Listen to this track, a drum-centric workout from pre-Beatles British instrumental rock titans The Shadows. It’s “Little ‘B'”, which was originally released on the group’s second album, 1962’s Out of the Shadows. It should be said that drum solos bore me to tears. But, not this one. Not this one.
The Shadows were an important band on the international pop music scene in the late 50s and early 60s, in that they achieved a significant level of fame before the British Invasion was even thought of. They were a British band, initially a backing group for Cliff Richard, arguably the biggest and most credible British pop star at the end of the 1950s. But, the Shadows’ echoey, tremolo-heavy instrumental rock music had tremendous influence on emerging British guitar bands by the early 60s, including a certain band out of Liverpool. And of course, with American counterparts like the Ventures, the Shads were well positioned for that 60s surf ‘n’ spy sound.
The most visible and recognized member of the band was bespectacled and cheery lead guitarist Hank Marvin, an early guitar hero for upcoming British players. But, it’s drummer Brian Bennett who shines on this particular cut, establishing himself as more than a simple timekeeper for melodic guitar lines laid down by his fellows. Bennett brings in jazz flourishes, rock attack, and syncopated latin rhythms into this piece of his own composition, with a melody that foresees (to my ears) the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” by about 20 years. The melody serves as something of an intro to the main course of the tune – Bennett’s formidable chops on the skins.
As I mentioned, I don’t generally like drum solos. This is perhaps because they are generally in place to show off the athleticism of the drummer. I suppose this is something of a double standard. After all, I like some guitar solos which I don’t necessarily connect with the idea of athleticism, but achieve an impressive level of dexterity that appeals to me . Maybe that’s a topic for discussion for another time. But needless to say, 20-minutes of “Moby Dick” just isn’t my thing. Yet this solo is different. Where “Little ‘B'” is a showcase of Bennett’s talent, it feels like a tour of the drum kit, as hosted by someone who knows his way around it. As such, it feels not so much like a ‘look what I can do, and you can’t’, it’s more like a ‘welcome to my enthusiasm about drums. Come on in and get comfortable’.
The Shadows was a long-standing group, with a number of line-ups stretching from the 50s to the 2000s. Once Bennett replaced former Shads drummer Tony Meehan, he remained with them in lineups from the early 60s into this century. All the while, Bennett also got into production and arranging, and furthering his compositional talents in soundtrack work for film and television. His foray into orchestral conducting is perhaps an indication that many of the world’s best drummers are also self-contained conductors themselves, keeping each piece of the kit locked into grooves and patterns that hold their own kinds of melodic brilliance.