Lest we forget our Paice’s, Powell’s, Kirke’s & others…
I love John Bonham – it’s clearly evident elsewhere on this BLOG what a major influence he has played in my development as a drummer for over 20 years. However, by focussing so much attention on the icon that is, John Bonham, it has made me equally guilty of not focussing my deserved attention to other classic British Rock drummers of the same period, who also played a major part in my early development – as well as the thousands of other drummers like me who grew up in the 1970s.
I’ve been neglectful and it’s time to redress the balance.
It was back in 2010 that Stephen Clare tracked me down from an article I wrote about an Ian Paice drum clinic I’d helped to promote to ask me if I’d care to write some words about Paice’s playing and general style for a potential book. There was no release date, but it was going to go through the Deep Purple fan club channels and officially sanctioned by the band members and my knowledge would be greatly appreciated on the analysis of his playing on the ‘In Rock’ album.
Well, “Why not?” I thought; it would be nice to get into print again on hard copy (everything is just so digital these days) so set to work with an appraisal of the man’s work on this classic album.
Not my favourite Deep Purple album, but revisiting it once again, revealed how much Ian Paice has been to an extent overlooked, in the 30+ years rippling wake of John Bonham’s death. If you listen to any of Paice’s work, he shows himself as an absolutely astounding, musical drummer, easily on a par with his Midland’s contemporary. The fact is, both guys were cut from the same musical cloth, but it may just be the case that Bonham got a slightly bigger slice of the legend cake when it came to bands. Maybe the line-up changes endured by Deep Purple proved too divisive, whereas Zeppelin managed to keep their fall-outs under the tight wrap of Peter Grant. Either way, my personal opinion is that I don’t think that Ian Paice is lauded enough – and that’s coming from Bonham disciple.
Truth be known, I got into Paice before Bonham, so both men must be accountable for shaping my early drumming physiology.
Ian Paice grew up listening to the same music as John Bonham, due to the limited access to vinyl at the time and both drummers were pretty much self-taught. Both relied heavily on Big-Band licks they’d picked up from Buddy Rich/Gene Krupa recordings (Paice gaining exposure via his father’s dance band), both had big, phat, swinging grooves and both had the ability to solo ferociously like 1940’s showmen.
When John Bonham died and Zeppelin called it a day, Paice was still extremely active on the A-List Rock circuit. Deep Purple had finished in 1975, but Bonham’s premature death seemed to signal the death knell for the classic British Blues-Rock based bands of the 70’s. Although still working, Paice had almost been forgotten by the end of the 1980’s and into the 90’s when the Olympic drum-slingers really started to take hold. The Bonham legend had set a foothold in the psyche of drummers, but in my opinion, there was never enough being talked about Ian Paice. Hence, when the opportunity to share my critical appraisal of the man appeared out of the blue, I didn’t hesitate (much) to offer my contribution.
Initially, with all my Bonham-worshipping, my short-lived reservations were that I may not be able to do Paice justice. Once I got into the job however, it was very easy. The man’s drumming did all the talking and I was reminded what was so good about being an impressionable 14 year old wannabe drum God, back in my schooldays. This was my chance to do the man justice in a book people can actually hold, put on a shelf and be forever in the archives of the British Library.
With a little bit of help from Bill Ludwig III, I was able to obtain the exact drum setup used during the recording of ‘In Rock’ and judging by the rest of the content in the book, the research on other band members instruments has been kept to the same high benchmark. If you are a Deep Purple fan, this is a book you shouldn’t think twice about buying; it really is a gem and a true labour of love from Simon Robinson & Stephen Clare that I am proud to be associated with.
Saturday 8th February, 2014, I find myself helping out an old friend, subbing for his band’s regular drummer (a lovely bloke) who has been rendered out of service thanks to a painful attack of Gout. Well, I wasn’t doing anything else seeing as it was early February, a period in the gigging musician’s calendar synonymous with the lingering days of the post-Christmas lull.
Little did I know, this was going to be the hardest gig I’ve done for a very long time, along with being a massive wake-up call, warning me to not get too complacent with music.
My friend’s band, ‘Exiles’ as they’re known, are a 3-piece specialising in a playlist of old Rock songs that would have all been featured by the late, great, Radio City DJ, Phil Easton on his early 80’s ‘Great Easton Express’ radio show. Broadcast on school nights, I would be glued to the radio whilst doing my homework, barely a teenager and dreaming about being the drummer for the bands he was playing. This was an era of post-Deep Purple offshoot bands, a time when Heavy Rock was spawning a new breed of exciting groups, fusing the sounds of Punk and Metal into what would be dubbed by the music journalists of the time, as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal or NWOBHM for short. Phil Easton played all the up and coming bands along with the best of the old school brigade, providing his listeners with a wide gamut of styles within the Classic Rock umbrella. To sum him up in modern terms, he was in spirit, the surrogate Father to Jack Black’s character in ‘School Of Rock’.
As an over-eager newbie drummer, my day-dreams took me to a future when I too, would be as good as the guys on the radio, especially the likes of Ian Paice and Clive Burr, both documented elsewhere on this site as being amongst my earliest drumming heroes.
Fast-forward to 2014, faced with a last-minute set-list of songs with artists such as Thin Lizzy, Frankie Miller, Deep Purple, The Who, Cream, Rainbow, Styx, Montrose, Black Sabbath, Pat Travers, Free, Led Zeppelin, The Tubes and the ubiquitous AC/DC, this was clearly going to be a nostalgic trip down memory lane. It also turned out to be one of the biggest tests yet, of my ability to actually play the drums…
With next to no time to gather and learn the songs, I faced a rehearsal two days before the gig, not as well prepared as I’d liked to have been considering the standards I used to maintain back in my pro days. Things went ok, we rehearsed most of the stuff with a few omissions that probably wouldn’t get called upon. Amongst the unrehearsed included what I deemed to be my Nemesis in the bunch, Deep Purple’s ‘Burn’.
The title track of their 1974 album ‘Burn’, sees Ian Paice performing like a Dragster with a Nitrous Oxide injection, interspersing barrages of Snare drum rolls straight out of the Buddy Rich/Chick Webb school of drum fills, within a song structure constructed from a myriad of verses, chorus’, middle 8’s, stops and accents. For me, this was going to be a 6 minute burnout (excuse the pun) of high-pressure worry.
As a kid, I would listen to this and wonder if I’d ever be good enough as Ian Paice to play it, in my fantasy future as a Rock star drummer. 30+ years later and I have the know-how and technical skills to do it, but the engine’s been stuck in a 7 year laid-back groove thang; a bit worrying, to say the least.
Just for laughs, I had a go at playing through ‘Burn’ on my home practice kit, no crib sheets or notes, just as a taster to see how the condemned man might feel. The result? It was clear I needed to do some serious homework.
Although I love playing in my regular long-term band, there’s something to be said for keeping a bit of variety in your musical life. It’s nice to be able to play all those New Orleans Funk beats and fancy shuffles, but that doesn’t really help when you need to call on the old Rock skills from the past – or should I say, the old Big Band era drumming skills, learned in the practice room and yet to be used in anger. Even just contemplating playing this song would expose me to a whole world of doubt, questioning if I could actually play what I aspired to as a kid. The horrific truth was to be found within a very simple adage; do one thing all the time and you get stuck in a rut.
Having made crib-sheets for the songs we had covered in rehearsal, I decided to make one for ‘Burn’, barely fitting onto one side of A4 paper, thanks to its multiple-structure making up 6 minutes and 18 seconds of apprehensive challenge. With only hours to go, I decided to play through the song two more times as part of my final pre-gig rehearsal, just in case. Despite miniscule improvements, my knowledge of the piece was still way, way off any standard I’d like to debut in a public baptism of fire.
Nerves in check, armed with my crib-sheets, music stand and a pair of glasses that didn’t really want to stay on my nose, the first set of the gig went pretty well. My homework with the majority of the songs had paid off; not ideal, but still an acceptable compromise between pleasure and pressure. Under such situations my instinct is to play it very, very safe and stay within my comfort zone (a luxury I only treat myself to when I know songs inside out). The regret always is, you know if you had another three gigs to get it ‘right’, you would be sitting back with an air of confidence instead of treading through a minefield of nerves and intense concentration. But whatever, the guys seemed impressed and most importantly, comfortable that I would get them through the night.
The unexpected adrenalin rush came after the first song of the second set. We hadn’t rehearsed ‘White Punks On Dope’ and I only had some half-scribbled down notes, but it still wasn’t enough to avoid a potential train wreck. The forfeit option for failing to learn the Tubes classic carried a heavy sentence, to be executed over the next 6 minutes. Yes, you guessed right, it was time for me to burn…
“Ok, ‘Burn’ then Nick?”
The shock and fear obviously hadn’t translated to my face, as a somewhat reluctant but obliging “yes” fell out of my mouth into a hungry stage floor, like predator in a dark pit, waiting to consume its next foolish victim; and then it started – a tad faster than the original – but I knew I could take it down to the correct BPM. Struggling my way through the opening verse sections, it was all a bit scrappy for the first 2 minutes; but once confidence had caught up with fear, the final result was by no means perfect though quite passable, leaving me in a mentally exhausted state of shock.
Did I just actually get through that song? My disbelief at having actually pulled it off had drained me of all mental-energy reserves, reducing me to the state of a spent athlete who had just won an unwinnable race, desperately in need of a cooling down period.
But there was to be no rest; not even a chance to wind down with a less demanding song that would provide the necessary breather to recompose myself and let the miracle that had just occurred sink in. No, we were going straight into the Zeppelin medley.
As stated elsewhere on this website, I love John Bonham and Led Zeppelin, so the chance of playing ‘Rock And Roll’, ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Whole Lotta Love’ back-to-back is a rare treat, leaving me dreaming of a day that some elusive Zep tribute band will come calling for my services. Unfortunately, still wound-up from the previous marathon, my mental-energies remained drained, leaving me drawing from the dregs of my cerebral fuel-tank. This was a huge dampener to my fire, a cruel blow before what should have been the personal highlight of the gig. Still shaking with residual nerves, I managed to play all the notes in what appeared to be in the right places, whilst remaining in a subdued state of disconnection from the passing moment. The painful truth was, I simply wasn’t calmed down enough to return to the focussed mindset of ‘performance mode’; I’d peaked too soon, having given my all to one song in a display of premature, musical ejaculation.
The rest of the gig was spent regaining my background composure, knowing that the worst possible scenarios were out of the way and nothing else above my comfort zone would be thrown at me. My immediate post-gig reflections were that I had reconnected with part of my primeval drumming past, gradually lost within the smog of passing years, but now rediscovered. The uneasy question of “what now?” started to poke at me like the feet of a fidgety child from a row behind in the cinema, as I stripped down my gear, seeking possible answers to this new, musical crisis.
The problem is, there’s a huge part of me that loved revisiting the schoolboy Rock I grew up listening to, finally proving to myself I could actually play it. More alarmingly, the lust for playing it some more hasn’t gone away. Yes, it’s full of clichés but on the other hand, lots of people still like and continue to connect to it, making it a marketable form of music to play. Despite upsetting my apple cart, the whole experience has been hugely positive, forcing a re-evaluation of my currently singular, musical pursuits. No, I don’t want to stop playing funky-souly-jazzy-bluesy music; but I don’t want to leave my early Rock roots behind at that one gig either.
There’s a whole genre of music from my past that I could be out there playing in addition to the limited activities on the ‘specialist’ music circuit. Perhaps it’s time to sniff about for a sideline pursuit?
And what of the dangerously difficult ‘Burn’? Will I be adding it to my regular regime of groove tracks to play along to? You betcha life on it!
Ian Paice, once again, as in my youthful, dreamy drumming days, I tip my (virtual) hat to you.
If anybody wants to see how ‘Burn’ should be played, check this guy out. He really nails it like I wished I could have done!
Drum Cover Of Deep Purple’s Burn By Denis Richard Jr