SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Despite the unremitting sun and palm trees, there's at least one musician in Los Angeles who is often aggravated, annoyed, sometimes peeved - well, at least in some of his lyrics. Dave Tull, a drummer and singer-songwriter who rhymes with with 'em (ph) and imagine with badgin' (ph). NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg laughed for a week as she listened to Tull's new album on her daily commute. She laughed even more when he came in for an interview.
DAVE TULL: So...
SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: He brought his wire brushes to our studio, and he played them on the Formica tabletop, left hand making circles and occasional taps, right hand marking time. Hard, like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach. On his album, Dave Tull recorded the vocals first, then drummed with the band separately. The album's called "Texting And Driving." Here's why.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE TEXTING SONG")
TULL: (Singing) I started texting and forgot that I was steering. I jumped the curb before I noticed I was nearing. But I'm due to tweet, and I got something to say, so if you're crossing the street, you best get out of the way. No need to stand there looking so perplexed. I just got to send a text.
STAMBERG: Dave Tull is a sessions drummer. Fifty-four years old, he played with Chuck Mangione, Maynard Ferguson, toured with Barbra Streisand. He tells what that was like later. First, another Tull tune - a peeved one.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATCH YOUR KID")
TULL: (Singing) I'm thinking, who did I invite who would put jello on this chair? Then your 3-year-old runs by with mashed potatoes in his hair. You're so deep in conversation, you're completely unaware. Won't you please, please watch your kid?
STAMBERG: Like many of his songs, this one was rooted in real life. Years back, Tull was working at a deli and saw a little boy whose mother was busy shopping. The kid was busy, too - climbing onto shelves, racing up aisles, pulling a wine bottle from the bottom of a stack so the whole stack smashed.
TULL: And it was like (imitates crash). Like, you know. Then we had to close the store, and, of course, she went running out the door.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATCH YOUR KID")
TULL: (Singing) He's eating something off the ground and you're nowhere to be found. And if he screams again, I'm bound to flip my lid. Won't you please - can't you please, watch your kid?
STAMBERG: Of course, his two children never acted like that. Neither did yours, right?
About Dave Tull's voice, he would never make the Met, but it's perfect for these songs. A reviewer once called it sincere. Dave calls it honest. But he's been lucky enough to play several gigs with one of the greatest singers around, Barbra Streisand, a notorious perfectionist and amazing, he says. Never heard a bad note out of her. How much guidance did she give you, if any? Would she ever say, take it down a little, or, I'd rather hear brushes there?
TULL: Right, there were some. We did rework endings and beginnings and certain - and tempos and things literally right up to right before they're opening the doors. There was one song in particular that she just wanted the ending to get more and more dramatic, and it wasn't quite getting it. I was doing, like, big cymbal rolls on - with mallets, and she turned and she said, what about those other symbols? You know, those ones that you bang - the classical ones. Can we get those?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A PIECE OF SKY")
BARBRA STREISAND: (Singing) Papa, I can hear you. Papa, I can feel you. Papa, how I love you. Papa, watch me fly.
STAMBERG: A bit less dramatic, a Dave Tull song about music and timing. It's called, "Clapping On One And Three." The singer invites a gorgeous girl he's just met to his favorite jazz club. She talks all through the music. That he can forgive.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLAPPING ON ONE AND THREE")
TULL: (Singing) Although she don't get the music, her smile is so bright. There's almost nothing that could chase away me. But I won't stay if my baby starts clapping on one and three.
STAMBERG: I don't know what clapping on one and three means. Will you please demonstrate it for us?
TULL: Of course. At the beginning of the bridge, I'll clap on one and three, even though it hurts to do it (laughter). So it's this, (clapping) because we're going (claps) one, two, (claps) three, four. A (claps) one, two, (claps) three, four. A (claps) one, two, (claps) three, four.
STAMBERG: What's wrong with that?
TULL: Well, swing just doesn't live there. Swing lives on two and four. The whole thing gets greasy and rolling and moving forward when the accent's on two and four. And when you put it on one and three, it just is the sound of somebody pushing a sled through sand.
STAMBERG: OK, now let's hear clapping on two and four.
TULL: One, (claps) two, three, (claps) four. A one, (claps) two, three, (claps) four. There you go.
STAMBERG: Oh, it's so much better that way.
TULL: Oh, it's so much better.
STAMBERG: It propels it, right?
TULL: It's like slipping into a warm bath.
STAMBERG: Drummer, singer-songwriter Dave Tull with a music lesson - no extra charge - and some terrific songs. His new album is called "Texting And Driving." Instead of texting, if you listen to it while you drive, you will laugh out loud, I promise. Susan Stamberg, NPR News, Los Angeles.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLAPPING ON ONE AND THREE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.