I was a competent but unmemorable drummer. My name is by the bye (it’s Ian). I drummed, competently but unmemorably, for many of the leading blues, skiffle and jazz bands of the day.
I played snare drum and cymbal acceptably but forgettably in two of the early incarnations of Putney Dandridge’s Swingin’ Big Band. Though adequate, my percussive contribution to Bunny Berigan’s standard Chicken and Waffles left no lasting impression. Later I moved into blues, where I drummed prosaically with Bumble Bee Slim, Smokey Hogg, Peg Leg Howell and Snooky Pryor.
People often asked me who I was. “I’m the drummer”, I would say. “Oh yes, of course,” they would reply, but I could see the uncertainty in their eyes. Sometimes this would happen with people I’d met just a few minutes earlier at the concert. Sometimes they were fellow band members who’d known me for weeks or longer. Sometimes they were old friends, or family members, or my wife. I have one of those faces.
Muggsy Spanier once ordered that I be maimed or shot for insubordination, but within hours he had forgotten all about it and when he found me cowering down at the boondocks he clapped me on the back and presented me with one of his Toby Jugs. I still have it somewhere. Or I might have given it away, or lost it. It was a Friar Tuck. So sometimes being unmemorable has its uses. On the Night of the Broken Brass, Bix Beidebecker’s goons massacred every jazz musician at the Hotel Yorba but they failed to recognise me, even though I had been playing drums just moments before and indeed still had the sticks clutched in my clammy palms, crossed before my terrified person like a crucifix to ward off vampires. Two days later I was up on the stage with Bix’s band, drumming unexceptionally on Toddlin’ Blues. So being competent but unmemorable has saved my life on more than one occasion. The question that still haunts me, as I tap politely through another number to neither disapprobation nor acclaim, is this: was it worth saving?