I’ve always loved drums. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t “drumming.” I put that in quotes because I’ve rarely actually had a drum at my disposal. I’ve beat rhythms out with wooden spoons, sticks, pencils, pens, toilet paper tubes, pipe insulation, toy drumsticks, my hands… anything at my disposal. (I actually had to stop doing it so much in my car; the head of my gear shift came off once while driving because I had loosened the screws by beating on it.)
So, can you guess who my favorite Muppet was?
Yep. Animal was the quintessential drummer in my young eyes. Totally uninhibited and always wanting to let loose with everything he had. Then one day another drummer was on the Muppet Show as the guest star. And he had a drum battle with Animal! Best. Show. Ever. (Yes, even better than the Star Wars episode.)
Anybody who could leave Animal wide-eyed with his jaw on the floor was worth some attention, in my book. I asked my Dad about him and learned that Buddy Rich was a drummer from the Big Bands era, and was possibly the best drummer alive. I don’t think there’s been anyone since who’s taken the lead in that race.
Here he is in a 1978 solo in The Hague. This isn’t even his best work, IMO, but it’s one of the rare clips I’ve found that has a wider range of “tricks” in it.
The only other drummer I’d put in the same breath with Buddy Rich is Gene Krupa, another great from the Big Band era. Gene was the drummer for Benny Goodman and is the beat behind one of the best swing numbers of all time, Sing, Sing, Sing:
Krupa and Rich got together for their own “drum battle” on Sammy Davis Jr.’s show in the 1966. Nice stuff. It shows the difference in their styles, as well. Krupa has those cross-overs nailed, but I think Buddy is a bit cleaner.
There are some far-and-away excellent drummers today, but those two are the gold standard in my book.
And in case you’re wondering… no, I don’t play the drums myself. I did, long ago, and was pretty good for my age – at least in my school, but due to stupidity it didn’t last. That’s a story for another time, though.