Drummers are gasoline. They are the fuel of any band. They can make an average band sound good and a good band sound great. A great drummer propels the music forward with groove, allowing the other players and indeed the listener to lose themselves in the sound. These are my 10 favorite unheralded drummers (in no particular order), whose sense of style, creativity and sometimes power command my attention when I listen to their respective bands.
1. Jeff Burrows (The Tea Party, Crash Karma, The Art Decay) – An absolute monster behind the kit, commanding both power and touch. Every song by The Tea Party and his current band, Crash Karma, is that much better because of his drumming, as he shows immense creativity and talent with acoustic drums, electronic drums and exotic percussion alike. Whether grooving simply or polyrhythmically, he can do it all…and he’s a helluva lot of fun to watch live. Check out the debut CD of Crash Karma for his latest work.
2. Sean Kirkpatrick (Swell) – Deceptively understated drumming style. Kirkpatrick provided the perect backbone for Swell’s music with an intimate feel to his drumming…loose, yet tight at the same time. His rhythmic stamp is all over the Swell albums he drummed on, and in my opinion the Swell albums recorded without him (while still being good) just don’t quite sound like Swell to me. How many drummers can you say that about?
3. Jean-Paul Gaster (Clutch) – While this list is in no particular order, I have to make one exception. Jean-Paul Gaster is my favorite drummer and has been since I first watched Clutch’s Full Fathom Five live DVD. He’s just off the hook. Grooves for miles, licks for hours and in total command of his style. Go to a Clutch show sometime, and you’ll notice that everyone knows who he is. Total respect.
4. Rock Savage (Barkmarket) – His name just cracks me up and his drumming just makes my jaw drop. Barkmarket was a unique band, often sounding like a migrane that just won’t go away set to jazzy, twisting algorhythmic beats. He’s one of those rare drummers who can make suspended non-4/4 time signatures groove, and ya gotta be really good to make this kind of music work.
5. Terry Bozzio (Missing Persons) – I must admit that my only exposure to Bozzio’s drumming is through his work with Missing Persons, most notably their Spring Session M disc. While the sound was purely new wave, Missing Persons was an extremely talented lot with bassist Patrick O’Hearn moving on to make quite a name for himself as a new age artist and guitarist Warren Cuccarullo achieving success with Duran Duran while being widely respected for his playing. As for Bozzio…his inventive and extremely creative drumming (fun to watch, too) propelled Missing Persons’ music, commanding attention without ever overshadowing the songs and he’s moved on to more jazz/fusion oriented stuff. Did I mention that he cut his teeth playing with Frank Zappa? Nuff said.
6. John Stanier (Helmet, Battles) – The first thing that struck me about Helmet’s music was the almost insane percussive precision of their riffs. An extremely tight outfit, Stanier was the glue that held Helmet together and, in my humble opinion, his performance on the Aftertaste disc says it all. With chops for miles, he was dead-on with the groove and his intensity is just mindblowing. Check out the song Birth Defect for a shining example.
7. Jared Champion (Cage the Elephant) – By far the youngest drummer on this list and the newest to the scene, I can’t help but think his band is poised for a bigger stage. As with all great music, it’s the drummer who lays the foundation of the songs (along with the bassist), and Champion shows incredible talent and versatility on Cage the Elephant’s debut CD. Straight forward rock grooves, funky shuffles and swaying blues beats are all played with style, flair and an obvious love for the music.
8. Jerry Gaskill (King’s X) – King’s X is just an amazing band, and Jerry Gaskill shows wonderful chops as well as restraint in his playing. Stylistically, he’s all over the map with King’s X’s music ranging from slow Sabbatheque riffs (see In The New Age) to more uptempo fare like Moanjam or staccato rhythms like the chorus of Prisoner. Played with equal parts precision and emotion, Gaskill is the perfect drummer for the unique power trio sound of King’s X…as an added bonus he’s got quite a voice for those heavenly harmonies.
9. Eric Kretz (Stone Temple Pilots) - While Stone Temple Pilots’ popularity keeps them out of the Abyss as a band, I’ve always been amazed that Kretz doesn’t get more attention for his drumming. To this day, I’ve not heard a band who can pull off a cover of Plush and have it sound as big and full as STP…and it’s because of Kretz. Hi-hats open at just the right time fill in the spaces that, as a result, make that song flow rather than sound stacatto. Listening to other STP fare it becomes evident that this is a drummer with both power and finesse, never overplaying and always complimenting the songs with tasteful fills and plenty of chops.
10. Everett Morton (The Beat a.k.a. English Beat) – A unique talent, Morton was the rhythmic propulsion of the original ska institution known as The Beat (stateside as The English Beat). He plays the drum kit as a percussive smorgasboard rather than the familiar kick drum/snare/hi-hat style, often using rim shots where you would expect the snare drum to be. Influential to Stewart Copeland of The Police, among others, Morton should be a household name.
11. Maxwell “Beatamax” Hallett (Hot Head Show) – I know this is a “Top 10″ list…but THESE go to 11. Hot Head Show is a band with one EP to their credit at the time of this writing (The Lemon EP), and it’s probably the most incredible EP I’ve ever heard…by three extremely talented and creative musicians. When someone’s drumming is so creative and diverse that it commands your attention as much as the other two instruments, that’s special. Besides having a hilariously cool nickname, Beatamax’s style throughout the entire Lemon EP commands attention with insane syncopation…beats stop and start on a dime, weave through otherworldly time signatures, ska, punk, prog, and probably genre’s I’ve never heard of. All the while, his drumming and his band are just a lot of fun to listen to.
Honorable Mention: Joey Breland, BB Peters (Liquid Jelly Monkey Love/Seventh House), Joey Scott Harges (Lizzy Borden), Nick Menza (Megadeth), Reed St. Mark (Celtic Frost), Michael “Away” Langevin (Voivod), Joey Gold (Love/Hate)im