The Crazy World of Drummers: The Nice Guys of Rock
Drummers are likeable… Keith Moon, Charlie Watts, Ringo Starr, Mick Fleetwood, Mitch Mitchell, Dave Grohl, etc. Drummers are also probably the least vain members of a rock group. They aren’t pretentious, because they just want to bash things. They also probably feel inclined to try and get noticed at the back, behind the prima donna lead singer and strutting peacock of a lead guitarist.
The laconic Charlie Watts, unlike his Rolling Stone bandmate and frontman Mick Jagger, has never been a rock star who went in search of the limelight. At parties he’d be the one who preferred chatting to ‘normal’ folk and displaying his artistic talent by drawing them.
Ringo Starr was probably the most popular Beatle. Paul McCartney was savaged and accused of breaking up the Beatles. John Lennon spoke his mind and upset a few people (even if they often deserved to be upset) and George Harrison was criticized for his beliefs. Ringo made people laugh and, no, that wasn’t his drumming.
Tragedies and Triumphs
Losing an arm in a car accident would normally end a drummer’s career, but not Def Leppard’s Rick Allen. Def Leppard lead singer Joe Elliott reckons Rick is a better drummer now than when he had two arms. Okay, he has had some assistance from electronics, but the man’s determination, described in the (tiresome) vernacular, has been ‘awesome’.
Former Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt had too many drinks in 1973 and fell several floors. Ending up in a wheelchair hasn’t dampened Wyatt’s musical creativity and he’s widely respected across the board for both his talent and guts.
Dave Grohl, when in Nirvana, had to live through the hellish scenario of his singer, guitarist and the band’s chief songwriter committing suicide. It’s a tribute to Grohl’s resilience that Kurt Cobain’s death somehow galvanized the Foo Fighters frontman to greater musical heights. Almost uniquely in rock history he switched successfully from drums to guitar.
Some drummers eventually used up their nine lives. Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham and the Who’s Keith Moon packed half a dozen lifetimes into their time on Earth, which ended in their early 30s. Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson went for a swim in 1983, after a hard day’s drinking, and never came back alive. He was only 39.
Drummers in the Eye of the Storm
Small Faces drummer Kenney Jones had a hard act to follow in replacing Keith Moon in the Who. Even harder when frontman Roger Daltrey was still pining for Keith and rubbishing Jones. Moon was such a force of nature that nobody was really going to be up to scratch.
Phil Collins of Genesis also found out that it’s hard trying to replace a legend, when he played with Led Zeppelin at Live Aid in 1985. The Led Zeppelin reunion was missing the late, lamented drummer John Bonham. Guitarist Jimmy Page (intriguingly said to be “dribbling” by Collins) asked Phil whether he knew the Led Zep songs and how they went. Phil answered. Jimmy said: “No. No.” A bit unnerving for Collins, who had just flown in from London on Concorde, after playing at the London leg of the event. Led Zeppelin refused to let footage of their performance appear again and blamed what they saw as a bad performance mainly on Collins. Well, it seemed a good comeback to me and Phil Collins still reckoned he knew his parts.
The magnificent Ginger Baker still has a volatile nature though he’s in his early 70s. His antipathy towards bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce made their deciding to join guitarist Eric Clapton to form ’60s supergroup Cream all the more surprising.
Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood survived tempestuous times with Fleetwood Mac, but is best remembered, in the UK at least, for being a co-presenter, with glamour girl Samantha Fox, at the shambolic 1989 Brit Awards.
A Quiet Drummer
Some drummers are, paradoxically, quiet people. Well, one that I can think of. Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook used to be provoked out of his quietude by the mischievous Pistols singer Johnny Rotten, who called Cook too “church mousy” quiet. Cook seemed a bit out of place alongside Rotten, bassist Sid Vicious and guitarist Steve Jones, who could all be called, euphemistically, ‘wild’. Cook hated meeting the Press and the pervading antagonistic atmosphere, whereas Rotten reveled in it.
I wanted a drum as a little boy. But I never got one, so I’m just jealous of drummers, really.