We’ve complied a short list of drummers than anyone, be they singer, guitarist or percussionist, should at least check out!
We’ll start with someone most rockers out there can at least get into:
John Bonham. While he may not have invented modern rock drumming he certainly took it to a high art with Led Zeppelin before his untimely death that brought the whole band to a close, for there can only be one Zep and the whole is a sum of the parts. No Bonham, no Zep.
Where Bonham puts his hits, especially the distinctive kick drum slam, as well as how Bonham hesitates between hits is what makes his work so interesting and worthy of note.
The late Tony Williams (he died in North California a few years back from complications experienced after surgery) is considered by most drummers (and music critics) ‘in the know’ to probably be the absolute best drummer in modern times.
While virtually unknown to the masses (he never had a hit song nor worked with a mega band who played on MTV) yet he played with many contemporary rock, jazz, funk and R&B performers. His work is found on some real “gems” in recording history, starting with 1964 and “Lifetime” his first recording as band leader when he was just 18 features songs arranged by Williams and Herbie Hancock (who plays on a couple of cuts).
One arm chair reviewer at Amazon.com likened the work of Tony Williams and his band of merry men in their 1970 “Turn It Over” to the sounds of modern day aggressive rock from Tool! Now that’s almost a thirty year spread, which can give you and idea of how far out in front of the pack Tony Williams was in 1970.
Lifetime (with Alan Holdsworth) is a combination (some say it’s and adulteration) of the original two releases
“Emergency” (with John McLaughlin) from 1969 is probably where it all began for the listening audience who quickly embraced Williams and the music he would become associated with.
McLaughlin also teamed up with another drummer you should at least check out: Billy Cobham. Starting with their Mahavishnu Orchestra work in the cusp as the 1960s turned into the 1970s. For me, Cobham doesn’t come close to touching the flexibility of Tony Williams (Williams sounds like he’s made out of rubber, while Cobham is just human with hard bones and joints, a little rigid but still quite good at what he does).
Two other rock era drummers more than worth exploring are: Ginger Baker (whose work includes the legendary Cream with Eric Clapton) and Keith Moon from The Who (I love his work in “Who Are You” – those rolls he does are awesome).
Remember that a lot of Ginger Baker’s work was done on small drum sets from the Ringo Star era. A tom or two, snare and kick drum. Baker was one of the first to put tribal or African rhythms into rock songs.
From days long gone there is Gene Krupa and in order to fully appreciate what he was doing in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s you need to get the collective works CD. He does some things that will amaze more modern drummers!
From the 50’s and 60’s there was Shelly Manne, whose work is heard on a lot of motion picture and television music soundtracks (the original “Man From UNCLE” score arranged and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith, also from Goldsmith the “Our Man Flint” sound track).
One the more laid back and keep it simple yet interesting side there is Hal Blaine who is probably the drummer you like on about 100 hit songs from the era of 1960 to 1980.
That’s Hal Blaine on the classic “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers. Hal decided to hit a tambourine instead of a snare through the song. Hal Blaine is also heard on the early work of the Mama’s and Papa’s, Sonny and Cher (which more than likely includes “The Beat Goes One”) as well as the first two Monkees albums.
The music for the first two Monkees albums was basically Hal Blaine on drums, Carole Kay on bass, Glenn ("Gentle On My Mind") Campbell on guitars (he probably did all the solos), possibly Tommy Tedesco on guitars, plus various others including the likes of Neil Diamond (who wrote some songs for the Monkees) and others.
Listening to Hal Blaine will give you an idea of how straight and simple (with a little creative dash here and there) works well in the hit recording studio session scene where producers had to get a song like “I Got You Babe” or “California Dreaming” totally arranged, sung, played and recorded in 3 to 5 takes – which is no more than an hour or two from the time everyone walked into the studio.
-- Contributing to this was Kevin Slater
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