Like most of its peers in the rapidly maturing London rock ’n’ roll scene, in 1967 Cream was hurtling full-throttle down the psychedelic highway. On Disraeli Gears, which was recorded quickly in May at New York City’s Atlantic Studios, drummer Ginger Baker, bassist Jack Bruce, and guitarist Eric Clapton seemed a bit looser and freakier than on their 1966 debut, Fresh Cream. Take the opening number, “Strange Brew,” a slinky cautionary tale of “a witch of trouble in electric blue.” While Baker wisely ignored the urge to slay with cleverness at every turn, his loping, almost exotic feel perfectly captured the hazy, experimental mood of the day.
Track two, “Sunshine of Your Love,” is no less heavy. “Jack introduced the riff,” Baker told his daughter Nettie for his 2010 autobiography, Hellraiser, “and I famously said, ‘It’s awful! We need to slow it down.’ So I added a backwards drum beat on the riff instead of the normal 2 and 4 on the snare, and it immediately became, Wow!” “Sunshine” is an absolute triumph of approach. Any other drum orchestration would just seem…lame.
Other drumming highlights on Disraeli Gears are “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” featuring lots of classic tom fills throughout the verses; “SWLABR,” with its halting snare/bass injection after the first bridge (1:16); and the slow 12/8 cut “We’re Going Wrong,” where Ginger mostly keeps to circular descending tom runs and a menacing hi-hat chicking out the time. It’s a reminder that, among many other things, he’s a master at setting a tone.
Baker’s thundering, attack-heavy drum sound in ’67 was achieved on a Ludwig silver sparkle kit. His iconic arrangement featured a 20″ bass drum on his right foot and a 22″ on his left (“I had Ludwig cut down their shells by 3″,” Ginger told MD in September 1990), flat-angled 8×12 and 9×13 rack toms often struck with rimshots, and 14×14 and 14×16 floor toms. Baker’s favorite snare at the time was a 1940s-era Leedy wood-shell model. His cymbals included a 22″ riveted ride and 14″ hi-hats that he got from Zildjian the year before. “My happiest memories [from the time] were of a visit to the company’s factory,” Baker said, “where I chose the cymbals that I still use today.” And in a March 1983 feature, he told MD that he was using the same Martin Fleetfoot bass drum pedals that he’d been playing for twenty years. Long since discontinued, the pedals required that Ginger periodically retrofit them with new leather straps.
The Who’s 1967 album, Sell Out, includes several of the group’s very best early tracks, including one of drummer Keith Moon’s most-loved performances. The concept album before the concept album (’68’s historic Tommy), Sell Out is presented as an hour-or-so slice of commercial radio, placing a number of real and imagined product jingles between the songs. Included among those is one for Keith Moon’s drum supplier of choice, on which we hear him ripping across the tubs for fifteen seconds as the rest of the band shouts, “Premier drums! Premier drums!” over and over. Fun, audacious, and rocking—the Who, and Keith, in a nutshell.
Many of the tracks on Sell Out feature two distinct drum or percussion tracks, panned hard left and right, which serves to add a cinematic spaciousness and symphonic heft. Among the cuts benefiting from this are “Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand,” on which we hear guiro and castanets; “Our Love Was,” with its low tom overdub (or is that a timpani?) in the right channel; and “Silas Stingy,” with its left-channel tom rolls and right-channel cymbal trills.
By far the most famous song on Sell Out is “I Can See for Miles,” which again features double-tracked drums. It’s rightly considered one of Moon’s most timeless efforts. Eschewing an easy beat throughout, Keith instead offers sinister, stuttering snare rolls during the paranoia-soaked verses, and fully pounds them home in the triumphant choruses. It’s a glorious performance, the kind that made so many of us fall in love with his playing over the years.
One track released by the Who in 1967 but not present on the Sell Out LP is “Pictures of Lily,” which came out on a 7″ in April in the U.K. and in June in the U.S. (Sell Out dropped in December.) The song is significant not only because it was the Who’s seventh straight successful single, but because it inspired Moon’s most famous drumset—in fact, one of the most identifiable instruments in rock history. Inscribed with the words “Keith Moon, Patent Exploding British Drummer” and wrapped in a series of pop-art-style pictures of the song’s real-life subject, actress Lily Langtry, the setup, which Premier made several versions of and later retrofitted for strength, was used from mid-’67 to late ’68.
The kit featured two 14×22 bass drums (secured to each other with metal bracings), three 8×14 toms, three floor toms—one 16×16 and two 18×16—and a 5.5×14 steel snare. Shells were made of birch, and hardware included Gretsch fittings, Rogers Swiv-o-Matic tom holders, and Premier 250 bass drum pedals and LokFast stands. Cymbals—generally 18″ and 20″ crash/rides and (rarely used) 14″ hi-hats—were either Paiste or Zildjian. While no complete version of the set exists today, individual pieces have landed in places like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And in 2006 Premier issued the Spirit of Lily tribute set, which replicated the original artwork on a kit with modern shell and hardware construction.
Contrasting Ginger Baker’s earthy feel and Keith Moon’s fiery delivery is Mitch Mitchell’s airy, gravity-defying style. Mitchell’s drumming helped Jimi Hendrix’s fiercely out-there guitar playing take flight, and his influence can be heard in the work of many popular players who came after him, from Chicago’s Danny Seraphine to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith to Rival Sons’ Michael Miley. As famed producer Eddie Kramer put it in Modern Drummer’s 2009 tribute to Mitchell, who had passed away the previous November, “There were other drummers who auditioned for the job [of backing Hendrix], and certainly there were others who were capable. But I don’t think any of them fit the bill in the true sense that Mitch did. He was able to sense where Jimi was going and keep up with him and challenge him.”
Are You Experienced, released in May of ’67, contains a bevy of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s best-known songs. (American and British versions initially differed significantly in song choice and running order, but current digital releases contain the totality of tracks.) “Manic Depression,” a medium-fast 3/4 number, finds an active Mitchell tumbling gleefully through the changes. “May This Be Love” and “The Wind Cries Mary” support Hendrix’s sensitive side with dancing toms and purring cymbal tings. (Dig how Mitch judiciously double-times the ride in spots.) The eminently funky “Fire” recalls Bernard Purdie in its topsy-turvy drum breaks. And “Third Stone From the Sun” finds Mitchell dabbling in an almost pure bebop mode. Throughout, somehow, Mitch’s personality consistently comes to the fore, raising the bar for what subsequent generations of rock drummers would have to achieve if they were to be recognized for reaching some level of greatness.
Though Mitchell would be seen playing various setups with Hendrix until the guitarist’s death in 1970, including double bass kits, his classic 1967 arrangement was a five-piece Ludwig silver sparkle outfit with a 9×13 tom, two 16×16 floor toms, a 22″ bass drum, and a 5×14 Supraphonic snare, topped with Zildjian cymbals.