The Amazing Isolated Drums of Dennis Davis, David Bowie’s Master Drummer, Revisited by Producer Tony Visconti

“Look Back in Anger” is an under­rat­ed Bowie song on an under­rat­ed Bowie album (Lodger) but it’s always been a favorite because of the fury and thun­der of the back­ing band. And the MVP of that six per­son group is drum­mer Den­nis Davis. A mem­ber of Roy Ayers’ jazz-funk group at first, he joined Bowie’s session/touring band dur­ing the Young Amer­i­cans ses­sions and stayed through Scary Mon­sters. He’s that most per­fect of drum­mers too: end­less­ly inven­tive, yet nev­er gets in the way of the funk.

But this track might be one of his crown­ing achieve­ments. A ner­vous, propul­sive rhythm on the drums car­ries the song, dou­bled on congas/percussion, but pro­duc­er Tony Vis­con­ti buries it in the mix a bit so it doesn’t over­whelm the oper­at­ic arc of the song.

Recent­ly, Davis’ young son Hikaru has been mak­ing a video explor­ing his father’s lega­cy, after Den­nis passed away in 2016. Which means that this adorable ele­men­tary school stu­dent has been sit­ting down with the likes of Bowie side­men Ster­ling Camp­bell, Car­los Alo­mar, Jan Michael Ale­jan­dro, Emir Ksasan, and George Mur­ray, along with Roy Ayers and the mem­bers of his band.

In the above video, Hikaru inter­views Tony Vis­con­ti about the afore­men­tioned track (the producer’s favorite) and we get to hear for the first time ever Davis’ iso­lat­ed drum and con­ga tracks.
“He’s play­ing so many things at once…and yet it nev­er sounds busy,” Vis­con­ti says.

Davis incor­po­rat­ed a lot of Latin influ­ences and loved triplets wher­ev­er he could drop them in.
Vis­con­ti doesn’t real­ly add much more. They, like most of you will prob­a­bly do, just sit there and lis­ten, jaws hang­ing open.

Because Davis is on pret­ty much every post-Spi­ders Bowie album of the ‘70s he real­ly should be men­tioned in the same breath as the Bon­hams and Kei­th Moons of the world, but in the mean­time here’s a few more clas­sic Davis moments:

Although slathered with Bri­an Eno’s noise-gate treat­ments, Davis’ beat is sol­id and promi­nent on “Sound and Vision”

This live ver­sion of “Sta­tion to Sta­tion” from 1978 show­cas­es what an unstop­pable force Davis was live. Adri­an Belew (King Crim­son, Talk­ing Heads) pro­vides sear­ing gui­tar work. Tran­scen­dent.

A clas­sic track from Roy Ayers Ubiq­ui­ty, heavy in the Afro-Cuban groove, and Davis is front and cen­ter.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Makes John Bon­ham Such a Good Drum­mer? A New Video Essay Breaks Down His Inim­itable Style

How Drums & Bass Make the Song: Iso­lat­ed Tracks from Led Zep­pelin, Rush, The Pix­ies, The Bea­t­les to Roy­al Blood

Iso­lat­ed Drum Tracks From Six of Rock’s Great­est: Bon­ham, Moon, Peart, Copeland, Grohl & Starr

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • April says:

    Davis was also the drum­mer on Ste­vie Won­der’s “Mas­ter Blaster (Jam­min’)”, and “Do I Do”, as well as on Jer­maine Jack­son’s one big hit, “Let’s Get Seri­ous”. Davis is so sore­ly under­rat­ed and deserves his due, because he’s right up there with the Steve Gadds and Pat Mas­telot­tos of the world. It’s won­der­ful that Hikaru and Nacho have been able to work togeth­er on this series.

  • Alden says:

    I was in a Jazz 4tet with a ex Basie guy and when­ev­er he was in town Min­neapo­lis ‚He would come out I’d let him sit in and Den­nis played seri­ous Jazz drums. Alot of guys sound stiff cross­ing over but he had a nice loose thing going. Sound­ed great and a great person.I’m sor­ry to hear he passed on so young.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.