March 29, 2011

Jethro Tull drumming

Jethro Tull has been close to my heart since I was like 10 years old and got my hands on a cassette tape of Bursting Out album and subsequently spent the next two years listening to it. Since starting to play drums, I never really looked at Tull’s drum parts, until now.

For some reason, Jethro Tull never comes up in topics of intricate or difficult drumming; everyone talks about Rush, Dream Theater and other heavier progressive rock and metal bands. One of the reasons might be that Jethro Tull has been even further outside the main stream than Rush and other progressive rock bands; while having a great cult following, they never got “that famous”.

A second reason, perhaps, is that Jethro Tull has had 6 different drummers throughout their 50-year-long career. Only their original drummer, Clive Bunker, during 1967-1971 has received an entry into 100 Greatest Rock Drummers listing but at a low position of 79. Neither Barrymore Barlow (1971-1979) nor Doane Perry (1983-present) receive any mentions; yet listening to albums throughout, there’s still a distinctive ‘Jethro Tull’ style drumming going on that is perhaps what Clive Bunker contributed and all the following drummers tried to the best of their ability to reproduce. Barrymore Barlow carried on Bunkers legacy almost perfectly, but by the time Doane Perry came along the sound has moved further away.

There is no question of Clive Bunkers chops, speed and creativeness as can be seen from this solo, but that’s not why I’m interested in him; there are many other drummers who are at the same level; what I’m interested in, though, is how he constructed drum parts to the songs.

The biggest difference in the early Jethro Tull drumming compared to my other favorites like Neil Peart from Rush is that what Neil does is very structured, logically composed and analytical – which naturally appeals to me, being a programmer and a logical person. However, the way Clive and Barrymore play is completely emotional. You could listen to those earlier albums and actually not hear the drums – because a lot of the times, the drums don’t have their own distinctive part – they closely mimic and follow whatever the lead instrument is at the time – following the vocal hits, guitar riffs or flute movements up and down, both rhythmically and melodically. This is completely different from the “modern” rock drumming and concepts of time, pulse and such. There’s no pulse in Jethro Tull drum parts, no 8th-notes going; more often than not, there’s not even an implied underlying time feel that you can count out or tap your feet to.

I guess “orchestral drumming” might be one way to describe this approach to constructing drum parts; but I prefer to just call it the “emotional” approach, as opposed to “logical, structured”. This is definitely an aspect of drumming that I want to investigate further; while my natural approach might be structured and logical, I think the emotional part adds a lot of value; also, I’ve noticed that when I let loose and just go wild on some play-along song, I have a stronger tendency to try to mimic the lead instruments movements and try to accord with it instead of sitting back and keeping a pulse or even going against it.

To wrap up, this nice tribute to Jethro Tull is definitely worth watching.