A Slave to the Rhythm – Part 10

Part 10: Under the Influence?

The tenth in an occasional series from Rick about his life as a musician – where it all started and what it has come to now.

Making lists of preferred drummers inevitably seems like name-dropping to an extent but it gives me some rationalisation about what gets through to me and what REALLY gets through to me.

Some players who have made the difference and why…….

Ginger Baker (in Cream) and Mitch Mitchell (with Jimi Hendrix) have been referred to in a previous blog as very early inspirations so I’ll skip past them here.


Amongst classifiable genres, there are many players of funk, reggae, rock, jazz, free improvisation, African and Latin music and beyond that have touched me at different times, but, if I had to name my special seven, they would be, in no particular order…..

Tony Williams – a once in a lifetime talent. Always exciting, always innovative, never obvious, fast hands – a powerhouse.

Elvin Jones – highly polyrhythmic, sometimes hard to fathom, intense and driving – supercharged.

Jack DeJohnette – an ingenious ability to circumnavigate and imply a rhythm and swing it simultaneously.

Mike Clark – Pioneered a way of shifting rhythmic emphasis – rhythmic displacement – whilst keeping totally in the pocket.

Christian Vander – Apart from his visionary concepts and singular compositional sense, he can always up the ante but, equally, can use very slight touches to similar dramatic effect. Dynamically, second to none. He can find corners of rhythm like no other. Plays each beat like it might be his last – ecstatic. Has kept his band Magma creatively on task for over 50 years.

Han Bennink – Original, supremely innovative, inspired, unpredictable, highly entertaining. Arguably, he has done more than any other to inspire free playing. Funky as hell playing a matchbox or sitting on the stage playing his shoes. When required, he can swing with the best of them.

Mattanur Shankaran Marar – a master of the south Indian chenda drum.

Can turn any rhythm upside down and inside out. Has untold reserves of creativity and power but can gently purr like no other. My teacher – a man of huge stature but great humility.


Amongst the many players who come from a rock background, five stand out for me who were active before and during my formative years.

Robert Wyatt – was, perhaps, the first drummer I saw who confounded conventional ways of playing a kit. Whilst never the greatest technician, he taught me that any part of the kit could be a starting point and that a singular vision was, at least, as important as technique.

John Bonham – a powerhouse drummer. Within the confines of a fairly straight ahead rock composition, he usually created deceptively simple/complex syncopations with nothing wasted. Very clear, almost architectural player.

Levon Helm – showed me that less is more. He never played anything that wasn’t essential. Always served the song in full. He could sing a bit too !

Bill Bruford – had a wonderful and immediately recognisable snare drum sound. Always distinctive, he could navigate complex music with a great balance and light and shade. Sometimes used to feature  rickety bits of percussion but really made them swing.

Ritchie Hayward – blended rock and funk with a subtle touch when necessary and with a full-blooded roar at other times. Never an obvious player, he was always bubbling just below the line.

And to the many that ought to be mentioned………….that will have to be another list.