Endangered Species – Top Five “Singing Drummers”

Posted: June 13, 2012 by Dale Nickey in List
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Authored by Dale Nickey:

First guy I ever saw sing and play drums was Ringo.  The Beatles introduced the world to a lot of new and strange ideas.  Soon Gary Lewis And The Playboys followed and then …The Carpenters.  So now a tribute to that strange sub-genre of musician, The Singing Drummer.

Here are the top dogs:

Levon Helm (The Band)

Levon’s recent passing had me scurrying to my “Last Waltz” DVD. Levon is the most involving of the “Singing Drummers.”  It’s a tough brief to sing while coordinating the separate movements of  all four limbs. Levon ups the ante’ by playing funky, syncopated parts that have very little connection to the vocal line.  He does all this while maintaining an emotional commitment to the song that is the hallmark of a great lead singer. Levon’s seamless merger of voice, instrument, and body is approached only by Hendrix on guitar. However, Helm’s genius is best explained by watching the epic DVD, “The Last Waltz.”

Ringo Starr (The Beatles)

The Beatles phenomena was alien enough. Moreover, Ringo playing and singing “Boys” on the Shindig TV program was America’s first real sighting of the “singing drummer.” The Beatles looked, played, sang, dressed and talked different from the rest of us. Now a drummer that sang? Wild stuff. Ringo was always undervalued as a musician while in The Beatles. However, any songwriter could appreciate his unwavering sense of time and feel in an era before the click track; not to mention, his total commitment to the song. How many stickmen took a crack at the vocal mike due to his example? Listen to his stupendous (live in studio) version of “Boys” off the first album “Please Please Me.” It rocks as hard as any other cut on the record (yes….that includes “Twist And Shout”). Ringo had his share of solo success as well.

Roger Taylor (Queen)

Taylor was a twofer. He was a consummate drummer who could rock as hard and fast as any speed metal stickman and also play with the delicacy required of Queens nuanced arrangements. But Taylor also shouldered the heaviest onstage burden when it came to singing the difficult and omnipresent high harmony backup vocals. Remember, this is Queen we’re talking about. A band that could fill up a 24 track console with vocals alone. The fact that Queen could even approach their recorded sound onstage is astounding and a tribute to Roger Taylor’s amazing talent. Check out Taylor’s performance on the “Queen Rocks Montreal” DVD. It’s a clinic.

Phil Collins (Genesis/Solo)

Ringo was the prototype but Phil took the roll of the singing drummer to a stratospheric level. First, as Peter Gabriel’s vocal foil in Genesis mark II.  Then, as Gabriel’s replacement in the Mega Stadium incarnation of the band. He pushed his star even further and surprised the world as a platinum selling singer/songwriter/solo artist with a capital A.  He achieved a level of success previously unheard of for a ‘drummer gone solo.’ His workaholism cost him. He has had debilitating back problems the last decade that has all but silenced his drumming.

Don Henley (Eagles/Solo)

Probably the least imposing instrumentalist on the list. Henley still stands out as a triple threat singer/drummer/songwriter. Leading the Eagles was no easy task and Henley gave them the solid, economical foundation that the Eagles virgin-tight arrangements required. Unique from the others on this list due to the fact he was his band’s leader and visionary from the get go.  And frankly, his best solo efforts were more compelling than any of the lightweight offerings of The Eagles.

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Comments
  1. You cannot leave Don Brewer off this list. He played some blistering runs on drums while singing lead with Grand Funk Railroad. I am a singing drummer, albeit more like Taylor – high backup vocals. But singing lead and playing “Walk Like a Man,” and many others from the entire Grand Funk discography puts Brewer in this upper echelon for me. Not criticizing your picks at all, just adding one I think belongs! :-) John “White Chocolate Thunder” Brown of Fragment 58, Frankfort, KY

    • Dale Nickey says:

      Hey, John
      Just went on Youtube and caught GFR’s “We’re An American Band”. Blistering. You got a point for sure. Was suprised to see Don Brewer in the Bob Segar band at Staples this year. Will have to post something (maybe an honors list) to address this. However, I think the top five (as listed) is solid….

      • I agree with you Dale. You have a solid list – honors list is way cool! Heck, everyone has opinions, and the name escapes me right now, but the dude with Rare Earth did some killer lead vocals, played jazz/funk/psychedelic AND sang lead with the only all-white band to sign with Motown. I really like your list and writeup – I bet you’re a killer drummer bro! Kepe in touch! JB

      • Do not know if a url will post – so check out Rare Earth live at the Midnight Special studios doing Celebrate – great showmen! Drummer really is a fave of mine. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzlu_OoM23c

      • Dale Nickey says:

        We could throw Buddy Miles in there as well….

  2. J.C. Radeaux says:

    The ultimate drummer /singer was Dave Clark. It was his “Five” and he got to end all the songs with a final ending drum riff.

  3. Nathan says:

    I know you’re thinking of old bands here, but check out the drummer from grizzly bear. Amazing drummer and great at harmonies

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