Welcome to another of my non too frequent ‘My Music’ Blogs. This one features my favourite Drummers.
I used to play drums in my younger days so its not surprising that many of music heroes are drummers. But ask most people who their music heroes are and they probably wont include a drummer. According to popular myth, drummers are Neanderthals on the scale of musical evolution. They have a reputation for being drunks, slightly mad and getting into fights. And they are not real musicians because they are only there to keep time.
I disagree. I say a band is only as good as its drummer. A good drummer is musically very aware, understands song structure and melody and has a real sense of the groove. And only some drummers are drunks, mad and get into fights. Me? Back then? I’m saying nothing.
Friends ask me who do I think is/was the best drummer ever. I say I’m not an expert and all top drummers do some things better than others. Judgements are largely influenced by preferred musical genres, and favourite bands. Ask me to name 10 of the best drummers I would still struggle but I know for sure who my favourite drummers are. I’m not going to give you ten though. I think my blog would be too long, and I might want to feature more drummers at a later date. So, I’ve chosen 6 that for me stand out. I’m going to tell you who they are and why.
I was inspired to do this post after missing the opportunity to write a tribute to the wonderful Charlie Watts (one of my favourite drummers) after his recent death and then recently catching a clip of another favourite, Phil Collins, looking frail and sad on BBC Breakfast. He admitted on the programme that due to his medical conditions he is ‘kind of physically challenged’, can’t play drums any more and can barely hold a stick in one hand. It was tragic to lose Charlie and so sad to see Phil’s debilitating conditions, but I’m thankful that like all great drummers, we will never lose their music. We can listen to and watch them anytime.
So lets get into it.
Before he was a successful pop singer, Collins was of the most proficient and adventurous drummers of the 1970s. Not only was he the powerhouse behind ‘Genesis’ (I’m a big Genesis fan) but he also the drummer with jazz fusion collective ‘Brand X’. I saw him live with Brand X felt like giving up drumming after watching the speed and complexity of his drumming. I love his ‘gated snare’ drum sound which he used with Genesis and which was soon copied by many throughout the Eighties. And who can forget the most famous drum fill of the 80s which he played on “In the Air Tonight”.
On the album ‘Get Your Ya-Yas Out!’ you can hear Mick Jagger shout-out, “Charlie’s good tonight, isn’t he?” And Keith Richards often said that, without Charlie, there would be no Stones. Ronnie Wood confirms the same in the band’s Tip Of The Tongue documentary: “Charlie’s the engine. We don’t go anywhere without the engine.” Its clear what the Stones thought of Charlie but I like him just because his drumming is rock solid, intelligent, sways towards blues and jazz whenever it needs to and is completely unfussy and unpretentious. When I was playing in my band in the early 70’s we did a few Stones’ covers and I learned a lot form Charlie. He made such a good noise out of a limited (albeit top quality) drumkit. I also like him because he was such a ‘cool’ so-and-so and a snappy dresser. There are so many good tributes to Charlie on Youtube but I would particular recommend a nice written tribute to Charlie in Clive’s blog Take it Easy which includes some great video links . Here’s a tribute video I found.
Led Zeppelin would have never have sounded like Led Zeppelin if it wasn’t for ‘Bonzo’. His drumming is the most exciting and powerful I have ever heard. His style was ferocious and loud. I tried to copy his breaks and bits of solos but my brain was close to exploding trying to figure them out and in any case my drums would never sound like his and would probably break under the strain. In the early days I thought Bonzo had two bass drums but actually he just had had the fastest right leg in drumming history. When he tragically passed away at 32 in 1980 Led Zeppelin decided to disband. They could no longer continue without him.
Steve Gadd’s best known drumtracks are the brain-bending syncopation of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover and the mind blowing fills on Steely Dan’s “Aja. (I feature this track in another ‘My Music’ blog “Why I love this song – Aja“.) He played with so many artists including Chic Corea, Eric Clapton (he was Eric’s first call drummer), Sting, James Taylor and others. He could do pop, rock, funk, jazz and even turn his sticks to disco (he played on Van McCoy’s Number One single “The Hustle”.
I saw Carl Palmer live several times with Emerson Lake and Palmer (ELP), ASIA and recently when he toured with his own “Carl Palmer Band”. He never disappointed. ELP were famous for mixing classical, symphonic music with prog rock and jazz so his drumming had to be a bit special. What I liked about him was not just his incredible skills and technique (I’d say he is second only to Buddy Rich) but that he was a real showman. Boy was he flashy, and his solos were even flashier. And having met him, he came across as a really nice unpretentious guy. His playing today at age 70 is still awesome. Here is a great drum solo performed live at the Royal Albert Hall. Enjoy!
Buddy Rich, arguably the greatest jazz drummer of all time died in 1987. During his career, he recorded and performed with Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and many other ‘greats’ before leading his own high energy big-bands. I was fortunate enough to see him live around ’78 and I will never forget that concert. He wore a slick suit with buttoned jacket and tie, had great banter, and played his socks off for two hours solid. He was a real showman and showed us some great ‘stick tricks’, the fastest drumming I had ever seen and some great solos and duets. The big 20 minute solo was the one everyone was talking about after the concert. It would be considered corny now but mid solo and without missing a beat he unfastened his tie, unbuttoned his shirt, lit and smoked a cigarette and enjoyed a well deserved whisky. Well it was the 70s. Here he is in a drum battle with another of my favourite drummers.