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Travis Barker recommends seven albums every drummer should own

For those who grew up on the anthemic churn of pop-punk, there’s only one drummer worthy of discussion: Travis Barker. Since rising to fame as the tattooed and enigmatic kit-maestro of Blink 182, Barker has established himself as one of the world’s most recognisable celebrity drummers, performing with some of the biggest names in hip-hop as well as his band The Transplants. Here, in a discussion with Drum!, Barker discusses seven albums every self-respecting drummer should have in their collection.

First up: an album that shaped Barker’s drumming at an early stage. Discussing King Diamond’s 1988 heavy metal album Them, Barker said: “I grew up playing in marching bands, and [drummer] Mickey Dee always played the coolest patterns. The way he placed accents, and where he placed accents were really, really cool, like Latin patterns on his ride cymbal. That stuff just wasn’t happening in rock music back then. I wasn’t much of a double-bass drum fan, but he incorporated them into his fills in a really tasty fashion. Oh yeah, he set up all his drums and cymbals totally flat, which I thought was so cool and inspiring. To this day, all my drums are set up completely flat.”

As you would expect, Barker also had a thing to say about iconic Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, whose work on Zoso (Led Zeppelin III) is some of his best: “Bonham’s fills, the way his drums sounded, and the way he approached songs were just so refreshing,” Barker said. “Everyone back then had, like, 19 drums, and I was like “No, look at John Bonham, with one bass drum, half the kit, and he sounds ten times better!”

Barker’s third selection is a little softer. The Police’s Greatest Hits album isn’t the kind of album you’d expect someone like Barker to be particularly enthusiastic about, but there you have it. “I grew up loving Steve Gadd, Buddy Rich, and Elvin Jones,” Travis began, “But when it came to rock music, I wanted to see a drummer hit his drums hard, and Stewart Copeland always beat the hell out of his drums. I loved him for all his hi-hat work and his unexpected parts on Police songs. ‘Message In A Bottle’ would have been so different played by a ‘normal’ drummer. The way he incorporated ska and reggae into rock music was just so refreshing. I was in a ska band before I was in Blink, and he was my eyes and ears for everything I was learning back then.”

Barker also recommends Mötley Crüe’s 1981 album Too Fast For Love, the very epitome of ’80s hair metal. “Tommy Lee purposely came up with all those parts so that he could still be a flashy drummer on stage,” Barker said of the debut studio offering. “They’re easy parts, but they’re so good and well thought out. He’s also one of the most excellent and solid drummers I’ve ever heard play live in my whole life, and for me, was the epitome of cool in the ’80s.”

Next up, Killing Joke’s self-titled debut album. This self-produced, painstakingly honed record asks listeners to take the band as they are and still sounds as fresh a vital today as it did in 1980. “Dave Grohl [Nirvana, Foo Fighters] actually played drums on that record, and they’re all recorded separately,” Barker noted. “The hi-hat was recorded, then the bass drum, cymbals, and so on. If you listen closely, you’ll hear tom fills coming in over the hat and snare – stuff that’s normally impossible, you know. It’s way more challenging than conventional recording because of all the possibilities that exist in this style; you can experiment with layering parts and take it as far as your imagination will let you. Also, on the practical side, there’s no cymbal bleed or anything like that. I did a Transplants record that way, and because of my [broken] foot, I did some of the new Blink record like that.”

Barker was also keen to recommend Missing Person’s Best Of album: “I think on songs like ‘Mental Hopscotch’ it was really innovative and creative the way Terry Bozzio accented on his China cymbal – I’d never heard a drummer use a China so much in my life!” Barker said, clearly as enthusiastic about Missing Persons today as he was when he first listened to them in the 1980s. “I also thought it was cool the way he accented with the bell of his ride. His drum parts were so creative and different from any other drummer of their genre. I’m just really drawn to drummers who push themselves and don’t play stock drum parts, but instead look for something more creative.” Wise words indeed.

Travis Barker’s favourite albums:

  • Them – King Diamond
  • Led Zeppelin III – Led Zeppelin
  • Greatest Hits – The Police
  • Too Fast For Love – Mötley Crüe’s
  • Killing Joke – Killing Joke
  • Best of – Missing Persons
  • Musicology – Prince

Wrapping up his selection, Travis named Prince’s Muscology, which features the drumming of D’Angelo band member John Blackwell. Blending R&B, jazz, hip hop, and funk, the Prince collaborator knows how to carve out a groove. “John Blackwell is probably one of my favourite drummers,” Barker revealed.

“His showmanship, chops, and pocket groove, both live and recorded, are just ridiculous! I love all the parts he played on Musicology—even the parts he may have programmed are really cool. I suggest that everyone listen to that record, because there’s such great drumming, and, of course, really good songwriting. He’s also one of my favourite drummers to see live—he’s exciting and inspiring, and just so much fun to watch. I love that he can be playing the simplest thing in the world, and he just looks and feels like he’s having a good time—but when there’s an opening or a feature spot for him, he gets down”.

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