Mix Six: “Frickin’ Awesome Drummers”


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 …


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.

  • Pbilly

    Bad links on both indiviual tracks and the bundle. Looks like interesting stuff.

  • http://www.popdose.com 1Py_Korry1

    Sorry kids! The wrong mix is up. My bad! I sent the wrong one to our esteemed editors. We'll get this fixed soon. Please stand by…

  • David_E

    Interesting list. I agree, for all his ubiquity, Kenny Aronoff gets constantly shorted on the “great drummers” roll. I've always assumed it's because he does so much session work, and tends to stay behind the scene. But man, he is fantastic. (Another casualty: Jim Keltner.)

    If I could add a few unlikelies to your list:

    Brady Blade. Saw him tour with Steve Earle, and have been a massive fan ever since. Jaw dropping.

    Steve Porcaro. Is he an “obvious choice?” Probably. But because Toto gets no love (Jefito aside) in the blogosphere, thought I'd throw it out there.

    Finally, Todd Sucherman (currently with, um, Styx). I shit you not. I mean it. Really. Honest. Hand to God. Just listen, okay? The guy's fantastic.

  • http://www.popdose.com 1Py_Korry1

    I've heard the guy from Styx play live and he's certainly has the chops. And I guess the problem with Porcaro is that while he was a great drummer, some of the Toto songs where he really displayed his talent really sucked.

    However, there's a great video of Porcaro breaking down the drum part of “Rosanna” that's really worth a look:


  • http://www.popdose.com 1Py_Korry1

    FYI: The comment above was from last week's snafu. The link is working, so enjoy!

  • JOn

    Great to see Mark Brzezicki up there…never see him mentioned in the polls. Great too to see Steve Smith. I agree that Todd Sucherman is a MONSTER on drums..tasteful and spot on. I'd also add Ed Toth (formerly of Vertical Horizon) now with the Doobie Bros. …VHs 'Live Stages' is where he really shines as a live drummer…for that reason it's one of my desert island discs. Mark Zonder (formerly of Fates Warning) played some incredibly intricate yet tasteful rythms that always impressed me.

  • Malchus

    I like Porcaro a lot. His work on David Gilmour's “About Face” is some of my favorite work on any album (subtle, slick, but intricate when it needed to be). However, besides Aronoff (who is my favorite), these other guys don't get mentioned as great rock drummers. Smith is more often thought of as a fusion drummer and Alan White gets overlooked because he followed Bruford into Yes.

    There are many others I could have included as great 80's rock drummers: Simon Phillips, Terry Bozzio, Bill Berry… hey, maybe we should doa follow up, Py!

    And back to Porcaro thing, as a Springsteen freak, the slickness and polish of “Human Touch” fall squarely on the shoulders of Bruce, Roy Bittan, and Steve Porcaro.

  • http://www.retroblog.net retroDan

    I always wondered how Steve Lilywhite recorded Mark Brzezicki drum tracks on those early Big Country albums. Could some of those drum fills be overdubs? I swear, during some parts of certain songs it simply sounds like Mark has four arms going.

  • http://gapersblog.typepad.com/gapers_blog/ ken

    Not to pick nits here but it's Jeff Porcaro you guys are talking about, Steve Porcaro is a keyboard player. Jeff's the one who played on all those records and then died (literally, look it up) in a bizarre gardening accident.

    I'm with youse on Porcaro, Brzezicki and Aronoff and also wish to nominate a few more obscure guys like Ben Daughtrey who at age seventeen played the hell out of the drums on Squirrel Bait's two albums and Pat Brady who manned the tubs for the seldom heard but sublime Moving Targets from Boston.

  • http://mostlymodernmedia.wordpress.com Beau

    Brzezicki is fantastic. He and Tony Butler did great work with Townshend before forming Big Country.

    You couldn't find upbeat tracks from Peart, Copeland or Collins? Does “Demolition Man” count? That's my favorite Copeland. Collins had “No Reply At All.” Peart … um … maybe one of his solos?

    I guess the first guy I'd add to the mix is Clem Burke, who neatly segued through Blondie's diverse styles — punk, disco, etc.

  • David_E

    Ah, shit, yes. Jeff. Not Steve. Sorry. I'm on Darvocet today. It's a wonder I can even tyadkvah;lcapolvnz.

  • Jon

    I completely forgot to mention Carter Beauford of Dave Matthews…I don't care much for Dave's singing style but I'll listen to their songs on the radio just because of Carter's playing…

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    I don't remember the guy's name, and he died recently, but the drummer for The Knack was fantastic. Forget “My Sharona” for a moment and listen to what he's doing on “Lucinda”, “Your Number Or Your Name” and “Frustrated”… Wildly underrated.

    Steve Smith… that's a sad one. Yeah, he's a really good drummer, but he's going to be remembered for some of Journey's tamest moments and, consequently, some of their lamest musical examples.

  • mojo

    Kenny Aronoff cracks me up. I cannot deny his ability, he' pretty good. But in interviews and anecdotes, I get the feeling he feels that no one ever gives him enough credit for making John Mellencamp the popular star he was at his peak. I mean, songwriting, lyrics, and singing notwithstanding, and oh yeah arrangements and phenemenal collaborations with fiddlers and singers of all manner, and of course a political outlook that so many people could relate to in the depth of the Reagan era…really, without Kenny Aronoff, where would Mellencamp be?

  • George

    I always liked Will Calhoun from Living Colour. He does some great stuff on “Time's Up.”

  • Malchus

    Well, I have a feeling that all of the musicians contributed to the overall arrangements of the songs and Mellencamp always gets sole writing credit. Most band members are happy with their big paychecks. I think Aronoff wanted a little more.

  • Malchus

    It wasn't that bizarre of a gardening accident. His arteries had blocked after years of drug use and he died of heart failure.

    Thanks for pointing out it is Jeff and not Steve!

  • Malchus

    No, I purposely avoided Peart, Collins and Copeland because their names were in the rock news last summer. If I were to pick a Peart song it would have been “Digital Man”; Collins would have been “Dodo/Lurker” and Copeland would have been “Syncronicity 1″.

    I love what the two guys from big Country did with Townshend, especially on his “All the Best Cowboys..” record.

  • Philomath

    Thank you for acknowledging Mark Brzezicki. If you like his work with Big Country, check out his work on The Cult's “Love” album. Very, very good stuff!

  • Philomath

    Thank you for acknowledging Mark Brzezicki. If you like his work with Big Country, check out his work on The Cult's “Love” album. Very, very good stuff!

  • Philomath

    Thank you for acknowledging Mark Brzezicki. If you like his work with Big Country, check out his work on The Cult's “Love” album. Very, very good stuff!