Still Loves Rock ’N’ Roll
Lee Crystal, drummer for Joan Jett & The Blackhearts from 1981 to 1986, is just a regular guy from Brooklyn–except that he’s so much cooler than the rest of us. In 1977, three years out of high school, Crystal formed The Boyfriends, which developed cult status for its pure, New York sound. (The band can still be heard on independent, free-form radio.) That group opened for The Ramones at renowned underground New York haunts like CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City; then came stints with glitzy Sylvain Sylvain and David Johansen.
But it was in 1981, when Crystal auditioned for and subsequently landed the seat as The Blackhearts’ drummer, that his uninhibited, hard rock drumming was unleashed on the world. “Joan Jett was what I needed,” Crystal insists. “I wanted to play real rock ’n’ roll.”
Jett’s music was honest and raw, and Crystal’s unrelenting beat on “I Love Rock ’N’ Roll” is legendary. The tune held the number-1single spot on the American Billboard chart for eight weeks, and the album sold ten million copies. After The Blackhearts, Crystal played with Crash Conference and Secret Chiefs.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1993, Crystal now teaches out of his home in New Jersey and is planning a “rock ’n’ roll-flavored” book. The disease has slowed him a bit physically. His hands don’t always cooperate, which prevents him from pounding the drums like he used to. But Crystal compensates by verbally interpreting for his students what a drummer should hear when hitting that drumhead. “You need to feel the vibration of the drum in your chest,” Crystal says. “You know, oompah, OOMPAH!” Crystal’s quick wit doesn’t miss a beat, either. “I tell students, get real familiar with your drums–because you’ll be hitting them.”
Crystal stresses that it’s crucial that drummers understand the basic operation of what goes into forming a solid beat. Then, make it your own. And it doesn’t hurt to possess Crystal’s continuing cool factor. “I’m still that rock ’n’ roll guy,” Crystal says, “in every way, in everything I do–my attitude, my teaching…everything.”