AND THE BEAT GOES ON: TOP TEN ROCK DRUMMERS
“…I don’t want to work; I want to bang on the drum all day.”
--Todd Rundgren, 1983
Drums are an extremely important part of human history. Its roots can be traced back to the earliest of Eastern cultures. The use of drums for rhythm and song has long been used to express meaning and feeling and to accompany rituals. Early civilizations used drums as a way to communicate and express feelings. Out of all of the musical instruments that we see in our society today and use on a regular basis, there is one instrument that stands out in musical history: the drum.
Unfortunately, with its demarcations of high and low cultures, Western music never truly embraced the importance of drums in music until the birth of rock and roll in the 1950’s. With the onset of rock and roll, the role that drums played in music began to develop, the sounds became more complex and, likewise, the drum sets became more evolved, with new additions added to them. Rock and roll drummers began expanding their drum kits, adding more cymbals and tom toms drums. In addition, as time went on, electronic drums were added to the drum kits as well. All of these additions allowed drummers to expand their sounds and diversify their music.
Once just a mere background instrument found in Western music, this new frontier for drums, drumming, and drummers would explode on the future music scene and elevate the instrument, techniques, and musicians to the backbone of all the diverse subgenres of rock and roll music that permeates 21st century music. Obviously, to trace this enormous change that the impact of drums has had on 21st century music is well beyond the scope of this article, but let it be known that what was once a mere shadow of itself in its role in popular music (keep in mind, jazz was not considered popular music in the 1950’s) would grow to become a behemoth of an instrument and a vital aspect of today’s popular music.
As with my last article on bass players, the focus of this diatribe will be on rock and roll drummers. Not to dismiss the impact that Gene Krupa, Max Roach, Billy Cobham, and Philly Joe Jones had on drumming. As I mentioned, at the time rock and roll emerged in the popular music scene of the 1950’s, jazz was considered low culture (the racism inherent in this cultural view can be historicized by examining the jazz and blues pioneers of the Harlem Renaissance—including Duke Ellington). With the popularity of rock and roll came a new appreciation for drums on all genres, and it is about time to honor those rock and roll drummers who have taken their instrument to a whole new level.
It is unfortunate and sad that my choice of the drummer to fill the number ten position on my list is not around for us to appreciate anymore. At the prime of his career, when he was just beginning to shake the stigma of being the drummer for the ever popular adult oriented rock (AOR) band, the Grammy Award winning Toto, Jeff Porcaro suffered a heart attack and died on August 5, 1992 at the young age of 38.
Now all you Toto fans don’t get your panties in wad over the fact that Toto was the most non-obtrusive rock and roll band of the late seventies and early eighties. Their formulaic rock music was predictable and their benign lyrics atrocious. But beneath the paint by numbers orchestrations and heartless doggerel was a drummer who excelled at his instrument and made even a critic like I not only buy, but at times even enjoy a handful of their studied, yet tunefully inoffensive recordings.