We are very pleased and honored to have interviewed Johnny Rabb. A lifelong drummer, an inventor, innovator, and the current drummer for the band Collective Soul- Rabb got on the phone with us and talked at great length about drumming, equipment, how he got into Collective Soul, the highlights of his fascinating career, new inventions, and the upcoming album Blood by Collective Soul which will be out in June.
The band is about to embark on a massive tour. On some dates they will be joined by the Gin Blossoms.
LMNR: How did it come about that you found yourself drumming with Collective Soul?
Johnny Rabb: Long story short, I have been playing drums professionally for years, and lived in Nashville for 12 years after college doing country touring. My life is pretty much drum clinician and touring drummer.
I met the guys at the NAMM show in LA and met Will Turpin (bassist for Collective Soul) at a mutual friend’s birthday party. Ironically, we were both excited to go to, and it was just chance that we met. We started talking, having a regular conversation, and the next thing I know, he says he is in Collective Soul. I said I know your drummer, and he mentioned that they were looking for a new one. That’s not usually how it goes, at the end of the evening.
They came to the trade show the next day, and I was doing a lot of demos for Roland Drums at the time. He brought E Roland (singer) over. I played my regular non-rock stuff.
About a week after, E Roland called me at my house and we went to his place in Atlanta, jammed in a studio, not that long. They had the Dosage Tour coming up, and they said, “Do you want to do it?” I wasn’t sure if they needed me just for that tour, and I said, “Sure, I’d be honored.”
Now it’s 2019, the 25th anniversary, and we are really going strong. I’m very fortunate, it’s been a great fit. I love the guys, it’s a great family. It’s beyond that now, beyond, ‘Wanna do a tour?’ It’s a well-oiled machine at this point. Each day I am glad that E and the guys are still ready to keep doing it. I’m really excited.
What type of responsibility did you feel entering a band that already was established with hits and millions of fans?
Excitement #1, that’s a feeling. The rest was really cool- growing up and doing sessions and doing tours, you are often required to play other parts that others recorded before you. That’s exciting. Getting it to feel right and play the parts and get the feel right for the songs. I want to stick in here, I want to be this drummer. At first, it was making sure that I had everything down, I was used to that – we did that, not a lot of prep time. Preparing, listening to some songs I did not know so well. A lot of songs I did know, being a fan of the band.
Making sure that I could be flexible, my responsibility is to roll with the ups and downs in the sense of getting settled within the group.
Also, having the ultimate responsibility to the other drummers in the band – I’m friends with them. A lot of that is cool, too. We get along. Cheney sat in one time in Texas, that was awesome. Cheney and Ryan are buddies of mine, and that is exciting and fun to play their parts.
Responsible to also be aware that there was, might be – missing of other players for the past. “We miss Cheney.” Well, me too!
It’s important to keep my ego in check, a responsibility to the fans to keeping the sound that is on the record. Some ask if I put my own spin on them. No, I try to pay respects, to get the ego out of the way and try to do what made these guys already happen, because I was not there.
Lastly, to make it as good as I can. The new record, the live record, and the See What You Started album. I try to do the best that I can daily.
Tell me about your drum kit.
Right now, I am playing a vintage Rogers drum set. It’s basically a 4-piece configuration – a 6-piece drum set. I’ve got rack tom, 1 rack up top, the old Ringo thing, two floor toms: a 16 and 18 to the right. It looks like a giant V from above. I have three snare drums – my main 14”, to the left of the hi hat a 10” snare, and to the left of that is a 13.” The reason for that is that Collective Soul has so many cool grooves and loop-style feels of their songs. I change it up (the snare) from song to song to match the feel of the songs.
I use MEINL cymbals – all MEINL cymbals – two crashes, a ride, a set of hi hat, and then a China underneath a crash, as a trash type of sound. I’ve been with them for 20 years, it looks from out front like a standard kit, but it’s more like the cockpit of an airplane.
What other companies are endorsing you?
I use REMO drum heads, and have been with them for quite a few years. There’s a new company out of Georgia called Sledgepad, and that’s an amazing bass drum pillow – a pre-done pillow for muffling the bass drum and I love it.
I use Cympad are for synthetic cymbal felts, made of foam. I have Trick quick release cymbal toppers, this is all very nerdy, but they save a lot of time changing out cymbals.
I have had my own drum stick company for years now and I am using 5B model Johnny Rabb drum sticks.
You own that company?
Tell me about hand technique. You have been on a mission for years to refine your hand technique. What was the impetus behind this journey.
Good question: Back when I was in my 20s, I was really being a clinician because of the drum stick company at that time, it was very successful – we were doing tours and clinics all over the world, pushing the sticks and pushing technique. It was a marketing thing, and I found myself accidentally in a clinician position.
I saw Kenwood Dennard, and he did a one-handed roll in the video. It was right after I graduated from Berkeley, I was absorbing all of the VHS drum videos, and I saw him and he would roll with one hand. That is such a cool thing. What if that is something that I can harness, and I could play any rhythm cleanly with either hand?
To be able to play any groove or rhythm – the freehand technique is something that I developed. It is frustrating, but now there are two books out on it, it did work! It is something that I can play any rhythm with either hand cleanly. It is not a gimmick; it is a modern rudiment.
The upside is that it happened, and a lot of people know me because of it. The downside is that the internet happened, and now a lot of people do it and ripped me off, and don’t give credit.
I put it out on VHS, then on DVD, and then the internet boomed – a bunch of people saw old clinic footage and made their own versions.
I’m glad that it is popular, and I’m glad that there is a lot of controversy surrounding it. A lot of death metal drummers… my ego gets in the way. A lot of comments on YouTube say that I copied others. I’m very proud of it, and I’m accepting that it is out there. I’ve had good success with the book. I have plans to do more in depth online tutorials. Freehandtechnique.com
It’s all free, three hours of footage for free explaining it.
Other than that – at one point I really worked on my single stroke rolls and hand technique. A buddy was in charge of the World’s Fastest Drummer contest. In 2000, we did the Guinness thing in Orlando. That was nice, we did the original world’s fastest – it caused some controversy and press for VH1 and MTV. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not – we’re in about 10-15 of those museums. That’s cool – seeing the photos and the sticks and stuff representing the record.
Mike Mangini from Dream Theater has the new record, and I am ecstatic for him. Some thought that it was rigged, as I had it so many years in a row winning the contest.
I’m really proud of those things. I was just shocked at how much heat you get when you get an award or invent technique – I was getting pigeon-holed into those accomplishments – getting back into the band I am proud of both things now. I love songs, and this band is just perfect …
Your history lists you as a bit of an inventor. Tell us about that, please, particularly on the cymbals and other drum technology with which you are involved. How do you view yourself in terms of technology?
I am very happy to say that in the early days, I did a series called the Generation X cymbals with MEINL.
I was very into electronic music, I found out about drum and bass music, DJ music, fast tempo break beat DJ stuff.
At the time I wondered how I could get involved with book writing. I started throwing together a book based on a popular Latin rhythms book, outlined by Ed Uribe, a friend of mine. He did Afro-Cuban drumming for the acoustic drum set – from percussion to the drum set.
I loved that idea, and I took that and wrote a book called Drum n Bass for the acoustic drum set. It got published on Warner Bros and then Alpha now has it. I eventually will do all my own self-publishing again.
I designed some cymbals that I am really proud of producing. They imitated the sound of electronic drum machines – trashy, short. One of the products that is still in circulation is called the Drumbal, and it imitates hand claps and machine sounds, but putting it on the drums – a 10” and 8” in cymbal on it.
It’s very cheap to make, very signature things – that people say, ‘man, you have your own sound.’
I’m happy to say that I’m old enough – or because of the rip off artist thing – I look now, and I say there are a ton of people doing this stuff. I’m happy to influence, but now I am just trying to be able to come up with an instrument – it can create so many cool sound effects on a snare alone.
There is another stick called the rhythm saw – on johnnyrab drum sticks – it imitates DJ scratching or percussion sounds. This is nothing new, based on kids’ rhythm sticks like you get in kindergarten. I made it into a playable drumstick. That created endless sound and rhythm possibilities for me to experiment with.
I’m getting back into that stuff. I am way more careful these days with licensing. It’s hard to make it in the drum industry. When I was younger, it was all about creativity. I’m really happy that we did it.
Do you have a different approach to live performance than you have with studio recording?
It’s different in the sense that we are not switching out a bunch of snares, trying to retune drums for different songs and approaches (when playing live). I try to emulate and simulate the sounds of the record studio tracks when I play live. Choosing the cymbal set up or which snare to use for which songs. The power is different – you are just going for it. I do pride myself on trying to give the audience a show that sounds like their record. There is a lot more finesse in the studio and a lot more physical energy live for me.
Any highlights of your time performing live with the band?
Yes, definitely – we opened up and hung out with Sammy Hagar and the Circle a few summers ago, Three Doors Down tour last year was fun. Venue wise, Red Rocks is a feather in the cap of my career.
Honestly, as crazy as it sounds, playing in Fayetteville Arkansas at the Walmart Amphitheater; my parents live there, and my Dad not knowing how booking goes, how touring goes – sending articles to me about playing there- it’s such a sweet thing – you don’t just say, “Let’s go do that.” So, we finally did and that was during the Goo Goo Dolls tour – it was great to have my parents at that show, those types of family moments are cool.
What’s up next for you, Jonny Rabb?
I am working with my own home studio, building, I’m almost done – I continue to do satellite tracking for records. I will go back and revisit the free hand technique, re-shoot new content for educational. The drum stick company is in full effect.
I am also writing and producing new music.
I’m working with Jesse (Triplett), the guitar player for Collective Soul, on a loop library, sampling project.
Finally, there’s a company called Aero drums. I’m working closely with them on, a lot of new ideas. What we are working on right now- it’s the most innovative product I have seen out there – amazing. It basically uses a light camera to reflect – you are playing in the air – it is so accurate. You have reflectors on the end of the sticks. It tracks with a play station style camera and tracks your movement. It is 100% quiet and 100% accurate. My job is to make the professionals realize that it is not a toy.
So, you can play a drum set without a drum set?
Yes – it is amazing. It is very real. The technology they are doing, with the Oculus go-to, the VR, is insane. If I had this at Berkeley… (School of Music in Boston, where Rabb studied).
To me, it is very accurate. I can run through songs for a tour if I wanted and not use a drum set, and then go do the tour. It’s very cool.
It’s a different category – I don’t have a drum set endorsement, for many reasons. There are some people who have some issues with that – it’s its own category – this is literally virtual – no kit at all.
Even when I was with a pad company – it’s not like a kit.
I’m not going to use it the same way. It’s become its own category.
The biggest thing I am working on is: the band. Right now, Collective Soul is my main focus. We are happy that our album, Blood, is coming out June 21. This album means a lot to all of us.
I love the tunes, there are some rocking ones, and some mid-tempo ones. We’re really excited – starting the tour.
We’re joining the Gin Blossoms and are excited to work with them again. We’ll be touring all summer. The album is out June 21, and we are really proud of it.
We would like to thank Johnny Rabb for spending the time to talk to us. Be sure to catch Collective Soul out on tour with the Gin Blossoms.
With Gin Blossoms, “Now’s The Time Tour”:
Sat 5/25 Atlantic City, NJ Sound Waves @ Hard Rock Atlantic City
Sun 5/26 Oxon Hill, MD MGM National Harbor
Tue 5/28 Simpsonville, SC CCNB Amphitheatre at Heritage Park
Wed 5/29 Greensboro, NC White Oak Amphitheatre at Greensboro Coliseum Complex
Fri 5/31 Baltimore, MD Pier 6 Pavilion
Sat 6/1 Springfield, MA MGM Springfield
Sun 6/2 Big Flats, NY Tag’s Summerstage
Tue 6/4 Morristown, NJ Mayo Performing Arts Center
Wed 6/5 Glen Allen, VA Innsbrook After Hours
Fri 6/7 Bethlehem, PA Sands Bethlehem Event Center
Sun 6/9 East Providence, RI Bold Point Park
Tue 6/11 Northfield, OH MGM Northfield Park – Center Stage
Thu 6/13 Huber Heights, OH Rose Music Center at The Heights
Fri 6/14 Mt. Pleasant, MI Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort
Sat 6/15 Columbus, OH Express Live!
Sun 6/16 Rockton, IL Old Settler’s Park (“Old Settlers Days”)
Thu 6/27 Windsor, ONT. The Colosseum at Caesar’s Windsor
Fri 6/28 Milwaukee, WI Summerfest
Sat 6/29 Brainerd, MN Lakes Jam
Thu 7/11 Stayner, ONT. ROXODUS Festival
Fri 7/12 Ft. Wayne, IN Foellinger Theatre – Outdoor
Sat 7/13 Greenville, WI Greenville Lions Park
Thu 7/25 Caldwell, ID Canyon County Fair
Sat 7/27 Great Falls, MT Montana State Fair
Wed 7/31 Redmond, OR Deschutes County Fair
Sat 8/3 Minnedosa, MB. Rockin’ The Fields of Minnedosa
Mon 8/5 Sturgis, SD Sturgis Buffalo Chip
Wed 8/7 Roseburg, OR Douglas County Fair
Fri 8/9 Ventura, CA Ventura County Fair
With Gin Blossoms, “Now’s The Time Tour”:
Tue 8/13 Phoenix, AZ Comerica Theatre
Wed 8/14 San Diego, CA Humphrey’s
Thu 8/15 Costa Mesa, CA Pacific Amphitheatre
Fri 8/16 Lancaster, CA Antelope Valley Fairgrounds
Sat 8/24 Vancouver, BC TBA
Sun 8/25 Ridgefield, WA lIani Casino
Tue 8/27 Sandy, UT Sandy City Amphitheatre
Wed 8/28 Denver, CO The Mission Ballroom
Fri 8/30 Council Bluffs, IA Harrah’s Council Bluffs Hotel & Casino
Sat 8/31 Maryland Heights, MO Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
Sun 9/1 Irving, TX The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory
Sat 10/5 Huntersville, NC Hops and Hogs Festival