Saturday, July 14, 2007

The best drummer in the world?

My experience of drumming is limited to two rulers on a desktop. This doesn't stop me stating categorically that you can't have a great group without a great drummer. Which is why the Smiths and Oasis will never qualify. The drummer supplies the one thing that can't be fixed later. One of the greatest who ever drew breath is Joseph 'Zig' Modeliste. He used to play with the Meters and he supplies the percussion on all those classic Lee Dorsey records of the late 60s and early 70s. Doctor John called on the Meters when he made his New Orleans pop records "In The Right Place" and "Desitively Bonaroo". "I Been Hoodooed" is from the former. Mac Rebennack lays lots of extra percussion on the top but it's Modeliste's phlegmatic cowbell and snare that holds it down. They dropped it in next to last.


  1. Fair enough, his playing on "Cissy Strut" is further proof, if it was needed.
    As a matter of interest, would you rate Larry Mullen out of the '2? Different kind of animal I know but I'd be curious as to what you think.

  2. "The drummer supplies the one thing that can't be fixed later."

    I'm afraid that's not true. It's quite easy to take a drum pattern apart in a computer and apply a new or different groove to it (or just fix it, as is more often the case, so that the drummer appears to be playing in time).

  3. Anonymous4:01 pm

    Ah, nothing like a sweeping statement, which is then contradicted in the next sentence. By any indicator you may care to mention, whether they were to your personal taste or not, The Smiths were a great group. Maybe Mike Joyce wasn't the world's greatest drummer, but him and Rourke were as good as a foil to the ebullience and dazzling brilliance of Morrissey and Marr as you could find. Solid, unremarkable, but just what was needed, in spite of the later Morrissey's cruel and vicious jibes. Groups are a lot more about the bonding of young lads from the same area and background, and the chemistry that involves, than individual virtuosity. New Order are one of countless examples. The Meters are brilliant musicians, the Smiths were musical poets, wordsmiths and vaudeville punks. Genius in their own way, and the relative merits of their drummer is actually irrelevant to their lasting impact and their roster of great songs.

  4. I don't believe I introduced the idea of virtuosity, nor would I. Ringo's no virtuoso - but he is the best drummer the Beatles could ever have had. I don't hear anyone making the same case for the man from the Smiths.

  5. Anonymous6:36 pm

    True enough, but he was a perfectly serviceable drummer and didn't detract from them being a great group. Ergo, do you really need a great drummer to have a great group? Actually I though Ringo was underrated in his contributions to the Beatles, but had they had a different drummer, well we'll never know, but it seems doubtful they would have been any less of a great group.

  6. Mention should be made of Al Jackson who shaped the sound of not one, but two great labels; Stax and Willie Mitchell's Hi records, his work with Booker T and the MGs is irreproachable, he could rock hard (see any of the Stax live LPs with the Mar-Kays, Sam & Dave or Otis Redding) or play silky and sexy ("Let's stay together" "I can't stand the rain")
    I love the story that when touring with the MGs, he would tap along with the songs on the radio, when the bus went through a tunnel he would keep the beat perfectly until they emerged from the tunnel. If his timing was out the band would check the song back and they would invariably find that the drumming on the record was at fault!
    It would be safe to say that the records he cut would be poorer if he hadn't drummed on them, but given that he died in 1975 the Zigster is probably the greatest living drummer. Amen

  7. Anonymous5:28 pm

    Matthew, you are correct to say that you can take apart a recorded drum track and re-assemble it so that it's perfectly in time, and even so it swings - but what you can't do it recreate the feel that a master like Al Jackson or Bernard Purdie or, indeed, Joseph 'Zig' Modeliste adds.

    The tiny, almost imperceptible imperfections, and pulls and pushes against the strict tempo, are what separates the sheep from the goats, or the drummer from the drum machine.

    In fact, the fact that you can't measure them, just 'feel' them, are what is meant by 'feel' with regard to groove.

    You can't legislate for funk...

  8. Anonymous4:49 am

    Matthew's actually a mate of mine and he's both right and wrong, as is David. Yes, you can repair a performance all you like. But more to the point... who ever said Mike Joyce *wasn't* a great drummer?

    D x