As a failed musician myself, drummers have always fascinated me. They are the engines that drive music. They provide the beat we humans have danced to since music began – likely well before we had language itself.
There are obviously extraordinary drummers in popular music history. Just off the top of my battered head with an attempt at offering some diversity: Gene Krupa, Keith Moon, Stephen Perkins, Louie Bellson, Topper Headon, “Bigfoot” Brailey, Moe Tucker, Max Roach, Jody Stephens, Carly Barrett, Jaki Liebezeit, Pete Thomas and Hugo Burnham (see below) are those who most immediately come to mind.
Their role, their significance in their respective bands was rarely, if ever, taken for granted by their fans. There was one pioneering drummer whose special skill was always the most overlooked in his singular band, DEVO. Rather than bloviate any further on the subject myself, I’ve invited a few experts to testify as to drummer Alan Meyer’s special genius….
“1978 was a delicious time…. for a musician just getting purchase on a real future….loving the old, adoring the new - sucking it all up. Then this thing - DEVO’s first album - hit us. Two big smacks to the head… Eno produced it, but we old “Ziggy Kids” (many, many of the first wave of UK “punks” were) had heard of them because David was lauding them already; PLUS, they had the balls to do “Satisfaction.” Hello?! Before Ziggy (and Slade and Roxy and Mott, etc., etc.), it had been The Stones. First response was “WTF?” Then it crept up and into my heart and brain and synapses. The video, the pictures, the clothes, the artwork, the fucking hats…. that DRUMMING. Damn. So you could be weird and still rock it, still nail the bedrock for the rest of the band. It wasn’t about rudiments and technique (...neither or which I ever had…), but about feel and exploration and risks. Thanks, Alan Meyers. You made it easier for me to find my way, my style. I just wish I could have said it to your face… while gripping your hand as hard and with as much drummer-love as I once did Bernard Purdie’s.
What a man, what a man, what a mighty fine man Alan Meyers was. And always will be. Thank you.”
—Hugo Burnham, Gang Of Four
“The best part about the early DEVO records was their careful balance between human and machine. It was Kraftwerkian. Alan was so robotic he crossed backed over into soul. It’s robot soul music. When DEVO went to the drum machines, the Fairlight CMI’s sequencers, it robbed their rhythms of that delicate balance.
—Garvy J./Josh Hager – Edited/programmed drums on Devo’s most recent LP, Something For Everybody.
“Back in ‘78 and ‘79 The Ruts used to rehearse in a squat in New Cross in south London. Segs (Bassist) and I would rehearse and jam. We were most inspired by DEVO and their wonderful pumping jerky rhythms which helped us write our own tunes. Thank you, Mr. Meyers. May you rest in peace.”
—Dave Ruffy – Currently playing w/Ruts DC & Dexy’s Midnight Drummer (Also known for work with World Party, Sinead O’Connor and The Waterboys.
“He was perfect at what he did. Period.”
—Deborah Frost, Ex-Flaming Youth drummer
“Alan was quite an influence on me, even though I could never duplicate his speed or technique, he was absolutely incredible to listen to. Made Devo that much better.”
—Dave Lovering, Pixies
“The first time I saw Alan play was on my parents’ little B&W TV in the late 70’s when DEVO performed on Saturday Night Live. I was watching with my dad as that amazing “Satisfaction” beat began. Then those boys in their yellow jumpsuits stepped into the light with their deformed instruments and played in a way I had never heard. Me and my dad weren’t sure if it was a skit or not. It blew my child mind!!!! Bands like that and drummers like Alan were pioneers showing the rest of us what is possible outside the mainstream mind frame. De-evolution indeed!!! RIP and thank you, Alan”
—Matt Tecu/Drummer for hire extraordinaire.
So many of us had that same experience as Matt. The nation’s first glimpse of DEVO was one of those watershed moments of early SNL like Elvis Costello bailing out of “Less Than Zero” to rip into the then wildly controversial “Radio Radio” or The B-52’s with the hair and Fred plunking on the toy piano that NBC/Universal won’t allow to stream online. Instead check out this early clip of “Mongoloid” and “Gut Feeling” performed in 1977. Hardcore DEVO (with Alan Meyers on some, but not all of the tracks) has just been re-released by Superior Viaduct/Boogie Boy Records.