IN PRAISE OF THE MALIGNED DRUMMER

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August 19th, 2011 by Rami

The genesis of this post happened when Josh and I saw the Dex Romweber Duo open for Wanda Jackson one grim March evening at Chicago's Lincoln Hall.  We both marveled at Dex's sister Sara's drumming, her ability to hit 'em so HARD with her bird-like wrists. Check her out in the first minute of this video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNFkeVGd4JE

We also encourage you to check out the new material from Dex and Sara on Is That You in The Blue?

Being the music weenies and drummers we are, we started thinking about our favorite drummers and thus arose this post, an homage, an appreciation if you will, of the oft-maligned person on the stool in the back. The butt of so many jokes: What did the drummer get on his IQ test? Drool. What's got three legs and an asshole? A drum stool. What do you call a jerk who hangs out with musicians? A drummer.

Spinal Tap, Ringo Starr, Phil Collins, Tommy Lee and his rotating space drum kit, why do bad drummers happen to good bands?; oh, the laughs just keep coming.  When we read about a band changing their drummer, how often do we care? Or notice?  It's no wonder so many of them are twitchy drunken messes, what with the fear of being replaced, being last in line for the after show chicks (yet, ironically, few things are hotter than a good female drummer. Go figure.), getting the worst drugs, not being recognized by the bartender when you are trading in your drink ticket ("you are not with the band"), and, most humiliating of all, having to ignominiously lug all that heavy gear to the van alone while the preening singer gets some Swedish swimsuit model to carry his satchel of scarves for him.

Well, here we're gonna give the drummer some.  We're gonna name names and point you in the direction of our favorite drummers, ones with personality, talent and style.  They make the band better.  You can't imagine the band without them.  The sum becomes greater than the parts.

We've been lucky enough to work with some pretty damn fine drummers here, and some of them were gracious enough to weigh in on the subject.

MARK ORTMANN
Bottle Rockets

There are many drummers I enjoy listening to and admire their playing. Some old-school favorites that stand out for me are:

John Bonham for his chops, creativity and brutal force. His drum sound was huge, and he had the heaviest and fastest right foot at the time—what I call the Led Foot. His musical style and abilities will continue to be an influence long into the future, and his recordings stand the test of time.

Joe Morello for his effortless virtuosity that never got in the way of the music. Although he had boundless skill, he never used it for evil purposes by over-playing. He could swing and drive a band in any time signature and make it sound natural—Dave Brubeck's classic album Time Out is a peerless example. And I especially enjoy Joe's brush work.

Clyde Stubblefield for being the funkiest drummer. His work with James Brown set the bar for generations to follow. There are many imitators, but only one Stubblefield.

Ringo Starr for being a creative stylist. What Ringo lacked in technical abilities, he made up for with interesting creativity. The drum and percussion track to "Hello, Goodbye" is a great example of a drummer thinking outside the box—zigging when the band zags, but still completely supporting the song.

Art Blakey for his guttural and primal approach to jazz. I get a huge kick out of hearing him audibly groan and moan on recordings during his drum solos. He let it all hang out.

 

The Bottle Rockets' latest, an acoustic live album called Not So Loud, is out now.

 

MARK PICKEREL

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdpvuJmGU68

Check him out at 2:07, looking like a 15-year-old paperboy who wandered onto the stage, especially behind all those hairy scary Screaming Trees beasts.

Mark cuts to the chase and gives us a brief, brusque and somewhat profane summation of the importance of the drummer.  And a little glimpse of his volcanic temper:

I like a good drummer joke as much as the next guy but sometimes after hearing six or eight in a row I find myself responding with something like ... "Hey listen you hater, I want you to try and imagine The Meters Cissy Strut without any drums while you go fuck yourself!"

Mark Pickerel has released two Bloodshot solo albums: Cody's Dream and Snake in The Radio.

 

JOE CAMARILLO
Waco Brothers

The Beatles' version of "Act Naturally" was always a big fave of mine growing up. Long before I even knew that the Bakersfield sound even existed, I was diggin' the Fabs' forays into C&W. Ringo Starr (their drummer) did more than a serviceable approximation of that right handed eighth note swing that Buck Owens' drummer Willie Cantu steered the Buckaroos Bakersfield express with. Even well into pop success w/ songs like "Help," Mr. Starkey kept it swingin' w/ the kind of Country chops you just can't fake. Listen to the Lennon/McCartney/Starkey penned "What Goes On" and their tribute to some of their Honky Tonk heroes. Further proof to me that the Beatles truly adored Country music.

The Waco Brothers' latest is Wacos Express: Live and Kickin' at Schubas Tavern.

 

TERRY ANDERSON
The Yayhoos

The drummer has the keys…

With a rollicking “Pat Boone Debbie Boone” intro, the drummer cranks into the tune like starting your dad’s prized hot rod. You gave him the keys. He can go as fast or as slow as he wants. You’re riding shotgun and the rest of the band is screaming back-ups in the backseat. You must really trust this guy driving. You have to be sure before you get out there that he knows where he’s going and that the audience following behind doesn’t get lost on the way. That’s why you guys spent weeks in the garage going over the map.  A lot is riding on this trip and it’s very important that the drummer keeps it between the ditches. You guys can cut-up and act the fool, but he really has to pay attention to the road for the song to come off sounding totally together. If there’s a (train) wreck, he’ll get the brunt of the blame. After all, the drummer has the keys.

It turned 10 years old this year, but the Yayhoos' Fear Not The Obvious is still a gem.


JOHN CONVERTINO
Calexico

1958 does it for me as a drummer. if you think about the fact that the drum set as an instrument really didn't come into being till the early 20th century, in that middle of that century, you have drummers on an instrument that reached its early refinement. smaller bass drums, the kit lost the percussion tray from the 20's and 30's and the cymbals became the prominent time keeper. looking and listening to drummers from the late 50's till the mid 60's you can hear where musicality and melody began to be played on the set. max roach being a fine example of that. i always go back to these recordings for inspiration. danny richmond with charles mingus. philly joe jones with miles davis. joe morello with dave brubeck. and my top two favorites being shelly manne and vernel fournier. vernel played with ahmad jamal, mostly brushes, which i love. shelly manne was a west coast drummer and composer who lead his own bands and had a jazz club which i dream of doing some day. i know these are all jazz drummers, and i myself am not a jazz drummer, but jazz drumming allows for a freedom drummers don't often get to have being mostly time keepers in country, rock, and pop. that doesn't mean we can't sneek some that deliciousness in our rock country or pop...like the great mitch mitchell did with hendricks, or stewart copeland in the police....or more recently glenn kotche with wilco or the tortoise drummers and the beautiful jim white with the dirty three.....john densmore from the doors would bring some latin flavored beats to the doors, i always dug that. latin jazz beats or cumbias or afro cuban beats widen the groove, a nice contrast to what became of rock n' roll, which it lost the roll and just rocked, which can be great too, but i missed that swing....so i always try to allow for that to happen, that openness, that sweet spot of swing where it feels like you can stop playing and everything will keep going on its own....howe gelb and i were a two piece band in the late 80's....that got me listening to the old blues guys like lightning hopkins who would play with just a drummer and no bass, got me to appreciate the simplicity of the blues, and the space between the bass drum hit and snare hit....never mind the hi-hat or cymbals....thats why i love the brushes, you can stay on the snare and hug it, you can play notes that can't be heard but felt....that got me back to listening to baby dodds the new orleans drummer that never played with brushes, brought the snare and the bass drum together he became the one man parade, made it subtle with the sticks....one of my favorite things to listen to is jelly roll morton sitting at the piano with a metronome, i had this recording that rainer ptacek gave me, jelly roll morton just plays and tells stories with this click clock going on....you can here how he swings around the beat and makes it all happening. joey and i did the two piece thing for a while too. i think joey really found his voice on the guitar, with the spanish guitar, or classical....he started playing that and it was so soft, i stayed with the brushes, found that i could play a kind of salsa beat, or samba flavored thing that was also kind of like the new orleans zydeco beat.....that seemed to open things up for us when we were starting out in the friends of dean martin, and more so when calexico got going. i will finish up by saying that i love playing the drums, and being a drummer, i wouldn't want to do any thing else....it is a true joy.

 

JOSH ZANGER
Bloodshot publicist and active drummer

I started my contribution to this post a couple times now, and it's been a little tricky to nail down a list of my favorite drummers, drum songs, etc. When I was younger my favorite drummers were pretty obvious choices of your average drum nerd: jazz drummer Buddy Rich, Stewart Copeland of The Police, Damon Che of Don Caballero, Danny Carey of Tool, and marching band drum lines. As a matter of full disclosure, I play drums and have been in drum lines in the past (Marching Illini of University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana).

Somewhere along the line, I started listening to a wider variety of bands—less straightforward rock, and lots of rhythm driven music. I began to appreciate music that I may not have normally been able to get into had there not been an impressive rhythmic presence. That's still where I stand today and, although many of these bands/artists are now some of my most beloved, they are by no means typical Guitar Center, drummer-nerd loving stereotypes. I like to think that I've grown in my affection for such a cool set of instruments, but I probably haven't. Who cares though, right?

Steve ReichMusic for 18 Musicians and Drumming – These two albums completely changed my vision of what “drumming” and rhythm meant. The ideas of phasing and ensemble interlock are magical on both of these classical minimalist albums. I think very few drum kit monsters (a la Bonham, Copeland, et al.) could handle this sort of patience, focus, and group interplay. Check out this Youtube video of a group playing “Section II” from the album Drumming.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NA2YrlfEe6Y

Zach Hill (Hella, Marnie Stern) - Just thinking about Hill’s never-ending drum head attacks makes me nervous. He plays with a constant double bass drum diddle and single-stroked snare rolls, like Alex Van Halen playing "Hot For Teacher" at double time. With his band Hella he can be a bit too freeform for my tastes, but with Marnie Stern and while watching him play in clips on Youtube, he is a machine. I aspire to the day that my bass drum leg and forearms can do this.

http://youtu.be/EjtFMWOZBJw

Martin Brandlmayr (Radian, Nemeth, Trapist) - Maybe electronic music isn't your thing, but this guy holds down ensemble sound through melded rhythms and a toy chest of knick knacks and tricks – like hitting small cymbals, then dropping them on his drum heads for reverberation while still playing an in-the-pocket beat. He uses brush sticks to feather notes and watching him perform (which most people in the U.S. rarely have the opportunity to do) is impressive no matter what your musical tastes are.

http://youtu.be/cV7Bf3tEVHg

Clyde Stubblefield aka The Funky Drummer - If you've ever enjoyed a song by James Brown, it's in part because of how Stubblefield defined the pocket, simply kept time, and MADE IT FUNKY. This guy has been sampled and copied more times than any other individual to sit behind a kit.

 

BLOODSHOT ROB
Bloodshot owner and inactive drummer

(played with Detroit punk legends* the Wood Butchers, other bands too embarrassing to mention, Moonshine Willy, and even sat in on  "Sweet Home Alabama" with Sleepy LaBeef once).  First drum kit, a Rogers sunburst red 4 piece, originally belonged to the Necros.  Rob gave it to a pretty girl many years later cuz she asked nicely.  Whoops!

*Not in any way legendary.

Nick Knox, The Cramps:  Taught me that anyone could play.  A cadaverous heartbeat.   Simple. Essential.  The first song I ever played as a "drummer" was "Human Fly."  I played along on the dashboard of a car I was riding in on the way to a show at the Freezer Theater in Detroit (Misfits?  Negative Approach? GI's? The mind, she's not what she used to be) and the guy in the backseat said "hey, wanna be in our band?"  That was my audition.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3HSO1F7zHM

Gene Krupa,  Sing Sing Sing
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yj-4FN2umsk

Set the template for rock-and-roll drumming. I also have something of a man-crush on him. He was a rakishly handsome devil.
Check out the killer version the Flat Duo Jets (Dex Romweber) did on their self-titled debut LP.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksNJwbencVs

Al Jackson Jr:  Part of the Stax Records house band, one of the best bands EVER.    Booker T and the MGs, the Mar-Keys, Otis Redding, etc etc etc.   You've heard his drumming a million times and didn't even know it.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FX5T9GvSnbY

Alan Myers, Devo: Dismiss them for the pop success or new wave hits and you lose.  Yeah, they had their unfortunate latter years of hexagonal drum pads and RotoToms,  but the early records smoked.  A few years ago I caught an all-female Devo tribute band called Deva (diva, get it?) on the Lower East Side of NY.  What struck me most was how hard the drummer had to work to make it sound like DEVO.   Alan was the secret weapon.  Check out " Uncontrollable Urge."  Punk as fuck, my friends.  My arms hurt just WATCHING this.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aA5EB4Uk9s0

Phil Rudd,  AC/DC:    Phil hit 'em hard and stayed in the pocket.
I'm sorry, but you can have your Bonzo Bonhams and Neal Pearts with their difficult time signatures and flashy paradiddles and polyrhythms and gongs and shit. Keep it simple and lay down a sick 4/4 groove.  Classic rock at its best.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SxVOI5zfdQ

Clem Burke, Blondie:  "Dreaming."  C'mon check him out at 1:30
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rl3iaTUQQvY

AND he's doing it in gold lame. So take note all you scrubby hipsters, there's no excuse not to look good while playing. Make an effort. It's a SHOW, after all.

Honorable mention: DJ Bonebreak of X  (listen to "Hungry Wolf"), Robo of Black Flag (the good years, like "Thirsty and Miserable"), John Convertino of Calexico (elegant, artful and right in the pocket), Martin Chambers of the Pretenders (listen to "Precious"), Scott "Rock Action" Asheton of the Stooges ("Loose", anyone?) and Clyde Stubblefield—THE funky drummer (James Brown)—I can't even PRETEND I know what he's doing most of the time.