Pay Tribute to the Music, and Honor the One


This year has so far been a good one for drumming work. I continue to track here in town, and I am thoroughly enjoying the act of creating. I promise to post more in the future about the recordings on which I’ve appeared.

Before transitioning off the road, I spent many days and weeks as a touring musician playing back what had been established on the albums, or RE-creating. Some gigs were easier than others. This Autumn I was booked for one challenging show.

Earlier this Summer, I received an email inviting me to play a September show here in Nashville with Andrew Peterson to perform the music from an album by Rich Mullins (who passed away in September of 1997). Rich’s music has been a historical part of my spiritual DNA, so I immediately replied “yes” to the email, and began studying the music. I knew Rich’s project “A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band”, but I didn’t realize how intensely intricate the musical parts were until I started charting them out. This was going to take more time in preparation than the average show. You see, we weren’t going to play the songs sort of close to how they were supposed to sound. Andrew wanted to do the music justice by getting super nerdy about every note on that album, every little bit of instrumentation. Challenge accepted. I spent many hours poring through the songs—first charting them, and then sitting down behind the drum kit, getting my hands and feet involved. I wanted to duplicate every drum pattern, every fill.

Part of the joy of revisiting this music was realizing I know the people who made it in the first place. Chris McHugh played drums on many of these songs, and he was the first session drummer in Nashville to spend time with me after I moved here, giving me professional advice and guidance. His playing style heavily influenced me early on, so I was at an advantage. I hadn’t read those liner notes in awhile, and so I was happily reminded one evening that my friend Matt Pierson played bass on some of those tunes. (Matt also played bass at this show.) I recently met Reed Arvin who produced this album (and several others), and heard first-hand stories about Rich. The plan for this show was to also cover a few of Rich’s songs from other projects, and so I ended up contacting Steve Brewster to ask him about a drum part from another album on which he had played. Steve is a Nashville drummer who also influenced me early on. I offered Steve my comps to the show, and I was happy to hear that he and his wife wanted to attend. A little voice in my head was telling me, “Don't screw this up,’re going to be playing back Steve’s parts in front of him.” But Steve’s voice on the phone said, “On Sunday night, just know that it’s all love coming from us out there.” What a nice guy.

On rehearsal day, it was obvious that each musician had done their homework. To hear the entire band play that music together gave me goosebumps. And though we were focused on doing our best, we were mindful to be encouraging of one another. Up until that day, I had never been to a rehearsal where band members would sincerely applaud each other after every song. Last Sunday night at the Ryman was a sold-out show, and I'm happy to report that we did it. We pulled it off. Our desire was to pay tribute, with excellence, to music of Rich Mullins, and in so doing, honor the Giver of the gift of music.

Paul Eckberg