Clive Bunker-one of my earliest and most important influences. He was an amazing stylist with a combination of technical facility and feel unlike anything I had ever seen before in rock music and what a great soloist! He played with great sensitivity and dynamics and yet was incredibly powerful when he needed to be. As far as I’m concerned he was the drummer that bridged the playing of Ginger Baker and Billy Cobham. I was surprised when I met him, at his modest, humble nature and the fact that he was largely a self-taught player who had only been playing for a few years when he made the first Jethro Tull record. Ask anyone who saw him live during that period and they will attest to what an indelible mark he left. We have become good friends over the years and I felt very honored when we performed together at a fan convention in Italy with Tull this last summer. We played together and traded solos on one piece, which was really a personal highlight for me. I owe quite a lot to Clive.
Mark Craney-. I first got to know Mark and his playing on Gino Vannelli’s “Brother to Brother” tour. I was playing with Phyllis Hyman, the opening act and watched him play brilliantly every night. He had this wonderfully relaxed way of playing very complex music that was great to watch. He had a fantastic sound, very clear and articulate cutting through a large electric band, always driving and playing these great angular fills which I’ve come to recognize as such an identifiable characteristic of his playing. It was during this period that Mark really created a recognizable voice for himself. We’ve played together a lot over the years and I always marvel at some of the things he comes up with-very original, inspirational player, powerful and subtle- plus he’s one of my best friends, and just a great human being.
Billy Ward-It’s just fantastic to see him getting some of the recognition he so richly deserves. I’ve known Billy for almost 25 years and have just loved his playing from the first moment I heard him. He’s this crazy combination of Elvin Jones meets Keith Moon and it works! He was so colorful and got so many extraordinary sounds out of this oddball little drum set. Billy has such an eclectic musical sensibility about everything he does that is always punctuated by this tremendous drive and great sense of humor. How many people could go from playing with the George Russell Orchestra to the Knack? He’s an anarchist and a real thinker plus he brings such a great sense of personality to everything he does and what a great guy! “Two Hands Clapping”, his CD of duets is one of my favorites.
Elvin Jones-Elvin Jones is a force of nature. He is one of those rare individuals that represents himself as well on record as he does live. His thundering, rolling and tumbling, always evolving, linear sense of playing just explodes out of the drum set with intensity, passion and joy. Growing up in New York I got to see him play a lot but there were many times when I was too young to be legally allowed into the gigs that he was doing, but if his good wife Keiko saw me loitering around outside she would hustle me inside and usually sit me about ten feet away from him, whereupon I just became a sponge! He had a very heavy influence on me and whenever I do get a chance to play in that style I recognize the enormous effect he had on my playing.
Billy Cobham-I consider myself just so lucky that I had the chance to study with Billy over about a period of a year and a half during the time that he was really defining his style in the early days of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I was still in high school but had just enough technique to pick his brain. It seemed like at that time if were you were into that music there was Billy, and then there was everybody else. He was just swinging for the fences and he raised the bar for everybody playing jazz -rock. I had seen him play with Dreams and was completely awe struck with this lefty drummer playing on a right-handed kit. More than the chops and technical virtuosity that he developed within Mahavishnu was the deep musicality that he brought to it. Their music was so intense, beautiful, joyful and spiritual- it completely transcended the obviously amazing technical ability that the band possessed. The average fan that was not a musician was probably aware that they were great musicians but what one took away from a Mahavishnu concert was a deeply emotional experience and probably anybody who ever saw them knows EXACTLY what I’m talking about! That was a moment in time.
Barry Altschul-Barry was another musician whose playing and whole concept of music had an enormous effect on me. I first heard him in Circle, one of Chick Corea’s early groups and later discovered him playing in a group in NYC with Sam Rivers and Anthony Braxton. I loved his playing and asked if I could study with him. He had such a highly developed sense of sound and tuning. He played very lightly and had the most amazing array of percussion around his beautifully tuned drum set. Since he also played keyboards he had a great sense of melody and phrasing on the drums. One of the most important musical lessons I have ever learned from anyone was this: he would make me sit at the drums, sing a phrase and then try to execute it on the drums exactly as I sang it. Now that’s a lot harder than it sounds and by continually making me do that he was trying to help me establish an immediate connection between any conceptual idea and its execution. I often find if I can hear it and sing it, I can usually find a way to orchestrate it on the kit the way I am imagining it. For a good example of his playing check out Dave Holland’s “Conference of the Birds”. Fantastic record!
Carlos Vega- Carlos was a musician who had that unerring sense of what was musically right. He had beautiful technique but it never, ever got in the way of the music. From Karisma to James Taylor he always played the right thing and had an impeccable groove doing it. He had a unique way of being able to sit way back behind the beat but never drag it. It was interesting hearing him apply that to his Latin playing because you get very use to hearing Latin players sit right up on the front of the beat and sometimes Carlos would play these intense Latin grooves but sit way back on them which created the most amazing toe-curling tension. And what a wonderful warm, funny person-he is really, really missed.
Paco Sery-About two years ago Mark Craney and I had a religious experience watching Paco Sery play with the Joe Zawinul Syndicate. I had heard of him but never seen him play and I was completely, utterly floored. Seeing the Zawinul Syndicate gave me renewed faith in the future of instrumental jazz. Paco and Richard Bona formed the best rhythm section I had seen in many years. Paco’s feel was so incredibly deep and yet so light at the same time. He has amazing technical facility yet not once did he ever play a gratuitous note or resort to “smarty pants” drum playing. He also took a Kalimba solo that night the McCoy Tyner would’ve been proud to play. Zawinul introduced him that night as a genius that just happens to play drums- I couldn’t have said it better.
Trilok Gurtu -the first time I heard Trilok I couldn’t understand how he was doing it. When I actually saw him play it was even more baffling. The sounds and textures he coaxes out of that crazy, hybrid drum set of his is all the more amazing when you realize he doesn’t play bass drum and hi-hat in the traditional way we westerners do. That beautiful, gentle, light touch combined with his ability to play those complex passages at dizzying speeds is stunning to hear and watch. His natural ability to blend intricate Indian rhythms and sounds into a traditional drum set is completely original and puts him in a class of one. His record “Crazy Saints” is a colorful illustration.
Phil Collins- I was first introduced to Phil Collins’ playing back in 1975 or ‘76 on a Genesis track called “The Carpet Crawlers”. Such inventive playing. It was the first time I’d really listened to Genesis and I was amazed that I had completely missed out on the band up until that point. Even back then Phil had a real sonic identity, with those open single headed toms. He brought intelligence, musicality and such a great feel to the music. I think people forget sometimes what a really great drummer he is because he has had such a successful career as a singer and songwriter. He also did a fantastic job stepping into the drum chair, with very little rehearsal, for a night with Jethro Tull back in 1982 for the “Prince’s Trust Concert” in London when the band didn’t have a drummer. We drummers have a lot to thank him, Billy Cobham, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Art Blakey, Max Roach and a few others for, in generally elevating the status of drummers in the public consciousness from the “back of the bus” citizenship that we’ve had to put up with, to being legitimately respected leaders in our own right if we choose. A great all around musician and a real gentleman.
Al Jackson-Al Jackson was one of the first drummers to make a major impression on me at a very young age. I had the unique experience of sharing the stage with him at the first concert that I ever played when I was twelve years old. I was performing with my sister’s band at Hunter College in New York City and we were one of the opening groups for a day of music culminating with Booker T. and the MG’s. I had already been playing drums for a WHOLE YEAR so of course I knew everything there was to know about the instrument! Then Booker T. and the MG’s came on an Al Jackson promptly put me in my place. I had never heard anyone draw sounds out of the drums like he did. He really knew how to tune his drums and had the most amazing snare drum sound I had ever heard. He played with a crispness and authority that I had never seen. He was incredibly gracious and among other things took the time to show me how he tuned his drums, which was quite a lesson. I realized I really didn’t have a clue and had a very long way to go, so I went home and practiced.
Billy Martin- Billy Martin plays with a real deep sense of the history of the drums behind him. You can hear it in his tuning, phrasing and the swing inflected feel he brings to everything he plays. I can hear so many of the great jazz drummers in his playing and yet he is really his own man. He draws so much sound out of a very small drum kit and I love the earthy, surging, rolling grooves that he creates. He is just a really refreshing player in a highly quantized universe. Checkout his “Percussion Duets” record with G. Calvin Weston. Sophisticated and primal.
Max Roach-Where would modern drumming be without Max Roach? He really set a standard and revolutionized jazz drumming. Maybe there were others but he was the first drummer I ever heard that played an ostinato with his feet and soloed over it. I can recall endless hours sitting at my drums trying to play “The Drum Also Waltzes”. What a beautiful touch, not to mention great technique, which he could display effortlessly at ridiculous tempos! And the musical conversations he would have interacting with the front-line with his left hand alone, was worth the price of admission. Max is also an excellent composer and well-rounded musician and his empathetic approach to music is very evident in the way he plays with others. I remember seeing him a number of times with M’Boom, his melodic percussion group with Joe Chambers, Warren Smith, Roy Brooks, Omar Clay, Freddie Waits, Ray Mantilla and Fred King. It was an incredible sight to see such strong individualistic percussionists playing together so sympathetically and so musically.
Gregg Bissonette- Gregg is another guy who’s playing I just love. He is a fantastic all-around drummer and an eternal student of the instrument, just constantly evolving, yet always putting his own very recognizable stamp on the music. I’ve seen him play in so many different situations and he always fits into each one like he was born just to do that, with a seemingly effortless, fluid technique. That is a very rare quality and I think it stems from the fact that Gregg genuinely loves so many different forms of music and it shows in the joy that he brings to it. It is interesting to see how people’s personalities are so often reflected on their instruments and Gregg’s openness to people and music is very much in evidence when he sits down to play. He is one of the finest, funniest people I have the pleasure to know. Very inspirational musician and a darn fine trumpet player too!
Richie Morales- Richie is a very fiery, precise, exciting player. When we first met in the 70’s he was mostly coming from the funk-jazz-rock scene. Apart from guys like Steve Berrios, who was playing with Mongo Santamaria, there were very few drummers on the scene who were applying Latin rhythms to the drum set. When he started playing with Ray Barretto he was forced into having to cover a lot of the timbale and percussion parts because it was a small band. It was interesting watching him deal with all the new information that he was being given and then having to develop the facility to play all these composite parts. At that time there were very few people to look to who were applying all these traditional Latin rhythms to the drum set, which was still a relatively new idea, but Richie is a very intelligent guy and dealt with it beautifully. He was one of the first guys I saw that was doing it and doing it really well.
Marco Minnemann- Marco is one of the very best of this new breed of young drummers that I’ve heard in a long, long time. I first heard Marco when he turned up at a Tull concert in Germany and gave me a few of his CDs. I was absolutely stunned at what I heard. His phenomenal technique combined with so many creative compositional ideas and maturity really struck me. It’s good to see more and more drummers, young and old, stepping out in front and becoming leaders. This guy has a great future in front of him. He is going to go very far.
Ringo- Everything drumming-wise, for me, began with Ringo. He was my original inspiration to want to play drums at all. I played piano for several years until the Beatles came along and then started playing drums. He did so much to revolutionize the instrument in pop and rock music that it cannot really be calculated. Apart from inspiring tens of thousands of aspiring young musicians to play drums, his true worth should really be measured by the incredibly creative parts he came up with. Very original beats and fills and great natural feel. Plus, he was the first rock drummer to tune his drums down really low and play those open, spacious fills that are so associated with that style of English drumming. Several years ago I had the great good fortune to meet him and told him if it wasn’t for him I would probably be playing piano badly somewhere, to which he characteristically replied, “That’s what I aspired to do”! Well, we should all be glad he stayed with the drums. Thank you Ringo.