Drummer Grrrls

Because drumming is not just reserved for boys

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In 1992, I was sixteen years old. The alternative rock subgenre ‘grunge’ had emerged in Seattle, Washington during the mid-late eighties and had finally made its way across the water. I was ready to embrace it. One of my favourite bands was ‘Hole‘; formed in California in 1989 and fronted by guitarist/singer Courtney Love – notably known as the widow of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Their punk influenced sound drew me in and I was hooked, but what particularly took my attention was that they had a female drummer…Patty Schemel (pictured above).

I remember watching Hole perform in the early nineties on the British late night Tv show ‘The Word’ – I watched Patty bash those drums, mesmerised, and thought ‘that’s what I want to do’.

These women have redefined what is possible for us lasses in a music industry that continues to be heavily dominated by men. They have also created some amazing music and have inspired ordinary people like me to pursue a dream that has been brewing since my teens.

As I became embroiled in studying at College/University, which was later replaced by the focus of work and children/family life, it took me until I was 39 years old (2015) to get my hands on my first drum kit; a gift from my husband and children, who were probably sick of hearing me whining about wanting to play the drums. My kit is a Tama RM52KH6C-WH Rhythm Mate in white…my precious! Yes, I regret leaving it so late – but it is still my dream to play the drums and so, that’s what I am going to do.

I have spent the last year or so watching various youtube videos in an attempt to teach myself the basics of drumming. I am making (some would say slow) progress, but the journey is a long awaited one and so I am enjoying every moment. One thing that has struck me as I surf the internet in search of the next inspirational ‘lesson’ is how there still seem be so few women who drum, and so I felt compelled to write a short but heartfelt tribute to those ladies out there who have shunned the stereotype and become successful drummers in their own right. These women have redefined what is possible for us lasses in a music industry that continues to be heavily dominated by men. They have also created some amazing music and have inspired ordinary people like me to pursue a dream that has been brewing since my teens.

In 2009, Mindy Abovitz founded ‘Tom Tom Magazine‘ – the only magazine in the world dedicated to female drummers; “Tom Tom’s purpose is to raise awareness about girl and women percussionists from all over the world, to inspire females of all ages to drum, and to strengthen and build the otherwise fragmented community of female musicians.”.

Through platforms such as ‘Tom Tom Magazine’ who regularly host panel events and question the representation of women in the world of drumming and the wider world of music, barriers are being broken down and girls across the world are recognising their own potential and picking up those sticks.

Take a look at this article, documenting some of today’s best female drummers.

One of my earliest memories is of watching ‘The Carpenters’ on TV. Most people know Karen Carpenter as a singer, but she was an exceptional drummer too. I watched with awe, transfixed at how she held her drum sticks. She did not fit the stereotypical mould of ‘percussionist’ and her mother was quoted to have said that “playing the drums is not my idea of an instrument suitable for a young lady”. Karen was known to the world as the front woman and singer of ‘The Carpenters’ alongside her brother Richard, but interestingly she always described herself as ‘a drummer who sings’. Little did I know at the time that Karen Carpenter was the first glimpse of what was to become a life long interest in drumming for me…

Karen Carpenter paved the way for many other talented percussionists – a more recent example who has caught my eye is Lorna Blundell of Manchester based band ‘The Hyena Kill‘. Lorna is now in her mid-twenties and has been drumming since the age of 13…

Remember ‘The Velvet Underground‘? A rock band from New York formed in the 1960s and fronted by Lou Reed. They were briefly managed by Andy Warhol, but more notably they had an amazing female drummer – Moe Tucker. Now in her 70s, Tucker is no longer involved in the music industry, choosing to spend her time looking after her grandchildren. However, her legacy as a brilliant drummer continues to inspire scores of musicians and potential future percussionists…

I love the idea of women such as Tucker venturing into territory that so few women had ventured into before – and forty odd years later here we are, still talking about how inspirational they are and believing in ourselves just that little bit more because of them!

Other drummers that deserve to be mentioned, not least because they have inspired me, but because they have challenged convention and kicked in the shins the societal expectation that drumming is reserved for boys only…ha!

  • Palmolive – The Slits
  • Sandy West – The Runaways
  • Dee Plakas – L7
  • Janet Weiss – Sleater Kinney
  • Patty Schemel – Hole, Upset.
  • Check them out on youtube – turn it up and enjoy!

Oh and if you ever see any girls you know tapping along to their favourite tunes, buy them some drum sticks and encourage them to play (nothing wrong with starting on kitchen pans and up-turned laundry baskets). Here’s my youngest niece, my sister Annabel’s daughter Leanora, getting to grips with my drum kit last year. GO LEANORA. Incidentally, she is being accompanied on guitar by my eldest daughter Freyja, a musician who plays guitar/bass and sings. She taught herself to play the guitar at the age of 11 and has gone from strength to strength ever since – I couldn’t be prouder of my musical family, but especially the girls!

Main image, drummer Patty Schema via Clockshop.

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  • Drumming is *definitely* not just for boys. A few other special mentions:

    – Sheila E (Prince’s percussive powerhouse throughout most of the 80s)
    – Kate Schellenbach (back when the Beastie Boys were a punk band, and later on Luscious Jackson)
    – Bobbye Hall (often uncredited, but Motown’s absolute queen of the congas throughout the 70s, featuring on tracks by Janis Joplin, Bill Withers, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, The Doobie Brothers and Diana Ross to list but a few)
    – Anna Prior (the organic backbone in Metronomy’s otherwise pristine synthpop)

    • Brilliant – thanks Ian. Some amazing names in there! I totally love Luscious Jackson – had forgotten about them…off to dig out some albums! Cx

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