Some Drum Influences
So, I thought that today I would try and figure out how to post a Spotify playlist to my blog. Turns out it's not that hard. This is a collection of artists and songs that have all, over time, had a great bearing on how I've played as a drummer. The songs aren't in any particular order, maybe just one that I thought it would sound reasonable listening to as a mix. I'll also give some commentary on the artists and how they influenced me.
As a disclaimer, there is so much more music... So many more drummers that have influenced me over the years. Some were maybe not available on Spotify, or maybe today I just didn't think of them. Honestly there are some I thought of and just don't have the time to keep adding stuff!
Paul Simon - "The Obvious Child" is a song that speaks to me in a lot of different ways. For a few years while I was living in Phoenix, I studied afro-Cuban and -Brazilian music. Mostly on the bata and conga, but I immersed myself heavily in a lot of the music for many years after that, even when I realized it wasn't what I really wanted to play. Paul Simon is such a great songwriter that he finds ways to weave these more 'world music' influences into his very American songwriting, and it's something I've always loved about him. He's absolutely one of my favorite songwriters. In fact, every time I was on tour and was driving into Tennessee, I would put on the Graceland album as a ritual.
The Beatles - I think Revolver is probably my favorite Beatles album. Ringo is absolutely one of my favorite drummers, and to this day I often think in a context of "How would Ringo do this" with some songs. The thing I love about "She Said She Said" is the mind-blowing compression on the drums, and Ringo's kind of continuous rolling fills through the verses. It's just such a cool and unique feel, and I've never heard any other drummer sound like he does on this track.
Steely Dan - I remember when I was a kid, driving with my mom in the car listening to Aja. It's such a rad album. Honestly, I could just post the whole album and be like, "There. Drumming influences. Done." The title track features Steve Gadd, and any student of the drums is familiar with the epic solo within it. If you're not, get familiar. The other most influential drummers on this album for me are Bernard Purdie, Rick Marotta, and Jim Keltner.
Fleetwood Mac - Man, I really can't say enough about how much I love Mick Fleetwood's playing. The guy just plays in such an infinite pocket. He's by no means the most talented drummer out there. What makes him, and his band, stand out is how good they make their grooves feel. Also, another great thing about Mick is how good he is at playing fills in a kind of 'on their head' way. A lot of times he approaches drum fills in this way that you could almost call dyslexic or backwards, because he starts or finishes them in a place that is very counter-intuitive to the western drummer's ear. I think the album Tusk is a great reference for that side of his playing. Rumors is more of an example of great song craftsmanship and great 'songwriter' drumming.
Fiona Apple - Fiona herself is not so much an inspiration to me (although I love her music), but now we're getting into session drummer territory. The song "Fast As You Can" features Matt Chamberlain on drums. If you haven't familiarized yourself with him, this is a good start. He is really an amazing groovesmith and truly one of the greats, who walks the balance between playing what is perfect for the song and pulling out those little mind blowing tricks. I met him once years ago at a recording studio in Nashville, and then the next year ran into him at NAMM. I think I was a little too fanboy for him because when I asked if he remembered me he said, "oh yea. Hey, hold on for a minute," and then walked off and never came back. I might have softly wept in the convention center bathroom afterward.
The Band - Levon Helm is to me, the icon of how to play the drums like a musician. There is nothing more to say, than simply that he is one of the greats, and every drummer should listen to how he plays the drums. Rest in peace.
Bob Marley and the Wailers - I got into reggae very accidentally as a young teenager. This guy named Shabazz (sp?) came up to me and started talking to me in a park. When he found out I was a drummer, he hired me for a calypso gig. I had no idea how to play the music, I had never gigged before, and long story short, I got replaced by a drum machine at the gig. True story. Anyway, from there I somehow got recommended to Dee Dread and the Zion Knights, and from there my college bar reggae band career began. Carlton Barrett is truly one of the greatest, if not outright the greatest reggae drummer. Or maybe, he and his brother Aston were the greatest reggae rhythm section that ever was. I just can't get enough of their thick grooves. It is absolutely a study in and of itself to wrap your head around how these guys played together and improvised.
The Police - Stewart Copeland is probably the most important drummer in the crossover between reggae and rock music, and is such a fantastic on the beat player. To me he was always the embodiment of 'how to play punk rock with musicality.' The song "Man in a Suitcase" is by no means one of his most impressive grooves, but it's a great adaptation of Rocksteady style playing.
Frank Zappa - I can say I have actually digested nearly all of this great composer's discography. Like Steely Dan, he was a musician that was able to corral the who's who of great drummers. But out of all of them, my favorite was always Ralph Humphrey. His playing on St. Alphonzo's Pancake Breakfast is a tune that I tried emulating for years. I will also say that Terry Bozzio's playing around the Baby Snakes era is also some of my favorite.
Toto - I never deeply loved the band, but as I got deeper into drumming, I got into Jeff Porcaro's playing. Not just in Toto, but in various session projects he played on, like Steely Dan's "Katy Lied" or a tune he did for Warren Zevon on the "Werewolves of London" album. But well, any well read drummer knows about the "Rosanna Shuffle," and I'll leave it at that. If you drum, and you don't know, you should know. To this day I still practice it, and never will play it as greatly as he did. Rest in peace.
Al Green - MAN! Such feeeeeeel! Al Jackson Jr. was the drummer on "Love and Happiness," I believe (though if I'm wrong, someone please correct me). In any case, this song, and the majority of Al Green's early works is a pure exercise in how to play an R&B backbeat. I mean, it just doesn't get any better than this. And that fat snare drum sound is one of my favorites.
James Brown - The Dapps backed James Brown on this tune, and it's just ultimate rhythm section stuff. The music of James Brown is more or less a study unto itself and any drummer that wants to be funky needs to make JB 101 a serious priority. I think maybe at this stage in my life I'm less into the hyped up funk grooves, but then again, when you've got the right collection of musicians, a heavy duty funky jam is always a blast.
Led Zeppelin - I think, for about a year straight, I was forced by a bandmate to study how John Bonham placed his backbeats in his grooves and learn how to emulate them. By the end of that year (and sadly, the demise of that band as well) I think I'd learned how to make my grooves feel like John Bonham's did. "Misty Mountain Hop" was one of the prime tunes that I referenced for that classic Bonham feel, because it's such a killer rock groove with a heavy bounce in it, and the fills are so damn tasty (especially that blaring snare roll that jumps out of nowhere and suddenly smacks back into the regular eighth-note feel of the song)!
Jimi Hendrix - I really loved both Jimi incarnations, Experience and Band of Gypsies. But I picked out a Mitch Mitchell tune because he was one of the first Jazz drummers in Rock music that really blew my mind. Like, I just couldn't understand how he played the drums that way when I first heard him! I always wanted to get that Manic Depression groove down, and though it took me a lot longer to get the fills down, it was just such a fun and cool thing to jam. I always wished I'd heard more of him play after he moved on from Jimi.
Deep Purple - You know, I never got into them as a kid. Couldn't have even told you a song of theirs past Smoke on the Water. But so, at some point I got turned onto how much a badass Ian Paice is. I mean, just listen to the song on the playlist. WHAT?! Exactly. Go back to your practice pad.
Okay, so I'm going to do a quick little summarizing of the next few bands:
Soundgarden, The Smashing Pumpkins, RHCP, Nirvana, and so many other bands that came up in the 90's (Pearl Jam, STP, Primus, etc.) were really the core of my musical experience when I really first started playing the drums. I felt like the most important drummers to me out of that era were Matt Cameron, Jimmy Chamberlain, Chad Smith, and Dave Grohl. I think it would require a separate blog and a renewed vigor for me to write as much about these guys as they all influenced me. Suffice it to say I got my start in Grunge and Alternative music when I picked up my first drumkit!
Queens of the Stoneage - "Songs for the Deaf" is purely an exercise in how a badass drummer stays badass. Dave Grohl is a god.
Dead Kennedys - In my mid-teens I got really heavy into punk rock music. DK was the most influential out of all of them (I still have a letter that Jello Biafra wrote me in response to a letter that I wrote him, asking questions about anarchy and things of that sort). The musicianship, as far as punk is concerned, was significantly above average. I always loved their creativity with the genre.
The Roots - This was the first hip hop band I ever got into. Not even because they had a live band, but because a friend of mine showed me "Do You Want More?!" and I was really blown away by their style. As I got more into them and Questlove's grooves, it really had a major impact on my playing. There are other rap and hip-hop groups that have been big influences to me, but theirs was the biggest.
Aphex Twin - There is very little electronic music I listen to in my life these days. But Richard D. James (Aphex Twin) and Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher) are two that I will always keep in rotation. The "Come to Daddy Remixes" album was something that really blew my mind when it came out, and gave me a whole different perspective on how percussion could work, in the electronic setting. I absolutely love his beat-smithing and bizarre compositions.
Anyway, that was a mouthful! Congratulations if you actually read all of this. I hope you enjoy some of the tunes on the mix and maybe discover something new from it.