The drummer from the classic Devo lineup of the ’70s and ’80s died this past June 24 at age fifty-eight. Josh Freese, who’s been manning the throne in the band since the mid-’90s, pays tribute to the highly creative, super-precise player known as the Human Metronome.
I don’t remember any rock ’n’ roll in the house when I was growing up. Not that it wasn’t allowed; I just remember lots of big band jazz and classical happening. I didn’t have an older sibling to hip me to any of the cool stuff. When I was seven, in 1980, I had a crummy little handheld radio, and there was a station in Orange County called “the Mighty 690,” and I listened to it every day on my walk home from school. I realized they played the same stuff right around the same time every day. And when I was getting out of school at 3 P.M. I’d turn it on and hear Devo’s “Whip It,” which was an enormous hit and one of the most-played songs on the radio during that time. I loved it. It was fun, quirky, weird, catchy, and exciting. With my birthday coming up, I decided to ask for their LP Freedom of Choice. Lo and behold, I got the record and dove into it head first.
My earliest memories of “practicing” the drums were standing up with just a snare and a cymbal, wearing giant headphones, and playing along to that record. Alan Myers was shaping me in my earliest stages of becoming the drummer I would be for the rest of my life, and I didn’t even realize it. As much as I knew that I liked it, it took growing up and maturing for me to start realizing how truly great Alan’s drumming and approach were.
A lot of people—including me for a minute—thought some (or most) of the drums on Freedom of Choice were drum machines and programmed stuff. But no! That’s Alan in all his glory, laying it down and never straying from the patterns. I mean, Devo did nickname him “the Human Metronome” early on, and for obvious reasons. All the parts were deliberate, confident, and rock solid. But also unconventional and unique. And it was rock ’n’ roll…but was it? I couldn’t tell. I mean, it seemed so different from the only two other rock albums I owned when I was eight (Van Halen and Queen’s The Game). Whatever the heck it was, it clicked with me, and I latched on to Alan’s style immediately and very naturally.
I got the other two albums Devo had already put out, and I thought those were even cooler. The drumming on Are We Not Men? and Duty Now for the Future is stellar; Alan’s playing really stands on its own. I hadn’t heard any other drummer sound like that, and when I go back and put those records on—and yes, I do, fairly often—I still get off on his sound and style. Some of the parts he played on Are We Not Men? are things that when I first heard them I’d think to my eight-year-old self, You can’t do that! Just the drums on their credo/anthem “Jocko Homo” alone were like, Wow, I can’t believe he’s playing THAT! It’s abstract, brave, wacky, and cool, all at the same. And it’s in 7/8!
And their legendary cover of the Stones’ “Satisfaction”? That might be the coolest, funkiest, squared-off, linear drumbeat of all time. I bust it out all the time to soundcheck drums, and it always gets a smile from the engineer or whichever other musicians are in the room. It’s a hook! It’s fun to play and to listen to. Alan came up with beats and sounds that immediately grabbed the listener.
Alan is known for his machine-esque drumming, but on tracks like “Uncontrollable Urge,” “Sloppy,” and “Gut Feeling” he could rip and get pretty raucous. After all, a lot of people labeled Devo a punk band—partly because they didn’t know what the hell else to call these weirdos. But they had a pretty punk-rock attitude and moments of urgent, fast, noisy stuff that they could always pull out of their back pockets. All the while Alan was driving it and holding it together. Grooving, and then completely controlled chaos.
Over twenty-five years ago Alan stopped working with Devo and became an electrician. I heard that he loved not being on tour, not dealing with the bad stuff that can come along with being in a rock band, and that he was great at his “new gig.” In 2002 or so, he worked on the home studio of a friend of mine, and I came over to meet him and talk for a while. At the time I’d already been playing in Devo for six or seven years. I was a tiny bit hesitant about meeting him, as I was a little scared of him! Was he going to be looking at me like, “Oh, yeah…great. So you’re the kid in Devo now, eh?” But I marched up to my friend’s place and we hung out. He couldn’t have been nicer. He put me at ease immediately, and we shared stories and talked drums, music, and Devo for an hour or two. I of course tried not to freak him out too much, but I just had to let him know what an impact he had on me and what an incredible drummer I thought he was. He was humble, funny, gracious, and friendly and couldn’t have been cooler. That was my only encounter with him.
It’s been an honor and a dream come true to follow in his footsteps as Devo’s drummer for the past seventeen years. He had such a big role in my being the drummer that I am today, and I will always be indebted and grateful to him for that.