Saturday, May 19, 2007

Buddy Rich Tribute

BUDDY RICH 1917-1987

When considering great drummers of the modern era, one man stands at the top of the heap: Bernard "Buddy" Rich. I did not pay near enough attention to this legendary musician in my youth. All I knew about him was that he was a jazz drummer who could play lightning quick buzz rolls and was a favorite on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

As I began taking drumming more seriously in my late teens, I began exploring all types of music, including jazz. I marvelled at the percussive wizardry and technical acumen of such greats as Billy Cobham, Dave Weckl, Alex Acuna, Jeff Porcaro, Harvey Mason and others. Still unaware of the influence of jazz's all-time master, I idolized these modern drumming marvels, along with rock's best Steve Smith (toured with Journey early in his career), Neil Peart (Rush) and of course Porcaro (a drummer who truly transcended genre).

It wasn't until the 1990's that I became more aware of the influence Buddy Rich had on all of my favorite drummers. When Neil Peart released the "Burning for Buddy" tribute CD in '94, I was simply blown away. Because of the dabbling I had done in jazz and big band swing, I immediately appreciated the prowess of Rich and his disciples. And this tribute CD featuring Rich's own band included performances by some of my favorite drummers, most notably Peart, Smith and Weckl. They assembled to pay homage to the man who is arguably the best to have ever picked up a pair of sticks.

After wearing out my copy of "Burning for Buddy, Vol. 1" and ordering "Vol. 2," I stumbled upon a best of Buddy Rich compilation that included some of the famous drum duels between he and Gene Krupa. I was mesmorized. So when I found that the Burning for Buddy sessions had been captured on DVD, I had to own a copy.

It arrived in the mail last weekend!

To hear my idols, Peart et al, talk about the impact Rich had on their lives and careers kind of put his iconic status into perspective for me. What's more, they all admired and respected each other, as well. They approached this project with fear, humility and much exhiliration. Some of them, Peart included, had never played with a big band so they were really out of their element. That just makes watching them perform that much better.

I only wish I had paid more attention to Buddy while he was still alive. Some of his performances from the early to mid 80's are astonishingly great. Here's a clip of his appearance on the Muppet Show in 1978: Buddy Rich v. Animal

As you can see, the man was amazingly fast with the sticks and made the double-stroke roll look effortless at any speed. He was very creative in his approach to the drums, milking the percussive quality out of every conceiveable part of his kit, including the stands. He was a pioneer who cut a path for all drummers of the modern era, regardless of genre. (In fact, one of the drummers featured on the DVD was a metal head who played for Guns'N'Roses.) His legacy is evident by the sheer number of drummers, including myself, who feel obliged to pay tribute and who watch the old footage with much awe and admiration.