By 1929, a twelve-year-old Buddy Rich was already a seasoned performer, having been an integral part of his parents’ vaudeville act since he was eighteen months old. According to Mel Tormé’s biography of Rich, Traps: The Drum Wonder, with the days of vaudeville waning, Rich was approached by the Vitaphone studios to film a one-reel movie short. Tormé explains that Buddy Traps in “Sound Effects” is the drummer’s first-known recording and consists of the numbers “That Wonderful Boy Friend of Mine,” “Am I Blue?” “If You Were Mine,” “Bashful Baby,” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Unfortunately the film portion of the short is lost. However, the audio survived and has been available in online trading circles for years. More recently it has surfaced on YouTube. The first four songs feature Buddy tap-dancing, singing, and drumming on various household objects in what’s described as a music store. The finale, “Stars and Stripes Forever,” was already a staple of Buddy’s young career by the time this was recorded. When he first hit the vaudeville stages, Rich played this number with only drumsticks on a wooden chair. On Buddy Traps in “Sound Effects,” he played the song on a drumset consisting of a snare, a bass drum, a ride cymbal, and a China cymbal.
A full transcription of this version of “Stars and Stripes Forever” follows the analysis below, along with a MIDI sequence of Buddy’s drum track. Follow along with the sheet music and the reduced-speed MIDI sequence of his performance to learn this challenging piece. The following are some excerpts from the transcription. Let’s dive in!
This abbreviated arrangement of John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” consists of certain sections of a typical American march structure: the trio (main melody), breakstrain (interlude), and grandioso (finale). After the introductory bugle call, “Assembly,” Rich plays a rudimental figure on the snare that leads into the trio section of “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Following a brief fade-in, we hear Buddy’s crisp buzz rolls, buzz strokes, and mixed rhythms of 8th notes and 8th-note triplets at the 0:19 mark. Buzz strokes are abundant in Buddy’s interpretation; he uses them to create strong, syncopated phrases throughout the piece. Also, the drummer’s highly evolved bass drum playing stands out—it doesn’t merely keep time; it accents and shapes the arrangement.
This isn’t your typical march, and it owes more to early New Orleans jazz drumming than to traditional rudimental pieces. The 8th notes are slightly swung, and Buddy is reacting to the music while improvising along the way. When listening to the recording, I had to remind myself that this was the playing of a twelve year old in 1929. Buddy was truly ahead of his time.
The next excerpt at 0:26 demonstrates some of Buddy’s rimshot work and foreshadows the spirited playing that would come later in his career. The rimshots’ syncopation is enhanced by the steady underpinning of the bass drum. This pattern recalls the rhythmic phrasing of Chick Webb and Gene Krupa.
Buddy’s remarkable control at this early age is particularly evident in his dynamic buzz rolls. When the opening phrase of the trio section is repeated at 0:29, Buddy plays a three-measure buzz roll with an 8th-note pulse and accents on the upbeats, adding an impressive drive to this passage. Later in the piece, he uses other variations in place of the 8th-note feel to signal further changes in the arrangement.
The following phrase at 0:33 begins with an underlying quarter-note bass drum pattern with syncopated buzz strokes on the snare. It leads into an intricate phrase of 8th-note triplets followed by a flam on the “&” of beat 2. In the last two measures of the phrase at 0:38, the ensemble plays sparsely, allowing Rich to fill the space with accented buzz strokes on every third 8th note. This figure creates a four-over-three polyrhythm—advanced playing for 1929.
In the breakstrain section, Buddy complements the ensemble figure with the following pattern at 0:47.
In this phrase at 0:56, the drummer fills into the quarter-note ensemble figures with 8th notes that are peppered with a buzz stroke and rimshot.
When the phrase at the beginning of the grandioso section is repeated at 1:20, Rich plays a strong dotted-8th- and 16th-note shuffle rhythm that dramatically changes the feel leading into the final measures of the piece. In the third measure of this excerpt at 1:23, there’s a distinct buzz note that’s composed of four strokes, another demonstration of his exceptional technique.
“Stars and Stripes Forever” showcases the key features of Buddy’s early drumming style that would help propel his iconic career. His technique, time, and taste are already highly developed at such an early age. At twelve years old, Buddy was a veteran professional musician and well on his way to becoming one of the world’s greatest drummers.
Eric Fischer is the co-author of the book and DVD package Drum Wars: Realistic Drum Solos Unfolded, with Carmine and Vinny Appice. Eric also produced the DVD Carl Palmer: Drum Solos. For more information, visit ericfischer.info.