- 28 Jul 10
A great drummer is more than just a guy who bangs the pig-skins.
A musician mate called in a favour recently, resulting in our recording drums for the first time in some 14 years. Despite the skin ‘n’ blisters – and an acute awareness of our own musical limitations – we had a fine old time. As luck would have it, a week or two later we spoke to the uncommonly graceful Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins about matters of style and technique.
“I’ve always played kind of physically and hard,” he said, “probably due to the fact that I never had proper training. In all honesty, I just played what I saw and heard. Technically it’s all wrong and I don’t hold the sticks right and I don’t sit properly and don’t have all the proper etiquette of a trained drummer, but fuck it, that’s style.
“I think people think I’m putting on a show when I’m playing the drums, but I’m really not. It’s almost like I’m doing battle. Every time I get up on stage to play it’s like a do-or-die situation, it really is. I never let go of that. I can’t really phone in things. It’s always like getting on stage to fight.”
Some years ago we had the privilege of asking Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones what it was like to stand in the same room as John Bonham and witness the Minotaurian wallop of tracks like ‘When the Levee Breaks’ at close range.
“Well for a start, the reason it sounded so good was we put him in the other room,” Jones told us. “He was too much to be in the same room with, and so we stuck him in the hall. And by putting a couple of mics up on the landings of this old broken-down house (Headley Grange in Hampshire), that’s what made the sound. I don’t even think there’s a microphone on the bass drum, it’s that powerful.
“I mean, I’ve heard him on the kit that he bought Jason, which was like a kid’s kit that Ludwig made him, and it sounded just the same. Whatever he got on it, it made the drums appear about four times the size. He just played that way, he had this huge foot, this attitude on drums. He was bloody good and he knew it, and he was quite happy to demonstrate it for you if you wanted! And that was great, because attitude is so important in playing, it gives you authority on an instrument.”
Watching a great drummer is a bit like watching an Olympic standard athlete. It’s fascinating how much of the player’s style is expressed in posture and movement. Consider the elegance and power of a jazzmaster like Elvin Jones. Or Max Weinberg’s military comportment and mastery of Motown licks. Charlie Watts’s lethal wrist-snap. The chicken-grease genius of Sheila E or Clyde Stubblefield (still astonishing in his late 60s, although he’s now in need of a kidney transplant). And while we’ve never bought a Police record in our lives, we’d watch Stewart Copeland ‘til the cows come in the byre.
Forget the footie. Drumming is the real beautiful game.