Once back in the late 1970s, when my first brother was attempting to form a band, he and his band mates usually left their instruments and practice gear in the basement of my Dad’s house. One evening when no one was around, I sat behind the Pearl drum kit and hashed away with reckless abandon. Damn, that was fun!
Having listened to hundreds and hundreds of LPs over the past 45 years, my love of the ‘drum sound’ is unreserved. Sure, I also love the sound of an Electric Guitar (Fender mostly) or driving Bass (again, mostly Fender) and I am a true sucker for Hammonds, Moogs, Mellotrons and other transcendent keyboard sounds, but there was always something special about the drums, the beat and the drummer. Maybe it’s the primal nature of the instruments’ sound and that of its’ executor or, simply that the sound is appealing to me, that’s when my own primal instincts and love of music kicks in. I am moved, immaculate.
Before I go any further, in my opinion, debating who rules supreme as the BEST drummer is a rather futile, chest beating argument. It is akin to debating who’s the best hockey team or football quarterback is (yawn). However, this analogy might be somewhat applicable because like a quarterback, the drummer is the playmaker, the backbone and the driving force behind ANY musical outfit. Sometimes, when the music requires, a flashy drummer with ninja precision and an impressive looking kit (eg. Niko McBrain, Neil Peart) can be equally as compelling & mind altering to listen to as the rootsy drummer with the sparse kit and a razor sharp sense of timing and rhythm (eg. Ringo Starr, Ralph Molina).
Diversity in drumming is the real talent. So, stop with the chest beating, if you disagree for some reason. It isn’t about whose drumstick is biggest or fastest.
As I developed my obsessive music listening habits, so did my ability to recognize good playing and good sounds, eventually leading me to my career in Radio and at Island, Virgin & EMI in the Record industry. For me now and always, nothing in this business is more rewarding than going to a club or bar, checking out a band with a hot sounding drummer. It makes the gig worthwhile.
For the younger drummers reading, who have not yet had the experience of listening to the numerous GREAT drummers in music’s past 60 years, here are some of my favorites (in no particular order) along with some albums that are highlights of their performances & contributions on record. I have left out some of the more obvious legendary (God-like) drummers, such as Buddy Rich, John Bonham, Keith Moon, Neil Peart for various reasons, primarily blatant (chest beating ) repetitiveness.
2. Phil Collins (Genesis, Brand X) – Yes, he eventually sold out to a mainstream audience hooked on Disney theme songs, but BEFORE that his work was stunning – Check out Genesis “The Colony Of Slippermen” from ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway‘ & Brand X “Running On Three” from ‘Unorthodox Behaviour‘
3. Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick) – The booming sound behind one of the 1970s greatest PowerPop Rock groups. Influenced himself by John Bonham and Ringo Starr – Check out Cheap Trick ‘Heaven Tonight‘
4. Art Blakey (Jazz Messengers) – Legendary BeBop drummer who worked with Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Wayne Shorter and many others – Check out Art Blakey ‘Orgy In Rhythm‘
6. Martin Atkins (Public Image Ltd., Nine Inch Nails) – Historic drummer for Public Image Ltd. laying the groundwork for future sounds in Ministry and NIN. Check out Public Image Ltd. “Bad Baby” from ‘Metal Box‘
7. Charlie Watts (Rolling Stones) – Many times it has been said by Keith Richards, that Charlie is the motor & bloodstream of the band. Simple, steady and exact precision tool for all kinds of tempos and styles – Check out Rolling Stones ‘Some Girls‘, ‘Tattoo You‘
8. Bill Ward (Black Sabbath) – Tony Iommi’s guitar is the image of the ‘monster’ while Bill Ward’s drums is the sound of the ‘monster’ coming towards you – Check out Black Sabbath ‘Master Of Reality‘, ‘Sabotage‘
9. Ralph Molina (Neil Young/Crazy Horse) – Has been Neil Young’s go-to drummer for over 40 years. ‘Nuff said – Check out Neil Young/Crazy Horse ‘Harvest‘, ‘Tonight’s The Night‘, ‘American Stars N’ Bars‘
10. Since there are too many others I could think of, #10 is reserved for a long list of other awesome drummers I have become familiar with over the years, each with their own set of unique talents, styles and character – Jim Keltner, Jerry Marotta, Niko McBrain, Mitch Mitchell, Prairie Prince, Carmine Appice, Stewart Copeland, Ringo Starr, Brad Wilk, Steve Gadd, Topper Headon, Aynsley Dunbar, Carl Palmer, Simon Kirke, Paul Thompson, Clyde Stubblesfield, Eddie ‘Bongo’ Brown…
All Hail the Drummers of the World!