Monthly Archives: March 2015

‘Revolutionary’ Drummers

127472-004-69EA7B31Some of you may not know that in addition to writing a drum book and related magazine articles I also published six history books, produced three documentary films and penned countless articles on topics ranging from the Revolutionary War – to the Civil War – to Major League Baseball. If you are interested in more information on two of my proudest efforts visit: Today I would like to share a study I did a while back that looks at the lives and legacies of soldier drummers  during America’s Fight for Independence.

Throughout the history of warfare musicians have always played an important role on the battlefield. Military music has served many purposes including marching-cadences, bugle-calls and funeral dirges. Fifes, bagpipes and trumpets are just some of the tools that were used to instruct friend and intimidate foe.

Perhaps the most notable of these instruments was the drum. From as far back as the ancient days of Babylon, percussion rallied the troops on the field, sent signals between the masses, and scared the enemy half to death. During the Revolutionary War, drummers in both the Continental and English ranks marched bravely into the fight with nothing but their rudiments and sticks to protect them.

Remarkably, some of these musicians were in fact, very young boys, not quite yet into their teen years. That group however, was a minority. Despite popular culture’s portrayal of the little “Drummer Boy,” boys were actually an acceptation to the rule in early American warfare. According to The music of the Army… An Abbreviated Study of the Ages of Musicians in the Continental Army by John U. Rees (Originally published in The Brigade Dispatch Vol. XXIV, No. 4, Autumn 1993, 2-8.):

Boy musicians, while they did exist, were the exception rather than the rule. Though it seems the idea of a multitude of early teenage or pre-teenage musicians in the Continental Army is a false one, the legend has some basis in fact. There were young musicians who served with the army. Fifer John Piatt of the 1st New Jersey Regiment was ten years old at the time of his first service in 1776, while Lamb’s Artillery Regiment Drummer Benjamin Peck was ten years old at the time of his 1780 enlistment. There were also a number of musicians who were twelve, thirteen, or fourteen years old when they first served as musicians with the army.

Sixteen years, although young by today’s standards, was considered the mature age of a young man in the days of the American Revolution. It was also the average age of many fifers and drummers who marched in the ranks of General George Washington’s army. For example the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment boasted the following musician’s roll:

John Brown, fife – 14 years old, enlisted in 1777 (11 years in 1777)
Thomas Cunningham, drum – 18 years old, enlisted in 1777 (15 years in 1777)
Benjamin Jeffries, drum – 15 years old, enlisted in 1777 (12 years in 1777)
Robert Hunter, drum – 40 years old, enlisted in 1777 (37 years in 1777)
Thomas Harrington, drum – 14 years old, enlisted in 1777 (11 years in 1777)
Samuel Nightlinger, drum – 16 years old, enlisted in 1777 (13 years in 1777)
James Raddock, fife – 16 years old, enlisted in 1777 (13 years in 1777)
George Shively, fife – 19 years old, enlisted in 1777 (16 years in 1777)
David Williams, drum – 17 years old, enlisted in 1777 (14 years in 1777)

Despite their non-combatant roles in battle, many of these drummer’s war stories are even more compelling than those of the fighting men around them. For instance, Charles Hulet, a drummer in the 1st New Jersey…The following deposition was given by Hulett’s son-in-law in 1845:

“… said Hulett… enlisted in Captain Nichols company [possibly Noah Nichols, captain in Stevens’ Artillery Battalion as of November 9, 1776. In 1778 he was a captain in the 2nd Continental Artillery. See entry for Joseph Lummis] which was a part of the first Regiment of New Jersey in the service of the United States which Regiment was commanded by Col. Ogden. He enlisted as aforesaid on the 7 May 1778… He was engaged in the battle of Monmouth and was wounded in the leg and then or soon after taken a prisoner and by the enemy and carried in captivity to the West Indies, To relieve himself from the horrors of his imprisonment he joined the British Army as a musician and was sent to the United States. That soon after his return… he deserted from the British ranks and again joined the army of the United States and the south under General Greene. He was present at the siege of York and after the surrender of Cornwallis he was one of the corps that escorted the prisoners which was sent to Winchester… and he remained in service to the end of the war. This declarant always understood that said Hulett at the close of the war held the rank of Drum-Major.”

As primarily noncombatants, it is rare to have a detailed look at the service of any military musician. John George is an exception to that rule as he served the Continental Army’s supreme commander as his personal percussionist. His descendants have also done an exceptional job keeping his legacy alive through public commemorations. Arville L. Funk’s study titled From a Sketchbook of Indiana History, includes a profile of the first “famous” American drummer. It reads:

In a little known grave in south-western Marion County, Indiana, lie the remains of an old soldier traditionally acclaimed as “George Washington’s drummer boy.”  This is the grave of Sergeant John George, a Revolutionary War veteran of the First Battalion of the New Jersey Continental Line. Through extensive and alert research by Chester Swift of Indianapolis into Revolutionary war records, muster rolls, field reports, pension records, etc., there is evidence that Sergeant George might have been the personal drummer boy of Washington’s Headquarters Guard during a large portion of the Revolutionary War…On September 8th of that year, Private George, who was listed on the company’s rolls as a drummer, fought in his first battle, a short engagement at Clay Creek, which was a prelude to the important Battle of Brandywine. Later, Ogden’s battalion was to participate in the battles of Germantown and Monmouth, serving as a part of the famous Maxwell Brigade. The Maxwell Brigade served during the entire war under the personal command of General Washington and was considered to be one of the elite units of the American army. According to John George’s service records, he served his first three-year enlistment as a private and a drummer with the brigade at a salary of $7.30 a month. When his three-year enlistment expired, George reenlisted as a sergeant in Captain Aaron Ogden’s company of the First Battalion (Maxwell’s Brigade) for the duration of the war.

Even today America’s armed forces boast some of the most talented musicians in the country with many of them still playing traditional instruments and cadences. Their storied history is one that should not be forgotten.


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Punk Drummers Get Their Due

Today I would like to briefly discuss the most neglected and least respected drummers in all of music. I am speaking of Punk Rock drummers. Despite the simplicity of their genre these players have contributed just as much innovation to the art of drumming as their counterparts. Some of these drummers have even come from epic bands that redefined an entire generation of music. This includes The Ramones and The Clash.

The drummers for these and many other Punk Rock bands beg both our attention and admiration if only for their energetic and unconventional styles. According to LA Weekly: “For a musical genre so driven by the beat, where lightning fast technique is a prerequisite for acceptance, the punk drummer rises above the rest. Unlike the guitar and bass players, drummers can’t turn down their instrument or increase the distortion….the position of punk drummer meant you needed to be talented and machine gun fast.”

Punk Rock came about long before the double bass pedal and intentionally utilized simple, stripped down kits that frequently took abuse that would make other drum sets cringe. Endurance was the foundation of Punk Rock drumming. This style of play later influenced the thrash and speed metal movements that utilized larger, double bass kits in order to capture the same reckless feel of their forefathers. Here is a list of the top 15 Punk Rock drummers IMO (*in no particular order):

  • Earl Hudson, Bad Brains (Introduced Reggae feel to the scene)
  • Bill Stevenson, The Descendants (A heavy-hitter with incredible power)
  • DH Peligro, Dead Kennedys (Multi-instrumentalist with unapologetic flair)
  • Chuck Biscuits, Circle Jerks (A true rocker and roller who kept it tight)
  • Tommy Ramone, The Ramones (The godfather of punk drumming)
  • Markey Ramone, The Ramones (Great replacement and lighting fast)
  • Don Bolles, The Germs (A speedy player with a style all his own)
  • “Topper” Headon, The Clash (The ‘original’ Clash drummer)
  • Tre Cool, Green Day (Brought punk rock to the masses)
  • Josh Freese, The Vandals (Studio journeyman with monster chops)
  • Robo, Misfits, Black Flag (Backed up the incomparable Henry Rollins)
  • Paul Cook, Sex Pistols (Minimal chops but maximum attitude)
  • Rat Scabies, The Damned (Way better drummer than he gets credit for)
  • Brooks Wackerman, Bad Religion (Enormous diversity and chops)
  • DJ Bonebreak, X (Classically trained, incredible live performer)

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Props for Bobby Z


When I look back through the 1980’s I find some of my favorite drummers. This includes Tony Thompson (Chic), Jon Farris (INXS) and the incomparable Bobby Z (The Revolution). During his years backing Prince, Bobby Rivkin, blended the use of acoustic and electronic drums, sampling, and showmanship while providing the backbeat of the famous “Minneapolis Sound.” He often performed standing up while participating in the choreography of the band and set the bar for Minneapolis-style drummers. During this time his brilliant sense of timing and dynamics never faltered. Prince himself has credited Bobby Z with playing his songs with more feeling than the series of drummers that followed. According to his bio: “Rivkin was acknowledged in Prince’s self-titled album as being a ‘heaven-sent’ helper. By the time the ‘1999’ album was released, Prince was relying more and more on electronic drums and Rivkin had to adapt his style to operate these in concert.”

The magnum opus of Rivkin’s playing came on Prince’s masterpiece “Purple Rain.” There is something special about the intentional dragging-tempo of that song and the crescendo that builds before being released in a wall of sound. Prince himself has stated that no drummer can play that song better. Rivkin’s drum kit is as original as his style of play and consists of a Black Simmons SDSV, Simmons SDSV Module, Linn LM-1 Drum Machine, Black Pearl Syncussion(x2), Pearl Syncussion Module(x2), 14” HiHat, 18” Crash, 20” Ride and a 16” Crash. In May of 2013 Bobby Z joined his former bandleader on stage during the closing two shows of Prince’s whirlwind 3rdeyegirl tour. Both shows took place on the same night with Bobby taking over from Prince’s current drummer Hanna-Ford-Welton. He sat in on both shows for one song. On both occasions it was “Purple Rain.”

According to Rivkin that song in particular has a special meaning: “‘Purple Rain’ is just one of those moments, as a band, that you live for,” he said. “From the first moment of rehearsal, when I heard the strains of it on Prince’s piano, to the last time we played it live at the Myth, just last May with him. He calls it medicine, and it is; it just really has something about it, the way it crescendos, the way it crashes, and the way the guitar solo takes you to a place where you just feel different about your life. No matter what, when you hear those opening chords of ‘Purple Rain,’ you just stop time somehow, and just listen.”

Here’s the video for “Purple Rain” featuring The Revolution at their finest:

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Warm-Up Exercise

Here is a great warm-up exercise inspired by my drum line days. The goal is to get you through the major sticking patterns in forward and reverse. None of these patterns are difficult on their own but they do become challenging when they are combined in a single sequence. As with all things, start out slowly then build up speed. I recommend using a pad until you are comfortable, then switch over to your snare.


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I received an email today asking about my experience as a drummer. The short story is that I have been playing drums since I was 13 years-old. I was very involved in my school music program which included Marching Band, Symphonic Band, Stage Band, Choir Band and Percussion Ensemble. I was also co-captain of the drum line. I competed in Nashville, marched with the University of Pittsburgh Panthers, was selected for the Mellon Jazz Festival, produced a video at the House of Blues, and played with a number of rock/blues bands. I am a contributing writer for Modern Drummer and Drumhead magazines. I published my first drum book (with Rich Redmond) through Hal Leonard titled “FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids” and I have my own music project called Question Everything (?E). I proudly endorse Rich Sticks drumsticks, ProLogix practice pads, Bum Wrap Drum Company custom wraps, TnR Products “Booty Shakers,” Adam Argullin Mallets, Drumtacs and GrindItOut clothing. My biggest influences are Papa Jo Jones, Phil Rudd, Alan Meyers and the sober Steven Adler. This blog came about to provide an outlet to discuss my passion for percussion.  It is my hope to post some thought-provoking topics that may be off the beaten path along with my own insights. Thanks and enjoy…photo

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Phil Rudd: Top 10


Today I want to talk about my favorite drummer of all-time, AC/DC’s Phil Rudd. My draw to him is based on two things: 1) his groove is second to none and 2) his brilliant sense of simplicity. In other words my fondness for Phil is not always based on what he plays, but what he doesn’t play. No one serves the song better. A few months back I posted what turned out to be a controversial homespun video on YouTube titled “Phil Rudd: Master of Minimalism.” Currently it’s up to 60,000+ hits and is the most viewed video on my channel. When I posted it I had no idea it would be both popular and hated. (If so I would have done something more formal.) Rather than rehash that commentary you can watch it here: Today I want to share what I consider to be “Phil Rudd’s Top 10 Performances (*10 to 1)” Remember this isn’t about complexity or “gospel chops” it’s all about taste and timekeeping. Notice how every groove fits the song.

(Honorable mentions: Every other song off Back in Black and For Those About to Rock) Now I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Phil’s recent legal issues and hiatus from the band. I certainly hope he is able to work things out and return. No disrespect to Chris Slade, but nobody can push AC/DC like the original.

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Skarlette Saramore


Welcome to the inaugural installment of Off Beat’s “You Oughta’ Know.” Each month I hope to showcase noteworthy drummers who you haven’t heard of, but need to. Our first drummer comes to us all the way from ‘down under’ and has made a name for herself due to her talent, attitude and diversity. Drummer, DJ, model, activist, these are just some of the names that describe Australia’s Skarlette Saramore. Currently tearing it up with her bands Fait Accompli and She Rex, Skarlette is proving that there’s nothing wrong with “hitting like a girl.” In fact she is shattering the glass ceiling.

According to the Fait Accompli website, “There’s never a dull moment when you are around Skarlett. Try songwriting with her, music is her drug man; she has ideas, scenarios and more ideas coming at you like a freight train being driven by a mad scientist. You can see her eyes rolling back and her brain ticking with excitement, it’s actually dangerous and hilarious…”

An avid user of social media, Skarlette’s presence on the web, especially YouTube, features a variety of performances both solo and accompaniment. One only has to watch a single video to get a clear understanding of her passion and chops. With a style that’s a cross between alternative, hip-hop and punk, Skarlett routinely abuses her kit, first by beating the shit out of it and often tossing pieces into the audience. Her stage presence is infectious and clearly she has a connection with her audience.

For more information on Skarlett visit her online at:

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Clinic Tour

My pal Garrett Goodwin (Carrie Underwood) has been holding a series of drum clinics. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from one of the best. Garrett has been voted ‘Best Up-And-Comer’ in Modern Drummer’s Reader’s Poll. You can also read a feature I wrote on Garrett for Drumhead magazine at:


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Friday Solo

Today I’m going to steal a great idea off my pal Steve Goold (Owl City / Sara Bareillis) at He calls it “Drum Solo Fridays.” I’m gonna’ call it “Friday Solo” so as not to insight any kind of copyright infringement. (If Vanilla Ice can change one note in “Under Pressure” and repackage it as “Ice-Ice-Baby” without instigating legal restitution I can too.) My first installment of this series is my all-time favorite solo by one of my all-time favorite players. I’m speaking of the incredible Papa Jo Jones. Everything this guy did with a set of sticks or brushes was magical. His creativity and innovation was second to none and he is still regarded as one of the greatest. This solo was filmed during a live performance of Caravan and features several of Jones’ signature moves. From playing with his hands and using the rims to create interesting rhythms – to the way he ingeniously incorporates dynamics on the snare, this piece is both tasteful and flawless. Take a look at Jones’ facial expressions and posture. He is smiling ear to ear and making it look effortless all at the same time. Gene Krupa once said that he spent a great deal of his career copying Jones and Jones said that he likewise copied Krupa. This performance shows us why.

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Article of the Month

Each month I will share one of my articles penned for either Drumhead or Modern Drummer magazines. My first offering is titled “Sweat Gene Sweat” and presents a unique look at Gene Krupa.


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