Sunday, January 23, 2011

Some Sung Heroes: Dale Crover

Dear lord, there is no end of love for John Bonham, and unless your name was Keith Moon, there’s no reason to look elsewhere, right? The man defined rock drumming for generations. Aside from that legend, names like Steward Copeland get mentioned, rightfully so. Neil Peart is also thrown into the discussion, and yeah, the guy is fantastic, but his own arrogant refrain of “I’m not a drummer; I’m a percussionist!” has pretty much made me want to write him off for good. In short: fuck you, Neil. Talk to me when you your band makes a good record again. It’s been a decade or two.

Rock drummers are living in these tall shadows, and, to date, few rise above them. Some think Dave Grohl the only candidate for contemporary master of the skins. Bullshit, says I.
It was with great annoyance that I endured the following conversation with a coworker:

Him: Hey, do know what the best live rock album is?

Me: Live at Leeds.

Him: Yeah, that’s good, but it’s definitely Nirvana’s From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkay.

Me: No, it’s Live at Leeds.

Him: You should check this out. Dave Grohl is the best drummer since Bohnam.

Me: No, that’d be Dale Crover.

And that’s the problem: Grohl is famous, mostly for his post-Nirvana hijinks (fuck the Foo Fighters) and Crover is a cult hero to legions of Melvins fans that are certain they’ll never hear better drumming than on the first half of “Skin Horse” or the what-the-fuck opening drum parts of “Boris” (the heaviest song ever recorded?). But aside from being the guy who pounds hardest on the drums, Crover is versatile and adds a distinctive sound to the kit. Few drummers manage to add personality to their beats and fills, but I can always tell that it's Crover when I hear a Melvilns record. Anyone might have filled in on Nevermind and done an equally adequate job. Anyway, Cobain famously gave Grohl so much shit for not being Dale Crover, who helped shape the sound of Bleach by lending his talents to that record. It’s no secret that Cobain modeled his band after the Melvins. He worshipped them and even tried to join once, long before he was the Kurt Cobain. Subsequently, whoever was filling in as Nirvana’s drummer had an impossible task presented to them, as no one could be Crover but Crover.

This is not to say that the Melvins are a better band than Nirvana (though they are) or that Crover deserves Grohl’s recognition (he does) but simply to point the unaware away from Dave “I’m a rockstar!” Grohl and his mediocrity and show them the way a real individual approaches the kit. Aside from Dave Lombardo, the before mentioned Stewart Copeland, and yeah sure, I’ll thrown Peart a bone, no other rock drummer has created such a unique presence that elevates their playing to more than keeping time. Keith Moon will always be a better drummer to me than John Bohnam simply because he tore down the expectations of what it meant to be a drummer and made the job his own. Crover has done the same, more than anyone else I can think of outside the world of jazz.