I was sitting in a club listening to one of my drum heroes when I asked myself what it was that I found so appealing about his playing. I listened carefully as he played through the head, backed each soloist, took a solo, and wrapped things up. His playing rose and fell beautifully with the music, but for the most part, he seemed to be barely there: supportive but unobtrusive ... almost invisible. Some of the very best drummers are virtually unheard of. When it comes to the needs of music, visibility -- or, rather, audibility -- is often not high on the list. There are high profile drummers we admire who have the ability to disappear as well as get noticed. Vinnie Colaiuta is a great example. When it calls for flash, you couldn't want for more. But look at Vinnie's recording credits and you'll find loads of examples where he takes musical invisibility to heart.
A lot of drummers who qualify as invisible: Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer, Clem Catini. Even the more flamboyant drummers -- Buddy Rich, Keith Moon, Mike Portnoy -- fade into the background when it suits the music. They all played out front when necessary but were just as happy sitting back and grooving their butts off. What it comes down to is that these players could be anybody during the body of a tune, but when their creative skills were needed, well there’s no mistaking a Hal Blaine fill.
Being invisible doesn't mean not contributing or not being creative or not being sensitive to the music. Quite the opposite. Being a musical drummer means that you can sense what the music needs and then deliver just the right thing -- no more, no less. You are part of the recipe, the way that leavening is a part of the cake. So when the drums belong in the background, that's where they should go.
I love the supportive aspect of this approach. These drummers sit in the mix in such a way that the music is fully supported and carried along by the drum beat, it's just that it's not obvious and sometimes you have to listen for it.
Next time you're Listening to any well-produced track, note whether the drummer is sitting quietly at the back or way out front. Which do you prefer? Which is better for the tune?
You can read this and other posts online at http://drumyoda.blogspot.ca/