Updated: Sep 15, 2020
I was at the NAMM show a few years ago looking, for a place to take a nap. It was Day Three, which is about when you realize you're saturated with the NAMM experience and ready to go home. By that point you've talked to everyone you came to talk to, ogled every product display, and met so many famous drummers it doesn't perk you up anymore. Just that morning I'd accidentally knocked into a guy who looked like Omar Hakim. As I apologized I realized it was Omar Hakim. If I'd seen Omar Hakim at a grocery store or a bowling alley it would have been very cool, but after three days at NAMM I was having a hard time getting excited about anything. I was NAMMED out. Then all of a sudden Mick Fleetwood walked into the frame and my whole world blurred into slow motion.
He walked right past me towards a beautiful drum display. "Sit down and play, Mick." I thought. He spoke to the drum maker for a couple minutes and then, as if I'd willed it myself, sat down at one of the drum sets and was handed a pair of sticks. I looked around the room to see who was catching this. There were only a few other people on hand and we all shared the same wide eyed, open mouth gawk. We were prepared to see something incredible. Maybe the drum solo from TUSK?
Mick tapped the toms. He hit the bass drum. And then... some bruiser in the booth next door went into a frenzied double bass spectacular. Mick sat at the drums waiting. He spoke into the ear of the drum maker while the racket continued. After a minute it ended and Mick paused to gather himself. He hit the floor tom a couple times. Then he smiled and lifted his left stick high into the air. The stick was falling when the drums next door exploded back to life again like a panic attack. It was the Aflac Duck of drumming! The offender was concealed behind a tall but thin display wall and had no idea he was ruining our chance to see Mick Fleetwood play, so I decided to run around the other side and see if I could get him to stop.
When I came around the corner and was surprised to see a kid about ten years old sitting behind a huge drum set, wailing all four limbs like he was on fire. His Dad stood next to him in a narcissistic glaze. I didn't know whether to yell at the kid or the Dad and while I considered my options a guy ran up and barked "Hey you! Cut it! Fleetwood Mac is next door!" He then turned and ran back around the wall. The last thing I saw was the father's face draw in with confusion as I bolted back around too, so as to not miss a note. Only, when I got there Mick was... standing!
I tried to use my new found powers of mind control. "Sit down Mick. It's ok." I concentrated intensely but respectfully. "Maybe you could favor us with, say, the solo from TUSK?" The moment had apparently passed for Mick, though, because, after a second, he shook hands with the drum maker and walked away, leaving a small group of us in a collective slump.
When I got home I pulled out Fleetwood Mac's greatest hits CD. Growing up, my brother and I had worn out a copy of Rumours. Besides listening and playing to it, we'd racked up hours just staring at the pictures on the album. I started analyzing Mick's drumming to see if I could pin point what makes him so great, and as I did this I was reminded of just how much he'd influenced my playing. The songs went by and I heard the tones I'm always trying to get and the parts I tend to go for. I heard the little quirky things I'd thought were part of my own unique style, only to find he'd played them twenty-five years prior. I discovered how much my own playing owes to his ideas. As it turns out, I've been ripping off Mick Fleetwood for years!
One of the things that sets Mick's drumming apart is his use of unorthodox parts that sound normal. He does this on an unorthodox drum set that looks normal. "It's a regular five piece set up, right?" you squint from the audience. Except something's not the same. The ride toms over the bass drum are switched so the small tom is on the "wrong" side of the big tom. (Huh?) Then you hear him play and it all starts to make sense. Everything about his playing is a little skewed, changing the definition of normal.
The beat on Rhiannon for example. What sounds like a regular four on the floor groove has a tom on beat four instead of a snare hit. No big deal, except that the tom hit changes to beat two with a snare on four later in the song, and then ends up going back and forth between the two beats almost randomly after that. And this is easy to hear because he doesn't play any hi hats on the song! (Huh- Huh?!?) I'd heard Rhiannon a hundred times and had no idea this happened until I focused on the drumming alone.
Gypsy is another song in which the groove changes randomly. The kick pattern is on one and three and the "ands" of one and three, but after a while he changes it to the "ands" of two and four. And then back again! And this time the hats are as consistent as a Linn drum machine, as if stability is important after all.
On Dreams he chooses to put crashes on beat two instead of beat one of the measure. (Huh huh - WHAT!?) Again, you might think he's off until the hi hat notes remind you how solid and undeviating his playing can be.
Want to hear an airtight shuffle? Listen to the groove in Don't Stop. But before the beat even starts, check out the perfect triplet crescendo that introduces the drums. In Don't Stop he puts crashes on beat two as well, then later chooses to skip crashes altogether in some really big changes like the 2nd verse, solo, and the chorus out. (Daaaaaaaa- Huh?)
There are many great Mick Fleetwood drum tracks but his playing on Sara is my favorite. This song is played with brushes. One hand does eighth notes on the snare drum while the other plays two descending tom notes after the snare hits on beats two and four. The thing about this groove is that the three drum hits decrease in volume as they pass. "DAP Doom doom, DAP Doom doom, DAP Doom doom", giving the track a tone of distant sadness, as if the drummer is too wiped out to play three notes in a row and forced to lapse into a stagger after each snare hit. Add the slow, even fade of the beautiful sizzle cymbal and the drum track alone is enough to sink you into a coma of melancholy.
Growing up with Fleetwood Mac was one of the lucky breaks of being a child of the 70's and I'm happy to say I took full advantage of it. Mick Fleetwood's playing ignores the rules of drumming in pop music which allows him to create from a boundless palette of ideas. His musicality seeped into my playing style and I'm far better off for it.
I almost saw him play TUSK at the NAMM show one time. If only I could have concentrated harder...