Ralph Salmins - Drums

Running through Salmins’ working CV is akin to dropping in on a who’s who of contemporary music: Bacharach, Elton John, Madonna as well as a raft of jazz greats including Hank Crawford, Herb Ellis and James Moody – the list goes on. Salmins says: “I’ve always been into a wide variety of music and I thrive off a challenge.”

Salmins’ musical education started early. “I was playing the violin at school when I was five, which was great fun. Sadly, not long after I’d started my teacher left and I turned to learning the piano until I finally took up the drums when I was 12.”

Salmins laughs as he remembers his first drum kit. “My parents bought me a Maxwin snare drum with a little arm and a splash cymbal. It had a sort of red textured finish, reminiscent of the flock wall paper found in Indian restaurants. Then when they realised that I was enjoying the drums, they bought me a whole set – same make and finish. I had a 22”, a 16” and a 12”, one cymbal and a tiny set of Krut hi-hats. When I was 14 I joined the Ernest Read Youth Orchestra and played in a rehearsal big band which was when my parents bought me a new Rogers kit. It was the nicest looking and sounding kit we could afford and it seemed solid... which the Maxwin certainly wasn’t.”

“Who was I listening to? I started off listening to Count Basie and it was Sonny Payne who really influenced me in that style. Also Buddy Rich of course, who I saw many times at Ronnie’s. But it was Steve Gadd who really turned my world around, working on all those funky things with Quincy Jones and Grover Washington.”

It wasn’t long before Salmins was once again upgrading his kit. “Listening to Steve Gadd made me want to get a kit with a really contemporary sound. So I bought a Yamaha 9000 series Recording Kit just like Gadd’s, with hanging floor toms. Then when I was in my mid-twenties, I bought a beautiful Gretsch bop set from Brian Abrahams, a 16”, a 12”, a 13” and a 14” in Cherry Wood. As soon as I heard it, I immediately fell in love with it and that’s when my love affair with Gretsch began.”

Salmins subsequently sold this kit, but has since had various sets ranging from a 1938 Broadkaster set that he used in the show Crazy For You, to a number of 1960s round badge sets of various sizes and 1970s sets of all sizes. “And I’m now proud to be a Gretsch endorser,” he says.

“I’m playing the new USA Series drums and I love them. I have a studio set which comprises a 22”, a 10”, a 12”, a 13” and 15”. Then I have a gig set: a 20”,

a 10”, a 12”, a 15” and a 16” and I also have a bop set with an 18”, a 12” and a 14”. They are all in white marine pearl and sound absolutely stunning.”

For cymbals Salmins struck up a relationship with Sabian (he’s an endorsee of the brand) when he was working with Everything But The Girl circa 1989 and has been playing Sabian ever since. “I owned some wonderful old Sabians that had a hand-hammered texture and sounded retro and esoteric, which I loved, so to endorse these cymbals was a natural choice. I use a range of cymbals, depending on the musical situation. For studio work I use a 21” Groove Ride or a 21” Vintage Ride alongside a 22” Artisan Light Ride. I have 14” HHX Stage Hats or Vault Hats, and an 18” HHX Crash or an 18” Legacy Crash. For jazz and big band, I use either 14” Legacy Hats or 14” Artisan Hats, a 21” Legacy Ride, a 21” Fierce Ride and 20” plus 22” Artisan light and Medium Rides. I’m also using HHX Chinese cymbals, a crasher and Jack DeJohnette bells. I’m looking forward to trying one of Jack’s new 3 point rides, which I know is going to blow me away!”

When it comes to sticks and brushes, it’s Vic Firth all the way. “They are simply the best,” says Salmins. “I have been using some models that have changed my sound completely. The AJ6, which has a very small tip, is great for small group jazz. Also the AJ3 is a great all-round stick with a very clean stick definition. I also use the Steve Gadd model and the Weckl Evolutions, which are great for pop and studio. For brushes, I use the Heritage – they’re phenomenal – and I’m using the Steve Smith Tala Wands a lot, and they sound gorgeous.”

Salmins is quick to remind me that muffling and tuning are vital when it comes to head choice. “I use Remo Ambassador coated heads all round except on my floor toms, which have coated Emperors on top for fatness. Using muffling, I can get any sound from wide-open jazz to very dry 1970s funky. Underside I have clear Ambassadors. On the bass drums I have Powerstroke 3s either clear (studio) or coated. Snare drums are very important, and I’m using a variety of drums, generally with a coated Ambassador on top.”

Salmins uses Hardcase cases for the drums when he’s touring, because, as he says: “They’re incredibly rugged and will protect the drums in transit.” For one-off gigs he uses Protection Racket cases. “They protect the drums and the inside of my car. They are very practical and hardwearing and, most importantly, they’re funky.”

Interview - David Gallant

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