ThE ThrEE DrUmmErs WhO SEt ME on My Path

by Bobby Steel

I was playing drums at the age of 5.  Actually, when I was two, I was bashing up my moms pots and pans with the wooden spoons.  Eventually, I graduated to pounding on books of various thickness lined up according to pitch before I acquired my first drum kit – a Toys R Us special which I broke.  I didn’t get on another kit until I was in Junior High school, but when I did, I instinctively knew what to do.  My hands and feet were already well coordinated.  

As a young “adult” (and I use that term loosely),  I found myself working as a substitute drummer in many friends’ bands, sitting in during their sets at clubs. I even played for a punk band on a recording.  

When I’m not bashing the hell out of things with sticks, I’m beating the wood out of my acoustic guitars, which I prefer to do over drumming, frankly. But….

Since I also cover drumming duties in Elm Treason I thought I’d talk briefly about three guys who were a big influence on me.

Neil Peart

Well that’s not much of a surprise is it….I mean who HASN’T been influenced by The Professor?   Actually, Neil wasn’t just a drummer.  He was much more.  He was a percussionist, an architect,  a composer, and a poet.  And I’m just talking strictly drums here (nevermind the fact he was one of the greatest lyricists who ever put pen to paper).   It was Neil’s intricate rhythmic structures that influenced me.  It wasn’t just about bashing things.  There was intelligence behind every hit of the drum and sploosh of the cymbal. Neil took rock drumming in a direction few dared to go.   I learned the drum parts to just about every Rush song.  Or least to the best of my ability. Neil taught me that drums can sing too. I feel so grateful and fortunate to have seen him play live.  His skill, speed, technique and soul is unmatched.

John Bonham

Bonham had the GROOVE.  Nobody had the special touch he had.  Yes, it was power and technique rolled into one.  But it was the SOUL in his playing… even on the most simple of beats (like Kashmir).  I’ve seen hundreds of drummers lay down that groove, but they somehow –  mysteriously – cannot duplicate the FEEL Bonzo had.  What an enigma.  He was probably one of the first rock drummers I heard that brought a jazz sensibility to rock music.  His beats had DYNAMICS.  He knew where to place accents and syncopations both with his hands and feet.  He had intensity and control.  He also had an element of improvisation to his playing which contrasted Peart’s composition approach (although late in Neil’s career he started improvising drum solos too).  Come on, what rock drummer hasn’t been influenced by Bonzo?  Bonham taught me the impact (pun intended) of the groove.

Ringo Starr

Ringo is one of the most special, unique and unusual drummers I’ve ever heard. His playing is so DECEPTIVE.  It may sound easy or simple, but it’s anything but that when you try to emulate it.  His arrangements were so unorthodox, so strange and unusual.  Sometimes they were stark, other times they were tribal, many times they sounded just a little offbeat in the most brilliant way.  And the man could shred when he wanted to.  Check out the drum fill in the opening of “Drive My Car.”  What about those triplets in “Long Tall Sally”?  Ringo taught me to think outside the box.  He taught me to “sprinkle the shred.”  I actually used Ringo as an influence on my guitar playing.  The best thing about Ringo is he knew exactly what the song needed.  Nothing more, nothing less.  In fact, any other drum beats within the Beatles music most likely wouldn’t have worked or sounded right.  And Ringo was a human metronome.  He was SOLID.  Never wavering in tempo.  Just watch him live in some of those old Beatles concert clips – particularly the aforementioned “Long Tally” live in Washington. He slams that kit.  Another thing … Ringo was a leftie playing a right-handed kit.  That alone brought out such far-out , curious, yet refreshing rhythmic constructions.   I don’t understand how many of the drummers I knew sneered at Ringo.  All I have to say is, if you think Ringo wasn’t a great drummer  try playing the super fast shuffle beats on “What Goes On?” or “Act Natually” and try to keep it up for nearly three minutes without losing stamina, without wavering in tempo one iota. TRY to keep that right hand shuffle triplet based rhythm going for three minutes straight without killing your wrist. Try duplicating that hi hat ostinato  with your foot…. Oh, and try doing all of that WHILE singing.   Ringo was a phenomenal drummer.  Perhaps underrated.  He was my unsung hero of the kit.  Even to this day, drummers are discovering new subtleties , nuances and flavors in his drumming that were so way way beyond their time.  Ringo was badass.

There are so many others I could mention, but the foundation of my approach to drumming and guitaring for that matter came from those three GIANTS of the drums.