Dorian Randolph has been steeped in music from the time he was born. When he was still in diapers he would sit on stage behind his dad and play tambourine. His dad, Eugene Randolph, was an accomplished drummer playing the prestigious hotels in the Catskills “Borscht Belt” summer resort scene of the 1970’s and 80s. Dorian’s life has been an amazing experience, playing with highly skilled musicians and touring at a young age. Dorian secured his first tour with Murali Coryell at the age of 22. From there he went on to play with Joe Louis Walker for a number of years. In talking with Dorian about his accomplished drumming and amazing experiences his humble nature shines through. You feel his heart and openness, which is part of the reason he has accomplished much with his drumming. I was honored to get to speak with Dorian this last week.
Gary: How did you begin playing drums and how old were you?
Dorian: I started at the age of about 5. I’d sit up on stage with my dad, when I was still in diapers, right next to him. He would let me play the tambourine or cowbell with whoever the artist was that he was backing in one of the hotels here in the Catskill area. They would allow me to sit next to him and wouldn’t give me a hard time. It was a really nice way to be introduced to music.
Gary: Your dad played drums?
Dorian: My dad, Eugene Randolph, was a drummer and taught middle school and high school band. He also dabbled in other instruments. I can remember him doing a gig trading off drums and trombone.
Gary: Your dad was really living music so he involved you from the time you were a baby.
Gary: Your dad was playing with who? Various artists?
Dorian: My dad was freelance. He was hired for a lot of different gigs over the years. He actually spent some time on the road with The Four Seasons back in the day. He also played in the house band at the local hotel. I don’t know if you know but the hotel scene in the Catskills (“Borscht Belt”) around where we lived was really popular in the 60’s and 70’s. They’d get all kinds of acts from Tito Puente to Sammy Davis Jr. My dad was in the house band at a place called the Granite Hotel. Those are some of my earliest memories of seeing live music. My dad would play with amazing jazz musicians. Duke Ellington’s trumpet player and many more. There was so much history and I had great exposure to it.
Dorian and his dad:
The Catskills scene was kind of like a resort. The Granite had golf, ice skating rink, cocktail lounge and also a main theater so people staying there could go see a show if they wanted to.
Gary: You were born and raised right by the Catskills in New Paltz, NY?
Gary: So your dad was playing there in the 60’s and 70’s?
Dorian: I know my dad started there in the early 70’s and had a steady gig there until the early 90’s.
Gary: Your dad introduced you to Murali Coryell
Dorian: Yeah. The son of Larry Coryell, the jazz guitarist. Murali went in the blues direction. He somehow found the blues and soul feeling after playing for years in metal and rock bands. Murali helped me grow as an artist.
Gary: You ended up getting a gig with Murali Coryell quite early on?
Dorain: Yeah. My dad was actually playing with Murali for quite some time. I’d go sit in at night playing percussion alongside my dad. So he’s like extended family.
Gary: Did you have formal lessons growing up?
Dorian with Murali Coryell:
Dorian: My father taught me. I was able to learn all the reading skills, timing skills and rudiments. He would help me with drums throughout school. It was great to have my own personal drum teacher at home!
Gary: You also did a stint with the Orchestra in high school?
Dorian: Yes I did. New Paltz College had a program for high school students who were doing multiple music outlets in school to try out for the youth symphony. Me and two other drummer friends were accepted in and spent about 3 years playing with the symphony. I had the chance to play the 2nd timpani part in Gustav Holst “The Planets”.
Gary: After having the experience of playing percussion with the symphony do you prefer the drum kit over percussion? Symphony music over playing jazz or R & B?
Dorian: I respect both of them very much. But orchestral music is rarely up to your interpretation. More so you read what’s on the sheet music and try to get it to sound exactly like what the composer envisioned. I like playing the trap kit in the R & B soul style because I can be more expressive. I'm able to improvise more than I would get to in a classical setting.
Gary: Yeah. I’ve heard classical players talk about how hard it was for them to improvise in a jazz setting.
Gary: Getting back to you gig with Murali Coryell when you were a teenager. How long did you play with him for?
Dorian: From about 17 to the age of 22 I would sit in with Morali doing local gigs. My dad, being a music teacher, wasn’t able to take a 2 week tour out in the midwest and down south so my dad asked me if I’d like to do it. I decided to go out for that 2 weeks when I was just about turning 23. After those 2 weeks, when we got off the road, Joe Louis Walker, who knew Murali, was looking for a band and he asked us to come to rehearsal. After rehearsal he asked me and Murali to go on the road with him to Europe. I was completely gassed.
Dorian with Joe Louis Walker and Murali Coryell:
Gary: How long did you do that?
Dorian: I ended up playing with Joe Louis Walker for about 4 years. Then I took a leave of absence when I lost my dad. I decided to stop touring and be close to my family until I felt comfortable enough to get back out there and do it. I then started to play with Dylan Doyle and other various artists and also kept playing with Murali. Yeah, I had to have the music.
Dorian with Dylan Doyle:
Gary: Are you doing any teaching when you’re home?
Dorian: I was teaching a bit but since touring I’ve been out of touch with it. I’d love to start again. I believe the passing on and sharing information is one of the greatest ways we can learn.
Gary: Do you have any insights for new drummers just getting into music and wanting to make a career out of it?
Dorain: Be open. Trust in yourself and be open to others ideas and suggestions. If you want to play music professionally build up your confidence and go for it.
Gary: Obviously practice is one essential element of building ones confidence. Anything else?
Dorian: Years of practice, of course, is very important. At this point the least amount I’ll practice is 4 days a week. In my apartment I don’t have a drum set so I’ll practice my rudiments on my legs and tap my feet on the floor. Also, learn to listen. Play for the music, not your ego.
Gary: What are your present projects?
Gary: Is the style of these artists mostly R & B?
Dorian: Morali Coryell has a lot of R & B and funk. Dylan Doyle is more Americana, roots rock with some taste of jazz. Dan Brother is mostly blues style but dives into rock, R & B and soul. It’s nice to play with a mixture of music.
Gary: You also do some song writing and play other instruments?
Dorian: Yes. I do write songs. I’m not trained by any means on guitar but when I write a song and hear a melody in my head I can find it on the guitar or keyboard and hold it up for a couple of bars until I need a professional to step in. It’s taken years to actually put it together but 2 years ago I stepped out and hired some cats I really love and trust that I know are great musicians to do my first solo gig and it went over really nicely. I definitely want to get into the studio this year to cut an EP or a full album. That’s the goal.
Dorian with Joe Louis Walker:
Gary: What brand of drums do you prefer to use?
Dorain: My current set up is Mapex M series which I’ve had for probably 10 years. I bought them used but they were only used once. They still sound great. If I had a preference, when I get a chance to play them back lined, a nice Yamaha kit or DW I love. Some of the nicest sounding drums I’ve heard.
Gary: What cymbals do you prefer?
Dorian: I’ve always been a Zildjian head. I do like some Sabian. I’ve also been offered to sign up with Soultone. I haven’t decided if that’s the route I want to take because I like the option of using whatever cymbal brands I want.
Gary: What would you say makes a “good” drummer?
Dorian: When I listen to live music I pay attention to the song more so than individual players, this is something that Murali helped me with over time and actually loves about my playing. I pay attention and play for the song and not just to get myself off. I think that’s what makes a “good” musician.
Gary: I definitely would agree that’s the most important part. Listening is the key indeed. As far as your drumming style, would you say you’re more of a laid back, in the middle or on top of the beat player?
Dorian: Good question. Personally, I like to mess around with all types of feels because I’ve played with artists that like it more on top of the beat or a little behind. I’ve learned to adjust some. But I’d say my feel is a mix of relaxed with energy.
Gary: With Joe Louis Walker, being a blues player, I’d think you have to lay back more as opposed to being on top of it?
Dorian: Right, but I’ve found it interesting that he also likes it on top of the beat. One of my favorite things about playing with Joe is that sense one develops with other musicians, kind of like ESP, where you feel where the other one is going and try and accomplish what they’re going for. I’ve had many moments like that with Joe. Those are some of my favorite moments ever.
Gary: As a drummer would you say you’re more in control of the feel, being the rhythm keeper, or would you say everybody has as much responsibility to keep that groove?
Dorian: I feel that everybody should study with a metronome and learn internal feel/time. I think everyone in the band needs to be aware of that. I do believe though that it’s up to the drummer and bass player to lay that solid foundation. Make sure it doesn’t waiver too much so the music can function the way it’s supposed to. For as many people as I’ve been able to play with, I try to make myself as adaptable as possible to their feel. That way I establish that link. I’m all about “locking in” and really listening.
Gary: Do you ever play with a metronome on stage?
Dorian: On stage, no. In practice. I’m not opposed to it but I feel that internal time is cool. I mean you listen to some older recordings of the Rolling Stones or other bands of that era and the tempo might speed up or go behind a little bit. That’s kind of a cool thing. I think it adds to the music. Especially for live shows, not necessarily studio.
Gary: Any future projects you want people to know about?
Dorian: I’d say keep an eye out for Dorian & the Sugar Grove. We’ll be cutting something in the studio this year. Also, Dylan Doyle Band, Murali Coryell and Dan Brother. Joe also just put out a CD, Joe Louis Walker Viva Las Vegas, which I’m playing drums and singing back ups on. I’d like to give acknowledgement to Joe Louis Walker. Joe’s been there for me over the years and he’s someone I look up to as a musician.
Gary: With Dorian Randolph & the Sugar Grove do you play all originals?
Dorian: Originals and also obscure covers in the R & B and funk genres.
Check out the links below:
Essential Links: Dorian Randolph’s Facebook - Dorian is now accepting drum students. Message him from Facebook for info.