Thursday, July 4, 2013

Classic Rock: Drum Evolution Through the Ages

by Michael Pickett

There's a vast difference between the sounds that Ringo Starr and Neil Peart gave their respective bands from behind the drum kit over the decades.

Beyond that, the technology to record and shape percussion sounds has transformed into something artists in the 60s and even 70s probably never could have envisioned.

Power-drumming is nothing new. Drummers have always liked to be loud, and the elder generation of Keith Moon and certainly John Bonham kept that tradition intact. But capturing the sounds of these diverse sounds of drummers was somewhat limited in the 60s.

Classic performances from Ringo, The Doors' John Densmore or Charlie Watts from the Rolling Stones were often grabbed in a single take with a solitary overhead microphone.

Stereo wasn't a mandatory element just yet, and with a limit of perhaps four tracks to get an entire song laid down, acts had to actually perform with some proficiency in the studio.

Computers were still a Star Trek novelty and the ones that did exist filled entire rooms and labored to power the Apollo spacecraft.

By the 70s, bands like Pink Floyd and The Who were experimenting with stereo and even quadraphonic sound. As more recording tracks became available in studios, drummers might even get two or - at the outside - a whopping four tracks to capture the sounds of their instruments and performances.

Led Zeppelin's guitarist/producer, Jimmy Page started to experiment with distant miking of John Bonham's drumkit, and with songs like 'When the Levee Breaks', we got some of the most potent, crushing drum performances ever laid to tape.

But technology wasn't the only thing that was evolving. Drummers like Carl Palmer and Styx' John Panozzo were crafting weighty, almost orchestral drum parts for their bands.

Probably one of the standout drummers of this era - and even today - was Rush's Neil Peart. Immediately grabbing the recording world by storm with complex, adventurous drum parts that still capture the imagination almost 40 years later.

In the 80s, electronic percussion started to become the norm.

And while this afforded drummers a greater range of sounds and syncopation, record producers often took the invention to an unfortunate end, to the point where many drummers were actually never even recorded, but had a Roland drum machine or a Synclavier subsituting in their place.

While certain pop songs benfited from this new, digital evolution; many drummers were incensed that the art and craft of their place in a band had simply been eliminated by suit-and-tie record executives.

The 90s saw a knee-jerk reaction in the other direction as grunge took hold, and while phenomenal drummers like Nirvana's Dave Grohl brought the uber-drummer back to his throne, some of the drum sounds of the grunge-era records came off dated and derivative, though drummers like Grohl and others continued to advance the state-of-the-art.

With decades of tape in its archives, classic rock now catalogs an incredible variety and evolution of drummers, recording techniques and whether you're a Stewart Copland (The Police) fan, a head-banging Niko McBrain (Iron Maiden) loyalist or someone who would love to hear that Keith Moon/John Bonham drum battle in heaven, you have an incredible variety of drum sounds, performances and recording evolution to choose from in the annals of classic rock.

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