Backsticking -- A Drumming Technique Institutionalized by John Dowlan
I first saw backsticking during a visit to a rehearsal of the New York Skyliners at the 369th Regiment Armory (Fifth Avenue between 142nd and 143rd Streets in Harlem, Manhattan) sometime in the early 1960s. To say that I was floored would be an understatement. At the time it was revolutionary. Today it's commonplace but it was a step jump in technique generally credited to John Dowlan.
(The images above courtesy of Rudimental Drumming website.)
From "The Baron of Backsticking" by Joe Marrella:
Believe it or not, BackSticking was developed in 1938 by its creator as a method to improve a drummer’s left hand. The first BackSticking exercise was accenting triplets. The technique was first taught to the Air Force snare drum section in 1958 by my dear friend, my mentor, my instructor, and the person most responsible for my success in drum corps, as well as scores of others.
His name is John Dowlan. To me, he is the “Baron of BackSticking”.
Official Bio from the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame
In 1935, John joined the Osmond Post Cadets Junior Corps in Philadelphia as a rookie drummer. During the years that followed John practiced long hours to obtain a firm rudimental drumming foundation. It was during this time John also developed and refined his practice techniques commonly known today as BackSticking."
In 1946 following his Army military service in the Philippines during WW2 John returned to Osmond and became drum instructor. A new senior drum corps was being formed known as A.K. Street VFW Sr. Corps and they were auditioning drummers. He soon joined. The corps' name was later changed to the Reilly Raiders in memory of a former junior corps member Frederick J. Reilly.
During his 7 year tenure with Reilly John won many snare drum accolades including the VFW Senior Individual National Snare Drum Championship in 1949 in Miami, again in 1950 in Chicago and again in 1951 in New York City. To show his versatility John also played soprano bugle in the National Championship Senior Brass Quartet.
In 1957, John was selected by M/Sgt Truman Crawford to teach and arrange percussion for the drum line of the USAF Drum Corps, Washington, DC. While there the Air Force drummers introduced the World to John's BackSticking Techniques. During John's drum corps career he has instructed in excess of 50 top junior and senior drum corps and hundreds of drummers. Some of these drummers are members of the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame today.
Audio of John Dowlan Playing:
1949 VFW National Snare Drum Championship Solo (probably not recorded in but as played in Miami, Florida)
1950 VFW National Snare Drum Championship Solo (probably not recorded in but as played in Chicago, Illinois) (also 1951, New York City)