I once had a Skype lesson with Eamon Murray from the group Beoga. During the lesson, I asked Eamon to name some of the drummers that influenced his playing.
I was a music education major in college, and drum set was part of our curriculum. My professor emphasized that it was important to be familiar with the playing of the forefathers of the drum set- Steve Gadd, Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Warren “Baby” Dodds, just to name a few. This study of influential players on this uniquely American instrument influenced how I saw other instruments.
As such, I expected Eamon to respond with names like Peadar Mercier, Johnny McDonagh, Colm Murphy, or Kevin Conneff. He responded, “Have you ever heard of Dennis Chambers or Tony Royster, Jr.?”
I was speechless. Here I was, an American novice taking a bodhrán lesson from an Irish master who was telling me that he found inspiration from American funk/r&b/rap/jazz drummers. Up until this point, I had constantly been told that I needed “follow the tune,” “listen to so-and-so,” “play quietly,” and a number of other expressions that generally told me to stay within well-defined boundaries regarding performance and tradition. As a player and a teacher, I do think that it is crucial to know about the early influential players on our instrument, but hearing this source of inspiration from Eamon was a breath of fresh air.
However, he also emphasized that I should still be familiar with the forefathers of the bodhrán as well. I had to know from whence it came. I took that to mean that I had to know the rules before I broke them. I also had to learn when and where to break them. (With my own band, good. At a session, bad.)
So I encourage anyone interested in this drum to do the same. Know the older players and their bands, but also know who is pushing the boundaries of the drum and how.