by Ken Micallef
The December 2009 issue of Modern Drummer featured the story “Drumming On TV,” an insider’s look at the ins and outs of the unique craft of the contemporary television drummer. The article featured SNL’s Shawn Pelton, Letterman’s Anton Fig, Fallon’s Ahmir Thompson, and small-screen vet Nate Morton, as well as legendary Johnny Carson Tonight Show drummer Ed Shaughnessy, who manned that lofty throne in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.
TV’s love affair with the drums actually goes back to at least the mid-’50s, when producers began to understand that the sophisticated swing of drummers like Art Blakey and Jo Jones could capture the imagination of viewers who might not ever make it out to a real jazz club to experience the music firsthand.
Of course, since the rise of cable TV, DVDs, and the Internet in the ’80s and ’90s, drumming fans have been able to see their favorite artists anytime, day or night, and in stunning hi-def/hi-fi quality. But back in the day, a chance to watch Buddy Rich or Keith Moon on network television was still something to rejoice over. So, in celebration of those great, sometimes groundbreaking drumming performances of TV’s golden age, we present to you highlights along the illustrious Drumming On TV timeline.
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, The Tonight Show, March 6, 1956, with Donald Byrd, Hank Mobley, Horace Silver, and Doug Watkins.
D.J. Fontana and Elvis Presley, Stage Show, March 17, 1956.
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Bandstand USA, March 30, 1957.
Jo Jones, The Sound Of Jazz, 1957. Jo Jones and the Count Basie Orchestra back Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, and Thelonious Monk.
Jimmy Cobb with the Miles Davis Quartet and the Gil Evans Orchestra, The Robert Herridge Theater: The Sound Of Miles Davis, April 2, 1959, performing “The Duke,” “Blues For Pablo,” and “New Rhumba.”
Ringo Starr and the Beatles, The Ed Sullivan Show, February 9, 16, and 23, 1964, and September 12, 1965.
Chuck Blackwell and the Shindogs, Shindig!, 1964-66. The house band on this popular TV show included Delaney Bramlett, Glen Campbell, Billy Preston, James Burton, Larry Knechtel, and Leon Russell. Guests included the Rolling Stones (Charlie Watts), Booker T. & the MGs (Al Jackson), James Brown (Clyde Stubblefield, Jabo Starks), and the Beatles (Ringo Starr).
Charlie Watts and the Rolling Stones, The Ed Sullivan Show, October 25, 1964.
Keith Moon and the Who, Shindig!, October 2, 1965 (American TV debut).
Keith Moon and the Who, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, September 16, 1967. Pre-show, Moon loaded one of his two bass drums with explosives. During the climax of “My Generation,” Moonie kicked the other bass drum, which set off the explosive charge, causing guitarist Pete Townshend’s hair to catch fire. Shattered cymbal shrapnel impaled Moon’s arm. Years later, Townshend blamed the explosion for his mounting hearing problems.
John Densmore and the Doors, The Ed Sullivan Show, September 17, 1967, performing “People Are Strange” and “Light My Fire.”
D.J. Fontana and Elvis Presley, Elvis’s 1968 Comeback Special, June 27, 1968.
Ian Paice and Deep Purple, Playboy After Dark, October 23, 1968, performing “Hush.” (Erotic dance courtesy of Barbi Benton.)
Carmine Appice and Vanilla Fudge, The Ed Sullivan Show, February 2, 1969, performing “Shotgun.”
Mitch Mitchell and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Dick Cavett Show, September 9, 1969, performing a medley of “Machine Gun” and “Izabella.”
Michael Shrieve and Santana, The Ed Sullivan Show,October 26, 1969, performing “Persuasion” and “Jingo.”
Levon Helm and the Band, The Ed Sullivan Show, November 2, 1969, performing “Up On Cripple Creek.”
Charlie Watts and the Rolling Stones, The Ed Sullivan Show, November 23, 1969, performing “Gimme Shelter,” “Love In Vain,” and “Honky Tonk Women.”
Rufus “Speedy” Jones and the Duke Ellington Orchestra, The Ed Sullivan Show, March 1, 1970, performing selections from the Beatles songbook.
Buddy Rich and his orchestra, The Ed Sullivan Show, April 5, 1970, performing “Oh Ruth.”
Bobby Colomby and Blood Sweat & Tears, The Ed Sullivan Show, September 20, 1970, performing “Lucretia McEvil.”
Jim Gordon and Derek & the Dominos, The Johnny Cash Show, November 11, 1970, performing “It’s Too Late” and “Matchbox.”
Jeff Porcaro, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, 1971-74. The Toto groove master debuts on this popular TV series.
Roy Haynes and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, The Ed Sullivan Show, January 24, 1971, performing “Haitian Fight Song” with Charles Mingus.
Rich Frank and John Lennon, The Mike Douglas Show, January and February 1972. The Elephant’s Memory drummer performs on “Imagine,” “Memphis,” and “Johnny B. Goode” (with Chuck Berry).
Buddy Rich, The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, November 29, 1972; September 5, 1973; January 15, 1974; February 19, 1975; April 22, 1975; November 6, 1975; April 13, 1976; June 25, 1976; and October 8, 1978 (duet with Tonight Show drummer Ed Shaughnessy on “Legs And Thighs.”
Greg Errico and Sly & the Family Stone, Tommy Aldridge and Black Oak Arkansas, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, September 10, 1973. Sly & the Family Stone perform “Life,” “Stand!,” “If You Want Me To Stay,” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” and Black Oak Arkansas does “Hot & Dandy,” “Hot Rod,” “Jim Dandy,” and Tommy Aldridge’s signature double bass drum solo, “Up.”
Shelly Manne and the Jackson Five, Grammy Awards, March 2, 1973, with Manne playing call-and-response drums with the Jackson Five, performing a medley of the year’s hit songs, including War’s “Cisco Kid,” the Spinners’ “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love,” and the O’Jays’ “Love Train.”
Bill Ward and Black Sabbath, Don Henley and the Eagles, Ian Paice and Deep Purple, Carl Palmer and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, California Jam, April 6, 1974. Broadcast live by ABC from the Ontario Motor Speedway in Ontario, California.
Tony Newman and David Bowie, The Dick Cavett Show, December 5, 1974, performing “1984” and “Young Americans.”
Various, Saturday Night Live, 1975 to present: David Shaw (1975-77), Steve Jordan (1977-78), Buddy Williams (1978-85), Steve Ferrone (1985-86), Chris Parker (1986-91), Matt Chamberlain (1991-92), Shawn Pelton (1992-present). Substitutes: Steve Gadd, Billy Cobham, Andy Newmark, Allan Schwartzberg, Vince Carlutta (aka Vinnie Colaiuta), Yogi Horton, J.T. Lewis, Dave Weckl.
Animal and Electric Mayhem, The Muppet Show, 1976-81. The wild-man puppet of the drums, played by Ronnie Verrell. Verrell, who died in 2002, played with the Ted Heath Orchestra, the Syd Lawrence Orchestra, and Jack Parnell’s ATV Orchestra, and on the TV variety show Sunday Night At The London Palladium.
Willie Hall and Booker T. & the MGs, Midnight Special, June 24, 1977, performing “Double Thrust.”
Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, Midnight Special, July 29, 1977, performing “Nothing Will Be As It Was” and “Open Your Eyes You Can Fly.”
Pete Thomas and Elvis Costello, Saturday Night Live, December 17, 1977, performing “Less Than Zero/Radio Radio.”
Steve Jordan and the Blues Brothers, Saturday Night Live, April 22, 1978, performing Willie Mabon’s blues shuffle “I Don’t Know.”
Doug Clifford and Creedence Clearwater Revival, Midnight Special, March 27, 1981, performing “Proud Mary,” “Green River,” and, of course, “Midnight Special.”