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Music fit for a King

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Dave King
Twin Cities-based drummer Dave King is an internationally-known talent and is part of a number of musical acts.
Cameron Wittig

One of the most prolific, genre hopping drummers in the country will be feted by the Walker Art Center beginning tonight.

The Walker event is called "King for Two Days," but it's actually a humble homecoming for 39-year-old Dave King.

As a musically voracious Golden Valley teenager studying piano and percussion, the Walker was one of King's favorite haunts. Seeing all those concerts by experimental jazz heavyweights helped him decide to be an avant garde drummer in a rock and roll town. They also helped King realize the importance of creating a presence behind the drum kit.

"No matter how simple the music, no matter how thorny and complex, no matter how progressive, dance, minimalist, if there's some sort of personality coming from the drum chair then the band itself sort of has a leg up to be something different," he said.

King's fellow musicians have all experienced that philosophy in action. Mike Lewis, who plays saxophone with King in the Minneapolis punk jazz trio Happy Apple, will be joining him in "King for Two Days."

James Diers, Martin Dosh, Mike Lewis
(left to right) James Diers, frontman and co-songwriter along with King of Halloween Alaska, Martin Dosh, aka "Dosh," who was a drumming student of King's in the late '90s, and Mike Lewis, the sax player to King's drums in the jazz trio"Happy Apple."
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts

"Two days almost isn't really enough even, you know, to fully encapsulate all that is that guy and what he does musically," Lewis said.

"Sometimes drummers may have remarkable facility and they stick out in the context of the band," he said. "Sometimes that's a good thing. I mean who doesn't like Keith Moon, or take your pick. But I think Dave is remarkable in like, he has all the requisite facility in order to stick out, but he's always playing the song."

King's charisma has inspired younger drummers. In the late 90s, multi-instrumentalist Martin Dosh decided he wanted to study with King after seeing his poly-rhythmic ability to keep a beat electrify audiences at Happy Apple shows.

"You think of like a drum fill being like, you know, duppa duppa duppa duppa duppa duppa dum," he said. "But Dave can do fills that are in different time signatures, or he'll do something super fast but if you were to slow it down, it's not just going all over the place. There's a logic to what he's doing. He's still keeping time or he'll do some fill that goes completely over your head, and then come right back in on the one."

"Studying with Dave is the ultimate lesson in humility because I realized I could never be as good as he is technically," Dosh said. "I could never be Dave King. So I think it was more his passion for doing what he loved to do, and watching that made me figure out what I wanted to do."

Dave King
Dave King of The Bad Plus in WAC photo studio amid wac-staff collection of plush critters., June 19, 2009.
Photo Courtesy of Cameron Wittig

King also has a huge passion for pop and rock music. That's why he's drummed for a parade of prominent local indie rock bands right alongside his jazz projects. Among them are 12-Rods, Love Cars, and his current group, Halloween Alaska.

Halloween Alaska frontman James Diers sees King less as a drummer in the band then one of its primary songwriters. And Diers says King brings a songwriter's attention to detail to his instrument.

"Tuning drums for example," Diers said. "We'll play a show and he will use a kick drum and have it tuned to a note. There's a note there and I've watched many sound guys struggle with that because they're used to a rock drummer that comes in and is just worried about kicking up this sub-woofy impact thing and not thinking about a note."

"Not all drummers are thinking that carefully about those choices and I think he's somebody who hears not only drums but songs and bands," Diers said. He hears it in his band and is sort of striving to realize that."

All of these qualities and King's overly abundant ensemble incarnations will be on full display over the course of "King for Two Days." That's why King hopes the title of the event isn't misleading.

"It's not me ultimately we're celebrating, it's the idea of gathering people," he said. "And I like to gather people. I like to put people together and try and see what happens."

Tonight, King will reign on stage with his New York-based outfits, the Bad Plus and Buffalo Collision, and the homegrown Happy Apple. Tomorrow night King will premiere two new groups, "Golden Valley is Now" and the "Dave King Trucking Company."