We asked the guitar slinger with such acts as King Crimson, Talking Heads, and David Bowie to share the five things he likes to have in drummer, and he answered. What do you know?
There are physical mechanics you have to have under your thumb. There is certain music I play where you really have to be on the level of a Danny Carey, a Bill Bruford, or someone who can understand it intricately and be able to execute it properly.
But it depends on what the requirements of the music are. There is certain music I play that you could be more in the mold of Ringo, and you would be fine. Some drummers come off too harsh, and some come off really fitting in with my tones and the things that I like. One of the things I was amazed with after working with Terry Bozzio in Frank Zappa’s band, where he was required to play so many different things, was to see him play with Missing Persons – a pop band – where he really came off as very reserved. He was able to pull back all that stuff and use it in proper dosage.
There is so much you can do now, and there has been since the cavemen picked up the first set of bones and started banging on the wall. There’s so much you can do in your choices. I’ve been fortunate to work with guys who not only have the capability but also do something interesting with it.
I think grooving is a little bit lost in some drumming nowadays. It’s difficult to find a drummer who really swings and still has all those great chops. That’s important because music isn’t always about a lot of paradiddles. Some music requires that you’re really able to sit right there in the pocket, play it simply, and know what not to play.
I love drummers, but they’re generally very excitable people. And a little bit A.D.D.-type personalities, you know? I think the final thing they need is that ability to be a person you can work with, focused enough that they’re there to do what you need them to do – not too scatterbrained. That’s an easy thing to be, especially when you’re out on tour: The world gets turned upside-down, and it’s easy to lose focus. I’ve been fortunate in that regard too; I’ve always worked with drummers who are as reliable as people, just as much as they are as players.