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Kenny Aronoff calls him "a total fucking genius." Glen Sobel says he's "a monster. His playing is so ahead of its time." And Rod Morgenstein, reflecting on the impact that Billy Cobham's drumming on the Mahavishnu Orchestra's 1971 album, Inner Mounting Flame, had on him, says that he "wore out the grooves on every part of this record trying to figure out what Billy was doing."
So it would appear that a rising chorus of top drummers' voices is building to something of a consensus – that jazz-fusion pioneer Billy Cobham is the ultimate.
Informed of the huzzahs and hosannahs thrown his way, Cobham chuckles, appearing flummoxed for a second, finally saying, "Yeah, well... OK then."
MusicRadar sat down with the fusion legend to turn the question around, asking him to assemble his own list of personal favorites and essential drum recordings. Cobham was happy to oblige, although admitting that his choices are of a certain vintage. "I’m listening to the old school," he says. "I’m sure there are geniuses out there who I’m blowing over. But when you think about people who really did something great on the drums, it’s like watching a pitcher like [New York Yankees great] Mariano Rivera: Even in his twilight years, it’s like, ‘C’mon. Where do you go?’ And the answer is, you go back."
For Cobham, a memorable drum recording has little to do with technique and everything to do with personality. He cites big-band great Mew Lewis as somebody who "always made you aware of the guy he was behind the kit. He sounded like the most musical garbage can player around. His fills reminded me of somebody taking out the trash. It was crazy, but it worked."
Cobham, who has just begun US dates as part of his Spectrum 40 Tour, pays his respects to Lewis and nine other star stickemen on the following pages.