Hot Licks: Double Bass On Record

Transcription And Analysis Of Classic Double Kick Performances

Louis Bellson

Like having a tank of nitrous oxide at your disposal in a drag race, few tools in a drummer’s arsenal are as effective for kicking up the energy as a well placed double bass lick. Double bass pedals have become one of the most popular accessories purchased for drum sets, and as a result that innocuous device has created entire new genres of rock music. Let’s take a look at some of the most notable double-bass performances on record that pushed the discipline forward and influenced generations of drummers.

Louis Bellson

You’re forgiven if you think Ginger Baker and Keith Moon were the first double bass drummers. Jazz great Louis Bellson had them beat by at least 15 years. Bellson played a typical ’80s-style double bass kit nearly 60 years ago during his tenure with the Duke Ellington band. Better known for his great chops and impeccably tasteful swing drumming, Bellson also created double bass rhythms that drummers still use today. We’ll take a look at the “rock” section of Bellson’s classic “Skin Deep” solo off Duke Ellington’s Uptown record.

At the beginning of this excerpt, Bellson sets up a call and response pattern of eight sixteenth-notes on the snare that he answers with eight sixteenth-notes on his kick drums. He breaks up the bass drum and plays a more syncopated pattern in the second line using a rhythm of 3 e, ah 4, & ah. In the bottom line, he breaks into a constant “running in place” pattern that he solos over. Every drummer with a double bass pedal should thank Bellson for his innovative spirit and consistently brilliant drumming.

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Louis Bellson {pagebreak}

Billy Cobham

Billy Cobham’s strong rudimental chops, blistering speed, large multi-tom kit, open-handed stance, and powerful double bass skills allowed him to change the sound and look of jazz in the fusion group Mahavishnu Orchestra. After leaving that revolutionary group, Cobham formed his own band and released a series of solo records.

His first solo album, Spectrum, included a track named “Quadrant 4,” which featured one of the first recorded fast double bass shuffles. Playing a double bass shuffle is tricky enough, but Cobham came out of the gate at 250 bpm, absolutely owning the groove while effortlessly ghosting notes on his snare. Also, notice that his ride pattern is based on the traditional jazz ride pattern. While Cobham tends to play his grooves open handed, he leads his double bass shuffles with his right foot. An interesting side note: He was also one of the first drummers to experiment with three differently sized bass drums and three snare drums on his large kit.

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Billy Cobham {pagebreak}

Tommy Aldridge

Tommy Aldridge has lent his powerful drumming to hard rock bands including Ted Nugent, Whitesnake, and Ozzy Osbourne, and his years of heavy touring helped spread the gospel of double bass across the world. Aldridge first gained notoriety in the southern rock band Black Oak Arkansas. His exciting solos always featured lots of double bass, stick twirling, and often ended with him knocking over all of his cymbal stands, in what might have been a nod to the late Keith Moon. Our excerpt from BOA’s song “Hot Rod” shows a short drum break that features a very funky groove with snare accents landing on 2, 3, the ah of 3, and the & of 4. Aldridge uses his double kicks to play short two- and three-note ruffs for extra low-end energy.

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Tommy Aldridge {pagebreak}

Ginger Baker

Ginger Baker had a jazz background and brought an improvisational spirit to his drumming with Cream, but will forever be remembered as the man who cemented double bass in rock history. He used a kit very similar to Bellson’s, except that he included a larger bass drum for his left foot, which created two distinct pitches in his double bass work. Thanks to such classic moments as the double bass torrent during the fade-out of “Sunshine Of Your Love,” his bass drum patterns remain staples of drum solos today.

On this excerpt from Cream’s classic drum solo tune “Toad,” we see Baker begin with a broken double bass groove that segues into the alternating sixteenth-note pattern he solos over. He anchors eighth-notes with his hands playing different melodic patterns before breaking into triplet patterns at the end. Though Cream’s 2005 reunion concert DVD has very little double bass in that version of “Toad,” it reminds us that Baker is a drummer with a plethora of ideas and stylistic influences.

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Ginger Baker {pagebreak}

Simon Phillips

As a teenager, Simon Phillips got his first big break playing for the stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar and has evolved into a first-call sideman for dozens of artists like The Who, Jeff Beck, and Judas Priest. He was obviously influenced by Billy Cobham’s style and large drum set, but he had a more rock-oriented sensibility.

Phillips played drums on Jeff Beck’s There And Back, which featured an insane double bass shuffle named “Space Boogie.” If playing a double bass shuffle is hard, playing one that alternates sections of 7/4 with 4/4 is even harder. Like Cobham, Phillips also plays open handed but leads his double bass patterns with his left foot. So in this regard, Phillips is more like a left-handed drummer playing a right-handed kit. Throughout this tune, he plays some ridiculous single stroke tom runs, and like Cobham on “Quadrant 4,” also plays a traditional jazz ride cymbal pattern on top of his double bass work.

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Simon Phillips {pagebreak}

Neil Peart

Rush drummer Neil Peart employs double bass as ruffs in grooves (like in the Tommy Aldridge transcription) or in the middle of his impressive fills. In the energetic drum break in “Tom Sawyer” off Moving Pictures, Peart plays a blazing set of quads phrased in a triplet rhythm that legions of drummers have attempted to duplicate. The rhythm is based on an eighth-note triplet, counted 3 & ah 4 & ah, then subdivided into thirty-second-note triplets, where each eighth-note is the first note of the quad.

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Neil Peart {pagebreak}

Alex Van Halen

Say the phrase “double bass shuffle,” and most drummers are likely to think “Hot For Teacher” — for good reason. This Van Halen song has become a benchmark for drummers trying to learn to play a double bass shuffle.

Alex Van Halen plays a bewildering intro to the song and then launches into a groove that few cover drummers play correctly. His ride cymbal pattern is one of those idiosyncratic figures that make his drumming completely unique. Rather than play either a jazz ride pattern — 1, 2 ah, 3, 4 ah — or straight quarter-notes as most cover drummers do, Van Halen plays his ride pattern on 1 & 2, 3 & 4. It could be odder, but not by much. Somehow his pattern sounds great and has made the song a classic.

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Alex Van Halen {pagebreak}

Dave Lombardo

As the drummer for Slayer, Dave Lombardo is an icon for speedy footwork. Countless drummers have built up their feet by playing along with his drum parts, but Lombardo is more than just a pair of robo-feet. On the Slayer track “Expendable Youth,” we see that he is also capable of relying on his quick hands and syncopated rhythms, while creating interesting musical phrases. In the second line, Lombardo plays some fast thirty-second-notes down his toms to lead into alternating singles on his kick drums. The third line has some killer snare/tom combinations while he shifts back and forth between thirty-second-notes, sixteenth-notes, and sixteenth-note triplets.

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Dave Lombardo {pagebreak}

Terry Bozzio

First gaining attention in Frank Zappa’s band, Terry Bozzio impressed legions of drummers with his precision, terrifying chops, and ability to easily navigate Zappa’s unusual compositions. Bozzio’s polyrhythmic drumming on Zappa’s “Black Page” (aptly named for the density of notes in the music) is frequently attempted at college drum-set auditions. His work with the Brecker Brothers, Missing Persons, Jeff Beck, The Knack, and as a solo drum-set artist has created his reputation as a supremely technical, musical, and always experimental drummer. He also has the biggest drum set we’ve ever seen.

Bozzio replaced Bill Bruford in the progressive rock band U.K., which featured fellow stellar musicians John Wetton, Allan Holdsworth, and Eddie Jobson. For the intro of their 5/4 song “Caesar’s Palace Blues” off the live disc Night After Night, Bozzio unleashed some amazing drumming that had the feral intensity of a rabid dog on crank. For most of the part, he uses his double bass in short bursts, but the second line of this transcription shows the signature way he doubles his fast foot patterns with his China cymbals. Bozzio always uses double bass tastefully, as a way to spice up his playing without ever overdoing it.

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Terry Bozzio {pagebreak}

Lars Ulrich

Metallica made metal popular again, creating opportunities for countless bands that otherwise might never have formed. Lars Ulrich is the driving force behind both the drums and the band, and his great groove on “One” was widely emulated. It featured a fast sextuplet double bass drum groove that was frequently heard on the radio and in heavy rotation on MTV. That’s no small feat.

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Lars Ulrich