Open Letter by Carlton Santa Davis
10/09/2014 by Carlton ‘Santa’ Davis
My name is Carlton Davis, but most of you probably know me as Santa Davis. I’m 60 years-old, and I have been a professional drummer for over four decades. Over the course of my career I have had much to be thankful for, as well as my share of tribulation. I write this letter today to address something in my life that has concerned me for the last two years.
In August of 2012 an article was printed in Modern Drummer magazine written by Ken Micallef that was essentially an interview with me. In this interview we discussed many aspects of my drumming, including a particular technique that I employed on the recording of None Shall Escape the Judgment. It was a technique that incorporated an open hi-hat sound, and was so nicknamed the ‘flying cymbals’ by the producer of the session, Bunny Lee.
In a response to a question regarding the technique’s origin, I gave Mr. Micallef an answer that indicated clearly that it was prevalent in soca, calypso, and other forms of Jamaican music long before I played it. It had been on records many times before me, and that it was during this particular session that Bunny Lee gave it its name.
However, in the article’s introduction of my career highlights, Mr. Micallef wrote, “the "flying cymbals" hi-hat style he created with the famed reggae producer Bunny Lee.” I did not create this technique, nor did I ever think I was implying or wished to imply I did with my answers.
It may seem like a small thing to some, perhaps even insignificant, but to me, it is not. I do not want to disparage or criticize Mr. Micallef or Modern Drummer magazine, as I appreciate their contributions to the world of drumming. What I do want to express are my clear, unequivocal feelings on my role as a drummer, as well as what it means to create music.
It is my belief that playing an instrument on a record or in a live performance is akin to being an ingredient in a recipe. I have many influences, many players I’ve studied, many sounds I’ve heard, some sounds I’ve cultivated myself, but all of them I consider as ingredients that exist independently that I draw from when deciding what sound, what beat, what flavor would best suit the song. I do not and have never concerned myself with pursuing or taking credit for the creation of a sound or a beat. I only pursue what I believe is best for the song. This technique was one that I had heard on many records before I used it on None Shall Escape the Judgment, and I thought would be best for the song.
In my time as a touring drummer with Ziggy Marley, I have had the fortune of traveling all over the world, and in doing so have been able to reconnect with some friends and colleagues. During several of these recent encounters I’ve been confronted with this notion that what was written in the Modern Drummer piece misconstrued my perception and expression of the role I played in the evolution of the ‘flying cymbals.’ I did not want to let another day pass without putting down in words my thoughts on this issue, and I hope the preceding clears up any and all possible misinterpretation or confusion on the subject.
I wish to offer my gratitude to Reggaeville for allowing me the time and space to reach out to you, the reggae music community, with this letter. I also wish to thank all of you for your continued support of the music. Thank you.
Carlton ‘Santa’ Davis
Los Angeles, CA, September 2014