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Drummers: Heart of the Band...Or Butt of the Joke?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The drum kit has its fair share of esteemed idols: Neil Peart of Rush, Dave Grohl of Nirvana, ?uestlove of the Roots and many more. Yet drummers have always had a reputation for being unreliable and misanthropic. On today’s Soundcheck Smackdown, we debate whether the skin-bashers of the world deserve all that bashing. Guests include Janet Weiss, former drummer of Sleater-Kinney and currently of Quasi and Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks; and Will Layman, an NPR contributor and jazz critic for PopMatters.com.

Guests:

Will Layman and Janet Weiss

Comments [89]

Gomer from Long Island

Always been a Neil Peart fan, as well as Bonzo, Copeland, Moon, & the entire percussion group from Santana.
However, Jon Fishman is the most disgusting, grossest, & absolutely filthiest drummer on earth right now. He is of course not human, as all of the members of Phish are ALIENS!

And yes, the drummer is the ugly guy in the group!
Unless your Sheila E.
Check out the drummer/ singer/ guitar player from Barefoot Truth. True talent!

Feb. 08 2011 11:05 PM
12-string Frank from Staten Island, NY

John Schaefer again has people on his show are ignorant of and have no respect for good music, and are often critical of Progressive Rock.

Why was Phil Collins absent from the conversation? He can play amazingly well and is the true drummer for Genesis.

Carl Palmer is one of the greatest drummers ever (FYI - Siouxie)! A true technician who helps the music, not hurts it. Glad someone mentioned Mike Portnoy. No one mentioned Bill Bruford. King Crimson has had some remarkable drummers: Mike Giles, Bruford, Andy McCullugh. G. Baker is truly over-rated. So tired of hearing about how great he is. Let's not forget the very inventive Graeme Edge, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, Nick Mason, Simon Philips, Terence Sullivan, Richard Coughlan, Chad Wackerman, Jerry Marotta, John Densmore, Clive Bunker, Barrimore Barlow, Mick Avery, Alan White.

Will Layman's comment about taking a Motown song over any Rush song, also shows his ignorance. It's apples & oranges. Too different types of music. Rush songs are better with wild inventive drumming. I will, however, give Layman props for mentioning Chester Thompson.

Until today, I have never heard of Janet Weiss or Quasi or her other bands. What's so special about her? Her comment about the Who being terrible after Moon's death shows her ignorance, and she's never been a Who fan. Zack Starkey has done well for the Who over the last few years.

I can understand if someone hates long solos, but if people really listened to the drummer's beats, as well as the time-keeping, they might get a bit more out the song. They'll get a great performance.

Feb. 11 2010 09:41 PM
CP Thrasher from Norfolk, VA

I'm a drummer, I really dug the conversation. Janet Weiss represented our craft perfectly, no lack of intelligence with her for sure! I felt a little sorry for the critic for being put in a ridiculously untenable position from the get-go ... still, he did accept the gig didn't he?

Drum solos: Glad that was brought up. Why is it, unlike almost any other instrumentalist, drummers are regularly expected to solo without accompaniment?

It really is about good or bad drumming, not about silly stereotypes. For every stupid stereotype in life, there are millions of exceptions to the prejudice. I love being a drummer and wouldn’t trade my throne for any other position!

Feb. 11 2010 07:06 AM
Jay from Kearny, NJ

It's not everyone's cup of tea, but Brann Dailor's studio work for Mastodon is some of the most inventive and fluid drumming I've ever heard.

Feb. 09 2010 10:29 PM
eric from manhattan

Interesting how words like "rhythm" and "swing" and "taste" and "instinct" haven't been mentioned in the discussion. You people need to differentiate between technical skill and artistry. And Al Jackson, Jr. rules!

Feb. 09 2010 10:26 PM
John Sid from Staten Island, NY

In your face or in his place. A great drummer knows when to do either.

Feb. 09 2010 10:23 PM
ted from hell's kitchen, nyc

GORILLA DRUMMER!

Feb. 09 2010 08:50 PM
Caryn Lombardo from New York, NY

Since no one has posted it yet...Buddy Rich vs. Animal!: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erE8WTngaAY

AND here's Max Roach and his daughter Maxine with the Uptown String Quartet from a 1994 New Sounds Live concert: http://www.wnyc.org/shows/newsounds/episodes/2005/08/16

Feb. 09 2010 03:01 PM
Ben from New York

Ringo Starr is under-appreciated.

Feb. 09 2010 02:59 PM
thatgirlinnewyork from manhattan

siouxie - WORD on karl palmer!!

bun e. carlos love all around!

Feb. 09 2010 02:50 PM
Robert from Clifton, NJ

It ALL depends on the song!!! There's a time to just keep the beat, there's a time when it calls for chops. And believe it or not, there's a time to do NOTHING. It's in the nature of most drummers to always try to add something to every song, when really, the best thing they can add is to let the song breathe without drums. It's all a matter of taste. And there's nothing wrong with showing your skills, as long as it's for the song and not self-centered. Go host a drum clinic if that's what you're in to!

Feb. 09 2010 02:43 PM
Robert

It ALL depends on the song!!! There's a time to just keep the beat, there's a time when it calls for chops. And believe it or not, there's a time to do NOTHING. It's in the nature of most drummers to always try to add something to every song, when really, the best thing they can add is to let the song breathe without drums. It's all a matter of taste. And there's nothing wrong with showing your skills, as long as it's for the song and not self-centered. Go host a drum clinic if that's what you're in to!

Feb. 09 2010 02:43 PM
Faith Holland from Rockland County, NY

What about Max Roach! His drumming is amazing and he's best when leading. M'Boom is all percussion and great. This jazz critic must know, but is avoiding the death of his argument!

Feb. 09 2010 02:43 PM
PBell from Upper West Side

Steve Negus from Saga!

Feb. 09 2010 02:42 PM
Gabriel from brooklyn

I know this is pop music, but in jazz and improvisational music? So many busy drummers. I was at a jam last night and the drummer couldn't groove, couldn't play funk because he was throwing in fills everywhere. And I find most rhythm sections in general don't know how to lay back and let things build. Playing the blues is frustrating, because everyone is either too busy or don't move at all (and by move, it could be an accent placement, a push or pull of the beat). When I take a solo, I want to be able to dig in, get complex rhythmically and expressive in melody, but damn. No one listens.

Rats.

Feb. 09 2010 02:40 PM
Maude from Manhattan

You are you my hero Janet Weiss.

Feb. 09 2010 02:37 PM
Tom Abbott from Brooklyn

Go to Africa. Tell me how important the drummer is. Then consider where the roots of American Pop Music are.

Feb. 09 2010 02:37 PM
Caryn Lombardo from New York, NY

Oh Bernie. Try playing drums. Then try to stop talking about drums!

Feb. 09 2010 02:37 PM
Jim

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida!!! Jack Pinney --
bring on the tribal solo!

Feb. 09 2010 02:37 PM
Claudia from Brooklyn

Animal stole my heart at 5 years old.... A drummer with skill and character is always my favorite part of a band.

Feb. 09 2010 02:37 PM
kris from ny,ny

Was that Ari Hoenig?

An amazing drummer in his own right even if he is a Neil Pert fan....

Feb. 09 2010 02:36 PM
Bernie from Cleveland

I agree with you thatgirl. This is really juvenile.

Feb. 09 2010 02:36 PM
Heather from East Brunswick, NJ

How about Meg White from The White Stripes.. She is an extremely passionate drummer.

Feb. 09 2010 02:36 PM
dylan from greenpoint, bk

How about Tony Williams for a jazz example? He was able to play with remarkable restraint on certain songs (So Near So Far from album 7 Steps to Heaven) almost as if he was playing a motown part, and then unleash over-the-top creative flourishes with the volume of a John Bonahm on a track such as Nefertiti. Miles Davis' bands of the 60's would have sounded way different without Tony.

Feb. 09 2010 02:36 PM
CJ from NY

I think I would rather hear this chick drum than talk.

Feb. 09 2010 02:36 PM
Adam from Brooklyn

Also, whats the difference between a drum solo and a broken vacuum cleaner?

....
....

A broken vacuum cleaner doesn't suck!

And now I'm out of drummer jokes.

Feb. 09 2010 02:36 PM
hazy from brooklyn

LEVON HELM!!!

Feb. 09 2010 02:35 PM
Caryn Lombardo from New York, NY

Props and love to Janet Weiss! Her experience and taste, and creativity have taught all of us drummers out there so much!

Feb. 09 2010 02:35 PM
Bernie from Cleveland

OK, enough with the drummers. This conversation has played itself out. John, move on please!

Feb. 09 2010 02:35 PM
thatgirlinnewyork from manhattan

sorry, john, but to hear a CRITIC try to make a musician wrong about her opinion is kind of lame.

apart from that, i feel like i'm eavesdropping on a couple of highschoolers. get layman to stop talking over weiss. geez.

Feb. 09 2010 02:35 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

saying think good drumming to a true fan is not important to a band is like saying to an Italian there is no difference in quality betweem store bought pasta sauce and the home made version.

The drumming on Morrissey's made his latest album worth getting.

Lars from Metallica

Reni from the stone roses

Chamberlain from the smashing pumpkins

Feb. 09 2010 02:35 PM
Rich K from Union City

Two Words - Vinnie Collaiuta

Feb. 09 2010 02:35 PM
Faith Holland from Rockland County, NY

What about Max Roach! His drumming is amazing, particularly when he's leading the band. Why isn't this jazz critic mentioning him? M'Boom is all percussion and my favorite album of his!

Feb. 09 2010 02:34 PM
Bob in New Jersey from Avon, NJ

Did drummers come into existence only with rock? No comments on Buddy Rich or Gene Krupa?

Feb. 09 2010 02:34 PM
ted from manhattan

michael shrieve santana
albert bouchard blue oyster cult, more cowbell

Feb. 09 2010 02:34 PM
Stephanie from NJ

One great drummer who's arguably the greatest brain of his outfit is Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, the prog-metal/prog-rock band. Portnoy is the 2nd-youngest inductee in the Rock Drummers Hall of Fame (he made it in at age 37) and has won the proverbial S-load of industry awards. But he also runs a record label and draws up DT's unique and unusually thoughtful setlists. Besides, how many drummers work a kit with three (count 'em!) bass drums?

Feb. 09 2010 02:34 PM
Marisa from New York

The Drummer is the most important contributor to
a band. Flamboyant but not overpowering. Taking his/her place at the right time. The only type of music where you expect to hear the drummer up front all the time is in latin music, like Tito Puente. He stands out and you love every moment of it. And also some of the great Jazz drummers
who have amazing technique but don't take over.

Feb. 09 2010 02:33 PM
k from NYC

Ches Smith is an awesome drummer on his own or with Marc Ribot, etc.

Feb. 09 2010 02:32 PM
kd from NYC

Ches Smith is an awesome drummer on his own or with Marc Ribot, etc.

Feb. 09 2010 02:32 PM
Adam from Brooklyn

What do you call someone who hangs out with musicians?
........
........
a drummer!

Feb. 09 2010 02:32 PM
Rich K from Union City

Two words - Vinnie Calaiuta.

Feb. 09 2010 02:31 PM
kira from suffern ny

Drummers, when they do their jobs correctly, direct the music from behind. They're the driving force with subtle changes in cymbal use etc. between verses and choruses. Standing out like a freak or disappearing behind the song is purely the style which should work with the music's style. Neal Peart is perfect for RUSH.

BTW, have you ever seen Neal play big band? Check it.

Why do you hate to hear a drum solo?
Because you know there's a bass solo next!

Woot!

Feb. 09 2010 02:30 PM
Carlos from NY, NY

I've always heard that drummers are closeted front men/women.

Can you answer why my drummer wants to put a military drum roll in every new song?

Feb. 09 2010 02:30 PM
Carlos from NY, NY

I've always heard that drummers are closeted front men/women.

Can you answer why my drummer wants to put a military drum roll in every new song?

Feb. 09 2010 02:30 PM
Carlos from NY, NY

I've always heard that drummers are closeted front men/women.

Can you answer why my drummer wants to put a military drum roll in every new song?

Feb. 09 2010 02:30 PM
Nicole from Brooklyn, NY

It's appropriate that the analogy to filmmaking was drawn. I work with editors and it's often said that drummers make the best editors. They're essential to storytelling and the film can be saved or ruined by its editing. It's the same for the drummer's style making the band.

Feb. 09 2010 02:30 PM
Elliott from Financial District

This conversation is ridiculous. Please talk about something more substantive.

Feb. 09 2010 02:30 PM
kira delong from suffern ny

Drummers, when they do their jobs correctly, direct the music from behind. They're the driving force with subtle changes in cymbal use etc. between verses and choruses. Standing out like a freak or disappearing behind the song is purely the style which should work with the music's style. Neal Peart is perfect for RUSH.

BTW, have you ever seen Neal play big band? Check it.

Why do you hate to hear a drum solo?
Because you know there's a bass solo next!

Woot!

Feb. 09 2010 02:29 PM
Adam from Brooklyn

What do you call someone that hangs out with musicians?

.........

A drummer!!

Also, what did the drummer get on his IQ test?

....

Drool!

Feb. 09 2010 02:29 PM
Nicole from Brooklyn, NY

It's appropriate that the analogy to filmmaking was drawn. I work with editors and it's often said that drummers make the best editors. They're essential to storytelling and the film can be saved or ruined by its editing. It's the same for the drummer's style making the band. As for whether or not they should be flashy, as your guest said, you have to listen to the song. The original version of the "Thomas Crown Affair" would have been only half as compelling with "traditional and safe editing". Jump cuts and moving windows elevated that film to another level.

Feb. 09 2010 02:29 PM
Caryn Lombardo from New York, NY

Yes! We get bored. You just want metronomes sometimes. We are players of melodic instruments, and sometimes have just as bruise-able sensitive sides to us as the singers and guitarists.

Feb. 09 2010 02:29 PM
Carlos from NY, NY

I've always heard that drummers are closeted from men/women.

Can you answer why my drummer wants to put a military drum roll in every new song?

Feb. 09 2010 02:28 PM
kira from suffern ny

Drummers, when they do their jobs correctly, direct the music from behind. They're the driving force with subtle changes in cymbal use etc. between verses and choruses. Standing out like a freak or disappearing behind the song is purely the style which should work with the music's style. Neal Peart is perfect for RUSH.

Why do you hate to hear a drum solo?
Because you know there's a bass solo next!

Woot!

Feb. 09 2010 02:28 PM
Carlos from NY, NY

I've always heard that drummers are closeted from men/women.

Can you answer why my drummer wants to put a military drum roll in every new song?

Feb. 09 2010 02:28 PM
Stephanie from NJ

One great drummer who's arguably the greatest brain of his outfit is Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, the prog-metal/prog-rock band. Portnoy is the 2nd-youngest inductee in the Rock Drummers Hall of Fame (he made it in at age 37) and has won the proverbial S-load of industry awards. But he also runs a record label and draws up DT's unique and unusually thoughtful setlists. Besides, how many drummers work a kit with three (count 'em!) bass drums?

Feb. 09 2010 02:28 PM
Ellen Mahoney from Manhattan

I LOVE Janet Weiss. She was/is such an inspiration. I loved that she brought fun and a DIY sensibility to Quasi. I adore drummers and Janet is one of my very faves!

Feb. 09 2010 02:27 PM
Ellen from Manhattan

I LOVE Janet Weiss. She was/is such an inspiration. I loved that she brought fun and a DIY sensibility to Quasi. I adore drummers and Janet is one of my very faves!

Feb. 09 2010 02:27 PM
Estelle from Austin

A vote for Rush here.
So, our band went through 7 drummers in 5 years---they all quit amicably, but what IS up with that??? Do they just get bored? Do they not feel invested enough? It was ultimately the reason the band broke up---we were tired of constantly getting adjusted to new drummers!

Feb. 09 2010 02:26 PM
Jeff Eyrich from Tuckahoe NY

It was Zack Starkey, Ringo's kid, playing drums with the WHO on the Superbowl last Monday.

Feb. 09 2010 02:24 PM
Jeff Eyrich from Tuckahoe NY

It was Zack Starkey, Ringo's kid, playing drums with the WHO on the Superbowl last Monday.

Feb. 09 2010 02:24 PM
Alistair Wallace from midtown

I find it curious that your one guest, in trying to diss Neil Pirtt, also insulted the rhythm section of Motown, as though rhythm had nothing to do with Motown's success. The rhythm section is the foundation of every band, and without a good one your band will stink, regardless of how good the guitar player or singer is. Rhythm sections deserve our respect, especially in a drummer-challenged town like New York.

Feb. 09 2010 02:24 PM
paul colin from tribeca

2 comments...
As a person (who played w/ Purdy)
you want a musician not a drummer...
and STEVE GADD

Feb. 09 2010 02:24 PM
Alistair Wallace from midtown

I find it curious that your one guest, in trying to diss Neil Pirtt, also insulted the rhythm section of Motown, as though rhythm had nothing to do with Motown's success. The rhythm section is the foundation of every band, and without a good one your band will stink, regardless of how good the guitar player or singer is. Rhythm sections deserve our respect, especially in a drummer-challenged town like New York.

Feb. 09 2010 02:24 PM
David from Harrison, NY

The best, flashiest, accomplished drummer in big-band jazz was Buddy Rich; jazz-rock fusion: Billy Cobham. Yet the best, tasteful jazz drummer -- less flashy -- who traversed into the rock realm as easily as jazz -- was the late, great, Tony Williams.

Feb. 09 2010 02:23 PM
Cynthia from long island

upside down

Feb. 09 2010 02:22 PM
Cynthia from long island

upside down

Feb. 09 2010 02:22 PM
Lizard Man from UES

From the classical tradition, Edgard Varese wrote some spectacular drum pieces in the 20th century.

From recent vintage, you have to mention the group So Percussion. They are some of the most deft technicians in music.

Feb. 09 2010 02:21 PM
Ross from NY

You haven't mentioned Charlie Watts! How does he fit in here for the experts?

Feb. 09 2010 02:21 PM
Cynthia from long island

Drummers have to act a little nuts otherwise people wouldn't know who they are. Everyone forgets about the rhythm section (placement on stage?) unless they do something over the top like play upside sown or lose an arm.

Feb. 09 2010 02:21 PM
greg d. from queens

You left out Levon Helm from your show on Arkansas musicians. He is a great drummer and one of the few drummers who was also lead singer on many Band tunes.

Feb. 09 2010 02:20 PM
George from Asbury Park

Rock drummers should be musical not a metronome. Look how Max Wineberg ruined the E Street Band compared to Vinny Mad dog Lopez.

Feb. 09 2010 02:20 PM
TJ from NYC

C'mon, if you're going to bring up Steely Dan as an example, the killer drum fills throughout the ending of 'Aja' put Steve Gadd on the map. Doesn't get more in your face than that track!

Feb. 09 2010 02:20 PM
George from Asbury Park

Rock drummers should be musical not a metronome. Look how Max Wineberg ruined the E Street Band compared to Vinny Mad dog Lopez.

Feb. 09 2010 02:20 PM
frank from Newark

I always liked Al Jackson of the M.G's
Ginger Baker of Cream

Feb. 09 2010 02:19 PM
Jeff from NYC

Bun E. Carlos, Cheap Trick, Greatest Drummer Ever!

Feb. 09 2010 02:19 PM
pete from brooklyn

Mo tucker I thought was good

Feb. 09 2010 02:18 PM
Caryn Lombardo from New York, NY

Thank you, Jeffrey. That said, never EVER let the singer/guitarist choose how the beat should go...unless he/she is paying the drummer handsomely.

Feb. 09 2010 02:18 PM
Kerissa from Brooklyn

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE drummers!!!

I've never met a spacey drummer. In fact, the ones I've met always seem to be the most sane ones in the band. They also have wicked awesome arms ;D

Feb. 09 2010 02:17 PM
John from Greenpoint

Janet, as always, is absolutely right. As the best living drummer, she knows exactly what she's talking about. Listen to the drum opening of One Beat and tell me it doesn't make that song.

Feb. 09 2010 02:16 PM
Caryn Lombardo from New York, NY

NEVER never let there be a lead singer/songwriter who asks the drummer to play softer...unless you're paying us well!

Feb. 09 2010 02:16 PM
Tom from Williamsburg

Brian Epstein once told The Beatles:
John, you're the Soul of the Beatles.
George, you're the Heart of the Beatles.
Paul, you're the Brain of the Beatles.

And Ringo... you're the drummer.

Feb. 09 2010 02:16 PM
Jeffrey from upper west side

Are you suggesting that lead singers and guitarists aren't over the top egoists?

Feb. 09 2010 02:14 PM
Siouxie from Bronx

The worst - Karl Palmer/ELP. In '77, I sat through practically a half hour of his solo 2 Madison Square Garden. Time for a bathroom break.

Feb. 09 2010 02:13 PM
Brett from Williamsburg

Never - NEVER let the drummer have any creative control beyond the drum kit.

Feb. 09 2010 02:12 PM
jb from manhattan

What happened when the bass player locked the keys in the van?....

It took all day to get the drummer out!!
[BOOM CRASH!]

Feb. 09 2010 02:12 PM
pete from brooklyn

In my experience, drummers have been on the spacey spazzy side: very lovable bunch but off in another world, constantly slapping their fingers on things, saying 'huh' or 'wha' when they are snapped back to the real non-drumming-centered world.

Feb. 09 2010 02:11 PM
Courtney Gillette from Brooklyn, NY

Speaking of drummers, they get nothing but love in the relatively new magazine Tom Tom, which is a Brooklyn-based pub about lady drummers. Janet Weiss actually has been in the mag for the One Drummer/One Question feature. The mag is launching Issue 2 this Saturday in Williamsburg with a party packed with lady drummer performances! tomtommag.com

Feb. 09 2010 12:05 PM
Caryn Lombardo from New York, NY

While we're shouting out to heroes and heroines, let's not forget Karen Carpenter, Cindy Blackman, Stewart Copeland and Dave Lombardo of Slayer. Drummerheart to y'all!

Feb. 09 2010 11:47 AM
Neville Chesters from Malverne, Long Island

I'm not sure what the " Drummer " section of the Show today is, but looking at John Bonham and knowing the Who did the half-time spot yesterday I couldn't help dropping a note.
I was going to be a Drummer in Liverpool in 1962 but seeing the competition I decided to be a Road Manager instead starting with a Liverpool Band called The Mersey-beats 1963-64 Then with The Who 1965-66 Then Cream first half 1967 Then The Jimi Hendrix Experience 1967-68. I was then asked by my friend Richard Cole to work for, Led Zeppelin but Opted to work for The Beatles at Apple instead.
Just thought it might be of interest.?
P.S. I am currently working on a book about my times on the road with these and several other Bands during the 60's and 1/2 of the 70's.
Thanks for all your Great shows and your amazing knowledge of Music.
Best Wishes.
Neville Chesters.

Feb. 09 2010 01:44 AM

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