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the drummers who weren't snared in stereotype

With the utterly compelling Whiplash hitting cinemas this weekend it's perhaps time that those much-maligned musicians, drummers, got their turn in the spotlight.

In the film Miles Teller plays a young sticksman, obsessed with jazz legend Buddy Rich, who comes under the tutelage of a demanding, practically sadistic mentor played by the Oscar-nominated JK Simmons. This is a blood'n'blisters tour de force which should, temporarily at least, give drummers a respite from being the butt of cruel jokes. Yes, we can all laugh at such gems as 'What were the last words the drummer said to the band? - Lads, how about trying a couple of my songs' but, deep down, we have to admit that they've gotten a pretty bad rap down the years.

In the brilliant This is Spinal Tap we learned that no less than four occupants of the band's drumstool had perished in, shall we say, strange circumstances. Two went to the great solo in the sky as a result of spontaneous combustion, one perished by choking on vomit ('someone else's vomit' at that) while you'd have to wonder just how 'a bizarre gardening accident' panned out.

salutory

Mind you, there was a rare occasion when a drummer was the central character, and a sympathetic one at that, in a feature film. Tom Hanks' delightful debut as a director, 1996's That Thing You Do!, featured a young, jazz-obsessed Texan who found himself in a one-hit wonder 60s beat group in a story which was both sweet and salutary. Well worth a look when it crops up on the satellite movie channels.

Perhaps the most famous drummer movie was 1959's The Gene Krupa Story, in which Sal Mineo played the percussionist, with Krupa himself providing the soundtrack and Mineo miming a particularly thrilling solo towards the feature's climax. Of course, there was a great rivalry in the late 50s and through the 60s between Krupa and the aforementioned Buddy Rich, the pair engaging in several 'drum battles' on various TV shows, several of which you can see on YouTube.

Rich himself had a reputation among his musicians as one of the hardest taskmasters in the business - one suspects that he'd probably regard Simmons' character in Whiplash as something of a wimp if the stories are to be believed - yet he still had enough cop-on to appear on TV in the late 70s and take part in a drum battle with one of the most revered and iconic drummers of them all - Animal from The Muppets.

Now there's a drummer for the ages.

>>> George Byrne


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