What makes a great drummer absolutely legendary?
Is it rock-solid timing? Is it stick twirls and flashy licks? Is it the ability to string together a sick solo or add that driving edge to a song? Isolating what makes these guys special is difficult, but they each stand out in their own special way.
First at bat is Keith Moon of The Who, whose volatile drumming style was only matched by his personality and the hi-jinks he got himself into. Early on in his career he scrapped most typical rock beatss, trading them in for waves of fills and double bass. “Moon the Loon”, as he was sometimes called always sprinkled in a little dose of crazy into whatever he did. At the time he died, he was banned from multiple hotel chains – mostly for exploding toilets with dynamite. True story. Check out this performance of “Baba O’Riely”:
Watching the video, you can get little glimpses into Moon’s wild energy. For instance, if you watch him in the dark before the drums come in you can see him filling madly in the background – furious 16th notes all around the kit. This whirlwind leads directly into that first cymbal hit, almost shocking that he comes in on time.
Now here’s Keith Moon a slightly different environment, and mood. In this video, The Who is covering The Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” with Keith manning that ear-piercing falsetto. Wearing what looks like a 1920’s bathing suit he really lets loose for some hard rocking out with guitarist Pete Townshend. Take a look:
Next, taking out the bass drum and a few others pieces from Keith Moon’s kit, we’re left with what Violent Femmes drummer, Victor DeLorenzo, played on in the band’s ground breaking debut album Violent Femmes. Using a standing, Tito Puente style of playing, he rocked out on a snare drum harder than anyone ever had before. He was also a genius in creating great hooks, most notably those two eighth note hits throughout the Violent Femmes’ most famous song, “Blister in the Sun”:
In the innovation department, we have Roy Wooten a.k.a. Future Man, Victor Wooten’s older brother and fellow member of the fusion band Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. He’s the only drummer on this list to invent the instrument he plays – dubbed by him the “Drumitar”. Underneath a mass of drum machines and samplers, the Drumitar is Metallica singer James Hetfield’s SynthAxe. This isn’t the only instrument he’s created, however, he’s also credited for constructing the “RoyEl”, which as far as I can tell is something like a piano but it plays funkier notes.
Here’s Future Man soloing using some samples of African folk songs. And surprise! – There are some real drums in front of him, too:
Finally we get back to the heavy arsenal. First, Mr. Neil Peart of the progressive rock band Rush. First inspired by The Who, Peart is a drumming god in terms of face-meltingness, mind-blowingness, and other made up adjectives that can only hope to capture the extent of his technical ability. He would take the songs composed by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, and then sit at his desk and write the extensive drum parts to complement the crazy time signatures that the band came to be known for. Peart’s solo in this performance of “YYZ” (the canadian version of the Morse “SOS”) says it all. The bell melody Peart plays at the beginning of the solo has become widely known and quoted.
And at long last we have come to my personal favorite, John Bonham, who with bassist John Paul Jones formed the backbone for Led Zeppelin. From his quick-footed bass drum work (he never used a double bass) like on “Good Times, Bad Times”, to his powerful, demanding beats (“When the Levee Breaks”); from his psycho-noise breakdowns (“Whole Lotta Love” and “Dazed and Confused”) to his original ideas and rhythms (“Fool in the Rain”) he played with an extremely varied style. But like YYZ, nothing speaks to his talents better than his solos – and there is none more famous than his 20 minute “Moby Dick”. Here’s a clip of him performing (less than half of) it live:
For the die-hard fans, here’s the original recorded solo in its entirety:
You can’t rock harder than that. All of these videos really make me wish I had a drum set in my dorm room, but with floors 1 and 2 below me, and 4 and 5 above, I’d probably irritate the whole building. WWKMD?
What would Keith Moon do? Somehow I think I’m going to stick with tapping the hell out of my desk for the time being, and let the kids who walk past my door think what they will. Oh is that my neighbor knocking on the wall, imploring me to stop? TOO BAD.
PEAK KEYWORD: FACEMELTINGEST