Rock Drummers Of The 80’s
Blondie’s Clem Burke; The Knack’s Bruce Gary; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Stan Lynch; and Devo’s Alan Myers
The original purpose of this survey was to gain some insight into “new wave” music and “new wave” drumming. We selected four subjects who we felt best represented the current trends in both rock drumming and rock music us well. It came as no small shock that none of the participants said they were, in fact, “new wavers.” Still, the questions asked, and answers given, left us with a new consciousness of the direction rock ‘n’ roll is taking in the 80’s and the artistic processes that are propelling it.
Obviously, what first drew us to Stan Lynch, Clem Burke, Bruce Gary, and Alan Myers was the powerful drumming they provide their hands. But, it was most gratifying to learn that besides being excellent drummers they are also excellent spokesmen for the music they play and the ideas behind it. The questions posed were purposely simple to allow the subject to interpret and answer in his own way. Although the participants were interviewed separately, points of agreement and disagreement did occur.
As representatives of the music of the 80’s, the drummers of the 80’s are part of a new generation of musicians; reexamining classic ideas and exploring contemporary ones. Here, in their own words, are the results.
CB: Bayonne, New Jersey.
BG: Burbank, California.
SL: Cincinnati, Ohio.
AM: Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
BG: The Knack.
SL: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
CB: The Press Office, Ltd., 555 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y.
BG: Upstart Management, 6671 Sunset Blvd., Suite 1591, Hollywood, CA 90028.
SL: Winterland Productions, 890 Tennessee Street, San Francisco, CA 94107.
AM: Club DeVo, 9120 Sunset, Los Angeles, CA 90069
CB: Premier Resonator Drums; 12 x 15 rack tom, 16 x 16 and 16 x 18 floor toms, 14 x 24 bass drum, 8 x 14 snare. Zildjian Cymbals; 22″ ride, 20″ Chinese, 18″ and 16″ crash, 15″ hi-hats. Canasonic heads. Ludwig 5B sticks.
BG: Gretsch Drums; 10 x 13 and 11 x 14 mounted toms, 17 x 16 and 17 x 18 floor toms, 15 x 24 bass drum, Tama 6 1/2 bell brass snare drum. Zildjian Cymbals; 26″ heavy ride, 24″ ride with rivets. Paiste Cymbals; 17″ and 18″ crash, 24″ Chinese swish, 15″ hi-hats. Remo Heads; Emperor coated (top), Diplomat coated (bottom), Diplomat snare. Rogers Super Soul 5B sticks.
SL: Tama Imperial Star Drums; 10 x 14 rack tom, 16 x 16 and 16 x 18 floor toms, 14 x 24 bass drum, 6 1/2 metal snare drum. Paiste Cymbals; 22″ ride, 18″ and 20″ crash, 22″ China-type, 15″ rock hi-hats. Remo heads. Bunken 2B sticks.
AM: Yamaha Drums; 9 x 1 3 and 10 x 14 kick toms, 16 x 16 and 16 x 18 floor toms, 14 x 24 bass drum, 5 1/2 wood snare drum. Zildjian Cymbals; 20″ mini-cup ride, 18″ mini-cup crash, 14″ New Beat hi-hats or 14″ Paiste Sound Edge. Remo Ambassador coated heads; Evans clear double ply (no oil) bass drum only. Promuco Carl Palmer model sticks. Synare and Syndrum.
How long have you been playing?
CB: 11 years.
BG: I’ve been playing since I was about 12 years old. I started out doing the normal garage band things.
SL: 14 years.
AM: 16 years.
Who have you studied with?
CB: I’m self taught, although I’m not opposed to taking some lessons now. I’m interested in becoming a better musician. I’ve already become a star so now I might as well become a musician.
BG: No one. The one person that really helped me was Louie Bellson. I was a staff drummer at Capitol in 1970 and Bellson was doing big band sessions across the hall. I’d show him some licks and he’d watch and correct something that was holding me back. He gave me some encouragement.
SL: I began drum lessons in 5th grade. My parents bought me a snare in the 6th grade. It never occurred to me to get a drum kit. My teacher Gene Bardo never let me play the drum set. I used to go towards them in the lesson room and he would tell me to forget it.
AM: One day in school they asked if anybody wanted to be in the band. They gave us a coordination test; clap your hands, tap your foot, touch your nose. If you could do that, they let you play drums. I was in school groups from 3rd to 9th grade. I took some lessons from a couple of teachers in Akron.
What are your practice habits?
CB: I never practice. When I play with a band, that’s basically practice. I never went off and practiced on my own. It depends on what you’re shooting for. If you want to be a “schooled” percussionist obviously you need lessons. For me it was just playing rock ‘n’ roll, and the best way to play rock ‘n’ roll is to play with other people. That’s the way you learn. It would be stupid for me to say that you have to have years of lessons in order to play rock ‘n’ roll. I run and lift weights; endurance is important for a touring rock drummer.
BG: When I felt the need to practice I would play along with my favorite records.
SL: When you get 2 weeks off, you get as much out of not playing as you would from playing. If you lay down the sticks, by the time you pick them up you really want to play. You’re going to go out on a limb with your playing. I’ll go out and jam and do other projects. That keeps you versatile.
Do you read music?
CB: I can read. I can’t sit down and read a drum solo right off a piece of paper, but I can follow a drum chart. There’s a big difference between the two.
BG: I can read drum charts, but not like Steve Gadd or Narada Michael Walden. I’ve had session offers but they were reading sessions. I would go in and say I read. I was banking on the guitar or bass player helping me out. I got busted a couple of times, but usually I got through it.
SL: I can read, but the people who hand me the charts know I’m better off reading a guitar chart.
Describe your previous playing experiences.
CB: Blondie is my first pro band. I’ve been with them since I was 19.
BG: By the time I was 16, I was working with Albert Collins. I was always finagling my way into recording studios. I would skip school, take a bus into Hollywood and sneak into the studios. Eventually, I met and became friends with Jim Keltner, an excellent session drummer. He started introducing me to people. Keltner was having jam sessions every Sunday night, and I met Jack Bruce at one of these sessions. Later I went to England and put a band together with Jack. I learned a great deal and improved incredibly. Later, I came back to LA and did a lot of session work.
SL: I’ve never been in a top 40 band, except once. I did it to buy a drum kit. I quit because they told me I didn’t have the right color pants.
Alan MyersAM: I was 19 or 20 when I joined DeVo.
Who were your influences?
CB: Ringo, Keith Moon, Dino Dannelli, Tommy Ramone, Hal Blaine, Al Jackson, and Bernard Purdie. I enjoy playing jazz, but I don’t particularly enjoy listening to it. I’ve been listening to sixties black groups like Booker T. and the M.G.s and sort of re-evaluating my playing. Changing my attitude more into a simple back beat. The whole ‘new wave’ thing was very white at first. Now the style is heading towards a blacker type of music.
BG: Ringo, Ginger Baker, Mitch Mitchell. Keith Moon was the best rock ‘n’ roll drummer, ever. Keith Moon was to rock what Buddy Rich is to jazz. He was brilliant. When the Who’s My Generation album first came out, I couldn’t believe it. I just had to play drums like that. I spent hours practicing with the record until I had it down lick for lick from beginning to end. There’s Louie, Buddy, Elvin, and Tony Williams is the most modern drummer around. Billy Cobham is another guy who’s really excellent. He’s the king of overkill. He’s devastating in his flurries, and his power is awesome. One of my biggest influences was gospel music. It’s the epitome of emotion in music. Gospel links every kind of emotion that music can have.
SL: Charlie Watts, Ringo, the drummer for the Hollies, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Keith Moon. I used to listen to the radio in Gainsville. That’s all there was, musically, in the late sixties. The drums were never featured, but I knew they were great players because there were great rhythms that set me off. Right now I’m pretty much self-influenced. I’m influenced by the group or the situation. I’m influenced by the songs because I have to figure out how the drums will work in the context of the song.
AM: The Rolling Stones, Beatles; whatever was popular I’d just tap along with it. Varese, Schoenberg, Bartok. I liked them. I incorporated that kind of music into everything I listened to. At the time, my favorite drummer was Elvin Jones. His sound wasn’t technique oriented. It was a real physical effect. Making the drums rumble. There was a force coming out and that impressed me. Like the previous drummer with DeVo, Jim Mothersbaugh, the emphasis was on effect, not just the little pieces that put it together.
How do you view the drummers role in the hand?
CB: The drummer is in a position to exude a lot of energy and generate excitement. I don’t like to be bored when I go to see a band. It’s everyone’s function to generate excitement but the drummer can generate a lot of it.
BG: My role is to interject my influences into the band and take it a step further. There are a lot of rock ‘n’ roll bands where the drummer is good and solid but he won’t really knock me out. I’m not a pedestrian drummer. That, hopefully makes the band better than just a rock band; it gives it a special touch because I’m a special drummer. I met Doug Feiger when I was at Capitol. Doug is an excellent arranger. He has a clear conception of the parts he wants played. There’s really no contesting it because they all fit together like a puzzle. It’s wonderful to know that you’ve got a part that’s great, and you can go back to it and it’s going to work and feel good everytime. I’ll play that part, and I’ll play it the same way every time. It’s good discipline. It takes concentration and pinpoint playing to bring it off. It’s like playing in an orchestra, you have to be that exact.
SL: My role is unique. I’m in a rock-R & B band. My role is to fit the song. I’m not a soloist in this band. I play drums tailored specifically to every tune. Each song requires a different approach, and you have to be sensitive to that. I think drummers should try singing. It will give them an appreciation of what’s going on. Drummers should pick up on bass, guitar, or piano to know what kind of hell those guys are going through. My role is to put the song across. Make the drums fit the vocal. That’s my concept.
AM: I consider my role just to be what’s going on in the group; what direction the music is taking, and to blend in with the other instruments and make it all sound better by doing so.
What is the rock drumming style of the 80’s?
CB: My concept stems from when Blondie first started. We were just bass, guitar, drums, and Debbie (Harry) so there was a lot of space open for me. I was there at the beginning, sort of like the nucleus of Blondie’s sound. As we added musicians, they had to work around my style. It evolved naturally; from the bare roots of a 3 piece band, up to 6 and Debbie. I try to play an individual beat for each song. I try to play it differently, by putting the bass drum in a different place, or hitting the hi-hat in a different way. I’m interested in coming up with beats I can call my own. I play riffs. The modern drummer can play riffs the same as a guitarist. That’s an important function if you’re talking about new music. It’s not just being laid back. The drummer can play riffs and develop things. In the studio it’s a combination of having a solid beat and playing a riff. There’s a lot of energy involved in getting a song off the ground. That’s what we’ve always done. I don’t want to be boring.
BG: I don’t think anything I’m playing with the Knack is “new wave” drumming. New Wave is the way the drummer plays in the Sex Pistols, or the Ramones. What would they have called Gene Krupa in the 40’s when he played “Caravan”? That wasn’t ‘new wave.’ Or, Ginger Baker. He hardly ever hit his ride cymbal. He was always playing tom-tom figures. You have to expect that after awhile people are going to get sick of hearing straight 4 with 16ths on the hi-hat. It’s like fashion. In rock ‘n’ roll, it’s finding interesting beats that involve your drums rather than a stock ride on the cymbal. If you can find a part that works, that’s more valuable than just going for what you know will work. I like to find beats that are an integral part of the song. When you hear that beat, you know it goes with that song.
SL: I’m not a ‘new wave’ drummer. I’m a rock ‘n’ roll drummer. The best of ‘new wave’ is just rock ‘n’ roll. Drummers of the 80’s take a lot of heat. The old saying “blame it on the drummer” really rings true. Drums are the only instrument in the band you’re not going to overdub. The drum track is going to be right or wrong.
AM: In certain songs I have to learn a particular part and do it for 3 or 4 minutes. I just work on it to develop the right thing. It’s a matter of mechanics. A lot of the drum beats people associate with me, I didn’t come up with. That’s not what’s important. It’s a process of the five of us, a process of selection; striving for the essence of the song more than anything else. I’m not a ‘new wave’ drummer. How do you achieve your sound?
CB: I always liked a big, boomy sound. It’s not so much the volume as the sound. The bigger the drum the deeper the sound. My drums are almost standard sizes, except maybe for the rack tom. I always went for size, opposed to a lot of drums. I use double headed drums because I like the way it looks. It reminds me of the sixties. The top head is slack, and the bottom tighter. The drums are miked from the top.
BG: There’s a misconception among drummers that thicker is better. I have discovered that the thinner the shell the more sound you get. The thinner shells have more resonance, more vibration. It’s not absorbed into the wood. I always had the bottom heads on my toms. I feel you get a better sound. I tune my tom-toms like I tune my snare drum. The bottom head a step higher than the top head. I’ve always used 4 tom-toms and I tune them so I can play the horses’ call to the gate from the race track. I’ve always aspired to play one bass drum like two. A lot of my playing is bass drum oriented. One bass drum is enough. Two is cheating. In The Knack, it’s just straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll drumming.
SL: For me, I sound just like what I’m playing. There’s no magic. I’m one of the five and that’s my contribution. I wouldn’t get called to do things if people didn’t want me to do what I do. People know what I do, so they call me for that.
The essence of drumming is what the drummer can do with the minimum of drums. It’s an extreme, but that’s my opinion. I never put tape on my drums. I keep the drum sound big. You can’t do that with a wad of tape on every drum. If the drums are open and noisy, they better be on key. We’ve stopped tracks because the floor tom has been out of tune. Tune to a chord in “A” if the band’s playing in “A” so your drums will ring in that register. I think some rock drummers are afraid to work. You need to work to get the right motion of arms and upper body. To set up the right rock feel you have to have enough mass so your arms are working, putting energy into the song. This requires a big stick, such as a 2B. I feel it is the minimum you could get away with.
Do you approach concert work differently from studio work?
CB: I have several sets, but I use the same sizes for recording and live work. When I record I’m into an ambient sound, where the whole room is miked. I don’t use any baffles. The drums are miked close, as they are in concert, and then there are mikes all around the room for the room sound. I don’t use any electronic equipment, but in the studio I don’t mind using anything. I’m into sequencers. I think it’s valid in order to get a clinical sound going. For instance, “Call Me” was an entirely sequenced track before I added the drums. I’m also very interested in over-dubbing drums. There’s a big difference between a live performance and a studio performance. A studio performance is for immortality. The live thing is a one shot thing. I like to think we play good live, but it’s all just a bunch of noise in the end, anyways. I don’t think you can get too serious about rock ‘n’ roll. Live playing has a lot more to do with communicating with an audience than a record can ever have. A record is just a sound. It could be a private thing, but a live performance is open to everybody.
BG: I use the same drum set-up. When I record we use close miking on both the top and bottom heads of each drum and there are room mikes above. In fact, on a lot of tracks, we end up using the room mike sound. I’ve always recorded that way.
SL: In the studio, anything is possible. The studio is your vehicle to make anything happen. Live, the drummer’s position is to play drums and you don’t need to do all that much. That would only detract from our trip. The drum kits and heads for each album were matched live and studio.
AM: I use the same kit although I sometimes change snares. On “Secret Agent Man” I used a Gretsch metal 5 1/2″. On previous albums I played acoustical drums almost exclusively. We were all interested in integrating electronics into our sound. Mini-moogs, Arp Odyssey, and other synthesizers are used for percussive sounds in the framework of the group. It seems that with all the electronic stuff, it’s a matter of knowing what you’re working with, knowing what you like about them. When you know what sound you’re looking for you go for the source whether it’s a tape splice, moog, or Syndrum. For the new album we had drums, several synthesizers, a guitar and bass. We just toyed around with stuff. The band comes up with a lot of ideas. We use whatever technique will get the best sound. We’re completely flexible. We do over-dubbing as a routine technique. Live, there’s a lot of momentum going, but in the studio, it’s bits and pieces.
What do you see as the advantages or disadvantages of being behind the band?
CB: I count the songs off, but everyone takes control in their own little way. I can get any mix I want out of the monitors being behind the band. Any drummer that does a concert hall has to have an adequate monitor set-up. Sound-wise I don’t think I’m at any disadvantage. It may even be an advantage.
BG: I’m in front of the amps, but I’m not at the front of the stage where the lead singer stands. I’m not the central figure in the band. My role isn’t to be out front, it’s a supportive role.
SL: You develop a sense for it. You’re not jamming in your living room anymore. Everybody’s everywhere. The guitar player could be three blocks away or he could be out of sight. You have to develop a sense of where everyone is on stage. It was tricky getting the right monitor system. We built a very loud, very big system over three years of touring. It’s stereo and sounds like headphones.
AM: On the new tour, my stage placement is not in the back. I’m toward the right stage, front.
What were your best or worst experiences on the road?
CB: There’s nothing worse than not getting a sound check, or finding out that your monitor mix has nothing to do with what you want to hear. If you don’t have a sound check, you’re in bad shape.
Good Experiences? The feeling every time we play, or a good audience. The adrenaline, the energy. I enjoy playing live!
BG: The worst? Having your seat fall, or busting a bass drum beater. Not getting a good PA sound is “the worst”. The Best? I’d have to say that playing Carnegie Hall and coming home to play the Forum. Touring the world. Seeing the world.
SL: Pedal breaks. Once I sat down and the stool collapsed. Vocal microphones would fall off and hit me in the lap. In the pre-monitor days I hit myself in the face a lot, just from playing so hard.
If you have a good gig, that’s a good experience. I always manage to get tight with drummers from support acts. Drummers seem to have a thing for each other. They can relate. They come up and jam on our encores. That’s a real cool thing to do.
AM: Most bad experiences are the surprises, the ones you can’t prepare for. We were playing in a small place in Houston, and the humidity and temperature were extremely high. The light and sound equipment were designed for a much larger facility. On top of that we were playing in our yellow suits which are hot when it’s normal temperature. It was so hot it was almost impossible to play. That was one of the few times I felt the negative things were overpowering the positive.
What is the meaning of your music?
CB: Our music is rooted in the sixties in attitude and concept. But the music is progressing quite a bit. I think it’s valid. Music is a food chain; everyone feeds off one another.
Some people would say we sold out, but you have to progress to survive. You have to remember that there are a lot of people in Blondie throwing around ideas all the time. It’s a cooperative. So you’re apt to get progress.
The music that we’re playing is important because it brought people around to a new way of thinking. Rock ‘n’ roll would have stagnated if it had stayed in heavy metal or disco. If it hadn’t returned to its roots, the kids would have lost interest in it. It would have become boring. There’s a whole renaissance now in music, and in younger kids learning.
BG: The meaning of our music is plain old fun. Too many people want to see more than that. They want to see a deep meaning. They forget the whole fun aspect. They aren’t ready to accept something that’s just plain fun.
SL: I think the cool thing about our band is we never thought about it. That’s why we’re totally cool. We’ve done well, and will always do well, because this is never premeditated. We never thought about our image. We are five guys who just like to play. Music is first, everything else is secondary. We never worried about what we were going to wear, or what we were going to look like.
AM: More than anything, it’s primal. It’s the caveman in 1990. Image is a product of our imagination. If you give a kid a crayon and tell him to draw some clothes, or maybe some art, that’s his project. He surrounds himself in it. That’s his image.
Our image is the clothing we choose to wear, the way we choose an album cover, the way we look, the nature of our music. We are five people who met in Akron, and image is a product of who we are and what we choose to do. The primal energy that we put out in a live concert, where the audience is involved in the music, is the expression of the five of us in different proportions. There are a lot of ways to elicit responses from people and we try to do that in ways that are most beneficial. Everybody makes decisions like There’s no difference between image and music. The group, the name, and the product reflects on our position in society and the way things look from here. That’s what DeVo is; it’s what we choose to be.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being successful?
CB: It’s more fun on the way up than on the way down. All the fantasies I had as a kid have been fulfilled. That leaves me sort of gloomy and feeling middle aged at 25. We’ll probably play The Garden (Madison Square Garden, New York), but I don’t think it will be as much of a thrill as going on tour for the first time. The music business is a business. All the fantasy and mystery of it erase itself little by little as the years go by. I pretend that every time I hear my record on the radio, it’s the first time I’m hearing it. If you keep that innocence, that perspective, you can enjoy all the things you got into the business to enjoy. I used to say I was in it for the fame, not the money. Now I’d
say the money.
BG: I never really planned or wanted to be a star. I just wanted to be an excellent musician. My goals are to keep getting better as a musician. Of course it’s different when you get recognized on the street. But I don’t feel any different. I love to play as much as I always have. This happened at a point in my life where I can enjoy it for what it is. I love rock music and I love playing with The Knack. It’s like a second childhood in a way. It gave me more freedom to play other styles and have a totally open, refreshed, state of mind.
SL: The major advantage is your confidence. It’s so important for the drummer to have confidence. You’ve got to be good, but if you’re good and confident, you’ve got about everything. The travelling conditions are much better. The organization is great. The people you work with are just excellent. When I go in to make records, our engineer and I are to the point where we don’t have to go through drum sounds for 3 days. It’s done in an hour. We have a situation that works. We know where to start from now. I used to go nuts with details like that. Now I can just walk in and play.
AM: Certain simple things are more complicated now. Listening to music is not as emotional as it was when I was younger. It’s harder to be surprised. When I look at drum catalogs they don’t mean as much. Living in Los Angeles is more complicated. For the most part, however, it’s been advantageous, in terms of the recording studios, and recording songs with the best equipment that’s available.
What do you recommend to other young drummers?
CB: Whatever you’re into, influence-wise, follow up on it. Have a direction. Form a band and play with people. If you have a good band, don’t let it break up. Keep it together. A couple of years down the road you’ll be so tight that you can go out and do something. Always think that you’re going to be a star. If it happens and you’re not prepared, you can really get screwed up. Always shoot for the top, and get a good lawyer.
BG: There are a lot of young drummers out there and it’s such a joy to hear that I’ve influenced them, that they’ve gotten something out of what I’m doing. That means a lot to me. I had a 14 year old write to me and he asked, “Should I play just Knack kind of drumming, or should I try other things?” I called him up and told him to try everything. Play everything you can. Experience the best of every kind of music.Try and relate to what your style is. What your way of thinking is. If you hear a lick and you want to be able to do that, great, do it. But at the same time, interpret it your own way. Develop your own personality, and have fun!
SL: Play consistently. Be able to hit the drum in the same place every time. Play on beat. Drums are one of the hardest instruments to play well. To be consistent requires incredible power of concentration. You really have to know what you’re doing. Stay relaxed. If you’re not getting a track after the fourth or fifth time go out and run around the block or get something to drink. Don’t sit there and beat yourself in the face with it because you will go nuts. Great musicians will sit in a room and get so tense, they can’t play. They get so strung out they’re not grooving. If you’re a good player, you should play. You should never think about it.
AM: Don’t attempt to project an attitude. I try not to be sick or hungry, or wear anything I can’t play in. Learning to play faster is a major experience. There’s a certain point in a live concert where you want to be able to physically effect people. Sometimes I look down at my drums and I think, in ten years it could be that nobody will be interested. Music is a service oriented profession. It’s based on what society will give you a buck for. If nobody wants the music that you’re playing, then you’re going to have to find another way to do it outside of music. The next thing you know you could be putting on horseshoes.