✯ Mike's Site

In service of the groove

Musically, I am many things, though my skills range from "not bad" to "technically, yes, you are playing that instrument." But I love drums, and I generally appreciate a great drummer more than a shredding guitarist.

I find a lot of people who get really into drums go in one of a couple particular directions. One is of course jazz, which means that you will probably admire Buddy Rich and Art Blakey above all and if you're a rocker you'll try to emulate fusion greats like Tony Williams. Or, you become one of those insufferable prog guys who have never voluntarily touched Black music and just want to be like Tool or Rush. Now, don't get me wrong: Neil Peart was as impressive behind the kit as he was terrible at lyrics. But to me, there are more important things than the number of hits you can slip into a measure.

My all-time greatest drummer list includes primarily people who:

  1. Invented a beat
  2. I could listen to play that beat, unceasing, for hours on end

This is the GROOVE. It's easy to know when you hear it, hard to define, and rarely as good as it is with these guys. Also, all of them are dead, which is depressing.

Klaus Dinger (NEU!)


The best name in the bunch. Dinger is the original drummer for Kraftwerk when they had one, before he formed NEU! and later La Dusseldorf. He never called it "motorik," just something like "endless beat," but both make sense when you hear it. A lot of interesting bands owe a lot to Neu!.

Bernard Purdie and Clyde Stubblefield (James Brown)

The Purdie Shuffle and the Funky Drummer

James Brown was a genius bandleader but he also knew enough to get the right guys. He had two of the best drummers in the business at the same time. Purdie is best known for "The Purdie Shuffle," a basic beat with very little actual shuffle or swing but an insane amount of variable ghost notes that give it incredible funk. Stubblefield had his own magic, and thanks to a track that got released as "The Funky Drummer," he became the single most sampled drummer in history. The only break that comes close to Funky Drummer's ubiquity is the Amen Break.

I think what both of these guys taught me I applied to drum programming more than acoustic drumming: Swing is an artificial way of humanizing a drum machine, but you can create an intense groove in the manipulation of dynamics (that is, volume) of the different hits. Here's about 8 minutes of only the most famous samples of Funky Drummer.

Tony Allen (Africa 70)


I said when Tony Allen died that the title for "Best drummer on earth" is now up for grabs. Not sure who claimed it. Allen did a lot of things, dabbling in everything from jazz to dub, but he's best known as Fela Kuti's drummer and the innovator behind the Afrobeat. Not the genre, but the beat itself. It's hard to pin down, but for me it's also hard to stop listening to. He's never ever doing a straight beat, but somehow your head can't stop nodding. His discography is massive. There's solo stuff, Fela, even The Good, The Bad, and the Queen with Blur/Gorillaz's Damon Albarn and Paul Simonon from the Clash.

Jaki Liebezeidt (Can)

What do you even call this?

The idea that you can listen a single rhythm literally forever and not get bored was introduced to me by Can. James Brown and Fela Kuti could groove for a long time, but nothing compares to the 18-minute album version of "Hallelulwah" from Tago Mago — let alone some of the live versions that last even longer. Just gonna put it out there: no German has the right to be this funky.