Drum Roll Please…. Happy Birthday, Brian Viglione!

You’d think that a violinist and theremin wrangler would be more comfortable with the high-pitched, squeaky side of the musical spectrum than anything else, wouldn’t you? In my case, that just ain’t so. Turn down the treble, gimme BOOM, THUD, CRASH. Establish a strong pulse and make sure there’s plenty of low end. The deeper that connection with the rhythm section, the more blissed out I’m gonna be. Bang the drums.

I bring this up because May 16th is the whelping day of one of my favorite peeps in de’ whole wide world, Brian Viglione. He also happens to be one of my all-time favorite drummers.

Photo by Lauren Goldberg.

I first met da’ Vig and his brilliant partner in cabaret crime, Amanda Palmer, many years ago in the basement of some tiny Boston club. I’m not sure Brian was even of legal drinking age back then. My first time watching the Dresden Dolls perform (for an audience of maybe 15 people) I was thinking dang… that kid plays like the radioactive lovechild of Elvin Jones and Brendan Canty! How is that even possible?!

Amanda and Brian both seemed larger than life. I remember turning to one of my own bandmates and asking “is it just me, or does it feel like they should be playing a much bigger room?” Funny how things go…

Brian tearing it up at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, 2006. (The Dolls are playing a sold-out show at the Filmore in SF on Sunday. I’ll be joining them on a song. Really looking forward to it, as always. Whether they’re playing some dive bar, a swanky supper club, or opening for NIN, it’s always hugely satisfying to work with these guys.)

In honor of the birthday boy, in no particular order, here is some choice footage and brief blurbage of 20 (give or take a few… I sort of lost count) bliss-inducing percussionists who have, each in their own way, inspired me to be not a only a better musician, but a better human being. I know several of them are on Viggie’s list as well. Many happy returns, good buddy.

Greg Saunier

It’s hard to believe that the HYOOOOGE frenetic sound Saunier creates for Deerhoof is generated using little more than a bass drum, two cymbals and a snare. He’s an intensely thoughtful and empathic player who never gives anything less than 100%… even during soundchecks! (Not surprisingly, he also has one of the most joyfully demented and infectious laughs I’ve ever heard.)

Elvin Jones

Yes. We have explosion. As a child, Jones never went anywhere without drum sticks in his pocket, constantly practicing on “any available surface.” He’s perhaps best known for his work with John Coltrane, who said of Jones “he’s always aware of everything else that’s happening. I guess you could say he has the ability to be in three places at the same time.” His physical stamina was unmatched, allowing him to create an enormously powerful and wild rhythmic sound. “Playing is not something I do at night” the beloved powerhouse once said, “It’s my function in life.” Jones is generally regarded one of the greatest jazz drummers of all time, and hot damn, did he ever earn that title.

The Entirety of Crash Worship

I came of age on the fringe of this bonfire. Anyone who attended a performance by this band between ’87 and ’97 will probably tell you it was one of the most beautiful and harrowing experiences of their lives. Multiple drummers pounded out primal industrial rhythms while their bandmates started fires, set off fireworks and brought bacchanales to the boiling point in a sea milk, blood, water and wine.

Mimi Parker

Parker’s playing is achingly vulnerable, haunting, stately, and sssssloooooow. Overall, Low’s restraint and sensitivity demonstrate that sometimes, truly sublime music is often more about the absence of sound than the notes themselves. Parker hovers in the background, patient and gentle (rather rare traits in a drummer), calling to mind the sublime minimalism of Arvo Part and the quiet assurance of Popol Vuh’s atmospheric film scores.

Tatsuya Yoshida

Feeling stagnant? Morose? May I recommend drinking a pot of coffee, putting on a Ruins album and cleaning your house? Works for me. This shit is bananas. ‘Nuff said, really.

Moe! Staiano

“Dada Percussionist” Moe! Staiano is that proverbial storm-in-teacup; a spring-loaded, anarchic sprite whose wildly improvisational style summons the spirits of Einsturzende Neubauten and Raymond Scott in equal measure. Spontaneous, mischievous, and always in earnest, Moe! is one of the most delightful live performers around. You’re never quite sure what’s coming next, but you know it’s going to be FUN.

Dave Witte

Like four-armed Vishnu incarnate, Witte sits calmly behind his kit, barely breaking a sweat, his limbs a blur of movement as he launches an ultrafast, bonecrushing sonic assault. I’ve watched him in action with Melt Banana and Burnt By the Sun numerous times, completely agog. I still don’t quite understand how he does what he does. His encouraging attitude is refreshing as well. From a recent interview for sickdrummer.com: “Follow your heart and never give up. Play as much as possible however you are comfortable and try to find inspiration in many different forms of music. Try to play with musicians with more experience than you and you’ll learn and grow quickly, that was my thing, I played with people whose skill level were much higher than than mine at the time and I grew stronger as a player… Most importantly, not every performance and practice is going to be a good one, sometimes you’ll just have one of those days. Don’t let [that] discourage you because tomorrow is another day.”

Doudou N’Diaye Rose

”The drums give strength, ease pain, ward off evil and even help to flirt with women,” this world famous griot has said. Rose is a phenomenal percussionist who knows thousands of ceremonial rhythms. He has spent his life teaching them to younger generations, as well as challenging social mores in his country by allowing women to drum alongside men in his troupe. ”There are women lawyers and police inspectors – why not women drummers?” I had the privilege of watching this Rose perform with his 30-piece Senegalese ensemble in Boston a few years ago. By the end of it, there were tears of joy streaming down my face. Buy this album.

Yoshimi P-We

Best known as a longstanding drummer for Japanese avant-garde supergroup the Boredoms, P-We is a tiny, potent multi-instrumentalist who brings an infectious enthusiasm to every project she undertakes. Her work on Super AE is particularly epic. She’s been affectionately referred to as the Queen of Noise, and also happens to be the swashbuckling inspiration behind my all-time favorite Flaming Lips album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.

Tito Puente

The charismatic Mambo King is widely credited as the man who introduced vibraphone and timbal to Afro-Cuban music. His chops as a player and a bandleader were as sharply honed as that irresistible grin. Upon his death, the New York Times proclaimed “El Ray” the most important Latin musician of the last half century. Taken from his NYT obit: ‘He gave us all a life,” said Robert Farris Thompson, a professor at Yale University… ”And by us I mean not only Puerto Ricans, but mainland blacks, huge numbers of Italians and Jews. We all loved him. There were guys my age who were envious they weren’t at the Moulin Rouge in the days of Toulouse-Lautrec; who weren’t at Minton’s in the days of the birth of bop. I was secure in the knowledge that I had been there on the birth of New York mambo.” Tito! Wherever you are, we love you, man!

Susie Ibarra

Ibarra, a lyrical jazz player with a vast dynamic range, has studied countless styles across the world and can jam the blues, ska, balkan, gamelan, kulintang, vibraphone, timpani, marimba, you name it. Check out her solo Tzadik record Flower After Flower and her work on David S Ware’s Go See the World.

John Bonham

Whaddaya think? Overrated rock star martyr, or indisputable Thunder God? Personally, I’m going with Thunder God. Hell yes.

Zakir Hussain

For whatever reason, a lot of my friends have a tendency to dismiss world music as too hippy dippy for their tastes. It’s just not “cool” to wig out over a tabla player, I guess. But watching Hussain go into the zone, I can’t help but think they’re dippy. Son of tabla master Ustad Allarakha, Hussain was a child prodigy who began touring at the age of 12. As a young man, he became increasingly interested in integrating different styles of music around the world, and reached out his “talking hand” to the most unlikely collaborative partners: Van Morrison, Mickey Heart, Japanese Kodo drummers, George Harrison, etc. Call me old-fashioned, but I tend to believe that before one goes about breaking a time-honored tradition, they should first study and master everything there is to know about it. Hussain is exemplary of that, and you can tell that no matter how “far out” he goes, he has always maintained love and respect for his roots.

“Papa” Jo Jones

Oh, Papa Jo… That smile kills me. He makes it seem so effortless, doesn’t he? It really isn’t. Can I get an amen? Amen.

Dave Lombardo

Bow down, mortals. Grovel before the Dark Prince of Metal. Supplicate yourself as he pummels your ears with rapid-fire rack tom runs. Beg for mercy from his devastating double-bass onslaught. Or not. Because believe it or not, underneath the aggro, Lombardo’s a kindly, doting family man who clucks over his children like a mother hen. I witnessed this firsthand after a slammin’ Fantomas show a while back. Before loading-out, Lombardo placed his daughter in his lap and let her abuse the snare drum on his $10k for half an hour. It was sort of like watching the Chernabog do this. And like the Grinch, my small heart grew three sizes that day!

Neil Peart

Too predictable/mundane a choice, you say? Not a Rush fan? Dude, don’t even go there. Take your prog hate outside. Zzzt! Nnnf! Say NOTHING. As far as I’m concerned, this man is the undisputed reigning KING of the live drum solo and a Canadian treasure. You hear me? KING. TREASURE. (Great lyricist, too.)

Stewart Copeland

Subtle, syncopated genius with a smirk. Easygoing grooves divided into perfect little segments by a rifle-crack of snare and mercurial fills. One of the first albums I ever bought with my allowance was Zenyattà Mondatta, around age 10. Honestly, I don’t think I’d ever really given much active thought to drummers at that point (other than Animal from the Electric Mayhem, of course). I remember lying on my back, staring at a crack in my bedroom ceiling and zeroing in on Copeland’s ingenious playing on “Driven to Tears“. It completely changed way I listened to ALL drumming from then on.

Isaiah Chevrier

I’m so smitten on this little guy. I started playing my chosen instrument around the same age, but I don’t remember feeling nearly as comfortable or happy about it. Isaiah is tapping into something in a very pure and powerful way. I hope he hangs onto it!


They don’t always have the most glamorous job in rock bands, but truly superb drummers are like roots of a giant oak, offering indispensible support so that the tree can stand stall and proud. Although Budgie’s a badass, he’s never needed to blare it from the rooftops. I particularly love his playing in this live footage from Lollapalooza ’91. Nothing particularly fancy or flashy (besides the shirt), just a solid, supportive forward march… yet this song would seem completely hollow without him.

Cyro Baptista

Baptista is a mad, manic genius. No filters. He’ll try anything, say anything, PLAY anything. One of the most imaginative and playful musicians I’ve ever met. The last time I saw him perform several years ago, he was somberly wreaking havoc during John Zorn’s Electric Masada while the other musicians suppressed smiles. More recently he’s been working with Herbie Hancock and Yo Yo Ma! Go go, Cyro!

Buddy Rich & Animal

Really, does it get any better than this? Need I say more? Nah.

You know, I would have kept going if I hadn’t run out of time and coffee, then accidentally stripped all of the hotlinks out of this post. (AUGH!) But off the top of my head, here are bunch more mind-boggling awesome drummers to Google if you’re feelin’ frisky: Max Roach, Dougie Bowne, Tony Williams, Shahzad Ismaily, Dave Varenka, Ginger Baker, Jim Sclavunos, Dave Astor, Terry Bozzio, Kenny Wolleson, Ches Smith, Raz Mesinai, Sara Lund, Igor Cavalera, Sim Cain, and, and, and… oof.

Sorry. I’m going to shut up now. Let’s continue this in comments when I’m a bit less delirious!

19 Responses to “Drum Roll Please…. Happy Birthday, Brian Viglione!”

  1. Melody Says:

    I would like to submit George Kollias from NIle, who, against all reason, can produce the metal blast beat bass drum effect with one leg…(and that is only one of his many talents)

  2. Lauren Says:

    Lovely photo. ;)

    I have to agree, Brian is one of the best percussionists out there. His approach to drumming isn’t to be the fastest and do fancy tricks… it’s to convey emotion through an instrument that is usually known for it’s generic steady beat. And I love his physicality during performance as well. Shameless plug: For those interested, I filmed/photographed Brian’s drum clinic last year. For more insight on da man, here’s a clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsOp14XJ-wo

    Are you going to be at the San Fran show tonight? I wasn’t sure, but I’m having their awesome brigade coordinator (aka my fake sister Beth) keep an eye out for you. She has a hug to deliver. (If she remembers.) :)

    In sad news, if this show was NEXT weekend, I’d have been able to fly out to Cali since we have 5 days off school. But it’s not. It could’ve worked perfectly- get to see a great show (Vermillion’s opening yayayay!) and get to see a ton of awesome peoples. Why is there some crazy power keeping me from you?

  3. Terra Trouvé Says:

    Alhough not a single drummer, i definitely think that 77 Boadrum deserves a mention. The project, initiated by The Boredoms, consists of 77 drummers all performing together by the Brooklyn Bridge.

    A list of the drummers is on the wikipedia page:

  4. Mark Says:

    Killer piece Mer, enjoyed that a lot. I’d like to add that Viggie is indeed fantastic, his drumming really stood out when I saw the Dolls live over here in Manchester last year, so kudos to him – also a lovely interviewee when Ms Palmer had the flu! ;)

    The best live drummer I’ve seen for ages was just the other night – Josh Wells of Black Mountain. He’s one of those really unassuming-looking people, just hunched over his kit and kinda scrawny, but his staggered fills just had me grinning, and he really plays the whole kit as an *instrument*, which far too many drummers forget to do.

    This one starts off a bit slow for drumming purposes, but skip ahead to 4.30 and watch the last 2.5 minutes to see Josh doing his thing (in quality that doesn’t really do him justice but is kinda fun all the same, natch…)


  5. Terra Trouvé Says:

    Excellent choices there.
    I have to say, although not a single drummer, 77 Boadrum definitely deserves a mention. The project initiated by The Boredoms featuring 77 drummers all playing together by the Brooklyn Bridge.


    A list of all the drummers is on the wikipedia page:

  6. Terra Trouvé Says:

    Excellent choices there.
    I must say that, though not a single drummer, 77 boadrum deserves a mention. The project initiated by The Boredoms, featuring 77 drummers all playing together by the Brooklyn Bridge.
    Fantastic stuff.
    A list of all the drummers that took part is on the wiki.

  7. Peter S. Says:

    A fine list. And of course, I’d add a few names…

    Bill Bruford was never as flashy as Peart, but his skill in creating rhythms, particularly polyrhythms, reawakened the piece of my brain shaped by my mother playing Bartok on the piano.

    Pretty much anyone who played drums/percussion for/with Nils Frykdahl. Wes Anderson, Chuck Squire, Frank Grau, Matthias Bossi, Moe!…the list goes on. And on. (And I do believe you pounded the skin a bit at the last Faun Fables show…)

    George Hurley. THE MINUTEMEN. I need say no more.

    Gene Krupa. No comment needed.

    Max Roach. One of my favorite recordings of all time? The Money Jungle, a trio recording with Duke Ellington, Max Roach and Charlie Mingus. Jeeezuz whatta rhythm section. Also a wonderfully melodic player.

    Brendan Canty and Jerry Busher. I can only hope Fugazi gets together for another album. The way the two of them lock into the beat makes me smile.

    I want to continue, but the weird-assed drum parts from “The Ossuary” are blotting out all rational thought.

  8. barton Says:

    Give the drummer some, roll call! I’ve got:

    John Jabo Starks — The JBs
    Clyde Stubblefield — Also of The JBs
    Zigaboo Modeliste — The Meters
    Al Jackson, Jr. — The MGs
    Vinnie Colaiuta — Mothers of Invention
    Billy Martin — Medeski Martin and Wood

    Yeah you right!

  9. Mer Says:

    YesyesYES. Guys, I agree wholeheartedly with all of the names you’re listing off that I recognize, and I’m going to promptly give a listen to those I don’t.

    Oh, man, Gene Krupa?! Billy Martin? Vinnie from the Mothers! How could I forget them?! Turrrrrible.

    Keep ’em coming, ya’ll. Give the drummers their due!

  10. Shaiyela Says:

    I’m going to add Jerome Dillon. People will probably argue it because he was in such a mainstream way with Nine Inch Nails for a while, but he is truly TALENT. I never had a favourite NIN song until I heard him contributing to “Just Like You Imagined” live. He was 23 at the time, it blew my mind and actually got my heart beating off-time at some points. I get goosebumps even hearing it on live DVD now.

  11. Nadya Says:

    Oh shit. My music doesn’t have any drummers in it! It only has drum machines!

    But a huge impression was made on me by Janet Weiss. I saw her with Quasi, and I saw her with Sleater-Kinney (many many times, on 2 different continents). She was my favorite drummer in my favorite band and I’ll never forget their last show. It was only a few months before the official breakup, and everyone in Philly knew it would be their last time seeing Sleater-Kinney live. There was such a finality in the air and she drummed her heart out. She didn’t want the band to break up, Corin did. “[The breakup] is heavy for me, ’cause this is all I want to do,” she said in an interview.

    I hope I see Janet on stage again.

    Also, long before I discovered Sleater Kinney and Patti Smith and all that type of music, I was a big fan of Hole and I really admired Patty Schemel. She was one of the first out people I ever encountered in the mainstream media, which was a big deal for me. But what I really appreciated about her was her intensity on stage. I wonder what happened to her!

  12. Peter S. Says:

    How I skipped ZIggy I will never know. That first Meters album is so good I can’t sit still when it’s on. And I am not, by nature, a dancin’ kind of fellow.

    It’s astounding. If you listen to all the astoundingly bland music out there, then look at this very abbreviated list of amazing drummers it is perplexing. So much of the music made by these folks BREATHES, even that involving the strictures of drum machines and sequencers. I listen to the Sleater-Kinney albums Nadya mentions and I can hear voices, guitar parts and drums slipping into and out of each other, and the same during the crescendos in songs like “Sleep Is Wrong.” Good drummers and a real understanding of rhythm can set the heart of the music beating (like on “Giant Steps”), and without that life (with or without an actual drummer) the music…well, why bother?

  13. Rachel Rad Says:

    i missed the san francisco show last sunday but was at the fillmore the night before for bassnectar! i think the last time i saw them was awhile ago at the sea of dreams rave on new years’…like 2006? it was so random seeing the dresden dolls at a RAVE.

    brian is amazing…a real musician-drummer, not just a rhythmic noisemaker.

  14. Ben Morris Says:

    This is a great list. Most of the additions I would make Peter S. already made, Gene Krupa and Bill Bruford especially. The three King Crimson albums with Bruford from the mid-70’s (Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, Red) are probably my favorite classic prog albums. Other favorite drummers:

    John French/Drumbo from Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band.

    Christian Vander from Magma.

  15. Ben Morris Says:

    Also, its not kit drumming but Evelyn Glennie playing Steve Reich’s Clapping Music is some of the finest percussion I have run across.

  16. Mer Says:

    Ben, I love Evelyn Glennie so much. I saw her perform the premier of my professor and mentor Joan Tower’s piece “Strike Points” a few years ago and was just blown the fuck away.

    And yes. Vander. (WAH! SO MANY AMAZING DRUMMERS.)

    We should really have an entire post on Magma.

    Also, Mark suggested this fellow, and I’d have to agree, he’s Something Special:

  17. barton Says:

    @Peter S — Yeah man on the Uptown Rulers: Live on the Queen Mary record Zigaboo is turned up *sooo* loud in the mix it’s almost too much, you know? But it is the “Ur-Funk” so you just gotta swim around and marinate in it.

    I wonder if McCartney was running the mixing board at his party and just wanted to hear Zig throwing it down, or what. Couple of times you can hear the fellas appealing to the sound man for some justice, lol.

    Any of The Meters first five albums would be more definitive material for the culturally deprived among you needing immediate remedial funkification studies, but that Uptown Rulers record is *all* about the Zig.

    Also I’m putting y’all on notice, The Meters allow live concert taping so you’ll naturally need to immediately report to your torrent trackers of choice to experience some legitimate, legal, funkified Internet 1’s and 0’s courtesy of the Ninth Ward of the City of New Orleans. Maximum respect to all the founding fathers and mothers of the funk!

  18. Peter S. Says:

    And of course, I missed Moe!’s show in Portland this week due to thesis appointments. Crud.

    I did, however, get back in to town soon enough to run into the man at breakfast. Folks in the Pacific Northwest take heed! When Sleepytime Gorilla Museum hits the area, Moe!’s new act, Mute Socialite, will be along for the ride. Ambugaton is at hand!

  19. Merveilleuse Says:

    I love Brian Viglione. The Dolls are such neat people not to mention incredibly creative/original/talented/brave. Yay!