The effect of landing the right drummer in the right band at the right time cannot be underestimated.
When Virginia-born, New York-based drummer Nikki Glaspie joined New Orleans funk powerhouse Dumpstaphunk in 2011, she energized and galvanized the band after the departure of founding drummer Raymond Weber. After Glaspie left Dumpstaphunk earlier this year to focus on her new project, the Nth Power, 25-year-old young gun Alvin Ford, Jr. quickly and quietly took her seat behind the drum set.
But this wasn’t just another drummer exchange in any old band.
By enlisting Ford, Dumpstaphunk founder Ivan Neville returned the undeniably New Orleans band to a lineup of all-native New Orleanians, which is right where he likes it to be. “There’s a certain musical dialogue that New Orleans musicians all know,” Neville says. “A lot of it is unspoken.”
While Weber was steeped in New Orleans musical traditions and rhythms, the rest of the band had to adjust to Glaspie’s style. “It was a challenge at first, because Nikki brought a different energy to the band,” Neville explains. “Her not being from New Orleans, that was something that took just a minute—it didn’t take long—but it took just a minute to get that dialogue going and get her on the same page with us.”
The band quickly gelled with Glaspie on the drums, with Neville saying it became easy to claim her as a New Orleanian: “By the time she got with us, she had been down in New Orleans enough, and she had absorbed enough of the greasiness and the NOLA flavor to where we were able to be on the same page really quickly.”
The situation is different with Ford. Not only did he grow up in New Orleans, he grew up in the same Uptown neighborhood as the Neville family, including Ian Neville, Dumpstaphunk’s guitarist and Ivan’s cousin.
“Alvin grew up in the 13th Ward and the 12th Ward,” Ivan Neville says. “He’s a bad little dude. He’s played with the Dirty Dozen over the past couple of years and with Bonerama. He’s played around town with lots of people. He’s been sowing his oats, getting his shit together.”
To say the Nevilles and Ford speak the same musical language is an understatement.
They go way back.
“I grew up a couple of blocks away from Ivan and Ian,” Ford says. “Ian is closer to my age group. Ivan and his brother were best friends with one of my uncles, so I’ve been knowing those guys away from music for quite some time.”
Ford said getting to know the band musically has been one of the biggest treats of his young musical career so far.
“It’s amazing now to be in the band with guys I’ve basically been knowing all of my life,” he says. “The communication has been easy because I was already able to speak the language. There wasn’t really anything I had to learn. It’s really just basically playing what I’ve been knowing all my life.”
Ford credits his early exposure to second-line parades, brass bands, and the gospel music his father introduced him to early on for preparing him up to this point.
“You might be trying to play a straight-ahead funk song, but if it’s New Orleans funk, as a drummer, it’s more of a laid back, almost a drunk-and-sloppy sounding vibe,” Ford explains. “We call it ‘greasy.’ If you don’t really understand the culture, then you have no clue what’s going on with the music.”
As for his future with Dumpstaphunk, Ford describes every day with the band as better than the last.
“This is probably one of the first gigs I’ve been on that, at the end of every show, I’m like ‘Oh man, it’s over? I have to wait until tomorrow night to play again?’” he says. “Everyone in the band is amazing. These guys have played with everyone, and they have traveled everywhere. It’s a learning experience for me, but at the same time I’m on a musical high all the time.”