Subtitled The Truth About the World’s Greatest Drummers–from John Bonham and Keith Moon to Sheila E. and Dave Grohl Tony Barrell’s Born To Drum (Dey St.) is a fairly detailed book about the power and strengths, along with the risks and myths, of being a drummer, focusing on popular bands but also within groups that may not be as huge as The Beatles but carry an influence that is strong among the genres they call their own.
As far as the myths, it’s that all drums are wacky, crazy, insane: bring up a word that has to do with the maniacal and next to it is a drummer’s picture and a list of musicians who carry that honor with pride. While drummers can be a bit crazy, most are not anywhere close to being that. In fact, many of them are very intelligent and if you put faith in recent articles, they’ll tell you the drummer is easily one of the most intelligent members of any group, and not just because they have to keep a rhythm or count math equations continuously. Barrell focuses on what makes these people become musicians and why they’re drawn in something that most people consider nothing but noise. It’s the stereotype that drums lack any sense of music when it is very much a part of what music is. He interviews a wide range of drummers from a wide range of music, so you’ll get to read on the inner makings of Phil Collins, Clyde Stubblefield, Mick Fleetwood, Nick Mason, Chad Smith, Clem Burke, Joey Kramer, Karen Carpenter, Mindy Abovitz, Debbie Petersen, Moe Tucker, ?uestlove, Terry Bozzio, Billy Cobham, Nicko McBrain, and the list goes on and on and on. Most of the information comes directly from interviews Barrell did with these drummers, touching on the rise and fall of being the backbone of all bands, but also getting into what some do when they’re not in the studio, on tour, or doing the promotional duties in hyping up what they do to make the money.
The book is not about the exploits of any specific musicians, the swagger of backstage adventures or the after effects of ones death, although occasionally those things are hinted it. It looks at these musicians as humans first, drummers second, so while it is very much a job to all of them, some of them do it because they love it, need it, or just find an attraction to making music or being the cacophony timekeepers on the stage that most people tend to ignore but without them, the rhythms would not be what is needed in all of music.
If you are someone who is a drummer or perhaps listens to music where the emphasis is the drums, you’re really going to love Born To Drum. If there is any one complaint, it’s that Barrell sometimes ends each chapter in almost a sing-songy writing style but in order for everything to tie in together, he has to let the reader know the direction of the book’s path so one can travel from one part of the book to another. It’s more a personal preference of mine than anything and most of you may not even notice it. Nonetheless, just as music is a means of travel, Born To Drum can be another map into where you’ll want to go next, whether it’s finding new music to listen to or redefining your skills as the leader of the traps. There are a lot of other drummers I wish were a part of this book (Brian Chippendale or Eric Akre, anyone?) but it’s a solid read from start to finish.