Capital Region Time Keepers: Interview with Jeff Prescott -By: OP Callaghan
Written by Staff on February 2, 2023
Photo By: Stephanie J Bartik
I first met Jeff Prescott a few years ago, backstage at a benefit show. We were both hanging around in the green room, admiring a snare drum that had been signed by a bunch of local drummers, which was to be auctioned off for charity. Jeff, whose signature was not yet emblazoned on the drum, was being encouraged by a bunch of people to “Go on! Sign it! What are you waiting for?” I’ll never forget his reluctance to sign, as though he didn’t feel that he had earned the right to sign alongside so many talented players. Humility and drums do not typically mix; we’re loud, rude and mostly attention whores. Not Jeff Prescott.
Jeff has been playing around the area for many years and is well known to most of the musicians in the area. His work with Bluz House Rockers, Rev Tor Band, Brian Kane and The Beginning, Dead Man’s Waltz, and Soul Sky, is exceptional. He’s a super clean player, who plays with finesse and subtlety. His stylistic changes after a traumatic leg injury are just one example of his devotion to the art of drumming. He’s a talented guy and super humble. I’m glad to know him, and love to see him play. So how about a nice welcome for this month’s featured player, Jeff Prescott!
RRX: Welcome to Capital Region Time Keepers! How old were you when you started playing drums, and what were the circumstances?
JP: When I was a little kid, my family watched a lot of The Muppet Show. My parents always told me a story of me pulling out all of the pots and pans and wooden spoons and setting up shop on the kitchen floor as if I was the real “Animal”, the Muppets character. I must have been about three years old at the time and to say my mom was pissed might be a bit of an understatement. She was right bent!
But I was into formulating rhythms as a young kid, like six years old. I was given my first drum kit by a friend at our church who was getting rid of his. I was around ten at the time. My parents were reluctant to let me have drums, I think they knew it would be years of torture because they could see that I was actually into the drums. I didn’t set up the drums and start learning to play in earnest until I was 13. My poor family hahahaha! They were all as cool as they could be with it.
RRX: Who were some of your earliest influences?
JP: Nirvana’s Dave Grohl was the guy that I first listened to where the gears meshed for me. I was super into Nirvana when I first started playing but it was like, “Oh that’s what the hi-hat is for.” I was heavily influenced by Ringo Starr. I loved the Beatles as a kid. My mom got me into them and I loved how Ringo approached playing songs. I thought Dave Krusen and Dave Abbruzzese, Pearl Jam’s first drummers, were great and I learned a lot of ideas from the grunge era. I was also immediately drawn in by the sounds and grooves that came out of John Bonham of Led Zeppelin. As a teenager, I was getting a lot of ideas, listening to the Allman Brothers Band, The Dead, some Zappa, Pink Floyd, and Phish. John Fishman was a big one for a lot of years. His ability to apply the basic ideas from every genre and make it interesting and cool was something I couldn’t get over. I was latched on to his playing for some number of years.
RRX: Tell me more about your first kit?
JP: That first drum kit, the one I was given by a friend at church, was a set of TKO’s. They were like particle board drums, made in Japan in the 80’s. I learned a lot from them! My dad suggested that it was common for drummers in the 60’s and 70’s to play drums with no bottom heads and maybe that could be a cool sound. So, rather than take the heads off by removing the tension rods and rims, I cut them off with a razor blade. You know, stupid kid stuff hahahaha! A drummer friend of the family eventually helped me get them back in proper order so I could learn how to tune the drums as well as play them.
RRX: Talk about your current set-up.
JP: I’ve become a fan of Ludwig drums. My road kit (that’s what I call it) is a set of mid-2000s Ludwig Keystones. They’re a midline, three-ply (maple-poplar-maple) run that were offered by Ludwig until maybe 2019? This drum kit sounds great! I use them a lot and have some great recordings, studio and live, of them.
I’m a big fan of Zildjian’s Constantinople line and I like Istanbul’s Agop series. I have one Agop cymbal that my buddy Chris Little cut strategically placed holes in, giving it a trashy wash that is nasty when placed correctly in the context of a groove. He even put a sticker on it with a logo that looks like him and includes my name. It’s like a custom cymbal and I love it!
I carry two snares with me, wherever I go. One is a Ludwig, 5X14 hand-hammered black beauty, and the other is a DW Craviotto, 6.5X14 solid maple. They’re both great snare drums!
RRX: Do you play matched grip, or traditional? Tell me about changing your playing style a few years back.
JP: In 2014, I had a nasty fall on some ice and I broke my leg pretty badly. Bad enough to render me right useless for a couple of months. In support of my own sanity, I had to think of it as a journey, something I could come out the other side of better somehow. I had two practice pads, one hard and one soft. I hung out in bed, my busted leg elevated on some pillows, watching funny TV shows, and swinging drumsticks for about eight hours a day, for about two months. I had been a matched grip player from the time I started up until that point. I did take some lessons from Ted MacKenzie in my late teens and had an introduction to movements and exercises in the traditional method. Anyway, once I was able to get back to playing, I stuck with it, and it ultimately took me about three years to make a full-on transition to being a traditional grip player. For me, that meant I was able to get through a four-hour gig playing only traditional grip. It was a lot of pain and dropped sticks, but I do believe it opened my left hand a lot, especially in terms of endurance. But in some ways it inhibited my left hand; it got really difficult to play matched grip at all. So, over the last few years I’ve been switching between matched and traditional grips. I guess the goal for me is to keep my left hand (the less coordinated of the two) as strong and dexterous as possible. Playing both ways on a normal basis has been the most advantageous for me.
RRX: Tell me about some of your best/favorite gigs.
JP: There have been so many of those. In 2012 I played a show at The Turning Point in Nyack, NY with Rhett Tyler and Early Warning with Al Buonanno on bass. All three cylinders were firing on that one. Rhett was pulling out these covers that we would normally never play and we were just killin ’em. Standing ovations were commonplace with Rhett but there was something magical about that room and that night.
Playing in Lake Placid or in Saranac with Raisinhead were some of my favorite experiences. The vibe in the North Country is always just a step up! We did a New Year’s gig at Zig Zag’s and it was like -18 degrees out. I had a beer inside the window and my glass was covered in frost. It seems like when the temperature outside is oppressively cold, the vibe inside gets especially warm.
Rye Bread shows and parties are always an absolute blast. I’ve played Rye Bread functions of one kind or another with Dead Man’s Waltz, Soul Sky, Stratosphere, Raisinhead, The Stone Revival Band, Brian Kane and The Beginning, and the Mike McMann Band, and it’s always a great party and great time! I’ve always loved playing at The Ale House in Troy. It’s a bit like going home for me. For a number of years, Mike McMann did birthday shows at the Ale House and he’d pull out all the stops. Soul Sky and the Ale House are always a great match like meat and gravy!
One gig I played with Matt Mirabile at Proctor’s Theater was so much fun. The players involved and the sound in that room just made that one really stand out.
RRX: Do you play any other instruments? What would you be doing if you were not playing drums?
JP: My first instrument was the guitar. I came up playing fiddle tunes with my grandfather. We had a lot of fun hangin’ and playing music together. I still play the guitar on a somewhat normal basis, almost exclusively at home where nobody can hear me. Once in a while, I’ll come out of the ol’ shell but it’s rare, I guess. If I wasn’t playing the drums I think I’d be playing the bass. I played bass in a band at church for a couple of years and I had a lot of fun with it.
RRX: What do you do for fun when you’re not playing music?
JP: I like to ride my quad through the woods and find a good spot to watch the sunset or just a cool spot for a stop and a beer. This for me is a great day off. There’s nothing like a machine that goes almost wherever you point it. I guess my favorite part of that, however, is being in the woods. It’s reconnecting for the soul to be in the woods.
I also enjoy cooking. Making food is one of our most fundamental connections to our own selves and I like to put a lot into it. When I really get into cooking it’s like a two-day affair or more. The sauce must sit overnight and marinate in its own goodness. Meatballs take time and also must marinate in the sauce. It’s all about time.
I think fixing broken stuff is fun. I wouldn’t say I like the nuisance of being forced to fix something that broke but, in the end, the sense of accomplishment that comes out of fixing a tractor that won’t move or mow, or a car window that won’t go up or down is fun and always rewarding.
RRX: Tell me a gig “horror” story.
JP: I had this gig in Maine, like seven hours away, at a university, outside. I got there with ample time to be ready for a four PM hit. We were playing under two easy-up canopies, set up side by side and I was set up in the middle, like a drummer normally sets up. So, there is an opening, a split if you will, between the two canopies. And it starts to downpour! At one point the wind took the canopies, which were zip-tied together and blew them over, exposing us to the rain completely. So, some guys came over and tied bricks to the bottoms of the easy-ups and that didn’t happen again, but for the remainder of the job, the water was pooling up in the top of each cover and dripping out in large and constant spurts, hitting my cymbals, bouncing off and splashing me directly in the face. I was glad the pay was way more than I would make on a typical gig but what a bummer that was!
RRX: What is something about you that most folks do not know, that would surprise them?
JP: I worked for a local audio-visual company for a number of years as their AutoCAD engineer. I was involved in the lighting, audio and video design of Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga, The Rep in Albany, The Shed in NYC, and Tanglewood Learning Center.
RRX: Tell me your dream gig, with your dream band.
JP: Steely Dan!
RRX: Who are some of your favorite drummers today?
JP: Keith Carlock, Steve Gadd, Ringo Starr, Ginger Baker, Mitch Mitchell, Todd Sucherman, Vinnie Colaiuta, Phil Selway, Virgil Donati, Danny Carey, Ralph Humphrey, Chester Thompson, Aynsley Dunbar
RRX: Anything else you’d like to say?
I’m fortunate and grateful to have the opportunities I do, playing music with so many people in the Capital District and beyond. I’ve built great friendships with a large variety of styles of players, and I don’t really run out of opportunities to work constantly. I appreciate the people that book the work and ask me to join in more. It’s like…the point of my existence hahaha!
Well, we’re fortunate, and grateful for you, Jeff!