Hot Licks: Roger Taylor

Roger Taylor

Queen’s 40th anniversary is being commemorated with the reissue of the band’s entire 15-studio-album catalog, which includes many rarities never before heard. This is reason enough for Queen fans, and fans of great drumming in general, to celebrate. Roger Taylor is undoubtedly a rock-drumming icon, having contributed his drumming talents, vocals, and seemingly endless musicality to so many great songs. While Freddy Mercury and Brian May tended to attract most of the limelight, the drummer’s contribution to the band deserves a closer look. (Ain’t it always the way?)

Taylor’s parts were always perfect — not a note missing and nothing superfluous added simply to show off. His drumming is all about context, and he was never the sort to just play beat-fill-crash. Taylor had to be more than versatile; he had to be a stylistic chameleon to follow the radical mood swings that Mercury and May created for so much of Queen’s music. This fluidity is perfectly demonstrated in Queen’s classic rock anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody” — at one moment baroque and operatic, the next abruptly shifting into a hard rock section.

Taylor always nailed everything convincingly, navigating the tempo, dynamic, and feel changes with apparent ease. Since he’s always played for the song, his greatness is sometimes overshadowed by a few of his more flamboyant peers. Often the more musical a drummer is the less noticeable he becomes. But make no mistake; Taylor always approached his drumming aggressively with both chops to spare and the taste to know how to use them.

As with most of the truly great drummers, Taylor has an instantly identifiable sound that became more pronounced over time. His drum sound wasn’t about sharp transients and a punchy attack. In fact, it was just the opposite: fat, warm, and round, and just screaming “analog.” Listening to it now is a bit like sinking into a soft old chair.

The first five reissued recordings are available as of press time (each with its own bonus CD), with the rest to be released later this year. With additional live tracks, demos, and the vocal and instrumental sub mixes from some songs included in the package, this is a great introduction to the band and Taylor’s playing, or a great excuse for old fans to get reacquainted. And of course, there’s no better way to get inside Taylor’s shoes than to play along to some of his finest moments behind the kit.

“Stone Cold Crazy”

This early blisteringly fast song shows off Taylor’s more aggressive side. This track is actually straight-up punk-rock drumming. The cymbal choke cleverly occurs on count 2, which helps make the drum entrance all the more surprising. In essence, Taylor’s groove is a double-stroke roll split between his bass drum and snare drum with some cool accents played on his crash cymbals. Taylor later re-enters with a dramatic and decidedly non-punk fill to restart the groove.

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Roger Taylor
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