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On Drums, On Bass and On Guitar

This morning, I went round to a friend’s house to watch three recent BBC programs he had recorded, looking at the history of drums, bass and guitar in popular music.

Stewart Copeland – most famous for his work with The Police, but an experienced and widely regarded drummer – took the first one. He was a convivial and well-informed host, who drew great things out of his constellation of guests. Key historical tidbit was the role of Edward “Dee Dee” Chandler, who came up with the bright idea of playing the bass drum with a pedal and thus birthed the modern kit drum.

Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads) took on the bass episode. This was my least favourite of the three but then, as an experienced bassist myself, perhaps that is not surprising. More than the other two, I could think of plenty of developments and players she didn’t mention (although I did pretty well with naming the musicians who appeared on all three).

Finally, Lenny Kaye (The Patti Smith Band – and not someone I was particularly familiar with beforehand) looked at the guitar. I was particularly struck by the range of groundbreaking work Les Paul did, which was not just the eponymous guitar model but also a range of novel approaches to recording and processing guitar sounds to go far beyond just making the instrument louder.

Three hours of documentary was never going to be enough to do more than scratch the surface but, if you have a UK TV licence, they certainly make a good trio of programs for musicians to watch.

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