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Roger Taylor

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Path: Queen - Royal Legend - Interviews: Roger Taylor: BBC Radio 1 '93

Interviews: Roger Taylor: BBC Radio 1 '93

Roger's Drum Masterclass, Music Works - BBC World Service, 28/11/93

JS = John Sugar (presenter), RT = Our Rog, PC = Phil Collins

JS: So far in the programmes, we've heard artists explaining and demonstrating on piano, synthesizer and guitar. In today's rhythmic edition, we hear about the drums from two rock superstars, Phil Collins of Genesis and this drummer:

RT: Hi I'm Roger Taylor of Queen. Welcome to the Music Works

[a bit of RT drumming]

[a clip of Now I'm Here]

JS: Drums have played an important part in contemporary music and in todays pulsating edition of the music works, RT and PC will explain and demonstrate different rhythms, beats and drum styles from behind their kits. From the African TomTom to the Indian Tabla(?) drums have played a vital role in peoples lives for thousands of years. The modern drum kit, comprising bass drum, tomtoms and snare with an assortment of cymbals became an integral part of western music this century. Jazz and the big band era of the 1940s gave the drums a more prominent role in the music and with the advent of Rock'n'Roll in the mid 1950s, an even greater emphasis was placed on the all important beat. Roger Taylor has been the drummer with the rock band Queen for over 20 years. Ironically, he began musical career not seated behind the drums at all

RT: Well really I was just an aspiring Rock Musician. I picked up a guitar and found it very difficult and I sort of graduated to drums because I found them very easy - I suppose it was a case of natural aptitude. Mitch Mitchell was my role model at the time, and I still think listening to Mitch Mitchell, especially the early stuff with Hendrix, is just fantastic. This fusion of jazz technique and wonderful riffs but with this rolling ferocious attack on the whole kit, it had lots of jazz influences I think. In fact for me he played the kit like a song, it was just wonderful. Total integration into the song. Not just marking time

[a clip of Hey Joe]

JS: In the late 60s, other drummers like Ginger Baker of Cream and Keith Moon of the Who were playing their kits with an explosive zeal that was familiar to the jazz scene but new to rock music. And Led Zeppelin developed a different approach to recording the drums in the studio. In 1971, the band's Four Symbols album featured the new drum sound typified on the track "When the Levee Breaks" pioneered by the groups larger than life drummer John Bonham

RT: The greatest Rock'n'Roll drummer of all time was John Bonham who did things that nobody bad ever even thought possible before with the drum kit. And also the greatest sound out of his drums - they sounded enormous, and just one bass drum. So fast on it that he did more with one bass drum than most people could do with three, if they could manage them. And he had technique to burn and fantastic power and tremendous feel for rock'n'roll "When the levee breaks" is the archetypal heavy drum sound - it's never been bettered - it's like a steamroller, enormous bass drum. Simple but takes feel

[a bit of RT playing the intro] A very simple pattern, but the sound was everything.

[a clip of When the Levee Breaks]

RT: The interplay between the guitars and drums was wonderful on that. He used to use 4 microphones on the drum kit - quite inexpensive microphones just placed properly, drums tuned properly, played properly sounded great and the first time I saw Led Zeppelin, Bonzo just walked on the stage and just warmed up for about 10 seconds. Freddie and I nearly fell over we just couldn't believe the power and the sound. People are still today trying to imitate Led Zeppelin, America is full of drummers trying to play like John Bonham.

[a clip of Rock'n'Roll]

JS: But there's more to being a drummer than hammering the life out of a drum kit. All music has rhythm and a tempo and together they provide the vitality and character of the music. Tempo means speed or time. Most Rock'n'Roll for example is in common or 4/4 time. Roger Taylor holds technical terms in high esteem [radio equivalent of a ;-)]

RT: I try and avoid technical terms because they make me go to sleep. Er, 4/4 really as far as most people are concerned is basically different to 3/4 or 6/8. A song like We are the Champions is basically in 3/4 which is 3 beats to the bar which is really waltz time

[a bit of RT playing Champions]

[a clip of Champions] That's just 3/4 , er hang on a minute... yeah. Whereas the majority of songs are in 4 time, it's very simple 4 beats to the bar

[RT demonstrates 4/4]

[a clip of the Stones. either Brown Sugar or Jumping Jack Flash (dunno which) which is presumably what Roger was playing]

[RT demonstrates 4/4]

RT: Almost all beats, the great majority of them, are in 4/4. Anything other than that, you're talking Jazz or an arrangement by Genesis! I had to play one of those the other day and it was very difficult! Turn it on again - very difficult. I think it went 13 time to 3 time to 4 time

[a clip of Turn it on again]

[a large bit about PC talking about In the Air Tonight and Ringo]

JS: Jazz has given contemporary music a wealth of explosive drummers with characters to match, like Art Blakey, Phil Seaman, Gene Crouper and many more. But there's one jazz drummer that sends shivers of delight through both PC and RT

RT: I saw Buddy Rich playing. He was wonderful, fantastic. I would say of just sheer technique he's the best I've ever seen. I remember he did a sort of press(?ed) roll thing which lasted for about 5 minutes. It started off as a whisper which you could barely hear and it got so it filled the whole room of about 3500 people and it was like thunder, it was all one snare drum - in the manner of this

[RT does crescendo drum roll] I can't keep it up for 3 minutes, but it just shows unbelieveable control of the drum and the sticks

[a clip of Buddy Rich playing something][

[a bit with PC talking about Buddy Rich]

JS: But is it possible that drummers could find themselves replaced by digital technology. Drum machines are featured on many of today's recordings, especially the many dance hits that regularly storm the chart They are small, versatile, keep perfect time and don't need to get paid

RT: Fantastic to write with. They have their place, they're terribly useful to the musician, but they're just another tool. They never will replace a good drummer. A lot of the bands that use them, I call then typewriter bands because basically they program the sample sounds with no real dynamics, and that dynamics is very important. And the records come out sounding very flat and very 2-dimensional whereas something with real dynamics and a good drummer can add another dimension - depth - to the band and that's why bands that play together when they're actually making the record will always sound better

JS: As far as RT is concerned, the human touch us still preferable to a machine A good drummer obviously needs an instinctive feel for the rhythm, and modern dance or funk music requires a different approach

RT: Yes, the difference is subtle. It's really the way you place the beats within the bar. And often you get more going on behind, often it's sharper and snappier

[bit of RT demonstrating] You might have 16s going on on the high hat

[bit of RT demonstrating] Unlike something that's straight. Like one of our old things which is as straight as you can get. Another one bites the dust, which is something like

[a bit of RT playing AOBTD intro]

[a clip of AOBTD]

JS: So far, we've heard about tempo and technique, the great drum pioneers, dynamics and drum machines. But before I leave you, what about the human qualities? If you've always had a yearning to play drums and are about to go and spent your hard earned cash on that expensive drum kit, how do you know you've got what it takes?

RT: You need a sense of time, a sense of rhythm, a sort of inner clock and that you really need naturally. You have to have agression and lastly I would say you definitely need stamina. But you do learn tricks, apart from the fact that you develop more stamina, your muscles get more used to what's demanded of them. We used to do a song called Dragon Attack that was very hard on the right wrist, It should have gone

[a bit of RT playing Dragon Attack chorus] I used to end up going

[a bit of RT playing Dragon Attack chorus with half the hits] You sort of half the work that you're doing with the right hand, and that's just an example. Also there are techniques of being louder and using less energy. For instance, when people start playing the snare drum, they will play the back beat but they'll probably play it like this

[RT hits drum a few times - very clean sound] when you learn a bit more, you find that virtually every time you hit the snare with the back beat you don't just hit it but do what's called a rim shot. A rim shot is not this

[RT hits rim] A rim shot is this

[RT hits drum - much more drag]

[RT plays something, don't know what] That's just a way of accentuating or getting more power out of the drum It's development of technique and I suppose playing the drums more efficiently

JS: Why have drummers got this wildman reputation?

RT: It's because they're basically far superior to other musicians

JS: You're not biased? Why should drummers always be being deemed the lunatic?

RT: I suppose it's more physical than most of the other things, your adrenalin is pumped more naturally whereas bass players are usually, well... quite often fairly morose, rather like their instruments. There are stereotypes and it is quite amazing how often members of bands seem to follow those stereotypes. Singers are ALL vain. Guitarists are all vain but won't admit it. Bass players are quiet people, and drummers are very exciting people to be with.

JS: You mentioned earlier that one of the qualities a good drummer needs is to be aggressive. Drums are quite antisocial and loud, so that might make the individual antisocial and loud and therefore get noticed

RT: There might well be something in that, and there's something rather nice about spending the evening hitting things

[clip of The Who - the one that sounds like Under a Raging Moon (?won't get fooled again)]

THE END