PROLOGUE: I wrote the Lofgren piece (next) last August, and this one last January – and didn’t notice until a few weeks ago that they happened to fall on the same day. I smell a big joint party coming up!
Anyway – onward and upward!
Pick your list of the best drummers in the history of rock and roll.
Let’s leave out the ensemble drummers for a moment – Charlie Watts and Max Weinberg, both amazing drummers, largely because they fit so perfectly into a role within a larger band.
Let’s also leave out the loose cannons, the drummers who exploded into mercurial blasts of brilliance in bands that had plenty of room for lots of flashy drumming. Keith Moon jumps to the front of the list, of course, but Johnny Badanjak of the Detroit Wheels leads a long list of people right behind him. Great drummers, all of ’em.
Anyway, let’s forget about ’em.
Of course, I suppose you could have a catetory for crappy drummers like Vinnie “Mad Dog” Lopez, but that’d be just pointless.
The next category is the “Masters of Technique”; the people who’ve mastered the art and science of drumming.
Ask every single guy who grew up in middle America listening to 8 tracks and cassette tapes, and the top of the list is always Neal Peart of Rush. And Peart is, obviously, an amazing technical drummer. I’ve never seen Rush live, but I’ve seen a few concert videos, and to me watching Peart play is like watching a music grad student’s master’s performance, almost like it’s designed to be academically pure and perfect for a panel of judges who’ll decide if he gets to graduate (which, of course, he does, because in the world of Rock and Roll he is the biggest example of this kind of drummer.
That leaves the final category – the Chameleons. It should go without saying that the best session drummers – like Taylor Hawkins and Michael Bland – fit in here; they have to be stylistic chameleons, changing to match any of a zillion different styles on the drop of a hat, depending on who’s paying their bills. Can anyone imagine Keith Moon backing, say, Christina Aguilera? Well, it might be fun – but I mean plausibly? Of course not. And yet a great session drummer can go from a session with an R&B band over to a session with a bunch of punks – see Michael Bland’s career with Prince and Soul Asylum – and do it convincingly.
Among the very, very best of this lot s perhaps the most amazing drummer I have actually ever seen (indeed, met in person).
Mark Brzezicki, session drummer extraordinaire, turns 51 today.
Born in London, the son of a Polish refugee who’d flown in the RAF’s Polish Air Force in Exile during World War II, Brzezicki played on a virtual soundtrack of all that was the best and most memorable in music in the very late seventies and early eighties. Working as “Rhythm for Hire”, he and future Big Country bassist Tony Butler played as session men on an amazing variety of British music of the era, culminating in Pete Townsend’s great solo albums of the era, Empty Glass, All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, and White City. The two of them arguably fit Townsend’s style, and drove him to do better work, than any rhythm section since the death of Keith Moon.
They also backed Simon Townsend – Pete’s much younger brother – on his much-underrated first album, Sweet Sound, as well as some of his later stuff. More on this in a bit.
And of course, Big Country.
In Big Country, Brzezicki’s drumming ranged from the restrained and delicate (“Chance” was a great example) to baroque with explosive overtones (“Wonderland“, “Steeltown“, although you’ll have to take my word for it that the studio version is much better), to martial and thunderous (“Where the Rose Is Sown“), Brzezicki was the glue that tied all of Stuart Adamson’s ambitions together.
Brzezicki went on to record a ton of session work; he and Butler worked on Roger Daltrey’s best solo album, Under a Raging Moon (along Big Country’s second guitarist Bruce Watson), The Cult’s classics “She Sells Sanctuary” and “Love Removal Machine”, and a slew of others.
I met Brzezicki in 1990, at – of all places – the Cabooze in Minneapolis. He was backing old friend and bandmate Simon Townsend, as the opening act for former Grand Funk Railroad singer Mark Farner on, of all things, a Christian music tour. Townsend’s mid-career material was Inspirational, but not especially inspiring, if you catch my drift; suffice to say, I was there to see Brzezicki. And he didn’t disappoint; restrained as he needed to be, with flashes of brilliance on cue, delivered with perfect timing.
I met Brzezicki “backstage” – actually the Cabooze’s backyard, where he was packing up his gear after Townsend’s set, while Farner was stinking up the joint. He was tired – he’d left it all out onstage – but personable, modest in the way that people who are damn good and know it and have nothing to prove to anyone anymore usually are. We chatted for (if memory serves) about five minutes as he wrapped up his stuff, talking about Big Country ephemera (the band was on hiatus, after the disaster of Peace In Our Time, before the stylistically triumphal but commercially iffy return of Buffalo Skinners a few years later) and the other session projects he was working on.
He turned down a beer – but he gave me a set of his sticks to give to my drummer.
Anyway. Happy Birthday, Brrrr.