By Roberta Penn
Give the Drummers Some! The Great Drummers of R&B, Funk & Soul
by Jim Payne (Warner Bros., 276 pages, $29.95)
from Jazz Notes 9/3 1997Copyright © 1997, Roberta Penn
Cheaply made books about music abound. The photos often look like old, graying T-shirts, the spines are ragged after one reading, and the information inside isn't even as important as yesterday's news. All of these complaints apply to some degree to Give the Drummers Some! The Great Drummers of R&B, Funk & Soul. That is, unless you want to know how to mimic Clayton Fillyau on "Please, Please, Please," Al Jackson, Jr. on "Soul Man," or Roger Hawkins on "Chain of Fools." The licks of these drummers and many more make this book a must for anyone wanting to learn the classic R&B and funk drum styles of the 1960s and '70s. There's even an accompanying CD with the book's author, Jim Payne, playing 90 of the 120 rhythms illustrated in the book.
Payne is a drummer who has worked with jazz, pop, and R&B artists and his own band, New York Funk. He's written several books on drumming and contributed to a number of music magazines. He knows his material and writes about it with enthusiasm and ease. The chapters of Give the Drummers Some! open with upbeat, concise introductions to 24 drummers spanning from Earl Palmer, who played on hit singles like Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin', " to Mike Clark, who worked with Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters. Interviews either with the players or their fellow band members follow, with both old and new black and white photos scattered throughout the book. Some of these snapshots and promo photos are clearer than others, making the visual impact of the book uneven.
The interviews, however, are meaty and satisfying, as if Payne wanted musicians to know these players personally before trying their licks. John "Jabo" Starks talks about working the Club Harlem in Mobile, Alabama, where he picked up licks from New Orleans drummers before playing on many of Bobby Bland's '60s hits and more than 20 of James Brown's charting singles between 1966 and 1974. Maurice White, who made his mark with Earth Wind & Fire but also played on Ramsey Lewis' "Wade in the Water," explains how he took some of his ideas from Sly and the Family Stone. And Roger Hawkins paints a picture of his glory days at the Fame Studio, playing on classics like Aretha Franklin's "Respect" and Wilson Pickett's "Mustang Sally." This is material that you don't have to be a drummer to love. And if you're a fan of James Brown, Give the Drummers Some! is particularly interesting because eight different players discuss their work with the Godfather of Soul.
For those who want to play funky soul there is plenty of information about who influenced whom and how certain styles evolved. It is couched in the interviews, making learning pleasant and non-linear. And at times, like when Stark explains how he put the feel of the "holiness" churches to Bobby Bland's "Turn On Your Lovelight," the inspiration and spontaneity of these drummers' experiences is thrilling.
But there are some serious gaps in this story of the R&B and funk era. In the Author's Note, Payne writes that he knows he left out the Motown, Philly International, Parliament-Funkadelic drummers, as well as Zigaboo Modeliste of the Meters. While the drummers for Motown weren't particularly innovative, those who worked with Parliament - Raymond "Tiki" Fulwood, Tyrone Lampkin, or Jerome Brailey - and Frankie "Kash" Waddy of Bootsy's Rubber Band are important because of their effect on black rockers, hip hop, and contemporary groups like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And Modeliste was an essential element in the southern soul funk of the '70s.
Give the Drummers Some! doesn't pretend to be a historical overview, but is rather a workbook written mainly for players. It's also not a how-to book on drumming. But musicians who already have the basics down, and also funk and soul connoisseurs, will find much to savor in the book. And after reading it, they will have more zeal at that moment on almost every gig when someone yells, "Give the drummer some!"
(The book can be ordered from Face the Music Productions; for information, call 914-232/8075, fax 914-232/8550, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)