Count on me, M, 82 minutes. Four stars
As a documentary about the little-known drummers who have been integral to the success of famous rock bands but not celebrated, Count on me has its work cut out for it. Not only is there a lot of territory to cover, there is no shortage of people who have focused on the front men and women without recognizing the importance of rhythm.
Gags in some parts of the music industry that drummers are people hanging out with musicians don’t help either.
Count on me comes forward to contradict these negative views with a series of compelling evidence to overturn the idea that drummers are interchangeable, as long as they can handle the kit.
Instinctively, we know that drums are important, because of the way they speak to us. Although percussive rhythm seems to be deeply meaningful in non-verbal human communication, our attention is often directed to other forms of music, string and wind instruments. Ancient flutes discovered in Europe are the oldest instruments found to date, but one object to hit a rhythm on was surely music in its oldest form.
This documentary, directed by Mark Lo, opens our eyes to drums in popular culture, focusing on rock, while also making reference to jazz and swing. He arrived on screen shortly after the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts left the stage and came at the right time. If a rock band isn’t as good as its drummer, then Lo, who has a career specializing in music for the screen industries, has put together a package that fully supports this point of view.
Count on me brings together excerpts from exceptional performances as well as interviews with some of the greatest drummers who recall their influences and share their views, often generous and grateful, on their contemporaries. A number of female drummers interviewed reflect on how they have been gradually accepted since the 1990s.
A drum circle performance in the sturdy walls of the Mount Wilson Astronomical Observatory in California marks the narrative structure. It opens with a voiceover from Stephen Perkins, the drummer for Jane’s Addiction.
Too many musical docos are undermined when musicians open their mouths to explain, but Perkins and others who contribute are articulate and insightful, highlighting the particular contribution of the drums.
Percussion can drive a song and just get people excited, and it can even delight audiences with unpredictable pyrotechnics. Brilliant art exhibitors like Keith Moon from The Who and John Bonham from Led Zeppelin have left a lasting legacy.
We don’t often hear about drummers, and there are a lot of them here with a lot of interest to say. Like Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden, Roger Taylor of Queen, Abe Laboriel who performed with Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney, Stewart Copeland of The Police, Cindy Blackman Santana who performed with Lenny Kravitz and Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Everything gets a bit messy but the content is still interesting.
The influences of these drummers were very varied. They include jazz greats Buddy Rich and Max Roach, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, The Surfaris and The Beatles and the amazing revolving drum solo played in the late 1980s by Tommy Lee of Motley Crue.
Many started out in the kitchen and remember beating the beat on their mother’s pots and pans, before their parents gave in and bought them a kit.
Some home video captures of children receiving their first drum kits are called upon to help convey that the drums can manifest as an overwhelming obsession from the start.
How interesting it would have been to hear the enigmatic Charlie Watts, the dapper figure behind the flamboyance on stage.
It’s said that the last time Jagger called out “his drummer,” the famous frontman was punched in the face by Watts himself, and he’s never used the term since.
Watts had his moments when he was young, but he evolved to be the complete opposite of equally amazing but unrestrained Keith Moon and John Bonham. Both were from the same vintage as Watts, but they both left the scene at the age of 32.
Count on me is a jagged touch here and there, but it tells a truly intriguing story about an underrated art form.