As a “seasoned” drummer I can honestly say that Buddy Rich was the person who inspired me first to become a drummer/percussionist. Even “The Professor” Steve Smith who has influenced me more than any other contemporary drummer will tell you what a role Buddy has played in his musical life. Honestly until I again watched the Hudson Music DVD Buddy Rich: At The Top I had forgotten how blazing fast his hands were even as he sat on the drum throne hunched over his white marine pearl Slingerland kit as a king over his subjects. From classics such as Norwegian Wood to Love For Sale Buddy and his band were dynamic, rhythmic, melodic and solidly in charge of the music that February night in 1973 at The Top of the Plaza in Rochester, New York.
Buddy and his big band were a mixture of brass and wind instruments including flutes, saxophones, trombones, trumpets, flugle horns, bass guitar and of course Buddy on the drums. The band performed with a high level of technical ability. More astonishing was the ability of the band to perform without being conducted from the traditional position in front of a band. Obviously they were well rehearsed in their music and in the musical cues Buddy would give them from the drums.
West Side Story was clearly the musical piece the crowd was waiting to hear (and see) Buddy perform. In many ways, that piece of music exemplified Buddy Rich. It was grand, emotional, dynamic and energetic. The crowd sat mesmerized as Buddy and his band performed this famous piece of music. Even more astonishing was the pure talent and technical ability he displayed at the kit. In today's music fans are more impressed with how fast a drummer can play double bass drum or how many drums they can get around them or how many body piercings they have. Buddy's command of every little nuance of what it is to be great drummer was on full display. Rudimentary drumming was taken to new heights in speed. I always he knew he was fast but if you really look at what he is doing with one hand it's really astonishing. He played in both matched and traditional grips with most of his playing utilizing the latter. In his left hand he used a push-pull technique which allowed for the beautiful and consistent single sticking. At one point during one of the many solos in West Side Story he played slow and steady single strokes, eventually speeding up and playing one of the fastest single stroked rolls I have ever heard. The only contemporary drummers that comes close is Jo Jo Mayer or Johnny Rabb. Even these great drummers will tell you how they were influenced by Buddy.
Not only was Buddy's band outstanding on their primary instruments they showed their musicianship with the ability of playing other instruments. At one point, the entire trumpet section was playing some fairly complex afro-cuban rhythms over top of Buddy's drumming. The wind section switched between flutes and saxophones depending on the mood and intensity of the piece being played. Having this ability allows a band to be “bigger” than it really is. There was also very little amplification of instruments for this performance, which was a breath of fresh air in our current electronic-laden music. What microphones being used were really only there for the purpose of producing a TV show and not for amplification purposes. The band dynamics rose and fell with the music....as it should.
Buddy was a showman. This concert exemplifies that from his time at the piano or on the trumpet or just interacting with the audience. He clearly connected with them. They loved him and he loved it. That 1973 performance is a classic that all drummers should have in their library At the end of the DVD there is a clip of Buddy playing a solo on the Johnny Carson show in 1984. Even in his advanced years he had command of the kit, his chops and the audience. He exhumed pure joy on the kit and playfulness with the crowd.
(2002). Rich at the Top Buddy Rich and his band. S.l. Milwaukee, WI: Hudson Music Exclusively distributed by Hal Leonard Corp.