Here is a list of some of my favorite drummers while growing up, in no particular order, and why they had an impact on me in some form or another.
John Bonham – I recently bought a copy of the live Led Zeppelin DVD from a performance of 1970 at the Royal Albert Hall. It’s readily apparent that Jimmy Page constructed the band featuring the sound of this man’s drums. No wonder Page shut the band down for so long, immediately after Bonham died around 1980.Without that huge sound of Bonham’s drums, it’s just not Zeppelin. Interestingly, at a time when drummers were stuffing their drums and taking the bottom heads off to get as much of a dead sound as they could get, Bonham was doing just the opposite-both heads on with as much ring and resonance as he could possibly get out of his oversized drums – he used a 26 inch bass drum! I see kids, even today, buying the Bonham re-issue Ludwig Vista-lite drum set, trying to get “that” sound. What a shame he passed so soon and probably never even knew what a lasting impression on modern rock music he was making as he was making it. I saw Led Zeppelin, here in Houston, at the Sam Houston Coliseum in 1974,at the then apex of the band’s career. The cost of the ticket back then was $4, if you can believe that.
Ringo Starr – When I was a pre-teen in the 60’s, this man, driving the Beatles so to speak, was the first thing I saw right out of the box on the Ed Sullivan show. He was one of the first influences on me that made me want to play the drums.(Besides classmate Steve Hart, in the fifth grade, with his drum kit, set up in the school yard.) No one else could have filled that quarter of the chemistry to complete this mega song writing machine. His drumming is a study in simplicity and feel. As simple as one may think those drum parts are (which they are), I have yet to this day hear anyone cop that Ringo feel and actually sound like Ringo.
Ginger Baker – Ginger Baker played with bands Cream and Blind Faith. Here was another man with an incredible, unorthodox feel. Again, he played nothing excruciatingly technical, but I have yet to hear anyone cop that sound and unique feel that he got. Ginger Baker was the granddaddy of the long extended live rock drum solo.
Carl Palmer- Carl Palmer was part of a power rock trio Emerson, Lake and Palmer who adapted symphonic themes and full classical works pieces to a rock format. With the odd rock combination of keys, bass, and drums, Palmer used lots of flashy showmanship technique when he played and was the first big rock show drummer that I saw use a traditional grip with the drum sticks. I saw them at the Sam Houston Coliseum in 1977.
Keith Moon – Keith Moon’s technique never did a lot for me, but the explosive energy and sometimes seemingly uncontrolled nature of his playing just seemed to really fit the music of The Who, which I have always loved. I saw them in 1977 at the Summit, a short time before Moon’s death.
Bill Bruford – Bill Bruford was the original drummer for the art rock band Yes. He left Yes after three albums to pursue his own fusion jazz bands. Not only was he a technical drumming wizard, he also had a good ear for getting tonality out of the drums on to tape. His ringing, pitched snare drum sound on the Yes tune Roundabout was very innovative on his part. It is pretty much that song’s trademark. I saw Yes at the Astrodome in 1975 and again at Hoffienz Pavillion in 1977.
The late sixties through the seventies was a fantastic time to be growing up musically speaking. Such wonderful new musical experimentation was taking place during this period giving birth to new musical styles. Jazz was melding with rock to form what was dubbed back then as jazz-rock and later known as fusion. Eastern Indian music influence was creeping its way into rock with it’s odd time signatures.(such as 7/8 and 9/8) Here is a list of some of the jazz, and jazz-rock drummers who influenced me while growing up.
Lenny White –OK, so there I was sitting at home, a teenager in 1975,minding my own business, turning my nose up at jazz, playing along to my Who and Yes albums when a knock came at my door. It was two of my buds, about to explode, telling me about this new band called Chick Corea and Return To Forever, that was playing downtown, that night, at a small jazz club called La Bastille. He said we just had to go, so we did. I was less than thrilled about the whole deal, though. For one thing I had never heard any live jazz before, never heard of this band, and I just wasn’t that crazy about going to hear some dude named “Chick” play the “piano”. I had to have plenty of reassurance from my bud who was the jazzer out of the two of us(he played guitar) that this was something that I really wanted to sit through. When we got there, there were people waiting in line along a long staircase leading underground which, as it turns out, is where the club was-underground. When we finally made it down to our seats, I noticed that this place was small – really small (as in no mikes on any drums or amps or anything, small). There was plenty of room on the stage for the artists and the stage was set up high, but the room was so small that every seat was a fantastic seat. The band came on and what happened for the next two hours, after the first note was hit, changed my life forever. The sound of this music was totally foreign to me. All I knew was I was experiencing something fantastic and magical. When it was over, it was strong enough to move me and several other audience members sitting around me to tears. It was loud, fast and furious and a new music style was being born right before my ears and eyes called jazz-rock. Every member was a complete virtuoso on his instrument. The band consisted of the classic R.T.F. line up -Chick Corea-keys, Al Dimeola -guitar, Stanley Clarke-bass and Lenny White-drums. I couldn’t believe the gorgeous sounds that this guy named “Chick” was producing out of this instrument called a Fender Rhodes electric piano. I had never heard blazing unison runs together on guitar and bass guitar played so fast in my life. It was as if the four members, facing and looking at each other on stage, were carrying on a conversation with their instruments. This was something I had never experienced with rock. This was not pure jazz, but it was the perfect carrot to pull me in, to make me want to study pure jazz and even classical music just a few short years later in college. The thing that stuck with me about Lenny White was how fast his right foot was on the kick drum and how much stamina he had with that right foot.
Billy Cobham – Now here comes life changing experience number two. A few months later, I get another knock on my door and it’s my bud saying that we must go see this new jazz rock drummer that just broke up with his old band to become leader of his own band. The old band, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, I had seen on TV and didn’t think much about it (probably because I saw it on TV and not live). After I was to see what I was about to see, I would become a huge fan of that band as well. So now, here we are back at La Bastille and my first clue that something incredible was about to happen was the stage set up. Not only was it the drums themselves, a monstrous set of clear see through drums made by Fibes with two bass drums and nine or so toms wrapped all the way around the set, but it was also the placement of the drums. The drumset was at the front of the stage and the other players in the band standing in the back and not vice versa, which I had seen with everything else up until that point. Then out came this HUGE looking man with these huge arms (I was a skinny little high school shrimp, but the man was still huge nonetheless). He was wearing new blue jeans, new white Chuck Taylor Converse All Star canvas tennis shoes (leather tennis shoes weren’t around yet) and a football jersey. He looked more like a line backer than a musician. Those poor drums and drum sticks didn’t stand a chance. The man then proceeded to demolish an entire box of Ed Shaughnessy 707 Promark drumsticks which he had standing up on end beside him. He would snap these sticks like pencils while playing, toss that one, and reach down and grab another almost faster than the eye could see. When the show was over, the stage was completely covered with dead drumsticks (some snapped completely in half!). I had never seen anyone play with so much power, speed and finesse, all at the same time. Needless to say I was a fan for life. Not only did he become a mentor to me and countless others around the globe, but later in life, I have had the good fortune to be able to call him close personal friend.
Buddy Rich –There are only two guys that I really enjoy watching play a drum solo — one is Billy Cobham the other is Buddy Rich. I used to always look forward to the nights that Buddy Rich would appear on the Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. Johnny Carson, being a novice drummer himself, had great admiration for Buddy Rich as well. Of course Buddy played traditional grip and had incredible finger control of the drumsticks, so I always enjoyed the close ups of his hands while playing. Buddy died in 1987.
Ed Shaughnessy – Growing up, there were two reasons I watched the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson consistently for thirty years. One was because I loved Johnny Carson. The other was because he had a kick butt big band that played behind him during the breaks. And, if we were lucky enough, he would just sit and let the band play as a feature, which would happen on rare occasion. Ed Shaughnessy drove this band with ease, sight-reading just about every chart they played, which is what that band was known for. Johnny Carson loved his band. I once read in an interview with Johnny that at one time, NBC called him in for a meeting and told him that they were getting rid of the band to go with taped music. He replied, “NO WAY- The band goes, I go!” It didn’t take NBC executives long to say never mind, the band stays. The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson was always with me while growing up. Even if you didn’t watch the show for a night or two or a week or two, you always knew it would be there the next time. The year that Johnny left the show, in the early nineties, and took that great band with him, is the year that all of the class left the show, in my opinion, and is the year I stopped watching it. When Johnny Carson died recently, I cried. It was as if a big part of my childhood died. Johnny Carson was always there while I was growing up, and for some reason, I guess I just thought he would be there forever.
Steve Gadd – During my college days, I remember being at one of our famous marching band/music major parties after a game one night. Upon entering I noticed someone’s turntable was playing an album of smoking, straight ahead trumpet jazz, and the drummer was just knocking me clean out. The guy was incredibly busy, but not in an annoying kind of way. It was more of a, gee, I cant wait to hear what this guy plays next, kind of way. This guy was swinging and swinging hard. When I asked what the album was I got the reply of She Was Too Good To Me by Chet Baker. When I asked who the drummer was I got the reply of Steve Gadd.I immediately went out and bought the album the next day. I learned that night that Steve Gadd was not only a killer fusion player who played on some Chick Corea albums, but he swings also, and swings hard.
Peter Erskine – Peter Erskine was my favorite jazz drummer out of the many who manned the drummer’s throne for the seventies fusion band Weather Report. He also played the longest for Weather Report. I was a big Weather Report fan and saw them at Jones Hall in 1978.