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World Drummer's Day: The five types of drummers who changed the world

World Drummer's Day: The five types of drummers who changed the world

Today is not just World Rat Day - it's also World Drummer’s Day! This universal celebration of percussion is no doubt chosen because the calendar date is 4/4, the most popular time signature used in music.

There’s an old joke about drummers. How do you know when a drummer is at your door? He doesn’t know when to come in.

While they might be the focal point of derision within many bands, today we’re recognising the very best of the lot by compiling a list of the best five types of drummer to grace the sonic airwaves.

The old school rock solo-er

It’s impossible to have a conversation about amazing drummers without starting with the rock and roll greats. There’s a reason that, when asked to do an impression of a drummer, the whole planet will approximate something a bit like Keith Moon’s playing.

The late great Keith Moon was the driving force behind mod legends The Who. He lived fast but he played faster. Moon brought a groove to the rock stylings of his bandmates Roger Daltry, Pete Townsend and John Entwistle.

Where else, besides the classics, do you hear something as brazen and joyous as a rocking drum solo? My favourite Moon example has to be the way Moon thrashes at his kit in the musical interludes of the band’s sweeping odyssey ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’.

Honourable mentions in this genre of drummer have to go to Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, whose forceful playing anchored the wistful fantasy of the band, and Dave Grohl, whose propulsive intuition brought life to Nirvana and his own project, the Foo Fighters.

The ultimate hip-hop sample

All the top hip-hop masters have one thing in common, a love of great beats. The annals of hip-hop are littered with beloved samples that have been used and abused to create iconic songs ever since the genre exploded in the 80s and 90s.

Credited with one of the most sampled drum breaks in musical history, Gregory Coleman might not have been a name you were expecting in this list, but we bet you’d recognise his sound.

Coleman was the drummer of the funk and soul band The Winstons which released a track called ‘Amen, Brother’ in 1969. The Winstons shortly disbanded afterwards in 1970 due to difficulties performing as a multiracial group in the south of the US.

But the sound of the Winstons lived on. The drum break from ‘Amen, Brother’, known as the “Amen Break” is the most widely sampled recordings in music history, featuring in everything from ‘Straight Outta Compton’ by the NWA to the Futurama theme song.

Sadly, the Winstons only found out about the use of the Amen Break in 1996 after the statute of limitations had passed for a copyright infringement claim so they received no royalties. Coleman died in 2006, homeless and destitute, and likely unaware of his contribution to music.

The accompanying percussionist

Particularly in the world of rock music, there’s a preference for a bit of a showboater. But for many bands, the secret weapon is often a drummer who doesn’t overstate their hand. Someone who keeps the paradidling to the minimum and instead realises the value of accompanying percussion over gauche solos.

Enter Ringo Starr and Meg White. While Starr may have endured ire from music fans and band members alike (“He isn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles”), he is no doubt one of the cornerstones of the fab four’s incredible success.

Performing and recording at the start of an era, Starr shaped the mould for what a rockstar drummer could be. He wasn’t interested in just being loud, Starr was all about innovation. He approached the kit with the same sense of wonder and experimentation that his bandmates were known for. Each fill a new opportunity to try a different combination of sounds.

If you want to get a sense of Starr’s brilliance, look no further than the always surprising fills he puts into ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’.

In a similar vein to Starr is Meg White of the White Stripes. Routinely overlooked during their heyday due to Jack White’s magnetic virtuosity and the theories about their relationship, people sometimes confine Meg’s drumming to the procedural.

But once again, that’s choosing to not recognise the sheer genius of a drummer who brought simplicity to a simple setup. Anything more and the minimalistic bluesy precision of the White Stripes’ aesthetic would fall apart. Want any more proof, put on the mighty punch of a song that is ‘Fell in Love with a Girl’.

HEAVY METAL HITTERS

We couldn’t ignore these guys, could we? In the metal genre, there’s been plenty of talented drummers to grace stages. While Meg White and Ringo Starr would go without some of their kits in favour of a stripped back sound, this is a genre where double pedals, innumerous cymbals and seatbelts are the norm.

Speak to any drumming nerd and Neil Peart will always feature in the conversation. He’s the punchline of this classic joke:

“How many drummers does it take to change a lightbulb?”

“Five: One to screw the bulb in, and four to talk about how much better Neil Peart could've done it.”

How did he get to be this venerated? Simple. He was the drummer and lyricist of the much celebrated prog rock band Rush. Beloved by music nerd for a reason, Rush put out incredibly technically complicated music that, despite its jaw dropping theory, was always great to listen to. Need more proof? Check out this solo at a gig they played in Frankfurt.

The jazz drummer

While almost all of these drummers have been from the rock and roll tradition, we’d be remiss not to credit the drummers who pioneered music to the point these rockstars could exist at all.

We are, of course, talking about the genres of blue and jazz. While percussion has often been a more subtle accompaniment in the white western classical tradition, the Black genres of music pioneered first in the 19th century and popularised globally in the 20th century created a tapestry of music that the popular music explosion in the 60s could be based on.

So who better to champion as our final great drummer on World Drummer’s Day is jazz’s finest rhythm master: Art Blakey.

The hard bop legend brought his great sense of swing and incessant intensity to push his group to the limit. They’d take standards and push them up a notch, as seen with ‘The Drum Thunder Suite’ from Blakey’s greatest album with his group the Jazz Messengers, ‘Moanin’’.