This is not a drummer joke

My friend Jambo loves the Velvet Underground. Not as much as he loves his Beatles but I have seen him get the shakes at the mention of them, sorta like Lou Reed would get while he was waiting for the man. And Billy D, who really should know better, was championing the aesthetic of Maureen Tucker’s drumming in a recent email.

I just finished listening to the Velvet’s third album, because a coworker returned it and I thought I’d at least hear a few songs. The songwriting is peerless and the Lou’s guitar soundscapes are ahead of their time. But sweet Jebus on a vinyl cross, that metronome drumming on a tin can is pathetic. A drummer should do two things at a minimum: keep time (which Maureen can do) and drive the song. The later is very important. If it’s jazz, you gotta swing. In R&B you gotta groove. And for rock, well you by god better ROCK! No, you don’t have to be John Henry Bonham (only Bonzo could be Bonzo). But that song has to have some drive to it, someone with a firm foot on the accelerator. Maureen just lets the engine idle. Even Karen Carpenter could kick a pop ditty harder. Actually Karen wasn’t that bad.

Now to anticipate Jambo’s next argument, this is not my musical misogyny rearing it’s ugly head. While female vocalists are rarely in massive rotation on my playlist, there are exceptions. I think part of the problem was that in the early to mid 70s where I still spend a lot of my listening time, there weren’t that many women rockers. Heart, Grace Slick (and I hate the Airplane so there’s trouble right there), Stevie Nicks & Christine McVie, Ronstadt (stretching with that one) and a couple others that I am just not thinking of right now. Patti Smith, Blondie, Pretenders, and the rest of the punks didn’t happen until the end of the decade and the beginning of the next. So while I would peel Patti Smith’s Horses off my top 50 list, I’d probably replace it with the Pretenders debut and sneak Heart’s Dog & Butterfly in (which ends with the epic Mistral Wind, Ann’s metaphor for feminism). And it rocks like a mother-fucker.

About jeroljohnson

I guess I'm the crying on the inside kind of clown
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2 Responses to This is not a drummer joke

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’m afraid I find the metronome drumming on a tin can glorious. That Ms. Tucker can keep time is conceded, so the only other objection is the rule that drummers need to drive the song. As a rule of thumb, this ain’t bad, but I would object that sometimes a drummer should do what a drummer is not supposed to do. Sometimes a drummer should just be making sounds that are musical. What Tucker lacked in chops, she more than made up for in the beautifully blunt musicality that she lent to that band’s sound. Any hack on the drums might have worked out equally as well, as long as he or she had this sense. The Velvets with, say, Bonham would not have sucked, but would have been a differen and less interesting band.
    On a trivial and quibbling side note, as a drummer, I have to say that much of the time I’m not driving a song, I’m actually trying to keep ankle weights on guitar players to keep them from lifting off the ground. Drummers are usually *pulling* on the song to keep everyone from speeding up, then driving at key moments–but I have to concede that the great ones probably make their pulling sound like driving, which Mo Tucker may not.

    • jeroljohnson says:

      Re: Tucker
      “Beautifully blunt musicality” is the best line I have ever read about drumming, unless it is something you ripped off a Shaggs review. I can see where a drummers function may be keeping other instruments off the ground but I don’t think that was ever a threat in the Velvets.
      In my early years, I never thought of a drummer as being musical. The big paradigm shift for me was the Steely Dan song Aja. Steve Gadd does things in that final minute of that song that can only be described as well, musical. It gave me a totally different way of listening to drums.

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