Thursday, 13 October 2011


I'm going to create a new series of blogs based around musicians. I'll describe in each post some of my favourite musicians and why I like them. To get the ball rolling I'm going to start off with drummers. The drummer is the much forgotten member of the band. They sit at the back behind their fellow band members, and so do not always get the attention they deserve.

During my teens and early twenties I used to play the drums in various bands, playing mostly Indie stuff, but with other influences thrown in for good measure, such as Zappa, rock and jazz. I played on a Premier APK 5 piece kit with a mixture of Paiste and Zildjain cymbals (7 in total). I had Paiste sound-edge hi-hats, Zildjain rock ride, 2 Wuhan chinas, 2 red Paiste crashes and a splash. I also had a cow bell for good measure.

Whilst playing the drums, there were many drummers that I used to watch and listen to for inspiration. I'd like to describe some of my favourite drummers and what I like about them.

Neil Peart
As a long time fan of Rush (having already written about them previously), it will come as no surprise that one of my earliest influences was Neil Peart. He is arguably one of the greatest drummers of all time. Rush concerts are one of the only occasions where air drummers outnumber air guitarists. He has received many awards and honours for his playing, including being the youngest drummer to enter the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.

Many drummers have large kits, but not many of them actually use the kit in its entirety, or use it in a very limited way. When I first heard Neil Peart, one of the first things I noticed was how difficult it was air drumming along to him. His style of playing contains many complex notes played across many different surfaces (drums, cymbals, percussion).

When I listened to him playing, I very often couldn't work out how he was playing a particular drum pattern, as it sounded like he was playing with three or more arms! It was only when I watched him could I see how he played it. Whereas most drummers will play a drum pattern using the same hands on the same drum surfaces, Neil will play a drum part across many different drum surfaces and switch hands at the same time, making it almost impossible to work out how he is playing it. For example, Neil will play a drum pattern using both his hi-hat and ride cymbal, and play the snare drum alternately with his left and right hand at the same time. An excellent example of this is the track Subdivisions from the album Signals.

One of the things I learned from listening to Neil, was that by experimenting with different hands and drum surfaces, you can come up with great patterns and fills. Neil rarely plays a straight four pattern for long, before injecting an interesting pattern or fill.

Terry Bozzio
I got into Frank Zappa in my early twenties, and like Rush, have already written a blog about him and his music. I could write about any of Zappa's drummers here, as they are all world class. To be in his band was an endorsement that you were the best. That you could play multiple styles, time signatures, sight read and play under immense pressure at concerts. However, the drummer that I listened to and admired the most from Zappa was Terry Bozzio.

I first came across Terry Bozzio on the album Sheik Yerbouti. It was his incredible power and huge sound that I noticed first. When reading an interview with him in a drumming magazine, he described his kit setup.In it he described how he would mount two cymbals on the same cymbal stand, thereby hitting two cymbals at the same time. To get a really unique sound, he would mount a china cymbal on top of a crash cymbal. I'd never heard of anyone else doing this, and still haven't to this day. I tried this myself with my own kit. This is how he managed to get the huge 'clashy' cymbal sounds on Sheik Yerbouti. A true innovator who is not afraid to try something completely new.

When talking about Terry Bozzio, you have to mention the Black Page. This one of the most extraordinarily difficult, complex, feared and revered pieces ever written for the drums. Lucy Landymore won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition when she played it. Despite Terry's huge talent and understanding of odd times, polymeters and polyrhythms, it still took him two weeks to be able to play it.

Chad Smith
I've written a blog about the group to which the next drummer in my list belongs also. He's Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. The first time I played the album Mother's Milk, his style of playing blew me away. I've always loved funk, and admire musicians who can play in that style. To play funk well as a drummer is all about groove and feel. You can have all the lessons and drum theory in the world, but unless you have the 'feel' you'll never play funk. It's not about the notes, it's about the groove.

When I heard Chad playing tracks such as Knock Me Down, the Stevie Wonder cover of Higher Ground  and Nobody Weird Like Me for example, I was an immediate fan. His backbeat and groove were amazing. He plays with a lot of power and strength, but can also play the most subtle of ghost strokes.

Since first hearing him playing on Mother's Milk I've loved his style of playing. Really funky, he hits his snare precisely where it needs to be, and he complements this with his rock solid kick drum, the two working in perfect harmony. He demonstrates how rock drumming should be played. Power is far more related to controlled efforts, groove and feel rather than merely playing as hard as you can.

I could have written about a great many more drummers, and will in a future blog. I also want to continue this theme of musicians to include guitarists, bass players, songwriters, vocalists etc. So watch this space for future articles.