As if being behind the kit isn’t enough to keep them busy, there are band multitaskers who happen to be great with vocals too. Incredible coordination? Check. Amazing talent? Check. Playing the drums alone is an awesome feat all in itself but if they can sing at the same time, okay, we might as well call it ‘superpower.’
He’s more than just the principal lead singer and drummer for The Monkees. Micky Dolenz also happens to be a radio personality, television and theater director. Yes, sir. This guy seems to be a master at multi-tasking and the same goes for his role in the band. However, when he was cast as lead vocalist and drummer for the TV sitcom The Monkees way back in 1965, he didn’t know how to play the drums YET. He had to undergo lessons especially since the band was about to tour in 1966. He wrote some of their songs but bandmate Michael Nesmith claimed it was Dolenz’s vocals which gave them their distinctive sound. When asked by Modern Drummer magazine how he got into the drums, Dolenz said: “When the Monkees came along, my audition was on the guitar and the song was Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” But when they cast me, they said, “You’re the drummer,” to which I said, “Fine, where do I learn?” That’s when I started formally studying the drums, but I already could read music.”
Also known as Sheila Escovado in real life, she is a league of her own. Sheila E. is a Grammy-nominated, world-class multi-instrumentalist as she happens to play the guitar and piano in addition to drums. She has collaborated with some of the biggest names in music including Prince, Lionel Richie, Diana Ross, Ringo Starr and Gloria Estefan. In “The Glamorous Life” and “A Love Bizarre”, she proved that she was more than a virtuoso drummer, she’s a talented singer too. She can fuse rock, pop, jazz, R&B, and funk which makes her music exciting and something to always look forward to. When she sat down for an interview with TIME Magazine, she was asked if the ‘singing-drumming’ concept appealed to her and she answered: “I did do both. I incorporated as much playing as I could, but it was more about singing. By the third record, I need to figure out really what I want to do.”
This list will never be complete with one of the most popular singer-drummers of all time: Karen Carpenter. When the band started out, Karen would sing behind the drum kit. But since she was only 5’4 and the audience found it difficult to see her, she was forced to stand in front and sing while someone else played the drums. But then again, not everyone knows she can play the electric bass guitar. And while most people laud her vocal range, which is downright impressive, her drumming skills are undeniably incredible as well. Hal Blaine, a session musician who played with The Carpenters, talked about Karen’s chops: “She loved the drums, which helped her a great deal as a singer in terms of her time and tempo.” She’s been playing since high school and she was self-taught in terms of how to play complicated drum lines. Her brother, Richard, once said that Karen considered herself as a ‘drummer who sang.’
It was in the late 1950s when Dave Clark bought a set of drums and started learning how to play them. His favorite drum set, however, was the Trixon which was made in Germany. At the height of his career, along with his band, they were dubbed in the UK as “the most serious” threat to The Beatles. The Dave Clark Five had a following of 500,000 fans and even Dave’s dog, Spike, had his own fan club with 50,000 members! One time, they were in Cleveland and in the middle of a concert, a girl jumped out of a balcony and where did she land? Right in front of Dave’s drums! And when he was asked when he knew he was interested in drums, he said: “I dunno. When I was a kid, my parents tried to get me to learn the piano, ’cause we had a piano at home. My brother was the pianist. I wasn’t. I never really got into it. It never really appealed to me. I saw a drum kit that was up for sale for ten pounds, which is about fifteen dollars. The bass drum was bigger than me. It just happened. I can’t tell you why. There was nobody in my family that was a drummer.”
With his country accent, and deeply soulful, bluesy and rough-throated voice; Levon Helm shined as a lead vocalist of The Band. But his creative drumming style was also something else. He was never a show-off behind the kit. He wasn’t as flashy as other drummers and he never really called attention to himself. But then again, he played with finesse and utter perfection and that was enough to make him a legend. And it was unforgettable all the same. He had unlimited musicality and somehow made playing drums look effortless. He was a beast on the drums. When asked by Robyn Flans why he ended up as a drummer, Helm said: “I don’t know. I guess it’s from being born in Helena, Arkansas. That’s a pretty basic part of America where there’s a lot of good basic music. Drums just always sounded like the most fun part of that good music for me. I had the opportunity to see some of the traveling minstrel shows years ago, with the house band, the chorus line, the comedians and singers. In those kinds of shows, with horns and a full rhythm section, the drums always looked like the best seat in the house. That sound of cymbals and the snare drum popping in there like that just sounded like Saturday night and good times.”
Aside from being a full-time, all-around cool guy; Dave Grohl has been in among the best rock bands in history. He was in Nirvana and Foo Fighters and he has collaborated with some of music’s most legendary acts – Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Slash, Iggy Pop, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Stevie Nicks and Nine Inch Nails. He taught himself how to play drums and though he does an amazing job at it, that’s not to say his vocals aren’t just as good. Well he did fill in for Freddie Mercury when he sang “Tie Your Mother Down” alongside Roger Taylor as they inducted Queen into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame way back in 2001. And lest we forget, he also had an epic drum duel with The Muppets’ Animal. A real heavy-hitter, he was interviewed when he was still with Nirvana and he said: “The drums have to propel everything. That’s an important element. Whether the drums stand out to people or not isn’t what’s really important. That it sounds like a big bomb going off is.”
No list will ever be complete without The Beatles’ Ringo Starr. Let’s face it, without Starr, the Fab Four would have sounded differently. Thus, it solidifies the fact that the unassuming man behind the kit had great contribution to the band and their music. His style and technique have always received praises from other iconic drummers and when you listen to Beatles classics, it’s undeniable how his drumming had an amazing effect to how the songs sounded. Starr used to comment: “I’m no good on the technical things … I’m your basic offbeat drummer with funny fills … because I’m really left-handed playing a right-handed kit. I can’t roll around the drums because of that.” But then, he was reliable and consistent. And he was more than proficient. In fact, he has become very influential in shaping some modern drumming techniques. To add, author Jonathan Gould once wrote: “There is little question that the invitation to join the Beatles was the single luckiest thing that ever happened to Ringo Starr. But Ringo’s acceptance of that invitation was also one of the luckiest things that ever happened to the Beatles.” And we couldn’t agree more. Oh and his drum kit sold last year for $2.2 million at an auction.
A respected and very influential drummer, Phil Collins can bring the house down with one solo. When he was a kid, he used to practice drumming by playing along to the music from the television and radio. He’s known for his unique style and in making drum lines stand out. He doesn’t just ‘keep the beat’ but you can tell how much he gives every time he plays – the feeling is deep and that perhaps is what easily ranks him among the best. John Bonham’s son Jason had this to say about Phil: “It was an honor to be chosen by one of my real heroes. Other than my dad I would say Phil is probably my No. 2 guy to go to.” Why did he hire Jason Bonham? Because last year, Phil had to undergo surgery and doctors warned him that he could no longer go behind the kit. That’s heart-wrenching so let’s just console ourselves by remembering that Phil Collins will always be one of the best singing drummers of all time.
In addition to being one of the greatest drummers in classic rock music history, Roger Taylor can also boast of his falsetto vocal range. Early on, he has taught himself how to tune his drums. He claimed that some of his musical influences included Keith Moon, Mitch Mitchell, Buddy Rich and John Bonham. His boundless musicality made him an influential and iconic singer-drummer. He’s versatile, stylistic, and he never missed a note. His playing is utter perfection and perhaps the epitome of his talent is how fluid he sounds in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ And his sound is distinctive enough to be identified easily – the feel, the dynamic – all of it. When asked how he balances his singing and writing with drumming, Taylor said: “Strangely enough, singing and drumming never bothered me, although I know of drummers who do have problems with the two. See, back when I was in school, the singing bit was forced on me one day when the lead singer in the band I was playing with suddenly picked up and left. We had to do the gig and I had to sing. That’s basically how I became a vocalist.”
The legend that is Don Henley – the man behind several Eagles musical masterpieces. If someone asked me what I picture out as ‘perfect’, I’d say seeing Henley behind his kit while filling the air with his indescribably beautiful vocals as he belts out some of their classics. His drumming is simple but unforgettable. And he claimed that Ringo Starr served as a huge influence on his technique and skills, hence the ‘less is more’ concept. However, over the years, he has rarely played the drums because it hurts his back. When asked if his drumming has helped him write songs, Henley said: “I think rhythmically it does. It helps define the meter of the lyrics. It teaches me how to sing in the holes, and it helps my phrasing a great deal. When I used to play and sing at the same time I would sing around my playing, and vice versa.”