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Music

The drummers that inspired The Clash's Topper Headon to pick up the sticks

@TylerGolsen

The Clash wouldn’t have been able to become ‘The Only Band That Matters’ without Topper Headon. While original drummer Terry Chimes laid down a solid foundation – and returned to keep the band from falling apart when Headon left – it was Headon’s versatility that allowed The Clash to move beyond punk rock.

Equally adept at laying down reggae rhythms, jungle beats, old-school rockabilly swing, and aggressive drum tracks, Headon was the only member of the band with a playing ability to transcend the basic punch of their punk peers. While fellow drummers like Rat Scabies and Paul Cook were prioritising speed and rock-solid rhythm, Headon had the precision, groove, and technical chops that had them all beat.

Perhaps it’s a bit strange, then, that Headon’s foremost influence was one of rock’s most notoriously volatile and haphazard drummers. When asked by interviewer Steve Grantley how he became interested in the drums, Headen responded: “It was seeing Keith Moon play – I was watching The Who on Top Of The Pops, it was My Generation they were doing and I just thought…I want to be Keith Moon. I loved the way he was the focal point of the band. He looked completely nuts, good looking – just everything I wanted to be! That’s when I realised I liked the drums.”

“Terry Williams from Man was a huge, huge influence,” Headon continued. “I used to follow them all the time. Terry played with Rockpile, Dire Straits and Meat Loaf – great drummer. Keith Moon, of course, and Brian Downey – I loved his feel on ‘Jailbreak’ and his fills. John Bonham’s bass drum pedal was phenomenal and the power of him. He had so much feel. Clive Bunker from Jethro Tull I loved, Ian Paice was a fantastic drummer too.”

Headon even gave a shout out to one of progressive rock’s biggest drummers. “Carl Palmer – he was a brilliant technician. As a musician, you can’t knock Carl Palmer but the whole ELP thing was so pompous – it was fuckin bollocks I thought. It’s dead music, no feel to it! No SOUL!”. Headon’s love of Palmer underscores his focus on technique and skill, even in genres that he might not like.

Headon also gives some shoutouts to his favourite drummers of the modern-day, including saving a spot for the recently-departed Taylor Hawkins. “I like Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters), I love the way he whips that snare drum but I reckon he’s gonna have problems with his wrists later on. I love Chad Smith, I think he’s a shit hot drummer but too tall to be a drummer (laughs).”

Although he admits to not staying in the loop quite as much anymore, Headon also provides a window into some of his modern-day listening habits. “I don’t really listen to a lot of the modern players – I mean they’re phenomenally fast, you know with their feet but they don’t seem to have much feel – I haven’t gone down that road. I listen to N.E.R.D. I‘ve got the new Grace Jones album and I listen to a load of old stuff as well.”

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