Jim Keltner – The Signature Session Master
When it comes to the art of drumming in it’s truest form, few drummers have accomplished what Jim Keltner has. It’s really quite astonishing. It’s not only the amount of amazing records he’s played on or even the legendary artists he’s collaborated with…and believe me, there are many. It’s the fact that Jim has paved the way for most of the drummers you hear today to be themselves…to be individuals. Jim Keltner is arguably one of the most original drummers in recording history. When you
listen to him on any of his great tracks – John Lennon, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan (I told you), it’s not just what he played, but how he played it. How he crafts
his parts, how he plays the song, what sounds he chooses
…all these things make him a true innovator.
Paiste has worked with this incredible artist for the past
27 years and although words cannot completely express
what an honor that is, we remain humbly thankful.
We recently spoke with Jim about his experience playing
the Signature sound family, in the session
world from which he reigns.
RM: Jim, back when you first started
experimenting with the Signature sound family, what was
your first impression?
Jim Keltner: Back then, the Sound Creation series were what I
was used to…that darker, complex sound and the Signatures
were the complete opposite of that. They were so much brighter
than what I was using. That was interesting to me because I
play to the sound I’m hearing and I’ll play differently, depending
on the sound I’m hearing from my drums and cymbals. The
Signatures brightened up my sound big time. I did a bunch
of records with them, however when the Traditionals were
introduced, they freaked me out. They were so completely
different than anything Paiste had ever made and they put me
into my Jazz head. I remember that it was the first time in a
long time, that I thought more about ride cymbals. Most of my
work focuses on crashes & hi-hats, so when the Traditionals
came out, I found myself going more to the ride. What I also
loved was that even though they still possessed that Paiste
consistency, there were subtle differences between each
one, which can be very important when recording. What I love
about the rides is that they all have a great crash, with what
I describe as a good, cough-like sound. I love that and they
also work very well with rivets. Then, when the Dark Energys
came out, they were once again different…they took your ear
to another place. I would find myself going back and forth
between the Traditional and Dark Energy rides. I especially
love the Dark Energy hi-hats and I was using a combination
of 16” Dark Energy and Traditional crashes as my primary
hats, for a while. More recently, I’m using 15” Twenty Series
Hi-Hats, which were made a bit thinner for me.
RM: When you began using the Traditionals, is there a
session from that time, which you can comment on…maybe
some impressions when you first heard playbacks?
JK: I wish I could, but there’s been so many that I used them
on. I’m sure I have it written down somewhere, but what I do
remember is how I protected my first 16” Traditionals Thin
Crash. I was so worried that I would crack it and it was the
most beautiful crash I’d ever heard. I’m sure you remember I
wanted you to get me a couple more, exactly the same! Those
cymbals are on a lot of records I did around that time.
RM: Jim, you’re well known for thinking outside the
box…for offering a completely different approach to a
recording…most times, completely different from what
might be expected or thought of as typical. How does this
apply to your sound?
JK: I went through a dark faze, wanting darker sounding
cymbals, when pretty much everyone else was using brighter
cymbals and now, it’s kind of gone full circle where most
drummers are looking for dark sounds and I’m the opposite.
It’s sort of a semi-conscious thing on my part, I guess. To
my ears, what may seem normal or accepted is almost like a
signal to try something else, but then I know a lot of drummers
who are like that.
RM: I’m sure a big part of what you decide to put up,
depends on the song and what the music dictates. Talk
a bit about that.
JK: That’s exactly what I go by. And, it can be what I want for
the song. Because of my track record, I’m trusted now for my
input and I feel fortunate to have that leeway. The producers I
work with know me and have given me this freedom, which of
course enables me to try things and to experiment…not only
just with music choices but also sound choices. I’ve always
gotten great feedback about my cymbals.
RM: What would you say is the most important thing, after
all these years with Paiste, which has helped you with
your work in the studio?
JK: What has made this relationship so special to me is the
collaboration between us. Whenever I’ve had an idea or a
desire for a sound, Paiste has ALWAYS been there. Their
sound development procedure, how they interact with the
artist and how these collaborations ultimately produce such
great instruments is what’s so exciting to me. They made so
many things for me over the years and I know that some of
our brainstorming sessions have produced some cymbals for
the market. I’m proud of this and have loved this part of being
a Paiste artist. I’m truly honored to have this interaction with
them. Robert and Erik Paiste, Fredy Studer and Toomas early
on - and everyone at Paiste really loves what they do, and it
shows. I can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with next!