“Buddy, can you spare a tune?”
When I was younger and my brother was learning to play, I used to categorise drummers as either ‘Buddy Rich types’ or ‘Gene Krupa types’. That was my shorthand for whether their focus was on the sticks or the skins. In other words, if they placed more emphasis on the mechanical technique or on how it actually sounded.
Buddy Rich is the best example of the great divide between what drummers look for and what punters look for. He was a freak in terms of technical skill, I get that. I get why other drummers admire him. But it was like he saw drums merely as objects to be hit, in as impressive a manner as possible. He didn’t seem to see them as musical instruments.
Punters want more than degree of difficulty. We want music. We want art. Contortionists are impressive but we’d rather watch dance. Drums are beautiful, savage, expressive and evocative musical instruments. They are so much more than mechanical devices. They are a way of creating music, of creating art. And art has to move us.
So Buddy Rich types were people like Stewart Copeland and Virgil Donati and most clinic drummers. Fast and furious and undeniably skilled, but apparently indifferent to tone and musicality.
Right from the start I preferred the Krupa types. Perhaps not so razor-sharp or speedy as the technicians, but much more enjoyable for the audience. Lovely tone, balance of different sounds across the drumkit, imaginative riffs, nice grooves and the time to settle down into them. And most of all feeling. Something that connects with human emotions. John Bonham was the most obvious example, but there are many others.
Back in the day I used to complain that no one ever managed to combine the two extremes. Until my brother bought me Ænima, possibly to shut me up. It worked.