I’ve always said that rock and roll is about kick drum and bass. Rhythm, after all, is the key definer of style. I grew up in the ‘burbs and was raised on AM-radio pop, which was neither very rhythmically interesting nor particularly powerful. As I gravitated to the album-oriented rock stations in our market, the first thing I noted was the low-frequency thump I felt in my gut. It made sense to me that the bedrock of rock was the thud, sizzle and crack of the drum kit.
When I had kids, I noted that you don’t have to teach even the smallest baby to bob her head and dance. So go ahead and bop as the creator intended, as you groove to five of my favorite trap-set masters.
Ringo Starr – The Beatles
My first musical obsession was with the Beatles. I started out a Paul fan, then switched to John and finally decided George is the guy. But I appreciate that Ringo was laying the groundwork for a generation of drummers to follow. His trademark end-of-phrase crash is a comfort and an inspiration to air drummers everywhere.
Stewart Copeland – The Police
In February of 1979, when Sky Daniels on Detroit’s W4 played “Roxanne” for the first time I dug it the most. What still strikes me about The Police is the prevalent hi-hat in their mixes. Stewart’s innovative use of the hi-hat defines this great band for me. Not sure what the vaquero bit is that’s interspersed in this live clip, but Stew is all over the ‘hat throughout.
Bruce Gary – The Knack
That’s right… from The Knack. I loved this band from the says go and I still do. Bruce’s tom-tom sound is unmistakable to me. I heard a “lost track” the other day and in the intro I knew it was The Knack from the first signature tom run. Bruce drove the high energy in this band, and he shows it off at Carnegie-freaking-Hall in this clip of their propulsive version of Buddy Holly’s classic.
Terry Chambers – XTC
Straying further onto the punk and New Wave paths, a friend turned me on to XTC. Terry’s eccentric takes on established power-pop rhythms, with extensive use of off-beat hits, still gets me counting and thigh-slapping. He is also amazingly flexible, effortlessly navigating the band’s many stylistic moods. This clip from ’82 provides a good look at the man at work. Terry was pissed when XTC stopped touring due to Andy Partridge’s anxiety. Having no writing credits, he only got paid when he played.
George Hurley – Minutemen
Bands like Minutemen defined what became known in the early 90s as “alternative.” George was a pioneer in the angular rhythm style that is a hallmark of 90s rock. Minutemen didn’t use a lot of odd time signatures, but George expertly makes it sound like they did. This live clip gives a taste of what Minutemen were all about, jammin’ econo with George all over the fucking place.
These drummers were key for me in the early days of my music fandom. I went on to branch out into heavier rock, as well as jazz, soul and reggae. While there isn’t typically someone behind the kit, I find electronic and industrial music rhythms fascinating and devastating. I’ve also been known to rock the kit myself. Stay tuned, we definitely need some more drummer lists.