Here’s a clip of Virginia-born, Lebannon-raised drummer Stewart Copeland behind the drum kit and in front of the interviewer’s microphone. The piece is taken from the 2005 album Orchestralli . In many ways, the music from the record brings together Copeland’s interests in rock drumming, orchestral soundtrack music, and world music.
Stewart Copeland was raised in the Middle-east along with his two brothers. His dad, former Glenn Miller Orchestra trumpeter Miles Copeland II, was stationed there by the US government – he was one of the founders of both the OSS during world war II and later the CIA, a fact that Stewart learned only while away at college. All the while young Stewart had an interest in music, particularly in the drums, although he was a multi-instrumentalist from an early age. While a teen in the 60s, he was enamoured of 60s rock from the Doors to Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, along with the music of the Middle East with which he was surrounded while growing up in Beirut.
Through his career, Copeland had a wandering interest in taking in as many influences as possible, serving time in prog-pop outfit Curved Air after making his way to London. After the band folded, he took an interest in the nascent punk scene, slightly too old to be a punk himself in any authentic sense, yet enthusiastic enough to start a three piece band loosely modelled after the punk sound. He called the group The Police.
The band should never have become successful. It was made up of former progressive rock drummer Copeland on drums, a bassist and singer called (oddly) ‘Sting’ from Newcastle who was late of a jazz rock combo called Last Exit, and a Corsican named Henry Padovani who filled in on guitar, barely speaking english and being only a little more competent on his instrument at the time. And just when Padovani had helped them gain some punk credibility after the release of a few singles (he was the only one who had any credibility as a punk…), Copeland and Sting replaced him with Andy Summers, who had toured with The Soft Machine! What hope did these guys have in the land of the new wave? Well, a lot.
The Police were an enormous success of course, scoring hit after hit, and eventually going on hiatus, playing their last show in 1986, and waiting until 2007 to come back together to tour again. In the interim, Copeland had other interests to pursue in the form of soundtracks for films and television – Rumble Fish, The Equalizer, Droids, Wall Street, Talk Radio, Dead Like Me, and Desparate Housewives all featured his soundtrack work, just to name a few. His enthusiasm to try out a wide range of projects is self-evident. He wrote a ballet version of King Lear for the San Francisco Ballet Company and an opera for the Cleveland Opera House – Holy Blood and Crescent Moon. He also scored for the Spyro the Dragon video game series. That’s a pretty wide spectrum!
In addition to instrumental scores and stage productions, he continued to record pop albums, first with legendary jazz bassist Stanley Clarke and vocalist Deborah Holland in the group Animal Logic for two albums, and later with Trey Anastasio (Phish) and Les Claypool (Primus) for one album as Oysterhead. He almost collaborated with his former boyhood heroes The Doors, with whom he was ready to tour when they reformed without original drummer John Densmore. Both Copeland and Densmore would sue the newly formed group, although for different reasons; Densmore for the use of the Doors name (which he won), and Copeland for breach of contract, which was amicably settled. More recently, Copeland played on stage with Foo Fighters.
Stewart Copeland is my favourite drummer. I love that his approach to the drums is so unconventional to the rock world, that he pulls in reggae and jazz, and other world musics into the rock idiom so naturally. And in seeing him drum in a live setting, I realized that a lot of what he’s doing is done using one hand, not two as I had only assumed. His dexterity with percussion instruments in general underlines just how musical his approach is as well, like a conductor with each piece of the drum kit like a member of his orchestra.
For more about this versatile musician, check out the Stewart Copeland Official website.
And for you drummers out there, watch this interview with Stewart Copeland as he talks up his drum kit manufacturer of choice, Tama.