industry. He produced Metallica, Bon Jovi and Aerosmith, among others.

One important and thoughtful gesture by Larrie Londin stays with me today. At the end of about two weeks, the session was over for Larrie, and he was about to leave for home in Nashville. He had a drum shop down there, that his family looked after while he was away. Bob Rock and I were in another studio in the same building, just recording drums and experimenting with different sounds and tunings, and so on.

To my surprise, the door to the studio opens and in walks Larrie Londin.

He comes over to me and says, “Listen, I know that it was probably hard for you to have me here on your turf, but it’s not the first time I’ve done this. This band needed a direction and I was hired to do just that, give it a direction. I’ve helped to develop the sound and help set the pace for you to follow. I’ve watched you play here a few times over the course of the sessions, and can see that you can play; you have great chops.”

That felt good!

He had some further advice: “With this band, you need to play simple, keep it steady. and don’t cover up the vocals with too many drum fills. These guys can sing, and you want to show that off.”

He showed me some little tuning techniques to remove drum overtones, which involved the use of duct tape, as a matter of fact, and went on into the control booth and talked with Bob for awhile, as I continued to play on.

He came back out after a few minutes, shook my hand and said “See y’all later”. And then the big man left; Larrie had left the buiding

Bob Rock waved for me to come up into the booth. I guess Larrie showed him a few tricks about recording drums too, because what we played back sounded huge. Nothing like what we had recorded, prior to Larrie Londin dropping by.

If there is one thing that I’ve learned from the likes of Larrie Londin, John Witmer and Bill Cowsill is “make a difference, make this count, right now”. I’m not sure if they realized it in life or not, but they made a difference, they made it count, right then, and people learned from it.

At least I did.


About brucelarochelle

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1 Response to Learning by Example: Larrie Londin

  1. Benjamin says:

    Oh man, I love Larrie Londin. He was a total pro and had impeccable instincts about what a song needed, in order to work. He was a sublime example of what a studio drummer should be. He understood the role of the drummer as the supporter, illuminator and, to some extent, the leader of the rest of the band.

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