Music has always been an important part of my life. I grew up in a house where my mom enjoyed bursting into song (especially when her Irish eyes were smiling), where the massive record player occupied an exalted position in the living room (a little Johnny Mathis, anyone?), where my sister and I were encouraged to join the school band (her on flute, me on trumpet), and where later in life my mother decided to take piano lessons (a chapter best forgotten). I diligently hoisted my trumpet back and forth on the bus to school from 5th grade all the way through high school, and got pretty good at playing the thing. But at some point my allegiance shifted and I picked up the drums. It started simply enough: I thought the tricks the drummers in the St. X marching band could do with their sticks were pretty cool, so I bought a pair, wrapped them with blue and white tape, and started mimicking their flips, twirls, rimshots, and paradiddles. It was only a matter of time before I found an old Slingerland snare for sale in the classifieds and cajoled my parents into buying it. From there it was a slippery slope. I basically taught myself how to play by first air drumming to Police and English Beat cassettes (it was the ’80s), then working out the kinks on my snare in the basement with the help of a few upturned cardboard boxes standing in for tom-toms. Eventually, I went all in and purchased a used drum set from a kid in Anderson for $100. I still have it and, much to my wife’s dismay, still occasionally play it.
I blame Keith Moon for this. Or rather, I invoke and praise him for it. Moon was a deeply flawed human being, but as a drummer he was a genius. He didn’t so much play the drums as explode all over them. (Perhaps you’ve seen the puppet named Animal banging his drums on The Muppet Show? That was Moon. With fur.) The list of drummers I have listened to and learned from over the years is long and illustrious—Mitch Mitchell, Stewart Copeland, George Hurley, Philly Joe Jones, Gene Krupa, Clyde Stubblefield, Levon Helm, John Von Ohlen. I could go on, but I would be surprised if anyone reading this recognized any of those names. Despite the fact that drummers provide the single most important ingredient to any piece of music (the beat), they are, with few exceptions, the most overlooked members of the musician tribe.
This month, Larry Nager focuses some long overdue attention on a musical treasure living in our midst: drummer Philip Paul. Paul got his start playing in jazz combos and jump blues bands in the 1940s and ’50s, and eventually settled in Cincinnati where he became the house drummer for King Records. He played on innumerable records and hit songs from the glory days of rhythm and blues and early rock and roll, and, at 83, can still be found anchoring his own jazz trio at the Cricket Lounge late into the evening. Simply put, he’s spent the better part of the last seven decades providing the heartbeat for American popular music. So read his story. And the next time you happen to catch some live music, do as the Godfather of Soul once instructed and…give the drummer some.