Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ministering Youth

You may recognize the drumming style here. That's Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth, who is probably the best drummer since Keith Moon bit the dust, but sadly underrated by everybody who rates drummers because he knows when to keep his drums out of the way to let his mad guitarists take center stage, whether the band is Sonic Youth, Cat Power, or, in this case, The High Confessions, with their song "Chlorine and Crystal" off the album Turning Lead into Gold. Though in this song, his drums are righteously ominous and up front.

Talking about how Steve keeps his drums out of the way of his guitarists reminds me of a Cat Power song "Great Expectations" where you have to listen closely to realize that there's a slow steady thump...thump...thump from Steve's drums in the background as Chan and Tim's guitars circle each other in an uneasy dance, but Steve (who also produced and mixed the album) kept the drums out of their way because that was what was right for the song, to the point where it takes a moment to even realize that there's drums thumping away back there, they merge into the guitars so seamlessly. Any drummer with halfway-decent chops can pound the shit out of the drumskins doing drum pyrotechnics like a madman. It takes a great drummer to know how to *not* do pyrotechnics when that's not right for the song, while still keeping the drums going to drive the song forward. It's Steve's sad misfortune to be mostly a drummer for guitar-oriented bands where putting his drums up in front of the guitarists would be wrong for the song and wrong for the band.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin


  1. I don't know jack abut drumming, but I've seen drummers who are used to paying in the rock idiom be totally baffled when trying to play jazz.

    They simply can't do it.

    I have no idea how or why this happens.


  2. I think a lot of the problem is that a lot of rock drummers just don't know much about drumming. They've learned a few rock licks that are their "sound" and repeat them on pretty much every track. Most rock drummers can be replaced by a drum machine and nobody would know the difference, assuming you properly programmed the intros and exits and fills.

    Steve Shelley is sort of like Keith Moon in that he knows how to improvise, which is the heart of jazz. I doubt he'd be an outstanding jazz drummer because his biggest improvisional skill is staying out of the way of the other musicians while still timing and filling the holes, but I suspect he could do it, if maybe not as well as someone who is well tuned to the jazz paradigms. For tomorrow's video you'll see Steve doing drumming that's entirely unlike the drumming on this heavy metal tune, he's doing background fill for a minimalist alterna-folk-rock song so subtly that it takes a few seconds to realize, hey, there's a drum back there. In short, he's more than a one-trick pony... whether he has enough tricks to do jazz, well, I think he'd have to listen to a lot of jazz drumming first, but after that, sure.

    - Badtux the Musician Penguin


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