From The May 2017 Issue Of DRUM! | By Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz
Most bands play original songs, but if someone else wrote them, they’re known as covers. There’s no shame in playing hit songs and bringing an occasional obscure song to the audience. It can be fun, and you’ll also make money. One of the most heated discussions among drummers is how to approach the parts: stay faithful to the original, or make it their own? Like many questions about music, the answer is: it depends.
Some bands attract an audience because they have a style or a radical spin on the original songs. Dread Zeppelin’s reputation was built on a twist, by doing Led Zeppelin songs in a reggae style, sung by an Elvis impersonator. Sounds strange, but they were top-notch players who built a following, issued several albums, and toured the world. Richard Cheese and Lounge Against The Machine do enticing lounge renditions of rock, metal, and rap hits.
However, if you’re playing bars and clubs and your band isn’t known for a certain musical treatment, should you change the parts? Well, ask yourself if you’re really going to play better parts than the original drummer played. If you answered honestly, the answer would be “no.” Why change the parts that make a song worth playing in the first place? Besides, isn’t it fun being several different drummers in one night? And before anyone retorts, “If the audience wants to hear the original, let them play the jukebox,” be careful what you wish for. Take the paying gig, play the parts, and be thankful the club owner doesn’t consider your advice.
To what extent should you copy the original parts? Again, it depends. Signature and clearly recognizable parts and fills should be played as closely as possible. In other words, don’t try to straighten out Foo Fighters’ “Learn To Fly” or Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” — it won’t sound good. Invest some time with the original versions to absorb why the songs sound and feel like they do. Parts rarely need to be exact, but don’t just settle for getting the flavor. Work a little bit harder on the parts, and you’ll work a lot longer.
And don’t worry. Nobody will ever say, “How come you can’t make the song your own?” Just be prepared for the onslaught of compliments you get for playing the right parts.