The beating heart of the band, part one

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Andrew Beaumont
Wednesday, July 25, 2012

This is the first of a three-part series between Andy Beaumont, Shawn Sensiba and Dave von Falkenstein on their favorite drummers and what makes them great.

Click here to read part two.

Click here to read part three.

Q: What do you call a drummer without a girlfriend?

A: Homeless.

There are entire web sites devoted to drummer jokes, and as a drummer, I've endured more than my share of ribbing.

I've played in a number of bands in my lifetime and rarely have I heard anyone ask a guitarist to play a solo like someone else. But drummers are often asked to sound like so-and-so or to play a beat like this guy.

Debating which drummer is best can (and has) led to fisticuffs.

I think part of it has to do with the instrument itself. It can run from a simple four-piece Ringo Starr set-up to the megabang drum complex that surrounds Terry Bozzio.

And that means that everyone plays their kit differently. Phil Rudd's deep-in-the-pocket beats work perfectly for AC/DC, but switch him and Alan White of Yes and it would be a musical disaster.

Thankfully, my playing has never been called a musical disaster—at least to my face. My drumming has drawn on a number of influences since I first picked up sticks as a fourth-grader in North Dakota.

I would never compare myself to anyone on this list. All the percussionists on this list probably keep time in their sleep and eat in rhythm. I can only aspire to be that good.

I've always maintained that just listening to other musicians influences musicians. You can learn what to do (or not to do) and hear new and different ways of playing. I continue to be amazed by newer bands and drummers, but I had to narrow this list somehow.

To that end, in no particular order here are the drummers that helped shape my percussive artistry.

(You have no idea how difficult this was for me. When I first started listing names I had more than 30 within 10 minutes.)

Neil Peart, Rush—There's a reason his nickname is "The Professor." Add in the fact that he is Rush's lyricist and he becomes even more appealing. Growing up, his studio work was amazing, but when I heard Peart live on "All the World's a Stage," I knew I wanted to be a performing musician.

Steve Gadd—"50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" Enough said. OK, maybe not. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform live with Maynard Ferguson in the '70s. It was a religious experience.

Keith Moon—The Who's drummer was known as much for his lunacy off the stage as his performances on it. Other drummers attended Who shows in an effort to learn how to play like Moon. Most said it couldn't be done; that it would be like trying to re-create a car wreck.

Stewart Copeland—For years I modeled my own snare drum sound after the crack of a Stewart Copeland snare. While I was more of a metalhead in those days, the post-punk sound of the Police and Copeland's mix of reggae and world rhythms was irresistible.

Gene Krupa—His performance on "Sing, Sing, Sing" with Benny Goodman is probably the first extended drum solo in jazz. He made the drums a solo instrument. He also was responsible for the early success of the Slingerland Drum Company. My first kit was a Slingerland, and most of my recordings were done behind those drums, which I still own and play.

Buddy Rich—A true showman on the drums. He and Krupa paved the way for such players as Tony Williams. He took the drummer beyond being a mere timekeeper to a musician who was an equal on the stage. I was fascinated with the ferocity with which he played. I met him before a concert in the mid-'80s. I'd heard that he could be very abrasive and he was in a conversation with someone else, so a friend and I approached with caution. He stopped the conversation, called us over and took the time to talk to us for about 10 minutes. I actually got to talk shop with Buddy Rich (he encouraged me to practice every day) before he signed autographs for us.

Ian Paice—His thunderous work behind the kit for Deep Purple powered many of the British band's recordings. I always felt like Paice's drumming was like a massive summer storm where the thunder starts to rumble from afar and gets louder and louder before washing over you.

Steve Smith—I played along to those Journey albums all through high school, trying to learn Smith's inventive timekeeping and massive fills. I've always thought of Smith as one of arena rock's more musical drummers. He proved me right when after leaving Journey, he returned to his jazz fusion roots with Vital Information.

John Bonham—His big, powerful playing helped drive the Led Zeppelin sound. He could be the most influential rock drummer of all time. His live improvised solos set new standards, both in their performances and their indulgences.

Nicko McBrain—I was already an Iron Maiden fan when Nicko replaced Clive Burr for 1983's "Piece of Mind," and the album cemeneted my fanhood. McBrain refuses to play a double-bass kit and who can blame him? His right foot has to be one of the fastest in rock. His ability to play busy patterns that are usually associated with guitar and bass lines helps propel the Maiden music machine. He turned 60 earlier this summer and hasn't slowed down one bit.

Alan Hall—Who? Most of the world has never heard the man who is most likely responsible for my playing the drums—my uncle. He played in a Beatles cover band as a teen in Fort Wayne, Ind., performed in symphony orchestras and toured the world while playing with a U.S. Army band after he graduated from college. He tended to lean more toward classical music and the rudiments of drumming rather than my rock ‘n' roll world, but that didn't matter to me. He inspired and encouraged me from afar.

My honorable mentions (These musicians have and continue to motivate me and touch musical imagination.)

Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson), Terry Bozzio (Zappa, Missing Persons), Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment, Adrenaline Mob), Ginger Baker (Cream, Blind Faith), Carl Palmer (ELP, Asia), Aynsley Dunbar (Journey, Jefferson Starship and many others), Scott Rockenfield (Queensryche), Tony Williams (Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock), Tommy Aldridge (Black Oak Arkansas, Pat Travers, Ozzy, Whitesnake), Jeff Porcaro (Toto, Boz Scaggs, Michael Jackson, Steely Dan), Bill Ward (Black Sabbath), Larry Londin (Nashville session great known as the Human Clock), Jack DeJohnette (John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock), Glenn Kotche (Wilco), Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge, Rod Stewart, King Kobra, Jeff Beck) Vinnie Appice (Dio, Heaven and Hell, Black Sabbath, Kill Devil Hill), Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp, Smashing Pumpkins and many others), Eddie Bayers (Nasville session drummer who is on more than 150 gold and platinum albums), Peter Erskine (Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Weather Report), Omar Hakim (Weather Report, Sting), Gil Moore (Triumph), the list goes on and on and on...

Click here to read part two.

Click here to read part three.

Last updated: 10:06 am Wednesday, August 28, 2013

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