Ten drummers who inspire me

Since my accident, I haven’t been able to play drums. It’s kind of hard with a broken left hand, especially when you play left-handed, as I do. But I’m slowly getting better, air drumming to my favourite tunes at home and starting to realise I will play again soon.

So to inspire me, I took a trip through my YouTube “Drummers” folder and picked out 10 tub-thumpers that I love and that get me totally excited about playing again. I can’t wait, but I have to be patient. In the meantime, I’m figuring out parts in my head and letting them tick over, workshopping set-up and technique changes in my head, all before putting it into practice when I get back behind the kit and go nuts once again.

1. Josh Freese
Josh Freese is one of rock’s best. He’s been with Nine Inch Nails for a while now, which is where this clip is from. But he was better known for his work with A Perfect Circle before that. Anyway, here’s the 1993 single Wish, played live with NIN sometime during their last days of touring. Let’s hope they come back, preferably with Freese in the driving seat.

2. Jason McGerr
This guys is incredible. With a lot of jazz licks and grooves, he’s made Death Cab For Cutie a lot more eclectic since replacing Nathan Good in 2003, and big shoes to fill they were, too. Grapevine Fires, the track here, is one of my favourite parts. It’s not as simple as it sounds, with hi-hats and snare work that at first is beyond comprehension. His parts are truly unique, and he’s also a great mentor to many young drummers in the States at the Seattle Drum School, where I’d love to spend some time.

3. Jeff Porcaro (RIP)
One of the most famous shuffles in music was created by Porcaro for Toto’s classic hit Rosanna. It’s a masterpiece of a part. But he’s more versatile than that. He also put the pop grooves into Madonna’s Like A Prayer, and some of those parts are just brilliant. If you have it listen to Cherish, Till Death Do Us Part and Express Yourself (not the dance version) for the evidence. Porcaro died in 1997 after the insecticide he sprayed his garden with made him terminally sick. He was just 38. A bigger loss to music is hard to find. Here’s Rosanna for old time’s sake. What a part.


4. Jimmy Chamberlin
This guy is one of the first drummers I really listened to. He’s best known for his time in The Smashing Pumpkins, driving their best work through the 1990s. He’s since been doing a lot of other things, and has created a couple of sweet side projects. The Jimmy Chamberlin Complex has been my favourite of those. Here’s Life Begins Again from that outfit’s first record. What I love most about Jimmy’s playing is his relaxed style. He plays some of the most complex parts effortlessly, something I’ve always admired. The part in this track is out there awesome, especially in the breakdown. Listen carefully. His hands and feet are simply going crazy, but I guarantee he looked as chilled as anything when it was recorded.

5. Dave Grohl
Everybody knows Dave Grohl. Today’s he the frontman for Foo Fighters with a guitar, but he’s a far better drummer in my opinion. While his work with Nirvana was outstanding, I think his best work was on Nine Inch Nails’ With Teeth record, which blew me away. A classic drum track from this record is The Collector. It’s not a simple time to play, but the part is so structured it appears like it is. Just brilliant playing.

6. Carter Beauford
Dave Matthews Band would be nothing without Carter. I’ve seen him play live a few time, the first being in Salt Lake City at a free concert when I was working at the Olympic Winter Games in 2002. That night they played Tripping Billies from the Crash record of 1996, which was about when I started listening to them. Here he is playing it in the studio. Like Jimmy Chamberlin, he effortlessly plays the most intricate parts. Carter is what I’d call a musical drummer, in that you can just listen to him without any other instrumentation and enjoy every moment. That’s something I’ve definitely tried to pinch from him. His use of splashes and crazy fills helps that, but his hi-hat work is the key to it all. He plays open-handed, which is unusual but allows him to create some of the most crisp grooves I’ve ever heard.

7. Stewart Copeland
The Police was pretty much created by Stewart Copeland. Forget about Sting, this guy was the heart and soul of the band from the rhythms to the song-writing. He’s very loose live, but that’s part of his charm. Another great user of splash cymbals, Copeland was a massive influence on my playing when I first started taking drumming seriously in my early to mid-teens. Here’s a clip of him playing Wrapped Around Your Finger live which really gives you an appreciation of his percussive talents.

8. John Bonham (RIP)
There is no other word to describe John Bonham as than legend. The driving force behind Led Zeppelin, he inspired pretty much every modern-day rock drummer. Bonham was so cool, and his parts reflected that. He put the sexy into the band, never more so when he came up with the part for Black Dog, which just makes you want to grind your hips. Bonham died in 1980 aged just 32 in true rock star fashion – after a day of drinking copious amounts of booze at rehearsal, including a stack of vodka for breakfast.

9. Keith Moon (RIP)
He put the wildman into drumming and is perhaps the one reason why drummers are universally known as crazy men. Moon,like Bonham, also died aged 32 after overdosing on sedatives. His last words were to his girlfriend, but they weren’t “I love you”. In fact quite the opposite. He’d asked her to make him breakfast, she said no, so he said: “Well if you don’t like it, you can just fuck off.” Charming. But before that he laid down some spectacular drum parts for The Who, which never really recovered from his loss. Here’s one of my favourites, Who Are You, and it’s a great clip, taken from the studio with the drum part isolated. He was truly bonkers, but truly brilliant.

10. Sheila E
I had to put a woman in here, because they’re often forgotten in the drumming world. Sheila E is sexy, a wonderful drummer and one of the best musicians ever to play on a Prince record. That record was Purple Rain, arguably the one he is most famous for, which was released in 1984. Sheila still plays her own stuff, and sings too. She’s 53 now, but still looks amazing and plays better than ever, as this performance on Letterman this year proves. And for the record, I don’t know anyone else that can play in stilettos.

And to close, here’s a bonus – me playing live at The Basement in Sydney with my good friend Kristian Jackson. The is the title track off his debut album, Blood Eyes Sunrise. I also played on the record, and this launch was so fun. I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing this, but I couldn’t put all this down without including a clip of how all the above has made me the drummer I am today. I look forward to playing again, and to seeing all your happy faces when I do.

3 thoughts on “Ten drummers who inspire me

  1. I somehow missed this post until G alerted me to it just the other day. In any case, we’re a sum of our influences, and this list just highlights to me exactly how you come up with the grooves you do and why I love you as a drummer. I might have written the songs, but dude, your grooves inspired new ideas that the rest of us wouldn’t have thought of. I thank you for that. Looking forward to having you back on board.

    Oh, as for our Basement gig, share, share away 😉


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