FROM THE FEB-MARCH 2000 ISSUE OF DRUM!
In your opinion, what defined drumming in the ‘90s? Was it the diameter of a drumstick or number of plies in a drum shell? How about the proliferation of drum clinics, workshops and videos? Or could it be new styles, techniques, loops or breakbeats that emerged?
No, it wasn’t any of those things. It was the drummers who worked their magic during the ’90s. They defined the era so much more than any piece of gear or given lick could.
Face it, none of us would be where we are today without their ingenuity, which is why we’ve chosen to salute them in this special issue. The following profiles draw from drummers and percussionists of practically every style, some who emerged within the last ten years, others who became legendary decades ago. In each case, we attempt to explain the things they contributed to the art form in the ’90s, and how they’ve affected the direction of drumming forever.
To tackle this gargantuan job, we turned to our trusty team of freelancers and divided up the chores between Jon Cohan, David Weiss, Timothy Orr, Don Zulaica, Karen Stackpole, Patrick Kennedy, Bill Milkowski and DRUM! editor Andy Doerschuk.
Past experience has taught us that whenever we publish such a list, we hear back from DRUM! readers about the names that were left off. Please don’t hesitate to chime in!
After original Pearl Jam drummer Dave Krusen left in 1991, the mantle was passed to Abbruzzese, whose timing couldn’t have been more perfect. When the band signed onto the 1992 Lollapalooza tour, its debut disc, Ten, had barely dented the charts. By the end of the tour, the album overshadowed all of the releases by the festival’s other co-headliners. While Abbruzzese only recorded two albums with Pearl Jam—Vs. in 1993 and parts of Vitology in 1994—he made a lasting impression on the minds of rock drummers with his sophisticated ambidexterity and power fusion chops. Unfortunately, these same characteristics got him booted from the band in 1994, when he was replaced by the more basic Jack Irons.
TIM “HERB” ALEXANDER
Primus fans gleefully hollered “Primus Sucks” throughout much of this San Francisco trio’s career, yet Primus rarely actually sucked. They were just weird. Les Claypool whined twisted nursery rhymes over white-boy funk bass lines. Larry Lelonde’s guitar grunted and wheezed illegible effects clusters in the background. What could a drummer do? Tim Alexander chose to play fiercely orchestrated, cruelly complex progressive rock/fusion drum parts that chugged like an orchestra of overwound clocks. In the early ’90s, while Chad Smith dished hard funk, Dave Grohl perfected hard bashing, and Matt Cameron brought grace to hard rock, Alexander explored the quirky edge of chops. He zigged while everyone zagged.
Dave Matthews Band
Savvy drummers have compared Carter Beauford to Dennis Chambers, and there are plenty of good reasons why they would. Like the ’90s fusion great, Beauford displays utter command of his instrument. His hyper fast single-stroke rolls are measurably perfect, with each beat phrased evenly and articulated with only intentional variations in volume or placement. He doesn’t even break a sweat while circumnavigating the most crookedly odd-meter groove. He even straightens it, and renders it danceable by finding an appropriate backbeat pulse. Indeed, he shares a lot of similarities with Chambers, except one: Beauford plays that way in Dave Matthews Band, the most successful jam band of the ’90s. Somehow he makes it all work out just right.
Blade came to the attention of the jazz community in the early ’90s with his straight-ahead, “Elvinesque,” retro-organic drumming, and proved to be one of the decade’s most versatile and welcome artists. With a sound based in the past and an ear toward the future, Blade is comfortable in jazz and pop settings, cutting albums with such notable artists as Josh Redman, Emmylou Harris, and Bob Dylan. But it wasn’t until 1998 when he began to swing to his own tune with the ethereal, near ambient Fellowship, an expression of his confidence as a leader. This was not an album by a drummer, but by a musician.
Bozzio dominated the drumming scene in the ’70s and ’80s with a set of chops that was intellectual yet animalistic. He tackled some of the toughest gigs with Frank Zappa and UK, then assumed control with Missing Persons, his own band, which harvested hit after hit. But then things changed in the ’90s. After working for a short time with Jeff Beck, Bozzio stopped caring quite so much about playing in bands, and starting thinking about playing solo. He embraced the concept of improvising over an ostinato and has obsessively explored that idea through a long series of clinics, solo concerts, videos and CDs. Bozzio has been out in a field of his own for a long time now, and often the results are breathtaking.
BILL BRUFORD & PAT MASTELOTTO
For the first time since the early ’70s, King Crimson was reborn with two drummers in the ’90s, and you know that means trouble. Bruford and Mastelotto turned the world upside down sonically and rhythmically with the “double trio” edition of Crimson. Their bone-crunching, stick-spitting antics made musicians tremble in their boots. As Mastelotto provided the focus and underpinning, Bruford was set free to examine the darker underbelly of rhythmic mayhem in a series of recordings that are beautiful and frightening in their controlled chaos, machine-like precision, and compositional complexity.
While Seattle gave us the primitive thrash of Nirvana’s Dave Grohl, it also gave us the muscular finesse of Soundgarden’s Matt Cameron. Heavy enough to match Kim Thayl’s chick guitar tones, but always peppering his grooves with Elvin-ish polyrhythmic phrasing, Cameron helped propel the group from “Big Dumb Sex” to the many alternative staples throughout Badmotorfinger and Superunknown. Whether simply grooving, navigating oddmeters, or going four-on-the-floor, this is one rock drummer (much like a Stephen Perkins or Will Calhoun) who knows how to swing his eighth-notes.
He earned just about the best pop credentials one could hope for during the ’90s, backing up Wallflowers, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Pearl Jam, Chris Isaak, The Corrs, even playing the breaks on the Saturday Night Live band. So it’s amazing that Chamberlain isn’t more well known, even among drummers. It’s as if he wants to be the next Jim Keltner—a singer’s drummer who loves the groove, keeps in the background but leaves a big footprint. Producers love his big open drum sound and ear for ambiance, which keeps him increasingly busy in the studio. Somehow he’s managed to settle into his gig with Amos, yet finds the time to work with his own wildly experimental band, Critters Buggin’, in Seattle.
There are fusion drummers with jawdropping chops, then there’s the fusion drummer with jaw-dropping chops who laid down the pocket for Mr. Clinton—and we ain’t talkin’ about President Bill. On albums like John Scofield’s Pick Hits and No Sweat with bassist Gary Willis, Chambers single-handedly raised the bar for funk-fusion drumming. His breathtaking linear phrasing and soloing showmanship get the headlines, but it’s his huge ears and dynamic sensibilities that make him one of the most sought-after session drummers around.
Like other felines, jazz cats have nine lives—just ask Jimmy Chamberlin. An ex-jazz player when he joined Smashing Pumpkins, Chamberlin showed how effectively those coffeehouse chops can be when they’re applied to rock. His fluid, powerful playing on the Pumpkins’ 1991 debut Gish was eye-opening, demonstrating a thrilling combination of speed, creativity, and control. His repeated problems with heroin addiction got him booted out of the band during the Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness tour, and the Pumpkins’ 1998 album Adore suffered for his absence. Not surprisingly, Chamberlin is back in the fold for the band’s upcoming record.
Colaiuta’s drumming can be as intricate as the spelling of his last name, but for a good part of the ’90s he made his bones recording and endlessly touring with mainstream artists like Sting, Jewel, and Madonna. He can paint in broad strokes for the big arenas and make 5/4 work like butter in a pop song, or he can play the pants off of any jazz player out there. Colaiuta’s cymbal work and jaw-dropping fills make him one of the most in-demand players today. He is the drummer everybody wants to be: smart, cool, amazingly fluid, with pockets as deep as Donald Trump’s. [Editor’s note: This comparison did not age well.]
Without Green Day there would have been no ’90s punk resurgence. And without Tre Cool, there probably wouldn’t ever have been a Green Day. Their national majorlabel debut, Dookie, was propelled by Cool’s dynamite punk drumming, a highly athletic display of precision oomph that bodyslammed a whole generation back into the mosh pit. While Cool and his bandmates almost single-handedly spawned a huge wave of new punk and ska bands, very few drummers emerged on the national scene that could match his chops—or success.
The Melvins have never received their critical or commercial due, and sadly probably never will, but it’s certainly not for a lack of spine-splitting drum work. Dale Crover is one of the more unique drummers working in the metal/rock idiom, balancing the hardest hitting, most insistent drumming since John Bonham with off-the-wall percussive flourishes. Anyone who has seen Crover’s kit will understand—massively outsized drums coupled with an odd array of bells, spokes, metal crashers, and ocher odds and ends. Squeezing in time between endless Melvins tours and recordings, Crover also plays guitar and sings for his southern skronk band Altamont, and even recently played drums on Hank Williams III’s newest album.
The Beastie Boys
While a lot of drummers would like to think they have a big impact on music and culture, there are few who can make that claim more convincingly than Mike D. As one-third of the great taste machine that is The Beastie Boys, D. is a drummer who used his sense of rhythm for maximum leverage in the worlds of hip-hop, punk rock, and pop. It was shocking to see him behind the drum kit in the video for “So What’cha Want” off 1992’s Check Your Head. That album’s resounding success helped add a much-needed live presence to hip-hop’s unabashed dependence on drum machines. Plus, it made Mike D. a little like Ringo: a full-fledged celebrity who also happened to play the drums pretty well.
Brian Setzer Orchestra
Bernie Dresel might have ridden the neoswing wave to fame and fortune in the ’90s with the Brian Setzer Orchestra, but don’t be fooled. He has a long line of recording credits that makes him one of the decade’s more versatile drummers. Muscular, danceable, and aggressive drumming defines his style, which is a perfect synthesis of big band and rock. Of course, his work on TV soundtracks and film scores may not get as much recognition as his live performances with Setzer, but Dresel is moving through the ranks as a next-generation session drummer who gets to rock out too.
The Vandals, Suicidal Tendencies
Freese is the heir apparent to the throne occupied by only the greatest studio rock drummers, including pioneers like Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer as well as latter-day heroes such as Jim Keltner and Jeff Porcaro. Freese is the 1990’s everyman, with his steady and commanding rhythms showing up on such disparate waxings as Suicidal Tendencies, Tracy Bonham, The Vandals, and Meredith Brooks. His work on former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell’s debut album Euphoria Morning is a snapshot of a drummer at the height of his craft—a mature and determined effort that foreshadows great things to come.
Nirvana, Foo Fighters
Nirvana had a bunch of drummers before Dave Grohl joined the band, but it was the combination of Grohl, singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic that hit enormous pay dirt with 1991’s Nevermind and launched one of the biggest movements in rock and roll since the British Invasion. After Cobain’s suicide, Grohl could have packed up his drums and spent the rest of his days polishing the grunge off his platinum records, but instead he decided to record his debut record, Foo Fighters, which not only flaunted his incredible drumming talents, but made obvious his prodigious abilities as a power-pop singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Grohl’s hard-hitting and tasteful simplicity is sort of a modern cross between John Bonham and Ringo Starr, and his playing made him the idol of every power-tom bashing kid who picked up a pair of sticks in the ’90s.
A true “world fusion” innovator, Trilok Gurtu made a splash in the ’90s with his signature pitch-bending water bucket and creative use of reverb, as well as his innovative East-meets-West hybrid drums/percussion set up and his original approach of blending Indian, African, and Latin influences with jazz, rock, fusion and funk. Known for his early work with guitarist John McLaughlin, trumpeter Don Cherry, and the progressive jazz group Oregon, Gurtu went solo and released more than half a dozen albums in the ’90s that reflect his unique blend of styles.
One of the more eclectic jazz drummers of the ’90s, Hart has recorded with a wide range of artists, and he is as diverse as a drummer can be. He’s equally at home in straight-ahead, funk and free music, and seeing him live can be like watching a bomb explode. In the ’90s, Hart was one of the hardest-working drummers in jazz, playing with an enormous number of artists who requested him to bring his “whisper to a roar” magic to their recordings. As he enters his 60th year this millennium, Hart has not even begun to swing; expect him to continue to do great things.
The former Grateful Dead drummer vastly enhanced his reputation during the ’90s by becoming the foremost historian on rhythm and its influence on our lives. He wrote three authoritative books on the subject, edited countless hours of field recordings for his ongoing work with the Smithsonian Institute, spearheaded the Rhythm for Life organization, championed the community drumming movement, and assembled some of the greatest percussionists for his various projects. Hart had a huge impact on drumming in the ’90s without being the world’s greatest drummer.
Like Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes has been one of the most influential drummers in jazz history. He has recorded classic solo albums since the ’60s, but hit his stride in the ’90s with a series of recordings and collaborations that exposed him to a whole new generation of drummers and fans. Famous for the constant rhythmic dialogue between himself and the other musicians, Haynes sets a new standard every time he sits at the drums. With a tight sound, crackling snare and signature flat ride cymbal, he’s easy to recognize from the very first beat. Always hip, always breaking it up and laying it down, Haynes just seems to be getting better, like a fine wine.
HORACIO “EL NEGRO” HERNANDEZ
Paquito D’Rivera, McCoy Tyner
El Negro burst onto the scene from Cuba in 1993 and wowed the U.S. with his versatile “world beat” blend of Afro-Cuban, jazz and rock styles. Playing with the likes of Paquito D’Rivera, McCoy Tyner, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Santana, Negro won the admiration of many for his formidable independent left-foot clave technique and his ability to play complex polyrhythms and odd-meters with relaxed mastery. While such abilities have elevated him to the level of the world’s greatest chops monsters, his extensive experience performing with other percussionists helped him develop his unique approach to playing supportive melodies and rhythms.
Ten years ago, Hull was one of the few people who had any idea about what would soon happen to hand drumming, and he has worked non-stop ever since to spread the gospel of community drumming. Admittedly, the drum circle phenomena is a grassroots movement that eschews corporate politics and hierarchies, but like it or not, Hull is its de facto leader and most outspoken proponent. By leading literally hundreds of drum circles around the globe, Hull has helped standardize a method employed by drum circle facilitators, many of whom got their first taste of community drumming in a Hull-led circle. And the good news is that community drumming isn’t a short-lived fad, a fact that helps many in the drum industry sleep well at night.
Tabla virtuoso Hussain is a leading figure in the fusion of Indian and Western music. He established Moment! Records to release original works in contemporary world music as well as recordings of live concert performances by masters of Indian classical music. In addition to leading his ensemble The Rhythm Experience, Hussain plays with musicians as diverse as Tito Puente, Pharoah Sanders, Van Morrison, and the Hong Kong Symphony. Along with Mickey Hart he co-created and produced Planet Drum, a momentous work that came to fruition in the early ’90s and opened the eyes of many drummers to the deeper possibilities of their craft.
While Jones is a bridge between the past, present and future of drumming, he is no less vital in 1999 than he was 30 years ago. He is polyrhythmic to the core, possesses chops that have inspired a thousand solos, and influences anyone who comes in close proximity to a John Coltrane record. In the ’90s, he recorded a healthy catalog of albums with his own band, the Jazz Machine, and appeared on a prolific number of others as a sideman. His mere presence always signifies a direct connection to the continuum of jazz. Of course, the mountain of reissued material Jones appears on also reinforces his role as one of the primary architects of post-bop drumming in the second half of the 20th century.
You would think a guy whose studio career started in the 1960s would have hung up his sticks long ago, but Keltner was as prolific and innovative in the ’90s as he was in the previous three decades. Besides being the only musician to play on a solo project by every one of the Beatles, Keltner stayed current the last ten years by drumming with avant jazzer Bill Frisell, Beastie Boys cohort Money Mark, legendary bluesman Gatemouth Brown, Eric Clapton, Paul Westerberg and a little band you might have heard of called The Rolling Stones. His playing was the glue that held together the Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach neolounge effort Painted From Memory, and he shared haunting double drumming duties with Brian Blade on Bob Dylan’s masterful Time Out Of Mind. And the thing is, the guy just keeps getting better and better.
An explosive player with incredible endurance, Kiermyer summons up the polyrhythmic whirlwind force of Elvin Jones or Rashied Ali with the latter-day John Coltrane quintet. Originally from Montreal, he burst onto the scene in 1994 with Solomon’s Daughter, a remarkably intense date featuring tenor saxophonist legend (and former Coltrane sideman) Pharoah Sanders at his most ferocious. Kiermyer met expectations on his 1996 follow-up, Kairos, and on 1999’s Sanctification. He has also collaborated with Buddhist monks on Auspicious Blazing Sun and is currently a member of the Woodstock-based improvising rock band, Dharma Bums.
Brand New Heavies
Drumming is meant to make people dance—a fact that is lost least of all on Jan Kincaid. As a founder of Brand New Heavies, a band whose self-titled debut hit in 1992, Kincaid’s magically delicious grooves became synonymous with the sound of a party. Kincaid’s warm grooves formed a natural backbone for the acid jazz and hip-hop of Brand New Heavies and the spirited Heavy Rhyme Experience, Vol. I. And if there was a bash in the mid-’90s without a beat from Brother Sister, please tell us about it.
Of the metal bands that emerged in the thrash scene of the early ’80s, Slayer quickly became the cream of the crop, largely due to the mind-boggling speed, dexterity and power that drummer Dave Lombardo brought to the band. Though Lombardo left camp in the early ’90s after the release of Seasons In The Abyss, he has continued to work tirelessly with his own projects, most notably Grip, Inc, and Fantomas, an intricate noise/metal collaboration with Mike Patton and King Buzzo. Inarguably a drum god, Lombardo has influenced every rock and metal drummer currently living.
Medeski, Martin, and Wood
Martin’s deep-ass grooves with the instrumental trio of Medeski, Martin, and Wood make you think of both Zig Modeliste and Elvin Jones. He can make a second-line feel sound like it’s being played by a Martian, and then play primal deconstructive jazz a la Paul Motian. MM&W have garnered a common-ground popularity with both Deadheads and serious jazz aficionados as they explore the boundaries of funk, roots, rock and jazz in an organ trio format. The further out they go, the more new ground Martin breaks.
Left-hander Parker broke into the mid-’80s New York jazz scene with a wholly distinctive approach. By paring down his kit to basic components, he applied a lessis-more attitude toward timekeeping, sometimes relying on as little as a single cymbal for a gig. And yet, he always demonstrated a fierce capacity for swinging and creatively coloring the proceedings. Early sideman work included gigs with tenor sax great Dewey Redman and with pianist Jacky Terrason. Some of his best playing can be heard on his 1994 debut as a leader, Above & Below, and on 1999’s Duo with guitarist Charlie Hunter.
Jane’s Addiction, Porno For Pyros
Jane’s Addiction blew up with 1990’s wonderful Ritual de lo Habitual, just as drummer Stephen Perkins opened up a whole world—literally—to rock drummers. Wielding a percussion-heavy kit, Perkins attacked his band’s groovy experiments with an open mind, tapping a multicultural combination of punch and subtlety firmly rooted in modern music. As Perry Farrell’s partner both in launching the Lollapalooza festivals and in Porno for Pyros, he also provided a serious role model for drummers with a head for business.
Ben Perowsky evolved through the ’90s from slamming backbeat monger behind jazzfunk fusioneers Lost Tribe to more refined and swinging sideman for jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas and guitarist Mike Stern to a leader in his own right. A remarkably versatile player, he has recorded with African pop star Salif Keira, indie rock band Elysian Fields, dub/electronica group Liminal and the avant-garde Uri Caine Mahler Project. But his most personally satisfying outlet to date is his Ben Perowsky Trio with bassist Scott Colley and saxophonist Chris Speed. Their self-tided debut on Knitting Factory Works is the most comprehensive document of Perowsky’s playing to dace.
In the ’80s it was almost impossible to find a young drummer who hadn’t hammered out Neil Peart’s “Tom Sawyer” fills. In the ’90s, Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy commands similar reverence for his blistering chops, imaginative phrasing and command of odd-time signatures. And as if Dream Theater wasn’t enough, he had to go form a group with fellow DT guitarist John Petrucci, keyboardist Jordan Rudess and bass/stick legend Tony Levin. The resulting two albums from Liquid Tension Experiment helped further cement Portnoy as the preeminent progressive rock drummer of the decade.
Frame drum aficionado Layne Redmond came into her own in the ’90s as one of the decade’s most respected community drum circle facilitators. A former student and bandmate of Glen Velez, Redmond moved on to pursue her own ideas. Forming her all-women group, Mob of Angels, she focused more on the ritualistic aspects of drumming. Rediscovering the lost heritage of women hand drummers in the images etched in artifacts from the ancient Mediterranean world, Redmond launched an exhaustive research effort and published an important book on the history of women drummers entitled When the Drummers Were Women.
DOUDOU NDIAYA ROSE
Sabar Drummer, Djabote
Sabar drumming and dancing is a way of life for the Wolof people of Senegal. The complex syncopated rhythms of this tradition have recently become more accessible to Westerners through the miracle of recorded sound. Master drummer Doudou Ndiaya Rose is one of the foremost sabar drummers of Senegal and has made major contributions to the art form as far back as the ’50s. In the mid ’90s, Rose and about 50 drummers gathered with an 80-piece choir for a week on the island of Goree conducting a live recording for Real World Records. The phenomenal album, entitled Djabote, thoroughly captures the intensity and spirit of sabar.
Few bandleaders in jazz have been as tough on drummers as Joe Zawinul, the staunch Austrian patriarch and co-founder of Weather Report. And yet Zawinul found his dream drummer in Ivory Coast native Paco Sery. During his late ’90s stint with the Zawinul Syndicate, Sery set a new standard for intricate odd-metered grooves. His crisp snare articulations and astonishing agility served Zawinul well and is documented on 1996’s My People and the brilliant live two-CD set World Tour. Sery is also a charter member of Parisian world beat fusion group District Six.
As the merging of world styles became a common practice for jazzers and rockers alike, Chad Sexton’s fusion of power punk, reggae and ska with 311 proved to be especially tantalizing for young Americans who wanted a new beat. Forced to provide a balance between bandmates who loved everything from Melvins to dub, Sexton concocted grooves that could be trippy, funky, heavy—often all at the same time. But it isn’t just his stylistic smorgasbord that sets Sexton apart from his peers. His workaholic temperament and sharply precise technique combined to make him one of the most important influences among young drummers of the ’90s.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
He wasn’t the original drummer in the endlessly revolving Red Hot Chili Peppers line-up, but Smith became the band’s most visible and beloved basher soon after joining in 1988. With impeccable timing, he appeared on the Peppers’ biggest hit albums—Mother’s Milk, Blood Sugar Sex Magic, One Hot Minute, and the most recent Californication—and subsequently became recognized as the prototypical punk/funk drummer of the ’90s. His heavy-handed attack, funky phrasing, and syncopated ghost-note grooves arguably influenced drummers in such bands as Rage Against the Machine, Korn, and Limp Bizkit.
Journey, Vital Information
A jazz legend and stadium-rock-touring workhorse before he even got a whiff of the ’90s, Smith nevertheless continued to evolve and thrive through the last decade. From a Journey reunion to collaborations with everyone from Scott Henderson to the Buddy Rich Big Band, he proved to be as much an insatiable student of the drums as a master. Impeccable swing, a fat groove, or monster double bass—his clinics are standing room only, for good reason. He is a drummer who always finds new ways to color outside the lines, while never losing touch with his reverence for where the music comes from.
MICHAEL SPIRO & MARK LAMSON
Multi-percussionists Michael Spiro & Mark Lamson took their obsession with AfroCuban and Brazilian music to another level in the ’90s. Both active educators and noted authorities on the subject, they combined their knowledge and shared their insightful vision with the world with the 1996 release of Bata Ketu. The album traces the evolution of Nigerian music through its separate development in Cuba and Brazil by combining the forms and instrumentation of the music of the two cultures in various compositions. Spiro and Lamson are the first to purposefully draw the connections between the music of these cultures in such a definitive fashion.
Helmet rose up through the art/noise scene of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and after years of diligent indie touring and recording, became one of the most significant and influential bands of the ’90s. The entire band played like a bludgeoning rhythm section, and John Stanier held it all together deftly, drumming with borderline robotic precision. His bare-bones approach often concealed (much like Phil Rudd) the complexity of his rhythmic signatures—particularly his use of jazzy syncopation and groove. Very few drummers play as unerringly, and his martial accuracy has influenced many drummers of modern American hardcore and metal bands.
JOHN ‘JABO’ STARKS & CLYDE STUBBLEFIELD
James Brown, The JB’s
If you have to ask why, you’ll never know. It’s impossible to listen to hip-hop or any dance music without acknowledging the contributions of these two giants of funk. Their grooves have been sampled so many times they ought to be in the Smithsonian. But it’s not just the samples that made a difference in the ’90s, it’s the way the rhythms by these two veterans of James Brown’s backing band permeated every corner of popular music, from U2 and Garbage to Missy Elliot and Wu Tang. It’s almost as if the rump never truly shook before the JB’s.
John Scofield Quartet
The Des Moines, Iowa native began making his mark in 1991 with John Scofield Quartet. His rhythmic and melodic ingenuity soon made Stewart a drummer of choice on the New York scene. Aside from lightning-quick impulses and an irrepressible swing instinct, he is also widely regarded for his soloistic daring, expressive brushwork and penchant for N’awlins second-line grooves. His best playing can be heard on Scofield’s Meant To Be and What We Do as well as on his own three albums as a leader: 1990’s Think Before You Think, 1995’s Snide Remarks, and 1997’s Telepathy.
Many might point to the metal scene of the ’80s to address Lars Ulrich’s sphere of influence, and could even claim the first four Metallica albums—Kill ‘Em All, Ride The Lightning, Master Of Puppets, and …And Justice For All—as his finest body of work. But what he’s been able to do, unlike many others, is to survive the proclaimed death of metal in the early ’90s and re-emerge as a stripped down, indefatigably solid rock drummer as Metallica just keeps going and going. Excellent dynamic range.
One of the foremost authorities on frame drums, Glen Velez gathered inspiration from both Western percussion and traditional influences to develop his own distinctive style. His virtuosity and work with the frame drum brought the art form into the spotlight for many Westerners. As a leader, he released over half a dozen albums in the ’90s that explored the depths of layered tonality and rhythmic cycles with a variety of frame drums and percussion instruments from around the world. It’s not unusual to see an Irish bodhran played alongside an Egyptian riq and a Venezuelan caxixi within Velez’s complex compositions.
While many of his peers exploded onto the scene like gangbusters, Joey Waronker crept into our collective consciousness. Relegated to a sideman role while backing up Beck for years, word gradually spread about this fiery young up-and-comer whose father Lenny was a famous record producer and whose sister Anna was a famous pop singer. Suddenly, he seemed to be everywhere at once, recording with R.E.M., Smashing Pumpkins, Elliot Smith, John Doe, and many others. His sudden notoriety came as no surprise, since Waronker’s style so smoothly straddles the line that separates legendary rock and rhythm and blues drumming from the jagged rhythms of hip-hop. That’s the sound everybody wanted at the end of the ’90s.
JEFF ‘TAIN’ WATTS
Jeff Watts honed his highly-interactive skills and surging style in bands led by Wynton Marsalis (from 1981 to 1988) and Branford Marsalis (from 1989 to the present). Originally more derivative of Tony Williams (appropriate for the early ’60s Miles Davis quintet vibe that Wynton was going for), Watts began affecting a more open and rolling Elvin Jones approach to the kit with Branford. His most forcefully swinging work can be heard on Branford’s 1996 trio recording The Dark Keys and his 1999 quartet project Requiem, as well as on Watts’ own major label debut as a leader, 1999’s Citizen Tain.
Throughout the ’80s, Weckl was the prototypical thinking man’s drummer. Occasionally maligned for preferring technique over groove, he turned the critics on their collective ear in the ’90s when he teamed up with drum ergonomics guru Freddie Gruber. The result is a more organic pocket, and a tad less rhythmic trigonometry. But it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Weckl B.G. (Before Gruber) or A.G. fan. As a session master with Paul Simon, Chick Corea, or solo, his place in drumming history is firmly set. We just wonder if he expects us to throw out our Back to Basics videos now that he’s overhauled his technique.
On February 23, 1997, Tony Williams left us after changing the face of modern drumming forever. There just aren’t enough paragraphs on the planet to adequately describe his significance. Suffice to say, if you name a style of music, any drummer within that genre will have been influenced by Williams. He was fluid with brushwork, yet embraced the drum set as an instrument that was designed to be played loudly. So much more than a timekeeper, Williams was a consummate musician who knew just as much about music theory and harmony as any other player with whom he ever performed. He was so good that he was out of reach. He made you want to get better.
This article originally appeared in the February-March 2000 issue of Drum!