Mix Six: “Frickin’ Awesome Drummers”

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A guest DJ in the house! It’s none other than Popdose’s very own Scott Malchus, who is here to mix it up with six FRICKIN’ AWESOME DRUMMERS! What I love about this mix is that Scott didn’t go for the obvious choices when it comes to great drummers. Instead, he found some gems that highlight the spice and groove great drummers add to a song. I think you’ll hear what I’m talking about when you download the mix and read along with Scott’s notes.

Party on …

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When I asked Py Korry if I could play DJ this week, I thought about the drummers that influenced me or have inspired me over the years. See, I’m that idiot who’s always driving in front of you, banging imaginary drums or beating the crap out of his steering wheel. Three of the 1980s’ most influential drummers toured this summer, so I thought it would be fun to feature upbeat, “summer” songs by great drummers of that decade. However, instead of “The Analog Kid,” “Omegaman,” or “Me and Sarah Jane,” I give you these songs by six frickin’ awesome drummers!

“In a Big Country,” Big Country

What do you think of when you hear this song? Guitars like bagpipes? ATVs driving over grass-covered Scottish hillsides? Not me. I immediately think of the remarkable Mark Brzezicki, whose tight, precise playing made him a popular session drummer (for Pete Townshend, in particular) before he joined Big Country. Taken from their 1983 album The Crossing, listen to the stellar bass drum work and the tight, measured way each drum fill fits the song.

“Tempus Fugit,” Yes

Alan White may always be more famous for taking over the drum stool of Bill Bruford, Yes’s original drummer. But I would argue that White has always been a better fit for Chris Squire, the band’s enigmatic bass player. White is a workhorse and is much more rock than progressive — though, as this song shows, he can play different time patterns with the best of them. Taken from the 1980 album, Drama, this was Yes’s last record before their phoenix-like rise several years later.

“Escape,” Journey

While Steve Perry and Neal Schon were lavished with most of the attention when Journey was at their peak, they were a great band. And the man driving every song in their heyday was the vastly overqualified Steve Smith. With a background in jazz and better technique than just about anyone, Smith seemed like an odd fit for an AOR band like Journey. Still, whether it was power ballads, or stellar rock songs like the title track from Journey’s 1981 monster hit album, Smith proved to be the consummate professional and one of rock’s greatest drummers.

“Kiss Me on the Bus,” the Replacements

The ‘Mats were Paul Westerberg’s vehicle for his extraordinary songwriting, but they were also a tight-knit group capable of some great punk-pop music (when they weren’t falling down drunk and rambling through concerts). Next time you listen to their music, like this classic from 1985’s Tim, pay attention to how well drummer Chris Mars keeps the chaos in check while playing some snazzy fills and displaying true musicianship. Mars doesn’t drum anymore, which is a real shame, because he was one of the best to come from the whole underground/college movement of the ’80s.

“Cherry Bomb,” John Mellencamp

Kenny Aronoff is the best rock drummer alive! He always brings passion and meat to each song he plays. For years, he helped define Mellencamp’s sound, and I think this gem from 1987’s The Lonesome Jubilee is one of his defining moments. Sure, you’ve heard it a thousand times, but notice how Aronoff is able to keep the steady garage-band beat Mellencamp is famous for, while tossing off complicated fills and off beats that sound natural and organic to the song? I can listen to this guy anytime.

“Tightrope,” Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble

The late Stevie Ray Vaughan never labeled himself as a solo artist — even though he was the main attraction. That’s because he knew his band mates were equally important to the sound of his music — allowing him to shine as one of the greatest guitarists. Chris Layton provided a solid foundation for Stevie to build his songs around, but it’s not like Layton was a human metronome. No, he has a very personal, bluesy style to his playing that sounds laid back and easy, but is, in fact, very difficult to pull off. From SRV and Double Trouble’s final studio LP, In Step, this 1989 rocker is a great way to end any mix tape.