Pat Blythe – Women of The “Traps”- Part One…and Music!

“Developed primarily in the United States, early drum kits were known as traps kits (short for trappings) and usually consisted of a bass drum, a snare drum on a stand, a small cymbal and other small percussion instruments mounted on the bass drum or a small table, all played with drum sticks or brushes except for the bass drum.” — Wikipedia\

“A synonym for “drum kit” this term was used earlier, when drums and percussion were beginning to be assembled into a single “station,” playable by one drummer. The story goes that early kits contained a tray that held percussion “contraptions,” such as cowbells, whistles, and other items. “Contraptions” was shortened to “trap,” eventually becoming “trap kit”.”  –Sweetwater Sound

Last week I had the great pleasure of interviewing Brie Darling, formerly of The Sveltes, Fanny, All American Girl and currently performing in Boxing Ghandis. Darling, who is a singer and actress, is first and foremost a drummer. Fanny, the first all-female rock group signed to a major record label, have recently reunited (sans keyboardist Nickey Barclay) and have written and recorded a brand new album, Fanny Walked The Earth. Formal release date is March 2. I began by writing a piece about Fanny and suddenly, mid-sentence, switched gears (more on Fanny later). Inspired by my chat with Darling I’ve veered toward drummers….specifically lady drummers. Darling’s story will most definitely be part of it. Similar to my previous series on women in song, blues and jazz, I’m going to select various female drummers from our past and present and toss in a bit of drum history as well.  It’s impossible to include everybody and I’m sure there are favourites I may miss. A little bit of then, a little bit of now.

Who’s Who?

The list of well-known male drummers is as long as your arm and then some and most of us can probably rattle off enough to cover all ten fingers and continue on the toes. So…. who out there can name, even on one hand, some of the top female drummers over past 50+ years? Karen Carpenter, that’s one. Sheila E, that’s two. Keep going….. How about Moe Tucker? Viola Smith?  Honey Lantree? Sandy West? Marcy Saddy? Gina Schock? Meg White? Any of them ring a bell? Ya, well, me neither…..and that my friends, is a shame.

Now the guys….different ballgame. There’s the insane craziness of Keith Moon, the powerhouses that were/are John Bonham, Ginger Baker and Carmine Appice,  the precision drummers like Charlie Watts (who never seems to break a sweat) and Stewart Copeland, laid back drummers like Ringo Starr who made it all look so simple, jazzy drummers like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, melodic drummers like Phil Collins and tasty, artistic drummers like one of my favourites, Jace Traz (and if you’ve never heard of him before, well consider yourself informed).  My favourite drummer of all time is Ed (Cass) Cassidy, one of the founding members of Spirit. Cassidy was what I considered a “tasty, creative, melodic, powerhouse”, incorporating a variety of styles and influences throughout his 75-year drumming career, particularly on Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (which also happens to be my favourite album). I was fortunate to see him perform live three times and was agog every time. My favourite drum solo however, is by Ron Bushy, the drummer from Iron Butterfly….In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (baby,)…. I can air drum to that solo with reasonable precision.

Now THAT’S a drum kit…… Listen to Nature’s Way and you’ll hear those giant field drums

The ladies were (and are) every bit as talented as their male counterparts but we rarely hear about them. Pioneering, influential, dedicated, brilliant, challenging the norms….the women listed above and many, many more kept the beat for some of the most famous bands in the world. So the next two or three columns are dedicated to the them….and the beat goes on….

Yep….a little drum history overview

Every drummer has their favourites and the selections are infinite. Style, colour, wood, metal, make, model, sound, size, acoustic, electronic, skins, even the hardware….the list goes on. The various makes of cymbals also have their own unique sounds and the drummer’s ear can detect even the most minute differences.  Drumsticks…..the choices, especially for a neophyte, are mind boggling.  Wood tips, nylon tips, maple, hickory, oak, persimmon, carbon fibre, thick, thicker, thin, taper, tip shape, weight, brushes, mallets, surface coating (to coat or not to coat)…..OMG!!!! Then there’s how you hold them…..match or traditional? I need a drink…..

Drums are a member of the percussion group (there’s a surprise!), and in one form or another. have been around for thousands of years. Even prehistoric man kept the beat. The use of drums through the ages included religious rituals and various kinds of ceremonies. They provided the marching beat for soldiers during times of war and peace. Various drum patterns were forms of communications (particularly warnings) between tribes/clans or towns and villages. Drums patterns were also used to imitate the tone patterns of a spoken language (African “talking” drums). ….and the types of drums appears endless…steel drums, timpani, bongos and congas, the Cajon even. However, for the purposes of this series I’m sticking to the standard “rock ‘n’ roll” drum kit.

Drum by drum….

A standard drum kit

The first snare drum was “invented” in medieval Europe in the 14th century and was called a tabor, first used to accompany the flute. Along with the tabor came the wooden  drum stick.  (They had to beat the tabors with something) The snare itself is comprised of several gut, nylon, wire, or wire-covered silk strings which are stretched across the bottom of the drum or snare head and “rattle”.  Snares can also be placed on the top head (tarol snare) or top and bottom heads (Highland snare drum) When a drummer strikes the upper head, the snares “vibrate sympathetically with the lower head (the vibration is transmitted from the upper head by air vibrations inside the drum, causing a snappy, penetrating, relatively high-pitched sound.”) Then there’s the strainer which holds the snare taut (or releases it) and the snare bed. Snare beds, a fundamental feature of the snare drum, “are contours cut (wood shells) or bent (metal shells) into the bearing edge on the snare side of the shell to allow the wires to lay flat against the head. Without these, the snares would be buzzy and uncontrollable.”

The bass, or kick drum, was next. Introduced to Europe in the 15th century it was known as the Turkish drum. The Turkish drum or tabl turki is a direct descendant of the davul, “a large, cylindrical drum with a narrow shell and two thong-bracedheads which was played without snares.” These particular drums became huge favourites with marching bands (hung from the breast) or placed on a stand, vertically. From the right-hand side, the head was struck with an unpadded wooden stick (accented beat). From the left-hand side, the drum was struck with a single rod, held flat to  produce a snapping sound (unaccented beat).  These large drums were also incorporated into operatic productions to lend an “Oriental feel” to the performance. In 1807, for the opera The Vestal Virgin, composer and conductor Gaspare Spontini required the bass drum be struck with a felt-covered mallet, muting the snap and creating a deeper, slightly muffled sound. Fast forward to the early 20th century and by this time the bass drum was now mounted on a stand horizontally. It became an important part of jazz percussion and a new playing technique emerged: striking the drum with the bass pedal, invented in 1909 by William F. Ludwig in Chicago.”

Cymbals, originally made in Turkey or China, have also been around about as long as the first drum. Typically made of metal, cymbals produce unique sounds based on the size (diameter), metal (type), weight or thickness and profile (which affects the pitch). Considering the sounds required by cymbals, I can’t fathom them being made by anything other than metal. Various types of cymbals include: orchestral, crash, high hats, suspended, finger, ride and my favourites, swish¹, splash² and sizzle³ (’cause I just love the “sound” of the names).

The tom or tom-tom drum was also a new addition to the kit in the early 20th century. Named after the Anglo-Indian and Sinhala language, the tom is a cylindrical drum with no snares. Hanging toms can be single-skinned (Phil Collins) or double-skinned (more typical) and are either mounted on a separate rack or connected to the bass drum. Floor toms, which are always double-skinned,  are mounted on floor stands.

A rather large drum setup

….and there you have it. Now, thanks to Ludwig, the bass pedal made it possible to entrust other percussive instruments such as the snare and cymbals and the odd cowbell, to a single player. Today, a drum kit can be as small as three pieces or as large as 360 pieces, the latter of which belongs to Dr. Mark Temperato (aka RevM) a minister and professional musician.  A standard ‘starter’ kit typically comprises the bass, snare, one or two hanging toms and a floor tom. Add the high hat, crash and ride cymbals. ….and let’s not forget “the throne”, a key piece for the comfort of anyone sitting and bouncing on their ass for possibly hours on end (no pun intended).

Lesson over…..learn anything? I sure as hell did!

Now, put your sticks together for the ladies……

Viola Smith

Viola Smith

Born in 1912 in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin, Viola Smith is recognized as one the world’s first professional female drummers and is possibly the oldest, working, mainstream musician today. At the tender age of 105, Viola still performs in a Costa Mesa band called Forever Young: America’s  Oldest Act of Professional Entertainers and also drums for a band in her local community. Viola was featured on the cover of Billboard Magazine in 1940, penned a piece for Down Beat magazine in 1941 called “Give Girl Musicians A Break”, acted in two movies (When Johnny Comes Marching Home and Here Comes the Co-Eds with Abbott and Costello), in 1938 formed (with her sister Mildred) one of the most popular, all-woman orchestras, The   Coquettes and the list goes on.

Frances Carroll & The Coquettes with Viola Smith

Viola, who was one of eight girls and two boys,  began playing the piano but soon transferred her skills to the drums. In the 1920’s her father formed an all girls band with Viola and her sisters. Originally called the Schmitz Sisters Family Orchestra, it was later changed to Smith Sisters Orchestra. In 1938 Viola and her sister Mildred formed The Coquettes and when, in 1942, her sister left to get married Viola decided to move to New York. It was in New York where she met Billy Gladstone, at the time considered the most famous drummer in the world, particularly for his snare drum technique. Now well into her career she began taking lessons from Gladstone and received a summer scholarship from Julliard. Famous not only for her skill and speed on the drums (she was referred to as the female Gene Krupa) but also for the two 16-inch toms positioned at shoulder-height on either side of her.  Her signature kit consisted of seventeen drums and for a few years in the 1950s led her own band Viola and her Seventeen Drums.

Viola Smith, America’s Original Hep Girl – Tom Tom Magazine interview

Honey Lantree

Born in 1943 in Hayes, Middlesex, twenty years later Honey Lantree would become the drummer for the British rock group the Honeycombs and would be celebrating a number one hit on her 21st birthday. In 1963 Lantree was working as a hairdresser in Hackney when the salon manager, Martin Murray decided he wanted to form a rock group. Murray was teaching Lantree guitar in the evenings but she liked to sit behind his drummer’s kit and “have a bash at them”. She was a natural and when the drummer quit, Lantree was asked to join the group. She was not only easy on the eyes, but Lantree could actually play the drums, and sing. She was a “perfect storm” for a band whose visual edge was their drummer.

The Honeycombs had a number one hit in 1964, Have I The Right, produced by Joe Meek, who was famous for pioneering recording techniques using reverb and echo. With a million selling single, TV appearances and the following tours, at the age of twenty-one Lantree became the most well-known female drummer in the world. The bands’ next single, That’s The Way had Lantree sharing lead vocals with the Honeycombs lead singer Dennis D’Ell. Things began to wind down for the band in 1965 and in 1967, they split up. An article in the Record Mirror (October 1964) suggests the beginning of the end was the general belief held by the media that the band was a one hit wonder, claiming they were “a gimmick”  with “a pretty girl behind the drums who couldn’t really play,” and affecting the public’s perception.

Sponsored by……

After the Honeycombs’ demise, Lantree attempted to form an all female band but was unable to find enough talented female pop musicians…..hard to fathom in the 21st century. Although an inspiration for the young Karen Carpenter, Lantree became a footnote in history of rock music. It was the renewed interest in the early 1980s of the music from the British Invasion which led to “a rediscovery of the Honeycombs’ music, and subsequently to the discovery of Lantree, by a new generation of young listeners. Women drummers in all-female bands….and at least one mixed-gender New York band of the early ’80s, the Tryfles, seemed to have been inspired by Lantree in their configuration.” Although there have been various reissues of the Honeycombs’ work, Lantree has not been involved or participated in any revived versions of the Honeycombs.

Interview with Honey Lantree 2014

Have I The Right – Honeycombs

That’s The Way – Honeycombs

Local Updates

L-R – Rick Van Duk, Dean Carl Glover, Kevin Reid, Peter Nunn, Stan Miczek

Headed out to Timothy’s Pub last week to check out Groovestone. Five skilled musicians who have previously performed with some of North America’s heavy hitters including  Ronnie Hawkins, The Guess Who,  The Mamas & The Papas, Andy Kim, Gowan, Harem Scarem….just to name a few. I met up with two good friends, Marysia Gonzalez (booker/promoter/manager) and Carolyn Kelly (who conveniently lives right around the corner from Timothy’s), connecting the two ladies. Kelly is a script writer and videographer with her company Jeeperscrow.

back to front – Rick Van Duk, Kevin Reid, Stan Miczek

Groovestone are five guys who love music and love to perform it even more. They are Peter Nunn on his signature, tilted keyboard, Stan Miczek (bass/vox), Rickferd Van Duk (guitar/vox), Kevin Reid (lead vox/guitar )and Dean Carl Glover (drums). It didn’t take long for the dance floor to get busy as favourite, familiar tunes…. Baby Come Back, Little Red Corvette, Ramble On, Cheap Sunglasses, Don’t Bring Me Down, Let’s Go Crazy, I Got You, Funk 49 and whole lot more….had the Tuesday night crowd on their feet. Three strong vocalists with Reid in the lead (rhyme not intentional) and great harmonies. Groovestone covers a wide variety of music and genres spanning several decades providing something for everyone….from Prince to ELO, Hall & Oats to Led Zepplin and one of my favourites, The Doobie Brothers.  You catch them at Timothy’s every Tuesday night (unless they are otherwise engaged). If you ask….they will play.

….a few tunes

Numb – Holly McNarland

Friday On My Mind – Easybeats

One of my all time favs…..it’s the guitar…..

Spirit In The Sky – Norman Greenbaum

A Song For A Winters Night – Gordon Lightfoot

…..the voice…. There’s a series of videos behind this one. I highly suggest you listen to them.

Boots of Leather – Blackie and The Rodeo Kings

Cheers!

Photographs of Groovestone ©A Girl With A Camera “The Picture Taker” 2018

¹The swish cymbal and the pang cymbal are exotic ride cymbals originally developed and named as part of the collaboration between Gene Krupa the Avedis Zildjian Company. The swish has a higher tone than the pang cymbal and is washier with a less pronounced ping. This difference is accentuated as the swish is generally sold with rivets (like the sizzle cymbal).

²In a drum kit, splash cymbals are the smallest accent cymbals. Splash cymbals and china cymbals are the main types of effects cymbals.

³A sizzle cymbal is a cymbal to which rivets, chains or other rattles have been added to modify the sound, attached either by means of holes bored in the cymbal or by means of an attachment known as a sizzler.

P.S. Don’t forget to tune your drums….top and bottom!!!

Sources

Wikipedia, SoftSchools.com, DrumTek, History of Drums, Cassava Films, Drummer World, A Symphonic Library, Encyclopedia Britannica, AllMusic, Modern Drummer

=PB=

Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence —  33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto. Together for 34 years, Pat little-red-headed-dancing-girlalso worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance! 

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