[Via Thinkstock Photos]
I love playing the drums. It’s something I started picking up as a teenager when my dad brought home a drumset a friend of his had purchased for $80 out of a storage unit that had been abandoned. It was an old Pearl kit from probably the 70’s or so which had been well used and was in need of some new parts and repair. I already knew how to play the guitar (somewhat) and had played in bands, but had always been fascinated in the drums. When that kit showed up, I set it up in a corner in the basement and started beating the living piss out of it constantly! My parents, God bless them, embraced it and encouraged me to keep pounding them.
Eventually I was able to keep a decent beat and started learning a few songs by listening to them and playing along. I followed a little bit of a different learning curve, learning by ear, than I had for learning to play guitar. Until that point, I had relied heavily on tablature (the lazy guitarist’s version of sheet music) in order to learn things. There’s drum tabs out there too, but I didn’t find them as easy to read. Plus, I’m not one of those drummers who feels the need to be microscopically accurate with my playing. If I miss a note here and there, whatever. Just playing along and getting the hang of it is more fun anyway.
Who knows, though, if I might have had an easier time learning if I could have had access to isolated drum tracks from some of my favourite songs? I guess when you do that, it’s kind of tough to pick up on things like song structure and what-not (unless you’re really good at counting), but it gives you a chance to hear those parts that are hard to make out clearly thanks to the other instruments overpowering the drums.
Earlier this year, OpenCulture.com ran a little piece on the isolated drum tracks of a few rock gods. Here they are for your enjoyment, with a little blurb about each track taken from the site.
[Via Consequence of Sound]
As a result of the recording techniques of the time, writes producer/engineer Bobby Owinski, drum tracks tended to sound “like a single instrument,” since they were recorded with only two or three mics capturing the space around the kit, rather than the sound of individual pieces. “Still,” Owinski writes of this track, “there’s plenty of power in [Bonham’s] kick and snare, because he played them hard!” In addition to his power, Bonham is known for his laid-back groove, due to his tendency for playing slightly behind the beat, a quality Youtube drum instructor Terry Keating of Bonzoleum ascribes to “temperament.”
[Via Professor Wikipedia]
Now there are a few similarities between Bonham and Moon: They were both British, they’re both named John (It’s Moon’s middle name), they both rose to prominence around the same time, they both died alcohol related deaths (Bonham choked on vomit while sleeping after drinking all day, whereas Moon overdosed on Heminevrin, a drug intended to curb alcohol abuse). There’s one more thing that they have in common – Cream drummer Ginger Baker doesn’t really like them.
But Ginger Baker doesn’t tend to like anyone, and Moon’s playing, while maybe not virtuosic or especially disciplined, was, like his persona, insane. Drum Magazine describes Moon’s style as “tribal, primitive, and impulsive, with him often stomping the bass drums and pounding his wall of toms like a madman” (clearly Moon inspired the Muppets’ Animal). Moon’s many kits often consisted of double bass drums and double rows of toms, and he played them as hard as possible almost all the time. Hear him above thrashing with abandon through “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
Peart has long been one of my favourite drummers. I still remember the first time I heard him take a drum solo, in the middle of YYZ on Rush’s 1981 live album Exit… Stage Left. That solo was only around 3 minutes or so – relatively short compared to his average solo – but it blew my mind just the same. I recently wrote a blog about Peart and his giant drum set, where he gives a virtual tour of it. You can find that HERE.
Seemingly miles away from the madness of Keith Moon, Rush’s Neil Peart is a highly technical drummer with impeccable on-the-beat timing and a drum setup that has grown so extensive and complicated over the years that he almost disappears into its depths. Peart’s playing combines the power and stamina of Bonham with complex patterns whose rhythmic dynamics shift subtly several times throughout each song. Check out the isolated drum track for “Tom Sawyer” above as a classic example of Peart’s technique and you may see why he’s classed as one of the all-time best rock drummers.
As much of a Rush fan as I am, they’re certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. Apparently Stewart Copeland is not a fan. He’s joked about “pulling Neil’s chain every chance he gets” for the self-indulgent excess of drum solos (though Copeland himself performed one during David Letterman’s Drum Solo Week on The Late Show in 2011).
Copeland talks about “a time when bands like Rush were the epitome of what The Police were theoretically against, which was an overemphasis on musicality.” Nonetheless, Copeland is one of the most musical of drummers, making use of odd time signatures and polyrhythmic syncopation to create a thoroughly unique and instantly recognizable style (which has even inspired neuroscience studies). The drum track below comes from “Next to You,” a song on the band’s debut album, during their decidedly anti-Rush phase. While the song itself is uptempo punk rock, Copeland’s Gene Krupa-like drumming, heard in isolation, presages the unusual quirks to come as the band stretched out into jazz and reggae territory.
The sheer number of bands Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl has drummed for is impressive, and a testament to his machine-like speed and timing. Drummer and Portlandia star Fred Armisen may be Grohl’s biggest fan. “Every drum part he does is a masterpiece,” says Armisen, “He’s never just heavy for heavy’s sake or rock for rock’s sake—it’s all so musical, with an incredible sense of dynamics. Every generation has their drumming guy, and Dave is ours.” Even Kurt Cobain, never one to overpraise, once called Grohl “the best drummer in the world.” Maybe a bit of hyperbole, but Grohl’s damned good, even at his most straightforward, as below in his pounding drumbeat for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Grohl’s powerhouse playing isn’t the most versatile. He had some trouble adjusting to quieter environs, and Cobain nearly banned him from the band’s legendary “Unplugged” performance for his too-aggressive playing in rehearsals. Nonetheless, when it comes to punk, hardcore, and serious rock, Grohl’s the man.
BONUS: Isolated Drums from Queens of The Stone Age‘s Song For The Dead, which contains some of Grohl’s finest work, and happens to be one of my favourite songs to play on the drums.
Got a favourite drummer who’s not on this list? Tell me who it is and why they’re your favourite in the comments!