It was the mid-1980's and a memorable episode of Saturday Night Live. George Clinton and P-Funk crowded the stage and pandemonium hit. Despite the gregarious leader and costumed dancers, all eyes focused on Dennis Chambers. When Dennis Chambers took a pass around the toms, the speed was frightening, the articulation impeccable. Only your heart missed a beat.
Amazingly, he also handled percussion chores, his left hand playing timbales and bells. The drumming community took note. Chambers did covers for Britain's Rhythm magazine, France's Batteur, and America's Modern Drummer. By this time, he was scoring all the coveted gigs - Mike Stern, Bob Berg, the Brecker Brothers, Steely Dan, George Duke, John Scofield, and John McLaughlin. No matter the style, Chambers left no ambiguity about the time.
Entirely self-taught, Chambers' first instrument was a drumset. However, he is at home on percussion. "When I joined P-Funk, there was a percussionist, but he quit," he recalls. "They left his setup on stage, but he never came back! One day I told them to move all that over by the drumset and I'd play it myself. I'd listened a lot of Latin music and percussionists, like Mongo Santamaria and Tito Puente. I'd also seen Ndugu play both drums and percussion with Santana: of course, I was competitive, so I tried that at home. You fail at first, but you keep trying."
All along, Chambers says he has relied on LP: "That's what all the serious percussionists played when I was coming up." As a rule, he uses any percussion that he can strike with a stick. "I prefer the LP Mambo Cowbell," he adds. "It's sound fits best with what I do. Every now and then I have to replace a cowbell - not because they break, but because somebody runs off with them!"
To date, Dennis Chambers has two DCI instructional videos under his belt, two solo CDs, and a long discography. Between tours, he could do sessions at home in Baltimore, but he says: "I don't want to mess up what some of the local guys have built up, take food from their table."