I have to nominate the enigmatic Michael Stewart whose entire recorded work appears to comprise two albums released by Love in 1967: Da Capo and Forever Changes. I can’t find mention of his work beyond his brief residency with the band, but his drumming was a huge departure from the primitive pounding (which I loved for other reasons) of Alban “Snoopy” Pfisterer, who appeared on the band’s self-titled debut album (although I believe it has been confirmed that bandleader Arthur Lee recorded many of the proto-punk album’s drum tracks because of Pfisterer’s shaky studio chops).
I just finished listening to Forever Changes for the billionth time, and remembered how Stewart’s drumming reminds me of John Guerin’s celebrated work with Joni Mitchell in the ’70s — very clean and articulate, right in the pocket, with punchy sounding beats and fills — the opposite of a big Bonham sound — and yet the drums are resonant while relatively high pitched.
Stewart plays plenty of notes without overplaying, often following patterns to add heft to guitar and bass lines. This works perfectly on “A House Is Not A Motel,” which opens with a figure played between two toms and the snare. Stewart steers the song’s tense arrangement with artful dynamics, handling the figure delicately through the song until the four-bar drum break. While he doesn’t stray from the snare/tom drum fill riff by an errant flam, he attacks the pattern with a fresh intensity that propels the song into its final guitar freak out fade. It’s powerful, and yet approached with a light touch.
There are many other great drum performances on both Da Capo and Forever Changes (although I prefer the later release, pictured below). To be honest, Stewart’s sudden appearance in the rock scene was so short-lived, and yet his performance so masterful, that I wonder if we’re really just hearing the omnipresent L.A. session hero Hal Blaine on Forever Changes, who ghost drummed on a dizzying number of L.A. recordings of the day. And in fact, Blaine and a cast of L.A. session musicians were hired to record backing tracks for Forever Changes, but are credited for recording only the songs “Andmoreagain” and “The Daily Planet.”
Stranger things have happened. Hey, Hal rocks too, for that matter.