For Drum Heads Only

By Paul Turner

Being a drummer -- and perhaps you can relate to this -- sometimes I feel like Rodney Dangerfield. Not because I'm especially tall or Jewish (at least I don't "think" I'm either of those) or because I do stand-up comedy -- and don't worry, I won't. Rather it's because sometimes I can't get no respect.

Sometimes we deserve abuse (the rest of the music world knows we certainly can dish it out), but most of the time we really don't. I guess that's easy for us to say, though.

By sheer virtue of our instrument and its function, we lean toward the rhythmic side of music obviously, while others are based on the melodies and harmonies, for instance. Others play the pretty and delicate lines and we get to keep it all together. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.

During my musically formative years, many a band leader (as well as other members) admonished me tojust "keep the beat." Innately I seemed to know, however, that drummers whojust "keep the beat" usually fall by the wayside and don't ever see the inside of a recording studio unless they are footing the bill. (Even in that case, Dave Clark's [The Dave Clark 5] drumming had a couple of redeeming "bits and pieces.")

I also think that every drummer who learned to "stick it out" has a story or two about someone who "beat on them" for being a stereotype drummer and are now accountants and computer salesmen and cab drivers.

As both music and the equipment used to play it have become advanced, so must our capabilities to rise to the playing call. Not that it was true in the past, but especially now are we not just keeping a beat. MIDI sequencing, assorted rhythm machines and enhancers, triggering, and especially the basics of progressive musicianship keep thrusting us forward to learn and improve. Getting stale is something for baked goods -- not good players.

But all the advancements we have available does not make our job any easier -- or even alter our basic job description substantially. It's still up to us to:

Find the groove of the song. Sometimes I have to wonder if some musicians even have a needle. Perhaps it's lost in the haystack of Marshalls of locked under the keys of their synthesizer.

Consistently lock that feel in the pocket every time the group plays the song. No matter howyou feel --it should "feel" good. Every gig. Every week. And then there's the next song -- same thing.

Drive the groove dynamically. Volume up on break, volume down on verse. Intensity high on opener, lower for ballad later in the set. I especially like it when another player asks how I know when to ride a cymbal and play a snare instead of playing hi-hat and a rim shot. It blows 'em away when I say it's like when you know to play a G13 chord instead of a G7th, or when you know your axe isn't quite in tune. It's just part of the job.

Then we get to haul all our gear around. One of my standard comebacks that I used recently in response to a bass player's remark about all that stuff I use (I've cut back considerably over the years) is "You know, I meant to take up harmonica but I didn't have a case for it."

Well, like I said, it's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. And don't we love it. Setting up, tuning drums and finding and locking in the groove, controlling tempos and dynamics, coloring with cymbals. And all the rest.

As we continue to play with confidence and finesse and as we make it entertaining visually, let's not forget why the drums are in the back of a parade formation. First off, it shows we have a healthy self-image (which is widely known, just not admitted to) but mainly it's due to our great motivation factor. We've got places to go and there's people to see us . . . also, we play the only instrument with two "heads" of its own, and "two heads are always better than one."

After all, we drummers have to "stick" together.

Below are half a dozen well-known and otherwise accomplished drummers from a variety of musical backgrounds.

Each is featured onModern Drummer magazine covers.

Each has a list of credits longer than my hi-hat stand, so I limited each to six. (Note musical versatility of each.)

Each could fill pages with personal musical trivia but we listed just a few.

L __ __ __ __ __ L __ __ __ __ __

lCredits: Elvis, Steve Perry, the Everly Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, B.B. King, Adrian Belew.

l He left drumming in the great halls of Motown at the "gentle nudging" from Chet Atkins to become the producer's first call in the capital of country music in Nashville.

l Has been a boxer and a carpenter, but preferred drumming because he says "the other two are work."

l Turned down the drummer's slot for Journey.

l Does a lot of drum clinics.

R __ __ H __ __ __ __ __

l Credits: Charlie Parker, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie.

l First gig was in Boston using only a snare and ride cymbal.

l Miles Davis used to "accuse" Charlie Parker of "stealing him." (Probably true.)

l Originally played violin, but left it for drums.

l His name is also synonymous with his own jazz quartet.

D __ __ __ __ G __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

l Credits: Gino Vanelli, Tom Johnston (of Doobies), David Meece,

l Certainly a "tower of power" for drumming.

l You can find his column inModern Drummer regularly.

l Played big band and symphonic percussion while in the service.

l Definitely has the funky "Oakland Stroke" down -- he wrote the book.

J __ __ __ __ __ __ __ M __ __ __ __ __ __

l Credits: Elton John, Madonna, George Michael, the Jacksons, Peter Cetera, Julian Lennon.

l Nicknamed "Sugarfoot," he grew up in New Orleans.

l Known for his "cymbal catch" technique.

l Likes to play "Heartbreak Hotel" for its feel.

l Inspirations are John Bonham, Stewart Copeland and Vinnie Colaiuta.

l Bonus: You'd think he was related to one of our editors.

A __ __ __ A __ __ __ __

l Credits: Weather Report, U2, Placido Domingo, Paul McCartney, Al Jarreau, Lee Ritenour.

l From Lima, Peru, he's of Peruvian, Indian, Spanish, Greek and Turkish descent. (No wonder he's so musically versatile!)

l Passed "audition" of Weather Report, according to him, "because of his personality -- he was so different." They affectionately related to him not as E.T. but as A.A.

l Does considerable amount of sound-track work for TV and radio.

l Has a great video out -- buy it!

S __ __ __ __ J __ __ __ __ __

l Credits: Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, David Sanborn.

l Used to drum the "Late Night" gig.

l Played the drums on soundtrack Hail! Hail! Rock & Roll documentary where he spent much time riding on the edge of the bass drum (with a stick, of course).

l Says he plays better drums after having played some guitar.

l Known> for his power back beat.

This is an open magazine "POP quiz." (If you have any trouble with these, just find your favorite drummer -- or one that's closer -- and look over his shoulder.)

When you get these down, stick 'em in the box at Mom's Musician's General Store and ask 'em nicely to pick your name out for the$25 drawing on May 30.

While you're there, stop by and say "Hi" to Bride's drummer Jerry, Spanky Lee's drummer Max, and Shufflin' Grand Dads' drummer Marvin (and check out the drums on Marvin's finger!).

Modern Drummer has graciously provideda one-year subscription to their magazine as the second prize andan item of merchandise -- perhaps a cap or T-shirt -- for the third-place winner.

Fo>r>tune AND fame await you becausethe names of the winners will be published!

Incidentally, if you'd likeModern Drummer subscription information, call 1-800-551-3786, so we can all march together.

(Paul Turner is a drummer and a member of the staff of Louisville Music News.)