I’ve played drums since I was little kid and dabbled in other percussive arts along the way, but my primary focus has been drum kit. That is until my friend and fretless glass-neck guitar virtuoso Ned Evett asked me to join him on a UK tour the summer of 2012. But we wouldn’t be a full on power trio as we had been in the past. This time Ned wanted to travel light while promoting the release of his TREEHOUSE album on which he had brought an Americana feel to his compositions. Nope, no drum kit on tour this time around!
Enter… the cajon! I had seen them on occasion but had never played one. So, I picked one up and started learning Ned’s tunes on my new drum-kit-in-a-box. There were two things to get used to straight away:
- Proper posture
- Letting either hand be the “bass drum” or the “snare drum”
It was love at first slap! The cajon is fun to play and perfectly suited for traveling lightly. Over the course of two months, we played throughout England using London as our base. By car or by rail, Ned and I—sometimes joined by Malcolm Bruce on bass—played festivals and pubs. The Schlagwerk 2-in-1 cajon we purchased in London performed well. Just stick a Shure Beta microphone in the drum’s sound port and crank it up!
All’s well that ends well! Right? But no…
Here’s the deal: Ned’s style of music is sometimes Americana but it’s also sometimes Rock-n-Roll, as in Ned channeling Jimi Hendrix or The Who Rock-n-Roll. This meant I was playing Rock-n-Roll cajon. And, as in any style of music, how the instrument is played is a part of what defines the style. And, following this line of logic, I had to aggressively dig into the cajon to produce the proper “big” sound. Just turning up the microphone doesn’t accomplish this (unless you like earsplitting feedback, in which case it works great!). The end result? My hands resented being a part of me after nearly every gig and threatened to go on strike or holiday or both. And cajon playing is fantastically difficult without hands.
By definition, cajon playing consists of hitting, tapping and slapping your hands on a thin plate of wood over and over and over again. So, red sausage fingers at the end of a session are expected. The problem is the impact on the palms of hands and jarring to the wrists when they meet the 90 degree edge formed by the top of the cajon and the striking plate. Where these two surfaces meet is what I call the “leading edge.” It’s not a big problem when playing softly; the fingers can produce a pop by simply hitting either top corner of the striking plate, or “tapa.” But as you approach the Rock-n-Roll end of the scale, the palms and wrists become vulnerable to wear and tear. And more than once, in the heat of the moment, I missed my mark entirely and actually bruised the bones in my palms.
Well, we had a great time playing and sightseeing, but it also got me thinking: There must be a better way to build a better box!
Coming up in Part 2 of The CurveTop Cajon Concept – Building a Better Box!
In the meantime, see this VIDEO of Ned and I recorded at the Granary studio just outside of London. This song, Bend Me, is a lighter Americana tune of Ned’s and entirely not Rock-n-Roll cajon, but it's a great tune! The tambourine is played by my foot!
And pop on over to the TourAlongWithTodd BLOG and click on the 2012 link on the right side of the page to read more about our two-month UK odyssey. I guarantee you'll get a kick out of it!