It might surprise you to learn that I’ve never been a big fan of drum solos. I grew up in the 1980’s which was a decade full of gimmicks. Usually the drummer would surround himself with 360 degrees of drums while doing that cliché back and forth with the audience. You know the one; drummer hits a drum, points to the audience, they scream back, repeat. I understand how this sequence instigated audience participation but it has become far too predictable.
The same goes for today. Some drummers lift their kits high into the air on hydraulic pedestals, spinning them around while explosions go off. Others mount their drums on roller coaster tracks and fly dangerously over the crowd. Most of the drummers behind these stunts are hard rock or heavy metal drummers. The solo has become a staple in their performance. Unfortunately more times than not their showmanship distracts from their chops. Perhaps that is why I remain so enamored with pocket players who don’t need solos to get respect. Phil Rudd (AC/DC), Troy Luckketta (Tesla), Stewart Copeland (The Police) and Steven Adler (Guns and Roses) come to mind. Those guys are all about the groove and playing what is appropriate for the song. They don’t need to stroke their egos with self-indulgent solos.
Now I know there are some drummers out there who do amazing solos but is it really necessary? Doesn’t John Bonham and Neil Peart’s playing stand on its own merit? Does a 15-minute drum solo make them any more amazing? I don’t think so. Their true brilliance comes through in their ability to serve the song. I’d much rather hear ‘The Song Remains the Same’ than ‘Moby Dick’ or ‘Subdivisions ‘over ‘De Slagwerker.’
Perhaps I’m just biased because I don’t solo myself. I’ve done one drum solo in my entire life and I was a freshman in high school. I would be terrible if I tried. That said, I want to be clear that I respect drummers who solo; I just find them unnecessary in order to showcase their abilities. It’s all about playing what is appropriate for the music not bragging on the instrument. I look to studio legend Jeff Porcaro who was doing a Q&A at a clinic when someone asked him about soloing. He shook his head and said “I don’t solo. I don’t want to solo. I wouldn’t even know where to start.”