Library #1: ‘Drums In The ‘Twenties’ : The Dodds Interview

‘Drums In The ‘Twenties’

Transcript of Warren ‘Baby’ Dodds
interviewed by Frederic Ramsey Jr. for Folkways Records in 1946

Baby Dodds c.1946

BABY DODDS: “…I should say, I’ve been through – actually from drum pad… to solos.  Now that’s all the way, that takes every bit of it. From drum pad is where you start; no drum, no bass drum at all, just a pad, no snare drum.  Sticks… and pad…  from that to drums, from drums to street drums, from street drums to orchestra work, from orchestra work to pit work, from pit work to concert work, from concert work to show work, from show work to…”

FREDERIC RAMSEY JR. “…Now.  Concert work, what does that mean?”

DODDS: “Well, concert work is similar to classics.

RAMSEY: “You’ve been in bands where they played classics?”

DODDS: “Exactly, in the pit. Just like any other big shows going on.”

VOICE: “Was that New Orleans or Chicago?”

DODDS: “Oh no, that was never New Orleans. Nobody’s pit there. That was in Chicago.”

RAMSEY: “But you did use this setup, you used the –“

DODDS: “-Same setup, same setup.”


RAMSEY: “…And what Bunk [Johnson] is doing now, is something entirely…”

DODDS: “…Well I‘ll say it now, what Bunk is doing, he’s only coming back… of things that  – his style’s all got different now… because I played with him long ago.”

RAMSEY: “He also changed…?”

DODDS: “He’s changed. Had to change!”

RAMSEY: “Naturally…”

DODDS: “Well Bunk used to play a blues style, that anything he played was blueish. He’d play it – everything practically – at a slow tempo. Now he can’t play slow. Of course, several reasons: he’s trying to compete with what they’re doing today. And it makes him not the man that he was in those days. And to play slow music on a horn you’ve got to have plenty of wind.”

RAMSEY: “Louis [Armstrong] can still do it…”

DODDS: “Oh Louis can still do it.”

RAMSEY: “Now the only thing is, we want to do some sides, in which one of the things I wanted to do is – more or less – historical sides. That is, to create a feeling that you had during, let’s say, the Louis days. If possible. If not, let’s forget it. Just if it’s possible to try and bring back that beat, the rhythm, what they were trying to do, what they were trying to accomplish-“

VOICE: “Something like the work with either the [King] Oliver band or the [Louis Armstrong] Hot Seven.”

DODDS: “Well, now, the Oliver band, I’ll tell you. I actually used the same press roll, as they call it nowadays, and two beats to the measure. I didn’t use four. Only on slow numbers. Slow numbers, I used four. But for any number that’s past real blues-time, I used two.”

[Record excerpt – King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band: Jazzin’ Babies Blues (1923)]

DODDS: “That’s the difference… With Louis, no matter how fast you play, Louis wanted four.

[Record excerpt –Louis Armstrong’s Hot Seven: Wild Man Blues(1927)]

DODDS: “- Four beats to the bass drum, kept filling in the time. But King Oliver wanted two… …because it interfered with things he wanted to do. That guy could make things on a horn that you wouldn’t think was in it! When he had the wind… he was a big man.”

RAMSEY: “- And that’s the most important thing.”

DODDS: “- And when he had lip. That guy could do anything, if he couldn’t think it out, he’d blow it out. If he couldn’t blow it out, he’d lip it out. Sure he couldn’t miss. Louis’s the same. I don’t know if Louis can do that but Louis blew a horn… [unintelligible] … You can tell that the guy knows.”

RAMSEY: “Oh we know he knows.”

DODDS: “Same way with drums… [unintelligible] … I could tune it up the way I think it should be… I’ll give it a tune like that, if I want it. Now these drums here; I have a muffler on here. Bunk wanted it off. He didn’t want to hear only ‘tap, tap’.  Like that [plays bass drum] – he didn’t want that. That ain’t no bass drum. He wants a big round tone. Well that’s how I used to play. But that’s gone. People don’t want that no more. They want drums to be heard but still, a drum gotta bit of a ‘whoom, whoom, whoom’, and I know the drums sometimes up there when I was in those times at the job people didn’t say ‘this drum jarred ears like [unintelligible] …because I know that vibration carries-”

RAMSEY: “-You feel it in the diaphragm.”

DODDS: “Sure. Now this bass drum would carry a fifty-piece band, maybe a seventy-five piece band, this one bass drum. Now you have to tune it accordingly to make it carry.”



[Dodds plays a few bars of press rolls]

DODDS: “… We called that the shimmy beat.”

RAMSEY: “Now they call it, uh…”

DODDS: “-No but listen, I’m the only one doing it. Yet. That’s hard work. Now they’re still – they’re trying, very hard, to do this press roll.”

[Plays press rolls again]

DODDS: “-But they use it different, they’re doing, see…”

[Demonstrates incorrect press rolls]

DODDS: “-Well that’s wrong.”

RAMSEY: “Not followed-through.”

DODDS: “They don’t know how! They don’t know how it’s done. Well what it is, which all the drummers, I’ll even tell them – I’ve told Gene [Krupa], I’ve told George [Wettling], and there’s Dave Tough, I’ve told them all what it means. They says [puts on posh voice] ‘It’s a quarter-roll.’

It isn’t a quarter. It’s a three-quarter roll.”