When people find out I play the drums, one of their most common follow-up questions is:
"Do you love Neil Peart?"
Neil Peart is the drummer for the Canadian classic rock band Rush, and on the short list of "drummers casual music fans know by name." The reason he's known is because of his legendary multi-piece drum kits and the elaborate drum solos he plays on them.
My answer is no, I don't love Neil Peart.
This is nothing against Neil. I'm sure he's a great guy. And frankly, the idea of me criticizing a drummer of Peart's stature is like a four-year-old with a set of Legos griping about Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture style. Rush is an internationally beloved rock trio; Thunderlips (my band) is beloved by a few dozen kids at a local charter school.
The Peart question presumes I automatically favor music that features dynamic drumming. This is not true. I may play the drums, but my appreciation of music began many years before a heavy-set Elvis impersonator taught me to use the sticks. Just because a drummer has a high skill set doesn't mean I like him or his band. With all due respect, I'm not a huge Rush fan; Geddy Lee's voice really bugs me (like the vocals of most late '70s bands, if I'm being fair), and though Peart's drumming abilities are tremendous, they aren't really "my style."
But like I said...Legos, right?
Now if we're going to talk about my favorite drummers, we've got to talk about Keith Moon. John Bonham. Animal. And not just old classic rock guys. I love Steve Gorman's work with the Black Crowes, and watching Darren King play with Mutemath last year was both inspiring and devastatingly depressing.
In all his years with The Who, Keith Moon sounded like a guy fighting the simultaneous effects of alcohol and speed, falling all over his kit with a chaotic abandon that somehow managed to keep time even though it sounded like he was just playing one continuous fill. Plus he was crazy. His is the most distinctive drumming style I've ever encountered, and I wouldn't even bother trying to emulate it. I'll never be as good as Led Zeppelin's John Bonham (as much for a lack of practice as a lack of talent), but his Hammer of the Gods style is at least fundamentally recognizable enough to aspire to.
I actually became a fan of Gorman's work while listening to his interpretations of Zeppelin songs during a tour the Crowes did with Jimmy Page, but that appreciation spilled over into the Crowes' original work, too. King introduced himself to the Salt Lake audience two Valentine's Days ago by walking out on stage and duct taping a pair of headphones to his skull. I thought this was a little weird, but after watching him thrash around his kit for 90 minutes, I can understand the reason why. His style echoes the barely-controlled chaos of Moon, but with a more down-to-earth kind of rhythm (meaning I can vaguely follow what he is doing).
Even if he's not my favorite drummer in terms of playing style, the coolest drummer of all time would have to be Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones. Not only has Watts been faithful to his wife throughout his decades of touring with The World's Greatest Philandering Rock and Roll Band, but every story I read about him suggests he doesn't even want to be a rock drummer. He's a jazz nut.
My favorite Charlie Watts story goes like this: one night after a show Mick Jagger was partying somewhere in the band's hotel, and in a drunken stupor he called Charlie's room, where the drummer was trying to sleep, demanding, "where's my (expletive) drummer?" Watts got out of bed, stormed into Mick's room and either punched him, grabbed him by the neck, or beheaded him (I can't quite remember for sure...but this version seems kind of watered down), and hissed, "I'm not your (expletive) drummer...you're MY (expletive) singer!"
I don't know...maybe if I heard a similar story about Neil Peart, I might like him more.