You don’t have to be a guitarist, or even remotely musically inclined, to know that there are certain heroes of guitar that all guitarists follow and wish to emulate. Michael Hedges, Pete Townsend, Allan Holdsworth, Steve Vai, Jimi Hendrix, Jaco Pastorius, Larry Graham; all huge influences on generations of players.
Drummers, on the other hand, tend to be something of a strange one – in that whatever instrument you ask a random person in the street which they would most like to be able to play, they invariably say the drums, but can barely name more than one or two drummers if pressed for names, if you don’t count Ringo and him with one arm out of Def Leppard.
Percussionist amnesia isn’t limited just to non-musicians, however. I’m always amazed at how few of my hero drummers players I’ve met are familiar with. This doesn’t mean they’re playing has suffered. I worked with a guy once who had never heard of Buddy Rich, but it didn’t stop him being a great player. I can’t help thinking, however, that this might have been more to do with him having heard so many people who were hugely influenced by the greats, like Buddy Rich, who by osmosis ended up having the desired effect on his playing.
Isn’t it better, though, to go straight to the source? Why have chocolate flavoured Nestlé drink when you can just suck down a dairy milk or a galaxy bar at the same time as drinking scalding water direct from the kettle, or something?
Bernard Purdie is known for the technically very complicated shuffle, retrospectively named after him, which he played on two Steely Dan songs, ‘Home at last’ and ‘Babylon Sister’.
The musically very relaxed groove of ‘The Bernard Purdie Shuffle’ was a huge influence on Jeff Porcaro, himself a hugely important player with (among others) the super-group Toto, known for their hits ‘Rosanna’ and ‘Africa’, before Jeff’s untimely demise from a bizarre gardening accident in 1992, aged just 38.
When he isn’t touring the world with Sting, ex-Frank Zappa drummer Vinnie Colaiuta is hanging out in jazz bars making any other drummers who happen to be looking on, wish they’d taken up something a bit easier to master…
Also ex-Frank Zappa band and more widely recognised Stateside as the husband of 80’s super-group ‘Missing Persons’ lead singer Dale Bozzio, in this clip taken from the cult classic Frank Zappa movie ‘Baby Snakes’, Terry Bozzio demonstrates his incredible double bass peddle and china-boy signature licks, while leaping onto the kit from a great height wearing naught but tight bikini bottoms…
Damien Schmitt is a new one on me. Here he is at NAMM 2008 demonstrating Hammerax cymbals, with an incredibly cool take on the Buddy Rich reverse hi-hat cliché…
Talking of Buddy Rich, this clip shows as well as any you might find, why he is rightly still referred to simply as THE man…
Unashamedly influenced by Buddy Rich, here’s Carl Palmer, of Emerson Lake and Palmer fame, showing off his formidable cymbal chimes and great showmanship at cafe ‘De Noot’ in Hoogland, Netherlands, 2007.
Bill Bruford is another name from the 1970s past on this list who’s still very much active in shaping the future of the drums. Unlike many of the aforementioned, however, Bill is especially entitled to a longer more detailed entry, since not content with being an ex member of Yes (playing on their classic ‘Close to the Edge’ album) but he also forms part of the so-called classic King Crimson line-up, alongside Tony Levin, Adrian Belew and of course, Robert Fripp.
Here’s a clip of Bill with his solo band Earthworks playing a deceptively minimal kit. I actually saw Bruford with this group very close up in an arts venue here in Stockton On Tees, a few years ago and had what can only be described as an intensely electric experience.
As a wave of pure music leapt across the room, into the hearts of everyone in attendance and incubated there, waiting to spring forth at some appropriate time in the future and radiate it’s pure love, Bill began doing something I can’t really describe with the edges of his cymbals, so that they actually played a melody, sounding rather like a glockenspiel.
They were also serving some pretty good real ale that night, and a good job too, since it was also the last time I saw my old mate Chris Woods alive.
Next up, is Mr. Peter Erskine. Being in the same Weather Report line-up which featured Jaco Pastorius, Peter is often overlooked, but is in many ways as important to jazz players of his generation as Jaco was to the bass. His “nodding” snare groove on classic tracks like ‘Black Market’ and ‘Teen Town’ were a huge influence on many of disco programmers and chart pop musicians of the 1970s and 80s.
Virgil Donati is one of those names that always comes up between drummers who “know” and is completely unknown to many who could learn a thing or two about double peddle technique from one of the masters. Virgil can be found on the road with, among others, Steve Vai, Planet X and Scott Henderson.
Steve Gadd is known for, among many other recording and touring credits, as the man who plays the ride cymbal groove to end all grooves on Steely Dan’s ‘Aja’. Dave Weckl is known for his work with Chick Corea electric band, where he created complex grooves by simultaneously programming drum machine loops, using trigger pads, while playing conventional kit.
Here (in order of appearance) is Weckl, Vinnie Colaiuta and Gadd playing at a tribute to Buddy Rich concert. Check out Dave’s fluffy 80’s mullet…