Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
Welcome to “You Rip, You Shred,” the ongoing series on my favorite drummers. For an explanation of the phrase “you rip, you shred,” please read the introduction in Part 1. As I mentioned in that post, this is not meant to be a “best drummers of all time” list, but a celebration of the ones who have made the greatest impact on me. Here are four more drummers who have influenced & inspired me in various ways.
Drummer: BILL BRUFORD
Best Known For: YES, KING CRIMSON, BRUFORD, U.K., EARTHWORKS
Bill Bruford made an immediate splash in 1969 as a founding member of British prog-rock legends Yes, appearing on their first five albums before departing for a revamped King Crimson that released three studio albums from 1973 to 1974. In just over half a decade he established himself as an incredibly creative drummer, adding polyrythmic jazz chops to the ever-expanding world of rock music. He brought a combination of speed, precision and controlled abandon to Yes songs like “Yours Is No Disgrace,” “Roundabout,” “Heart Of The Sunrise,” “Siberian Khatru” and even their cover of The Beatles’ “Every Little Thing,” and somehow took things to another level with Crimson on “Easy Money,” “Starless And Bible Black,” “One More Red Nightmare” and many others. Yet this merely scratches the surface of what he’s accomplished behind his drumkit. I’ve previously discussed his initial solo recordings (as the band Bruford) in my Thirty Year Thursday post about the Master Strokes compilation, his work on the first album by late-‘70s prog outfit U.K. in my Two And Through post and his reunion with three former Yes colleagues as Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe in Part 1 of my One And Done series. He also toured with Genesis in 1976 on their first outing with Phil Collins as frontman, formed new lineups of King Crimson in the ‘80s and ‘90s, explored both acoustic & electronic jazz with his Earthworks project and recorded albums with Yes bandmates Chris Squire, Steve Howe & Rick Wakeman, as well as Roy Harper, National Health, Gordian Knot and Kazumi Watanabe, to name just a few. The super-tight sound of his drums was often the polar opposite of his contemporaries, who often went for “big & booming,” and that’s part of what makes him so unique. He retired from live performances in 2009 but he left behind four decades of awe-inspiring drumming on record & on stage. I was fortunate to see him three times, with Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, the Union version of Yes and in a small club with Earthworks. Each time my mind was blown with how effortless he made it look to play such complicated music. He’s truly a one-of-a-kind talent.
Drummer: ALAN WHITE
Best Known For: YES
Imagine being hired by Yes to replace Bill Bruford after the release of their magnum opus, Close To The Edge. Your task would be to learn a lot of intricate material from that album and its two groundbreaking predecessors. Now give yourself a week to do that before the start of a world tour. That’s the situation Alan White jumped into at the end of 1972. In the 4-1/2 decades since then, he has been the timekeeper for every iteration of Yes, appearing on more than 15 studio albums starting with the often mystifying but ultimately rewarding Tales From Topographic Oceans. His drumming attack is more muscular & aggressive than Bruford’s but he’s just as creative as his predecessor; pushing their straightforward material ahead with power & ferocity while adding dynamic flourishes & syncopation to their more progressive compositions. By 1980 I still only knew Yes’ radio hits but with the release of Drama, their heaviest album to date (and a divisive one among fans due to the replacement of Anderson & Wakeman with Buggles Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes), I took notice of White’s distinctive drumming for the first time. Both the propulsive “Tempus Fugit” and the somewhat funky “Does It Really Happen?” were (and still are) standouts, and he cemented his reputation with 1983’s 90125, their mega-successful album that re-established them as a commercial force. Songs like “Changes” and Grammy-winning instrumental “Cinema” were showcases for White, and in subsequent years he’s brought his chops & creativity to everything they’ve done while managing to anchor their simpler radio-friendly songs without sounding like a drum machine. Prior to joining Yes, White played with John Lennon (on his Imagine album and “Instant Karma” single) and appeared on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. He also released one very good…if idiosyncratic…solo album (1976’s Ramshackled), formed the aborted XYZ with Chris Squire & Jimmy Page and was a founding member of Circa with sometime Yes-man Billy Sherwood, but it’s his work with Yes that’s made him a drumming legend. I’ve seen him a few times and always enjoyed watching how much fun he has while he’s playing.
Drummer: SIMON PHILLIPS
Best Known For: JEFF BECK, THE WHO, PETE TOWNSHEND, TOTO
The first time I heard Simon Phillips’ drumming was in 1980 when he appeared on two records that were very popular with us rock & roll teenagers: Jeff Beck’s There And Back and Pete Townshend’s Empty Glass. I saw him perform with Beck at the ARMS Benefit Concert at Madison Square Garden in 1983 (a show that also featured Eric Clapton & Jimmy Page) and couldn’t believe my eyes. This curly-haired percussionist was like an octopus behind his drums, hitting with authority but also tackling tricky time signatures on Beck’s jazz-fusion songs. I also got to see him on The Who’s 1989 comeback tour, where he injected his own ambidextrous style into their music instead of mimicking Keith Moon’s more manic approach, and then in 1993 on Townshend’s Psychoderelict tour. Townshend songs like “Let My Love Open The Door,” “And I Moved” & “Give Blood” and Beck songs like “Star Cycle,” “You Never Know” & “Space Boogie” are evidence of his unique way with a groove, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. In 1992 he took over drumming duties for Toto following Jeff Porcaro’s death, a job he kept for more than two decades. All of the recordings he did with them were previously discussed in my series on the Toto discography. He brought a thunderous metallic swagger to my beloved Big Country on their 1993 LP, Buffalo Skinners. I’ve also enjoyed his contributions to 801 (with Brian Eno and Phil Manzanera), jazz-fusion group RMS (their Centennial Park LP was a pleasant impulse buy about 2 decades ago), several Mike Oldfield albums and many other jazz recordings where his name has appeared (i.e. the performance with guitar greats Mike Stern & Lee Ritenour featured below). I’ve never been able to duplicate Phillips’ style, with four limbs working independently in any direction, but I’ve often gleaned inspiration from his unbridled enthusiasm & funky driving grooves.
Drummer: CARL PALMER
Best Known For: EMERSON LAKE & PALMER, ASIA
I don’t recall when I first heard Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Karn Evil 9” on the radio, with its memorable “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends” refrain, but by the end of the song I had heard drumming unlike anything I previously experienced. Carl Palmer’s drums were one of the lead instruments, along with Keith Emerson’s keyboards & synths and Greg Lake’s vocals. His approach might have been similar to Keith Moon’s all-over-the-kit attack with The Who, but Palmer’s drumming was more controlled while still swinging like all the jazz greats who influenced him. As I dove into the ELP catalog I discovered plenty of incredible Palmer performances on tracks like “Knife-Edge,” “Tarkus,” “Hoedown” & “Pirates.” After ELP disbanded at the end of the ‘70s, Palmer had his greatest commercial success with Asia, the supergroup he formed with Yes’ Steve Howe & Geoff Downes and King Crimson’s John Wetton. Their 1982 debut (which was included in Part 2 of my Great Out Of The Gate series) featured radio-friendly melodic prog gems like “Heat Of The Moment,” “Only Time Will Tell” & “Sole Survivor,” none of which were drumming showcases but they did prove that Palmer was capable of playing it straight while throwing in subtle flourishes. He did, however, display impressive chops on “Time Again” and “Wildest Dreams.” Somehow I didn’t get to see Palmer in concert until the original Asia lineup reunited in 2006, and even in his mid-50s he still played like a man half his age. As if his work with ELP and Asia wasn’t enough, his drumming on the debut album by Atomic Rooster, an offshoot of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown (with whom he played immediately after their hit single “Fire” was released), proves that his talent was already off the charts by the time he was 18. I’m not sure I ever borrowed anything from his drumming simply because I never had the skills to do so, but his playing has influenced me in multiple ways even as my jaw hits the floor each time I listen to him.
Next time I’ll feature four more legends who came to prominence in the ‘60s & ‘70s, two of whom are often unfairly dismissed because they’re not instrumental virtuosos but have probably influenced more drummers than anyone before or since.