Keifer never knew what compelled him to take the shiny black finish off his drum set.
There was just something about the prospect of taking it down to the wood, and getting to the essence of the drums he loved to play so much. On drum sets, the finish is often a laminate that attaches to the original wood like a sticker, so Keifer slowly applied solvents to the underside of the finish, a little at a time, and gradually peeled off the laminate that he felt covered the true personality of his instrument. When he was done, he wiped away any residual glue and solvent, and then applied a coat of varnish to the assorted drums in his set.
The result was a golden maple kit that called to him, and as he sat down to play, his mind filled with memories of his first days of instruction, playing rudiments on a single snare drum. There was a sparse, pure sound that emanated from his drums as he kept the beats simple, and hammered out the basic flams and paradiddles that he learned when he was ten.
As he slept that night, he thought about the first drummers that joined the pantheon of his heroes. Joe Morello of The Dave Brubeck Quartet came to mind, and his dreams were filled with crisp, percussive beats that laid the foundation for such songs as “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo A La Turk.”
He was surprised the next morning to find that his drum set was no longer the rich maple wood that he had played the previous day, but the pearl finish of the four piece set that Morello played when he was with Brubeck. He ran his fingers along the set, and saw that the finish did not cover the original maple, but instead was a part of the actual wood. It was as if the wood itself had changed its very characteristics, as if the pearl finish were a part of its molecular structure.
He looked around him, and saw, all about the set, thin sheets of maple that had peeled off the drums. They had shed the finish of the previous day’s playing, and Keifer played beats that would have been at home with Brubeck’s piano, Norman Bate’s mellow bass lines, and the lilting saxophone of Paul Desmond.
He followed his bliss with the set for a few days, but grew uneasy. A friend had played Billy Cobham’s “Quadrant 4,” from the album “Spectrum,” and he felt himself wanting to play Cobham’s explosive rhythmic assaults. In his head, he could almost feel bass player Ron Carter next to him, keeping the rhythm anchored as such musicians as Tommy Bolin, Lee Sklar, and Jan Hammer explored the possibilities of melody and harmony.
He was not surprised when he woke up one morning to find the skin of the pearl finish on the floor, and saw that his drum set was now the clear fiberglass set that Cobham had used when recording “Spectrum” in 1973. Once again, he played for several days, and once again he grew uneasy as another drumming style crept into his brain. And once again, he woke up to find that the set had yet again shed its skin, and that a new rhythmic personality awaited him when he sat on his drummer’s throne.
It continued, this shedding of skins. He moved from Billy Cobham to Jimmy Cobb to Jack DeJohnette to Tony Williams to Chick Webb to Max Roach to Art Blakey to Roy Haynes, on and on, and with each step, his set once again changed and evolved, and filled him with new possibilities, new ideas.
Finally, one day, he chose, during his practice session, to drift through the various influences that had filled his head and expanded his mind. And as he did so, his drum set changed, like a chameleon, shifting through the countless masters that left their mark on the discipline that he loved, and invited him to do the same.