When I began researching the evolution of drumming and American Popular Music in the late 1990s, one of my first goals was to learn as much as I could about this music “from the horse’s mouth,” so to speak. Many of the legendary musicians who had created styles like classic swing, bebop, Rhythm and Blues, rockabilly, and early rock’n’roll were still alive, and while on the road with Royal Crown Revue, I began to seek them out.
Over time, many of these great musicians became more than just interview subjects, they became my friends and mentors. The following photos represent just a few of the drummers and other legends of music with whom I’ve had the good fortune to spend some time.
Three important drumming names of the 20th century: (from left) Earl Palmer, Louie Bellson and Freddie Gruber. Each of these guys was a teacher, mentor and friend as I began my journey through the realm of drumming history. I’m grateful to them all for the wisdom, good humor and camaraderie they shared. This particular shot was taken at a NAMM show around 2002 or 2003.
Earl Palmer – Pioneer of rhythm and blues and early rock’n’roll drumming. An absolute giant in the world of pop and rock recording. In 2007, Earl attended a Royal Crown Revue gig in Palm Springs. It was one of the proudest days of my life. Earl signed an original copy of his “Drumsville” LP for me. Read more about Earl’s incredible life and career in The Roots of Rock Drumming, a book of incredible interviews I edited with Steve Smith in 2013.
Hal Blaine – One of the great studio drummers in the history of Los Angeles recording. Hal was part of the fabled “Wrecking Crew,” an elite group of L.A. studio musicians that played on thousands of pop hits, TV shows and movie soundtracks in the 1960s and ’70s. Along with Earl Palmer, Hal was a big influence on later recording legends like Jim Keltner and Jeff Porcaro. This shot was taken at an early screening of the Wrecking Crew documentary, c. 2009, in downtown L.A. After the film was over, the audience was treated to a live concert by Hal and other original Wrecking Crew veterans. Amazing evening!
In 2001, at the opening of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in Jackson, TN. In attendance were some of the greatest drummers of the country and rockabilly era. From left, Buddy Harman, W.S. Holland, D.J. Fontana, J.M. Van Eaton, Carl Griffin and Bobby Crafford. The only question is, why didn’t I take a second picture with ME in it??
In 2007, I went back to Jackson, Tennessee to interview three legendary drummers for Modern Drummer magazine: W.S. Holland (Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash), Bobby Crafford (Sonny Burgess), and J.M. Van Eaton (Jerry Lee Lewis, Sun Records Session Ace). The finished piece was entitled “The Dummers of Sun Records” and appeared in the August, 2008 issue of MD.
J.M. Van Eaton recording at the original Sun Studios in Memphis, TN in 2007. J.M. played on more than two thirds of all the classic recordings ever made at Sun, including such monster hits as “Great Balls of Fire,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” and “Red Hot.” Sun is still a functioning studio, and it was a real thrill for me to be able to watch J.M. record there just as he did more than 50 years ago!
The legendary D.J. Fontana, who is best known for his work with Elvis Presley in the 1950s and ’60s. That’s D.J. playing the thunderous triplet run on Elvis’ version of “Hound Dog.” Along with Buddy Harman, D.J. played on the soundtrack to most of Elvis’ 33 films from the 1960s. An in-depth interview with DJ is featured in The Roots of Rock Drumming.”
With W.S. “Fluke” Holland at his home in Jackson, Tennessee. W.S was Carl Perkins’ original drummer (he’s on the classic “Blue Suede Shoes”), and starting in 1960, he spent almost four decades backing up Johnny Cash. That’s W.S. on the famous “Fulsom Prison” album, and he can be seen backing up “the man in black” on the Johnny Cash Show, which aired in the late 1960s.
With the undisputed king of the Nashville studios, Buddy Harman. Buddy played on over 18,000 sessions from the 1950s-1980s. He became a dear friend who shared a lot of incredible history with me about the dawn of the “Nashville Sound.” Sadly, we lost this drumming legend in August of 2008. For more on Buddy’s legacy and career, check out the Drum History Minute page on this website.
With Los Angeles drumming mainstay Johnny Kirkwood, in September 1999 (about a year before he passed away). Johnny played with Louis Jordan from 1950-55, and went on to have a distinguished career backing everyone from Lionel Hampton to Wes Montgomery. Because of the Jordan connection, Johnny was the first drummer I sought out when I started researching. We became great pals, and I ended up writing a cover story about Johnny for Stick It magazine, and transcribing some of the shuffles he played with Louis Jordan in The Commandments of Early Rhythm and Blues Drumming.
In Las Vegas, with Louis Prima’s great drummer Bobby Morris, c. 2000. Bobby was with Prima from 1954-61, during his incredible run in the lounges of Las Vegas with Keely Smith and Sam Butera and the Witnesses. We’re standing in front of the booking agency Bobby has owned since 1966. You can read an in-depth interview with Bobby in The Roots of Rock Drumming, a book I edited with Steve Smith that was released in 2013 by Hudson Music.
My pal Joey Altruda with two of the biggest legends of Jamaican ska and rocksteady music – drummer Lloyd Nibbs (left) and guitarist Earnest Ranglin (right). Knibbs practically invented the drumming techniques that would become reggae. You can read more about the birth of ska and reggae in The Commandments of Early Rhythm and Blues Drumming (co-written with Zoro in 2009).
With my teacher and mentor Freddie Gruber, at a NAMM show around 2001. Freddie was truly a master teacher, and in addition to sharing a tremendous amount of knowledge about stick control, rudiments, independence and the like, Freddie helped me to understand the drum set as a real instrument, complete with its own set of timbres, moods and textures. Studying with Freddie was like walking into the pages of history, complete with stories that brought to life all the great players of the past. Freddie knew them ALL, and for me, this was the ultimate hang. Thank you, Freddie!
At lunch with all around groove monster Earl Palmer. What more can be said about this studio legend and pioneer of the big beat? He helped create rock ‘n’ roll while backing Little Richard and Fats Domino in New Orleans, then went on to turn his craft into an art form in the studios of Hollywood. You probably can’t turn on an oldies station without hearing Earl’s groove in the first five minutes. Check out Backbeat: Earl Palmer’s Story, written by Earl and Tony Scherman; it’s a wonderful autobiography that takes you through the history of rock via Earl’s colorful and fascinating perspective. You can also read an in-depth interview with Earl in The Roots of Rock Drumming.
With the legendary Jimmy Cobb at Fat Cat’s jazz club in Greenwhich Village, NYC. In addition to playing on probably the most popular jazz album of all time (Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue), Jimmy has played with every great name in jazz over the last five decades. He still gigs constantly in New York and sound amazing!
Sharing some coffee and a few licks with veteran R&B drummer Charles Connor. Charles was the original drummer in Little Richard’s group, The Upsetters, and he spent many years touring the globe with Mr. Tutti Frutti. His opening groove on Richard’s “Keep a’ Knockin’,” is the influence behind John Bonham’s famous intro on Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” Hear both versions on the Drum History Minute page of this website.
Going to church with L.A. studio drumming ace Jesse Sailes. Along with Earl Palmer and Hal Blaine, Jesse was one of the top aces in the Hollywood studios during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. From Big Joe Turner to Diana Ross, Jesse played on hundreds of classic recordings (including the Halloween classic “Monster Mash”). When I interviewed Jesse around 2000, he was retired and working as the Deacon of a church in South Central Los Angeles.
With the legendary swing master Dave Black at his home in Alameda, CA. Dave won the Gene Krupa drum contest as a teenager in Philadelphia, and went on to take over the drum chair in Duke Ellington’s band when Louie Bellson left in 1953. Check out Dave’s AMAZING stick work in this video clip posted to the Daniel Glass – Drummer, Author, Educator page on Facebook.
With Louie Bellson, reviewing a copy of my book, The Ultimate History of Rock’n’Roll Drumming: 1948-2000. In addition to being one of best known drummers of all time, Louie was an incredible gentlemen, and one of the sharpest people I’ve ever known. His memory was uncanny. And Louie always told me that the profile I wrote about him for Stick It magazine in 2002 was “…. the best thing anyone’s ever written about me.” What an honor – thanks Lou!
With Harold Chang in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was my very first drum set teacher, way back in 1979, but it wasn’t until I joined Royal Crown Revue that I learned he was also a pioneer of the “Exotica” musical movement with artists like Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman. You can learn more about Harold and the Exotica movement in The Commandments of Early Rhythm and Blues Drumming.
At the Viva Las Vegas festival with some more legends of Rockabilly: Rocky Burnette (son of rockabilly pioneer Johnny Burnette), Paul Burlison (guitarist with the Rock’n’Roll Trio) and D.J. Fontana (Elvis Presley’s drummer in the 1950s and ’60s). Read a fascinating interview with DJ in The Roots of Rock Drumming.
With swing drumming legend Johnny Blowers at his home Long Island, New York, around 2001. Johnny was a member of the NBC Studio Orchestra in the 1940s and ’50s, and played with such legends at Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong. At the time of this photo, Johnny was 91 years old and still gigging! We sat down with two snare drums and showed me a bunch of press rolls he had learned from Zutty Singleton. Incredible!
At the Rockabilly Fest, 2001 in Jackson, Tennessee with Bill Haley’s drummer Dick Richards. Dick toured and recorded with Haley back in the 1950’s, and played on some of the Comets’ biggest hits. Now in his seventies, Dick still tours constantly with the reformed version of Bill Haley’s Comets. Read about Dick’s incredible life and career in The Roots of Rock Drumming.
With two drumming masters, one American (the great Ed Thigpen), and one Cuban (Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez). Ed’s brushwork with Oscar Peterson and others established him as one of the true masters of the artform. This picture was taken at the Percussive Arts Society Convention in Dallas, TX in November, 2000.
With two big band legends, Frank Devito (Frank Sinatra, 1960s studios sessions), and Jake Hanna (Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson). Taken at the 2008 Sweet and Hot Festival in Los Angeles, where all three of us performed for many years. These two guys always cut everybody up at the festival after-parties with their amazing stories about Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra and life back in the day!
With veteran swing dancer and teacher Frankie Manning. Manning was one of the original dancers at the Savoy Ballroom during the 1930s, where he is credited with helping to invent classic dances like the Lindy Hop and the Shim Sham. A veteran of countless film and television performances, Manning was still actively touring and teaching until his death in 2009 at the age of 94. The man was a force of nature! This shot was taken at a Swing Dance festival in Phoenix the year before he passed away.