Sunday, 15 September 2013
ELDER MUSIC: Singing Drummers
This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Drummers are often the least visible members of bands, stuck as they are behind vast amounts of equipment. They seldom sing but there are some who do and those who are known for that I've found to be good at it. Here are several I know about.
I'll start with someone who will pretty much alienate most of the readers. If there are any youngsters out there reading this, they will recognize this person immediately. If there are any boomers or others of that ilk who'd like to relive their youth-hood, I say turn up the volume.
All the rest, I don't know what to suggest. This is a very loud track recorded beyond the limits that's generally acceptable. Indeed, I think it's the loudest recorded track I've ever included.
It is loud, even with the volume turned down it is loud. Did I mention that it's loud? It's an old Leadbelly song, but performed by young folks. I give you KRAM, the drummer from Spiderbait.
Kram is better known to his mum and dad as Mark Maher. He has been on a number of TV shows here in Oz and is a droll, delightful, funny person. I'm sorry if I've ruined your image, Kram.
Indeed, it was Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, and my seeing him on TV that was the genesis for this column so we thought that he had to be present. Spiderbait is from Queensland. Here they play Black Betty.
For a complete change of pace I give you KAREN CARPENTER.
We all know Karen's singing but she was a drummer too and played the drums on most of The Carpenters' big hits. I pretty much dismissed them when they were at their most popular: just another pop group, I thought.
However, checking tracks for this column, I was struck by what a fine singer Karen was. Here she sings Solitaire, one of her best performances. Karen, however, really didn't like the song.
Pretty much every member of The Eagles is a fine singer, their drummer included. He is DON HENLEY.
Don sang lead vocals on quite a number of their songs including probably their most famous one, Hotel California. I won't play that one though, I'll go for One of These Nights.
Almost certainly, the most famous singing drummer - well, a drummer who sang occasionally - is RINGO STARR.
I turned to the A.M. for advice about which song to choose. Before you jump to conclusions, she is not much of a Beatles fan but she likes Ringo's songs – she's a bit perverse like that. Her suggestion was Boys. I'll go along with that.
From the real Beatles to the pseudo Beatles, The Monkees. Davy Jones was quite a good drummer when The Monkees were put together. Unfortunately, he was so short he couldn't be seen behind the drum kit and that was all that mattered for TV, so MICKEY DOLENZ got the gig as he was the tallest member of the group.
It didn't matter than he'd never played the drums before; this was TV.
In time he developed into quite a reasonable drummer and he always was a pretty good singer - such that he sang lead on a lot of their records.
I'm A Believer was written by Neil Diamond, one of several songs he wrote for the group.
BUDDY MILES started early, playing drums for his father's jazz band when he was 12. Dad previously had played bass in bands led by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon. Phew, what a line up.
His aunt named him Buddy after Buddy Rich; before that he was known as George. He later performed in various R&B and soul bands including a stint with Wilson Pickett.
Later he formed The Electric Flag with Michael Bloomfield, an influential group that didn't last long as each member had his own idea of the direction that they should take. He was later in Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsies, the band Jimi put together after The Experience.
Later Buddy forged a solo career. He performs Just a Kiss Away.
The Bangles' drummer, DEBBI PETERSON, sings lead vocals on several songs, including the singles, Going Down to Liverpool and Be With You.
The lead vocals for the band were usually performed by Debbi's sister Vicki or Susanna Hoffs. However, on the cover of the Katrina and the Waves' hit Going Down to Liverpool, that's Debbi fronting the mic.
Probably the most successful singing drummer as a solo performer would be PHIL COLLINS. I decided not to use the single of this track because I found a live version on YouTube that was so much better.
They must have choreographed this within an inch of its life, Phil got it down perfectly, getting to the drum kit at exactly the right time. The song is, of course, In the Air Tonight.
SAM LAY began his career in the fifties in a group called the Original Thunderbirds.
Soon after that, he was the drummer in Little Walter's band. He later became the drummer for many of the Chess stable of blues musicians, including Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf and others.
He became a regular member of Muddy Waters' band until somewhat later when Paul Butterfield grabbed him for his fine combo. After that he ventured into the rock arena with Michael Bloomfield and Bob Dylan – that's him playing the drums on the infamous Newport Folk Festival gig when Bob shocked them all by playing rock & roll.
He's also recorded several albums under his own name and still plays around the traps to this day. Here he performs My Fault with Michael playing guitar.
I'll finish with the best of the lot and I'm brooking no arguments on this score. I give you LEVON HELM from The Band.
Levon played drums for The Band (of course), but like all the others in the group he played several other instruments - mandolin, guitar and piano - as well. That was one of the reasons why this was the finest group in rock history.
Instead of something from The Band, here is a song from Levon's later solo career, Even a Fool Would Let Go.