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.

DRUM! Notation Guide

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“Tie Your Mother Down”

This great track has a rock-shuffle groove where the triplets are suggested via the kick and the snare rather than with a more blues-oriented 1 ah 2 ah 3 ah 4 ah hi-hat ostinato. The drums fit the song perfectly and there are some funky triplet flam kicks and fills throughout to keep things interesting.

Roger Taylor

“Death On Two Legs”

This is pretty straight-ahead rock drumming but with some interesting feel changes. There’s a subtle change from a driving quarter-note hi-hat pattern to a lighter eighth-note pattern where Taylor also adds some ghosted snare notes. Shortly after the 2/4 measure there’s an unusual snare accent on the & of 4 and a change to a half-time groove. These back-and-forth feel changes continue throughout the song and Taylor somehow makes them flow smoothly.

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“Bring Back Leroy Brown”

This fun Freddie Mercury–penned track alludes to the Jim Croce classic “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and has a bright swing feel that could be straight out of a musical cabaret act. It really shows off Taylor’s versatility. He nails dozens of kicks throughout this fast and tricky song and proves that he could’ve been a big band drummer or ably fit into any theatrical pit band if Queen hadn’t worked out so well for him. Honky-tonk piano, upright bass, ukulele-banjo, and a smokin’ drummer all add up to a rollicking good time.

Roger Taylor

“Bohemian Rhapsody”

This song is probably about as close as most DRUM! readers will ever get to the opera.It’s either one of the best rock songs ever written or one of the campiest and over the top, depending on your tastes. It may be a bit of both, but it’s about as much fun as any song can get. It’s one of those rare gems that you actually have to resist singing along to. There are tons of time-signature changes so if you want to jam along with it I wish you luck and offer a bit of advice — you’d better count. This song has more twists and turns than a Formula 1 racecourse and, as always, Taylor shifts gears at every turn and handles it all with aplomb.

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“March Of The Black Queen”

This short excerpt reveals more of Taylor’s versatility. He plays an orchestral-style march that complements the piano- and vocal-driven section. Most of these rolls crescendo and he uses his bass drum and crash cymbals for extra emphasis.

Roger Taylor

“Liar”

This slamming tune begins with a 1 ah & e 4 pattern played on the cowbell that’s doubled with the hi-hat. There are some overdubbed handclaps at the end of each bar on 4 and 4 & respectively. Taylor moves this to a tom and straightens out the hi-hat pattern, then later moves it to the low toms and bass drum to set up the classic fill that takes us into the song. The fifth and sixth line feature a very unusual groove with interesting open hi-hat patterns that are perfectly arranged to fit the guitar riff.

Roger Taylor