Sunday, 5 October 2008

Keep on Drummin' (part 2)

There has been much chat about drummers and drumming following the anniversary of John Bonham’s death and if his passing has done anything at all, it has increased the stock of drummers everywhere. As a generality, most people tend to ignore drummers and talk about their favourite singer or guitarist. But now we have reason to pause and think about their skills and what they bring to the mix.

OK, let me state upfront that ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘The Mule’ are maybe not my favourite ways to spend 10+ minutes of my life, but two examples always spring to my mind and they are probably not the obvious ones. The first is the role of eighties heart-throbs A-ha. The eighties was a lean time for drummers as their position as timekeepers in bands was seriously under threat from the dreaded new chip on the block, the drum machine whose upkeep was minimal and whose timekeeping was relentlessly metronomic. Most of the electro-pop outfits of the day like Yazoo, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell and even megagoths, Sisters of Mercy dispensed with a live drummer in favour of the much cheaper and easier-to-control-on-a-night-out drum machine. But not A-ha. They deliberately employed a real live drummer (albeit playing an electronic drum kit) to back up their generally keyboard driven sound to inject some human excitement into proceedings and the result was awesome. Try imagining what ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ would sound like with a plodding drum machine instead of the existing exhilaratingly human drum track.

It is interesting to note that some of the biggest ‘technology’ bands of that period refrained from booting out their drummers (and guitarists come to that) and instead embraced them wholeheartedly. In particular I am thinking of New Order who rose from the ashes of Joy Division to create an epic synthesized dance/rock sound which embraced new technology like there was no tomorrow yet still found room for Stephen Morris’s pounding rhythm work. Again try ‘Sunrise’ from the album ‘Lowlife’ and imagine no Stephen in the mix.

The second example is Blondie, whose drummer; Clem Burke has always impressed me as one of rock’s finest skinsmen. Listen to most Blondie songs now and you are struck by the lack of emphasis on harmony playing from guitar and keyboards. The main thrust of much of their work is based around Debbie Harry’s vocals and Clem Burke’s drumming and on occasion, very little else, which propels their material along at break-neck speed. Perhaps drummers are the heart of rock ‘n’ roll and not guitarists?

Let's face it, all the best bands have a proper and talented drummer. In fact the more I think about it, there are many drummers I love to death. The list would include Terry Chambers (XTC), Keith Moon, Budgie (Siouxsie & The Banshees), Bill Bruford, Stewart Copeland, Ian Paice, Mick Fleetwood, Phil Collins and many more.

Drummers. I love ‘em.


TR1-Guy said...

Bun E. Carlos from Cheap Trick is also a talented and overlooked drummer. Not flashy, but punches up their sound perfectly.

There are of course 100's of names we could toss around, but Alice de Buhr of Fanny was such an underrated drummer for her time. She kick some serious butt... listen to "Blind Alley" from their "Fanny Hill" lp and you can hear and FEEL how her drum licks propelled this song to sonic heights.

As a bassist myself, I was "stuck" in the back of the band with the drummers as part of the rhythm section. I didn't mind, as for most rock bands, if you take away the bass and drums all you're left with are the screechy vocals and guitars. It reminds me of one of my favorite t-shirts I wore in my rock band days which stated proudly "Bass Players Do It Deeper" And, we do! :)

Yes, long live the drummers of the world!

musicobsessive said...

TR - of course Alice deserves a mention as does Danny Seraphine, whose drumming behind Terry Kath's '25 or 6 to 4' solo just makes ALL the difference. Probably wouldn't be the same without it.

What do drummer T shirts say? 'Drummers do it from the rear...' No, better not go there.:)