Author: Compton, Cliff

Drums and bluegrass

As many of you know, Doyle Lawson has been experimenting with the use of drums lately. You may also know that I’m a big tent sort of guy and like to stretch the boundaries of the music I play. However, I’m not a big fan of drums. Now I don’t mind if somebody slips an accordion into their bluegrass, in fact if the person playing it is Pat Calhoun, I think it ought to be mandatory…or if someone adds a cello, or a pedal steel, or an autoharp, or, like mike west, a tuba, or like Del McCoury, the preservation jazz band (minus the drums), or like Old Crow medicine band, a driving harmonica, you won’t get any complaints from me. After all, old crow hired Matt Kinman, and after that, in my world, that gives them permission to do anything they want to do, with my blessing, (as if they needed it). But when it comes to the matter of drums……….

It’s personal to me. Bad things happen when them drums come around.

The first band I played in had a drummer. I was fourteen and had seen the girls screaming when the Beatles played and I realized at that very moment that I wanted to be a rock and roll star. I bought a guitar, stopped cutting my hair, and my drumming friend Mike Mcbride and I Joined Phil Dennis’s band.

Mike could beat on them drums as good as any fourteen year old, and about two weeks later we had our first general public gig, a concert in the park.

We were one of a number of performers playing on a flat portable stage about five feet off the ground.

Well, that performance went about the way you’d expect the first public performance of a group of 14 year olds, and it ain’t a pleasant memory, but it was memorable because of this: As I recall, as we were playing our third number, both the drum and the drummer began to slide in different direction on the tile floor of the portable stage, and Mike, ingloriously fell off the back of the stage.

He survived it and we survived it but it was an omen. A canary in the coal mine sort of moment. Like a crow sitting on a telephone line saying “beware of drums”.

But I didn’t listen to the voice of reason. No siree Bob. Mike and I decided to bring those drums to Sunday school in our conservative, Christian church to do a black gospel number. How would I put this? Let me just say that it was not well received. Had we played two songs we might have spawned a whole new denomination. You see, civilization has always had issues with drums. Some folks see them as the back beat of life, others see them as the arrival of the barbarians at the gate.

I’ve sort of come around to the second point of view.

Back in my rock and roll days. I was playing with a band called “Rockabye” up in Portland Oregon. And we had a Drummer with a really fine girlfriend, and one night when she had a little too much to drink (and truth be told, I might have had a nip or two myself.), she decided to follow me home. When she got to my place, I behaved reasonably well, sobered her up and said goodnight, but her drummer boyfriend had a more evil imagination that night then I did, and went a little crazy and well…

He quit the band…..and there we were with gigs, a lead guitar player with no sense of rhythm, and an empty space where the drums used to sit.

You see where I’m coming from here. If your guitar player quits your band, you just go twenty feet to the next R.V. and there’s another one ready to take his place. If you lose your drummer, you’ve got to find someone who owns ten different size drums and ten sets of cymbals, a trailer to haul them, and then you’ve got to rent a place to practice, and then you’ve got to buy 100 pounds of raw meat to feed him, and I’m telling you…..It ain’t worth it.

So if you want to open the door for drums in bluegrass, help yourself, but it’s Pandora’s box. It gives me shivers just to think about it.

And anyway….How they gonna get all them drums in a three man tent?

It ain‘t gonna happen! Apocalypse now! It’s a gateway instrument. Mark my words. It will lead to spoons.

Posted:  8/12/2011

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