GEORGE SCHWINDT  -  THE JIG IS UP

Many of the musicians who play Yamaha drums chose them because one of their idols played them. But George Schwindt, drummer for the Celtic-punk band Flogging Molly, has a much more unique story that hits closer to home.
“My father raced Yamaha motorcycles, and I basically spent my childhood at the track,” says Schwindt. “But in 1972, he had an accident and died. I was nine. Suddenly my mom was a widow with four kids, and we went from lower-middle class to dirt poor. She encouraged us to play music as an outlet for our grief. I started on piano, but switched to drums. When I was 18, I went to Coyle’s Music in my hometown, Columbus, Ohio, and saw a Yamaha drum kit. My dad loved Yamaha motorcycles, so I figured if Yamaha was good enough for my dad, it was good enough for me. I got a black kit that I have to this day, and I’ve been playing Yamahas ever since.”

“OUR REPUTATION IS BASED ON OUR ABILITY TO GENERATE A CERTAIN FEELING. NOT A LOT OF BANDS CAN MOVE PEOPLE LIKE THAT.”

Back then, George was a regular attendee of the gigs Dave King played at Molly Malone’s, a small pub in Los Angeles, where George had relocated after a stint with the rock band Eurogression. After joining Flogging Molly, Schwindt and his drum set had to share the pub’s minimal stage with five other players. “Calling it ‘tight’ is an understatement,” he laughs. “All I could fit was a kick drum, a ride cymbal, a hi-hat, and a snare. Maybe a floor tom, depending how I angled myself in.”

all access georgeThat wasn’t the only challenge—Schwindt also needed to invent his own drumming style. Flogging Molly features instruments found in Irish folk music: fiddles, banjos, mandolins, and accordions. But in Irish folk, percussion duties are handled by the bodrhán, a simple, single-headed drum. Schwindt needed an approach that buoyed the band’s energy without undercutting the traditional elements.

“The bodrhán is a goatskin frame drum played with a two-headed mallet,” he explains. “A great bodrhán player is all over the drum, getting many different tones, including the sound of the beater hitting the wooden frame. I can’t even hold a bodrhán beater properly, and I’ve tried! But I realized I could duplicate some of those rhythms on my floor tom. And for the wood-on-wood sound, I use a Yamaha Groove Wedge. It was designed for cross-sticking, but I put it on the front of the snare rather than the side, and I play it like a rack tom. When we play a song with a jig feel, I could play a traditional ching ching ch-ching swing rhythm on a hi-hat or ride cymbal. Instead, I might play just the first note on the hat, and then play the swingy backbeats on the snare drum. When you crank up the tempo, it starts rockin’.”

These days, George’s Yamaha drums include a Phoenix kit and a couple of Oak Custom kits. He uses the PHX chiefly for recording. “It has such rich overtones, and they get captured so well in the studio,” he says. “Someone aptly described the PHX tone as a pebble hitting a still pond. You have the attack sound, followed by overtones that spread out in waves. They’re amazingly rich-sounding drums with tons of character.”

George prefers the Oak Customs for live gigs, and not just because the PHX kit is so valuable. “The oak drums have a quality that fits our particular instrumentation. They have a great attack, and the fundamental pitch comes through immediately. It’s great for cutting through the din of our instrumentation, with so many instruments occupying the high-midrange register.” He alternates between several Yamaha snares according to the sound of the room he’s performing in, though his go-to snare is a 14" x 6.5" Yamaha MSD Sensitive Series model.

Even after many years of hard touring, Schwindt still treasures the extraordinary bond between Flogging Molly and its audiences. “Our reputation is based on our ability to generate a certain feeling,” he says. “Not a lot of bands can move people like that! If you can touch and inspire people that way, then something special is happening.”