Pat Blythe – Women of The “Traps” – Part Two

Let’s just dig right in shall we. Female drummers, and I’ll add percussionists, span the globe.  From Israel to Iran, from China to Europe and back to North America. Although it’s the guys who seem to be in the forefront, drumming is not a just a “manly” profession (and neither is electric guitar but that’s for another discussion). Women have been drumming since…..well….. the very beginning.

Karen Carpenter

“I didn’t know she was a drummer” is the often heard refrain when people are told Karen Carpenter was not only a drummer, she was an amazing and highly respected drummer who happened to have a velvety, distinctive contralto. Singing and drumming….those two combined are not as easy as it looks. Drumming came naturally to Karen and although she became both the face and voice of the brother/sister duet, Carpenters, Karen’s first love was the drums. During her entire career, she considered herself a drummer first, a singer second.

Karen began studying the drums in high school. Originally assigned the glockenspiel she asked if she could play drums instead, specifically on a Ludwig kit because that’s what her favourite drummers Ringo Starr and Joe Morello used. Karen used both traditional and match grip, studying the difference, and within a year could play complex time signatures like Dave Brubek’s Take Five.

Close To You – Carpenters

Carpenter’s first band was an all-female group called Two Plus Two followed by the Richard Carpenter Trio with her brother (Richard) and bassist/tuba player Wes Jacobs. Karen was always on drums with Margaret Shanor on vocal duty.  Karen’s voice was discovered when she and her brother Richard were auditioning at a session with Wrecking Crew bassist Joe Osborn. After Jacobs left the group, the Carpenter siblings along with Gary Sims and lyricist John Bettis formed the group Spectrum and continued to write and record songs in Osborn’s garage studio. After many rejections they disbanded. However, Richard and Karen continued to shop their music around until they were eventually signed to A&M Records. They became one of the most successful groups of the 1970’s, winning three Grammy awards and landing their own TV variety show. Karen continued to be both drummer and singer for the band but eventually audiences started to complain that during live performances they couldn’t see Karen (she was only 5’4″) and there was “no focal point” on stage. It was up to her brother Richard to persuade her to step out from behind the drums, a daunting task since Karen felt more secure behind her drum kit. During many live shows she would move around the stage playing various configurations of drums and percussion instruments, managing to remain close to her first passion.

Karen Carpenter Drum Solo – 1976 First Television Special

According to Osborn Karen’s timing was perfect. In an interview with Modern Drummer, he states, “…if there is such a thing as perfect time, she had it.” Citing the recording of “Yesterday Once More” as an example. Osborn continues, “Richard didn’t like the first half of the track and wanted to re-record it. They were using 2″ tape and no click track. He insisted they could re-cut the first half and splice it to the second half. I was very skeptical, but Richard insisted, so we re-cut it. There is no change in tempo and no way to know. The tempo matched perfectly. It was incredible.”

In 1975 Karen was voted best rock drummer of the year by the readers of Playboy magazine. Apparently John Bonham was more that miffed and wisecracked, “she couldn’t last ten minutes with a Zeppelin number.” However, voting a woman as best rock drummer probably irked more than just Bonham. Female drummers were not common, nor were they ‘cool’. It just wasn’t ‘a thing’ in the rock ‘n’ roll world of testosterone. However, Karen was a skilled drummer who influenced many artists including  Debbie Peterson of the Bangles and Johnette Napolitano of the band Concrete Blonde.

On Top Of The World – Carpenters

According to Peterson, “I always felt that she knew how to integrate the drums with the vocals….she knew just where to place her fills so they worked with the lead and harmony vocals… She really was quite an exquisite drummer.” Napolitano offered this, “The key to Karen was that she was the drummer and the singer. Whereas you’d have to take a whole lot of time establishing the right balance between the drums, bass, guitar—whatever—and then the singing, Karen already had the voice/drum ratio organically, and everything else had to fit in between. As a drummer she was laid back, and, since she was also the singer, her accents and dynamics are perfect for the song and the singer, on every level.”

“Another area in which Karen excelled had more to do with what she didn’t play than what she did. “This Masquerade” (from 1973’s Now and Then) is a wonderful example of the use of space within a tasty part—brush on the snare with the right hand, rimclick with the left.” Dena Tauriello, Modern Drummer

This Masquerade – Carpenters

Legendary Wrecking Crew member, drummer Hal Blaine worked with the Carpenters on many of their signature pieces. He considers Karen to be “a great drummer” and to Buddy Rich she was “one of my favourite drummers.” In the studio, Karen needed to be at the mic and not buried in the drums when recording the vocals so it was Blaine who performed on many of their albums. Drummer, George Pendergast from Dishwalla, grew up listening to The Carpenters. That Karen was a singing drummer was what he found fascinating since they were so uncommon. After listening intently to her drum parts “I noticed that she had a way of using the hi-hat on backbeats instead of the snare — you realise she was leaving all kinds of space for vocals and the song….When drummers come at songs from other perspectives, it’s interesting how their parts become more musical.”

Karen Carpenter’s drumming was effortless and her mastery of odd time signatures was as natural as breathing. Her unexpected and untimely death at the age of 32 was heartbreaking but the legacy she left behind influences female drummers to this day.

February…..Black History Month…..

L-R – D’eve Archer, AHI and Keysha

I was invited to attend a showcase at the Canadian Music Centre on Thursday, February 8 by Beverly Moore of More Music Management, an artist and business management consulting firm. The Canadian Music Centre was created by a group of composers in the 1950s. From the centre’s website, Around the late 1950s, a group of Canadian composers recognized that there was a serious need to create a repository for Canadian music. This led to the creation of the Canadian Music Centre – a place where Canadian music could live and thrive, and composers could promote and facilitate the performance of their music.” There are now five regional centres located across Canada. To find out more about CMC go here

The CMC facilities on St. Joseph St. in Toronto played host to two local, Canadian performers, AHI and D’eve Archer. The show was  presented by the Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC) and CMC Black History Month Matinee with support from SOCAN. The focus was on encouraging young black artists, specifically in the hip-hop and rap community, to join the SAC.  The entire performance was streamed live. In between songs Keysha Freshh interviewed Archer and AHI on their experiences as black singer/songwriters and performers, asking some very pointed questions. The room was full and the two performers, vastly different in voice and music, offered up some unique experiences, funny and poignant stories and serenaded the audience with some magical moments and beautiful music. What a fabulous Thursday afternoon.

D’eve Archer

D’eve Archer – This was my first introduction to Archer and I am thrilled I had the opportunity to hear this woman sing…..and play. A brilliant multi-instrumentalist (bass, drums and trumpet), classically trained pianist (Royal Conservatory of Music), composer of over 100 completed songs (she wrote her first at the age of 12) and world traveller. I loved her answer to one particular question, “what genre did her music fit into?” Archer’s response was simply “none”.  Archer went on to explain she combined may styles and types of music to create her pieces. In a single song you could hear a bit of rock, some soul, a touch of reggae and hint of jazz. This lady definitely does not fit or squeeze herself inside any box. Talented, spirited and dedicated to her craft, Archer has beautiful voice that just….well….sings.  Her energetic personality captivates the audience while her music fills their ears and their hearts.  According to Archer “I aim to share my heart, my mind and my would with everyone in that venue.” …..and she does

Tabula Rasa – D’eve Archer

The Way You Make Feel – D’eve Archer (Michael Jackson cover)


AHI  — I’ve known AHI now for about three years (give or take) and have written a number of pieces about him. To bring you up to date….AHI has since released his first, full-length album, We Made It Through The Wreckage, travelled to Nashville, had over one million streams on Spotify for the song O’ Sweet Day, performed on NPR’s Tiny Desk series and signed a recording contract. He’s been busy, busy. With a voice often described as gravel on silk, AHI is passionate about his music. His live performances touch his audiences producing a quiet attentiveness as they listening intently to the notes and the lyrics. There are stories behind every song and AHI is happy to share them. He ends every performance with Sam Cooke’s Change Gon’ Come“, a song of hope, something sorely need in the world today.

Change Gon’ Come  – AHI (Sam Cooke cover)

(that’s AHI’s wife on violin, an accomplished musician herself)

Ol’ Sweet Day – AHI

Father and Son Duelling Pianos – On Saturday, February 10 I attended a benefit for the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora at Daniel’s Spectrum. The performers were Eddie & Quincy Bullen, Father and Son Dueling Pianos. There were two timeslots, a matinee and evening show but the weather was not co-operating. Toronto was experiencing what some would call a trifecta of winter storms. However, folks somehow managed to make their way into downtown Toronto to support a good cause. Wonderful stories, lots  of laughs and spectacular music. Lessons in jazz, a trip through the Spice Islands, funk, pop and just who’s tune is that anyway….Tupac or Herb Alpert? Listening to not one but two masters of the keyboard….a fabulous way to spend a winter evening

L-R – Quincy and Eddie Bullen

A touching moment…father and son

Charlie Parker Medley – Eddie and Quincy Bullen Duelling Pianos

416 – Eddie Bullen


All photographs © A Girl With A Camera “The Picture Taker” except those of Karen Carpenter


Modern Drummer


Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

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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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