“Without it, you’re kind of nowhere” — Keith Richards.
You may think, owing to his profession as The Rolling Stones chief riff-maker, that Keith Richards isn’t concerned with much outside of the six-string in his hand, but you’d be wrong. Much more so than his contemporaries within the band, like Brian Jones, Mick Taylor and Ronnie Wood, Richards’ love of music extended way beyond the guitar and has seen him become one of the most well-versed musos in the history of pop music. It means his opinion on every facet of a band’s set-up and production is worth its weight in cigarette-smelling gold—even his estimation of drummers.
During a conversation in 2003, as part of his then-revolutionary Ask Keith series, Richards offered up a list of some of his favourite drummers of all time. Naturally, it is an eclectic mix of performers ranging from the greats of the golden age of jazz all the way up to who would eventually replace the late, great Charlie Watts in 2021. Of course, like most things Richards does, it cannot be considered his definitive list because, outside of the music makers somewhat faltering memory, there is also the fact that, like any true music lover, Richards’ tastes and preferences would likely change from hour to hour.
The question to Richards was a simple one: who are your favourite drummers? He responded with his distinctive drawl to provide an impressive list of names: “Drummers… apart from Charlie Watts, okay, we will put him there,” says Richards motioning his hand to the top of the pile. Watts is widely considered an underrated master of rock percussion, but, in truth, he learned most of his trade from jazz masters. It’s something Richards also alludes to as a considerable influence with the rest of his list.
After Watts, he continues: “It’s Steve Jordan, Charley Drayton, George Recile, Gene Krupa, Baby Dodds, I can go back and back, George Wettling.” Noting Krupa, Wettling and Dodds is like picking out the three darlings of jazz drumming. Without these three names alone, the world of percussion would be hugely different. The same can also be said for Richards’ appreciation of newer performers such as Bob Dylan’s drummer George Receli, and the man would replace Charlie Watts, Steve Jordan.
Jordan spoke with Vanity Fair about agreeing to work with The Rolling stones, picking out Richards, in particular, as an inspirational figure. “Very few people that I’ve ever worked with in my life are more committed to music than Keith Richards”, Jordan told the publication. “He’s really committed to the music. That’s the most important thing about Keith. He loves the Rolling Stones, and everything revolves around that music.”
Richards also dispels a uniquely held myth in rock and roll circles that there is no such thing as a good drummer. “I mean, when you think about it, it always seems that the good drummers and great drummers are thin on the ground. But when you start to think about them… whoa! So there’s loads out there I can’t even mention. There’s African guys that blow my mind away and Sly Dunbar from Jamaica and he is not the only one.”
Pertaining to Jordan’s later comments, Richards also noted just how essential drummers are to the drive of a rock and roll band. “Drummers, without it you’re kind of nowhere” he dutifully explains. “If you’re talking about in the concepts of the rock and roll band, then it’s finding the right bass player to go. Because really a rhythm section is the rhythm section really.”
But it’s not all about sheer talent, the connection is what matters most according to Richards: “You have to have the two that really hit in together. So you can have a fantastic bass player and a fantastic drummer, and they sound terrible together. Because they are both who they are. This chemistry — it is a weird thing that you can never answer.”
You can watch Keith Richards answer who are his favourite drummers below, as well as finding an introductory playlist to their talents.
Keith Richards favourite drummers:
- Charlie Watts
- Steve Jordan
- Charley Drayton
- George Receli
- Gene Krupa
- Baby Dodds
- Georgie Wettling
- Sly Dunbar