Apr 242012

The Field General

Whether the stated bandleader or not, the drummer often functions as the “captain” on stage. Some drummers take this responsibility to heart, clearly leading the band from the riser at the back of the stage. I call these the Field Generals. I’m probably missing some great examples, but I pity the ego-laden bandmates who crossed a Ginger Baker or a Mick Fleetwood. Hell, the giant Fleetwood’s not afraid to come out from behind his kit with that African talking drum to restore order.

I bet Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s Max Weinberg aspires to Field General status, but someone’s always standing in his way.

The Bruiser.

The Jock vs The Bruiser

Power is a cherished quality among rock drummers. There are Jock drummers like The Minutemen’s George Hurley and King Crimson’s Bill Bruford, who mix in speed and grace, and then there is the Classic Rock-era kick-and-snare focused Bruiser, like John Bonham.

Other Areas to Explore?

Like I said, this is just a start. Certainly there are other areas to explore, other styles to identify. I know nothing about drumming styles of heavy metal drummers, for instance. Are those drummers anything but Bruisers and Jocks? One thing I’m curious to learn about is whether there is an ideal stylistic balance required in bands with 2 drummers (eg, the Dead, the Doobies, the Allmans, now Radiohead).


  48 Responses to “Taking a Stance on Rock: Drummers”

  1. diskojoe

    I always like to see Dino Danelli (sic) of the Rascals on old TV clips. You can tell he got his start at the Peppermint Lounge:


  2. hrrundivbakshi

    For better or worse, there’s The Fop — the drummer equivalent of a fully flared pair of precisely aged blue jeans *with* designer belt and buckle, a pair of alligator-skin boots and a buckskin fringe jacket with turquoise bead adornment. This type of preening, over-“talented” artist is best exemplified by Carmine Appice:


  3. Good one! He’s got that jazzbo hot dog style.

  4. Yes, that’s the horrible offspring of Moon’s Class Clown and Bonham’s Bruiser. I bet a lot of metal drummers followed this model.

  5. I love that the top comment on that YouTube page is “Carmine Appice – the man John Bonham wanted to play like.”

  6. I would actually create two separate categories for Moony and Ringo. Keith is a Class Clown, along with Stewart Copeland, who similarly punctures Sting’s self-seriousness. Also, DJ Bonebrake always seems a little goofier, or maybe just more caffeinated, than everyone else in X.

    Ringo is in the “I Love My Job” category, along with Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinner, Quasi, Wild Flag, etc.) who always looks absolutely overjoyed when rocking out behind the kit.

  7. I see the distinction you’re making between Keith and Ringo. Maybe Ringo and Janet Weiss are Happy Doing What They’re Doing. This is definitely a work in progress. Let others follow your lead!

  8. tonyola

    Don’t forget Appice’s stick-twirling shtick.

  9. tonyola

    Phil Collins was a much-underrated drummer who could almost be put into the Jock category. Not only did he do a great job with Genesis in all its incarnations, he was very much in demand as a session drummer and has backed luminaries such as Eno, Peter Gabriel, Fripp, Clapton, Robert Plant, Paul McCartney, and John Cale.

  10. How about “the Spazz”? As far as I know this guy is the only one in that category: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DVbt5W-DNc (most have you have probably already seen this but if not, skip to 1:00)

  11. I like “Happy” drummers — maybe not class clowns, but I always though Gilson Lavis of Squeeze was great to see live. I can’t find a clip of his “water on the drums” trick I saw him do in the 80s, but he’s a cool cat.

    Check this off Jools Holland’s show with Charlie Watts. I wish there was a show like this in the US.

  12. alexmagic

    I would like to move that we replace the unfortunate, dated term “Crying Indian” with the more up-to-date “Plaintive American”. Thank you.

  13. misterioso

    Actually, I was going to suggest “Lachrymose Indigenous American,” but so be it.

  14. I’ve posted this link of the Rascals on Ed Sullivan before,


    mostly because it’s fantastic live TV, but also because it is so archaeologically-rich for RTH researchers. At this point in the Rascals history, Dino Danelli has ditched his pompadour and is now sporting a brand new Beatle haircut, rendering him an alarmingly-accurate Paul McCartney look-alike. The cameraman has figured this out, and spends an inordinate amount of time focused on Dino during the performance. It’s a great example of what I would like to submit as the Suave drummer stance. His facial expressions are held in check. He’s sporting the latest Sgt Pepper-length long coat, in thick corduroy, no less, yet not breaking a sweat. He is literally cool while executing what I feel to be a remarkable drum performance, an almost McCartney-like exercise in complexity-made-to-look-easy. Especially impressive is his cymbal crashing from BENEATH the cymbal. He stands up at the end, full of controlled energy. Suave. Extra Enabler points for his frequent mind-meld glances over to Felix Cavaliere.

    Another fine example of the Suave drummer is Johny Barbata, seen here in a stellar performance by the Turtles:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCaCwYO-09Y Here he’s also dressed in post-Pepper finery, but in a truly tasteful way. Look at the confidence of this guy’s stick twirling. He is the James Bond of the drums. Nothing Krrrazy going on with either of these guys. The are totally in control and at the top of their drumming and look.

  15. cliff sovinsanity

    Some of my faves
    Class Clown: Martin Chambers
    Field General : Rat Scabies
    Bruiser: Scott Asheton
    Enabler: Billy Ficca (Television)

    As far as Heavy Metal drummers go, very few are not Jocks or Bruisers. Those who I think fall out of that category are the aforementioned Neil Peart, Albert Bouchard (B.O.C.), Gary Driscoll (Rainbow’s first album)….

  16. I’m down with both of these guys. Barbata was the last drummer in late period Jefferson Airplane. I remember an article which said that he could do all those things on drums that his predecessor, Joey Covington, only talked about doing.

  17. Agreed, great stuff. Thanks for placing these essential clips to the Public Record. May future drummers learn from these Masters.

  18. In the musicians’ musician thread, I nominated Chris (Pow Pow) Powell from Man Man. He’s a great drummer and with piles of style, plays at the front of the stage, and combines the Field General, Enabler and even some Class Clown into a pretty heady brew. I picked this one because although it’s not his most technically flashy, it shows a drummer grooving with unmatched ease and style. If you don’t have the four and a half minutes to watch, push it up to 2:30 and hang in for a minute.


  19. cherguevara

    He’s not the only one – check out this comedy gold if you’ve not seen it:


  20. Is there an entire website dedicated to these clowns yet? That’s funny!

  21. cherguevara

    It could have things like this:

  22. ladymisskirroyale

    And then there are the unsung heroes, The Anchors.

    These folk have less ego than The Generals and aren’t quite as power-hungry or power-demonstrating as The Jocks and The Bruisers. They most resemble The Enablers but for one crucial difference: whereas an Enabler such as Meg White will do anything to make the others in the band look good, The Anchors must provide a bedrock of continuity and sanity amongst the swirl of egos and craziness.

    Two excellent examples of The Anchor:

    1. Dave Narcizo of Throwing Muses
    Sure, this is music video, and Dave is almost autistic-like in his stance facing away from the Estrogen Duo of Kristin and Tanya. Watch and listen to other Throwing Muses performances and you will notice Dave providing a steady, military beat that is sure to calm even the most florid bi-polar. Not only did Dave see the Throwing Muses through from start to finish, but he worked with Kristin on some of her solo recordings.

    2. David Lovering of The Pixies. If you had Frank and Kim fighting it out nearby, wouldn’t you retreat to a nice solid beat and dream of a future life of disappearing (with or without the magic tricks he developed in his post-Pixies career)?

  23. Another category would be The Technocrat, whose prime concern is proficiency and is able to keep things together rhythmically no matter how weird the time signatures get or how out-there the other players voyage in the course of a song. Nothing fazes them. Bill Bruford falls in this category as well as being a Jock. He once said he loved playing in King Crimson because he got to play in 13/8 and 17/8 to his heart’s content and yet still stay in nice hotels. Other examples:

    Robert Wyatt
    Billy Cobham
    David Van Tieghem
    Ed Cassidy

  24. I like the engineers. I don’t mean to get the cart before the horse in this series but it’s all about the singer. The lead instruments emphasize and support the vocals. The rhythm instruments enable the lead instruments and the foundation to all of it is the drums. Nobody needs to count measures when they feel them. Nobody needs to know when to break it down or kick it up when a kick ass drummer is driving the train. It frees the mind.

    Bruiser Bonham was special. I saw him play 3 songs in Tampa in ’77 and I’ve never seen anything like it. The best I can do to describe it is to say it was like juggling scarfs. The beats were snatched from their lofted suspensions with the ferocity and precision of a cobra strike, over and over. Or maybe imagine a gymnast on the horizontal bar swinging around and around. He comes off the apex hard and fast but is barely moving by the time he reaches the top of the next arc. Somehow Bonham utilized the entire spectrum of time between the rock solid beats.

    Sorry for the drama but it was deep.

  25. trigmogigmo

    There is another stance, which could be called The Robot or The Machine. You could apply this positively or negatively as you see fit. It doesn’t have to mean robotic or cold or lifeless. It can instead mean mind-bogglingly precise and fast and intricate.

    Neil Peart – A precision device that delivers a lot of solid energy and mechanistic fast riffs, but it doesn’t seem very emotional.
    Oh, wow. This is appropos, hilarious, and just plain awesome: (wait for the stick twirls)

    Terry Bozzio – I am really only familiar with the Missing Persons edition of this Zappa-incubated replicant, which I hear is its most docile incarnation. A manic robot that does weird things like mirroring a guitar riff or melody on drums, physically leaning into the kit with a full body emotional heave, and throwing in machine gun fills that cover the entire drum kit with more strikes than a human would insert in a “pop” song.
    I don’t know if there is a technical term for it, but I like what he does here, matching the main guitar riff on the drums, or matching the vocal line “one thing for sure he isn’t starring in a movie ’cause he’s” after 0:49: http://youtu.be/R_UpLtGEWoY
    You can see it when the robot seems to be in furious emotional agony, and he works it out by covering the whole drum set in angry fills: http://youtu.be/m17rt_xo9x0
    good audio only: http://youtu.be/E_5KiUTRcgA?hd=1

  26. Spazzy even managed to get himself a cameo on “The Office”: http://youtu.be/Qw-jMSa-W_o

  27. diskojoe

    Another drummer that should be mentioned is Elvis’ 50s drummer DJ Fontana. His drumming was pretty amazing on “Hound Dog” & was still pretty good when I saw him live in Memphis in 1997.

    Also, I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Pete Thomas of The Attractions yet.

  28. How about “the Cabal”, those 4 or 5 drummers whose visual style is less important than the fact that collectively they have played on about 90% of every thing you’ve ever heard on the radio in the 60s, 70s, and 80s?

    Includes Hal Blaine, Jim Keltner, Jim Gordon, and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie

  29. alexmagic

    I hope everybody watches that Rascals clip. It should be mandatory RTH viewing because you really nailed it. Danelli is like some kind of superconfident Paul McCartney Drumming Robot.

    Check out the stick twirl he does at the beginning! He’s like a Yul Brenner in Westworld. Out of all the drummers in this thread, Dino Danellis is the one I’d least want to get into a gunfight with after seeing that twirl into his “holster” before going to work.

    Then the entire sequence from :20-:26 seconds, where he works on every piece of the kit while popping-and-locking 20 years before its time, then looks right into the camera and gives a weird tight-lipped smile, like “Yeah, I got this, we’re good.” Tremendous.

    Also, man, what posture. I think this guy might be my new favorite drummer ever if just for what he does in this clip alone.

  30. Just, WOW. Can’t remember seeing that clip before.

    He is killing it. Great stuff.

  31. He’s great. I think the video of Good Lovin from the Ed Sullivan show is even better but I could only find a clip of it. http://youtu.be/Ov3LnZ58b4k

  32. misterioso

    Good stuff. Is it me, though, is there something weirdly off with the backing vocals? I quite liked this clip, too http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGiyauKJOzA&feature=related Nice beard work by Cavaliere and the other guy whose name I don’t know.

  33. hrrundivbakshi

    Can I just say that drummers who play in the “jazz style” — holding one stick like a bat and the other, uh, “crosswise” — *always* look cool.

  34. alexmagic

    After looking at some of the other clips, I think I’m ready to declare Dino Danelli the greatest stick twirler in rock history. Total wild west trick shooter action going on there.

    If there was ever another Rock Fantasy Draft again, I’d seriously have to consider putting (post-pompadour) Danelli near the top of my drummer prospects list right now. He’d be one of those low risk-high reward sleeper picks who turns your whole team around.

  35. machinery

    My least favorite stance is, for lack of a better term, “The Lean-back Guy.” I bothers to me to no end to see drummers who don’t lean into the kit. A drummer should hunch over his instrument like he’s digging into an overstuffed burrito — taking matters into his hands and there’s no way he’s going to lean back and spill any of that musical goodness on his shirt.

    A also like — at times — drummers I might call The Squirrel — always busy with a drum fill — always scurrying about afraid to leave a musical “nut” uncaptured. The drummer for The Embarrassment strikes me as a Squirrel. Constant movement no matter what. Songs get propelled less by the beat, than sheer energy. The guy from the Buzzcocks is a Squirrel, too. This style is only for the very manic drummer and only for certain bands of course. Moon is part Squirrel.

  36. TREMENDOUS categories! Future rock analysts will owe you much thanks.

  37. Agreed on Danelli’s stick-slinging prowess. If I could drum well, I’d model my drumming after his in this clip. Don’t discount Barbata’s stick twirling, though. There’s a confident joyousness in each stick revolution in that Turtles Clip.

    As we further deconstruct that Rascals clip, the tambourine-ist, Eddie Brigati, is a fascinating presence in the band. In the very first seconds, you can hear him pumping up the crowd before the camera lights turn on. His vocals are COMPLETELY off key, and that’s kind of endearing, along with his groovy shimmy dance moves. Is he the first Bez? (the Happy Monday’s crowd noise booster) Perhaps he’s a bit of a fish out of water in comparison to the monster performances of Felix and Dino. I find Eddie fascinating and would like to commission a rock opera about him. Also, does RTH have a category for Assistant Goober Nerd? If so, I would like to nominate the Rascals guitarist Gene Cornish. Man, that clip is rich in goosebumps and fabulous wacky quirkiness. It might be my favorite thing on the Internet, perhaps even more so than the cat playing the Theramin.

  38. Mad props to Gene Cornish! He’s got to qualify for some kind of award, like Rock’s Hippest Square. I think he’s Canadian, to boot!

  39. What’s up with those guys in the mid 60s, mostly English I think, who hold the very end of the sticks? Moon is doing it a little in the photo at the top. I think ginger baker did it too and some lesser know guys but I can’t find a good example of it right now. It’s as uncool looking as the “jazz style” is cool.

  40. Excellent descriptions of the Machine, Technocrat and Squirrel.
    A couple of drummers that interest me who weren’t mentioned:
    Stewart Copeland – kind of like an evil clown, skilled as all hell but his attitude toward Sting almost makes me feel sorry for the guy.
    Alex Van Halen – looks like he could be a happy as his grinning brother but he has to lift for both himself and Michael Anthony
    Jody Stephens – classic squirrel but one who misplaces the nuts and goes looking for them and forgets what he’s doing and climbs a tree and on and on.

  41. BigSteve

    Earl Palmer too.

  42. alexmagic

    In the original clip, Cornish kind of reminds me of that Pop Gear performance by the Spencer Davis Group where Spencer Davis and Muff Winwood are bouncing around like a couple of amiable dorks until Little Stevie Winwood shows up and annhilates them both.

    Re: Brigati and the legacy of Extra Guys in bands, I continue to think the greatest Extra (and I’m sure we can coin a better term for that) is the handclapper from Ram Jam. Coolest guy in that band twice over and all he does is clap hands with his own, dedicated mic stand.

  43. God that’s great. And yes, the little Enabler looks he gives Cavaliere are priceless. Such stick-twirling prowess makes me wonder whether the stick-drop at 1:58 is on purpose.

  44. Yeah, I once played with a drummer about whom one of the guitar players said, “I don’t even hear the drums when we play.” But he meant it in a good way, and I know what he meant.

  45. It’s painful, but I am forced to admit that I identify with Gene Cornish’s “I’m positive I’m supposed to be singing here, but the other guy isn’t singing so I must be wrong so I’ll stop now” moment at 0:52.

  46. Steve Gadd could probably fit into this group, too.

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