Wednesday, July 26, 2006

DRUMMERS: Unsung heroes of bands...
"What is a non-musician who hangs out with 3 musicians called?"
"A DRUMMER!" (old joke that I've heard waaaay too much)

Not that I've hit the big time, because that'll never happen, but I have played drums in bands. I've always had rhythm. It's just there, that's all. And I've played in country bands, rock bands, and yes, even at SQUARE DANCES. Doe-see-doe! And I'm here to tell you that drummers are pretty much just another piece of band equipment, especially to ego-heavy guitarists who think they're "oh, so cool". A drummer's input is hardly ever listened to, because after all, the guitarists think that all he does is pound on drums; he doesn't make music. And yet, it's the drummer who's working his cheeks off back there, holding down the fort while the guitar-playing ego freak he's drumming for tries to remember the words of the song.

If the guitarist screws up, the drummer's gotta be there to make him sound good. When the musicians get a charge out of playing heavy, fast numbers, it's the drummer who's gotta find the endurance to keep up with the guitars. I speak from personal experience when I say that at the end of the night, the drummer is just plain old TIRED OUT. I've played guitar for entire evenings and have never been as trashed and wasted as when I played drums for four hours. It's a workout! Also, I wonder how much secondhand smoke I inhaled playing drums in bars. I haven't done that for about 10 years now. So, hopefully, my lungs have had a chance to clean themselves out after all those years of drumming in bars. The leaders of two different bands I've played for died of cancer or circulatory-system problems.

Drummers also miss all of the good stuff that happens out front, namely because the drummer is almost always located at stage rear, and his view is usually obscured by cymbals (as well as the guitar-playing ego freaks out front). So when the dancers get wild and crazy, when an inebriated lady decides she wants to "flash" the band, the drummer misses it all. Although, I suppose a drummer is safer if unruly audience members start to throw empty beer bottles at the band (which has never happened in a band I was in, thankfully). In a couple of bands, I was also expected to SING while playing drums. That's sorta like rubbing your tummy and patting your head while trying to walk thru a minefield. Treacherous!

I've drummed in good bands and bad bands...and drumming for a bad band is one of the worst things I've ever experienced. In bands like that, perhaps the amps are turned up too loud, or the singer has no idea of "meter", and just "comes in" wherever he pleases...there have been times I've purposely had to drum WRONG, just so that the song would sound good, because the singers/guitarists had the song all wrong to begin with. I do NOT miss playing drums AT ALL. And with my back being in questionable shape, I suppose my poor old bones couldn't take it anyway, sitting on those little miniature drum stools that are about as comfortable as sitting on a camel's hump for four hours. Yee-owch! Many were the nights I had stiffness and soreness all through my back, because I was sitting in that fabled "drummer's crouch".

Yet, whenever the band sounds bad, it's always the drummer's fault. A drummer does not have a volume knob on his drum set he can just turn down; it becomes a question of "touch" and sometimes it is very difficult to play quietly; you need a certain amount of "momentum" just to drum, to "roll around" the kit, and when old folks in VFW clubs keep telling you over and over to quiet down, drumming almost becomes impossible. On nights like those, I didn't do any rolls, and I didn't try to be fancy. I'd just keep the beat, bored out of my skull, wishing the night was over. And, guitarists and bass players hardly ever treat the drummer as an "equal" member of the band. I used to hate going to band rehearsals, because for a couple of hours, the guitarists would be trying to learn the song, and I just sat there, bored as all get-out.

Onstage, the guitarists, bassists (and keyboard players) can see everything that's going on; the drummer can hardly see anything at all. And, if the band is having a good night, if the songs are being played pretty well, sometimes the drummer actually daydreams a bit. I spent a lot of time in the drummer's chair analyzing things...the music, the actions of my bandmates, how things were going overall, etc. On a good night, when everything's going pretty well, drumming is easy. On those nights, perhaps my mind would wander a bit. It's when the band is sounding BAD, that you've gotta be a little more "conscious" of how you're playing. Many times I found myself in the position of trying to make the band sound better than it was. Not easy!

So consider old Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones. He is regarded as one of the world's best drummers. I pay attention to the drums on a Stones' album, and I don't hear anything special, other than he keeps a very heavy and solid backbeat. But then again, that's probably why he's been able to keep drumming for so long. He doesn't try anything fancy; he doesn't bash out his brains like the drummers in, say, Megadeth or Queensryche; he just sits back there, thumping away in 4/4 time, thump-thump-thump-BONK, thump-thump-thump-BONK, etc. etc. But I wonder what he thinks about as he's playing. He doesn't say much, but he's always observing what's happening onstage... provided this foto which shows that Jack Flash is having a hard time Jumping!

I also watch the Stones' guitarists, Ron Wood and Keith Richards, and they're not doing anything intricate. Most of the time they play easy major chords as they amble around the stage trying to maintain their balance. Hmmm...I wonder if they'll have to change the song's title to "STAND Me Up"? On the other extreme, there's AC/DC guitarist Angus Young, who sprints across the stage while playing guitar; he just runs all over the place. I have a concert video where all of a sudden he vanishes, but the guitar keeps playing...a camera went backstage and video'd him actually taking oxygen from a TUBE while he was playing. Rock and roll, I guess!

At this stage, I "roll" more than I "rock". But not all is lost; I can still rock. And I do so whenever I sit in my faithful ol' "La-Z-Boy".


Blogger drummaster2001 said...

i am a fellow musician- i play drums, guitar, and some bass and piano.

drumming is far more rigorous than guitaring. first learning how to play with the kick was painful. one other down side to drumming, you lose hearing far faster than any other musician.

all of my experiences in jamming are good. there are never any guitar ego-freaks.

to tell you a little about my music taste- the rolling stones suck. AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix Experience kick major ass.

5:52 PM  
Blogger Remy said...

I'm not a musician but I do enjoy watching bands. I think that drummers are very underappreciated. One guitarist I like to watch is from Earth, Wind, and Fire. He's just nuts on stage.

7:50 PM  
Blogger little ol' me said...

Hiya Mr. Drum Master. You're way ahead of me. I played drums, but I don't think I ever came close to mastering them. Funny thing, my ears are GREAT. They work too well...I can be awakened by a woodpecker across the street as he pecks away at the pole. It has happened. But drummers are always situated between amps and speakers. Many was the time when I couldn't hear out of one ear or the other when I got home after a gig.

I've hacked away at guitar actually longer than I drummed, so I would be a terrific rhythm player. I have met so many ego-freaks around here; I don't hang out with musicians; I don't like most of them.

My musical tastes parallel yours. I don't think the Stones suck, but they are overrated. For me, it all starts with the Beatles.

Hiya, Remy...I never scoped out Earth, Wind and Fire, although I like some of their music. I always loved their song "Getaway" of the funkiest records I've ever heard. I played it on the radio, back in 1976 when I worked at a small station.

12:20 AM  
Blogger drummaster2001 said...

i don't think i can say that i am ahead of you- i'm only a college student. i would in no way call myself a master; that title i would give to Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater and other drummers of this caliber, but i get the job done and i try to be as creative as possible.

i started losing my hearing only a few months after starting. the thing is i can hear it. after practicing to some tracks and free drumming, i feel like i do after a concert where there is a loud ringing in my ears that doesn't go away for a few hours. it also doesn't help to go to concerts often and standing near the speakers.

2:31 PM  
Blogger drummaster2001 said...

btw, i did a post awhile ago on my blog about the greatest guitarists of all time and i would like to know who your top 3-5 are.

2:33 PM  
Blogger little ol' me said...

I answered Mr. Drum-master with an e-mail...I sent him a list of what I think are the five best guitarists...I hope I can remember 'em here...let's see, in no particular order, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Terry Kath (late of Chicago), Ted Nugent, aand Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple. I guess I'm not too old to rock after all!

12:41 AM  
Blogger drummaster2001 said...

i am a little surprised at the list, but everyone has different opinions and i respect that.

i don't think Clapton or Nugent were on any mentioned before, but i could be wrong. al dimeola is a good guitarist, and he was definately not mentioned before.

some notable no shows:
Angus Young, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, John Petrucci- some of my favorites.

7:17 PM  
Blogger little ol' me said...

It is difficult, really, to make a list of only 5 great guitar players. There are people out there just as good as Clapton, Page, Beck, and some of them have labored in obscurity for years. I have a reunion concert video of an obscure European Progressive group, NEKTAR...and their guitarist was AMAZING!

11:43 PM  

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