Jul · 21 · 2023

Throughout my forays in music there have been times when a musician who plays a particular instrument is not easy to find.  No amount of posting or reading ads reveals a solid candidate.  That’s how I switched from a focus on drums to guitar in high school.  There were many drummers, few guitar players.  15 years later it was a drummer who was difficult to find.  Enter our trusted mate Rollie.

I met Rollie on August 08, 1988 at IRC Music in Castleton (on the north side of Indianapolis).  We immediately hit it off and I knew we had to work together.  So I bought him.  Yes that’s right.  Our long time drummer affectionately known as Rollie is a Roland TR-626 Rhythm Composer drum machine.  He wasn’t cheap either because he was the latest in that line of technology at the time.  Actual sampled drum sounds with the capability of holding many patterns you create in a generous memory allotment, with full MIDI control to boot.  He was cutting edge and the perfect companion in my quest to write and record my music on my Tascam 4 track cassette.  Click here to read up on his specs.  Until that day I was using a software called “funky drummer” on a Commodore 64 computer.  The audio was filled with computer noise and the sounds were not very good but it was a little better than having nothing.  At that time I was between bands for a while but playing and writing and Rollie fit in perfectly.  I quickly learned pattern programming and before long had full songs programmed in multiple time signatures.  It was glorious.  Rollie rounded out the studio band nicely with high school buddy and former band mate Tony Chenault and myself.

Rollie had a few advantages over a human drummer.  He was sadly lacking in a sense of humor, but he was always there when you needed him, never late, didn’t need an hour or more to set up, load in and out was a breeze and he didn’t need an entire vehicle to be mobile.  Most importantly he kept perfect time, his drums were always in tune with no broken heads, his memory of a song was better than mine, and he had two things no drummer I’ve ever known has…

Rollie’s programs were stored either on optional memory cards, via MIDI, or on tape.  I utilized tape early on.  It was a little tedious but I kept good records and track counters and in short order could load up the right track.  This would eventually be put to the test.

The Live Shows

Then came the 90’s and my introduction to Jesus by John Stewart.  My musical path shifted suddenly and dramatically for the remainder of my life.  John was, I soon learned, a budding songwriter and was wanting to enter a song in a local radio station contest.  I offered to record and produce it for him and this project started the next band: Au.  Rollie played a critical role in Au.  We could not find a Christian drummer no matter how hard we tried.  Rollie was always there and ready to go.  And so he did.  Au had several live performances where Rollie led the way and held down the beat.  His memory was short (like mine) and so we shared talking duties between every few songs to cover for the wait time of loading the next tracks.  But it worked well.

On the heels of the sad demise of Au came the band Crier. Still no Christian drummer could be found.  This time however our keyboardist David Lucid had his own drum capabilities in one of his keyboards.  David would program drums for his songs and I programmed Rollie for my songs.  This worked doubly well because during those breaks we would both be loading the next programs for the next songs.  David also had a MIDI hard drive so loading songs was very quick.  Crier had a number of live appearances and we never had a human drummer.  One effect this had on us as a band is how tight we became by always playing to the same tempo which was never changing.  This was evidenced during an outdoor battle of the bands when we lost the monitors.  We were being heckled for not having a drummer.  Maybe our monitors were cut intentionally since none of the other bands had that problem, but I don’t really know.  However we kept playing.  We could hear the click count at the beginning, and we played.  Bystanders later told us they had never seen anything like it.  We were SO well rehearsed to those tempos we stayed with it in spite of not being able to hear it.

Subsequent bands had human drummers and Rollie slipped back into the role of helping me write and record demos.  His live performance days were over.  Something we musicians all eventually face.


In this modern age of all things computerized we have mega samples and software that will make those samples do about anything, even “humanize” it, and units like Rollie are not used very often except in techno dance styles.  For last decade Rollie has been retired and in his box in the closet.  His AC adapter developed a short in the cable long ago from all the “touring”.  He’s a bit yellow around the edges.  Only recently while purging and cleaning my studio, I came across Rollie’s program tapes.  Even though his days in music production with me are behind us I wondered if there was any way to load and save these programs.  I couldn’t find anything online.  I have sysex software so I could do data dumps but was wondering if I could extract the MIDI data and use in my current DAW Reaper.  So out came Rollie.  He fired right up and still had the last tracks in his memory!  He still sounds great and plays as well as ever.

More surprising is the cheapo cassettes I stored his programs on still had the data and are loading in without much problem.  What I soon discovered was pretty cool.  I could connect his audio out and MIDI out to separate tracks in Reaper, press play on Rollie and record both simultaneously.  Bingo!  There’s the MIDI data.  And given there are a few differences between Rollie’s not assignments and other programs, I have the audio as a reference for what is being played/triggered.  Surprisingly my current drum software will play the main parts straight from Rollie’s MIDI.  How fun!  So for posterity Rollie and I are going through his programs and saving them as separate song tracks in Reaper.

Rollie is still amazing to me 🙂

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