By Tim Kane
STURBRIDGE, MA – Buddy Rich once said that there were 10,000 drummers trying to play exactly like their heroes. Little did Buddy know it was more like millions trying to play just like him. I can’t claim that Buddy was an early influence of mine as I am a product of the ‘80s and ‘90s. But it turns out Buddy was an early influence for the drummers I most admire.
Buddy was trying to say that drummers should strive to make their own mark in creating music instead of copying someone else’s body of work. I could not agree more, but actually also believe that playing along to and studying a favorite drummer’s music is a great way to both develop your chops and intuitive ears.
Last week I looked back at some vintage videos of my early drummer inspirations while learning to play. Suffice to say, it was an interesting exercise with surprising new discoveries.
When I think of the drummers who truly inspired me early on with the essence of drum set dynamics, fills and polyrhythms, I conjure up three: Neil Peart, Alex Van Halen and Steve Gadd (hear Gadd at the 5:40 time mark for his solo).
When I was a kid sitting in a tiny bedroom with that white sparkle vintage kit I stole from my sister, Alex was the man who taught me how to play hard rock drums and double pedal kick action. Neil, the ProgRock professor of the drum kit – who by coincidence took drum lessons just a few years back to improve (like he needs to) – jumped into my scene with the “Moving Pictures” album. I saw Neil play with RUSH this past summer in Boston, and they played that entire record. It was awesome and inspirational.
To hear “Tom Sawyer” or “Red Barchetta” back then, and try to play along with headphones, was virtually impossible but also quite enlightening with regard to better understanding the complexities of odd time signatures and triplet/flam fills.
Then came along Steve Gadd. He had been around for years, but I did not really discover him until Buddy died and I read about what other drummers had to say.
When I purchased his Gadd Gang album and gave “Way Back Home” a listen, it opened up another facet of my playing style. Steve’s keen ability to just groove in the pocket or heavily synchronize notes between hi-hat, snare and kick with these fantastic buzz-like rolls blew my mind. So I learned the solo in that funk song to the best of my ability. And it turned me on to this greater concept of being a funk/fusion drummer, which is how I would define my style today.
I have come to realize that my own style has early roots in Alex, Neil and Steve’s style – and the styles of the drummers they admired most, and the ones before them.
The point is we should never stop emulating inspirational drummers, for they help us to refine our own skills, style and creativity. I still strap on those headphones from time to time and give “Hot For Teacher” a whirl.
– Tim Kane is a professional writer and drummer of 30-plus years. http://www.kanedrums.com