In terms of stage presence, drummers are challenged by two main factors. First, drummers are usually seated at the back of the stage and obscured by their gear. Even Neil Peart of Rush, who writes the band’s literary-aspiring lyrics and serves as its primary mouthpiece, is overshadowed by his 2 bandmates and their 4 necks. Second, drummers are expected to play a supporting role, as not only evidenced by their positioning on stage but by their bandmates’ expectations for consistency and reliability above all else. Drummers can’t get away with “leaving space,” the way Keith Richards does on guitar, for instance, when he follows his patented “no-hands” move with a measure or two of preening about the stage without hitting a note. When one song ends it’s the drummer who’s got to be ready to kick off the next song. Drummers don’t get many in-song breaks for refreshment.
Rock drumming’s Class Clowns, Keith Moon and Ringo Starr*, prove that a big smile projects further than any fancy stick twirls. Class Clowns have a direct line to the audience. A fun-loving drummer who projects a whistle-while-he-works nonchalance is a joy for audiences to watch. Their joy in providing the big beat is infectious, probably helping the crowd to loosen up and bop around. Keith’s conspiratorial shenanigans with the audience were legendary, both highlighting the mischief of The Who’s songs and undercutting Pete Townshend’s bouts with extreme seriousness. Ringo’s head bop and smile were in tune with his audience. He projected a sense that he was as pleased with backing his band as the audience was watching them. Are there any images in rock photography sadder than those of Let it Be-era Sad Ringo? So sad about Ringo. It’s rock photography’s equivalent of the Crying Indian.