Without a doubt, one of the most under-appreciated drummers of the modern era is Meg White of The White Stripes. Both praised and chastised for her primal style of play, Meg White is slowly becoming highly respected in the alternative music genre. Her simplicity so complimented the dynamic guitar playing of Jack White, their performances were as brilliant as they were rudimentary. In an interview Jack White explained that he was inspired after hearing Meg “mess around” on the drums so he cultivated her into his band. A drummer himself, Jack’s intention was to use Meg for her primitive style as a technically-proficient drummer would be unable to imitate her approach. It worked. Surprisingly, when one listens to a multitude of White Stripe tracks they cannot ignore the overall complexity of Meg White’s playing. In addition to a maintaining a solid tempo, her sparse choice of fills and effective use of dynamics present a drummer with more than child-like chops. Hit songs like Seven Nation Army, Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground and Ball and Biscuit exemplify Meg White’s unique style. Four Grammy Awards testify to her highly original musicianship.
That said there have been mixed reviews of Meg White’s contributions. According to her bio:
Of a 2002 concert in Cleveland, Ohio, Chuck Klosterman said, “[Meg] never grimaced and didn’t appear to sweat; yet somehow her drums sounded like a herd of Clydesdales falling out of the sky, one after another. Clearly this is a band at the apex of its power.” The Australian called her drumming “simplistic but occasionally explosive,” and UK periodical, The Times said that she “reduced the art of drumming to its primary components, bashing the snare and cymbal together on alternating beats with the bass drum in a way that recalled Moe Tucker of the Velvet Underground.” On the other hand, The Associated Press called her playing “maddeningly rudimentary.” The satirical news site The Onion once featured the headline “Meg White Drum Solo Maintains Steady Beat for 23 Minutes.” In reference to her “primal” approach to drumming, she remarked, “That is my strength. A lot of drummers would feel weird about being that simplistic.” For his part, Jack has declared her drumming to be the “best part of this band,” and called her a “strong female presence in rock and roll.” He called her detractors ‘sexist.’
Meg White’s humility is also worth our appreciation. As a shy person, she fulfilled her role in the band and did not attempt to stand out which is difficult to do in a duo. Ultimately this broadened her appeal. Dave Grohl is quoted as saying that Meg White is one of his favorite drummers as her style ultimately changed the face of music. Other drummers are now coming out and crediting Meg White as having an influence on them. Despite the end of The White Stripes their music has remained in regular rotation on alternative radio stations and is being discovered by a whole new generation of up-and-coming musicians. Personally I have attempted to play along to The White Stripes and have found it challenging to stay in the pocket and play with such simplicity. I liken it to imitating AC/DC’s Phil Rudd who mastered the groove and depends on nothing else. With that in mind I challenge anyone to listen to The White Stripes and deny that Meg White was the perfect drummer for that band. I also challenge them to play with the same primal instincts that she mastered.