Galactic's Stanton Moore and the art of New Orleans drumming

click to enlarge Stanton Moore plays Crowbar with Shane Theriot and Robert Walter - Amy Opopka
Amy Opopka
Stanton Moore plays Crowbar with Shane Theriot and Robert Walter

He was the bespectacled white kid from the suburbs trying to sit in with musical legends in New Orleans. But instead of getting the cold shoulder, drummer Stanton Moore was welcomed on the bandstand by any number of prominent players. And the crowd dug him, too.

"To tell you the truth, when I was coming up and they'd let me sit in, the regulars at the bar would be, 'Listen to the white kid,'" Moore says by cell phone on his way to a recording session in the Crescent City. "They'd be dancing and egging me on. They were real supportive."

It probably wouldn't have gone quite so well if young Stanton had sucked. But from an early age, he committed to learning the distinctive, tricky and at times peculiar nuances of the New Orleans drumming style. "I had a great guy who taught me the basic rudiments," Moore says. "But it was a real challenge to go from that to learning from [storied NOLA drummer Johnny Vidacovich] to loosen up. But I was determined. I really worked on how to loosen it up and apply it to my drum set."

The first intangible any aspiring Crescent City-style drummer must absorb is to, Moore says, "Play between the cracks, play with a feel that is not always straight and not always swing, but somewhere in between. The time doesn't move, but the phrasing moves, and you have to make it organic."

While he had any number of teachers and folks around the city willing to teach him a technique her, a trick there, Moore established a good deal of his mastery via his own efforts. "I really had to kind of create my own program to teach myself, and I came up with certain things and would work doggedly on them," he explains. "Like I would set the metronome on straight 16th notes and start to work in between the beats, go from straight to swing and back. I worked on my development as pragmatically as possible."

His efforts have paid off. Moore is best known as the stickman and co-founder of the New Orleans funk-jam band Galactic but he also plays in myriad other groups (Garage a Trois and Midnite Disturbers among them) and gets regular calls for session work. (In fact, when we spoke, he was about to head into the studio with Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. The indie rocker had asked Moore to assemble a band, and the drummer had recruited keyboardist Robert Walter and Big Easy mainstay George Porter on bass.)

Moore also has also released four albums under his own name, the latest of which is the trio recording Emphasis (on Parenthesis) (Telarc). With Walter and guitarist Will Bernard, he plays riffy instrumental tunes built around the energized syncopation indigenous to the Crescent City. (Moore will play a trio gig at Crowbar on Thursday, May 28, with guitarist Shane Theriot replacing Bernard.)

When leading their own bands in the studio, drummers have a basic decision to make: How much of this project is going to feature me vs. it being an ensemble piece? "When I'm making a record under my own name, I really don't think of it in terms of, 'OK, how much of the drums do I want to showcase?'" Moore says. "I think of the album as a body of music, a record with my name on it. I get to play drum solos in most of the projects I'm in, so I get my fill of that. I'm really not the type of drummer who likes to show off all the hot licks I learned in my bedroom."

Sometimes, drummer/leaders can become so self-effacing that they end up mere timekeepers on their own sessions. It's gratifying to report that Moore does not fall prey to Disappearing Drummer Syndrome. His playing on Emphasis is aggressive, pushed prominently in he mix, and he plays his share of short solos and breakbeats. But his approach is to keep it all within the context of the groove, that slippery, intoxicating Big Easy groove.

Over the course of his roughly 15-year recording career, Moore has established himself as the peoples' expert on NOLA drumming. He's written a book on the topic titled Taking it to the Street, with an accompanying CD, pens columns in drum magazines, and is an in-demand educator at drum clinics and festivals.

Keyboardist Walter sums up Moore's role like this: "To me, in the context of New Orleans drumming, he's a fan of the tradition and the history, but he's found a way to put that through the filter of the modern world. He grew up at the same time as me, listening to rock and hip-hop, but he's got all the knowledge of the New Orleans style. He's able to present that package in a digestible way, for people who may not be so immersed in the tradition. He's marketed this great folk music to the masses."

About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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