May 062009


Although we often make fun of you, I hope you know you hold a pretty glamorous, enviable spot in a band. Despite your anxieties over the clarity of your snare, you are always heard. You get to burn off more physical energy than anyone else. Although it’s sometimes tough to see you bashing away behind a drum kit, a singer, and a few other musicians, your equipment is cool and what goes into your playing is worth the effort necessary to watch you at work.

Even when you’re playing a mellow, jazzy number, it’s cool to watch you work the brushes around the snare and coax a pulse out of the ride cymbal. However, there’s one part of your job that doesn’t jibe with our expectations: watching you accompany a country artist or Bob Dylan. That can’t be a lot of fun, can it? Name the greatest drum fill or drum part in a country song. You can’t really distinguish one country beat from another, can you? There are about three options for you and your equally bored bassist. At least the bassist gets some accompanying Bob Dylan, but for as much as I love Dylan’s best music, I never say to myself, That’s a great drum part! That must have been a blast to play!

I feel like, with a little practice, I could play drums for a country artist or Bob Dylan. As a hard-working drummer, who might have spent a year taking lessons on nothing but a practice pad until you mastered your paradiddles, what goes through your mind when playing a country number or a Dylan tune? Do you “lie back and think of England,” focusing on the content of the song itself, the lyrics, the performance of the singer? Do you ever feel like you’re “getting yours?”

If I’ve got it all wrong, let me know. That’s the point of the Is there a drummer in the house? series. I love drummers, everybody loves drummers, and we know we’re putting your through a lot of heavy stuff that you hold in for the good of the band. Lean on me. I care about what you’re going through.

I should note that partial credit – or blame – for this thread goes to Townsman jungleland2, I believe, who made mention of the difficulty in getting his drummer to cover Dylan songs.


  16 Responses to “Is There a Drummer in the House: What’s It Worth for You to Play Country Music or Dylan Tunes?”

  1. As much as I’d like to take credit, I have to give it where it’s due: Townsman jungleland2 mentioned the difficulty of getting drummers to want to play Dylan.

    I started out playing drums with my band, but switched to bass for reasons that are left unsaid. I did play drums on our first record just because there were only two of us and I’m a better drummer than our guitarist. I would never calssify myself as a drummer, but more as someone who can play drums. Think Paul McCartney here. But, like Paul, I only play one style decently: rock, 2/4 backbeat. The most difficult song for me to play was a country number called “Rock Is Dead” (funny). Some of my dearest friends, who are drummers, get tickled at my attempts at a country shuffle. One even went so far as to say that it sounded like I trying to ride a bicycle and simply slapping at the pedals instead planting my feet firmly. I took it as a compliment.

    Country music is hard to play. For me. I would love to crack that snare to kick off “Rolling Stone”.


  2. Mr. Moderator

    The credit line has been adjusted, TB. Thanks for pointing that out.

  3. Dylan has had plenty of certifiably shit-hot drummers. My favorite is Howie Wyeth of the Rolling Thunder tour. That Bootleg Series volume has crazy drums.

  4. hrrundivbakshi

    Mod, I think you’re looking at this wrong. Good drummers enjoy playing music — country, Dylan, whatever — *because they like the music.* Not because it allows them to go all Neil Peart on the lead guitarist’s ass. What makes you think drummers crave technical complexity any more than you do as a guitarist? Don’t you enjoy simply strumming along to songs you like hearing? This whole line of questioning makes me wonder about how much you *really* understand, and love, your drumming brethren.

    Newly concerned,


  5. Mr. Moderator

    I’m not saying any of these drummers is not shit hot, just that it’s music that doesn’t seem to give the drummer some. Dylan, by all accounts, has very little structure in his live shows and likes to “keep it fresh,” so I’m sure drummers get some with him. I mostly threw him into the subject line for laughs. It’s drummers who have played country music I most hope to hear from. They don’t get to do more than three beats, they’re not asked to play that hard, and they don’t get to do cool fills. Drummers, is keeping the beat satisfying enough in itself?

  6. Mr. Moderator

    Hrrundi, any drummer who’s known me can attest to the love and respect I have for them. Even when I’m giving a drummer shit about not landing on a fill in the right spot or not playing fast enough I give them shit with nothing but the most sincere love and respect. Surely they love music. I wouldn’t expect less of them. I love music too, but no, I don’t get that much of a kick “simply strumming along” to songs I enjoy hearing. As you know, I kind of suck on guitar, but I take great pride in using my instrument to best fit into an interesting, if possible, arrangement. I believe drums to be the potentially most interesting instrument among typical song drivers. Of course there are songs in which the drummer needs to lay back and simply support the groove in a subtle way, but country music seems to be an entire genre structured around the drummer having a subservient, supportive role with a narrow spectrum of beats.

    Drummers, you know I care. It’s really nice of guitar players and keyboardists to “stick up for them,” but I’m looking for real dialog. I know how much stuff they have to swallow to keep peace within their respective bands and keep everyone tapping their toes. This is your chance my friends – my drumming friends – to tell us how you really feel about the constraints of country drumming.

  7. I stirred the pot. Thankfully most drummers can’t read 😉

    I tried to put together a Dylan Tribute show and could not find bands that would participate, mostly since the drummer either did not like Bob (or The Byrds or The Band for that matter) or did not want to drum on Dylan stuff (style issues, like country or shuffle drumming) this includes my drummer who would have no part of this show.

    Our Hendrix, Cream, Led Zeppelin shows had no issues…

    I guess drums (and drummers) are so their own animal as compared to a guitar player, bassist, keyboardist etc who mostly see music the same way Drummers just dig something out of music that is not the same as other musicians.

  8. I missed this comment:
    What makes you think drummers crave technical complexity any more than you do as a guitarist?

    1. Most drummers do not play a melodic instrument, they play only a Rhythmic instrument. (and Dylan ain’t funky)
    2. They are not song writers / lyricist so a simple strum does not do it
    3. Playing easy stuff can get dull on drums

  9. hrrundivbakshi

    Sorry, jungleland2, I’m not buying what you’re selling. Playing easy stuff can get dull on guitar, too — but that doesn’t stop people from lining up to strum along behind Bob Dylan/Johnny Cash/whoever. Yes, Yngwie Malmsteen would be ill-suited to play in Dylan’s back-up band. But that doesn’t mean that Dylan’s music is “guitar-hostile.” You just have to be a guitarist who enjoys playing it. Same goes for simple music and drumming. Let me tell you, watching a really great country drummer play a straight shuffle — *well* — is just as interesting and technically difficult, in its own way, as watching that dude from Motley Crue flying over the audience playing an upside down drum solo with laser sticks.

  10. Mr. Moderator

    HVB, although our drummer friends surely appreciate your seemingly reasonable speculations, I have yet to hear from one of them. That may be telling us something. You’re trying to be helpful, but you may be adding to the feelings of shame that subservient country drummers have long been feeling.

  11. As someone once said “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing…”

    I’d play anything if it cooks and can flow. A country shuffle is fine thing to dig into. I would rather get into a groove than go all jazz-fills and what ever.

    But I do admit that a Crapton loving friend of mine loves the blues jam and that is the one thing that usually bores me to tears. He’s an excellent guitarist (my friend, not EC) but I’d rather be the guitar player in these situations.

  12. Mr. Moderator

    Thanks for sharing, mrclean. See the kinds of painful things drummers hold in to keep the music moving? Hrrundi, heed this drummer’s words next time you try to engage one in one of your blues jams!

  13. I usually play bass in band situations and can find ways to keep any song from being dull (maybe rhythm guitar does not have this luxury) You can also sing the harmonies / lead / grab a harmonica.

    I think it’s also about being into SONGS not just your instrument

    and a good country drummer kicks any metal guy’s ass

  14. I’m glad you backed off the Dylan comment. Blonde on Blonde has some exquisite drumming. You should recall that Jon Kelsey hopped right on the chance to join the nearly country Rolling Hayseeds. Country drumming is not necessarily as blatant as say, James Brown, for how it shows off the drummer, but a good drummer in that style has loads of techniques and finesse that just don’t get utilized in a more traditional rock setting. In large part, country and Rock both suffered from the modernization of the role of the drummer from someone that could groove in tempo and provide nicely detailed texture, to someone who can forcefully enunciate the pulse loudly and cleanly. I may be exaggerating, but if you listen to the drumming of the records up until the advent of rock, (as opposed to Rock’n’roll), there are a lot of techniques that got jettisoned ultimately in modern commercial recording, to accomodate brighter, shiny production techniques.

  15. BigSteve

    I don’t know, I think the use of a drummer to provide a pronounced rhythm for dancers goes back at least to western swing and 40s hillbilly music.

    I know that when I used to occasionally see Cajun dance bands it would amaze me that there were only two rhythms — two-step and waltz. I used to wonder how the drummers could stand to play the waltz beat, because it was as simple as the guy in the clip at the top of this thread demonstrates. When I play the drums, any rhythm like this tends to evolve into more of a 6/8 triplet feel thing. Otherwise it’s just so … European.

    At those Cajun dances, a two-step could get even me going. The waltzes left me cold, but boy the dancers loved them some waltzes.

    I believe that’s Kenny Buttrey drumming on Blonde on Blonde. He’s great on John Wesley Harding too.

  16. I wasn’t really talking about a pronounced rhythm for dancing, more a clean, repetitive, unwavering strike on each hit to make for a clean recording. I think this concept came into the foreground with multi-track, layered overdub recordings that were focused on separation and clarity at the expense of depth.

    Yes, Buttrey may be even better on John Wesley Harding where the sound is stripped down to the bare minimum. His very low-key, but funky playing really makes songs like Wicked Messenger rock out in a quiet way.

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