The piece below is drum-centric, but hopefully entertaining to the general audience. Or at least to you, my faithful, music-loving reader. I just wanted to put myself in the picture for this one. You may enjoy the ride.
In November of 1984, a couple weeks before my 12th birthday, I was digging around a large closet in the family room of the house I grew up in North Andover, MA. The sizable space was filled with miscellanea: photo albums, my mom's old paintings, portable files containing bills and documents, a ton of paperbacks from the 50's-60's, a book about sex from the early 60's (which, though I was initially psyched to find, was about as convoluted and unsexy as a law book), and, at the bottom of one pile, a thin, glossy book that looked like this:
There was a $1.99 price tag on it from Sav-On or Thrifty (from our Orange County, CA days), which showed that my parents bought it for me when I FIRST expressed interest in drumming--when I was 6 and just wanted to hit things.
64 pages and lots of pictures. And an alternative method to learning what to hit, when. Instead of notes on a staff, it was like colored dots and x's or something, if I remember correctly (I don't have the book anymore).
I had no idea who the guy on the cover was (I think he's from Golden Earring). There were also a lot of other drummers inside that I didn't recognize, but whose names I remembered for future reference (Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Baby Dodds, Billy Cobham...). There were photos of Ginger Baker and Ringo Starr which I later cut out and put on my wall.
I read the History section, the explanation of the notation, and then...a photo that probably set my sexual maturity back a few years, because suddenly, I cared not about the naked ladies in the weird sex book, or about baseball any more. What I saw was a full page photo, taken from maybe 8 feet high, looking down on a red sparkle 4 piece drum kit, brand new milky white skins, with high hat, crash and ride cymbals. And..YOU COULD SEE THE PEDALS! It felt nearly pornographic. I could imagine my feet pressing down on those pedals. I could imagine the different sounds the kit would make as I hit those pristine heads and shiny, thin, gold cymbals. Oh my god. This was a match made in heaven. I'd never lusted after anything so much before. Ok, MAYBE that 30 inch Easton aluminum bat 2 years prior, but I was so over that.
I decided I wanted to start playing the drums. NOW. My parents said "Woah there, Mr. Baseball, where'd this all come from? We don't think it's a very wise thing to get you something so loud and heavy and space-consuming if it's just a whim. Maybe next year".
Grr. This is what sucks about December birthdays. You get all your gifts in one month. When you're a kid, the rest of the year seems SO long, and, you're pretty much a different person with different interests by the next birthday/holiday season. Sucks for the kid. Great for the parents. So, they knew if I STILL wanted drums by the following December, that a) I was really committed and b) they (as well as my sister and the two cats) were damned to have a 14 year old practicing drums in the house.
So, no drums for my 12th birthday.
But what did I get? I got a Doors tape from my sister. This one. It was exciting. I listened to it 9,758 times.
Although I was listening to a lot of radio and watching a lot of V66 at that time, it meant a lot to have my own tape. I had a favorite band. In the following months, I got into more bands, but for a while, it was all Jimbo all the time.
Since I was so horny to become a drummer, here's what I did:
I cut out pieces of cardboard to the exact sizes the book said the drums were (minus the bass drum). Then I placed the 14", 12" and 16" cardboard discs on my bed, positioned my feet on imaginary pedals, sat facing the mirror, and played along endlessly to tapes and to the radio.
Why the mirror? I knew that half the battle was to look cool.
For sticks, I had a pair that my mom had sympathetically swiped from the school she worked at.
I also was constantly tapping on my knees, tabletops, and air drumming--all habits that continue to this day, and completely unconsciously. It's just that there's never NOT a song running through my head, and it's my job to keep the godddamn beat!
The following year, yes....I got my first kit. It was from Sears catalog, and was complete shite. Kick, rack, snare, and one tiny, useless cymbal attached to the kick. No hi hat or ride.
Thank god for sites like WishbookWeb.com. I found the page from which I assembled my first kit. 1985 Sears Wishbook.
I asked for, and received:
M: the "small scale drumset" for $99.99
G: the hi hat stand, with cymbals included! $29.99
H: 16 inch cymbal: $19.99
J: steel boom stand for $29.99
(I know, if I got the Synsonics and the timbales, I could have started my own Prince tribute band).
As you might have guessed, from those low, low prices, the cymbals sounded like tin pie plates. The drums sounded like comical sound effects and were barely tunable. But it wasn't from the toy section, and fulfilled its function.
My parents were pleasantly surprised that I already knew many of the basics.
(Though I also realized that I played weird--left handed, right footed. This was a hang up for a while and made me wonder if I could be taken seriously--but I eventually noted other drummers who do the same "open handed" style. In fact many years later, a close friend and excellent excellent drummer, Dave Hower--Winterpills, Spanish For Hitchhiking-- is one of them.)
I said "No Way!" to lessons. I'd been taking lessons from the greats, up in my room for the last year. By spring, I was jamming with the one good guitar player in 7th grade (Pete Turpin). Our tastes weren't necessarily the same, but we were the only people we knew who could do something like play rock and roll together. I used to have a cassette of that first jam. Fuck, I wish I still did.
It was like seeing my life laid out in front of me. Playing music with another person was the most fun I could ever imagine a human having.
A few months later, I convinced my dad that I needed better cymbals. I got some Camber IIs (a crash/ride and a hi hat), which were sort of the best cheap cymbals. Did the trick.
The following year, I upgraded to a Dixon set. A white 4 piece. A floor tom! Woo! That was the kit I played my first ever gig on (one song. more about that later). It was better than the Sears, but still bottom of the line. And I was getting very, very serious. I can't remember what we did with it. Probably the classifieds.
Next came a 5 piece Ludwig Rocker kit in 1987 (my main kit until 2001 and still being played at weekly practices at Rub Wrongways Headquarters) and then a 1966 Rogers 4 piece the following year (the snare of which is my favorite possession and has been on a dozen albums). That Rogers was languishing in the corner of the Daddy's Junkie Music in Salem, NH, having been marked down to (get this) $250.00. This was before the vintage craze. I had to have it.
Anyway....this isn't a gear blog. It's about the people and parts who, added all up, formed my drumming style and aesthetics.
THE MAKINGS OF MY DRUMMING DNA
My first drumming hero, when I didn't really know what went on behind a drum set, was Peter Criss from KISS. Mostly, it was the sound of his snare on the Love Gun album. I still love it. It just sounds DANGEROUS. Like the sound you hear in your ears when you get hit in the face with a basketball.
As I became aware of my burgeoning drum lust, I'd get my kicks watching, of all things, Name That Tune. It was on at 3 or 4pm. Fun post-school viewing. Tommy Oliver was the leader of the band in 1984-85, but I can't seem to track down who the drummer was.
Who ever you were, nameless guy, I loved seeing you in silhouette, and admired all the different beats and styles you'd play in such a short period of time. Thanks, man.
Name That Tune--1985
Something else that got my blood pumping in my first drumming days was watching The Buddy Holly Story (which was one of the first ever things I taped off TV when we got our first VCR. The very first thing? Elvis '68 Comeback Special)--in particular the live segments, because the band are actually playing live. And it was a modern day interpretation of a 50's rock and roll band giving it their all on stage, and thus came across as a garage/punk band. Loud, simple, energetic.
Don Stroud, who played "Jesse" (based on Jerry Alison) learned drums for the part. I think I get off on his playing the same way I really dig Micky Dolenz's playing, once The Monkees became a recording/touring band. There are fundamental fuck ups, but the "holy crap this is fun!" spirit is there. (For a good example of a fundamental mistake, check out Don's entrance into the first song. He sorta panics and hits the cymbal in a way and at a place that a trained drummer never would).
Scene From The Buddy Holly Story--1978
At this time, my sister was firmly in her U2/Talking Heads etc phase. So I was exposed to a lot of the alternative rock of the time, both when I hung out in her room, or when we'd watch Hot Hit Video with Bill Smith, or V66. One of the things I did to demonstrate that her schooling me in music was paying off, was to play that beat that seemed to be going through (at least) three of the most popular alt rock songs of the day. It's an important beat to know. It came to me easily. The 16th notes on the hi-hat, the syncopated snare/kick pattern..some say if you play that beat alone at midnight on a full moon, you will conjure Molly Ringwald. Or was it Judd Nelson?
The Beat of 1984-5: How Soon is Now (the Smiths), Don't You Forget About Me (Simple Minds),
Around when I got my first Doors tape, the Doors live/rarities album Alive She Cried was released. The single from it was a version of Van Morrison's "Gloria", recorded at a soundcheck in 1969. The song was all over WBCN, and the video was all over V66. I particularly loved the slow down/speed up dynamic (sexual, yes, but to me, not yet) as well as John Densmore's energetic fills in the chorus. I also loved the shot in the video of Densmore going nuts on his cymbals. His drums look so tiny in comparison. From then I always preferred to sit up high, hitting down on the drums. Showing them who's boss. I hated the idea of big shells, deep toms, 7 foot high cymbals, parts you could barely reach, etc. I wanted to be the dominant one.
Oh, another thing I greatly admired was Densmore's jazz-ish syncopated roll at in the last minute, while Morrison sings "keep the whole thing going...". Because it was put in a rock context (much like Densmore's use of bossa nova beat on "Break On Thru") I digested it easily. If it was in the pure jazz context, I'd have been intimidated and thought it too difficult.
V66 was great because, not only did they show things like "How Soon is Now" and The Cure's "In Between Days", but they also gave props to the classics. That Doors video was just one of several they'd show. They also would show this next video. Creedence Clearwater Revival, live in 1969-70, doing Born on the Bayou. I loved this. Why? Much of it was due to Doug "Cosmo" Clifford bashing the living daylights out of the biggest ride cymbal I'd ever seen (I think his hi hats are oversized too).
I bought CCR The Concert on cassette and practiced along to it a bunch. One of my favorite moments in all rock drumming is the thing he does around 3:40 on the clip below. Watching it, you can't really tell. But on the Concert record, it's just one of those things that taught me how to keep things, uh, "chooglin" while the band is just riding on one chord, feeding back. I'm sure I quoted that moment a few times.
Born on the Bayou--CCR
And so, of course, it was only a matter of time until I got into the Beatles. The first Beatles tape I owned was a compilation called "Rock and Roll Music Vol 1".
It taught me a whole host of rock and roll basics, as done by the Liverpudlians. I'd work up quite a sweat just keeping up with one side of those amphetamine-aided raves. This track always got me pumped. Plus, I marveled at Ringo's sorta straight, sorta shuffle (see: Tom Ardolino) beat.
Long Tall Sally--The Beatles
This next song was like a manual of cool rock fills.
At my first ever gig, playing a cheesy Van Halen (Hagar) ballad, I refused to play Alex Van Halen's bombastic lead in fill, and played the "Lovely Rita" fill instead. Ha ha. That should get me into heaven, right?
Sgt Pepper Reprise--The Beatles
Another thing Professor Starkey taught me was the 6/8 blues beat (although so did John Densmore on the "Little Red Rooster"on Alive She Cried).
Oh Darling-The Beatles
Then came the inevitable. I rented The Kids Are Alright from the video store. What did I get from Keith Moon? Well, it's hard to really say, it's so ingrained. But I think: 1) don't make it look like you're trying too hard 2) flick your wrists and wave your arms so people can't always tell what you're doing 3) Don't play the DRUM KIT like AN instrument, play THE DRUMS AND CYMBALS like you are controlling the entire PERCUSSION SECTION of an orchestra 4) Don't live so fast that you're already past your peak at 26 years old.
I also had no idea what "French Blues" or "Black Beauties" were, so I thought that if Keith could get around the kit that fast, I should too! He looks so young and innocent...no way he's on drugs! So I'd practice doing that kind of stuff...perhaps aided by a can of Coke and a couple Chips Ahoy. Gateways if there ever were...
Can't Explain--The Who
What follows is perhaps the most exciting piece of rock and roll ever caught on film. I'd watch this just before leaving for a show back in high school. When I got into punk etc, I always retained the thought, "this is 10x more punk than (fill in the blank)". Plus, it was punk dressed in paisley, so that's double cool. Punk in hippie clothes. Keep them guessing.
The Who--My Generation (Monterey Pop Festival 1967)
Though I eventually became annoyed by Mitch Mitchell's playing (it's one thing to be super busy if your guitarist is Pete Townshend, but it's another thing when it's Jimi Hendrix), I loved to drum along to, and get all jazzed by this version of "Killing Floor". This was the first song the JHE ever played in the US. Mitch's constant chatter during Hendrix's two solos is totally great and endearing here, and he always played amazingly on the JHE records...but I always tired easily listening to long jams on live albums because Mitch just could never stop freaking the fuck out and stomping all over Jimi, with no real interplay between the two. Like two fighting cats.
Killing Floor--The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Then there's Micky Dolenz!
I know what you're thinking. How do you go from learning from expert drummers to a guy who had been playing for a year and sounds like it? Not sure. It's kind of like when you realize you totally root for that number 8 hitter who, after 130 games, is batting 228 with 1 HR and 22 RBI. Or when people say The Shags are the best band ever. Rooting for the underdog.
Perfection is lame. And is a myth.
I love the audacity of Micky Dolenz bashing away simplistically, but with major cojones, high on adulation and chemicals, occasionally attempting a heroic fill, and driving the wobbly, clunky Monkee machine while 20,000 girls scream. Well, check this out. I have many times used that dorky fill that he plays before the outro chorus.
When I first saw HEAD, in 8th or 9th grade, it was really the only way I could see young Dolenz in action (as opposed to miming on the The Monkees series). Again, I was rooting for him and his ambitious drum part. It's a bit sloppy, but I can see what he's getting at and it's very cool. When I convinced my high school band to do this song, I played this part, but unslopped it a tiny bit. Dolenz deserves much credit, and it sucks that he gave up drumming for 20 years shortly after this.
Circle Sky (live 1968)--The Monkees
Normally, double bass drums annoy me. I feel they aren't needed, and I always say "why not aim to be like John Bonham, and do two feet worth with one foot?"
However, despite the double kick, I really like Ginger Baker's feel. It's completely unique. I even started putting my toms at a totally straight angle like him because I liked how it looked.
He is Mr. Triplet (think of the fills during "Sunshine of Your Love") and I took a lot of that from him. Also, he had a very nice dance beat. And, don't forget, that tribal thing on the toms, hitting on all four beats. I could never really listen to "Toad" very much, but I appropriated one of his common licks for whenever I'm forced to do any sort of solo. I can't really describe it. In any case, this song, which is just a blues, is made most interesting by Ginger's style (and Clapton's falsetto--and perm).
Strange Brew--Cream (1967)
Oh, Charlie! In my mid 20's, my favorite drummer became Charlie Watts. I knew I wasn't going to die young, and I came to grips with the fact that I'm much too much of a lightweight and too cautious to ever be a Keith Moon type. So, I looked at Charlie--sharp suit, small drum kit, sophisticated, looks great, not trying to prove a damn thing. All about preservation. But if he wants to suddenly get into hard drugs for a couple years when he's 45 years old, let him. If he wants to punch "his singer" in the jaw out of the blue, that's good too. Then, quietly, go back to being a horse farmer, married for 47 years.
But as far as my teenage drumming goes...
Charlie immediately made me believe that metronomes and click tracks are a symptom of a scared society. Like getting boob jobs. Scared to be the imperfect beings that we all are. Taking the easy way out, and selling your soul. The Rolling Stones are (to many) the greatest rock band ever (at least their first 10 years). They say a band is only as good as their drummer. Thus, Charlie Watts, who has no fancy fills in his repertoire, no "how does he do that?" tricks, and who so often comes in a fraction early or late with a fill, and who hits the rim of the snare every once in a while, is the greatest drummer ever. So why would someone NOT want to play like Charlie? I have no clue.
I'll tell you this right now--I've never wanted to be Neil Peart, Stuart Copeland or Alex Van Halen. It's just who I am.
So listen here. Charlie comes in a fraction late, brings the dynamics up and down at seemingly odd times, and does nothing special--except be Charlie Watts...and thus, plays a part that I memorized note for note when I was 15.
Rolling Stones-Jumpin' Jack Flash (live 1969)
(another song that greatly influenced me--say in a few Figments songs--was the Get Your Ya Ya's Out version of "Sympathy for the Devil")
Here's more Charlie, from 1968. Rock drumming was stretching out and Charlie's contribution to it was priceless. Although he didn't play the famous grooves and fills in "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (producer Jimmy Miller did), in many ways I prefer his drumming on this song. The formula is the same. Heroic fills and double time at the end. I love his drumming on this song ("Salt of the Earth"), "Stray Cat Blues" and "Jigsaw Puzzle". All from Beggar's Banquet, and all part of my DNA.
Rolling Stones--Salt of the Earth
The Grateful Dead. I've never been much of a Mickey Hart guy, but Bill Kreutzmann, when he was the only drummer (in 1965-67 and 1971-74) kicked very much ass. What did I take from him? Something that I've tried to explain to my students:
That, if you picture the beat of a song like a ruler (or like a digital recording interface), know that every beat and division of that beat means something different depending on when and where you accent that beat. It's what jazz drumming is all about, but it took me a long time to realize that, because I've always thought of jazz drumming as a foreign language I may not ever have time to learn. But this concept works in rock/pop as well.
For example, it's standard and unremarkable to hit the kick and crash cymbal on the "one" beat. BUT, it's a whole different plate of pasta if you hit the SNARE and crash on the "AND one" (the quarter note just before the one). THAT gets people's attention, and acts as a pinch in the bum, or a slap in the face. Some love that stuff, some find it too jarring. I love it.
If your band mates allow you the freedom, as long as you don't stray from the overall meter of the song, you are free to stress or accent any division of that beat. But only if it's adding something. Kreutzmann, when too coked up (see: 1974 European tour) could turn his brilliance into a major CALM THE FUCK DOWN AND KEEP THE DAMN BEAT situation.
But also, if you listen to the first Dead album from 1967, Kreutzmann was a hell of a conventional pop drummer. In early high school, my friend and I used to LOVE his fill in the middle of "Cold Rain and Snow". We thought that that kind of "quick, snappy fill" drumming and Lou Reed's "fast, rubber wrist" style of rhythm guitar in the Velvet Underground could be a winning combination.
I suppose the Wedding Present had that. Don't worry. I'm getting to them.
Anyway, hear how Kreutzmann divides up the beat in this song--half time, real time; AND does those quick wristed fills.
They are the drumming equivalent of interjecting 3 quick words between someone's monologue, instead of trying to interrupt.
One More Saturday Night--The Grateful Dead
One more Dead thing. I never had a prog rock period. I don't really like songs that change time signatures every 3 measures, just to show..I don't know what. I don't like listening to it, or playing it.
But if a song is in an odd time, and sticks with that time, well, then I like it because you get into a very odd trance. By 9th grade, I loved practicing along to this song by the Dead. It's called "The Eleven" because...guess how many beats per measure? I would play to the version on Live/Dead. But this will suffice. The song doesn't shift into 11/4 until about 2 min in.
SIDENOTE: playing along to other Dead songs got me comfortable playing in other odd times, such as 7/4 and 10/8.
The Eleven--The Grateful Dead 1968)
I already gave my pros and cons of Mitch Mitchell spiel, right? This is how I came to that opinion. Listening to Hendrix play a 7 minute solo, with a steady rhythm section. Not a couple of insecure British dudes trying to upstage Hendrix, but a couple of Jimi's soul brothers, who knew that if they just held it down tight, Jimi could just stand and deliver. To me, it makes it so much more fun and less distracting to listen to a long guitar solo. As far as the drumming, it taught me the effectiveness of not competing, but supporting**.
**The extreme version of this would be Mo Tucker of the Velvet Underground playing an unwavering, unsyncopated, straight beat for 12 minutes in the middle of a long Velvets jam like "What Goes On" on Live 1969 or "Follow the Leader" from The Quine Tapes.
I can't do that because I have this male ego to deal with. As well as ADD that makes me get bored very easily.
I also took away some of that excellent Buddy Miles kick/snare syncopation. Love it.
Jimi Hendrix/Band of Gypsies--Hear My Train a Comin' (1970)
SORRY, ALL TRACES OF THIS SONG HAVE VANISHED FROM THE INTERNET. YOU'LL HAVE TO BELIEVE ME OR DOWNLOAD IT SOMEWHERE. THE HENDRIX ESTATE IS VERY PROTECTIVE.
John Bonham. Fucking monster. He started out in Zeppelin when he was 19. Thus, there are some youthful errors that have always pissed me off. Like "DON'T PLAY FULL TILT OVER JIMMY PAGE'S ACOUSTIC SOLO IN 'YOUR TIME IS GONNA COME' OR 'THANK YOU'. THANK YOU!"
But by Zep 3, he was the man.
I was once asked "Moon or Bonham"?
Bonham any day.
Why? He was heavy AND funky AND tasteful AND completely understood Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones' weird rhythmic curve balls. And played a single bass drum kit, with only one rack tom and two floor toms (yeah, yeah, and a gong and a kettle drum. But, whatever). He could do more with one kick than most double kick players. And yes, I stole a lot from him too. If a song I'm playing is heavy, I know that there's a Bonham trick or two I can use.
Whole Lotta Love (live 1973)--Led Zeppelin
Away from the heaviness and back into the canyons of LA. This song (the finale on Forever Changes) influenced me so much both in my drumming and songwriting. It's a perfect song, the drumming is perfect and...I don't know. It left a huge stamp on my over all feel. Can't really put my finger on it. Two distinct feels here. Playing to this sort of prepares one for playing along to any theatrical type song.
You Set the Scene--Love
This next one's all about visual style.
It wasn't until 10th grade that I got into the Beach Boys. In early 11th grade I rented The Beach Boys, an American Band. Though I mostly just watched the 1966-71 bits, I did take note of the early Dennis Wilson. He ROCKED OUT, and looked fucking cool doing it! Even in those horrible shirts! I was already aware that I couldn't assimilate Keith Moon's craziness, but I saw the girls screaming at Dennis, and thought "there's my new role model". The other thing was, I was still self conscious about my "incorrect" open-handed style, and Dennis W was the first drummer I saw who looked awesome doing it.
Dance, Dance, Dance--The Beach Boys
I was beginning to leave behind the bearded, stoned, 7 minute jam music that had taken me to this point, and was shifting towards punk/new wave/alternative, and tuning in on Sundays to hear "Boston Rocks" on WFNX and "Boston Emissions" on WBCN. After all, I wanted that to be my future--not to be in a classic rock cover band. At the same time, I was also pointing out to my friends that much of the 60's music they scoffed at actually contained an energy that can only be described as punk (I know I already said that about The Who).
I used to play along to The Live Kinks--which was difficult with all the screams. But the songs are all taken at a much speedier pace, and this final medley is just manic. At this point I started shifting away from wanting to "jam and relate and interact and have a musical conversation" with my band, to acting my fucking age! I was 17, had a lot of pent up energy and just wanted to explode. Like these guys.
Medley: Milk Cow Blues/Batman/Tired of Waiting--The Kinks (live 1967)
Ahh...and then...I was lent Buzzcocks' Singles Going Steady. Wow! Every song is a winner (except "Orgasm Addict" embarrassed me). The songs are all pop gems, the playing is sloppy but tight (the drummer wavers like Charlie Watts, but plays great parts) and boom. I had myself a favorite non-classic rock band. I practiced along to this and set my inner metronome up a few BPMs.
Buzzcocks--Love You More
Buzzcocks--Ever Fallen in Love
I was already into XTC by this time, but found nothing to gain, drumming wise, from Oranges and Lemons or Skylarking. They seemed too "adult" and I didn't want to go there. Sophistication is not what I got in this game for.
But I did love the early stuff, and Terry Chambers, while playing some complex parts, seemed human. And of course, remains a huge influence. Go Terry!!!!
Senses Working Overtime is an excellent song to expand one's pop drumming vocabulary. There are four distinct feels, and a heroic fill that helps to bring in the irresistible chorus. My drumming benefited so much from getting (way) into XTC.
XTC--Senses Working Overtime
Drums and Wires is a goldmine of fascinating beats and feels and fills.
"Making Plans For Nigel" was my first conscious exposure to one interesting drum pattern occupying a whole song--sort of a human imitating a machine. But I'll get to that below, with Joy Division, who also did that masterfully, and of course, Gang of Four.
But "Helicopter"--keeping that disco beat, but with closed hi hat-- was fun to do. But then comes the chorus. What Terry does while Andy is singing "..just like a helicopter...copter" was pretty challenging to learn. The beat doesn't waver or alter, but the crash accent happens in a place that doesn't come naturally. And this opened the door to a new bag of tricks for me. The "sitting on a tack" accent. Snare and crash hit simultaneously on an offbeat. It makes the listener jump like they sat on a tack. Early XTC was ALL about that. It's a shot of adrenalin. Thank so much, Andy and Terry for opening my ears to all that.
And thank you Topper! Playing along to London Calling was like using the ska/punk tricks I learned from XTC, but in a more relaxed, less self conscious way. Whereas early XTC took pains to be MODERN!, The Clash had no qualms about occasionally sounding like the classic rockers they supposedly hated (but didn't really hate). I fucking love Topper's drumming.
The Clash--Lost in the Supermarket
Getting back into the robotic, as interpreted by a human. Stephen Morris was an extremely creative drummer, although, something tells me that their producer, Martin Hannett, had a lot to do with his drum parts. I say this because if one listens to a live or Peel Sessions version of say, "Love Will Tear Us Apart", or "Transmission", Morris is playing like a Keith Moon wanna-be. Over the top fills coming out of his arse. Not exactly robotic or cold and dark. But on record, there is a lot to be learned from Joy Division. Patterns, man. Patterns. Economy. Say a lot with a little.
Patterns vs Fills.
As I listened to more and more punk and new wave, I noticed that a new school had developed, especially in England (though DEVO did this a lot too). Basically, human imitating the machines that were invented to imitate humans. These days, with digitized everything, we're used to reverse progress leading to progress after all. Progress is inevitable, so even when we're consciously going backward, we're going forward. It's just that if you're a Republican, what you call "going back to a simpler time" equals "going forward into the abyss".
Anyway.. the next three songs are examples of throwing all the classic rock and roll rules out the window.
No fills, no dynamics. These are men playing inventive, effective and distinctive mechanical sounding patters on acoustic drum sets. All three of these songs were very influential to me.
Gang of Four--Natural's Not In It
XTC--Rocket from a Bottle
1990: The Manchester thing. That beat. You had to do it. I was happy to do it, because it made people dance and as a drummer, that's my job. I play, they dance, they watch me, I watch them.
You can't argue with the Stone Roses' eponymous debut. Ok the lyrics are sometimes dumb, but the music is top notch. Well written, arranged and played. I loved playing along to this song because the first half has the 1-2-3and4and thing that's always fun. Then it shifts into an all out jam--with a couple of scripted parts. Very, very fun. And I felt like it was a very promising blend of cutting edge and classic. That's where, I suppose, I'm most comfortable.
The Stone Roses-I Am the Resurrection
So...now I was getting to the end of 11th grade, and had a band that was playing original pop (and hip covers) and were looking to maybe get some attention from the Boston music scene. The band we (or some of us) loved the most was a power pop trio, 2 parts Who, one part Beatles....ladies and gentlemen, The Cavedogs!
I wanted us to BE The Cavedogs--difficult, since we had 6 people in the band. But, I was so happy that their drummer, Mark Rivers, brought a total Keith Moon vibe to a modern pop band. The problem was, though, as witnessed by Nirvana and Dave Grohl's Ringo-meets-Bonham style, record buyers wanted a more predictable, less creative type of drumming. Thus, the Seattle power trio's earnest and humorless 1992 major label debut exploded, and the Boston one's more snarky, witty one sank after a few weeks on the college charts. That's when history changed. You had to not sound well-read, or make people wonder what chords you were playing or where you picked up that crrrazzzy beat. Nirvana were great, but their lack of subtlty ended up attracting a lot of the people (jocks, metal heads) they got into punk rock to avoid. Jocks and metalheads, on the other hand, would never give a band like The Cavedogs a second look.
I still dig The Cavedogs, and Mark Rivers has had a nice career in showbiz.
The Cavedogs--Tayter Country
I was hearing more and more of my classic rock roots in much of the so called "cutting edge" music of the time. Jane's Addiction's "Mountain Song" reminded me of Hendrix's "In From the Storm" (just the riff). Still, I loved Jane's Addiction, saw them three times, and my band covered "Summertime Rolls" and "Mountain Song". What I picked up from Stephen Perkins' part on this song is that crash-snare-crash-crash on the 3 sixteenth notes leading up to the 1.
Um, huh? I think I described that as best I can. It happens after Perry sings "and I say" and before he says "cash in!".
Anyway, it's a valuable trick for heavy tunes. You can vary it any way you want too, once you have it down and know when to do it.
Jane's Addiction--Mountain Song
Yesss...Daydream Nation. First time I heard this album, I put on headphones and was sent into another world. But what I got most from Steve Shelly's drumming was that I shouldn't shy away from Keith Moon hyper fills. He did them plenty. Lots in this song. I also felt like there was a place after all for spacey jams that, to me, evoked the best Grateful Dead--the 1968-74 noise stuff. Tribal and spacy at once. That whole acid thing. Seeing SY at the Orpheum in 1990 is still one of the best shows I've seen. Redd Kross opened.
Sonic Youth--Teenage Riot
Back to the punk/new wave/ska influence. Though it was a gradual process, and it wasn't until a few years later that I found a good band in which to use his influence, I've always loved Pete Thomas. Talk about someone who is great because of no click track! SO many early EC songs speed up by the end. But, Pete Thomas has a very distinct style. I can't describe it any other way but "snappy". He hits hard, nothing rings or sustains very long, and he's on top of every beat. He also utilizes that "turning the beat around" thing to great effect. I love the guy. He's tall and lanky and plays that way. For me, Topper Headon, Terry Chambers and Pete Thomas are the punk/ska/new wave Big Three. They gave me a HUGE fondness for the snare hit/crash hit on the 4 AND. That "wake up!" thing.
The one thing that prevented me from absorbing too much Stewart Copeland (who could easily fit among this group) was simply the size of his drum kit. I'm too pragmatic for all those bells and whistles. Oh, and, uh, lazy.
Elvis Costello and the Attractions--Radio Radio
We're getting to where I stopped being influenced by other drummers and felt like I now had the tools to throw it all in a pot, jump in and let the big mess become my style. But there were still two or three more things I picked up...we're now in senior year of high school.
You can''t listen to the Wedding Present and not take note of the drumming. The guy (for a good while anyway) is named Simon Smith (oh, boy. How many horrible jokes has he heard with that name?). In the age of big deliberate dumb fills, Simon brought back the quick wrist-ed fills of Eddie Hoh and Hal Blaine. The drumming on Seamonsters is a big part of why I love that album so much. Hard to choose between these two songs, so I won't make myself.
The Wedding Present--Corduroy
The Wedding Present--Dalliance
And finally...though he was made to look a bit foolish in the Death to the Pixies documentary, David Lovering found a way to play to Charles Thompson's odd phrasings and feels. To me it's always sounded like a Rush fan playing punk rock. That may in fact be the case. Anyway, I was a couple years late coming to this album. In the summer of 1991, it did not leave my car tape deck. I still associate it with extreme heatwaves, which we definitely had that summer. It was the soundtrack to my sendoff to college, in Amherst, MA, where I hoped to take all these influences in my kitbag, and become known as a guy people wanted to play with. It's 21 years later, and I suppose I achieved that to some degree. I mean, I'm far from famous, but having drummed with as many artists and on as many albums as I have is not a bad record. Thanks to all of the drummers on this list. You are all swirling through my unconscious every time I sit behind a kit.
The Pixies--Oh My Golly!
To wrap it all up, here's an admittedly vain-as-all-fuck series of You Tube clips I uploaded, with small samples of some of the stuff I've drummed on in the last 15 or so years.