Hey, all, Russell Simins from the one and only Blues Explosion here. I play drums and write music with bandmates Jon Spencer and Judah Bauer, two of the greatest guitarists I know, and I know a lot of them.
I’ve been playing drums all my life, and I love and respect many amazing drummers in many different genres, from Gene Krupa (played with Benny Goodman—popular rock ’n’ roll before there was rock ’n’ roll, the first real star of the modern drumkit, that’s right, that drumkit we’re all so familiar with hasn’t been around forever) to other great jazz drummers like Art Blakey, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Ed Blackwell, Tony Williams (check out Tony’s sick hi-hat groove on Miles’ In a Silent Way) to the great R&B drummers—Ziggy Modeliste (the Meters), Al Jackson Jr. (Stax—wallet on the snare drum as a muffler), James Brown’s Clyde Stubblefield and Jabo Starks, Sly Stone’s Greg Errico and Andy Newmark (funkiest white boy for Sly), the great Bernard Purdie (check him out doing his trademark Purdie shuffle on Youtube, essential viewing and listening, hilarious too!), and James Gadson.
Then there’s Jim Keltner—incredible original vibe and feel. John Bonham—power and swagger combined with a feel comparable to none. Interesting thing about Bonham is that one of this big-white-English-farm-boy-brash-meta-powerhouse of a drummer’s biggest influences was the heretofore mentioned great Stax R&B drummer Al Jackson Jr., who was primarily known for his simple, laid-back, metronomic, soulful feel. And it’s in there with Bonham, too, which is partly what’s so unique about him: big, hard playing, and sound, and yet very soulful.
Charlie Watts—the jazz drummer turned coolest rock guy in coolest band ever, playing it always behind-the-beat cool. Even his fills (“Get Off of My Cloud”) aren’t typically aggressive rock-style, but more like a jazz drummer doing a rock fill—again, always a little behind the beat, not so hard but still intense, like jazz, just so cool. Charlie also uniquely lifts off the hi-hat when he’s hitting the snare (easily heard on “Shattered”), something he attributes to Levon Helm—another fave laid-back drummer of mine and the best singing drummer ever—and that Levon always attributes to him, or they both funnily attribute to Jim Keltner.
Ringo Starr—truly the first drum star of the rock era, who put Ludwig on the map big-time by appearing out of nowhere on TV’s Ed Sullivan Show with the cool oyster black–finished kit. But Ringo was not just a bouncy Beatle with goofy charm, he actually had a uniquely cool way of playfully bashing open hats in time and of diggin’ in on his fills in a way that is uniquely his and pretty infectious at that.
The list goes on, but I’ll finish with a pioneer, a new blood, and the ladies, the pioneer being the great New Orleans drummer Earl Palmer (Little Richard, Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Studio). Earl is known as the most recorded drummer in history alongside his white counterpart, the Wrecking Crew’s Hal Blaine (Beach Boys, Carpenters). Earl mastered a shuffle beat that is unmistakably his own and brought to drumming and rock ’n’ roll what Sun Studios’ Sam Philips brought as a revolution—volume! Philips arguably brought rock ’n’ roll to the world by turning up the volume on that kick drum and snare drum and the rhythm section altogether. (Sure, he had a little help from rock ’n’ roll personalities Elvis and Jerry Lee.) And no one pounded as hard on that kick drum with as much deliberation and cool feel before Earl Palmer. Gene Krupa did it banging on toms harder and crazier than anyone before. Earl Palmer did it on his kick and snare with four-on-the-floor beat, or a shuffle beat crazier than anyone before.
Okay, new blood: For my money no one in the last twenty years brings it crazier and cooler and more bad-ass than Mac McNeilly of the Jesus Lizard. We toured a lot with them early on, and he was always inspiring to watch.
And nobody ever brought it simpler and cooler than Moe Tucker (Velvets), and nobody brought it sexier than Karen Carpenter, with such a great feel and style, Meg White included. But sexy and simple and cool all in one—Peggy O’Neil of the Gories!
That’s what’s always most important—feel, style, and taste, the personality and the sex one brings to the instrument. Skills? Okay. But I don’t care about that if you don’t have the skill of feel-style-personality-taste, and it coming naturally—cool!
Well, if you know the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, I think you know exactly what I’m talking about, and if you don’t, check out our new album, Meat and Bone. It’s Blue Explosion at its best! And check out our live show, which we’re famous for, on tour, which we are forever now!
For more on Russell Simins and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, go to thejonspencerbluesexplosion.com. Photo by Stefano Giovannini.