The Band Play “Don’t Do It” Featuring Levon Helm

Levon Helm,1976 (Photo: David Gans)

Listen to this track by Canadian-American modern roots music architects The Band, here featuring the impossibly funky drummer-singer Levon Helm. It’s “Don’t Do It” as taken from the landmark 1972 live album Rock of Ages, a Holland-Dozier-Holland composition originally recorded by Marvin Gaye in 1964,  but utterly redefined here by Helm and his bandmates.

This version of the song was released as a single, scoring #34 on the Billboard top 100. More importantly, it would become a live staple for the group into the 1970s, featuring most prominently in the milestone farewell concert The Last Waltz as a closing number, and an opening number to Martin Scorcese’s film of the same name.

But, what makes the Band’s take on the song so special is largely down to Helm, on one of his most distinct vocal spotlights, weaving in and out with Rick Danko’s burbling bassline,  Richard Manuel‘s ‘rhythm piano’, Garth Hudson’s organic sonic colours, Robbie Robertson’s tearaway guitar stabs, and of course the horns, arranged by Allen Toussaint.

Among other things of course is that this song is one of the key documents that proves not only how potent the Band were as a live unit, and about their uniqueness in general. It also demonstrates something about Levon Helm as a musician. Read more

The Shadows Featuring Brian Bennett Perform “Little ‘B'”

220px-out_of_the_shadowsListen 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.

For more information, check out Brian Bennett’s official website.  And for more information about the Shadows, investigate the Shadows on Wikipedia.

Enjoy!

Bernard Purdie Performs a Drum Solo

Here’s a clip of legendary soul and R&B sessioner Bernard Purdie demonstrating why King Curtis, Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan, Dizzy Gillespie, and many others sought his skills as a drummer from the 60s onward.

Purdie is one of my favourite drummers, and I think he gives away his secret in this clip; he is a drummer who is interested in melody as much as he is in the groove.  This is certainly identified on Aretha’s Live at Filmore West, and on Steely Dan’s The Royal Scam, my two favourite examples of his work.

For more information about Bernard Purdie, check out Bernard Purdie’s official website, which outlines just how prolific he has been as a session drummer, as well as a bandleader.

Enjoy!

Police drummer Stewart Copeland Performs From ‘Orchestralli’

stewart-copeland-orchestraliiHere’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.

Stewart Copeland, circa 1980
Stewart Copeland, circa 1980

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!

On stage with the Police in 2008. Copeland has described himself as a film soundtrack composer by day, and a rock drummer by night. (photo: Elvire R)

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.

Enjoy!

The Last 24 Hours of Keith Moon

Keith MoonI watched an episode of Final 24 on some entertainment channel or other (I think it was E!) which covered the last 24 hours in the life of Who drummer Keith Moon.

Moon had been living in an apartment in London by 1978, owned by Harry Nilsson, and the place where Mama Cass Elliot died in 1974 of heart failure. He was on medication to help him curb his craving for alcohol, a problem which had reached a point where his position in the Who, as well as his other relationships, was in jeopardy of going south. The pills were prescription.

The quandary that Moon found himself in the day before was the fact that he’d been invited by Paul McCartney to the before-party and premier of the new film the Buddy Holly Story. It was an ‘everyone is going to be there’ event. Yet Moon was worried about being able to stay off of the booze. He decided not to go.

Unfortunately, Moonie also had a problem with cocaine, a package of which arrived the afternoon before his death. Rock stars can order cocaine as if they’re ordering a pizza, as one interviewee stated. After indulging himself, he changed his mind about the party, and he and his girlfriend, Annette Walter-Lax, went. Somewhere in there, he also ingested a few tablets of his anti-alcohol meds.

At the party, he was surrounded by friends (including Kenney Jones, the drummer who would replace him in the Who), who noticed that he wasn’t the Keith they knew. He was more withdrawn, and less than his “Moon the Loon” persona had once defined him. Eventually, he had a couple of glasses of champagne.

Part way through the film, Moon and Annette decided to go home for an early night, another uncommon thing in Keith’s life. He got home, watched a movie, took more anti-alcohol pills, ate a meal, and went to bed. In the night, he was restless. He took more medication, having lost count of the dosage by now. He went back to sleep. Because he began to snore, Annette left the room to sleep on the couch.

In the morning, Moon asked her to make breakfast, being uncommonly hungry as he had been the night previous. She did. He ate, and went back to sleep. And that was it. He died in his sleep. The coroner found 26 undissolved tablets in his stomach.

The thing that struck me about this chain of events was Moon’s own addictions to drugs was not the direct cause of his death. I think it was his addiction to maintaining his own sense of who he was supposed to be. People expected Moon the Loon, and he needed to live up to that, it seems. It’s possible that he would have fallen to a similar fate eventually. But the real catalyst was his need to live up to his own image, be at that party, be that guy.

It struck me too that he must have been very lonely too, not really allowing himself to give very many people a real picture of who he really was, and not really having the emotional maturity even to approach changing his outlook. The tragic thing was that Annette said that he was a very gentle, loving person at heart.

And that many told her afterwards that he was planning to ask her to marry him, that he had told many people at the party that he was going to do it the next day. Knowledge of that must be terrible. I know that the program may be aimed at those looking for salacious ‘rock star burns out for good’ type stories. But, I was left saddened.

Watch Keith Moon In Action

Moon is one of my favourite drummers – a totally chaotic approach to the drum kit, never settling on an obvious backbeat, yet keeping time and being musically interesting as well. His style is actually more like jazz drumming.

In the program, they showed side by side footage of Moon and Gene Krupa and the visual results are undeniable. Both drummers were reveling in their drumming, a visually dynamic display of prowess and showmanship. In terms of rock music and rock drumming, he was irreplaceable. Take a look at this clip of Keith Moon playing drums to see what I mean.

Keith Moon