Influential drumming

I realise I haven’t written too much about what probably is my biggest passion in life, playing the drums. In this post I thought I would write about three songs that have meant a lot to me as a drummer. The songs in themselves are some of my favourites, but the drumming performance is what’s stuck out for me and moulded me into the kind of musician I am today. 

En Vogue – Don’t let go

I first heard this song when I was around twelve. It was being played all over the place and actually became En Vogue’s biggest hit. I think it might even have been a classmate of mine who introduced it to me. And in those days, you couldn’t just look it up on Spotify, you actually had to wait for it to be played on the radio, or, head off to town and buy the album or the single. The struggle was real. Well, we didn’t know any better because the struggle was just a part of life! 

I forgot about this song until i heard a terrible remix of it at the gym the other day. (Isn’t it interesting that the good songs always come back in different forms?) What stuck out was the way the drummer played. The drum track is so simple and does the job in an effective way. The backbeat is a solid high-pitched crack of the snare, and the drum fills aren’t more than 16th notes on the tom-toms at most. There is a part of the song, towards the end coming out of the bridge, where the drummer (Lil´ Jon) smacks the snare together with a crash cymbal on the second quarter note – it’s so simple but yet so effective. And the way he plays the ride cymbal in the outro; the performance is so provocatively basic – most drummers won’t play that way because it’s too revealing! In other words, you can tell how good or crap a drummer is by how little they need to play.

Stryper – Caught in the middle

American Hair Metal bands seem to have a place on everyones playlist – who doesn’t know the song ”Living on a prayer” by Bon Jovi? Or ”Sweet child o’ mine”, by Guns N’ Roses? A lot of good music was made in the ’80s, which means there should be a lot influential drumming from the same era as well. Which is very true. A Hair Metal song that has meant the most to me as a drummer is ”Caught in the middle”, by the Los Angeles based rockband Stryper. 

This song is actually off their album ”Against the law” from 1990, so not quite ’80s but still Hair Metal, and basically ’80s. It’s a quick rock song and, like the En Vogue track, has very clear and effective drumming. The bit that changed my mind is the big tom-tom fill coming out of the guitar melody after the solo. Also just a matter of 16th notes flying all the way down the tom rack, but it’s so clean and powerful and it moves the song forward to whats on its way. It’s one of those drum fills that put drumming into perspective for me. The kind that said drumming can be fun, crazy and progressive – without taking over the song in the wrong way. The name of the drummer is Robert Sweet, not a ”hall of famer”, but still a part of my own education during the years I studied music.

Michael McDonald – Homeboy

”What, no Toto?” If you know me and happen to be a musician (chances are that you are), you know that Toto has meant a lot to me through my years of studying and playing music. Fear not however: the drummer on the track ”Homeboy” is Toto’s original drummer, the late Jeff Porcaro. And yes, there are tons of Toto songs that have been a part of shaping my own ”sound”, but this song is instrumental in another way. The groove is hi-hat based, with 16th notes as the bottom line.

Jeff plays that hi-hat with such ease and taste. It’s fascinated me since hearing the song the first time, when I was probably 19 or 20. Maybe younger, I can’t remember. 

There aren’t any mega drum fills to mention in the song, it’s all about the rolling ”hat”. He’ll throw in the occasional 32nd notes here and there, with the odd lift of the hi-hat foot. Also a game changer for me in the way I approached drumming – Jeff’s performance here is simple yet expressive and ”different” to other pop drumming. If you hear me play, chances are you’ll hear some little nuance I’ve picked up from anyone of these three songs, even if try to hide it! Did I just sum up my own playing in just three songs? I hope not. 

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