Eliminating ‘can’t’ from your vocabulary is the most important piece of advice Ralph Rolle, drummer for Nile Rodgers and Chic can give you. Headliner meets the musician in London, who shares his secrets on life, drumming and cookies.
Ralph Rolle has been playing drums professionally since the age of 18, and more than four decades later is a much sought-after drummer and producer. You’d need to take a big breath before reeling off his impressive performance and recording credits, however he is best known for working with Nile Rodgers and Chic – who he still plays with.
From The Bronx, New York, Rolle first started drumming when his older brother placed a drum kit in their small, shared bedroom. “We had twin beds right in the middle, and the drums gave me an excuse to be able to come across the bed. That wasn't allowed,” he chuckles.
“I’m left-handed and my brother is right-handed, so he told me I could play, but I wasn’t allowed to switch the drums around. Since then, no one ever corrected my posture! Because honestly, there's no real correct way to play. The argument I always tell people is, if someone tells you you're playing wrong, just ask them to explain Jimi Hendrix. That will end it. There’s nothing to talk about! One of the best guitar players of our lives played an upside down guitar.”
Headliner meets Rolle on a drizzly day in one of the oldest and most historical pubs in London. Despite his busy schedule, he takes his time, listens intently to what others say with genuine interest, laughs often, and is warm and polite to everyone he encounters. And he still plays ‘wrong’.
“I still play left handed,” he nods. “It’s kind of worked to my advantage, because I'm doing a lot of extra stuff like percussion parts, hand claps with my left hand, and I'm still holding the groove down and doing fills with my right hand. My brother became an engineer – he’s a lot like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory – and he wanted to theorise my playing style.
"He says that what I’m doing is I’m taking the path of least resistance, because my hands never have to cross and it opens me up to do other things. He just went through this whole thing, and I said, ‘Brother, I’m just playing!’ But he was right. I mean, it is kind of taking the path of least resistance. But it seems to be working okay!”
Rolle and Rodgers go back years – Rolle is currently on a US tour with Nile Rodgers and Chic which will see him through until the summer. When Rolle first went to a Chic rehearsal, he quickly found out the way Rodgers works:
“We were playing the medley, and in the middle of it Nile stops, packs up his stuff starts leaving, and I'm like, ‘Oh my God, I must have sounded like complete crap!’ And I’m one to ask, right? So I said, ‘Is everything okay?’ He said, ‘Yeah, everything’s fine. You sound great. I’ll see you in Switzerland!’ And that was that. I guess he had other stuff to do!”