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Long Tail of Influence for Drummers

Article by Sean Mitchell // September 03 2014
Long Tail of Influence for Drummers

When you listen to the likes of Bonham, Gadd and Weckl, you are also listening to the influences that shaped these players and their style. While it is great to have groove and chops, your signature—that is, your unique voice—must shine though in order for you to fully tap into the drummer that is authentically you. Guitarists' gurus are a little more obvious than drummers. For example, it is not hard to hear the influence of Jimi Hendrix in Stevie Ray Vaughn, nor is hard to hear SRV in John Mayer. Similarly for vocalists, it is easier to pick out the tones and notes that shaped a singer's style. When you listen to Steve Perry of Journey, for example, you are going to hear Sam Cooke.

Now for us drummer folk, our influences tend to be a little more subtle because we don't have the luxury of melody—but they are most definitely there. Listen to anything Liberty DeVitto has done and you will hear Ringo Starr's simplicity and his ability to serve a song. You will also hear (and see) the intensity of Gene Krupa as well as Krupa's unorthodox approach to a song.

The first thing that happens when we discover these drummers that we love so much is that we inevitably emulate them. We copy their grooves, their fills, and maybe we even set up our kit like them and play the same brands as they do. This is the first step in becoming you and honing your sound. Without influence, we cannot have substance.

Next up is the important step and the step that separates the drummer from the clone. After months or years of eating, sleeping and breathing your hero's style, there will come a time that you realize you cannot make yourself sound like anyone. This is your sign that you are ready to assimilate everything you have learned from that drummer and move on to the third and final step.

The last step in this process is not entirely difficult, but it will take you the rest of your life. Once you know where you have been, only then will you know where you want to go and who you want to be in getting there. Keep in mind as you look back on the road travelled, as far as you have come, when you look forward you have at least that far to go still. This is the beauty of it all. This is you in all your glory originating yourself and expressing yourself through this vehicle we call music. There are no hard and fast rules in this step. No amount of drum lessons are going to assist you in finding you. The answers lie inside; they are there in everything you are—your family, your interests outside of music, the things that bring you joy, your children, musicians, your style of clothing, etc. This is the dawn of the Age of (insert your name here), and it is a great place to be. You are past the beginner phase, you have released any desire to impress or otherwise feed your ego, and you are ready to start influencing the drummers that will come after you.

Here is a long tail on one of my biggest influences, John Bonham. The italics are Bonham's influences and the bullet points list the influences of Bonham's heroes. There are hours and hours of listening here if you follow the tails. This is a great exercise if you want to further develop your style and understand where your gurus came from. Bon voyage!


Elvin Jones

• Max Roach
• Philly Joe Jones
• Roy Haynes
• Kenny Clarke

Papa Jo Jones

• Manzie Campbell
• Baby Dodds
• Alvin Burroughs
• A.G. Godley
• Pete The Tapper (Pete Nugent)- tap dancer
• Eddie Rector- tap dancer
• Baby Laurence- tap dancer
• Bill "Bojangles" Robinson- tap dancer

Max Roach

• Big Sid Catlett
• Chick Webb
• Cozy Cole
• Fletcher Henderson
• Jimmie Luceford
• Duke Ellington

Joe Morello

• Dave Tough
• Don Lamond
• Gene Krupa
• Louis Bellson
• Buddy Rich

Earl Palmer

• Big Sid Catlett
• Chick Webb
• Connie Kay
• Cozy Cole
• Papa Jo Jones

Bernard Purdie

• Leonard Heywood
• Papa Jo Jones
• Buddy Rich
• Gene Krupa
• Joe Marshall
• Art Blakey

If you like this article here are a couple more you might enjoy: Pedal Evolution, Drumming and Showmanship

Photo credit: Geo H Way Drum Co. - http://www.waydrums.com/



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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.

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