The Greg Keplinger Story

In Seattle, the dean of drummers is Greg Keplinger. He is about my age (57 in 2007) and just one of the most schooled, committed, and principled musicians I have ever met. He's got chops beyond chops.

I have often said "Greg plays each beat as if it were his last second on earth." He makes the "Keplinger Snare Drum" by hand for the lucky and the few, his client list is a who's who of famous drummers, (Charlie Watts, Elvin Jones, Stuart Copeland etc.)

Back in 1990 or so, I was the manager of the American Music Seattle store. One of the owners Reese Marin was going through a difficult divorce, his divorce Lawyer was Ted Barr. Ted was high priced and had the "shark in the courtroom" reputation & demeanor.

Ted also always had the burning desire to be a rock and roll singer, he liked Elvis, Jerry Lee etc. and so it came to be that Reese, for whatever reason, put together a band to back up Ted, who God bless him, could sorta sing, but was no barn burner.

The other "singer" was a gal who took voice lessons from "Maestro" (that's what she repeatedly called her voice teacher, much to our annoyance) and could at times peel the bark off an oak tree with her challenged intonation. She also wore the most frightening perfume I have ever encountered, it smelled like warm cat urine to me, it absolutely freaked me out.

Her uncanny ability to come in "wrong" (weather we cued her or not) was legendary. On the Pointer Sister's "Fire" she could cause a train wreck that almost was unrecoverable, if you know how the intro goes, there's only ONE place to come in, or else.

(How can you tell if there's a female singer at the front door? ........ans: She doesn't know where to come in and doesn't have the key!)

So she and Ted are front singers in what was an 8 piece conglomeration of some truly awful musicians. Reese played keyboards & sang great, the bass player, and the other keyboard player, horn players etc all stunk (sorry but they made my hair hurt).

The "Ted Barr Band" was always looking for a guitar player (who could actually play the songs) and a drummer who didn't think "Time" was just a magazine. But when confronted with the amassed talent in the lineup, most guys politely passed on the gig.

So one day Reese comes to me and tells me he's in a bind for big charity gig at the Weston Hotel, in their main ballroom. The gig pays pretty good dough and they're hard up enough to pay for rehearsals as well. I agree to help 'em out, just this once, and ask who the drummer is.
No drummer, do I know anybody?
Well........Greg Keplinger had just come to me the day before and sez
"Billy, things are tight, if you hear of anybody looking for a drummer for money, let me know."
So I call Greg and tell him to stop in and see me the next time he's in the store. Greg and I had played a lot of gigs together and loved each other's playing.

I sit him down and tell him that there is a little gig but not to expect much from the band, they are (except Reese) amateurs to a man. I tell him he has to "relax" is uncompromising standards and just play along. Greg agrees, and we rehearse twice with the "Ted Barr Band."

The second rehearsal will stay with me til the day I die. The female singer is doing the ballad "Crazy" (in freakin' Eb I might add)..... and as we finish one pass of the country classic......apparently something in our performance has miffed her she takes the $300 wireless microphone that Reese has set up for the rehearsal and throws it for all she's worth onto the concrete floor!!

And turns and shouts angrily at us (I'm not makin' this up either) "Would it BE.... Too Much Trouble......for the BAND to speed up and slow down....... WITH ME???"

Reese patiently goes up to her and diffuses the situation (I'm ready to start howlin', the rest of the clowns are terrified). He walks her off, and has a little heart to heart talk with her, hopefully explaining that "music" when performed properly (unless there is a scored time change) should basically start and end in the same time signature. Most likely, also, how much the mike she just broke, costs.

But as they walk off, Greg shakes his head and looks down at his drums and sez "The thrill is gone, man." Which just cracked me up hugely and I thought, Greg's' doing ok with these maracas, he'll be fine. We'll see.

At this time I need to introduce the bass player for the Ted barr Band. An ex-highway-patrolman with a steel plate in his head (again I'm not makin' this up) we'll call him George. George is on permanent disability, and is a nice enough guy, plays better than horrible but doen't have the best time in the world to begin with.

However: before he plays he likes to smoke a little herb, if ya get my drift. This, on occasion, has rendered his playing somewhat spotty. But we're assuming he'll refrain at the "Big Gig"............ wrong.

As memorable as the second rehearsal was, the actual gig is hard to top.

Fast forward to the night at the Weston Hotel. The Weston is a very upscale establishment in downtown Seattle. The main ballroom is a cavernous affair and has been set up for "Casino Night" decorated to the hilt, lighting, the whole works. Gals in sequined dresses, the Mayor will be there, the Seahawks, the Sonics, judges, councilmen, you name it. BLACK TIE, did I mention we were all wearing pre-paid tuxedos?? Well we were, we even had a room to change in, no expense was spared, plus we were makin' (Greg & I anyway) $250 each.

We hit the stage and crawl though Green Onions, play some Elvis Songs, (Ted, is re-splendid in an all white tux).......and even as I cue her exactly where to come in, the female singer botches the intro to "Fire" (didn't feel right, she tells me).......and head into the meat of the set, about an hour in, there's this terrific ruckus going on.

I can honestly say I've never heard a sound like this in my life, it was this big, freakin huge scraping sound that had tons of low end, like being inside a corrugated metal building while an elephant scraps his butt covered somehow with tire chains back and forth!!
"KAAAARRRRAAHHHHkkKKKKSSSHHH!! scrape.....grind...howl......

I look around and notice that Greg the drummer, has grabbed George, the bass player. Now you have to picture all these elements to get the real picture here:
1.) Greg is standing up...STILL PLAYING the drums with his right foot on the bass drum and right hand on the snare & ride.
2.) He has grabbed George with his left hand by the front of his shirt and lifted him up on his toes, pulling him into the drum kit.
3.) George's' Starfire Hollow Body Guild Bass bass is still turned on and the open strings are rubbing back and forth roughly on one of the cymbals and the bass is banging repeatedly on the high hat stand (hence all the unidentifiable noise) as George squirms for release.
4.) George's hands are dangling by his side in submission, only the top of his head from the nose & eyeballs up is visible over his shirt collar.
5.) Greg has his face screwed up right into to George's' ......and........ as he keeps playing he gestures to the drum kit in between beats with his right hand...
"YA SEE THAT???........THAT"S TIME!!!!!!

I walk over quickly (mind you the band has kept playing though all is mayhem,..... most likely "Blue Suede Shoes" or something)
"Greg...put the bass player down!"
"This Mother Fucker is killin' me!!!!" Greg snarls....

Greg Keplinger looks like a burlier Bogart, and in his youth was no one to trifle with. His temper and passion for music are legendary. You might think "Whadda asshole!" but if you met him you'd love him, he has a tremendious sense of humor and loves to laugh, he just doesn't suffer fools on the band stand.

I have always been accepted as a friend and an equal to Keplinger, an honor I don't take lightly, and with rare acceptation, he listens to me. As to his talent, he is perhaps one of the finest drummers I've ever played with, he is capable of playing a press roll with either hand independently!! (yes a press roll with just one hand).
"Pay attention!" He fires at George, as he flings him from his grip back to his original standing place, bumming his high, I'm sure.
"Greg, Greg..." I'm standing next to him, my hand on his shoulder "I told you these guys were amateurs."
"Sorry man, I couldn't take any more, I'm ok now."

I'm trying as hard as I can to keep from laughing, Gregs line "Ya see that? That's TIME!" Keeps coming up in my mind, but I gotta keep a straight face and get things rolling.

Order is restored. The band is looking at Greg and I like we just dismembered a baby onstage.......respect.......I think might have been partially responsable.....fear.........possibly. And everyone plays as good as gold for the rest of the night. ( as if they knew what was good for them).

As we left Greg sez, reffering to band, "Those guys couldn't swing, if ya hung 'em." We finished the gig, were paid and were mercifully never asked back.

The Greg Keplinger Story
© 2007 Billy Stapleton. All rights reserved.

"Keep pickin’ ... "
- Billy Stapleton