Sunday, April 5, 2009

Phil Rudd-Less Is More (Cliched, but true ! )

"Less Is More" You've heard that so many times, that it's become a cliche, right ? Well, I have to say that it can't be more true, in my opinion, especially when it comes to "Commercial Drumming"(that is, songs that will make it to rotation on commercial radio.) Legends like Ringo Starr, & Charlie Watts have come to personify this philosophy to most players.However, on the heavier (yet still quite commercially viable) side, the one name that personifies this for me is Phil Rudd (Full name :Phillip Hugh Norman Witschke Rudzevecuis-You try to pronounce it correctly, I can't !) of AC/DC.

I discovered AC/DC in 1979,at the age of 13, & my intense enjoyment & love of this band continues to this day. At that age, I was so "Wide Eyed& Eared" to everything that I was exposed to in that magical year. Having been playing drums for about 3 years at that point, I soaked up everything I heard & saw. While I was fascinated by the complexity, & difficulty of Neal Peart for instance(who wasn't, right ?), I was equally captivated by the "Deceptive Simplicity" of Phil Rudd.

Having been aware of the name AC/DC through advertisements in the music press of the day(Circus/Creem/Hit Parader/Rock Scene magazines,etc), & all important "Word Of Mouth" I had yet to actually hear them. I knew they were just one of many, many "Cool Bands" that it was imperative for me to discover. A guy that I was in my first band with bought(he was 2 years older than I, & had a paper route!) their then new "Highway To Hell" album. He called me one day, & was frantic on the phone saying "Steve, you've GOT TO come over as soon as you can, you MUST hear this band !! " Our next rehearsal was later that week, so as soon as I was dropped off at his house, we raced upstairs to his room, & slapped H.T.H. on his turntable.(yes, glorious vinyl, folks !) Within literally 30 seconds of hearing the title track, I was absolutely transfixed ! While I knew the pattern that Phil was playing was within my grasp, there was something about the feel & the sound that left me slack jawed ! Needless to say, we immediately attempted to add H.T.H. to our very sparse & limited repertoire of songs. Easier said than done ! After attempting about 1/4 of the song, the other two guys(2 guitars, no bass!) stopped the song & said "That doesn't sound like the album, Steve" I was frustrated by that comment, as I knew they were right ! All I could come up w/ as a retort, was "Well, I'll never be as good as that guy !! " 30 years later, that's still quite true !! HAA !

You must take into consideration that this was WAY before the internet, & all that was available was pictures in the aforementoned magazines,etc. So information on things like gear, were very hard to come by. I say that because this was also the time period that I began my almost life-long obsession w/Sonor drums & hardware. The first pic. I saw of Phil's kit was of the beautiful Oak finish "Phonic" kit that he used on the H.T.H. tour. The sizes were 22", 12"13",14"16" F.T. & 18" F.T. I have since found an almost identical kit in the same finish, but w/the sizes 24"(always my preferred B.D. size, by the way) 13",14",16"18" w/ a matching 8" snare ! If I had a 12" tom, it would be almost exact ! (Yes, I have been scouring EBAY to no avail !) One of the things I found peculiar, was the way Phil muffled his rack toms. He had Gaffer tape on each resonant head in a sort of crescent moon shape. While I personally loathe any kind of dampening on toms, I have to say that his drums sounded quite unique to me. I still feel that way when I frequently spin (there's another vinyl reference, folks !) AC/DC's older albums. A great track for Phil's then "Signature" tom sound is "Walk All OVer You" from Highway To Hell. The fills in the intro are just so....PERFECT ! The sound is of course a combination of gear/room/player, & the incredible production talents of Robert John "Mutt" Lange, who would later go on to much success w/Def Leppard, among many,many others. The kit he's using here is what was used on the "Powerage" tour the previous year, & are the same sizes, in the Mahogany finish. The muffling is curiously absent, assuming that it was deemed unnecessary for the video, since no audio was being recorded.

I got to see AC/DC for the first time in 12/81 at N.Y.'s "Madison Square Garden", whilst touring for the "For Those About To Rock...We Salute You" album from the same year. (How I missed the "Back In Black" tour the previous year, I don't know ! And, tickets were a mere $8.00, w/ Ronnie Montrose' "Gamma" opening !!)Naturally, I was glued to Phil the whole show ! The first thing I noticed was "What happened to all his toms? " Phil had removed his 12" & 14" toms, & moved the 13" tom up to the position previously held by the 12". The 16" & 18" F.T.'s were left intact. That configuration stands to this day.

Just how much Phils unique "Feel" was missed is evident on the recordings & tours he was not a part of. Phil left the band just after the recording of the "Flick Of The Switch" album from 1983. I'm still not exactly sure why that transpired. His replacement, Simon Wright(another Evans endorsee, & great guy !) was absolutely the right choice for the band at that time. While there are minor sylistic differences between Phil & Simon, the overall sound of the band was left pretty much intact. The major change in the sound of the band came upon Simon's departuare in 1989.

His replacement was Chris Slade, best known at the time as a member of "The Firm" the partnership between Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) & Paul Rodgers (Bad Co.) in 1985&'86. While I always thought of Chris as a great player, what he brought to AC/DC didn't fit, in my opinion. The commercial success of "The Razors Edge" (1990) & the subsequent document of that tour, "Live" (1992) are undeniable, but the change was too great, to my ears. That is a matter of some debate amongst AC/DC devotees, so I'll leave my opinion at that.

All was right again in 1994, when Phil returned to the fold. 3 more albums, & world tours followed w/"Ballbreaker" (1995), "Stiff Upper Lip" (2000) & the excellent "Black Ice" (2008). I began "Chasing" Phil's long time tech, Dick Jones in 2002, & I didn't let up until things finally fell into place in 2008, & Phil tried Evans Drumheads, & became an endorsee ! Phil & Dick settled on the EQ2 batter for the B.D., clear EC2, & EC Resonant for the toms, EC Reverse Dot, & Hazy 300, & PureSound "Blasters"for the snare. Speaking of the EC Rev. Dot, that was the head that sealed the deal w/Phil. He said : "This head feels no pain". Apparently, longevity of the snare batter during a show has been an ever-present issue in the past. Not anymore !The Gaffer tape on the toms is long gone, but Phil's sound is still his sound, & Evans is there w/him all the way !


  1. Phil is very good at what he does. No fancy stuff just a solid beat. Thats what AC/DC is all about.


  2. I love when other people appreciate Phil's style. I hate it when people say, "I love AC/DC, but their drummer sucks!" In my opinion it takes just as much talent to play as perfect as a metronome as it does to play ridiculous beats and fills. Long live Phil Rudd and AC/DC. Seeing them at Gillette 7/28! Thanks for the article. It made me happy.

  3. Phil Rudd has a pulsing feel on the drums that is deceptively hard to duplicate. There is the slightest amount of imprecision in how the "off quarter note" 8th notes fall when he plays a hi-hat groove, and this makes all the difference. John Bonham, among others, had this same feel and power with the quarter note pulse. Great feel, and very **MUSICAL**, regardless of what the uneducated masses think. I've been playing 33 years, and I just figured this out maybe 10 years ago. I'm a Neil Peart fan, but I appreciate Phil Rudd just as much!

  4. Simplicity has a complexity all its own.

  5. Great article.
    For me it's simple, Phil is the drummer that inspires me and gives me the motivation to play the drums.
    He is just awesome to hear and to look at, what a player and artist.
    Phil rocks!!!!!!!!

  6. It's nice to read what is written here. Back in 1980 when i was 12 years old, my brother had got me into Permanent Waves by Rush at the time. Later that year Back in Black came out. I always compared it to Rush and dissed it,only because Rush was so much more flashy in a musical type of way. 2 years later while at a party someone played Back In Black a few times. The next day i fell in love with it,especially with Phil Rudds solid style and meter.
    AC/DC are my favourite band out of anybody. Phil Rudd is a human metronome. He doesn't use a click track in the studio because he is so good at what he does. His style and the less is more theory blows most of them out of the water. Phil Rudd is a part of AC/DC just like AC/DC is a part of Phil Rudd. It's a pleasure to hear him play and endure such a career with AC/DC and in music for the years he has.

    Phil Rudd Rocks :) Cheers

  7. Phil had to leave the band but got to keep his nose. I remember reading in Circus magazine in Fall 1983 "Phil Rudd exits AC/DC" the day after I purchased my concert tickets for the Nov. show. I really didn't even want to go then but did anyway. 1983 was not the best touring year for AC/DC because they were all worn out. The 1985 show exactly 2 years later was much better as they were in better spirits and far more rested.

  8. I am Rob Liotti, lead vocalist and founder of TNT - The Official AC/DC Tribute. I can tell you with a great deal of expertise after 30 years of dissecting AC/DC's music is that there is nothing simplistic about Phil Rudd's contribution to AC/DC. I think it was Brian Johnson who said that Phil Rudd was "meant to play drums in AC/DC..." He is absolutely right. I can also tell you with no doubt whatsoever that the toughest aspect of preparing for what we do very accurately is trying to mimic Phil's drumming. I have played with some very talented drummers and each and every one had alot of trouble honing in on what Phil does. Phil does have a system and he makes predictable moves in his playing if studied properly, but his timing is metronome-like and his fills sometimes unorthodox. He effective uses off-time 5 counts and sharp roll-offs to accentuate what Mark Evans or Cliff Williams are doing, all-the-while remaining in the pocket and setting the baseline of the band. One thing that clearly makes his sound and tone unique is the fact that his snare strike hand does not cross with his high-hat strike hand. So, his rhythm and cadence is somewhat circular and highly honed. There really is no drummer quite like him. Honestly, Simon Wright did a very favorable job maintaining that AC/DC drum theory and carried it over into Rhino Bucket.

    "Simple". "Anyone can do that..." NOT. TNT has had three drummers in 7 years. Ask them! Our main drummer, Tommy Mattox, a drum teacher who has played with Molly Hatchet, Aaron Tippon, Clay Sun Union, among others can very readily tell you that earning what Phil Rudd REALLY does is a major pain in the ass and painstaking at best. Phil is stronger than death on drums folks, believe me.