Building A Supergroup: Drummers
We have all had the discussion, which invariably becomes an argument, with our friends. Maybe the subject matter itself differs – the best starting five in NBA history, a bracket-style fight tournament of your favorite movie heroes, etc. – but the concept behind it remains: we love to mix and match, playing what-if and cultivating the “ultimate.” It’s frequently done with music and that’s what we set out to do here though the parameters are a bit more limiting than simply choosing the best-of-the-best, no matter how debatable that might be.
Music is a community project in the sense that it requires cooperation and collaboration in a way that other endeavors do not. To prove this point, I’m willing to bet most of you can name all five Beatles but most of you cannot tell me the name of Jimi Hendrix’s rhythm section. Stars shine, yes, but the exercise is to assemble a band from some of the best players to ever live and put them in a group capable of making music you’d enjoy. What do I mean by this? Example: Joe Satriani is a brilliant guitar player but would he and Max Roach sound good together? Call this imaginary band a “jam-band” if you must though not in the Grateful Dead-Phish-Moe sense. It’s a jam-band in the sense that the musicality of the personalities involved would create good music together, with an uncanny capability to improvise, lock in, and play well off of one another.
This band will have a drummer, a bassist, a rhythm guitarist, a lead guitarist, and a lead singer. We’ll start with the foundation because a good drummer is most important and, coincidentally, the easiest to select. (Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell were the other members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, by the way).
Neil Peart is the number one, indisputable choice for many and it’s easily argued. The drummer and primary songwriter for Rush, Peart is a four-limb player who has redefined the drum solo. He plays on a 360-degree kit, mixes in the occasional exotic instrument, and his drum solos last long than most Vampire Weekend concerts.
There is something to be said for the fact that, after Bonzo’s death in 1980, Led Zeppelin quit before the topic of a replacement drummer could even be broached. Hard-hitting and innovative, Bonham’s style is as definitively Led Zeppelin as are Jimmy Page’s riffs. His drums on “When The Levee Breaks” are as recognizable as Page’s riff on “Black Dog.”
Maybe Ginger is not the obvious choice. He’s well-known but routinely left off of the “greatest” lists. If you were to ask rock fans, they’d probably (in this order) list: John Bonham, Keith Moon, and Neil Peart as the best rock drummers. Perhaps, half by accidental (I’m being kind by not calling it “ignorance”) omission, those fans would be correct not to list Ginger Baker as a great rock drummer because he’s a jazz drummer. Despite not being a “traditional rock drummer,” it’s well-worth noting that, as a Jazz musician, Baker created the archetype for a rock drummer when he played with Cream. If you think I’m off-base, Peart, Lars Ulrich, Bill Ward, and Charlie Watts would all tell you the same thing. Baker has the gift of time in a rhythmic sense, Eric Clapton has called him a “fully-formed musician,” and Baker himself would tell you that John Bonham had good technique but “couldn’t swing a sack of shit.” If his work with Cream, arguably the first rock super-group, first jam band,etc. isn’t enough to convince you Baker is the man you build a band around, give his African-drums-influenced work with his Ginger Baker’s Air Force a listen.
And, yes, he can still do it:
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