Chicago native Calvin Rodgers is a drummer who has been credited with revolutionizing the voice of gospel drumming. His parents realized at a very young age that Calvin shared their love for music, and an even stronger love for the drums in particular.
Both parents worked very hard to invest as much as they could into their son’s promising future. Around the age of 9, Calvin began shadowing his father, a well-known gospel musician and songwriter, as his personal drummer.
This afforded Calvin the opportunity of learning from some of gospel music’s most prolific songwriters, artists and musicians. By the time he entered high school, he was traveling with GRAMMY nominated choir master Ricky Dillard & New Generation.
Around the same time, he became a part of a mentoring program, spearheaded by jazz pianist, Ramsey Lewis. Upon graduating high school, Calvin began touring with Lewis and learning his way around the studio.
While recording a radio commercial for Rice A Roni, Calvin met R&B crooner, R. Kelly. Kelly invited Calvin to join his band for his upcoming world tour, TP2. Upon completion of that tour, Calvin decided to place his focus on becoming a recording drummer. He also started finding his voice as an arranger and a producer.
To date, he has performed on over 150 live and/or studio recordings, and has also toured and/or performed with artists such as R.Kelly, Ramsey Lewis, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Destiny’s Child, Ronald Isley, Ernie Isley, Avant, Jonathan Butler, Kirk Franklin, Marvin Sapp, Fred Hammond, Yolanda Adams, Israel Houghton, Donald Lawrence, John P. Kee, Tommy Simms, Tamela Mann and many, many others.
Though quite accomplished, Calvin continues to push himself in all areas while making sure to sow into the next generation, through mentoring and private lessons.
Listen to full podcast with Calvin Rodgers
Q: Is there a music genre you would like to master in the future?
A: I would say jazz music. My introduction to jazz music was right at the transition where they were moving from electric jazz to smooth jazz so they were coming out of the GRP thing.
There was Chic Corea and there was Eric Marienthal and there were Weckl and Pattituci, all those guys. That whole thing was kind of changing over to the smooth jazz thing.
When I started listening to jazz I became a huge Yellow Jackets fan that was my first kind of introduction to instrumental music and then I started listening to Fourplay, I was listening to Harvey Mason.
I kind of missed a lot of earlier stuff but, when I got to high school I remember the very first time I heard Tony Williams. One of my bandmates brought a videotape that his dad had at home and he’d found. It was a Miles Davis gig.
I can’t remember who was on piano but Ron Charter is on the bass Wayne Shorter is on sax, Tony is on the drums and I was just like “Woooow man”.
He was one of the only traditional jazz drummers I knew this was like 1994/1995 so that was my first time hearing Tony Williams. That was my introduction to him and so I studied a lot of him I listen to him a lot I would just try to find whatever he was on.
I found that videotape I bought it and then I remember buying something at Guitar Center maybe a video of him.
Later on I started playing some jazz gigs. I worked with Ramsey Lewis for a little while so, I started studying guys that were doing traditional jazz music like Elvin Jones, I started listening to Bird.
My love for jazz it wasn’t based of the drummer it was really based of the musician and the drummers they choose. I was really into Bird an I was just listening to of how the Birds and Charlie Parker play.
I really like he’s playing. In the end off course I like Miles, but the Coltrane and Love supreme with Elvin Jones in there.
I don’t get lot opportunities and there is not lot of places to play that music but I wish there were. I would probably play those gigs 3 or 4 nights a week for free if there were.
I don’t know if any musician ever masters a genre because I believe that the way you remain relevant is to constantly be working at it. But, I would love to be able to play that music often or way more often.
Q: You are known for being the drummer’s drummer. Name one drummer who influenced you the most
A: I guess that’s a compliment, I hope that’s a compliment saying I’m a drummer’s drummer. Of course you want to be revered by the people you work with, by the artist you work with but to have the respect and recognition of your peers is also very very important so I appreciate that.
For me to name one drummer who had the most influence on me would be impossible. I could probably narrow that down to maybe three to five drummers.
I will have to start with Joel Smith from there I would say Will Kennedy and from there I would say Terry Campbell and then also I would have to acknowledge Ricky Lawson and Terry Baker.
Those are five drummers but I also have to say Dave Weckl. My playing has evolved and changed over the years and I’ve become more of a session guy lately so it’s just hard to nail it down to just one guy.
I have to acknowledge the guys that were my influences when I was a kid the two drummers that were at my home church Otha Seals and Arnold Baylor. There are my two cousins who were both drummers and keyboard players Bears Bolton and Larry Roberts.
Highly influential, I mimicked everything they did as a kid. There was also a drummer in Chicago named Clyde Davis.
He was again heavily influential. I probably wanted to sound like him the most when I was young.
So it’s a mashup of all those guys. I just got so much from those guys so it would be hard for me to narrow it down to one guy but those are five to six drummers.
If I keep going with this question I’ll add another one so I’ll stop there. I just named six drummers those are the ones I would say have influenced me the most.
Q: Above all the speed and accuracy your chops and grooves are soo “tasty”, how did you develop that?
A: I like that term “tasty” grooves you should coin that phrase.
You mention speed and accuracy, chops, and things like that. I never said out to be a fast drummer.
Speed wasn’t something I was focused on or ever really thought about because the drummers that I was influenced by weren’t necessarily known for being fast. They weren’t slow. I’ll say this about Weckl in regard to speed. He and Vinnie who is another of course influence.
It wasn’t about speed for them as much as it was about accuracy. What I did appreciate about them is no matter how fast or slow they played that they remained accurate. When I think drums I don’t think in terms of speed I think maybe in terms of control more.
I told people that I worked with all the time, whether be students or people that I’m just helping mentor and just showing things. I tell them it is not about speed it’s about control.
You got two hands the right one and the left one and they probably can go just as fast as the other but, you are just not able to control one as much as you are able to control the other.
That is kinda my take on speed and that’s what I think about it. When you talk about accuracy I have to acknowledge drummers like Ricky Lawson and Terry Baker.
That’s where that comes into play. Studying and just listening to Rickie Lawson with so many artists that he played with. Hearing him on Steely Dan “Two against nature”, hearing him playing with Michael Jackson and on the Bickerest live commercial, hearing him playing with Babyface.
Understanding and seeing that he remains consistent with he’s groove, stroke and the accuracy. I also studied Terry Baker for those same reasons. I was always in of how accurate they were so I always saw to be that kind of musician.
Talking about groove… Teddy Campbell easily. He wanted the music to feel good. You add Joel Smith in there who would do that but had a little bit of color, had this thing he developed and trow in Will Kennedy and maybe you got Calvin Rodgers. That’s what I like to think.
It is not a huge pat on the back for me, it’s not saying that I am all those guys in one it’s just me saying that’s the path of gumball that I start-up, and that made me who I was. It’s just a mashup of all of my favorite drummers.
Q: From your experience what is the number one virtue to have in the music business?
A: From my experience in the music business so far I would say the number one virtue would be consistency. I think that is the key.
What I’ve noticed is that people probably call upon me because they know exactly what they’re going to get and I’m consistent with it. It’s the same when you call a Dave Weckl,Robert Searight or Chris Daddy Dave.
Producers, musicians, and songwriters when they create they start to hear the colors in the music and they know who can create those colors who can deliver them.
The thing that helps maintain that is consistency so I had to say that.
Q: What do you think young gospel drummers overlook in their playing? On what things they should pay more attention?
A: Well first of all, let me just say that I don’t think that young gospel drummers overlook anything. I think young drummers overlook things. They are young, that’s just what young musicians do, is what young people do.
When you maybe don’t have a governor or you don’t have a teacher. A lot of musicians now are studying on their own because we have access to so many musicians and so with that, I’ll say their influences and the people that are influencing and things they’re listening to, their creativity is all over the place.
Guys are influenced by me they’re influenced by Aaron Spears, Ronald Brunner, Mason Guidry, Robert Searight, Nate Smith, Carter McLean, Ash Soan, all of those guys.
These are all guys that you see up and down the timeline every day. We are all over the place so young musicians, young drummers just playing it out figuring it out.
At some point you have to pay attention to what’s necessary, you have to pay attention to what you trying to do, what people need, the needs of the music, how you needed to serve the music. I think that’s what it should be.
I don’t beat up on the young guys when I hear young drummer on Facebook or Instagram or YouTube and he’s playing Ronald Brunner chops over a slow ballad or pop record or something like that. He is just trying to figure out and he’s creating something new, he’s trying to find his niche.
Eventually I think that as a working musician you should study guys that are working, that are doing what you want to do, and figure out what they’re doing and figure out how you can learn from them.
I don’t think it has to do with being a gospel drummer I think it just has to do with being a young drummer.
Q: Among all the awards and accomplishments, is there something that you still didn’t accomplish?
A: I’m not sure how many awards I have. I guess I’ve accomplished quite a bit. I’ve been able to make a very comfortable living as a musician so that’s a huge accomplishment I believe.
To be honest, when I was young my thought was like if I got to play drums every day of the week and I have one bedroom, studio apartment, mattress on the floor, frozen pizza in the freezer I think I’m good. That’s just the way I was thinking when I was young.
Thank God I grew up and thank God that I had some help and thank God that he just provided more than that.
If I would just be going anything that I haven’t accomplished yet. I would love to have the same amount of success as a songwriter and as a producer like as a drummer.
Those are things that I’m also extremely passionate about. The songwriting just has to do with me trying to carry on the legacy of my father. The producing has to do with me hearing music beyond the drums. Those the things that I’m working to accomplish.
Q: If you were starting your music career now, what would you do differently?
A: The only thing I’ve probably do differently. I probably would’ve taken a real stab at college just to see what would happen, just to see what would have been.
I like the fact that money was never my motivation. I like the fact that I only played the music I believed in.
I remember touring when I was younger and I remember finishing the tour and kinda feeling like “Man I don’t wanna have to play music that I don’t really like just because the money is good”.
I can’t say I really have any regrets from a musical standpoint not from a young man standpoint absolutely I would do so much differently but from a musical standpoint I think if there were one thing I’d do differently maybe just take a real stab at college just to see what would happen.
Q: What do you consider to be the synonym for the future of drumming?
A: Absolutely evolution. Drums are changing, drumming is changing, music is changing, the world is changing. The world is different right now than it was. We’re in May right now and the world is completely different than it was in January and February it’s completely different.
Nothing about what’s going on in the world right now is the same as it was two months ago, sixty days ago. Everything is different with the pandemic right now.
Music is different right now because so many people are being forced to be creative so many people have so much time to be creative.
Music is evolving and because it is evolving because the world is evolving because the world is changed, the platforms has changed the music is changing and the people that deliver the music is changing the people that are playing the music is changing the people that are hearing the music is changing people are being opened up to things they’ve never listened to before.
They’ve been opened up to artists they’ve never heard of before so I would say evolution absolutely.
Q: Do you think drummers need to step out of their comfort zone or they should hold strictly to it?
A: I absolutely do. If for nothing else just to see what else is inside of you. Your comfort zone is all about what you know on what you know works but you absolutely should be working on what you don’t know. Comfort is all about just being safe but step out your comfort zone for sure.
Maybe get into figure out, set your drums differently or maybe listen to a guy you never listen to, listen to a genre that you never listen to, study a musician you never heard of.
Figure out the rhythmic nature of other world cultures because the rhythm is used for so many things everywhere in the world.
Get into it try your hand at songwriting or producing or beat making or engineering, mixing, whatever. Pickup another instrument absolutely step out of your comfort zone for sure.
Q: What do you consider as the most important thing to practice on drums?
A: The stuff that you’re scared to play, the stuff that you wish you could play, the stuff that you don’t know how to play the stuff that you scroll and see up and down your timeline and you be like “Man I wish I can do that”. No better time than do it now.
I always looking Virgil Donati and just wish I could split my brain in four but I’ll take a stab of some of that stuff when I practice.
I am not doing it on a gig, I am not doing it on a record but who knows maybe at some point I will be able to. Who knows, at some point maybe I’ll be able to put it in a song or put something like that in a clinic or demonstrate it.
It would be great if I were able to do that. You should be practicing the stuff you don’t know how to do, the stuff you haven’t figure out yet.
The stuff you’re hearing in your head on a gig that you’re like “I shouldn’t play that I didn’t practice it I’ve never done it before. That’s what you should be practicing on. Remember it and then try to figure it out later on.