Saturday, November 1, 2014

Drum roll, please: Todd Swalla serves up his top-10 list

Todd Swalla with the Necros in 1982 (Eerie Von photo)
By Andy

Back in the early 1980s, we'd always swing by punk gigs early so we could scope out the scene, chug a few brews, hang out with some fellow gig-goers and maybe find some of the bands to shoot the shit with.

On Oct. 1, 1982, me, my brother Ed and our pal Pat ventured into a sketchy area of Los Angeles to witness the Misfits, Necros, Social Distortion and SVDB (Saint Vitus Dance Band) at Bob's Place.

We spotted Henry Rollins -- who we were already friends with from lurking around the SST offices in Redondo Beach -- said hi and hung out a bit with him and the Misfits near their van as they assembled their set list for the evening.

Nearby, sitting on the hood of their van were some of the Necros guys, who were touring with the Misfits. As we hob-nobbed with them, we stared in awe as the hulking Jerry Only and Doyle carried their massive amps into the club with the greatest of ease. They might as well have been carrying toothpicks.

Later that evening, Necros drummer Todd Swalla gave his arms an intense workout with rapid-fire and precise skinsmanship behind his kit.

I never saw the Necros live again, but Swalla's drumming always stood out on the band's records, pushing them to a level above other bands on our radar. He also manned the drummer's seat for the Misfits for a bit and later for the Laughing Hyenas.

We tracked down Swalla and here he offers us a rundown of his top-10 drummers. This is some good stuff! Enjoy:

10. Bill Ward -- A mesmerizing fusion of hard rock drumming ala Bonham and beefed up jazz licks set to a soundtrack from hell itself. Bill was the quintessential acid rock drummer and was the engine that drove the Sabbath drug rock machine. Everyone in metal that came after is just a pale imitation except Lombardo.

9. Rock Action -- The master of Detroit thud, Scott Asheton proved that yes you can be totally strung out and still get the job done. All three albums are essential masterpieces.   (I don’t count those two mediocre after the fact offerings). Rest in Peace Scotty.

Getty Images

8. Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson -- Simply said, Dennis is the American answer to Keith Moon. An angular approach to drumming that ebbs and flows out of the pocket with the greatest of ease and is over the top on high energy with the most powerful band ever in front of him.   With heavy nods to Beaver Harris and Roy Haynes as well as Moon and Mitch Mitchell, Thompson was the backbone of the music of the revolution. Don Brewer doesn’t come close. For a real treat, watch the MC5 documentary and you’ll never do drugs again.

Leni Sinclair photo

7. Moe Tucker -- The queen of avant-garde art rock drumming. Moe could have probably gone the safe route and played a traditional kit but that would have been very un-Velvets. Bobby Gillespie be damned!

6. Animal -- This guy is a beast on the skins, not bad for a puppet.

Disney photo

5. Bobby Brady -- What Bobby lacked in ability he made up for in sheer youthful enthusiasm and energy. Unfortunately his career was cut short by parental intervention.

You Tube photo

4. Buddy Rich -- I used to watch Buddy on the Tonight Show when I was 8 or 9 and it was absolutely astounding. Every drummer on earth wishes they could play this well and this fluid. He had the best chops in the business and he was also the biggest dick -- essential and immortal.

3. John Henry Bonham -- What can be said about John Bonham that hasn’t already been said ad nauseum? No matter what you think of Led Zepp, one has to admit that the drumming was totally kick ass. The power of Keith Moon slowed down to a crawl with a technical savvy that catches the essence of white boy blues played at 11. Bonham will live forever.

2. Chuck Biscuits -- I was 17 the first time I saw D.O.A. play in Detroit in 1980 and it blew my little teenage mind. Chuck was my age at the time or possibly younger and he had it down to a tee. 100% pure energy with a kick ass band in front of him that was totally no holds barred pure punk rock. After D.O.A., Chuck was “traded” to Black Flag, which lead to that band’s best lineup next to the original. His short stint in the Circle Jerks was no less stellar. Unfortunately after that he joined Danzig and was told to lighten up on the drum fills. Yuck.

1. Keith Moon -- It’s hard to describe in words the epic proportions that come to mind when one talks about the drumming of Keith Moon. You can talk about the manic prankster and chemical intake, but what really stands apart is his playing. Pete Townsend always made a point of describing his playing as going forward as opposed to left and right like most drummers, and this is oh so true.  Many have tried and no one really comes close if you think about it, not even myself, Ginger Baker or Dave Grohl.

Keystone/Hulton archives, Getty Images


  1. It has been one of the great privileges of my life to be in bands with Todd A. Swalla. I've have more gratifying experiences playing with him than with a number of sex partners. He is among the great drummers - nay musicians - of his generation. I don't necessarily recommend him as a roommate , however. And he shoulda listed Bill Bruford.

  2. I saw Todd play with the Necros a couple times, they even stayed at my house those times too. Saw him play in the Hyenas too. Killer drummer and super nice guy.

  3. Just played with one of Todd's recent projects Fast Piece of Furniture and though not as ballistic, he certainly has the dynamics and chops of a seasoned pro!

  4. My 11-20 list:
    11. Jim Kimball
    12. Phil Calvert
    13. Charlie Ondras
    14. Lombardo
    15. Ian Paice
    15. Robo
    17. Bill Stevenson
    18. Roy Haynes
    19. Ben Swank
    20. Budgie

  5. Todd Swall is on my top 10 list. Great list from a great drummer.

  6. Todd is as good as it gets. If you wanna get silly comparing technicians of course you can name more. But take Todd in his band and song and he is as good as it gets. Todd in any situation would have rose to the level. He is indisputable in his musicality and technique.