My Thoughts: Best Rock Drummer Ever

So this morning I’m watching “Sunday NFL Countdown” on ESPN, and they keep playing this ANNOYING 30 second cologne ad (Dior Homme Eau for Men–this longer version is uncensored, no nudity but definitely NOT annoying). The only good thing about it is the music, “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin. And, after a few viewings, then it occurs to me….

IMHO, the best drummer in rock and roll history is:

Led Zeppelin’s John “Bonzo” Bonham.

For some of you, that’s probably no surprise.

I’ve got a short list of guys whose work I’ve admired over the years. For example, I’ve always liked the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts–while not spectacular, he’s been a good consistent drummer throughout his career. Phil Collins is much more high profile–his work has a more distinct style and sound than most. The Who’s Keith Moon was a very loud drummer–he didn’t just play the drums, he attacked them.

While I’ve enjoyed the work of all these artists, I would not have considered any of them to be my favorite. That honor has belonged to Bill Bruford, who played with King Crimson and Yes (amongst others). The way he tuned his drums for his certain trademark sound, almost a hollow tom tom-like beat–listen to the middle 8 of Yes’ “Yours Is No Disgrace” for a great example–his work made the musicians around him and their collected music better. It’s hard to hear any of his stuff and not come away with a better understanding and appreciation of the art of playing the drums.

Still, Bruford played primarily with progressive rock bands. For the pure driving force required from a good rock drummer, I believe you need look no further than Bonham.

And the readers of Rolling Stone magazine apparently agree…or, at least they did in 2011, when he was named “Best Drummer of All Time.”

I think it’s telling that, while The Who decided to continue on without Moon, Led Zeppelin called it quits after Bonzo died–he was that good, irreplaceable.

Listen to any of Zep’s music: from the sheer joy of the high-hat cymbal/bass drum sound in “Bront-Y-Aur Stomp” to the brassy cymbal opening of “Rock and Roll” to the pure power beats that drive “When the Levee Breaks” to the moment when “Stairway to Heaven” kicks into high gear with Bonham’s entrance halfway in–and of course, the aforementioned “Whole Lotta Love” (with too many more to mention)–and you might just agree with me.

Good drummers keep the band in correct time…the best ones do so with style.


The BEST post-Zeppelin version of ‘Stairway’…maybe, ever


How lucky are we to have the surviving members of Led Zeppelin view the core of the 70s superband Heart perform “Stairway to Heaven”? Wow…yes, they shortened it and left some verses out…but this version should stand forever. The late John Bonham’s son Jason on drums, Robert Plant tearing up at the end, Jimmy Page enthusiastically supporting it, John Paul Jones smiling throughout…a huge choir, a string section, Ann Wilson’s British-affected lyrics. What a masterful performance! I don’t know when we’ll see the likes of this again.

I love Led Zeppelin but I have to admit that “Stairway to Heaven,” after several hundred listenings of “Led Zeppelin IV” and radio play, has grown a bit threadbare to me, overworn and a little tired. So, imagine how it must feel to Page, Plant and Jones, after playing the song what in the end must be thousands of times.

Still, they clearly loved it.

I got chills.

The performance transcended the music…meaning, you could appreciate it even if you didn’t like the song.

That’s a very rare occurrence.

The Rolling Stones: Still Crazy After 50 Years

How do they keep on doing it?

In a world where bands come and go, The Rolling Stones have been at it since 1962. That’s fifty years!

I’ve already said (here and here) that their 1972 double LP, Exile on Main Street (or, as it is actually called, Exile on Main St.) is the finest rock and roll album ever recorded…in my humble opinion.

This past summer Rolling Stone magazine (no obvious relation) released “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” The Introduction was written by Sir Elton John, who agrees–“Exile on Main Street is the finest rock & roll album ever made.” Despite what he and I both believe, it was ranked seventh.

While Exile might be the best Stones album the band has ever done, that doesn’t mean the band’s new CD, “GRRR!”, is on the same level. But critics are calling it a return to the Stones’ 60s and 70s sound.

The first single is called “Gloom and Doom”. It’s kind of good, it’s been a few times, and I’m not tired of listening to it just yet.

The eventual return of No Doubt–was there any, really?

There’s a nice feature on the reformed band No Doubt recently on The Guardian site. It’s great to have them back.

“It just feels so much more natural being back in this mode. The solo records allowed me to indulge my girly side but it was never meant to be taken seriously,” says Stefani, casually disowning several million record sales and a slew of Grammy nominations. “It was just like an art project that kept going longer than I expected. The group never ended – we always knew we’d come back to make this album.”

But the album almost never happened. The band, which consists of Tony Kanal, Tom Dumont and Adrian Young alongside Stefani, originally tried to write it in 2008 and found, for the first time in their 20-year career, that they couldn’t.

Stefani goes on to say that she was burned out after two successful albums, two subsequent tours and the birth of her two children. It was difficult to refocus, she said. But refocus the band did…and produced an album (“Push and Shove”) that, musically, picks up right where 2001’s “Rock Steady” left off.

Often when a band breaks up and then reforms later on it’s more to make money on the music revival circuit. The notable exceptions have been the Eagles (drummer and songwriter Don Henley once famously said that the band would reform “when Hell freezes over,” which became the name of their concert tour after they had indeed done so), and Fleetwood Mac–many times and in various forms as to require a scorecard to keep track.

And now, No Doubt…I guess we shouldn’t ever have doubted them.

Remembering the musical genius of Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix died today, 42 years ago, September 18, 1970.

Here’s an excerpt from NBC News:

“It’s an interesting mix — Hendrix’s explosive pioneering guitar work and the many musical sounds that have come to Seattle since then. Kids who are barely familiar with grunge may not know why Hendrix is important, but if they take a few minutes and talk to someone who really knows music, they might begin to understand. Or they can just start listening. Four decades after his death, the music still speaks.”

This link to the above-referenced story also has a video of Hendrix playing “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock in 1969.

There’s also this story, from the UK’s “Sabotage Times”, about a Hendrix performance in Newcastle that the author attended on December 4, 1967:

“You can’t really liken him to anyone. Without wanting to bash the modern generation, it seems like a lot of bands ‘sound a bit like such and such’. With him that wasn’t really the case. He played the guitar left handed, and operated in a way people hadn’t seen before.”

Hendrix’s great career was cut short the way many were in that midway period of rock music, allegedly by an overdose of sleeping pills and alcohol.

I’ll make the argument right here and now that he was the greatest electric guitar player that ever lived. There are many fans of other guitarists from that era (please don’t include artists who are also very talented but belong to a different generation, like Stevie Ray Vaughan or Eddie Van Halen, who had the 60s guitarists as their idols). You could make the argument that Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page should be considered the greatest. Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, John Lennon, George Harrison, the list does go on and on.

Page was recording “IV” with Led Zeppelin when he was 27 (1971)…Clapton was touring with the band “Delaney and Bonnie and Friends” at the age of 27 (1972). He had just recorded his first solo album, “Eric Clapton” two years earlier. In 1974 he would release arguably his finest LP, “461 Ocean Boulevard”.

The point being that all were great guitarists at 27…but I believe that, while the others went on to achieve even greater heights, Hendrix’ talent–like Buddy Holly, for example–can only be judged by what has already been done. We can only speculate as to how great he might–would–have been.

Would he have surpassed them all? We’ll never know.