BY STEWART JEAN
I am not 100 percent sure on the origination of this iconic groove but it can easily be overlooked by young players. If you have seen the Rolling Stones live, on YouTube, or on television you may have noticed that, for the most part, Charlie Watts does not hit the hi-hat when he plays his backbeat on the snare (Ex. 1). This is not as easy as it looks—losing that one little eighth-note does make us think a little more, but it really helps to isolate the snare drum in the mix.
This month we take a look at overlooked grooves and the subtleties needed to really make them work. This is part two of our four-part series for this month.
They say necessity is the mother of invention. Legend has it Jim Keltner started employing this technique after witnessing Levon Helm doing it. While this is indeed a fact, I like to think Watts started doing it because of need.
In early Stones clips, I do not see Watts playing this way. It wasn’t until the band got louder that he started hitting the snare on its own—perhaps he found it helped keep up with the increase in overall volume. The Rolling Stones, after all, were really the first band to evolve along with PA systems and amps. Being the traditional grip, pseudo-jazz drummer he is I can only assume he decided to simply move his hi-hat stick out of the way in order to produce a more powerful backbeat.
But maybe Watts also saw Helm doing this and adopted it like Keltner did. Either way, this groove has become essential for all rock drummers. You can see modern heroes like Kenny Aronoff, Steve Jordan, and Charlie Drayton routinely using this approach.
Being aware of this groove will be impressive to other musicians that understand its the subtle nature. To hear this groove check any Rolling Stones tracks from the past 40 years, or check out Kenny Aronoff playing with John Fogerty, Steve Jordan with Keith Richards, or Jim Keltner with The Traveling Wilburys.
Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.