Friday, April 17, 2009
My Top 5 Modern Drummers
Inspired by the "Pick Your Top 5" craze on Facebook, I decided to create a list of my own without adding the FB application. I limited myself to my favorite modern drummers, four of which have heavily influenced my own drumming style. So here goes...
"Maestro of magnificence!" That pretty much encapsulates my feelings of this hall of fame jazz drummer. I first heard Dave Weckl in the late 80's while searching the FSU Library for recordings of Will Lee, bassist for Dave Letterman's band. Both Lee and Weckl were session musicians for Chuck Loeb's debut album Magic Fingers released in 1989. I was blown away by his rhythmic prowess, the speed and flurry of his drum fills and how he totally stole the show on this cd. I became an instant fan and began listening to everything I could that featured his percussive talents, recordings by Chick Corea, GRP All-Stars and his solo work.
I had to break down and purchase one of his instructional videos, titled "Back to Basics." It was the best video purchase I've EVER made! Nevermind the excellent instruction in stick and foot control, the drum solos are mindbending and worth every dime I spent!
Weckl is as fast as any death metal drummer, as fluid as the best R&B stickmen and as bold as any drummer I've witnessed. He was influenced by some of jazz's best ever, Buddy Rich tops among those, and it shows. I consider Dave Weckl the best modern jazz drummer in the world, and apparently I'm not alone. Modern Drummer magazine has named Weckl one of their Top 25 of all time.
Not too many fans of rock music would argue if I proclaimed Neil Peart best rock drummer of all time. Maybe you could make a case for John Bonham or some of the other drummers on this list, but even they haven't laid some of their exquisite percussive skills on vinyl like Jedi master Peart!
My uncle played Rush's "2112 Overature" and "Temples of Syrinx" for me in his basement back in the mid-70's. I thought it was the most groundbreaking, hard rock I'd ever heard, not to mention Peart's over-the-top drum fills. I would go on to explore all of Rush's discography, both Peart and Rutsy versions, before naming them my favorite all-time rock band. Neil Peart is the primary reason for that.
Never has a rock drummer had such an influence on his band, partly because Neil serves as Rush's main lyricist as well as their drummer/percussionist. I had to add the latter title thanks to Peart's work on some of Rush's early work which included tympany (kettle) drums, bells, chimes, and gongs...among other things.
When I first heard his drum solo on Exit...Stage Left, I was blown away by his precision rolls, round-the-kit drum fills, use of cowbell and overall drumming mastery. The guy knows how to work every tom, even a thunderous 20" floor tom, into a measure-busting drum fill. He never subscribes to the simple timekeeper roll, even though his timekeeping is impeccable. And Rush changes time signatures A LOT! so that's no easy task. People flock to see Rush in concert for the intricate drum fills that adorn every one of their songs.
A more recent favorite, Carter Beauford provides the percussive base for DMB (Dave Matthews Band). His batter's gloved, match grip style is his trademark. He usually steals the show, which is saying a lot at a DMB concert, since every musician on stage is top caliber.
I became a fan after a friend turned me onto DMB in the late 90's. Since then, I've gobbled up all the video of his playing that I could get my hands on. The guy is phenomenal and never ceases to surprise me. Just when you think he's laying back in the groove, he'll mezmerize you with a flurry of bass drum kicks accompanied by splash cymbal rolls. You've got to pay close attention or you'll miss something incredibly awesome!
Beyond his grooverific percussive style, his excellent pedal work and his high-octain approach to drumming, Beauford actually seems to be enjoying himself more than anyone on stage. Maybe he's just gloating, I don't know, but he's always got a big smile on his face....whenever he's not making a "drummer face," that is.
Number four on my list could share the spotlight with Weckl, only because he's had the biggest influence on my drumming. Yes, even more so than Peart. That's because he and the next drummer were the first ones I really tried to emulate on my uncle's drumset.
Watch the video of Smith's solo while touring with Journey in 1981 and you'll understand part of my fascination. For a rock-n-roll drummer, you cannot do any better than Steve Smith. But what I was surprised to find out is what a world-renown drummer he really is, putting on clinics for Sonor drums, playing studio sessions and even jamming with Buddy Rich's big band. The guy has SERIOUS chops that are not bound by musical genre!
Anyway, my first exposure was Journey's Evolution album and I spent countless hours following his blues beat on "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'." Then my uncle brought home Journey's live album Captured. From the opening number with Smith's pulsating bass drum and furious drum fill intro through the drum solo (similar to the one linked on YouTube) to the one new song that capped the album, I was in complete and utter awe of his drumming. You get a glimpse at his genre-spanning prowess on that one album, from the bluesy shuffle of "Walks Like a Lady" to the ear-thumping of "Dixie Highway," "Line of Fire" or "La Do Da"...take your pick.
I could go on and on about Steve Smith. As I said, he's one of my main drumming influences, but I'll leave it up to you. Go online and check out some of his work on the album highlighted above, on YouTube or on the Burning for Buddy sessions.
If you read the Steve Smith section, above, you already know that Porcaro was a heavy influence on my early drumming style. If Jeff were still alive today, he'd undoubtedly be among the world's best drummers. But Jeff left the world MUCH too soon, and the drumming world still misses his smooth-as-silk shuffle.
Known primarily as the talented drummer for the jazz-fusion-infused rock group Toto, Jeff was previously a much sought after session drummer who played for the likes of Boz Scaggs, Seals & Croft and Steely Dan. He was trained under his father's tuteledge and Joe Porcaro was a great jazz drummer in his day.
The effortless way Jeff played the shuffle beat, demonstrated below on his one and only instructional video, was his trademark. It took me YEARS to learn it and I still struggle with it at times, especially all the ghost notes on the snare drum! Jeff always made it look easy...a surefire mark of a great drummer.
For me, 1992 will always be a dark year because of Jeff's untimely passing. Who knows what he might have achieved by now. Countless albums from the 70's and 80's bear his unmistakeable signature, but I grew up on his work with Toto. "Hold the Line" was one of the first songs I learned to play on the drums.
There is a blog dedicated to everything Jeff Porcaro. And this concludes my dedication to the Top 5 Modern Drummers in my estimation. Tell me what you think by leaving a comment below.