I think I was 16. I was surrounded by the gleam of cymbals and stands and that specific smell that music shops used to have that comes from the particular carpet they used.
In front of me stood pretty much the only 'drum guy' in Norwich at the time (not that long before he went to work for Premier). I'd taken one of my vintage Premier toms (White Marine Pearl, late 50's/early 60's) with a Remo pinstripe batter, Remo ambassador clear for the resonant and...and masking tape and paper towel dampening pad!!!
He was very generous and understanding and, that day, he told me the hardest drum lesson. It's a shame it took me a further 12 years to actually learn it.
He took a drum from one of the kits in the drum room (I don't actually remember what it was) but it had a single ply coated head and he held it in his hand and hit it. I remember it sounded strange, ringing and, to me, pretty awful. Then he reminded me that he was a busy drummer and that the drum he had just played was the kind of sound he used live. He told me to take off the dampening and try it without. He told me one more thing too.
So, I promptly went home and used o-rings on my snare and toms for the next 4 years.....
I'm not sure what it took to finally help me learn the lesson. Maybe I'd just got less and less happy with my drum sound and I suppose eventually I couldn't ignore the approach the drummers all over the world were taking. Maybe it was getting to play mic'd up more and more and getting used to IEM's and a more processed sounds. Now? I hear the mistake all over the place; made by drummers who haven't learnt the hardest drum lesson yet.
You see what he told me that day, and what forms the basis of my setup and tuning ideas today, is that wherever, and whatever I'm playing, my drums should sound the best for those who are listening to them.
Given the nature of acoustic drums, especially un-mic'd ones, this means that you have to allow a brighter and more resonant sound to come from the drums so that by the time the sounds leaves the stage and hits the audience it is more balanced. It also means playing drums that don't sound as 'nice' to me which is hard; that's why it's the hardest lesson.
But you know what? Nowadays that brighter, more resonant sound, sounds just beautiful!