Among my responsibilities each month at Modern Drummer is writing un-bylined parts of the magazine—captions, feature deks, cover heads, that sort of thing. This month, as I was putting together the contents page, I noticed something interesting: there were no “band” drummers in the features section, meaning, no one whose playing career revolved solely around their work with one group or instrumentalist, or within one genre. It got me thinking about all the other drummers whose success has hinged on their ability to contribute in a multitude of settings, or to a mix of styles, and how and why they cultivated that ability.
Over the years you’ve no doubt read many a pro drummer or MD columnist espouse the importance of learning as wide a range of styles as possible. Even for players who largely came to prominence with one act, immersing themselves in multiple genres reaped big rewards. Think about, say, Danny Seraphine with Chicago, or Stewart Copeland with the Police, or Danny Carey with Tool.
It seems unlikely that any of these drummers explicitly plotted their particular road to stardom. Did Seraphine shed big band just so he could join a “horn band” like Chicago? Nah, rock bands with horn sections didn’t exist when Danny was young. Did Copeland imagine making history by mashing together punk rock and reggae music? Hard to imagine—punk and reggae didn’t develop until well after Stewart fi rst picked up the sticks. How about Danny Carey and Tool? Well, I don’t think any of us saw his style coming.
No, the reason all these drummers were able to absolutely kill it with their respective bands was because they’d followed their own diverse interests as they were developing their voices on the kit. And not because it made “sense” at the time, but because it carried meaning in and of itself. Then, when they finally met the right fellow musicians—BAM! The stars aligned, and we all were gifted with groundbreaking art.
Back to this month’s featured drummers. None of them can be neatly pinned to one particular employer—or even one type of employer. We can ponder elsewhere whether this is an actual trend, and if so, why it might be. For now there’s plenty to learn just by exploring each of their individual paths toward self-expression.
A couple months ago in this column, I asked readers to think about how they could make their own way in the music industry. Perhaps it’s even more important to ask ourselves why. We can all work our butts off with the aim of becoming “employable.” But without intellectual curiosity and a muse on our shoulder, aren’t we just going through the motions? Success in the music industry is hard enough—besides a paycheck, exactly what is it that we’re getting out of all this? What does the path to self-discovery teach us about ourselves, and about the world around us?
The time for self-reflection is always now.