Studio Drummer Profiles
During Melbourne’s vibrant session scene, Armstrong’s Studios in Albert Rd and Television City Sound Studios in Richmond were buzzing with pop recording sessions.
A Brief History Of Studio Drummers In The Studio
Highly skilled session musicians gathered to perform live, relying on their ability to sight-read flawlessly and capture the perfect take efficiently. Engineers were still refining their craft, leading drummers to tolerate gaffer tape on their drums to tame unwanted overtones.
Despite the challenges, session drummers enjoyed playing well-orchestrated big band charts, often featured in Graham Morgan’s sessions. As popular music evolved, drummers like Stewart Speer and Mark Kennedy adapted their skills to meet the demands of rock and groove-based sessions.
Using Click Tracks
The session drummers of the past became adept at using click tracks, particularly for film soundtracks. While some musicians have questioned the abilities of studio musicians, stating that their true test lies in live performances, the talent and versatility of Australia’s studio drummers today is undeniably exceptional.
List of Australian Session Drumming Pioneers
This list of Australian session drumming pioneers, including both freelance studio drummers and band-specific drummers, serves as a testament to their contributions and serves as an inspiration for future generations of drummers.
Their recordings continue to captivate audiences, making them worth seeking out on vinyl or CD reissues. And for those still performing today, don’t miss the opportunity to witness their brilliance whenever they take the stage.
- Billy Hyde
- Ron Sandilands
- Laurie Bennett
- Stewart Speer
- Doug Gallacher
- Charlie Blott
- Geoff Cox
- Garth Thompson
- Alan Turnbull
- Graham Morgan
- Will Dower
- Mark Kennedy
- Derek Fairbrass
- Lindsay Copeland
- Garry Hyde
Featured Studio Drummers
His strengths went beyond practice or the type of drums he used. His time feel or groove was impossibly good
Stewart Speer was a Melbourne jazz drummer who emerged in the late 40s and early 50s alongside other notable drummers like Len Barnard, John Sangster, Lauwrie Thompson, and Alan Turnbull.
Melbourne’s leading traditional jazz drummers, including Bob Featherstone, Charlie Blott, and Billy Hyde, influenced him. While playing traditional jazz in the 50s, Stewart developed a strong affinity for bebop and became a fan of the genre.
In 1956, he joined saxophonist Brian Brown’s new band, the Brian Brown Quintet, and they championed modern jazz’s progressive style. The Quintet introduced Melbourne audiences to the music of artists like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Sonny Rollins.
After the Quintet disbanded in 1960, Stewart moved to Sydney, where he played at various jazz venues and eventually joined R&B singer Max Merritt’s band, the Meteors, in 1967. However, just a month after joining the band, Stewart was involved in a serious car accident that left him with multiple injuries and a lengthy recovery period.
Despite the setback, the Meteors continued to perform and achieved success with their debut album and hit single. They later relocated to the UK and faced challenges, including financial difficulties and lineup changes.
Eventually, Max Merritt disbanded the group in 1978 and moved to Los Angeles. Stewart Speer remained an integral member of the band until their last major tour together in the early 1980s.
He personifies the joker behind the kit. The humour belies a dedication to drumming second to none.
Darryn Farrugia, known for his prominent role as a drummer in GTV 9’s ‘Hey Hey, It’s Saturday’ band, has captivated Australian television audiences. However, many viewers are unaware of the extent of his skills, which this book aims to showcase.
Darryn’s enthusiasm for drumming is evident in his eagerness to share the knowledge gained from private lessons at Joe Morello’s studio upon returning from his first trip to the U.S.A. I vividly recall the astonishment we felt as we listened to a cassette recording of Joe’s friend Vinnie Colaiuta interrupting the lesson. Those who have witnessed Darryn’s performances or attended his clinics appreciate his quick wit and playful persona behind the drum kit. Yet, beneath the humor lies an unparalleled dedication to his craft, nurtured by his father, who remains an active drummer.
Starting at the tender age of four, Darryn received his first drum kit and began lessons at six with Ian Langford. By twelve, he was already performing with a function band, gaining invaluable experience while completing his secondary education. Darryn holds a Diploma in Jazz Studies from the Victorian College of the Arts and has studied with esteemed musicians such as Frank Corniola, Virgil Donati, Alex Pertout, David Jones, Jeff Barnes, Graham Morgan, and accomplished drummers from the United States, including Joe Morello, Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith, Adam Nussbaum, Steve Smith, Tom Brechtlein, and Zach Danziger.
Darryn’s television credits encompass a wide range of variety shows, including ‘The Midday Show’ and ‘The Bert Newton Show,’ as well as specials like ‘The Good Friday Appeal’ from 1994 to 1998. He has also lent his talent to jingles for notable companies such as Shell, Ford, Cadbury, and Holden. Notably, his drumming can be heard in TV soundtracks such as ‘Neighbours’ and ‘Hey Hey by Request,’ as well as film soundtracks like ‘Love and Other Catastrophes’ and ‘The Maltese.’
Darryn’s extensive live performances have provided him with the opportunity to collaborate with renowned artists who graced the stage of ‘Hey Hey It’s Saturday’ as guests. Among them are Randy Crawford, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Jones, and Joe Cocker. Additionally, acclaimed artists like Christine Sullivan, Anthony Warlow, James Morrison, and Tina Arena rely on Darryn’s dependable backing musicianship, contributing to their reputation as Australia’s finest. A glance at the selected discography reveals notable recordings with artists such as Debra Byrne, Tommy Emmanuel, and Peter Cupples.
Since 1984, Darryn has been sharing his expertise through teaching at esteemed music education institutions in Melbourne, including the Victorian College of the Arts and Drumtek. In 1996, he embarked on the ‘Mega Oz Clinic Tour,’ the largest of its kind in Australia. Darryn’s passion for education led him to produce the best-selling video ‘Focus on Practice’ in 1993, and he regularly contributes an informative column to Drumscene magazine.
He has built a reputation amongst Australian musicians as a consummate performer of rare skill and depth.
Andrew Gander, a highly regarded Australian musician, has earned praise for his exceptional skill and profound artistry. In 1990, during the Wangaratta Jazz Festival, I stumbled upon Andrew practicing diligently in an outdoor car park under the scorching sun. Undeterred by the lack of an audience, he remained focused and composed, making the most of his time between performances.
John Watson, a long-time resident of Sydney, fondly remembers Andrew’s early days, calling him “The Nerd” due to his prodigious talent at the age of fifteen. Andrew once kept everyone awake as he tirelessly transcribed a Billy Cobham song by repeatedly playing it on tape. It took Frank Corniola four years of persuasion before Andrew finally graced the main stage at the Melbourne Ultimate Drummers Day. Despite budget constraints, Andrew insisted on having a band accompany him, showcasing his “No Limits” approach to music.
Andrew’s musical journey began at the age of six, and by eleven, he owned his first drum kit. While he considers himself mostly self-taught, he received valuable lessons from respected Sydney teachers Gary Haynes and Don Osborne. Andrew’s early ventures included joining the Northside Big Band, which performed at the esteemed Monterey Jazz Festival in 1978. This led to his involvement in the funk band “This Side Up” and further exploration of jazz.
Throughout his career, Andrew has collaborated with numerous renowned artists. He performed with Kerrie Biddell’s band “Compared To What” at the age of sixteen, followed by a jazz quartet alongside Dale Barlow that evolved into “The Benders.” His versatility has allowed him to freelance and work with an array of musicians, including Vince Jones, Christine Sullivan, Mark Isaacs, Sonic Fiction, the Jesus Christ Superstar tour, Margaret Urlich, Vanessa Mae, and many more. In addition to his performances, Andrew has shared his knowledge as a teacher at the Victorian College of the Arts, the Australian Institute of Music, and through workshops and clinics across Australia. Currently, he imparts his expertise at Drumtek in Melbourne.
He consistently strives to maintain a standard of excellence, preferring to work with original music whenever possible.
Mark Kennedy gained fame in the late 1960s as a member of the band ‘Spectrum,’ known for their creative songwriting and captivating live shows. Their hit song ‘I’ll Be Gone’ can still be heard on the radio, although ironically, it became a hit after Mark had already left the band. Throughout his career, Mark has consistently strived for excellence, particularly in his work with original music.
Mark’s musical journey began with six years of piano lessons as a child and two years of drum lessons with Peter Anderson. However, most of his learning took place through practical experience. He started performing at the age of 14, playing in typical settings like piano trios, weddings, and freelance gigs. Despite disappointing his parents by leaving school, Mark’s encounter with the organist from ‘Spectrum’ while working at Loels Music store in Melbourne set the stage for his remarkable career.
During the 1970s, Mark found success with the band ‘Ayers Rock,’ where he and the late Duncan Maguire formed one of Australia’s tightest rhythm sections. Their recordings, such as those with the Southern Star Band and the single ‘Wichita Lineman,’ along with live performances by ‘Ayers Rock’ and ‘Friends,’ showcase their exceptional chemistry.
Mark’s impressive discography includes approximately two hundred albums featuring collaborations with notable artists like Doug Parkinson, Marc Hunter, Marcia Hines, Renee Geyer, Men At Work, Kirk Lorange, Duran Duran, and Power Supply. He has also contributed to soundtrack sessions, including the recent ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ series for the A.B.C. Currently, Mark continues to perform in Sydney, often seen playing with Doug Williams and Renee Geyer. His drumming expertise has garnered a substantial following, with fans and fellow drummers attending his workshops at Billy Hydes Drumcraft in Sydney to learn from his wisdom.
He has dedicated his life to drumming, yet he remains an approachable gentleman with a considered opinion.
Graham Morgan, known as Australia’s ‘Most Recorded Drummer,’ has dedicated his life to drumming. Despite his impressive accolade, he remains approachable and always willing to help and encourage young players. Graham’s pursuit of musical knowledge and mastery of the drum set is unwavering.
His musical journey began at the age of 9 when he started playing the snare drum in the Melbourne Grammar School Cadet Corps Band. Encouraged by his parents, Graham started performing at various venues such as the Savoy Plaza and Scotts Hotels after leaving school. He even participated in the first television transmissions in 1956 and served in the National Service Army Band during his National Service. Graham’s first record was made at the age of fifteen on a wire recorder at Coppin Hall, engineered by Bill Armstrong.
At twenty, Graham became the staff drummer at GTV-9 in Melbourne. He had the opportunity to back renowned artists such as Mel Torme, Harry Belafonte, Andre Segovia, Mickey Rooney, and Nancy Wilson from 1957 to 1961. In 1962, he traveled to the U.S.A. to perform with a show group in Lake Tahoe and Reno while studying under drumming legends Joe Morello, Jim Chapin, and Murray Spivak. Returning to Sydney in 1963, Graham took on the role of band leader at the ‘Latin Quarter’ club, performing with three bands per night, six nights a week, and jamming at the Musicians Club on the seventh night.
Throughout his career, Graham has taught at various institutions, including the Victorian College of the Arts, Grafton Conservatory in New South Wales, and Drumtek in Melbourne, where he continues to teach. He has had notable students such as Garry Hyde, Virgil Donati, Warren Daly, Alan Turnbull, Garth Thompson, and Larry Kean.
Graham’s drumming prowess made him a sought-after session drummer for numerous TV variety programs, jingles, and albums by popular artists of the time. Notable examples include appearances on The Don Lane Show, Young Talent Time, Marlboro commercials, and collaborations with John Farnham, Johnny Young, Normie Rowe, Ross D. Wylie, Bobby and Laurie, Allison Durbin, Debbie Byrne, and Ronnie Burns.
Graham’s contributions to Australian music were recognized when he received the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award from Frank Corniola. Today, he continues to perform regularly in Melbourne, often accompanying his wife, Jan, who is a vocalist. Despite his extensive experience, Graham prefers continually improving and mastering new techniques rather than dwelling on past recordings.
He has remarked on the questionable quality of some sessions he worked on during the 1960s and 1970s, where wealthy individuals without much musical sensibility produced the recordings. Nevertheless, Graham acknowledges the musicians’ professionalism in creating the best possible outcome. He notes that similar situations might still occur today, where sessions prioritize financial gain over musical integrity.
He typifies the multi-skilled Australian drummer of today, crossing over many styles.
Gordon Rytmeister, a highly skilled Australian drummer, brings a distinctive bounce to his playing, captivating observers as he grooves along with the rhythm. His versatility allows him to cross over various musical styles, enhancing each one with masterful yet humble finesse.
During the interview, Gordon displayed thoughtfulness, carefully considering each question and providing insightful and honest responses, even when revealing personal faults. Artists who work with him would undoubtedly feel immediately at ease with his quiet confidence, ready sense of humor, and unwavering commitment to the music.
Gordon’s journey with drums began in high school under the guidance of Mauro Rubi, and he later studied with Rob Grosser and John Costa. Influenced by drumming legends like John Bonham, Simon Phillips, and David Jones, Gordon also studied with David and obtained an Associate Diploma in Jazz Studies from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, where he learned from Andrew Gander and John Morrison. Throughout his studies, Gordon freelanced with numerous bands, often performing up to thirteen gigs per week in a six-month period. He also traveled to the USA for further study with renowned drummers such as Kim Plainfield, Zach Danziger, Mike Clarke, and Pete Zeldman.
The list of artists Gordon has performed with is extensive, including notable names such as Don Burrows, Margaret Urlich, Dragon, Dale Barlow, Lee Konitz, James Morrison, Marcia Hines, Kate Ceberano, Tina Arena, Mike Nock, Tom Jones, Steve McKenna, Nathan Cavalleri, Steve Morse, Erana Clarke, and Mark Williams. His contributions to various jingles, television shows, movies, and musical soundtracks since 1990 are countless.
Gordon has also appeared live on major television variety programs, serving as part of the resident band for shows like ‘Tonight Live with Steve Vizard’ and ‘I Do I Do’. In 1995, he was recognized as the ‘Best Drummer – Pop/Rock/Funk Category’ by readers of Skin Full magazine. He is a member of the instrumental band ‘Glue,’ alongside talented musicians Victor Rounds and Peter Northcote. Gordon has showcased his solo drum performances at notable events such as the 1996 ‘Big Bang’ in Sydney and the 1994 ‘Ultimate Drummers Day’ in Melbourne, as well as other percussion concerts.
As an educator, Gordon has led the percussion faculty at the Australian Institute of Music in Sydney and conducted workshops in various capital cities in Australia and some in Asia. Currently, he teaches privately and at Billy Hydes Drumcraft in Sydney.
He characterises the Australian ‘boy from the bush’. He is a larrikin with a ready sense of humour.
John Watson embodies the quintessential Australian ‘boy from the bush’ with his playful and humorous nature. He has a keen sense of detecting nonsense and describes himself as a suburban kid who thrived on playing drums rather than concentrating on formal training.
John initially learned basic rhythms from his sister and later gained insights from musicians like Greg Tell, Milan Troha, and Grant Collins. Interestingly, he believes he has learned more from conversations with non-drummers, particularly bass players.
Notable highlights from John’s career include supporting James Brown in Newcastle after returning from his first tour and performing with Kevin Borich, Renee Geyer, and Australian Crawl, especially on the ‘Angel’s Hand’ album. Following the disbandment of Australian Crawl, he collaborated extensively with former lead singer James Reyne.
Throughout the 1990s, John became a regular fixture at the ‘Espy’ Hotel in St. Kilda, playing with various bands such as Ross Hannaford’s ‘Diana Kiss’ and Bad Boys Batucada. He has also toured with Men At Work and frequently freelances, transitioning effortlessly between rocking gigs and jazz quartet cocktail parties.
John emphasizes the importance of having fun and engaging with the audience as a performer, urging young self-conscious musicians to remember that most people are simply happy to see them enjoy themselves on stage.
True to his hospitable nature, John invited the interviewer to dinner with his wife, Vika, after the interview. They provided a generous feast accompanied by John’s favorite Graham Central Station album, creating a fitting atmosphere for passionate discussions about the madness of playing drums. And when informed about the final draft of his chapter, John quickly quipped, “You mean striking the match?”
Studio Drumming Book
7 legendary Australian studio drummers discuss their secrets to recording drums in the studio. They have recorded with international and Australian artists, as well as recorded drums on soundtracks for movies, television and commercials.