Why Drummers? Well, it’s the instrument most connected to me I suppose. Here are ten who were important to me growing up. Whilst dreaming of being a musician, I never made it (see the blog about my books below). For whatever reason circumstance did not align. For this piece I wanted to keep things simple. Some might bang on about the timbre, effortless poly-rhythms or ‘gee whiz you can tell he’s hitting that hi-hat with his trusty Vic Firth 777’s on that one’ but no I just wanted to give a generic yet personal account and some pointers of what to play should you, dear reader, find yourself with a vacant slab of time and a you tube connection, or perhaps you too own some of these records and may want to revisit them. Let the dream commence…
1. PHIL COLLINS
The year is 1976, I am either five or six years old – dependent on which end of ’76 it was – and my listening varied between 10cc’s Deceptive Bends and while I take a lot of flak for it, Genesis Wind and Wuthering, which I happen to like. Particularly the 10 minute master-stroke that is One For The Vine. The guy singing is also, as it turns out from reading the credits, the drummer – hmm how does that work I pondered. The name staring back at me was none other than Phil Collins, who would later become a huge solo act and of course a lot more commercial as the Genesis records were, even then hinting at. Later works were distinguished by a trademark sound discovered four years later by producer Hugh Padgham while recording for Gabriel 3. Back then he was – unknown to me at the time – backing up Brand X and Brian Eno on his seminal Another Green World album. Later he helped out among others: Robert Plant and produced Eric Clapton, Howard Jones and err.. Adam Ant (while you can’t win them all, one can admire his diversity).
Genesis – Abacab (album version)
Genesis – Behind The Lines
Phil Collins – Hand in Hand
Eric Clapton – Walk Away
2. STEWART COPELAND
To the late 70s and a sound like nothing else I’d heard before or since. Totally unique the American Stewart Copeland was the Yankee in the otherwise English realm of The Police. I remember seeing him chipping away at a rocket in the video for Walking on the Moon. The title track of Regatta de Blanc, was and is still mesmerising considering it was born out of a jam for Can’t Stand Losing You. The next year began a new decade as the band released Zenyatta Mondatta. Sitting in the car with my sister at sunset listening to When the World is Running Down.. on the radio was just incredible, more so for Andy’s guitar than SC’s bright back beat. The Police work ethic was astounding, like a non stop juggernaut. Another year, another record, and SC’s frontage to the song Every Little Thing She Does is Magic is just that, simple, sufficient, succinct. The French titling had now gone and in its place a surprise English one Ghost in the Machine; their new beginning however marked a dark shift toward a rapid end. In Copeland’s composition Darkness he opines ‘I wish I never got up this morning, life was easy when it was boring.’ His drumming was anything but.
The Police – Regatta de Blanc
The Police – Synchronicity I
The Police – Voices Inside My Head
3. JOHN LLOYD
Still in the early eighties and my first Aussie makes his appearance in what was then a band called Flowers. Like Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason (and it seems many drummers) Lloyd is also an artiste, illustrating the band’s first album cover ICEHOUSE, which would in turn become the band name. Very eighties, the timing was right for a touch of class from the Antipodes. The cover sets the tone for the eerie title track, Lloyd’s drums fading in from the icy synth. Sadly his playing career was cut short and after 1984’s ‘Sidewalk’ album he departed the band fold for the advertising world. He is perhaps to Icehouse what Paul Thompson is to Roxy Music, a fleeting star extinguished too early thus he only appears on the début, the Love in Motion single and Sidewalk.
Icehouse – Icehouse
Icehouse – Love In Motion
Icehouse – Sidewalk
Icehouse – Shot Down
4. MANNY ELIAS
Exotic born Englishmen, Calcutta to be precise – not too out of place when you consider things like the Indian style flute (played by synth I dare guess) on The Conflict; one of many beauties from UK band Tears For Fears. Again he appears briefly and again sadly leaves TFF after the outstanding second album (along with Ian Stanley, both would prove irreplaceable in the long run). Check out his amazing playing on the Rockpalast show on You Tube.
Tears For Fears – Memories Fade
Tears For Fears – Mothers Talk (album version)
Tears For Fears – Broken/Head Over Heels/Broken
5. TONY THOMPSON
1985 – Duran Duran are split into two camps. Both are amazing. Roger Taylor I already knew about, but Tony Thompson nope, doesn’t ring any bells. How could this powerhouse possibly have been the same guy backing Nile Rodgers disco sophisticates CHIC!? I just couldn’t believe it when I found out. Not only that though, Rodgers wisely took his workhorse with him to light up classics by Bowie and Madonna. Shrewd move. Thompson died in 2003. He remains sadly missed.
Power Station – Some Like It Hot
Power Station – Communication
Madonna – Material Girl
CHIC – Savoir Faire
6. JON FARRISS
Also around that time, I was beginning to tune into Planet INXS. Watching them on Ready to Roll in New Zealand a few years earlier I couldn’t have been less interested, however by ’85 and early ’86 I definitely had a penchant for things coming out of Australia. The UK where I now found myself was a bit slow on the uptake, America was more favourable. We had This Time, they had What You Need. I heard it on the radio at a time when the UK didn’t have FM – it still sounded amazing. It had a sharp beat, a great guitar hook and great video. The former was courtesy of Jon Farriss (as I would later find, one of three brothers making up the line-up). When it eventually came out in the UK (March ’86) I tried to order it from my local small town record store. Even though it wasn’t far outside the top 40 it was like asking for candy from the moon. My only hope was to get the album Listen Like Thieves; expensive then as they weren’t ‘chart material’ and so it continued with The Swing and Shabooh Shoobah. Along with Songs From The Big Chair and The Power Station, Jon’s drumming provided ample rhythmic food for thought and a good chance to go nuts on the air drums to Red Red Sun. He’s also cool as…
INXS – The Swing
INXS – What You Need
INXS – Wishing Well
INXS – Show Me (Cherry Baby)
*also worth a mention is I’m Over You (INXS b-side credited to Jon and Kirk)
7. PAT MASTELOTTO
Mr Mister are yet another example of how record company politics can affect a great band. Fortunately they did manage to conduct some semblance of a career before this happened. Aside the back to back #1’s they are forever known for, Is It Love’s pop-prog is extraordinary musicianship! However their latter work is even better; quite why their third and to some their finest record Go On failed is a mystery. Normally a ropey album preceding it is all that’s required for a band’s change of fortunes but the record prior to Go On was the mammoth selling Welcome to the Real World, so who knows! The Misters comprised singer Richard Page, Steve George on keys, another Steve and Farris (albeit spelt differently to the INXS guys) on guitar and Pat Mastelotto on drums (alongside all manner of percussion). Having decided – foolishly it would turn out – not to pursue a music career I had these drum patterns in my head which I had no way of getting out. Enter PM or P@ as he sometimes refers to himself. A good example of this is toward the end of Cock Robin’s One Joy Bang. In my appraisal of Pat on All Music Guide I also mention he does a fine job of not only playing but in finding the right style/sound suitable for each recording. Had I made it as a drummer, Pat’s resumé is the one I would have liked the most. Aside the Misters and Cock Robin he’s played on records by both front men, the latter’s is Peter Kingsbery (who incredibly I’ve since worked with myself!), No-Man, Sylvian/Fripp and King Crimson. Quite sickening isn’t it, though hugely deserved.
Mr Mister – Control
XTC – Mayor of Simpleton
Cock Robin – One Joy Bang
The Rembrandts – New King
8. PETER MASLEN aka MAZ
Toward the end of the eighties now and my third and final Aussie weighs in. While they aren’t as well known as Icehouse or INXS, Melbourne’s Boom Crash Opera were no less a brilliant team, both in their song writing and their rhythm section. As with a lot of my faves, Maslen’s bright crisp drumming is often the light in the dark tones and grooves, especially on their 1987 début. Like Pat above he is also an exponent of the electronic set-up. This can be heard on later tracks such as Radio from arguably their strongest offering Born Again – which suffered a fate similar to the Misters PULL. Deemed uncommercial, the album was held in a 20 year vault by record company suits. However the band’s recent acquisition of their catalogue may see its long overdue release.
Boom Crash Opera – Too Hot Too Think
Boom Crash Opera – Superheroes
Richard Pleasance – Jesus
Natalie Imbruglia – Wrong Impression
9. STEVE JANSEN
Although active from the late 70s it was only in the dying embers of the 80s that I finally got round to hearing Japan (another band formed by brothers) and thus the percussive genius of Steve Jansen.
Steve is unique in his dexterity to traverse a terrain covering rock to jazz and back. He is also a skilled technician of sound design, mixing and recently recorded ringtones for Blackberry.
Japan – Still Life in Mobile Homes
Rain Tree Crow – Cries and Whispers
Mick Karn – Bestial Cluster
Perry Blake – War in France
No-Man – Lighthouse
10. STEVE FERRONE
Rounding off with another Steve (see, I don’t just throw this thing together). Steve’s animated drumming garnished tracks by Duran Duran and it would seem an enviable cast list of others from soul faves: Anita Baker to George Benson to his current home as a heart-breaker led by Tom Petty. Again his sound is bright (must be something I like about that) and though he uses an impressive array of fills, somehow in the frenetic pulse he keeps, remains a spacious room. It’s a pretty good combination.
Scritti Politti – Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)
Duran Duran – Hold Me
Climie Fisher – Break The Silence
Bryan Ferry – I Put a Spell on You
Pictures: copyright remains with the artists.