Sunday, January 17, 2010

How to nail the drum intro to 'Rock and Roll'

When counting out the drum part to the Led Zeppelin song "Rock and Roll" in 4/4, it starts on "the and of three." That's all you need to know.

There. Done. NEXT!

A little over two years ago, I was at a time in my life when I was playing band gigs often. It was never a secret within my bands that their keyboard player was a huge Led Zeppelin fan. Some bandmates of mine even dared to venture onto "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History" or "Led Zeppelin News" once or twice to test the waters and see just how deep my appreciation for the band actually runs.

But they were always quite surprised that whenever they suggested covering a Led Zeppelin song, I was the first to veto it. Why? We were covering a bunch of other songs from the era: "Don't Fear the Reaper," "Riders on the Storm," "Limelight," etc. Why was I so hesitant to incorporate something from my favorite band? Well, it's simply because I didn't want Led Zeppelin songs to be played incorrectly or to rock less than the original. More on that reasoning here.

It's just like when Get the Led Out tribute band guitarist Paul Hammond told me in Part Two of my interview series with him:
"Anybody, any guitarist who's half decent, can jam their way through a Zeppelin song. I've done that in the past. At clubs, when somebody says, 'Hey, can you do this?' or 'Can you do that?' I'm like, 'Oh, I know the structure of the song, I'll get my way through it.' But it's not really doing it the way it should be done, at least as far as from the Get the Led Out perspective."
When Jason Bonham sat in with Chickenfoot on Dec. 5, he may have very well done a commendable job replicating his father's drum intro to "Rock and Roll." And bassist Michael Anthony had his eyes on Bonham the whole time, probably hoping to get some cue as to when to come in. But never mind coming in on the right beat as, on the other side of the stage, Joe Satriani, as proficient a guitar player as he is, just decided he would come in whenever he damn well pleased.

Here's one video source of their onstage jam, but it doesn't show the complete drum intro.

This alternate video source of their onstage jam shows the complete drum intro, which is marred by Chickenfoot drummer Chad Smith on rhythm guitar because he's striking a chord when Bonham starts off at Smith's drum kit (a kit both drummers help to destroy a few minutes later):

No, it wasn't a train wreck. Sammy Hagar may have been a bit tequila-fueled. Chad Smith looks like he, too, was feeling no pain. And when your guitarist comes in too early, it takes only a microsecond to adjust to the guitar player, during which most people in the audience will be completely unaware of any mistake. But at the same time, there are people -- many of them elitist drummers -- who know better and who will be waiting for the train wreck. Some will even blame it on the drummer for not accenting the right beats to cue the rest of the band.

Here's an instructional video posted online Friday explaining that the beginning of John Bonham's drum intro starts on "the and of three" as would be counted.

First, think:
"one and two and three."
Then, the drummer plays:
Now, count the rest:
Finally, the guitar riff comes in, and you're home free. The most difficult part of the song is over. From there, you can go out and have as good a time as Chickenfoot did.

Even the guy in this instructional video, Nicholas Kirk, messes up the counting while he's explaining it, but it's close enough that you should be able to get the gist.

Kirk writes:
"For years I've played this song, and on every occasion listened in terror as the drummer played the intro to his/her liking, never minding the actual rhythm Mr. Bonham wrote. ¡NO MAS!"
It's funny that Kirk uses "Run, Run Rudolph" by Chuck Berry to explain his point. Sure, that works perfectly. Kirk may not realize it, but Bonham was actually playing the drum intro to "Keep A-Knockin'" from a Little Richard recording in 1957. That also starts on "the and of three." Check it out, and you can tell more easily from the accents in the Little Richard drummer's playing that he's starting on "the and of three."

So, Whitestone posts this video, and one of the comments left on the page is from an R Carelson, who writes:
"When we play this song I just shorten it a tad , start the pattern on 1, tell the band..4 bars.. start on 1, …no train wreck!"
Sure, but that's missing the point. This is a prime example of someone who doesn't understanding the timing and doesn't bother to get it right. It's easier to make a slight alteration to avoid the train wreck. If you start playing on beat one, you have a two-measure intro and everybody comes in on one. How convenient! But that's not playing it right; that's playing it to your liking.

As a result of the above video and explanation, musicians should now be able to understand that the drum intro to "Rock and Roll" is two full measures plus another beat and a half before it. So to count it, start counting at one on the fourth tap of the cymbals.

Here's my challenge to anybody who's been in a band playing it wrong before. Film your next rehearsal. And during that rehearsal, explain to your bandmates how the drum intro starts. Film their A-HA! moment. And if they don't get it, well, then, I'm sorry, they should just quit your band and go join Chickenfoot.

Think of it this way. "Rock and Roll" was written out of a haphazard jam and recorded right on the spot by Led Zeppelin plus special guest Ian "Stu" Stewart on piano, at the mansion Headley Grange. Here's how John Paul Jones described how the track came about during a radio interview on "The Scott Muni Show" on New York's Q104.3 in 2002:
"We were in this huge, great room, which was really echoey, and Bonzo was just so loud in this room 'cause he's a really heavy player, and it's just the brightness of the room. It was so loud, we said, 'Look, man. No offense, but do you mind if we push your drums out into the hall?' There's this big stairwell, and we just like -- we carted his drums out. 'Now you stay out there, and we'll listen to you on headphones' while we try and get this -- because you couldn't think.

"And so, he started playing. We said, 'Wow! That sounds great out there!' Because it was a stairway with two landings or something like this in this big, old house -- no furniture, nothing, no drapes, no carpets, it was just. And, so we thought, get some mics out there quick! And we put one mic above him, 10 feet above him, and another mic 20 feet above. And there's no mic on the kick drum, no mic lower on the drums at all, and that was '[When] the Levee Breaks.' That was the sound of 'When the Levee Breaks.' A huge bass drum, and it's just like the sheer power of this man bouncing off the walls and, you know, being caught by way overhead mics.

"And, I think we were talking, I can't remember, we were working out some song, or we were thinking about some song, I don't know what, and -- and -- we'd forgotten he was out there. And, I think, just to wake us up, he started
[imitates drum sound] and just went into what was to be the intro of 'Rock and Roll.'"
Led Zeppelin didn't rehearse it over and over to nail the timing, nor should anybody have to who's trying to learn it. Simply know the counting, and you should be able to nail it.


  1. Not too sure why it's all that difficult to be honest. It's a pretty straight forward rock drum intro, if you want a challenge check out Fool In The Rain.
    John Henry plays a shuffle in 4/4 then on the bridge he's playing quarter note triplets in the right hand, it's pretty unique to that song..
    And what about Candy Store Rock another great drum song!!
    Dan Dever

  2. What is the big deal. For any drummer who knows how to count - it's so easy!

  3. I hate to ruin myths but John Bonham used to be at most of my gigs (his words were "Ive had my head under your drums for ages") at Mothers in Erdington Birminham and I would often use son clave as part of my intros or fills and the intro to Rock and Roll is based on clave with three 8th notes added on the end to take you into the main groove,easy. He used Rumba Clave as the basis but only uses the whole rumba clave once and starts with 2 measures with the 1st two accents of clave then the whole two measure phrase then add the extra tree 8th notes and your there . The constant accents at the end of the fill clearly signal the rest of the band when to start. Easy :-) !!

    1. I know a bit about music, but I'm somewhat of a drumming neophyte. Though I came across much information about this where people said, "It starts on the "&" after the 3", conceiving of it this way still didn't have the intro seamlessly lining up with the main groove, as many were suggesting. I don't hope to badmouth anyone--it is possible this interpretation just eluded me.

      On the other hand, this explanation by Baz has made what's going on much more clear to me. Thank you, Baz, whoever you are--it was a pleasure learning about Son Clave and Rumba Clave in the process, as well.


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