Saturday, July 23, 2011

Drums: X

X Japan: X


Man, it's almost too hot to blog here.


I can't let Drum Week go by, though, without paying tribute to one of the hottest drummers I know. We've actually seen him before on this blog in his pianist incarnation, but he's also one of the world's most intense, diva-like drummers on any continent. I'm talking, of course, about Yoshiki, the prima donna, leader, and producer of J-rock group X Japan. He's one of those musicians who's larger than life.

This version of their self-titled anthem was recorded in 1989. After a ten-year hiatus, X Japan is back touring, and as you can see, Yoshiki is a bit worse for wear. That neck brace protects him after years of headbanging and recent spinal surgery.

The song, though doesn't do him justice. For that you'll have to check out some concert footage, where his over-the-top antics during extended drum solos sends the crown into a screaming frenzy. He's got it down: first there's the slow build-up, then his drum platform takes off into the sky and circles around, then there's water fountains, then fireworks, then a rousing finish followed by Yoshiki collapsing and crawling off the stage. The whole thing takes long enough for the rest of the band to catch the first half of the Lakers game.

Here's one from last year in Yokohama. You can check out YouTube for a boatload more ("Yoshiki drum" will get you all you need).

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Drums: Tales of Brave Ulysses

Cream: Tales of Brave Ulysses


I remember the first time I heard Cream. My oldest brother bought the album Disraeli Gears when it came out, and my other brother and I had to hear it. We listened in silence until the end of side one, and before my oldest brother turned the record over, he said, “and that’s only three guys!” Listening to Cream now, I can hear how the trick was done. Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce each has a big sound, and each covers part of the rhythm guitar part. And Ginger Baker thunders along, covering both the drum part and part of the bass. Most drummers in rock hit the beat, and play fills in between. Baker plays a continuous rumble of pulses, varying the pattern in unexpected places but always keeping perfect time. And he makes it sound like it’s something that just happens; it is forceful, but never forced. Tales of Great Ulysses shows this off beautifully. The song opens with Baker playing just a wash of sound on the cymbals, but then the drums kick in. In the course of the song, there are spots where Baker goes back to just the cymbals, and then back to his full kit again. The contrast between these sections makes it easy to appreciate just how important Baker’s playing was to the band’s sound. The other trick to Baker’s sound was that he had two bass drums in his kit instead of the usual one.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Drums: Pursuance

The John Coltrane Quartet: Pursuance (Part 3 of A Love Supreme)


I may be coming to this week's theme the wrong way round. I suspect that the rest of the SMM gang will first think of a song with a striking drum part; instead, I'm checking out some of my favorite drummers and looking for songs where they really shine. And for me, the shiniest drummers are found in jazz.

Elvin Jones played on a bunch of jazz albums you've probably heard, or heard of. His lengthy recording career (from the 40's to this century; he died in 2004) saw him backing major artists such as Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Art Farmer, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Burrell, Yusef Lateef, Freddy Hubbard, Grant Green, Ornette Coleman, John McLaughlin, Dewey Redman, Bill Frisell…well, you get the idea. But one of his greatest periods was during his 5 year stint with tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. The Quartet also featured McCoy Tyner on piano and Jimmy Garrison on bass.

A Love Supreme is one of the best examples of modal jazz, a free-form style pioneered by Miles Davis and John Coltrane in the late 50's and 60's. This four-part suite, released in 1965, is widely considered to be one of the best jazz recordings ever. Part 3 begins with a 90 second solo by Jones and demonstrates his polyrhythmic style, which is why I chose this track, but I encourage you to listen to the entire album, which was powerful and spiritual enough to launch the St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church of San Francisco.


The Turtles: I'm Chief Kamanawanalea


For their 1968 concept album, Battle of the Bands, The Turtles tried to sound like a different group on each track. They even had photographs taken of themselves disguised as each group. The Turtles recorded the Top 10 hit "You Showed Me" as Nature's Children and another big hit, "Elenore" , as Howie, Mark, Johny, Jim & Al.
   As Chief Kamanawanalea and his Royal Macadamia Nuts, they let drummer John Barbata lead the way. Kamanawanalea ( named after the fictitious "God of Lust and Perversion") is of course the kind of silly pun that makes Hawaiians roll their eyes.
    But it's those drum breaks that make this 94-second song irresistible, especially to rap artists like The Beastie Boys, Big Daddy Kane and De La Soul, the latter of whom used the breaks ( and samples from "You Showed Me") without crediting the Turtles. De La Soul met the fury of the litigious lead singers, Flo & Eddie. They won a share of the royalties and punitive damages.
   Today Eddie ( Howard Kaylan) looks back on the critical reception this album received with disappointment.
  "Battle of the Bands was our Sergeant Pepper." He told blogger Cody Conard ."And it still bugs me, all these years later, that it was under-appreciated by the music critics upon its release. I was happy with it then, and I still think it's the strongest stand-alone album that the band ever recorded".

Monday, July 18, 2011

Drums: Saved

LaVern Baker: Saved


Could I be asked to choose a favourite drum track between the percussive detonations on Stevie Wonder’s ‘Uptight’ and the assault of drums on Tim Rose’s pre-Hendrix version of ‘Hey Joe’? And if I do, will I not be lacking in fidelity to the pulsating flourishes on The Five Stairsteps’ ‘Ooh Child’?

I suppose none of those would qualify in terms of this week’s theme, with its expectation that the drums be part of the song’s essence.

Of course, the use of drums reached a zenith in a gospel song recorded on 12 June 1960 by the R&B singer LaVern Baker, who had been recording since she was a teenager in the mid-’40s, going by several names, most famously Little Miss Sharecropper .

‘Saved’ was written by the legendary songwriting and publishing team Leiber & Stoller. Fans of Elvis’ Comeback Special in 1968 will know it as a decent little gospel number, but Elvis couldn’t possibly hold a candle to Baker’s explosive version. She sings it forcefully, but it’s the thundering bass drums with which she proposes to do her missionary work that makes this track rock furiously. Try and sit still to this!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Album Cover Art => Drums: Dance of the Hunter’s Fire

Mickey Hart: Dance of the Hunter‘s Fire

[purchase CD]

[purchase book]

Planet Drum became the first album to win a Grammy for World Music in 1991. But that was only part of the story. I got it as a book and CD set, and the book was amazing. Mickey Hart, of Grateful Dead fame, had traveled the world on tour, and had learned about the local drums and drummers wherever he could. The book was a highly readable and fascinating survey of the world of percussion, with lavish illustrations. The CD was just as amazing. Hart gathered some of the greatest percussionists from various parts of the world, and gotten them to work together to prove that drumming is a universal language. Players on Dance of the Hunter’s Fire include Babtunde Olatunji from Nigeria, Airto Moreira from Brazil, as well as players from the United States, Puerto Rico, and India.

The album cover shows the planet earth, with drummers and dancing animals circling it. The whole thing appears on a drumhead. Artist Nancy Nimoy perfectly captured the spirit that Mickey Hart was trying to present.