It was in the 1967 song “Cold Sweat” that the late James Brown famously calls out, “give the drummer some! Give the drummer some!” Some what? Some space, apparently, as the band stops and leaves the spotlight to Clyde Stubblefield, who proceeds to spend the next 30 seconds inventing hip hop.
I’m kidding, but not too much: Stubblefield’s “break” would set the bar for similar rhythmic exercises that would come to define dance music in the 70s and which would become the basis for the “breakbeats” that were the foundation of early hip hop.
The godfather of soul might just as well have been pleading with listener to give the drummer some respect. With a few exceptions, drummers seem to be the forgotten man (or, occasionally, woman) in the band. A good example is Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones. In concerts, back in the old days, all hell might break lose on stage – Mick strutting and threatening to lose his pants; Keith trying to simultaneously smoke and play and pump blood through his veins – but there at the center of the maelstrom would be Charlie, with a wry, indulgent smile and some steady, no-frills drumming. Exactly what the band needed. The Beatles even recorded without Ringo on occasion, with Paul handling drums on songs like “Back In The USSR.”
I think you’d have to say that Led Zep’s John Bonham was a more virtuosic drummer than Charlie Watts, hands down. He was certainly a wilder character (and this is a Rolling Stone we’re comparing him to!) The Who’s Keith Moon seems to have been the inspiration for Animal, the dumb and possibly dangerous drummer from The Muppet Band. So if people have an image of drummers, other than the quiet timekeeper in the back of the band, it’s that Animal idea: big, brash, empty-headed, and just barely restrained by the rest of the band. Which was exactly what Led Zeppelin and The Who needed.