By Brian Ives
If you’re an up-and-coming drummer looking for a role model, you could do a lot worse than Brad Wilk. He’s a pretty low-key guy, happy to let the vocalists (and guitarists) in his band do the bulk of the interviews and press. He’s also happy to let his sticks do the talking on record and on the stage.
And for the past two-plus decades, that’s what he’s done. Playing for two multi-platinum bands from the early ’90s through the mid ’00s – Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave – he’s kept a lower profile in the years since. Not to say that he’s out of practice: last year, he played on Black Sabbath‘s insanely successful comeback album, 13, and also on a track on Dave Grohl’s Sound City film and soundtrack and on the subsequent tour as well.
Since then, he’s joined a new band, the Last Internationale, which also includes bassist/singer Delila Paz and guitarist Edgey Pires. The socially conscious Paz and Pires were friends with Wilk’s Rage/Audioslave bandmate Tom Morello, and when they were guests at his house over Thanksgiving, the duo mentioned the need for a drummer. Morello got them on the phone with Wilk, who eventually joined the band. Their debut, We Will Reign, is out now.
We sat down with Wilk to geek out over drums: specifically, his favorite drum solos. “I’m more about drum performances than solos,” he said. “But I do have a list for you.” And he did.
Buddy Rich’s “impossible” drum solo from 1970
“If I had to say my number one, it would be this Buddy Rich drum solo from 1970. At four seconds in, he knocks the overhead mic out. To me, he was just the epitome of a drummer. He was unbelievable. His fluidity, his power, his grace, his aggression, his momentum, he was a force to be reckoned with. What Buddy Rich could do on a hi-hat, most drummers couldn’t do on a 17-piece drum set. The guy was a freak of nature, and always a pleasure to watch. And also a pleasure to listen to. But not a pleasure to be in a band with! But to listen to the tapes of him talking to his band is quite comedic, if you know what I’m talking about. Not to mince words: he was an absolute motherf—er. But he was one of the greatest drummers, if not the greatest, to ever sit down behind a drum kit. I went to a school that mostly catered to jazz musicians. I was playing a lot of jazz before I was in Rage Against the Machine. Which, I guess, brings me to my number two pick…
Elvin Jones’ performances from A Different Drummer
“It was a guy by the name of Elvin Jones. Unbelievable drummer. It’s not just one solo on A Different Drummer, it’s the entire thing. The first time I saw it, it was just… phenomenal. He is also someone who plays with such grace, and such power. And when I watch him, it’s like I’m watching colors and numbers flying from his drums. He’s like a painter to me, he’s like painting this incredible picture on the drums. Could I see myself playing jazz at some point? No. To me, if you’re going to be a jazz musician, you’ve got to live it, you’ve got to breathe it, it’s no joke. I’m not going to go up there and fake something like that. I haven’t spent my life playing jazz music. I have played jazz, but I’m more of a rock and roll drummer. But what I love is rock drummers who can really swing. Most of the rock drummers that I love have a jazz background. Some great examples of that are: John Bonham, who has this amazing swing, Bill Ward who swung his ass off, and Alex Van Halen swung his ass off as well. And another one was Ginger Baker. Did you see the Ginger Baker documentary? He’s something else.
Yes, I heard that Rick Rubin suggested Ginger Baker play drums on the Black Sabbath record, I can’t imagine what that would have been like. But I’ll bet you if they actually did it, it would have been f—in’ awesome. He swings his ass off. Sabbath is based in blues and jazz, Sabbath and Ginger would have been great. But if Bill played, that would have been the ultimate. I wish that Bill Ward had done that record, but that did not happen. Bill is one of my favorite drummers of all time, but he’s not on this list because it’s more about his performances on records, but not about his solos.
Neil Peart on Rush’s live “YYZ” from Exit… Stage Left
When I was 12 or 13, Exit… Stage Left had just come out, and I remember being completely enamored by Neil Peart. I just wanted to be Neil Peart. I spent eight hours a day trying to learn “YYZ,” and I developed really fast reflex muscles. So, a lot of my speed came from trying to play the beginning of “YYZ” when it’s all snare drumming. I played that drum solo at my talent show in high school. I think Neil Peart has such an incredible mind to have created that drum solo. It’s an iconic drum solo! That’s not an easy thing to do. Every piece of that drum solo is a beautiful piece of work, and is executed with mass precision. That drum solo probably meant more to me than all the other drum solos that we’re talking about, because when I was 12 or 13 it was the first drum solo that I saw that made me say, “I want to do that.” I would play backyard parties in high school and try to play “YYZ.” He’s done other drum solos since, where he does things that are even tricker than that version of “YYZ,” and he’s gotten even greater, which is insane. Last time I saw him when was on the tour where they did all of Moving Pictures [the 2011 “Time Machine” tour]. I felt like he was playing the same stuff [as in 1981] but even better: the groove was even deeper. To watch a guy do that, a guy who is that far along in his career, was mind-blowing to me. I was completely floored by him.
John Bonham on Led Zeppelin’s “Bonzo’s Montreux” from Coda
I didn’t really get into John Bonham until after I hit puberty, Led Zeppelin made so much more sense to me after that! [laughs] John Bonham may be my favorite drummer of all time. My favorite drum solo of his is not “Moby Dick.” It’s “Bonzo’s Montreux” from Coda. I absolutely love that, because it’s so musical. He’s playing these steel drums. If you really listen to what he’s playing on his kick pedal, it’s nothing short of astounding. It’s like a freight train coming right at you. So many Jane’s Addiction songs were sort of spawned from “Bonzo’s Montreux,” so my hat’s off to Stephen Perkins for that. I just love that piece, it’s amazing. Last Internationale will open some shows for Robert Plant in England this November, that will be really cool. We’re honored to go on tour with him.
Keith Moon on the Who’s “Happy Jack” from A Quick One and “Bargain” from Who’s Next:
Two of my favorite drum solo-type things that he does are like drum solos within a song. The first one would be “Happy Jack,” I’ll never forget when I first heard that song. I was 12 years old and my brother bought The Kids are Alright soundtrack [to the Who’s documentary film of the same name] on vinyl and the cover was so colorful and Keith Moon was just an absolute lunatic and then I put on the record and heard “Happy Jack ” and he just sounded like an orchestra… on the drums. It’s absolutely insane. With Keith Moon, almost every song he plays on sounds like a drum solo!
The other one I particularly love is called “Bargain,” from Who’s Next. I don’t even know what those notes are that he’s playing, they’re so fast. It sounds like thunder getting closer and closer. I love it so much because I’m still not really sure what he was doing, so it’s still magical to me. They broke the mold when they made Keith Moon. Having said that, every time that I’ve seen Zak Starkey play with the Who, he’s done really great, I think he does a great job interpreting those songs.
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