Toying With a Drum Solo

Not from me… from Mike Portnoy. Mr. Portnoy is a drummer generally associated with the progressive rock and heavy metal scenes, having burst onto the scene with Dream Theater, a band known for having more chops than a karate dojo. He departed DT some years back, and has since been something of a hired gun, while forming various short-term projects as well.

Extended drum solos are a convention of both the progressive and hard rock genres, and Portnoy sticks with the tradition. Now as it happens, I’m not really a fan of drum solos — too often they smack of “musical performance as athletic event”, with terribly little to do with making . . . you know. . . music.  I almost never take solos myself — even when I do stretch out a bit, I prefer to do it in the context of the rest of the band, engaging in interplay with what the other folks are doing. And while I pay attention when other drummers do their thing, I’d really rather see and hear them as members of an ensemble.

Still, some drummers bring musicality to the solo — when I saw Ginger Baker in 1990 with Masters of Reality, it almost seemed as though the audience could sing along with the cascading tom work. Terry Bozzio is another drummer known to think and play very melodically.  Other folks try to bring humor or personality to the solo — anything to keep it from turning into an excuse to grab a beer.

Anyway, here’s a solo Portnoy did a few years ago with his group the Winery Dogs. He borrows a bit of schtick from Jethro Tull’s Clive Bunker (and from jazz great Barrett Deems before that) by roaming the stage and turning stage furniture (and the stage itself) into extensions of his kit.

But the highlight is when he. . . well, just watch.

And now I wonder: Is Mike Portnoy a Gormogons agent?

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Toying With a Drum Solo

  1. nightfly says:

    I’ve read somewhere that Ringo Starr has a similar “cordial dislike” of the drum solo, and that’s why he long resisted doing one with the Beatles, save that short bit in “The End.”

    On the opposite end, clearly in the “bringing personality and humor” category, there’s They Might Be Giants. On one of their compilations, they have a live performance of “She’s Actual Size,” in the middle of which Dan Hickey does an extended “solo” that consists of him doing quick riffs in the style of whichever drummer John Linnell suggests. (“For Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, PRESS OR SAY FIVE!” Audience yells FIIIIIIVE and off he goes into Manic Depression.) The highlight is when the audience eventually overrides Linnell’s suggestions (which include “that angry guy from Grand Funk Railroad” and “any Stevie Wonder song from 1974-1983”) by chanting ANIMAL! ANIMAL! … and Hickey gives them an Animal drum solo.

    • profmondo says:

      I’ve never seen TMBG live, but have always appreciated their idiosyncratic approach.

      And you’re right about Ringo — I’ve read the same bit in interviews.

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