Sunday, January 30, 2011

The most underrated drummer of the past two decades

Sonic Youth in April 2009. This is one of the rare Sonic Youth songs where Steve Shelley gets to move his drums out from behind the guitars and actually gets to drive the beat of the song for a significant amount of time.

As I've previously noted, Steve Shelley has had the poor fortune to be the drummer for a variety of guitar-oriented bands where the purpose of the drummer was to stay behind the guitars and keep time inobtrusively. Dramatic drum solos and drum flourishes were not appropriate for the music that his bands were playing. You can hear him do a couple of playful things from time to time, like the various time shifts and transitions in this song, but for the most part Steve Shelley's been a lunch pail drummer for indy bands -- he shows up, in a workmanlike way he improvises a drum track for their guitar-oriented music that's *just right* for what the song writer is trying to do with that song, he goes home, he shows up backing a different band the next day, same deal, wash, rinse, repeat. He's there to do a job, i.e., provide the appropriate drum track for whatever song he's backing, he's not there to stroke his ego.

The problem for his reputation being that, since his drums never come out from behind the guitars and star on their own accord, people just aren't paying attention to what he's actually doing back there. And what he's doing back there is some damn fine drumming in a variety of styles to fit whatever band (or even song) he happens to be backing at a given point in time.

Compare/contrast with Keith Moon's playing here, on the other hand, where Keith Moon is high as a kite and quite ready and willing to move the drums out in front and steal whatever spotlight he can steal:

'Nuff said. Steve Shelley *could* play drums like that, if he wanted to. But Shelley's there for the music, not for the self-aggrandizement. He has Keith Moon's chops, but he keeps them behind the music where they belong for most of the songs he's backing. He's a lunch pail player, and unfortunately, as with everything else in this world, the lunch pail guys just don't get their due.

Next up this week: More bands backed by Steve Shelley. Listen carefully to Steve's drumming. Note the wide contrast of drumming styles and techniques that he uses for whatever song he's backing, which range from heavy metal to the lo-fi Southern primitive of early Cat Power. Enjoy!

-- Badtux the Musical Penguin

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