FAMOUS SINGING DRUMMERS

The following post was originally posted on my daveparis.com site in 2014. Two drummers I’d meant to include were Karen Carpenter and Jen Ledger.

I’m doing something different with this post, because it’s my site & I can. While I’m in between news & events, I’m going to NOT talk about guitars, but talk about drummers, but not in the way I usually do using jokes like “How many drummers does it take to change a light bulb? None: they have machines that will do it for them now.”

I’ve been in a few discussions where singing drummers ended up being discussed. Singing drummers are a rarity, as nowadays nobody wants the guy behind the kit to front a song; it’s apparently not entertaining to have somebody who can’t move around or take center stage sing a song. This, to me, is a bummer, because in the olden days record companies used to actually request that every member of the band sing a song. Every band member had a personality, an identity, & often the record company wanted every band member to have a song they sung on, including the drummer. It was the 80’s that made image more important, & all about “the frontman”, & a single lead singer was usually dedicated to a band & became the main focus. At this point the standard became one person singing lead & defining the band’s sound, & on occasion a B-side or random album track would allow someone else in the band to take a lead, more in a “character singer” role, but usually for more established artists.

But throughout history there have been many singing drummers; players who are dedicated to their instrument/drums, & represent the song both on their drums & with lead vocals. I was even honored to be a part of a band that had an extremely talented female drummer who took lead vocals, & wrote some great songs, & was also a great studio engineer for that matter. So for the fun of it, I intend to highlight but a few singing drummers, some that influenced me:

Ringo Starr

Ringo Drums

The Beatles have done everything, so of course everywhere a music topic is mentioned, you can add the Beatles. I don’t think Ringo was the sole lead vocalist for this band because I think there are a couple other guys who wrote most of the songs & did the majority of the singing, (;-))but Ringo took lead on songs like “Yellow Submarine” & “With a Little Help From My Friends”, among others.

Peter Criss
Caterwauling

The cat. Peter Criss & Ace Frehely were probably the reason I got into music; as a kid I was into cats & Star Wars/Space Sci-Fi, so I swapped between drums & guitar (& organ because we had one & I was made to play it) before settling on guitar because the teacher was cooler. Aside from Kiss’ successful ballad – that Peter didn’t play on, nor did any member of the band fwiw, Peter took a lot of leads from behind his kit, & really had a great voice to do it.

Gil Moore
Triumphantness

Triumph rocks. Rik Emmett is one of my all time fav guitarists. Triumph ventured into many territories other groups hadn’t gone; they had a production quality for a three-piece band bigger than most bands with more members, over-dubbing harmony guitars & vocals, & adding so many parts you wondered “how can they pull it off live”. So live, they were uber-talented, left out the overdubs, & compensated with a high-energy show & larger-than-life light, laser, & pyro spectacle that is pretty much the standard of bands able to reach an arena today, but Triumph pioneered this. Triumph was different: three-piece in an era where three-piece bands weren’t booked because “a front-person was needed to put on a good show”, & heavy into production that even band’s today won’t venture into because they’re afraid they “can’t pull it off live” (& most bands are using tracks live anyway)! Also, aside from multi-band festivals, Triumph has NEVER been an opening act, they’ve never opened a show, they’ve headlined every tour they’ve been a part of; their first American tour had AC/DC opening for them. And they had two lead singers, both of which were band members that were not slated for the roles at that time; the lead guitar player & the drummer. These are but a few elements that made the band “different”, & Gil held the double duty as lead vocalist & drummer onstage, as well as a songwriter, & his drumming chops were revered by players at the time.


Kelly Keaggy

Keagy on Key

I don’t know what it is about the drummers singing the ballads, maybe because they don’t have to play as hard? Maybe the most aggressive appearing members show their sensitive side, but the Night Ranger drummer got tasked with most of the band’s crooning hits. But Kelly is a great drummer, great songwriter, & great singer, & often “rocks” on vocals on many of the band’s faster tunes. I like bands that break the mold, & aside from Night Ranger having the absolute best double-duty lead guitar sound, having two lead singers – one being the drummer, puts this band near the top of the mold breaking. When I first discovered the band I said “different”, & I loved them ever since. The band doesn’t relegate the drums to the back of the stage in the middle like every other band, Kelly positions himself and his kit up front, providing his profile when he plays, but turns towards the audience to sing to them. Kelly’s top-notch, & a true singing drummer.

Sean Murphy
Fighting fire with vocals

If you were into Christian music in the early 90’s, & especially from Iowa, you loved Fighter. In fact, you probably knew someone in the band, or claimed to know someone who knew someone. (My wife & I had submitted auditions for the band as well right before their demise fwiw). This band was living the dream while living for Jesus – because that was the top priority; signed to a major Christian label & touring the world. Sean was known as “the drummer who sings & plays standing up, & walks out from the drums to sing sometimes”. Sean played an electronic kit up front of the stage, swapping places with where the bassist would reside (again: different, this is good). Sean sang the emotional ballads of course, but also rocked the youth-group friendly upbeat tunes splitting leads with the band’s female vocalist & playing the big festivals & sharing billing with many Christian rock heavyweights. Into the 90’s the genre & convictions fell like seeds on stones, & most of these types of bands found other things to do with their time, talents, & faith; many of them putting these all on a shelf. But although Sean wasn’t out to define himself as a technically-proficient drummer, he carried much of the responsibilities in the band from behind the kit, & still managed to throw in some cool fills while singing & standing up. Hopefully Sean will one day be immortalized in a Christian rock trivia game.

Debbi Peterson
To be or not to be with you

Who? From the Bangles. Who? That all-girl band that did “Walk Like an Egyptian”. Google it. The Bangles were girl musicians before girl musicians were the norm.
Debbi sang my favorite Bangles song “Be With You”, & when I seen them perform this live on TV I thought “Finally, they rock. This is what they need, top of their game, I hope she sings more.” Shortly afterwards, they broke up. I hope it wasn’t Debbi’s fault.

Deen Castronovo
Castronovo - drummer with the Casanova voice

These later years the Journey drummer has taken leads on songs from the band’s back catalog, & sounds more like Steve Perry than any other guy who’s sang for the band IMO. But recent albums have featured Deen’s voice, & Neal Schon’s recent solo release features Deen’s vocals as well…he sings the ballad. I seen a post that Deen was considered for the new lead vocal slot but didn’t think he was strong enough to front the band & didn’t want to leave his kit, so props for staying true to your first musical love.

Steve Jocz
The Sum of all drumming singers
I wasn’t supposed to like punk-rapcore, because I was an educated musician, but Sum41 had a certain fun-ness to them, & their ability to combine so many styles & interact between the band members made me take notice. I remember saying “Hey that drummer sang” when I first seen them do “Fatlip” & I thought that was pretty cool, as music briefly got back to it not being about the frontman.

Dishonorable Mention:
Here’s where I get in trouble. This post is about singing drummers; players who sing & play drums at the same time. Although these next individuals are talented, & are…or “have been” drummers, I list them here because they have not seemed to stay true to their instrument, they have opted to become lead singers, & front their music as lead singers, some playing other non-drum instruments rather than drums while singing. To me, as a guitarist, I can’t imagine NOT playing guitar; I may track another instrument, & jump to a keyboard on occasion on stage for some parts, but I can’t imagine selling out my favorite instrument for any length of time on stage & not playing guitar while I was doing anything else. It is this reason alone that I include these drummers in this list. So please, understand the scope of this list, & refrain from the typical hate-filled tirade that is the internet.

Phil Collins
I’m tired of hearing people talk about Phil Collins’ drumming back in the olden days. I know Phil was the drummer for Genesis, & in the 70’s he was quite the player. It was the turbulent 80’s that ruined him, that seems to be the consensus; his music & songwriting got too commercial, & he became more of a singer/songwriter, & another type of musician around then. Genesis itself went from being this technically-proficient prog-rock outfit, to a pop-top-40 easy listening hit machine. From that time on Phil didn’t really play drums, he played drum machine. Some of his biggest songs feature the drum machine, with some of these songs having the same or too similar of patterns. If programming a drum machine makes you a good drummer, technically I’M AS GOOD OF A DRUMMER as Phil Collins! I know people talk of him playing drums here & there & doing things, but a singing drummer he’s not. Phil writes songs, plays instruments, sits behind a piano to sing, fronts songs, & has played drums live on some things, but the drums end up being the lowest priority in the career as an entertainer. I know Collins’ career has not been without criticism (even from himself), but for me his lack of actual drumming has been my beef.

Brad Arnold
3 Doors Down is one of the few genuine “rock” bands; they’re not punk, thrash, metal, pop, hard rock, or anything else, they’re just straight-ahead, no-frills, guitar-music rock. 3DD isn’t about trendy, popular genres, but moving Brad Arnold from the drums to the center of the stage shows hints of corporate rock. Back in the day 3DD was a three-piece band, & Brad would sing from behind the kit. Brad has mentioned that when he writes songs, he has to be behind the drums. But Brad left his first love to become something more popular, the lead singer. Drums are often center stage, just behind the lead singer. Would 3DD be as popular if Brad stayed behind his set & sang lead? No, but does the world need this type of singing-drummer band? No, actually, not really, but wouldn’t it be cool just for the sake of being “different”? In another musical era this could be pulled off, but unfortunately now, no.

I just seen 3DD on their acoustic tour, however, & Brad mentioned wanting to swap places with the drummer. Given this show, with all members sitting down & on a smaller stage, Brad could have done the entire show singing & playing drums & nothing would have been lost from the performance.

Dave Grohl
Ok, Dave Grohl is the best, we all know it. Unless you’re Jack White, you can’t say anything about Dave. Dave’s a no-nonsense, no-holds-barred, outspoken, “real deal” artist; he’s a singer, songwriter, producer, engineer, great guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, drummer, etc. Attacking Dave is a death sentence, which makes my comment all the more uncomfortable.

Dave played drums for a popular band in the 90’s, & then went on to put out his own project/band where he recorded all the instruments, & switched to fronting his band playing guitar. Dave still plays drums for other projects, but to me, what would be really “alternative” would be him fronting a Foo Fighters tour from behind a drum kit, with the drums front & center stage. As Jack White has pointed out, the band already has enough guitar players to represent the music. I think Dave Grohl can handle the opinion of some guitar player in Iowa on this minute singing drummer issue.

Don Henley
Back in the olden days Don was the quintessential singing drummer. The Eagles was what bands should have been; everyone writing, singing, contributing, collaborating & working together without egos. Unfortunately that last one became something that even the Eagles couldn’t pull off. As Don moved into a solo career & began to stand on his own as a singer/songwriter, the live drumming duties became someone else’s responsibility, & Don became another singer holding a guitar; & I do mean “holding” a guitar, because I’ve seen performances of his where the guitar is strapped over him, & he barely plays a chord. Even now during Eagles tours the band brings a percussionist, & Don steps out front to sing allowing the other guy to take over the kit duties.

I’d be interested in knowing of the other famous singing drummers, as I only mentioned a few of the ones I can think of. And hopefully we can debate the dishonorable mentions without all the hate, but this is the internet so I’m skeptical.

Stay tuned to actual relevant band info coming soon.

daveparis.com