I used some of those experiences in my first novel RUDE BOY – making the protagonist, Kenny Silvers, a fan of Dr Smack & The Frozen Turkeys…oh the megalomaniac joy of creating your own Universe in the format of a novel and giving yourself a bunch of fans!
Anyway, recently I discovered some old C60 and C90 cassette tapes of me drumming in some of the afore-mentioned bands (as well as singing and playing guitar…but we won’t go into that!!) and I realised that at one time – and I really shouldn’t be saying this (so please forgive the indulgence!) – I actually got pretty good at the drums at one point in my existence!
It’s all a long time ago now – although just a couple of years back I did some private tutoring (GCSE English) and found that one of my students had acquired a drum kit and was just starting out with the sticks. So I taught her a few beats, fillers, rolls and tricks and donated my old cowbell to add to the top of her hi-hat. It was quite a revealing experience for me to pick up sticks after so long and to discover that, while I hadn’t lost my rhythm one iota (..,you’ve either got it or you ain’t folks!)…absolutely all of the fancy stuff I used to be able to do so easily had just totally vanished into the ether of the past. After just a couple of weeks my student was in a position to be teaching me! So I don’t think I’ll be digging my kit out of the attic anytime soon! Sorry to disappoint any potential Dr Smack groupies!
Still, the combination of teaching someone to drum after not having touched a kit for about 22 years and then finding those old cassette tapes got me thinking about drumming in general…and that age-old and perennial question raised its head and has now inspired my first blog of 2011: who was the greatest-ever drummer of all time?
I’ve narrowed it down to five contenders (…yours truly notwithstanding, of course!). The key qualities about my five contenders that puts them in line for the title of ‘World’s Greatest Drummer’ is as follows: they all had natural talent; they all had such personality and such a distinctive individual style that you can instantly tell it is them drumming (…a difficult thing to achieve on an instrument as generic as the drums – after all, there is a countless number of session drummers and even drummers in so-called major bands who are technically highly competent…but they all sound so much the same that you may as well just have drum machine software playing!); they all led the way to some degree – adding innovation, raising the standards and/or setting a template for those who were to follow.
For the first two of my drumming stars you’ll have to travel way back into the mists of time. You see, back when I started drumming – even though I was a Punk playing in Punk bands – I realised that jazz drummers were technically the most competent and proficient drummers across all musical genres (…and what was true then remains true now amigos!). So I took what I could from the jazz guys and tried to incorporate some of it into the Punk sound.
1. Gene Krupa
Many consider Krupa to be one of the most influential drummers of the entire 20th century, particularly regarding the development of the drum kit. Krupa’s drum method was published in 1938 and immediately became the standard text.
He is also credited with inventing the rim shot on the snare drum and popularised – perhaps even invented? – the drum solo. In 1978, Gene Krupa became the first drummer inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame. Check out Krupa’s playing on ‘Big Noise From Winnetka’ to see what I mean.
2. Buddy Rich
A true natural talent hailing from Brooklyn, New York, it was Buddy’s father who noticed he could keep a steady beat with spoons at the age of one. Rich began playing drums in vaudeville when he was just 18 months old, billed as “Traps the Drum Wonder.” At the peak of Buddy’s childhood career, he was reportedly the second-highest paid child entertainer in the world. At just 11 years of age Buddy was an acting band leader. He was never tutored, never practiced and did not read music..
Where Gene Krupa innovated and invented the drum solo, Buddy Rich took it to hitherto unimagined heights. To see – and hear! – a Buddy Rich solo in full flow is just an amazing thing. The arms flail and the drums produce sheer thunder – but it’s a controlled, rhythmic thunder of a kind very, very few drummers can attain…and certainly no drum machine (lacking the spontaneity of natural improvisation) can ever replicate.
Buddy Rich also held a black belt in karate and had a legendary fierce temper – so you wanted to stay on the right side of Buddy! He had a ready wit too – to offset the temper a little! A famous youtube clip of Buddy is his showdown with Animal of The Muppet Show – but do also check out a couple of Buddy Rich CD’s for the full experience.
My final three contenders are a bit more modern…but I humbly suggest that no-one drumming since the 1980s can hold a candle to…
3. John Bonham
Bonham recently got the official vote as ‘The World’s Greatest Drummer’ in an official poll of drummers for a TV show on the topic. The Led Zep sticksman certainly deserves to be included in my own top five – being another with a unique style…as well as an incredible legacy. His son, Jason Bonham, recently toured with the reformed Led Zep…proving that good drumming is in the genes! Bonham was also an aficionado of Ludwig drums – in my view the best ever brand of drums (I always wanted a Ludwig kit but could never afford it) – and he certainly got the best out of them! Incidentally, Ludwig now manufactures a Limited Edition ‘Jason Bonham Tribute Kit’.
4. Ginger Baker
Ginger Baker is the drummer I spent the most time copying back when I was playing. I liked Ginger for two reasons – firstly, I was also a red head (…this was back when I actually had hair remember!) and, secondly, he was incredibly good…and in an individual way. I even managed to decode and do some of the stuff he could do – particularly from his Baker Gurvitz Army/Elysian Encounter days. However, the drummer from Cream still left me baffled by his brilliance for the most part! Ginger is really the drummer’s drummer – largely unappreciated by the wider public from among the three modern drummers I have selected here. Particularly well known for his use of two bass drums (and a fellow admirer of Keith Moon) and now 71 years of age, Ginger has recently written his autobiography; ‘Hellraiser’. Ginger was another who swore by Ludwig to deliver the best possible drum sounds.
5. Keith Moon
Also known as ‘Moon The Loon’ for his often truly insane offstage antics, Keith Moon was a true drumming wizard. The sticks are held at a bizarre angle and sometimes don’t even seem to be moving – yet he has hit three different drums in the blink of an eye…and a couple of cymbals too…and all with perfect synchronicity! Truly unique – there never has been another drummer anything like Keith Moon…or any quite as good…so it is Keith Moon who gets my own vote as the all-time best ever. Check out the tiny cameo scene he performs in the movie That’ll Be The Day as a fairground band drummer for a hint of the individual style – as well as his better known moments with The Who, of course! – to see what I mean about his unique approach.
And so to conclude this first blog of the new decade: for me, Keith Moon wins the title of World’s Greatest Drummer…and he wins it hands down (ho ho!). When you get five drummers as good as those I’ve cited it does become a purely subjective matter and the fact (for me anyway) is this: regarding the other four incredible drummers in my list…at some point I’ve managed to replicate at least something they’ve done and get my drum sound/technique to match at least a moment or two of theirs (…and I do just mean a moment or two!…I’m not claiming parity with these guys!). However, that just hasn’t happened with Keith Moon – his style, his technique, his gift was just too individual to copy. So Moon wins…because even a drummer will look and listen and say: “How the hell does he do that?!” He really was the Hendrix of the drum world! Oh and…just like yours truly…he used Premier drums!