Founder and CEO of el-live Productions
I share this post with you, my fellow musicians, as well as all human beings out there who wish to have a great Teacher. I’ve had the privilege of being blessed by knowing a positively impactful one.
Today, I got one of those calls that nobody wants to get. My drum teacher and friend of 39 years passed away this morning. He had a heart attack and unfortunately didn’t make it out of surgery. So on this fateful day, I recount just how much this great human not only impacted my musical career from the very first whip of my snare but on my life as a whole until this day.
I was 17 when I started taking lessons with him. As of this article, I am 54. Now that’s a big chunk of life. Granted, my father had the most influence on me with everything in life. However, when it comes to everything-music and professionalism, it came from “Chuck”. His name is Charles Burrows and he lived in Ottawa, Canada where I lived at the time.
This man helped train/mold/nurture, countless drummers, in such a successful way, that he enabled them to attend universities more than any other teacher I know. Many of his students were accepted at Concordia, McGill, Berkeley, Drummers Collective, and other well-respected institutions. He wasn’t just about paradiddles, double strokes, or any stroke for that matter. Chuck managed to help me transcend all the discipline that was applicable to my instrument into the deepest levels of my everyday life. That’s how important a great teacher is if you’re privileged to find one, but mostly, if you’re smart enough to recognize one when you’ve got yourself a special one.
Many of us have potential teachers and mentors in life but fail to recognize them… live and learn, right? Well, I feel like the luckiest guy having had “Sir Burrows” in my life from such a young age. Every year that I visited my home in Canada (I’ve been living and performing in Asia for the past 23 years), we’d meet for the longest and most “sacred” of lunches and we’d never miss that opportunity for the world. We’d talk about his new, “budding” drum students, what music he was currently listening to, what his perception was of the music industry in this day and age, and how it was shit and all going to Hell! “Sir” Chuck unapologetically never minced his words or softened his truths.
Now, here’s an example of how properly Chuck did everything in detail; One day I was flipping through a music magazine at his house and he stopped me to say: “Georges… look, man, this is how you flip a page”… and he graciously flipped it because he respected his belongings. Sounds simplistic right? Well, one of Chuck’s many mottos was: “everything that deserves to be done, deserves to be well done”. He taught me how to take apart my drum set, to clean and polish each piece, and then to reassemble it and to be proud of the instrument that was going to help me get on my way to this musical journey that I thrived to attain.
Chuck told me that my studio must become my sanctuary, that it had to be that special room in which I’d rather be more than anywhere in the world. I mean talk about lockdown! It was imperative that my studio is full-on Zen if I was going to be in there for 8-12 hours a day honing my craft. He reminded me weekly: “always mean what you play, play what you mean, and don’t play for musicians but play for the song and never fake anything”. So today, as an adult; accomplished musician and entrepreneur, anything that I do that doesn’t coincide with those values, I stand to fail. So, I quickly remind myself of Chuck’s wisdom and I proceed to do better as I strive for best.
When I came to Canada from Lebanon, I didn’t know who Elvis Presley and The Beatles were! I remember Chuck thinking out loud: “How am I going to teach this kid”? So he gradually introduced me to some of the greats such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Buddy Rich, James Brown, Ike, and Tina, you name it. Every week, he’d have new cassettes of rich music for me to immerse myself into and to practice too. This man was passionate about music, teaching, and he was generous with his time. He shared everything with me. He would go as far as to cut out articles of a series about the history of drums from Modern Drummer magazines and created a kind of “drum bible” for us, his students, to refer to. When I meet young musicians today, I wonder if they have or will come across a priceless Teacher and at times mentor, such as Charles Burrows in their lifetime. I wouldn’t be who I am today; not only as a musician but as a man and entrepreneur had it not been for the discipline and wisdom that are instilled in me. These values that are crucial to studying music and drums are directly applicable to every aspect of everyday life. I wonder if el-live Productions would be as deeply rooted and successful as it is if it hadn’t been for the rich knowledge that I acquired through years of studying drums with Chuck. He’d say: “Don’t worry about the fame man, worry about the music. Play from the heart, entertain your audience, enjoy your instrument that has become a part of you”.
When he fell ill and had a heart attack, I know that his partner Susan and a fellow student of Chuck’s; Jamie Holmes, were by his side until the end. When it was over, Jaime called me: “Georges, we held his hands and we played Keith Jarrett for him, and I’ve been listening to Keith Jarrett, Jack Dejohnette and Gary Peacock for most of the day”.
Hey, I know that this post is longer than usual but it was really important for me to share this with you in the hope to find a bit of closure. I hope that you will have the privilege that I’ve had, to have such positively impactful Teachers in your life and/or career. And if you do, tell them, share and celebrate them. Don’t wait until they pass. Throughout the years I’ve expressed my gratitude to him but when he passed, it hit me hard as I realized how deep his wisdom had helped mold and guide me through a successful career and life.
So today, I honor my Teacher and Friend Charles “Chuck” Burrows, a passionate audiophile, world-class Drum, and Music Educator. He and other remarkable teachers have impacted my life in ways that I wouldn’t have dreamed of.
I’m forever grateful.