Friday, April 28, 2017

Drummers & getting our arms around rock economy

I was in an otherwise good mood talking with a drummer friend when another drummer sat right beside him and ruined the whole thing.

I so can’t stand the idea of bands with two drummers in them I object to bars with two drummers, too.

Who knew Latrobe had so many drinking drummers?

The one guy’s an old buddy of mine and keeps the beat in a popular local cover band. He was very reverential of the newcomer in the way only one drummer can be to another.

I respect anyone with musical talent so I’ll make no drummer jokes here.

I’ll instead repeat just three:

• What do you call a drummer after his girlfriend breaks up with him? Homeless.

• How can you tell if your stage is level? There are equal amounts of drool coming out of both sides of the drummer’s mouth.

• What’s the difference between a drummer and a savings bond? The savings bond will eventually mature and earn money.

I asked them who is the greatest drummer. Both said John Bonham of Led Zeppelin.

I asked them if a $100 drum machine for sale at Best Buy could without missing a beat replace their hero. Both became sad.

Because I was feeling oddly antagonistic, I pointed out — and this is true — that in ’75 when Zeppelin was at the height of their popularity, Playboy readers said the greatest drummer wasn’t John Bonham, but was Karen Carpenter.

If they’d have had their drum sticks with them they would have likely beaten me to death with an accelerating tempo.

I told them it makes me angry when bands like the Grateful Dead have two drummers. It’s such an unnecessary duplication. So much extra equipment. Did the Dead hate their roadies?

They said each Dead drummer made vital contributions. One keeps the beat, the other the melodic fills. Blah, blah, blah.

Of course drummers are going to argue bands need multiple drummers, but there are reasons why they ridicule men who wear belts and suspenders.

“Well,” they said practically in syncopation, “who do you think is the greatest drummer?

Rick Allen, I said. 


He’s the drummer for Def Leppard, the 80s hit powerhouse better known for rocking than proper spelling. I say this because Allen lost his left arm in a 1984 auto wreck. Yet he overcame the disability and continued to perform.

I always wondered if after the loss of his arm his bandmates tried to impose a pay cut.

I like a little economy in my rock.

That’s why I’ll never forget a performance in a Palm Beach restaurant in about 1994. I was there spending a couple of weeks working at the home offices of the National Enquirer. They’d bring stringers like me into meet editors and schmooze.

After work, we’d all meet at some bar and it was always great fun. But on this night I was all alone. The next day they apologized and said they had to attend to an important breaking national news story I no longer recall. Maybe Ricki Lake went off her diet.

But in the bar was a true one-man band. He sat at a piano, had a banjo, a rack of tooter horns arrayed before his face, cymbals strapped between his knees, kazoo -- the works. He made this tremendous racket that sounded like a drunken marching band tumbling down a long flight steps. And he was singing at the top of his lungs like he wanted people in Orlando to hear him.

He’d play Beatles, Elton John — I remember a particularly raucous version of ELO’s “Can’t Get it Out of My Head.”

In between songs he’d talk to me, the only one in the bar. I told him how much I appreciated his unusually diverse skills. For some strange reason, he invited me to sit next to him on the piano bench.

For some strange reason, I accepted! He even gave me some headphones so I wouldn’t miss a note.

What was funny was I remember the angry owner coming by and repeatedly telling him to turn it down, that it was bothering his dining room customers. And there I was sitting right next to him with it being amplified right in my ears.

But it’s a performance I’ll never forget. He played like seven instruments, sometimes all at once, a true virtuoso.

I think I tipped him $5.

I told my drummer friends that story and how limb-for-limb he was one of the greatest performers I’ve ever seen. They called me an idiot.

Told me to beat it.

What do you expect from a couple of drummers?

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