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Drumming and Showmanship

Article by Jayson Brinkworth // September 02 2007
Drumming and Showmanship

Word: show·man Pronunciation: 'shO-m&n

Function: noun - 1: a notably spectacular, dramatic, or effective performer - show·man·ship/-"ship/ 

 First off, let me say that I am no expert on being a “showman” per se in my own playing. Secondly, my views on drummers adding to the show go a little further than stick tricks, flipping upside down, or lighting your cymbals on fire. In this article I want to share some of these views with you, and hopefully show you different ways that drummers use showmanship in their performance.

If my amusing use of the word “show” becomes annoying, please remember that I am not trying to “show” off. But also remember the old saying “The Showmanship article must go on!” I can see all of your eyes rolling already.


As I have said, I am not a real showman in my own playing, but I love to see drummers pull out some cool tricks as much as the next player, providing the music and groove don’t suffer (more on this later in the show).

I remember growing up in the 80s and seeing some crazy stunts pulled off behind the drum kit. Some of the highlights for me were:

Stick spinning. Too many guys to mention, but Jojo Mayer was insane! Checkout clips from the late 80s early 90s—he is nuts!

  • Tommy Aldridge playing a solo barehanded on the kit.
  • Tommy Lee spinning upside down during his solo. (I wanted to try this so bad)
  • Joey Kramer playing a solo on his body; he had a suit with triggers all over.
  • Alex Van Halen lighting his cymbals on fire. (Don’t try this at home!)

On the flip side of this, I remember being drawn to players that seemed to be as “showy” as the players mentioned above, but with less theatrics. (Remember, a showman is a notably spectacular, dramatic, or effective performer).

Some of these highlights were:

  • Neil Peart: just a big kit and a style all his own.
  • Jeff Porcaro; tone, groove and feel. He made me spin upside down just listening to him play!
  • Steve Gadd: his feel stole the show.
  • Tony Thompson: he crushed those cans on the Power Station tunes.
  • Steve Jordan (on Letterman): people watched the show to see him play.
  • Dave Weckl: his drum sound and approach were captivating to say the least.


I have talked about the 80s era and I apologize if you were trying to forget those years, but this is definitely not where the drum show started. If we look back in history, this type of showmanship has been around for quite a while. A great reference for this is John Blackwell’s DVD, Technique, Groove, and Showmanship (checkout disc 2). Some examples from years past include:

  • Lionel Hampton is the stick spinning and throwing godfather. He was doing this in the 40s and 50s.
  • John Bonham’s famous hand solo (not Star Wars) was happening in the early 70s.
  • Gene Krupa was very showy and theatrical on the kit back in the 40s and 50s.
  • Buddy Rich spun upside down for a solo on the show What’s My Line.
  • Keith Moon was his own show, from bouncing stick off of the snare, to gold fish in his clear acrylic toms!
  • Papa Jo Jones. His body language alone was a show. This was in the 40s.

As it is important to understand music styles and their history, looking back in time on this side of playing can allow us to discover players we don’t know, and what a valuable contribution they made to drumming. I love YouTube for this reason. Take time and search out some of these masters. The inspiration you’ll receive will be priceless.


The first thing that comes to mind when we think of drumming showmanship is stick spinning, stick throwing, etc. Have you ever been to a show where you couldn’t take your eyes away from the drummer, but he had no tricks up his sleeve, not a single stick spin? This is the other side of showmanship that I dig. It is somewhat visual, but has a more emotional connection for myself. I like to refer to these items as dance-manship and groove-manship, and are rooted in a drummer's groove and being one with the kit. Here are a few examples in the dance-manship category.

  • Billy Ward: fluid motion with attitude.
  • Shawn Pelton: the glasses and hat are classic. He moves with every note he plays.
  • Billy Kilson: so smooth, very slinky and groovy. His attitude is in his eyes.
  • Gene Krupa: classic look and feel, very animated and swingin'.

And for groove-manship:

  • Vinnie Colaiuta: mesmerizing.
  • Bernard Purdie: one word, shuffle.
  • Dennis Chambers: speed, power, and groove.
  • Kenny Aronoff: rock 'n' roll, baby!


As I said before, I love to see guys pullout some tricks behind the kit. What I don’t like is to see players use showmanship to make up for their lack of technique and feel. The music has to come first, bar none. We need to focus on our technique, our sense of time, our breathing, and our overall groove. These things will keep us moving ahead and improving on our instrument. The tricks are fine, but we have to keep our perspective and our priorities in order.

The players listed on previous pages all have their own style of playing and showmanship, but also can groove like there is no tomorrow, period. Another thing to keep in mind is that too much showmanship can take away from the actual show you are playing. I have worked with artists who refuse to call certain players because they are always showing off and not keeping the task at hand in mind.

John Blackwell is a great example of groove and showmanship, as his DVD stated. His showmanship was developed in marching band, which is probably the best example of drumming and showmanship. Go online and checkout some of the DCI video clips. These guys are amazing and accurate. Blackwell can also groove like mad. Pick up his DVD or find clips of him playing and feel his power.


The meaning of showmanship again was a notably spectacular, dramatic, or effective performer. The most important to myself being effective. The show is fine, but the music is our priority, and we should play to serve this.

I am not against showmanship; I think we all should know some tricks, different spins, back sticking, etc. Checkout these players for some cool tricks, and also a lesson in groove and feel: Thomas Lang, Virgil Donati, Johnny Rabb, Daniel Adair, Sonny Emory, and Randy Cooke. Also find clips of groups such as Blueman Group, Stomp, Blast, and Hip Pickles, to see examples of showmanship in percussion.

I feel we need to keep our priorities straight and balance out our practice time between technique and groove and showmanship. Now I need to head to my gig and see if I will be upside down during this show. “Show”ly it has to happen sometime!



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About the Author
Jayson  Brinkworth

Jayson Brinkworth is an accomplished drummer, percussionist, vocalist, educator and writer based out of Canada. He is co-owner of the Saskatchewan music school Music In The House, as well as the founder of both the Regina Drum Festival and The Stickman Drum Experience.

Jayson proudly endorses Yamaha drums, Sabian cymbals, Vic Firth sticks, Evans heads, Impact cases, Kickport, Flix, Future Sonics and Mountain Rhythm. Visit Jayson online at www.jaysonbrinkworth.com.

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