I've discussed this before on this here blog, but I want to bring it up again: is a drummer a musician? I think so, but I can understand that certain people don't agree. No, drummers don't necessarily play melodies; they augment them. They're a crucial part of a band, yet drummers often get a bad rap.
Yes, I've heard plenty of drummer jokes, but they've never been proven true for me. I've never gone homeless because I broke up with a girlfriend. I've never left a porch after I was paid for the delivery of a pizza. I've never been let go from a band after I suggested we should play songs that I wrote. And no, I'm not a guy who hangs out with musicians.
I started playing piano in elementary school and picked up the coronet in middle school. I grew up wanting to be a guitar player, but as time passed, I was drawn more to the drums. I would get out empty coffee cans and plastic bowls for drums and chopsticks for drumsticks. From time to time, I would play until my sister would raise her voice and tell me to stop. Maybe this is around the time that I started air-drumming, but I'm not sure. When I got a real drumset for my birthday in 1994, my sister was not happy. I could rarely play on it whenever she was home (which wasn't that often) and when she did allow me to play a little when she was home, all she did was criticize my playing. How inspiring.
Undeterred, I kept playing, but I picked up the guitar for real in my sophomore year of high school. Slowly learning chords, leads and making up my own stuff on my mom's acoustic guitar, I'd play for however long I liked, except for when my sister was around. If I was playing too loud, she'd tell me to play at a lower volume or stop playing completely. Even more inspiring.
I spent many hours practicing drums and guitar and I always wanted to form a real band that wrote its own songs. When that opportunity arose, I had a blast. I had ideas for songs, but they never became full band songs. My focus was on locking in with the rhythm guitar and vocals, not just the bass. This is still the case after playing in a handful of bands.
Joe Strummer once said, "You're only as good as your drummer" and I agree. I don't think the Clash would have been the Clash if it weren't for Topper Headon. A straightforward, but incredibly versatile drummer, Headon helped make the only band that matters matter. (You can also add the firey combination of guitarist/vocalists Strummer and Mick Jones, tuneful songs with grit and smart basslines of Paul Simonon to the list.) Yet why do I often hear of drummers getting fired from their bands when they record an album (especially a debut for a major label)? Original Clash drummer Terry Chimes wanted to have a pop star-like life and that just wasn't going to happen with the Clash. So Headon came aboard.
Drummers are the foundation and if that foundation isn't strong enough, a replacement will be sought out. Ringo Starr wasn't the original Beatles' drummer, nor was Neil Peart with Rush. Hell, even the character of Chris Partridge was recast after the first season of The Partridge Family.
Drummers get a bum rap because they are often seen as underdeveloped. Well, especially in a young band, how can everyone in the band be fully developed? I rarely hear about Young Johnny Singer or Young Johnny Guitarist (who can barely sing or play) getting replaced. Sure, there were a number of session musicians back in the '60s and '70s that played on the record while the band members performed the songs live, but the one slot that seemed to more than likely change was the drummer's slot.
I remember reading Modern Drummer and Michael Azerrad's Come As You Are in high school and being scared. Reading about bands like Pearl Jam, Sponge, Everclear, Soul Asylum, Soundgarden and Nirvana replacing drummers for various reasons, I did my best to not be replaced. Knowing that Dave Grohl's key contribution to Nirvana was hitting hard, I hit hard. Thankfully, I wasn't kicked out of my band in high school.
Dave Grohl himself was a major inspiration for me in high school and college. A drummer who also wrote and recorded songs on his own, I saw something that I could do myself. When Grohl's solo-project-turned-band the Foo Fighters sprang up, I got really excited. Though I've understood that I can't write complete songs by myself, I feel totally fine with being an arranger and suggestion-maker in a band. This definitely works well with Ashburne Glen: Jason comes in with a rough idea for a song and we all hammer out something together. There are no egos here; just minor frustration because I sometimes play a little too loud. I'm still working on that, but if the song's a-rockin', I can't hold back.
Drummer jokes and lack of general respect for drummers withstanding, I love playing the drums. I can't get the kind of release when I play drums when I play guitar. Yeah, guitar, piano and bass are melodic instruments, but there is definitely a need for the drums. Rock music wouldn't rock if it weren't for them.