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Old Apr 29, 2010, 03:06 PM   #1
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Default The drummer - an appreciation

The drummer - an appreciation
Take Note, Martinez

By Jim Caroompas

Guest Columnist
April 29, 2010

First things first: last week’s column about Hank Williams winning the Pulitzer contained an error: I credited Hank with writing “Love Sick Blues,” and he didn’t. In fact, writing credit for that song goes to Irving Mills and Cliff Friend. I will add a caveat – Irving Mills was a producer back in the 1920s and 1930s who was fairly notorious for taking writing credit where it probably wasn’t due. He is co-credited with writing several songs along with Duke Ellington, as well as many others. So while Cliff Friend was almost certainly directly involved in composing “Love Sick Blues,” it’s questionable whether or not Mr. Mills had a direct pen-to-paper role in it, but he was a giant in the industry, and one of the biggest proponents of jazz, blues and swing, at a time when that music would not have survived without his significant help, so thanks, Irving, and sorry for the confusion about the authorship of the song. Hank wrote most of his material, and I always just assumed he wrote this one, too. Your author stands humbled and promises to be more thorough in the future.

Now, to the subject at hand. What’s the first thing you think of when I say “The Beatles?” For me, the very first thing is that bass drum with their name on it. That is one iconic bass drum. And the drummer, Ringo Starr, is nearly as iconic, especially in the early days. He always looked sad, in a happy-go-lucky kind of way. But his drumming was amazing.

I start with Ringo because I think that’s where a lot of drummers started in the 1960s and 1970s. But like teachers, I am eternally grateful for their choice, and eternally baffled by it. Because being a drummer is probably the most demanding and least rewarding of all the instruments. My first choice of instrument was drums, because it just looks like so much fun. You get to sit and bang on all these giant metal flake pots and pans, and now and then really bash the cymbal.

But the fun of that wears off pretty quickly, as you begin to realize that to really make music on these things, you have to have uncanny coordination of all four limbs. Your right hand has to cross over and keep time on the high hat, while your left hand has to smack that snare drum exactly right, each and every time. Meanwhile, your right foot is keeping a separate beat on the bass drum, while your left foot is helping work that high hat up and down. This is very difficult to do for 16 bars. It is nearly impossible for an entire set of music, and drummers usually play four sets.

But the drummer does more than keep time (and I wish more drummers would really focus on the importance of keeping steady time — a surprising number don’t). The drummer is in charge of bringing the music up and down in volume, what we call dynamics. When the drummer POPS the snare drum in the middle of a song, it means it’s time for the whole band to come down to a whisper. They stay there until the drummer slowly starts hitting the snare a little louder, just a little, until finally the band is back into a crazed frenzy again. That’s the drummer driving that bus, folks.

The drums themselves are ridiculously complicated. There are tiny little wing nuts and other small moving parts that must be kept meticulous track of, or you can’t put the set together. There are very heavy parts, too, and they all take up lots of space in your truck/van/car. And I’ve never seen a drummer carry his or her set into a gig in less than three trips. It’s frankly insane. You haul this very heavy set of drums into a club, spend half an hour setting it up (and listening to the guitar player whine about how “there isn’t enough room for me…”), sit for four hours behind the band at a rate of physical exertion and coordination that no one else in the room can even come close to, only to wind up taking it all down again and loading it back into your truck/van/car.

It’s, as I said, truly insane. But a great drummer is essential to a great band. My drummer in Caroompas Room, for instance, Bill Horton, is incredible. I don’t have to think twice about where the groove is – he’s got it and I know it. So all I have to do is tune my guitar and sing the song. The groove will be there without question. And he will, out of nowhere, throw in a break or riff that will elevate the tune into transcendence. Now and then we’ll goof around and make something a spontaneous Reggae song, or turn a soul tune into a country classic, just for fun. He’s got that, too. And none of it would work very well if he wasn’t making the right sounds on tubs.

Aside from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones would never have made it without Charlie Watts. That guy is a groove beast. Every song they ever did has at least several iconic drum riffs from Charlie. The Who had Keith Moon, and they should have disbanded when he died. Led Zeppelin wisely did when they lost John Bonham. Those are just some big names from my childhood. There are thousands of others, from all genres, which I don’t have space to mention. Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Billy Cobham, Elvin Jones, Ginger Baker, Sheila E., Max Weinberg… from around here, special shout-outs to John Riggs, Charles Waltmire, Tony Odello and Brett King Cosby.

So the next time you go out to hear some live music, pay a little more attention to that drummer. They’re sitting back there earning a living, and they deserve your attention and appreciation.


Last edited by LennonStarrFan : Apr 29, 2010 at 03:08 PM.
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Old May 04, 2010, 10:37 AM   #2
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My heart always beat to a different drummer... when I was 15... I found out his name was Ringo.
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