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Nelsen Miller RIP

Posted by akee123 
Nelsen Miller RIP
July 01, 2019 12:56AM
Great drummer.. on many of Spears best albums. Not sure why he discontinued working with Spear. He will be missed.
Re: Nelsen Miller RIP
July 01, 2019 01:09AM

one of the best reggae drummers i ever saw
Rest in Paradise
Re: Nelsen Miller RIP
July 02, 2019 04:23PM
RIP Rock in Powah brethren ... way beyond your historical musical excellence; your humble & compassionate vibez ... Comforts to the family in the wiswize every little ting gunna be alright.
Re: Nelsen Miller RIP
July 03, 2019 06:13PM
Nelson Miller
Nelson Miller’s ideas on drumming are quite typical of the second generation of reggae drummers who actively seek to open up and expand reggae’s untapped rhythmic possibilities. The drummer for Burning Spear’s band was born and raised in the old coastal resort town of Port Antonio, unlike most of his contemporaries who are products of the Kingston ghetto. Yet Miller’s early education and experience with reggae, and drumming in particular, were just as basic and crude as those who lived in the city.

Miller’s view on what makes a good reggae drummer as well as his interest in other forms of music, namely jazz, help to round out his powerful drum style. Along with other up-and-coming reggae drummers such as Style Scott and Barnabas, Nelson Miller envisions reggae riddims more complex, but never to the point where the inherent richness of reggae’s compelling beat is smothered or less important than it is now.

Onstage, Miller’s drum style can be summed up as determined and a bit more aggressive than most other reggae drummers; his recent tour with Burning Spear— in this country and in Europe—accurately reflected his instinctive ability to build interesting and strong foundations. Miller’s drumming did much to keep Spear’s often windy and cumbersome songs in focus.

I saw Miller twice in the last few months: once in Asbury Park, New Jersey, where Burning Spear played to a sold-out audience that included Bruce Springsteen, and another time at the Tuff Gong studio down in Kingston. Both times we talked about drums and the current state of reggae drumming.

RS: In your opinion, how has reggae drumming changed over the years?

NM: Initially, reggae was confined to like direct rim shots with just a few different variations and patterns. But when disco came popular, many reggae drummers began to pick up on that beat. Some kept in mind a reggae mood, but others did not, y’know. Today I think reggae drumming has more complex bass drum patterns and instead of playin’ rim shots all the time, you do a lot of slappin’, just like in funk.

RS: Then the advent of disco has had a rather significant impact on reggae, even though a lot of reggae musicians don’t like to admit it.

NM: Yea, I think so, y’know.

RS: You’ve been playing drums with Burning Spear for a couple of years now. Your drumming style is much more complex than Spear’s mostly roots approach to his music. Does this cause any complications?

NM: Well, I just learn to adapt. If you are a good musician, you can adapt to any style or brand of music.

RS: You once mentioned to me that jazz has had a big influence on the way you play drums. Who in particular do you listen to and what artists have had an impact on your overall style?

NM: For me I like to listen to Weather Report, Return To Forever, Billy Cobham, Steve Gadd—all of these have made a big impression on the way I play drums, y’know. Jazz has always had a pronounced influence on me.

RS: Do a lot of other reggae drummers listen to jazz for inspiration or technique?

NM: No, not really. Not a lot. You see, when I first started to play drums seriously I wanted to come up with a style that was different than all the other drummers in Kingston. I didn’t want to sound like everyone else so I search for new inspirations. That’s when I picked up on jazz.

RS: Most reggae drummers have little or no formal training. Is that true of you as well?

NM: Yes, yes. [laughs] I learned to play drums by watching, y’know. There was a friend of mine who played in a band and I used to watch him until one day I went around to where he was sitting and said, “Y’know, I can play that there ting.”

RS: How did you practice? You didn’t have a drum kit, did you?

NM: No, I didn’t get a drum kit until a long time after that. I built a little pad to practice on. I got a piece of wood and cut a piece of automobile tire to put on it. That’s what I practiced on. I still have that pad today.

RS: What makes for a good reggae drummer?

NM: Well, for one thing, he has to be able to keep a pulse going right through the music. It’s very important for a reggae drummer to keep time properly. A lot of drummers are good technically, y’know, but for the timing they are not there. I concentrate on keeping a steady time and then I worry about coloring the music, y’know? Then I think about playing a certain lick to get a certain feel or coloring. Like right now I’m playing a lot of different bass drum patterns.

RS: In reggae, the relationship between the bass player and the drummer is especially important. How does a reggae drummer go about setting up that relationship?

NM: He tries to have the same groove as the bass player, even before the music starts, so it’s easier to lock in with what he will be playing. You listen to him and concentrate on what he’s playing so the timing is tight. Sometimes I listen to the bass player and I will play something counter to what he’s playing, but it’s always with the same timing. I think that’s where jazz has helped me out, y’know?

RS: The last time we spoke, we were talking about the differences between a rock drummer and a reggae drummer.

NM: Yeah, well the rock drummer tends to do a lot of playing, like busy drumming. Most reggae drummers, especially the older ones, like to keep things simple. Reg gae is different from rock because rock drummers that I hear tend to make a lot of noise. I’m not putting down rock ‘n’ roll, but reggae is message music. As musicians we try to put across a musical and a lyrical message. It’s not just entertainment.

RS: How much of the riddims that you play and that the average Jamaican drummer plays would you say is a direct result of the influence of African drum patterns?

NM: Well, all drums come from Africa. The first drums were built in Africa. Some of the more roots-oriented performers, like Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus, for instance, have a lot of African roots in the riddims. But I think reggae also has a lot of mento roots too [Jamaican folk music] and a bit of calypso. And also jazz and rock.

RS: Once again, jazz drifts into the conversation.

NM: Not just because I listen to jazz, y’know. Before reggae, before rock steady and ska, most Jamaican drummers were jazz drummers. Like in the ’50s before ska came out, Jamaican drummers were playing jazz up on the North Coast, in the hotels and the ballrooms there. And from there, when ska came in, a lot of these drummers brought their jazz influences with them.

RS: It’s no secret that trying to make it as a musician in Kingston is no easy task. The competition and the limited number of gigs, both live and in the studio, put a lot of pressure on musicians to excel. Is it better, you think, to be a member of a permanent recording band or a free-lance session drummer?

NM: Well, if you’re going to be on tour most of the time out of the country, you can make some money and get some recognition. If you know the right people you can get on recording dates and make some money, but you hardly get any recognition. Sly [Dunbar] was one of the first drummers in reggae to become a star. Maybe now other drummers will get some attention, y’know?

But I say... Some Never Even Plant yet want to Reap,
If you run, be careful, try to look before you leap;
Took a little walk from my Vineyard...
Now I'm on my own
Now I'm left alone..
Re: Nelsen Miller RIP
July 04, 2019 02:46AM
Anyone heard a public statement from Spear yet?
Re: Nelsen Miller RIP
July 12, 2019 08:39PM
One of the very best! RIP
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