Drummers are the foundation of modern rock music, but let’s face it; a good drummer rarely if ever carries a middling band.
Televised network “talent” shows never feature standalone drummers because (almost) nobody wants to hear two minutes of drums and nothing but drums. Neil Peart wouldn’t make it past the second round of American Idol – not that anybody is suggesting he should.
My favorite drummer joke goes like this.
Q: How many drummers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Five. One to change the bulb, and four to stand around and talk about how much better Neil Peart would have done it.
If you think of music briefly as a structure, there’s usually nothing fancy about the foundation of a building. It needs to be solid, serviceable, and enduring. There are plenty of shitty-to-decent bands with utilitarian-to-fantastic drummers; for example, Bad Company, perhaps the most plodding and mediocre of all platinum classic rock bands that rarely if ever played anything faster than 120 beats per minute.
Is There Such a Thing as a Great Band with a Terrible Drummer?
Bad Co.’s Simon Kirke was a solid drummer. He got the job done and didn’t leave a flyer in your mailbox or a business card wedged under a windshield wiper.
Furthermore, AC/DC’s Phil Rudd never played anything other than four-on-the-floor. If Rudd ever played a rolling set of triplets in his career, I never heard it.
However, there are no phenomenal bands with sad-sack-to-mediocre drummers – and bite your tongue before you say the Beatles and Ringo Starr. A reporter once asked John Lennon if Ringo was “the greatest drummer in the world?” and John said, “He’s not even the best drummer in the Beatles.”
“In his extensive survey of the Beatles’ recording sessions, historian Mark Lewisohn confirmed that Starr was both proficient and remarkably reliable and consistent. According to Lewisohn, there were fewer than a dozen occasions in the Beatles’ eight-year recording career where session breakdowns were caused by Starr making a mistake, while the vast majority of takes were stopped owing to mistakes by the other three Beatles.”
Lewisohn, Mark (1988). The Beatles Recording Sessions. Harmony Books. ISBN 978-0-517-57066-1.
Name one great band with a terrible drummer. I don’t think you can. Gratefully, rock music in particular does not accept half-ass when it comes to drums; we do not have a Leaning Tower of Pisa on the skins. At worst, popular bands use drum machines.
Fact: I have seen at least 100 shitty bands in my life, but I’ve never seen a complete disaster on the drum kit. However, I have never seen the Grateful Dead live, nor Kiss with Peter Criss on drums, so there’s clearly a margin of error. To be honest with you, I hate them so much I won’t even name the drummers of the Grateful Dead. But the only time I was ever in the presence of a fairly decent band with a shitty drummer, it was my band and I was the drummer.
Rock bands are generally no different than any other operation. There is a protocol – a pecking order of sorts.
The chain of command in a rock band usually starts out front with the façade. The lead singer (or front man) is running the show. Everybody else is jostling for position, and this has nothing to do with the strength of personalities within the organization. We could jawbone all day about bands that dissolved from conflicts of personality and sock puppet lead singers. It doesn’t matter.
The Drummer (Should Be) Running the Show
Even though the drummer will be counting off “1-2-3-4!” and responsible for establishing and maintaining the tempo, whoever is out front with the microphone is (A) on the hook for entertaining the audience, and hence, (B) calling the shots. If your intractable lead singer doesn’t find something agreeable, you either capitulate or you find a new lead singer. Conversely, if your drummer gets out of line, you initiate a campaign of psychological warfare and physical abuse until he gets with the program.
Though many bands operate on a democratic basis, the top-down hierarchy trumps all. What this means is nine out of ten times, hypothetically, if Stone Temple Pilots drummer Eric Kretz says, “I don’t feel like playing ‘Interstate Love Song’ tonight,” but lead singer Scott Weiland says emphatically that he does feel like playing the jam, Kretz is most likely going to be told it’s not a fucking choice. We aren’t even going to vote on it, man. The jam is on the set list.
And this is not to imply that Scott Weiland ever came within a yard of composing a STP set list; I’m simply saying that if he wanted to play “Interstate Love Song” tonight, that was the end of that.
Now, I’ve been in bands where the drummer could and would say, “I don’t want to play that jam tonight” and I’d ask why, and he’d say, “Cuz I’m not into it.” I’d maybe counter with an argument, but we wouldn’t play the jam, strictly on principle. I am firm believer that if the drummer isn’t feeling the jam, you’re gonna be spinnin’ your wheels.
Moreover, my long-time and gifted drummer Matthew Tucker (Whitey, Golden Tones, Henry Miller Sextet) was usually right about the jam in question. There were a lot of times where I’d come in with an extremely questionable cover song – for example, there was a time when I desperately wanted to play Sammy Hagar’s “There’s Only One Way to Rock” – and Matt would say, “The fuck is wrong with you?”
Pans? What Fans?
The difference between Stone Temple Pilots and whatever outfit I was operating should be obvious. Money was not at stake. There were no “fans” to consider. You wanna talk to the manager? I’m the manager.
This is strictly a matter of opinion, of course, but paradoxically, regardless of general musicianship, and with very few exceptions, the majority of rock drummers are considered the weakest link in the chain of command. It’s not that they aren’t good at what they do; in fact, many drummers may be the best musicians in their respective bands. It’s just that in many cases, that’s all they can or should do – hit the skins, keep the beat, and stay out of the way.
And yes, of course there are exceptions. Lars Ulrich was deeply involved in the Metallica songwriting process. Levon Helm sang some of the Band’s most beautiful jams. And our pal Neil Peart was clearly more than just a drummer in Rush.
But, there was a reason John Bonham (usually*)didn’t have a vocal microphone – he couldn’t sing, and he probably didn’t have a whole lot to say, except, “Thanks for coming out to the show! I’m John Bonham, greatest rock drummer of all-time.” What I’m saying is that many drummers don’t get the credit they don’t deserve.
And I should theoretically be cool with that.
Are We Gonna Let the Drummer Have Some?
*Bonham occasionally contributed backing vocals both live and in the studio, receiving credit most notably on “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp” (Led Zeppelin III). It’s also noteworthy to mention that according to Richard Cole’s Hammer of the Gods, Bonham was semi-notorious for going off on drunken rants when availed of a microphone. In a non-scientific Google search, the vast majority of photos (and videos) of the Zeppelin-era do not show Bonham having a vocal mic.
The title of this piece is borrowed from a track on fIREHOSE – Fromohio (1988), and a nod to George Hurley, one of the more under-rated drummers of all-time, but I’ll get around to that in a little while.
“Let the Drummer Have Some” is a 59-second drum solo – played mainly on cymbals and hi-hat, plus a few toms rolls – and theoretically book-ended on the same record by “Nuf That Shit, George”, a 46-second ‘proper’ drum solo, and a stunning demonstration of percussive virtuosity whose title perfectly demonstrates the most common and appropriate response to a drum solo: Anything longer than a minute is more drum solo than most of us need to hear.
In both Minutemen and fIREHOSE, Hurley’s distinct, organic style transcended the manic fervor of classic punk rock. Heavily influenced by jazz players, particularly Max Roach, Hurley’s propulsive grooving provided an uncommon rhythmic background for the often edgy and angular melodies of D. Boon, Mike Watt, and Ed Crawford. Over 30 years later, the music of Minutemen and fIREHOSE continues to bristle with raw, explosive energy, thanks in no small part to George Hurley.
After fIREHOSE folded 1994, Hurley continued to play in various projects including the Red Krayola, but there is one thing George Hurley never did. He may have played 1,000 drums solos in his career, but he never recorded a solo album.
Exceptions to the Rule
Of course there are and have been a surprising number of multi-talented drummers who are equally adept at other instruments and aspects of music-making, and on the rare occasion, even better than they are on drums. “Better” must be qualified in this position, and we must approach this in terms of productivity in addition to technical prowess.
For example, Phil Collins – one of the most maligned rock musicians of the modern era – is a phenomenal drummer, but he’s also an award-winning songwriter and producer. If you look at his career, drums only took him so far. It wasn’t until Genesis got into the Power Ballad Racket (“Follow You Follow Me”, 1978) that their records started going platinum.
Fact: Phil Collins as a solo artist has outsold Genesis by somewhere in the vicinity of 30 million records. Phil’s No Jacket Required (1985) sold RIAA-certified 12 million albums in the U.S. alone – which is precisely double the sales of the best-selling Genesis record (Invisible Touch, 1986). Both are shitball, populist rubbish.
So, Phil Collins was far better on drums than he was keyboards, but he was far more productive and successful as a standalone pop machine.
Dave Grohl capably stepped out from behind the kit. Is he better as a front man than he is a drummer?
I think so.
He’s superb on the skins and hits as hard as anyone ever did, but Grohl has a type of charisma that can’t be contained to the drum riser. He appears to be an accomplished guitarist and a shouty-screamy if not entertaining vocalist; he’s been far more successful as a band leader, and ostensibly, a songwriter; and thus, his contribution to the fabric of modern music goes way beyond playing drums in the most over-rated band of all-time, Nirvana.
Though the following statement reflects a guilty pleasure Dave Grohl doesn’t believe in, I believe there are more than a couple of Foo Fighters’ cuts that belong in the pantheon of classic rock anthems.
So there are some drummers who are allowed to “have some.” They just need the chops to come out from behind the kit and get it.
Believe it or not, on more than one occasion I have literally said out loud to myself, “There are only two types of bands in the world – bands with guys that make solo records, and bands that don’t.”
One day, I ventured off to investigate: Just how many band members of general, across-the-board rock bands made solo records, and how many didn’t?
Drummers That Made Solo Records
But wait, how many of those bands had drummers that made solo records? That was the most important question. That’s where I wanted to go.
Just about all of my favorite rock bands had at least one guy make a solo record – and let’s not even get into the David Lee Roth vs. Van Halen imbroglio. I was thinking particularly about Cheap Trick.
Robin Zander and Tom Petersson both made solo records, and Bun E. Carlos played in other projects, but he did not make a solo album per se. Rick Nielsen has never made a solo record. And I kept coming back to the first Zander solo album (Robin Zander, 1993) – he’s made two; 2010’s Countryside Blvd. was not released.
Now, I’m sure there are bigger fans of Robin Zander in the world, but he is my favorite rock vocalist. This is going off in a tangent, but I’ll keep it brief. Clearly, I love Robin Zander. But his eponymous first solo album could stand as THE reason people shouldn’t branch out and make solo records.
Never mind that Cheap Trick was living off greatest hits reissues and playing the state fair circuit in 1993. Forget that Mike Campbell (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) co-produced the album and co-wrote a bunch of material. Look beyond the cover of Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire”.
Just listen to the only charting single from the album, “I’ve Always Got You”.
Thirty seconds into the cut and I’m done. There is not much I hate more than slick, over-produced, radio-friendly, soccer mom choogle that somehow gets categorized as “rock”. Cuz there is not one ROCK thing about the song. And that’s why most guys shouldn’t make solo albums. Robin Zander, I love most of your work in Cheap Trick, and I’m glad you’re headed into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. But please don’t make another solo record.
As with everything related to this writing gambit, there must be parameters. The solo record criteria needed some fine tuning. From the start, there are usually two ways a solo record happens.
Either the guy/girl makes the record while still a member of the band; or, he leaves the band to pursue a solo career. In the end, both are acceptable. For my purposes, it’s also important to distinguish between a true solo record and a side project.
At first, I wanted to focus on solo albums made whilst the artist was still a member of a group, but no, no – too limited. And to me, a solo album always implied some kind of intrigue. A drummer making a solo record is just short of a paradox.
Now, let’s get down to it.
The BSM Criteria for Inclusive Solo Album Discussion Eligibility
- One-off singles and EPs are NOT acceptable.
- Album MUST be eponymous, c.g. Tommy Lee – Tommyland: The Ride (2009); Bill Bruford – Sounds Good to Me (1973). Piggybacking is acceptable, c.g. Mick Fleetwood and the Zoo.
- Album MAY contain any number of guest appearances by current or former band mates; however, the record MAY NOT feature the current lead vocalist of said band, i.e. DQ’d if Freddie Mercury had sung lead on any of Roger Taylor’s five solo albums.
- Artist MUST be the most recognizable [drummer] of the band. For instance, Megadeth has had no less than eight different drummers, and I couldn’t even guess a name. Jethro Tull had at least three drummers, including Clive Bunker and Barriemore Barlow. Bunker played on everything up to Aqualung (1971), but Barlow went on to play with Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and Yngwie Malmsteen. The Jethro Tull Connudrum is considered a push. As it turns out, Bunker released two solo records; Barlow, zero.
The first drummer that came to mind was Rick Allen (Def Leppard), who, much to my disappointment has not made a solo record. In case you’re wondering if I’m being facetious – Def Leppard, snickering – I’m not. The two-armed Rick Allen is one of my favorite drummers, and next to Bonham, Rudd, and Peart, the fourth cornerstone of influence when I was learning to play drums. I spent countless hours playing along to side one of High N’ Dry (1981). The one-armed Rick Allen is nothing if not admirable.
Anyway, The Thunder God has participated in various side projects, but nothing with his name on the marquee. Much respect. While lots of guys go off and form other bands, to me, it only counts as a solo project if the guy’s name is part of the band’s name, like for instance, Ginger Baker’s Air Force.
Speaking of Ginger Baker, which we will be doing for the next however long, the solo album concept parameters were set when I considered Mr. Baker, who, as we all should know by now, made a few solo records.
Over the years, at least three artists have been consistent targets of my bitter criticism, and sometimes, outright dismissal: Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, and Jerry Garcia (and by digression, almost everybody who ever played with him). However, no other artist has been shaded as often and with such disdain as Eric Clapton – with whom Ginger Baker is intimately associated.
Now, I’m probably wrong about this, but Bob Dylan is incredibly over-rated as a songwriter and performer. He is my watermark of comparative merit. I call it the Bob Dylan Bell Cow. Like a lot of major artists, he’s got maybe three or four good jams, and the rest of his material consists of lesser versions of those jams. I never listen to Dylan on purpose – except for maybe once a year I need to hear “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”. However, his influence on popular music is genuine and undeniable.
Pink Floyd was Syd Barrett and when he split they should have changed their name to something more appropriate, like Beige Marvin or Mauve Otis. With few exceptions, everything they ever did post-Barrett was boring, repetitive, and unimaginative bullshit. Granted, they have a few isolated post-Syd jams I don’t find offensive, cg. “Comfortably Numb” and “Wish You Were Here”.
And I realize that I’m clearly in the minority, but I have never and would never sit through Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall. I thought it was bullshit when it came out, and that’s not going to change. Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) and three minutes of Saucerful of Secrets (1968; Barrett’s only contribution to the record, “Jugband Blues”) are all the Pink Floyd I will ever need. End of.
For starters, Jerry Garcia basically ruined guitar for everyone with his incessant noodling and lack of discipline. Look, I love guitar solos. Especially when they clock in under five minutes. Jesus, 30 seconds is a long time for a guitar solo. Garcia’s average solo covered side two of a triple-LP live set. And I can think of maybe three Grateful Dead jams which I could sit all the way through.
You can talk about the magic of improvisation all you want, but I’ve played in bands that improvised and let me tell you, about 10% of ALL improvisation – from Miles Davis to Widespread Panic – is listenable, at best. I’m being generous. The rest of it is the sonic equivalent of six guys trying to figure out where the fuck everybody else is playing tonight.
Anyway, Garcia is at least partly responsible for the jam band Whack-a-Mole that reached an apogee of sorts with Dave Mathews Band, and let’s just leave it at that.
Eric Clapton represents the most egregious and reprehensible cultural appropriation in the history of music (that I’m aware of). Every single note he has ever played has been played before, and played better by the original artists – who received little credit, and certainly didn’t feast on his royalties.
Here’s my Eric Clapton recipe. (Prep time: 5 minutes. Cooking time: 60 minutes. Serves 35 million.)
- 3 lbs. USDA prime ground Buddy Guy, B.B., Albert, or Freddie King (80% lean)
- 2 cups extra virgin John Lee Hooker
- 3 cloves Muddy Waters, diced
Combine ingredients in a bow and whisk until the consistency of oatmeal. Let stand in the refrigerator for an hour before serving.
Garnish with several flakes of heroin, crack cocaine, or meth substitute.
And Clapton made billions from this gruel. I can’t speak about him as a person, but as an artist, he’s devoid of substance. Never mind the generations of guitarists who slavishly bow at his altar of shoddy blues pantomime. I get a genuine kick out reminding people that Clapton’s biggest hit is a cover of “I Shot the Sheriff.”
So it goes to reckon that I didn’t care much for Cream. I thought they had a couple of good cuts, for instance, “White Room” and “I’m So Glad”, but they turned sour on the blues routine. You wanna see me agitated? Drop the needle on “Crossroads”. That’s some bullshit right there, kids. If there was one musician I could raise from the dead in modern times, just to show him what’s been done to his legacy, it would be Robert Johnson. I’d dig him up and say, “Look what you did, Bob! The fuck were you thinking?!?”
Furthermore, I only owned any Cream albums because they were handed down to me. There has never been a time in my life when I thought to myself, “Hey, I’m in the mood for some Disraeli Gears.”
Cream was a short-lived group, which is nice because they only made four records. The majority of their cuts were not particularly radio-friendly, so that meant there were five or six songs you ever had to hear on an involuntary basis. “Sunshine of Your Love” was inevitable on AM and FM radio. You know that jam. Although Clapton was clearly a big part of the Cream equation, it really could have been anybody wanking on the wah-wah pedal during “Tales of Brave Ulysses”, so it was almost easy to forget he was in the band. The guitar playing was so unremarkable, you never thought to wonder who it was.
Jack Bruce (on bass and vocals) was all right, I reckon. Never had a beef nor took a shine to his work. If the band had a redeeming quality, and in my advanced age I’m starting to believe they did, it was Ginger Baker.
Back in the 1970s when I was just a youngster learning to play drums, there were a handful of drum solos in rock music that made a permanent impact on both my development and appreciation for music. Believe it or not, drum solos were “a thing.” And by far, the most influential drum solo was the first drum solo I ever heard in a rock n’ roll context, Ginger Baker’s “Toad”.
In fact, the only reason I ever put Fresh Cream (1967) on the turntable was to marvel at all five minutes and eleven seconds of Baker going bananas on the kit. And that shit stays with you. I can think of two other drums solos that I could probably tap out on the desk right now: John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) on “Moby Dick” (Led Zeppelin II, 1969); Neil Peart on “Working Man/Finding Your Way” (All the World’s a Stage, 1976), and I could probably do most parts of the “YYZ” solo on Exit Stage…Left (1981), but enough of the humble brag.
But despite being amazed by Ginger Baker’s prowess, I never had to separate his drumming from his personality, mainly because I didn’t know much about him, and I didn’t aspire to his style of playing – which I used to call “popcorn” because of his double-bass technique. I didn’t know there was another Ginger Baker euphemism for drumming called “playing and puking” until I started dabbling in narcotics, like, 10-15 years later.
As an enthusiast of the rock genre, I was vaguely familiar with Baker’s surly reputation and heroin addiction. It seems like common knowledge that among active rock stars, he may have been the most unsavory of the bunch.
But I read all the rock magazines every month – Creem, Guitar for the Practicing Musician, Guitar Player, Rolling Stone, Spin – so what did I know? But to me, to us, the music appreciationists, it shouldn’t matter. Does it make Scottie Pippen any less of a basketball player to learn that he had a reputation as a skin-flint tightwad who would rather chew off his own arm than leave a tip for a waiter?
I’m not a movie-oriented individual but there are several dozen films which I’ve truly enjoyed, and I’m content to revisit them on occasion. Every so often I catch a new film, particularly on trans-Pacific flights. Comedies are my preferred genre of mainstream cinema, but I would much rather watch a documentary than any other type of film. I’m the same way with literature. I would much rather read a biography of Mozart than any bit of fiction Jonathan Franzen has ever written.
Therefore, when I am on the lookout for something to watch, I veer toward films like Beware of Mr. Baker, a 2012 documentary film by Jay Bulger about drummer Ginger Baker.
I can give no higher recommendation of a film except to say that I have already watched Beware of Mr. Baker three times, and I would gladly spend another 92 minutes watching it again if I didn’t have other stuff to do. If you or someone you know is a drummer, or simply interested in drums, you have to watch this documentary. Your life cannot be complete until you do. The film literally opens with Baker breaking Jay Bulger’s nose. You gotta see that.
Oh, you’re back? Ginger Baker is something else, in’nit he?
It will save everybody some time to say that approximately half of rock drummers have made some sort of solo album. Except these guys.
- Alex Van Halen
- Neil Peart
- John Bonham
- Matt Cameron
- Kenny Arnoff
- Joey Kramer
- Bill Berry*
- Mitch Mitchell*
- Lars Ulrich
- Richie Heyward (Little Feat)
- Jai “Jaemoe” Johanson (Allman Brothers)
- Dennis Elliot (Foreigner)
- Brian Downey (Thin Lizzy)
- Mike Joyce (The Smiths)
- Martin Chambers (The Pretenders)
- Tommy Ramone
- Laurence Tolhurst (The Cure)
- Budgie (Siouxsie and the Banshees)
If I had a reason to name only one under-rated drummer from the 1980s post-punk movement – nah, pretty much any rock genre or period – Budgie would be the automatic response. However, the vast majority of drummers are fairly under-rated. Imposed modesty is inherent in the world of percussion, and few stickmen have ever been charismatic enough to take center stage in popular music. Sorry to be redundant, but Buddy Rich was an anomaly. Like Elvis, there will never be another Buddy Rich. EVER.
Anyway, I’m not here to debate the greatest drummer of all-time. Budgie is an artist who quietly influenced at least one generation of drummers, yet you rarely if ever hear anyone mention his name. That ain’t right. And even though Budgie never made a solo album per se (check out his side project with Siouxsie, The Creatures; and absolutely don’t sleep on The Slits’ Cut (1979) we should have a listen to some of his work. A bunch of it, actually, but here’s the my introduction to his work.
- Earl Hudson (Bad Brains)
- Brann Dailor (Mastodon)
- Larry Mullen Jr. (U2)
- Stan Lynch (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)
- Phil Rudd
- Danny Carey (Tool)
- Brad Wilk (Rage Against the Machine, etc.)
- Bev Bevan (Electric Light Orchestra)
- Rick Allen
- Murph (Dinosaur Jr.)
- Stephen Perkins (Jane’s Addiction, etc.)**
- Steve Gorman (The Black Crowes)
- John Farris (INXS)
- Will Champion (Coldplay)
- Vinnie Paul (Pantera)
* Both released one-off singles.
**Has played in numerous other projects, including Banyan, which credits him as “leader and co-founder”, but couldn’t in any way be considered a solo project.
We learn lots of new stuff every day, and today I learned that a fellow named Tico Torres plays drums for Bon Jovi. Hey there, Tico. You look like a nice guy who owns a fashion line for babies called Rock Star Baby (baby clothing, strollers, soft toys, jewelry and furniture, etc.), at http://www.rockstarbaby.com
Tico Torres has not released a solo record. Pity.
Meanwhile, I also learned that a chap with a name plays drums for Coldplay. Green Day’s drummer’s real name is Frank Edwin Wright III. Some cat named John Otto drums for Limp Bizkit. A fellow named Michael Derosier played drums on Heart’s “Barracuda”. None of whom have made a solo record – yet.
The following drummers have made fairly unremarkable to vaguely decent to downright awful solo albums. [With occasional commentary.]
- Steven Adler (Guns N’ Roses)
- Mickey Dolenz (The Monkees)
- Matt Sorum (The Cult, GN’R, etc.)
- Tommy Lee (Mötley Crüe)
I have nothing against Tommy Lee or Mötley Crüe, for that matter. Especially when they support my overall thesis. Their music? Eh. “Too Young to Fall in Love” is kind of funny jam if you think of me saying this in a Russian accent.
Anyway, some record label gave Tommy the green light for not one but two solo records to date. Never a Dull Moment (2002) is neither original nor offensive; but Tommyland: The Ride (2005) is one of the worst records I’ve ever heard by any artist in any medium. Released in conjunction with Lee’s book of the same name, as well as his short-lived reality television series (Tommy Lee Goes to College), Tommyland aims for alternative, metal, and rap metal genres, but generally winds up in the cringe-worthy neighborhood of Nickelback and Everlast.
- Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
- Bill Ward (Black Sabbath)
Based on what I know about the history of Black Sabbath, including their interpersonal relationships, but particularly their often arduous writing and recording process(es), it almost shocks me to learn that Bill Ward has released a pair of solo albums, Ward One: Along the Way (1990), and When the Bough Breaks (1997). He is the last guy I would have suspected of having an idea, let alone a song to sing. And it only takes a few seconds of listening to realize that Ward had neither.
My favorite Sabbath anecdote goes like this: One day in the recording studio, guitarist Tony Iommi asked Bill Ward if he could set him on fire. Ward responded, “I’m busy now, so not just yet.” Later on he said to Iommi, “I’m going home now, so if you want, you can set fire to me.” Iommi doused Ward in rubbing alcohol and set him on fire. Result: third-degree burns on his legs.
My second favorite Sabbath anecdote goes like this: During the recording of Volume 4 (1972), the band was renting a mansion belonging to John DuPont of the DuPont chemical company. Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, and Geezer Butler found several spray cans of gold DuPont paint in a room of the house; finding Ward naked and unconscious after drinking heavily, they proceeded to cover the drummer in gold paint from head to toe. Ward was eventually rushed to the emergency room, where he almost died of suffocation – the paint sealed his pores.
- Jimmy Chamberlain (Smashing Pumpkins)
- Dennis Wilson (The Beach Boys)
- Simon Philips (Brian Eno, Jeff Beck)
- Kevin Godley (10cc)
- Grant Hart (Hüsker Dü)
I like this guy as a member and co-prinicipal songwriter of the greatest punk band to emerge from the Midwest, and more than a few of my old friends really dig his first solo EP on SST Records (2541, 1988). However, his solo career leaves him vulnerable to the idea that Bob Mould may have been the better songwriter in Hüsker Dü, and if you really go back and listen to those early records, Hart’s drumming was so-so, at best. Just sayin’. I saw them on the Warehouse: Songs and Stories Tour (1987), and while he wasn’t falling off the throne, he was holding on for dear life.
- Roger Taylor (Queen)
Like many of these cats, I had literally no idea that Roger Taylor has released five solo albums to date – his last effort came out in 2013. Fun in Space (1981) is the only record on which Taylor wrote every note and played every instrument. Fans of Queen’s Hot Space (1982) will dig this crap, for sure.
-  Don Henley (The Eagles)
-  Nick Mason (Pink Floyd)
-  John Densmore (The Doors)
-  Simon Kirke (Bad Company)
OK, we’re got getting out of here without a word on all four of these guys. In order:
- If  Don Henley is not the Antichrist, he’s certainly on the payroll. Just look at that asshole on the bongos in the silly suit. Hate is not a strong enough emotion. Whatever is beyond hate, keep going and going and going until you hit some kind of interstellar wall. You still haven’t reached the dimension of antipathy I have for Don Henley. I know a lot of people say “We Built This City on Rock and Roll” is the worst song of all-time, but I can counter that with an absolute hydrogen bomb of suck – “The Boys of Summer”.
- As the drummer of the least nimble of all lumbering dinosaur rock bands,  Nick Mason didn’t exactly have his work cut out for him. In fact, you couldn’t have blamed him for being incredibly bored, and thus, going off to make a few solo albums. Which he did, and they aren’t terrible.
- Aside from his work in the Doors, I find it hard to imagine anybody seeking out the drum stylings of  John Densmore. He’s really groovy on those Doors records, but one of the ultimate rock wallflowers in terms of personality. I dunno, I’ve seen the Doors post-Morrison and I won’t even watch ’em like an episode of Friends, or worse, Frazier. Was anybody influenced by John Densmore? Probably.
- My regard for Bad Company notwithstanding, I certainly have due respect for Simon Kirke and his place in rock history. That said, literally nothing could have prepared me for his James Taylor cutout bin singer-songwriter bullshit.
- Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac)
- Mo Tucker (Velvet Underground)
Mo Tucker wasn’t the most technically proficient musician on the planet, but she was the ONLY person who could play drums for the Velvet Underground. She’s released at least half a dozen solo records, mostly playing guitar (?) none of which I’ve really had the patience to hear outside of uber-hipster clown show coffee shops on the West Coast.
- Jimmy Carl Black (Mothers of Invention)
JCB has literally dozens of solo records, my favorite title-wise being Hamburger Midnight (2002), which is technically not a solo album, but look at those guys! I want to hang with that crew.
- Artimus Pyle (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
- Chester Thompson (Genesis)
- Max Weinberg (E Street Band)
- Nigel Olsson (Elton John)
Talk about a drummer who did his job and stayed out of the way, how many of you even knew Elton John’s drummer had a name? Nigel has released six solo albums (and counting) to date.
- Herman Rarebell (Scorpions)
Although I’ve never seen physical copies, apparently the drummer of Germany’s finest hard rock band made a couple of solo records. Who knew?
Then there are solo albums from bands in which I couldn’t even name the drummer, for instance, Dave Holland of Judas Priest, and man, that was a disappointing Wiki search.
Dave Holland played in a bunch of projects outside of Judas Priest, but he did not make a solo album.
However, in 2004, Holland was found guilty of attempted rape and several indecent assaults against a 17-year-old male with learning disabilities to whom he had been giving drum lessons.
Groups from about Year 2000 forward are all but completely anonymous to me. I can’t name one member of the following bands, never mind the drummer:
Killswitch Engage, Mumford and Sons, MGMT, Trivium, Opeth, HIM, Down, The Gaslight Anthem, Avenged Sevenfold, Lamb of God, Machine Head, Jimmy Eat World, Funeral for a Friend, …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of the Dead, Bullet for My Valentine, Panic! At the Disco, Kaiser Chiefs, Arctic Monkeys, Wolfmother, The Black Keys…
E-T-C. Name a band. I’ve never heard of any of them.
I can name at least one member of the following bands, but not the drummer:
My Chemical Romance, Blink-182, Oasis, Sublime, Paramore, Muse, TV On the Radio, Alice in Chains, Queens of the Stone Age, Marilyn Manson, System of a Down, Deftones, Fall Out Boy, Weezer, Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, 30 Seconds to Mars, Kings of Leon, Nine Inch Nails, The Darkness. Built to Spill. Modest Mouse. The Shins. The Killers
But don’t worry. We’ve plenty of material left to consider.
Even though I have become the grumpy old bastard I’ve always wanted to be, every so often I do a quick scan of the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
I’m not looking for anything to listen to; I just want to know what’s currently hot and fresh. I think it’s important to have at least a vague idea of what the kids are into these days, although not for any purposes of appealing to them. Anyway, I’m now at the point where I can hear the difference between Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. For the longest time, I thought they were the same gal.
The Billboard website used to allow you to hear samples of each song, and in some cases, the whole jam, without having to navigate to Spotify, which was perfect for me. It meant I didn’t have to open another tab and run a YouTube search on Shawn Mendes, for example – whoever that is. I see his picture and that’s all I really need to know.
Now, I’m NOT logging into Spotify, you know why? Because those fuckers remember your shit. They keep a history. And I don’t need anybody knowing that I just listened to the first 30 seconds of a new Justin Bieber song – on purpose.
Before I go any further, let me say this: If you have a $ sign in your name where an S should be, I cannot take you seriously, and neither should anybody else. Likewise, if your chosen moniker is a “clever” misspelling of a word that generally isn’t used as a personal pronoun, I have no use for you. At all.
Bearing in mind this music is squarely in the Middle of the Road, here are the top 20 songs for the week of December 19, 2015.
- Hello – Adele
- Sorry – Justin Bieber
- Hotline Bling – Drake
- What Do You Mean? – Justin Bieber
- The Hills – The Weeknd
- Stitches – Shawn Mendes
- Love Yourself – Justin Bieber
- Here – Alessia Cara
- Like I’m Gonna Lose You – Meghan Trainor Featuring John Legend
- Same Old Love – Selena Gomez
- 679 – Fetty Wap Featuring Remy Boyz
- Ex’s & Oh’s – Elle King
- On My Mind – Ellie Goulding
- Wildest Dreams – Taylor Swift
- Jumpman – Drake & Future
- Can’t Feel My Face – The Weeknd
- Focus – Ariana Grande
- Watch Me – Silento
- Antidote – Travi$ Scott
- Lean On – Major Lazer & DJ Snake Featuring M0
Having listened to at least 30 seconds of every song listed above, as you might imagine, I heard a lot of shit. A lot of bullshit. But you know what I didn’t hear? Drums. Real drums. A dude sitting behind a kit, keeping the beat. Only one of the above 20 songs features anything in the vicinity of real drum. The songs contain countless samples and programmed rhythm patterns, but only one song contains a beat that was actually played by a human being, and I’m as surprised as anyone to say, it’s “Hello” by Adele.
If you didn’t know Adele was a drummer, it’s because she isn’t. She is credited with having played some kind of drums on the recording, and if you’ve heard the song, literally anyone with a pair of drumsticks and a foot could play that drumbeat. But I’m not here to throw snark or shade at Adele. In fact, I’m here to say kudos. Apparently, there are a lot of drums on her new album (25), some of which may or may not have been played by Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M.), a fine drummer of reputation.
- Keith Moon (The Who)
Kitsch is a low-brow style of mass-produced art or design using popular or cultural icons. The word was first applied to artwork that was a response to certain divisions of 19th-century art with aesthetics that favored exaggerated sentimentality and melodrama. Hence, “kitsch art” is closely associated with “sentimental art.” Kitsch is also related to the concept of camp, because of its humorous and ironic nature.
To brand visual art as “kitsch” is generally pejorative, as it implies that the work in question is gaudy, or that it deserves a solely ornamental and decorative purpose rather than amounting to a work of true artistic merit. The term is sometimes applied to music.
– Text source: Wikipedia; photo credit: God only knows
I’ve never been an enduring fan of kitsch. In most cases, I find excessively garish or sentimental art to be vaguely amusing at best. Nor do I prefer to seek out work that is usually considered in bad taste; for example, mid-80s glam metal. At the same time, I’ve heard 95% of the records I’m probably going to hear in my life. I’m now in search of that remaining 5% of music that I either never got around to, or simply missed the first time around.
Keith Moon’s lone solo album, Two Sides of the Moon (1975) has been alternately described as “the most expensive karaoke album in history” and a cheeky parody of rock star solo album excess. The kitsch is strong on this motherfucker. And as more than one critic has noted, nobody expected a serious effort from Moon, and nobody was disappointed. The album is an uncomfortable mess of drunken self-indulgence so fascinatingly bad that it has assumed a certain cult status. The fact that Moon chose to sing, even though he was tone deaf by his own admission, is a clearly a tongue in the cheek.
However, perhaps the record’s most surprising revelation is Moon’s enthusiasm for surf rock, which explains the presence of Dick Dale. Additionally, some really big names contributed to the record: Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, David Bowie, Joe Walsh, Jim Keltner, Bobby Keys, Klaus Voorman, John Sebastian, Flo & Eddie, and Spencer Davis. In fact, by virtue of Moon’s record industry connections, he was one of the first people outside of the Beach Boys inner circle to possess a copy of Pet Sounds. And that explains his cover of “Don’t Worry Baby”, which isn’t that bad, even though it is rumored to have moved sandbox-era Brian Wilson to tears of anguish.
The casual rock music appreciationist is going to have little use for the fact that Keith Moon made a solo record, and even less for the actual recording. However, upon further consideration, Two Sides of the Moon is an interesting piece of work that deserves some post-mortem limelight, if for no other reason, as a historical document. Anything involving Keith Moon is going to be worth a look-see.
- Peter Criss (Kiss)
As a dumbshit 10-year-old in the fall of 1978, I reluctantly went out and bought all four Kiss solo albums at once. The reluctance was based on my waning enthusiasm for the band’s music and their extraneous merchandise. Laying out nearly 40 bucks for a quartet of solo albums from a marginally talented coterie of musicians was a highly speculative gamble for a 10-year-old. The purchase was eventually justified by the confidence that I would have no problem unloading these records if necessary; and by necessary I mean if they were terrible, which they were.
At home, I put on the Ace Frehley record first. There were a couple of cool jams, but I skimmed through more than I didn’t. Next up was Paul Stanley. Eww. That guy is gross. OK, Gene Simmons, show me what you…don’t got. Ugh. Holy Christ, an hour into the session and I’m really disappointed. But I’ve been saving the best for last, or what I thought would be the best. As a drummer, the Cat Man was technically my favorite member of the band.
Long before the first spin of Peter Criss, I had a solid foundation of music under my belt, and I knew what I liked, and what I didn’t. But my novice-level of appreciation absolved me of the burden of judgment; that not liking something automatically meant that it sucked. Sucking had not yet been a part of the musical equation for me. There were some kids in jazz band that weren’t very good, but it never occurred to me that they might suck. It was inconceivable. At the same time, I never heard a Bad Company song on the radio and said, “Aw, that sucks.” I just changed the station until I found something I liked. In a way, this ignorance of discretion was a type of innocence about to be lost.
Disco came along and literally overnight, I found something that sucked. Or it found me. Whatever. Disco came prancing into my life and there was suddenly something to actively and genuinely hate. Up until Saturday Night Fever, I operated exclusively on a live-and-let-live basis. So in hindsight, it doesn’t seem coincidental that my favorite band at the time was Kiss. There is no accounting for taste, and I learned that lesson the hard way.
The Peter Criss solo album isn’t just bad; it doesn’t just suck. It goes well beyond the traditional parameters of taste or appreciation. It is unquestionably a record that never should have been made, never mind made available in every K-Mart record department in America. I cannot imagine what the people involved in the making of this record were thinking when they unloaded it on the public, other than, “We’re probably going to make some money on this piece of shit.” And they did. On release, Peter Criss was certified platinum (1,000,000 copies) in the U.S., went to #43 on the Billboard albums chart, and has since been reissued a total of four times on three different labels. Every remaining and self-respecting Kiss fan has a copy of this record, which they have played exactly 0.5 times.
- Phil Collins
- Aynsley Dunbar (Frank Zappa, etc.)
- Cozy Powell (Jeff Beck, etc.)
- Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson)
As a drummer, Bill Bruford ranks among the elite players of modern music, and thus, impervious to criticism. His work with King Crimson and Yes quite literally drafted the blueprint for progressive rock percussion.
As a general musician, I don’t like everything he’s ever been involved with, but it’s never poorly executed, with the lone exception of Yes’ Union (1991), which Bruford himself called “the most God awful, auto-corrected mess you could possibly imagine. The worst record I’ve ever been on.” Indeed, the only interesting aspect of Union is its back story. Definitely worth a look-see on Wikipedia.
Bruford’s debut solo album* Feels Good to Me (1977) features guitarists Allan Holdsworth and John Goodsall, bassist Jeff Berlin, keyboardist Dave Stewart, and Kenny Wheeler on flügelhorn. Read that again: flugelhorn. It is considered a “vanguard of progressive jazz improvised music”.
Not to veer too far off the target, guitarist Allan Holdsworth is really the only reason anybody in their right mind should listen to Feels Good. He makes Eddie Van Halen sound like a student, and when he’s not doing 24-fret arpeggios and spoon-bending legato runs, Feels Good sounds real, real bad.
*Technically, Bruford was considered a band; however, the band was assembled for the purpose of making Bruford’s first solo album. So that’s kind of like the snake eating its own tail.
- Ian Paice (Deep Purple)
- Charlie Watts (The Rolling Stones)
Not surprisingly, Chuckles has put out a bunch of solo jazz records (as the Charlie Watts Quintet) that like the man himself, neither offend or inspire on any level. Except he’s always well-dressed, you can count on that.
- Ringo Starr
- Albert Bouchard (Blue Öyster Cult)
The odds are strong that you couldn’t name a drummer of Blue Öyster Cult. There is almost zero chance you’ve ever heard of his “solo” album, Imaginos.
Bouchard left B.Ö.C. at the generally accepted peak of the band’s career (Fire of Unknown Origin (1981) containing “Burnin’ for You”). After leaving the band, Bouchard spent five years working on a solo album based on Sandy Pearlman’s poem “Imaginos”. As the group began to flounder on the charts, they reunited with Bouchard for a California tour in February 1985. This arrangement was only temporary, and caused more tensions, as Bouchard had thought he would be staying on permanently, which was not the case. The band had only intended to use him as a last-minute fill-in until another drummer could come on board – which is a total dick move on behalf of the band, by the way. Cocks.
Anyway, I’m going to give you as close to a nutshell version of this record as possible. Imaginos was released in 1988, credited to B.Ö.C as their last recording for Columbia Records. The album took nearly eight years to complete and was originally intended to be the first in a trilogy of solo albums by Bouchard (and produced by Sandy Pearlman). Many musicians contributed to the project over this eight-year span, including Joe Satriani and Robby Krieger, but some band members were barely involved in the recording process.
After Columbia rejected the album in 1984, the material sat untouched for several years until Pearlman negotiated a deal with 415 Records to bring in B.Ö.C. guitarists Buck Dharma and Donald Roeser to sing – replacing Bouchard’s unbelievably awful vocal tracks. Everything after that is a wash of names and places, but the end result is that Columbia wound up with the record after demanding that B.Ö.C. deliver the final album of their contract.
Imaginos is a tedious labyrinth of scripts and poems by Pearlman, cake-frosted into a concept album and stupid rock opera about an alien conspiracy that is brought to fruition during the late 19th and early 20th century through the actions of Imaginos, an agent of evil. They basically hijacked an H.P. Lovecraft trope and called it “a bedtime story for the children of the damned” whose lyrics contain more than a few obscure historical references over the limit of good taste.
However, it is often considered one of the heaviest albums released by Blue Öyster Cult, its music more akin to true metal than the commercial hard rock of their two previous works. The album received faint critical acclaim, sold fewer copies than The Real Milli Vanilli’s The Moment of Truth (1991), and Columbia ended their contract.
For whatever reason, Albert Bouchard, excluded from the recording progress of Imaginos after the initial rejection from Columbia, and then sued the band and the label to get his own back. He certainly can’t be seeking any royalties from a record that didn’t make a dime, can he?
I’m kind of tired of saying stuff sucks. Check it out for yourself.
I really wanted to end on a high note, so I saved the best for last. You’ve probably thought to yourself that you’ve slogged through this whole thing and haven’t seen one name in particular. He should be, by now, conspicuous by his absence.
I’m talking about Stewart Copeland.
Following the breakup of the Police, Copeland went to Africa, ostensibly to make a film and a record which he called “a musical odyssey through the heart of Africa in search of the roots of rock & roll.” Combining field recordings with syncopated drums and percussion against a backdrop of atmospheric synthesizers, his first official eponymous solo release The Rhythmatist (1985) is several astronomical units (AU) removed from his relatively lighthearted work as Klark Kent. The album was largely ignored upon release, except among fellow drummers and die-hard Police fans – basically, me. I was the only 17-year-old kid in Darien, Illinois who bought the cassette when it came out, and wondered why nobody else was on the StewCo tip.
Some of you may be familiar with my views on “world music” and realize the unfortunate coincidence of hypocrisy in that here I am, jawboning about a decidedly intentional fusion of world music, which I might add, was far more interesting than the other Police solo efforts of this period. Pulsing, hypnotic, and strangely likable, The Rhythmatist was one of those tapes I would pop in late at night, pull a couple of bong hits, and soar off to sleep.
I don’t think it’s common knowledge that in addition to his work in the Police and as a fairly prolific solo artist, Copeland has established an impressive career composing soundtracks for film, television, and video games. His resume includes the soundtrack of Good Burger (1997) starring Kenan Thompson, Kel Mitchell, and the recently departed Abe Vigoda – God rest his soul. The film also includes appearances by Carmen Electra, Shaquille O’Neal, George Clinton, and Sinbad, which to me, is reason enough to watch the movie. I love me some Sinbad, brother.
No, seriously. It’s an excruciating cinematic experience. I’ve made it through about 40 of its 92 minutes. And it’s important to note that Copeland was responsible for the music used in the film, and not Good Burger: Music From the Original Motion Picture (1997) which consists of subpar hip-hop, R&B, and rock tracks from the likes of 702, Warren G, and Less Than Jake.
Anyway, good night and good luck. And remember, let the drummer have some! Just don’t overdo it.