Billy Cobham

jbc6

Junior Member
I'll go out on a limb here. First, I am not a musician, and I am not a music expert. You probably have forgotten more than I know about drumming and drummers.

The drummer that I have been most impressed with, by far, is Billy Cobham. No question. I have seen him live back in the mid-late '70s. Back then, in my opinion, he was untouchable.

As we call know, there is no "best drummer." But I think it's fair to say that no one has better chops than ol' B.C.

Is he as good now as he was? I don't know. I have seen his two recent concert DVDs from France (which I haven't seen discussed here), and I can say that the guy is still damn good.

When it comes to lighting-fast fills, power, technique, speed, accurancy, range, influence, etc., he has impressed me the most. Plus, he's fun to watch.

If you haven't see his two best DVDs, I'd suggest:

Billy Cobham: Culturemix: New Morning Paris Concert

Billy Cobham: Live Palais Des Festivals Hall Cannes 1989


Billy Cobham's page on DrummerWorld.
 
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Thinshells

Guest
I have those, and you really have to see his evoloution through jazz/funk and fusion. He was one of my early favorite "power players" because he actually used all the real estate in his big kit.

His mega-kits were always amazing, but not nearly as amazing as everything he can do on the kits.

He is Dennis Chambers biggest inspiration. I wish there were more dvd's of his performances.
 

kicksock

Junior Member
Mr. Cobham is one of my personal drum influences. My first exposure to his playing was hearing the "Spectrum" album (1973) when I was in high school. He was also one of the first to use synthesizers to process drums and he usually did it in real time (not over dubbed). His kit sound and playing technique always sounded so "21st century" to me back in the '70s.

He has a great website (http://www.billycobham.com/) with personal blogs and a nice forum. Billy even joins the discussions when he can (username "Boomer").
 
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Thinshells

Guest
One of his tunes I discovered by accident appears on a GRP digital sampler (vol I I think) it's called "Mozaik"

Billy should get more credit than he does. Especially considering in the era he came from, most people that had big kits did very simple descending fills or none at all. ( as they were for show.)

Billy grooved, and laid down some power.
 
i found out about billy cobham through my parents. when i discovered the dillinger escape plan, i made them listen to some of calculating infinity, and my dad said, "that sounds a lot like mahavishnu orchestra." i had recently started playing drums, so they told me to go listen to billy cobham if i wanted to hear something great to try and imitate and learn from.

i had the pleasure of seeing him give a clinic at an H&H in Houston a little over a year ago. yes, his playing is just as strong as it ever was. he played along to a couple of tracks from conundrum, then played a solo for about a half hour, then fielded questions until someone asked him when we'd get to hear him play again (it was a middle-aged woman who asked; she was kinda hitting on him, making some innuendo about his sticks). then he played another solo for an indeterminable period of time (i guess i could have looked at a clock, but i didn't, and the way his playing messed with my attention left me with no concept of time passing; it could very well have been a year or five seconds for all i know) and fielded more questions afterward. at one point he was playing with 4-sticks, two in each hand. didn't seem like a technique that he'd developed very well, but i like what that says about his tendency to try and work out new things in front of an audience.

i asked him what he thought of the influence of electronic music styles and electronic musicians on modern jazz, and he started his answer with something along the lines of, "well, that [electronic influence] is the future of music..." then he told a story about a student he met at a clinic at some music school somewhere who had made some type of electronic drum pad/sample manipulator thing of his own design out of a cardboard box, and his teachers wanted to flunk him for it. Billy thought it was pretty innovative though, because here was this kid with so much sound potential sitting on his lap, while, and i quote, "...someone like Terry Bozzio needs a tractor trailer to haul his drumset."

another memorable quote: "drums...aren't necessarily meant to be played loud."
another one: "the thing that you have to keep in mind about electronic drums is that, [short pause], they're not drums."

the next day his band Culture Mix was playing at a Houston community college, and i caught that, too. while of course Billy's playing was tremendous, the real standout of the night in my mind was Junior Gill on steel drum and other random percussion stuff. I think it's his playing that gives their sound it's specific flavor. another memory: their guitarist, i forget his name, had some seriously fancy pants on. no joke. good playing though.
 

y0avz

Senior Member
I got the chance to see him performing in the red sea jazz festival in eilat, israel...
It was one of the best shows in that festival, cobham played some awsome groove,
its was a great show.
 

jbc6

Junior Member
Your Thoughts On Billy Cobham?

Hey, it's just my opinion, but I like B.C. the best. I threw something on another board, and some folks said that he's a sloppy drummer. That surprised me. I'm no musician, but I always thought that he played cleanly and accurately.

Here's the site: http://www.musicianforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=446132

Here's one of the quotes if you don't want to go there:

"He is a good drummer. However he'll never be one of the greats. There's a simple reason for this.

He ALWAYS is catching rims or his sticks. Even on studio recordings there's clicks and clacks all over.

If you can't play clean, then you shouldn't be trying to play so fast. There's a slew of drummers who play with as much speed, power and creativity who never catch a rim. Let alone multiple times in a given song, on record."


I'm not sure what to think!
 

finnhiggins

GONE MUCH TOO EARLY!!!
Re: Your Thoughts On Billy Cobham?

That's just dumb. Billy is clearly one of the greats, he invented so much stuff on the drum kit that if you think he's not a clear, amazing innovator in the instrument you're probably just a kid who thinks Weckl and Cobham are from the same generation of drummers.

Billy pushed the boundaries of speed, power and technicality during the 70s in a way that few other drummers were even close to. The fact that he occasionally hits his sticks together or catches a rim? Doesn't mean a thing. It's a bit like having a go at Jimi Hendrix because his tapping wasn't on par with Steve Vai. Some guys invent vocabulary. Then comes the next generation of players who take that vocabulary and clean it up. Then comes the generation after that who extend that vocabulary again, often in an occasionally slightly sloppy manner compared to what comes next.

Compared to most drummers of his era, Cobham is a machine - his single stroke rolls are astonishingly clean in comparison to almost anybody playing in the rock or fusion genres. It's worth keeping in mind that although chops in jazz had got quite clean by the 60s with guys like Tony Williams the overwhelming trend was still towards a fair bit of looseness in both jazz and rock - guys like Jack DeJohnette, Elvin Jones and so forth in jazz, or Bill Bruford or Mitch Mitchell in rock. It was only really with the likes of Steve Gadd and John Bonham that the ultra-clean, studio-perfect approach started to develop, and neither of them had Billy's chops.

Edit: Ouch, I actually read that thread. Shouldn't have gone there. What a bunch of total idiots. I particularly liked the person posting a list of people like Thomas Lang and Marco Minneman as proof that Billy was not really that great. Yeah, right. Pick a bunch of people who were in nappies when Billy Cobham was changing drumming, that's the idea...
 

jbc6

Junior Member
Re: Your Thoughts On Billy Cobham?

Finnhiggins, very,very well said. I think those negative posts were posted by some idiots with an axe to grind. Who knows.

I have seen Billy live (back in the '70s), and the guy was unbelievable. I never thought that he got the credit that he deserves. It's good to see that other folks recognize his great talent.

Also, I have his 2 latest live concert DVDs - both from Paris - and I think they belong in any drumming enhusiasts collection. Excellent stuff!
 

harryconway

Platinum Member
Re: Your Thoughts On Billy Cobham?

First time I heard Cobham was 1973, Mahavishnu Orchestra - "Birds of Fire". My thoughts were "oh my god, this guy's a monster!". I think that quote is way off base. He's one of the greats in my book.
 

darkcherryfade

Pioneer Member
Not to impose my own opinions of music on anyone, but if you can badmouth Billy Cobham, you have no music in your soul whatsoever.
 

finnhiggins

GONE MUCH TOO EARLY!!!
Billy Cobham was basically the only reason I got into fusion in the first place. Well, him and Tony Williams. But Tony's best work isn't fusion anyway, IMHO, so Billy was really the guy for me. Once I'd exhausted most of the stuff he did in Mahavnishnu and his early solo stuff I had a poke around the other 70s fusion acts, found some other stuff I enjoy and then for the most part found the rest of the style (post-70s) pretty dead and soulless. There's plenty of other technically amazing fusion drummers out there, but I can't think of many who speak to me like Billy does.

The only other fusion drummer I've seen come close so far is probably Nat Townsley. He's got the X-factor too...

As for Cobham, that opening roll and groove on "One Word" is enough for any drummer.
 

darkcherryfade

Pioneer Member
I'm all about the non-elevator-music fusion. Billy is the only drummer who's drumming I can completely percieve as a person just speaking to me, which is why he's my favorite drummer from a musical standpoint.
 
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Henry II

Guest
One often overlooked attribute of Billy Cobham was his versatility.

Before Mahavishnu, he was a Broadway show drummer, reading percussion charts in an orchestra pit. He has a reputation as one of the best sight readers in the business, and is one of the all time in demand studio session drummers. Check out his massive discography sometime. And, in addition to being a fusion pioneer, he's also a great big band, bebop, funk and rock drummer as well.

The only thing I haven't heard BC do is any latin style drumming. Which is surprising since he was born in Panama.
 

mattsmith

Platinum Member
Re: Your Thoughts On Billy Cobham?

jbc6 said:
Hey, it's just my opinion, but I like B.C. the best. I threw something on another board, and some folks said that he's a sloppy drummer. That surprised me. I'm no musician, but I always thought that he played cleanly and accurately.

Here's the site: http://www.musicianforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=446132

Here's one of the quotes if you don't want to go there:

"He is a good drummer. However he'll never be one of the greats. There's a simple reason for this.

He ALWAYS is catching rims or his sticks. Even on studio recordings there's clicks and clacks all over.

If you can't play clean, then you shouldn't be trying to play so fast. There's a slew of drummers who play with as much speed, power and creativity who never catch a rim. Let alone multiple times in a given song, on record."


I'm not sure what to think!
Musiciansforums is probably the dumbest drum site on the web. They live in another reality and are real cocky about it. Recently, I stupidly tried to explain to one guy how ridiculous he was for his slams on some incredible drummers. He had a Hitler avatar and kept tryin' to say insane stuff that he didn't really understand. Like an idiot I kept tryin' to explain my positions and he'd say somethin' like "shut up" or "you're stupid." Then some of his buddies would show up later and say stuff like "yeah, what he said." Even one of the mods started to get into it, talking just as bad, if not worse.

Finally, I just said that "talkin' to them was like trying to teach pigs how to sing. It only frustrates me and irritates the pigs." They didn't get it.

Cobham is one of the cleanest players out there, and IMO has gotten even better since he moved to Europe. Theres a video that plays alot on French TV of him and Louie Bellson in a concert about 15 years ago. It's really great.
 

theduke86

Senior Consultant
Billy's awesome. Unfortunately I only own one Mahavishnu album and Spectrum. I should have more stuff with him on it.
I'm seeing him in clinic on May 3rd.
 
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Stu_Strib

Guest
I believe Billy Cobham is the only clinician I've ever seen that went completely over my head. Man, that guy is insanely technical. He is a huge influence for a lot of the "great" drummers today. I think I lost count of how many times Carter Beauford mentions him on the "Under the Table and Drumming" dvd... same with the John Blackwell Jr. one.
 
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