Drummers Are Special People by Roy Burns

Drummers belong to a special fraternity. There is a certain friendship that only drummers understand. Only drummers really know that we get a lot of blame from other musicians. Sometimes it seems as though we get none of the credit when the band sounds good and all of the blame when it doesn’t.

Drummers understand equipment problems. Your heart has to go out to the drummer who breaks the bass drum pedal on his or her fist record date or first big concert. As drum sets have gotten larger, it has often been the band that encouraged equipment overkill. “We want a drummer with a big set” is a comment heard at many an audition. A huge kit is a lot to be concerned with. It is another problem that only drummers can appreciate.

When Buddy Rich was in the hospital, drummers rallied around him. Cards, letters and phone calls were never ending. When Buddy changed rooms, the next person to occupy the room said, “Who is the man Buddy Rich? The phone has not stopped ringing!” I responded, “One of the world’s most famous drummers. “ Drummers pull together when things get tough.

Mark Craney is a young drummer in need of a kidney transplant. Since he is a diabetic, he cannot get medical insurance. Recently, a number of his friends decided to do a benefit for Mark to raise some money for his medical bills. A number of famous drummers devoted an afternoon to play at a monster drum clinic/extravaganza at the Guitar Center in Hollywood. Among the players were Myron Grombacher, Vinnie Colaiuta, Gregg Bissonette, Vinny and Carmine Appice, Terry Bozzio, Rudy Richman, Michael Fischer, and Steve Smith. A number of other players also sat in during a rousing finale of rhythms and sounds.

Billy Sheehan, the bass player from David Lee Roth’s band, was present at the benefit. He looked around, visibly impressed and said, “Only drummers would do this! I can’t imagine bass players getting together like this.” I can’t say what bass players would or would not do but I do understand Billy’s comment. Drummers stick together. It’s a special club and only by playing the drums can you become a member.

A young man wrote to me recently from prison. He said, “Roy, tell all the young players not to take the drums for granted. It’s tough to keep your spirits up in her. But I am still practicing and playing. That’s what keeps me going.” He didn’t volunteer how he came to be in prison and I didn’t ask.

However, I understood his point. If you are healthy and you have the opportunity to play the drums, feel fortunate. You might also take a little time out to help someone who is less fortunate.

Jimmy Monroe is an accomplished rock drummer from southern California. Not too long ago, he was putting gas into his car at a gas station. Suddenly, the car that was waiting in line surged forward, pinning Jimmy’s legs between the two vehicles. Most of the damage was to Jimmy’s left leg. After some heavy surgery land a lot of pain, Jimmy is playing again, but it wasn’t easy. The encouragement that he received from other drummers no doubt helped jimmy resolve to come back.

Drummers are a very competitive lot. After all, there are surely more drummer than there are bands to play in. Drummers often act unimpressed when hearing or discussing other drummers. They have their preferences and their pet peeves. Drummers like to talk about drumming, seemingly at any age. I’ve met drummers in their sixties and seventies who are as enthusiastic about drumming as young drummer students.

I have a friend by the name of Len Droste in Billings, Montana. I don’t want to reveal his age but he is retired. However, he is not retired from teaching. He gets a big kick out of seeing his students progress. He has that ageless enthusiasm that is reserved, it seems, only for drummers. He’s always ready to talk drums, listen to drums and play the drums. When I spend some time with Len or when I read some of the very sincere letters I get from Modern Drummer readers, I know that drummers have something special. It is like a friendship for life.

What we can’t take for granted is our health. An accident or sudden illnesses can change everything. When one of us is ill or in trouble, it brings out the best in the rest of us. We help each other. At the benefit for Mark, more than one drummer said, “This is a beautiful thing. Our industry needs more of this.” After viewing the crowd at that clinic, observing the friendship among the featured players and seeing the look on Mark’s face when he arrived in a wheelchair, I couldn’t agree more. There were no managers, no hassles, no arguments and no showboating. Everyone, including many people who donated products, time, money, and prizes, felt lucky to be there to help out. At such times, I am really proud to be a drummer.