Clem Burke picks 10 essential drum albums
With his irrepressible, effusive style of drumming, along with a crisp and cool fashion sense that includes one of rock's most envied barnets, Blondie sticksman Clem Burke has always stood out as an individualist. "I never subscribed to the notion of the drummer being the guy you never notice," he says. “I like drummers who are unique and have tons of personality. If that comes through in my own playing and how I present myself on stage, I get it from all the players I've studied."
And make no mistake: When it comes to researching other players' licks and patterns, Burke, a drummer since his early teens, has clearly done his homework. "You've got to listen to what the greats have done," he stresses. "I don't know how you can become a good drummer without listening, learning – and copying, sure, but making it your own style. I've analyzed hundreds of players over the years. They're all a part of what I do."
2014 marks the 40th anniversary of Blondie, and to mark the occasion, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame-inducted band has released Blondie 4(0)-Ever, a two-CD set that includes re-recordings of previous gems along with a brand-new album, Ghosts Of Download. "The new album was interesting from a drummer's perspective," Burke notes. "There was a lot of technology and programming involved, so it called for a bit more simplicity in my playing. That's OK, because I'm always been a play-to-the-song kind of guy. Whatever the material calls for is fine."
Burke employed a more spontaneous approach on the just-released, self-titled debut album by his new band The Empty Hearts, a garage/British-rock influenced, pedigree-heavy assemblage that also includes guitarist Elliot Easton from The Cars, singer Wally Palmer from The Romantics and Chesterfield Kings guitarist (and noted rock author) Andy Babiuk. "There's definitely more of a go-for-it '50s roots-rock vibe on the record," Burke observes. "Our producer, Ed Stasium [the Ramones, Living Colour] had a mandate – 'no click tracks' – which pleased me to no end. A lot of the songs were born from jams and improvisation, and if you try to put a click to that, your ability to be free and in the moment is limited."
Currently on tour with Blondie, Burke is eying the first dates for The Empty Hearts this fall. "We're definitely looking to be a touring band," he says, "so we're trying to figure out everybody's schedules and where we should start playing." He laughs and says, "Already, there's a lot of interest for us to play in Japan. I know, what a cliche – 'we're big in Japan!' But we wanna play everywhere, so if that's where we start, we'll be there."
You can purchase Blondie 4(0)-Ever on Amazon and at iTunes, and you can also purchase The Empty Hearts' debut album on Amazon and at iTunes. On the following pages, Clem Burke runs down his picks for 10 essential drum albums. "These are the 10 that come to mind as having shaped my style," he says, "but I’ve got to name check people like Mitch Mitchell, Jerry Nolan from the New York Dolls, Tommy Ramone, Max Weinberg, Scott Ashton from the Stooges – they’re all in my drumming palette.”
The Beatles - Meet The Beatles! (1964)
“We know it in the States as Meet The Beatles!, but it released in the UK as With The Beatles – or at least most of it was; the tracklistings are a bit different. This is one of my primary influences, and Ringo is probably my favorite drummer of all time, and perhaps that's becaue he was influenced by Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer, as most drummers in the ‘60s were.
“I mean, what a great record. We could go on for a whole day about this album and what The Beatles did in 1964 alone. As a drummer, it taught me so much. This Boy taught me how to play in 6/8. On every song – Hold Me Tight, All I’ve Got To Do, Don’t Bother Me – there seemed to be some neat quirk or pattern that I wanted to copy. Ringo has a style all his own. He had it then and he has it now. An inspiring drummer to me and millions of guys.”
The Dave Clark Five - The Dave Clark Five's Greatest Hits (1966)
“It’s been disputed whether or not Dave Clark actually played on the records. Some people have said it was session guys; others say it was definitely him. So I don’t know. Personally, I’d like to think that it was Dave.
“These are probably some of the first records since the jazz era where you really notice the drums. The presence of the drums on these songs, the way they’re featured, the fills, the sounds – everything was really in your face. Dave produced the records, so he really cranked the kit. Bits And Pieces, Glad All Over – those were massive songs to me as a kid.
“The fact that Dark Clark had the band named after him really made an impression on me, as well. It was like, ‘Oh, wow! The drummer is the leader of the band. You don’t always have to be the guy in the back that nobody knows.’ Whenever the group played on TV, Dave was right in the center of things; the cameras were always on him. He was very inspiring to me. My first real set of drums was a White Marine Pearl Rogers kit, just like the one picture on the Dave Clark Five Coast To Coast album.”
The Who - The Who Sings My Generation (1965)
“A pivotal album for me. You’ve got The Ox, the instrumental, which is pretty much Keith Moon doing his Wipe Out. When I was first taking lessons, I’d have to play out of the drum books, but for the last few minutes the teacher would let me play on the kit to a record I’d brought in. That was always the best part.
“The teacher had gotten used to me bringing in Beatles records, but one day I brought in My Generation. The little record player he had wouldn’t play very loud, so there I was going crazy and trying to play Keith Moon’s fills. It was complete insanity.
“Other than Ringo and Dave Clark, there was Keith Moon, who totally changed my outlook on drumming. He stood out from the crowd in singular way. He looked fantastic, he played like nobody else, the whole deal. And The Who were punk rock before there was punk rock.”
Anything with Hal Blaine or Earl Palmer
“It’s impossible to pick just one record for either guy. So any record that we do name, just know that there's 200 that are just as great. Aside from Ringo and Keith, Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer are my two main inspirations. At the time, in the ‘60s, I didn’t realize that because they were session musicians. Again, how many amazing records did they play on? It boggles the mind.
“I was fortunate enough to become friends with Earl during the last 10 years of his life. He would play at a little jazz club I used to go to. He'd do the first set and then emcee the rest of the night. A lot of young people would come, along with legendary guys. I would see Charlie Watts and Jim Keltner sitting there watching Earl play.
“From all the Eddie Cochran stuff, the Little Richard and Fats Domino stuff, Earl Palmer was right there, influencing everybody. Same goes for Hal Blaine: The Spector stuff, the Beach Boys records, Simon & Garfunkel and everything else – it’s enough to make you dizzy thinking how many records he played on. I’m friends with Hal somewhat, and I got a chance to play Be My Baby in front of him at his 80th birthday a few years ago. You can imagine how thrilled and scared I was, all at the same time.”
Booker T & The MG's - Greatest Hits (1970)
“I’ve got to mention Al Jackson Jr. There’s so many great things he's done behind a drum kit, but just that ride cymbal on Green Onions alone, the swing he put into that thing – that's unbelievable.
“I like to think there’s a little bit of Al Jackson Jr. in what I do. I try to combine all the guys I love – Ringo, Keith Moon, Earl, Hal – and roll them all into one. That’s what I go for. These guys are the shining lights for me.
“Booker T. & the MG’s had such great songs. Time Is Tight, Hip Hug Her, so many others – there’s clarity and real elegance in the playing. I know it’s a cliché, but every note means something, and no note is wasted. Sometimes you just want to stay out of people’s way and lay down a tremendous groove. Al Jackson Jr. could do that but with style and personality."
The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Take Five (1961)
“The great Joe Morello. You’ve got Take Five, Blue Rondo a la Turk – that stuff blows my mind. Joe Morello is a true master. You talk to any drummer who has really researched the greats and done some homework, and he'll tell you about Joe Morello.
“Interesting time signatures, really creative playing – the whole thing kind of pulls you in. And not only Joe’s playing, but the sounds he gets are cool; he really got inside the drums in.”
John Coltrane - A Love Supreme (1965)
“Talk about magical. This music casts a spell over you like nothing else. Elvin Jones gets such a great tone from his cymbals and his ride – so beautiful. And the power and elegance of the way he played is pretty inspiring.
“I think he was a big inspiration to people like Keith Moon. Soul is such a difficult thing to define – it’s almost like talking about what the air feels like – but you listen to what Elvin Jones does on A Love Supreme, and you get it. It makes sense. I think people will be listening to this music a hundred years from now.”
David Bowie - The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (1972)
“A really important record in my life. Woody Woodmansey's drum riffs are unbelievable. I’ve copied so many of them from this record over the years. He’s another one of those guys who plays to the song, but in a very subtle way he still manages to put his own stamp on the music.
“The fills in the song Ziggy Stardust are just so cool. And then there’s Hang On To Yourself, which is like a precursor to a Ramones song, and Five Years – that slow, menacing intro… great stuff. Take away The Beatles and The Dave Clark Five, and there’s David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust. It was a really important stepping stone for me.
“I got a chance to meet Woody last year. I did a thing for the Institute Of Contemporary Arts in London, at an event called Bowie ’73. Woody played a couple of songs with us. It was quite a thrill, believe me.”
Television - Marquee Moon (1977)
“Great band and great drummer – Billy Ficca. For people who aren’t familiar with him, he’s kind of like a rock ‘n’ roll Elvin Jones. In my opinion, Marquee Moon is one of the top 10 records of all time. The songs, the playing, Andy Johns’ production, the sound of the guitars and the drums – it’s all like one big stroke of genius.
“On the re-release of the album, I think they included the first Television single, Little Johnny Jewel. The drums on that track are just unheard of. Without question, Billy Ficca is the best drummer to come out of the whole mid-‘70s New York rock ‘n’ roll scene.”
Saturday Night Fever: The Original Movie Sound Track (1977)
“As far as influencing me and my style, particularly within Blondie, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack has been huge. The song Night Fever, for me, was the inspiration for Heart Of Glass.
“We had the song going for a while. We used to refer to it as ‘the disco song’ or ‘once I had a love’ – something like that. I never had the beat quite right for it, but once I heard Night Fever, I just copied that groove and I was golden. It’s served me well.
“The album is amazing. It’s dance music, but it’s made by real musicians playing great grooves. At the time it came out, if you were a so-called punk rocker, you probably didn’t want to say you were listening to Saturday Night Fever. But I have a feeling that a lot of punks were listening to it – it’s just undeniably good. In many ways, the disco scene was just as subversive as punk.”