Ramblin' Men: Southern Rock Drumming

Following the peace and love of ’60s psychedelia, the sudden onset of hardscrabble southern rock bands like The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd in the ’70s tore through the music scene like a posse of bandits rarin’ for trouble. By combining blues and rock with the slightest hint of a country twang, these bands inadvertently devised a formula that — after some softening around the edges — eventually would morph into today’s crop of black-brimmed country stars. They also brought a level of power that predated the metal movement, and presented a perfect showcase for hotshot guitarists like Duane Allman, Billy Gibbons, and Lowell George to shred like never before. Of course, behind every one of those great pickers was an equally fervent drummer playing his heart out. It’s time to give these unsung heroes due respect, so here are a handful of classic drum parts that helped define the southern rock movement.

“Whipping Post”

Band: The Allman Brothers
Drummers: Butch Trucks and Jaimoe
The Allman Brothers were the first band to mix blues with southern rock influences while stretching tunes with jazz-like improvisations. Featuring Gregg and Duane Allman on keyboards and guitar, and the dual drum and percussion talents of Butch Trucks and Jaimoe, The Allman Brothers remain a hugely influential band. The classic Allman Brothers track “Whipping Post” starts in the very odd time signature of 11/8 phrased as 3-3-3-2. The groove is spelled out very literally with bass drum and snare combinations following that phrasing. The verse switches to 12/8 with a double-time ride cymbal pattern and a bass drum and snare pattern similar to a paradiddle, followed by a five-stroke roll. At the chorus, the time signature remains the same but the groove switches to a half-time feel because of the slower ride cymbal pattern and the strong crashes on 2 and 4 (assuming you count 12/8 1 & ah 2 & ah 3 & ah 4 & ah). Triplet fills at the end of certain bars add energy as the band leads into the break.

The Allman Brothers {pagebreak}

“Heard It In A Love Song”

Band: Marshall Tucker Band
Drummer: Paul Riddle
Marshall Tucker Band had a more acoustic country pop sound than many of their contemporaries, largely due to the melodic flute work of Jerry Eubanks. For their hit “Heard It In A Love Song,” drummer Paul Riddle pedals his hi-hat on 2 and 4 while his bass drum plays 1, &3, (4)&, which is a traditional samba foot pattern. On top of this he plays a standard eighth-note hi-hat with the snare on the backbeats. The hi-hat openings that result from this foot pattern provide an unusual twist to a common beat.

Marshall Tucker Band

“Flirtin’ With Disaster”

Band: Molly Hatchet
Drummer: Bruce Crump
Though named after an axe-wielding homicidal prostitute, Molly Hatchet’s hard rockin’ boogie has a permanent place in our hearts and minds. Drummer Bruce Crump created a busy drum part for “Flirtin’ With Disaster” that isn’t easy to cover, including a cool two-handed hi-hat groove with quick hi-hat barks that set up the driving feel of the intro. While this 12/8 song is riddled with kicks, don’t let the triplet feel intimidate you. All of the fills and kicks can be started with your right hand, which makes it easier to navigate this tricky song.

Molly Hatchet {pagebreak}

“The South’s Gonna Do It”

Band: Charlie Daniels Band
Drummer: Gary Allen
The Charlie Daniels Band is about as country as a southern rock band can get without completely crossing the genre line. This ditty has a swing feel and an old time honky-tonk vibe, and became a hit in 1975. As CDB’s Gary Allen and every big band drummer knows, the trick to playing swing tunes is to nail the kicks as simply and effectively as possible. The intro and outro of this song have a series of kicks that require accuracy, and Allen nails every one of them — very musical, yet very simple.

Charlie Daniels Band

“Free Bird”

Band: Lynryd Skynryd
Drummer: Bob Burns
Lynryd Skynryd’s “Free Bird” was written as a tribute to the late Duane Allman and is one of the most requested songs of all time. Its slow build and great guitar work is certainly capable of holding our attention for its nine-minute-plus duration. Drummer Bob Burns plays dramatic tom fills during the funereal organ intro before laying down a funky half-time ballad groove. Later, the song switches to a double time feel featuring stellar guitar work supplied by Gary Rossington and Allen Collins, and the rest is history.

Lynryd Skynryd {pagebreak}

“La Grange”

Band: ZZ Top
Drummer: Frank Beard
ZZ Top was one of the few southern rock bands to survive the ’80s and even receive heavy radio and MTV rotation, due in part to their catchy songs and memorable videos. In “La Grange” we see the cool groove drummer Frank Beard plays on the rim of one of his drums, (notated here on the high tom rim). The pattern is a right hand drag (llR) followed by a tap flam (L lR) over and over in 12/8. The first fill out of this groove at 0:32 is most easily played with the right hand on the snare and left hand on the hi-hat, beginning on the ah of 4, with a sticking of R lrR lrR lrR LRL. At 1:08 we find the linear triplet fill that’s perplexed drummers and even some transcribers for decades. Played RLF over and over this clever fill suggests a polyrhythmic quarter-note feel superimposed over the 12/8 meter.

ZZ Top

“Funk 49”

Band: The James Gang
Drummer: Jim Fox
The James Gang helped make Joe Walsh a guitar icon, and his ace guitar work made “Funk 49” a favorite of southern rock cover bands. Drummer Jim Fox plays a busy groove with drum fills in every other measure, proving that sometimes more is more, and uses soft ghost notes and double strokes throughout the song to add texture to his grooves. His drum sound is quite good as well, with toms that sound like the bottom heads were removed and mikes placed inside them giving a fat, dead thud.

The James Gang

“Mule”

Band: Gov’t Mule
Drummer: Matt Abts

Gov’t Mule is a power trio in the tradition of James Gang and Cream, and was originally an Allman Brothers side project featuring Allman guitarist Warren Haynes and the late Allen Woody. With the addition of drummer Matt Abts, Gov’t Mule released its self-titled debut in 1995, which featured the track “Mule.” The tune begins with Abts laying down a heavy Bonham-esque groove — think “Immigrant Song,” with a bass drum note in place of Bonham’s ghosted snare on the ah of 4. The phrases in the intro are three measures long, and once the guitar enters in measure four, there’s a 2/4 bar at the end of each phrase in which Abts fills. To make things even trickier, the section ends with a measure of 5/4 kicks that Abts plays in perfect sync with Haynes and Woody.

Govt Mule