“Stop the Drums”: Inspiration for Muppet Drummer

It’s true:  John McLaughlin once worked the pop scene.  The guitarist, whose name would become synonymous with 1970s jazz fusion, started out in 1960s London as a session player for the likes of Dionne Warwick & Burt Bacharach (What’s New Pussycat? soundtrack), Andrew Oldham Orchestra (“365 Rolling Stones (One for Every Day of the Year)” – 45 only!), Tony Meehan Combo (“Song of Mexico“), David Bowie (“Karma Man“), and The Hairy Ones (“Get Off My Cloud“), among many others.

McLaughlin would also be part of a 25-member assemblage of “musical stunt men” (as drummer, Bobby Graham, would quip*) who would join forces on February 23, 1965 at Pye Recording Studio for a classic album – British Percussion – that was never released on this side of the Atlantic.  This “all-star” band – who had previously backed such top French artists as Eddy Mitchell, Françoise Hardy & Sylvie Vartan – would be assembled at the behest of bandleader, Bobby Graham, with the blessing of label magnate, Eddie Barclay (previously featured in a Zero to 180 piece about the Parisian “guitar army,” Barclay Stars).

As Colin Harper writes in issue #38 of fab UK music magazine, Shindig!:

British Percussion was Eddie Barclay’s semi-blank cheque to Bobby Graham to pull some people together and sell a slice of Swinging London to the French.  Sales-wise, it might have sunk like a stone; musically, especially as a sonic snapshot of an era, it’s a delight from start to finish.  In a way, it is exactly how one imagines, through the prism of posthumous pastiches like the Austin Powers soundtracks, Swinging London sounded.

“Bobby Graham and Jimmy Page cowrote three tracks, including the blistering opener, ‘Stop the Drums’ – a souped-up riff from the school of Link Wray bookending a drum battle between Andy White and Ronnie Verrell.  White was the man who had already earned his footnote in history as the session man who replaced Ringo on The Beatles’ first single; Verrell, drummer with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, would earn his in the ’70s as the man who was Animal in The Muppets.  And that’s exactly what ‘Stop the Drums’ sounds like”:

 According to Drummer World:

“Animal is performed and voiced by Frank Oz while his drumming is performed by Ronnie Verrell.   Fans of The Who’s drummer Keith Moon claim that the character of Animal was based on Moon, who was known for his wild antics.  However, there is no evidence in the original sketches for the character that suggest that he was based on anybody in particular.  Three of the other members of the Electric Mayhem were created by Muppet designer Michael K. Frith, and the sketches reproduced in the book Of Muppets and Men show that they were based on famous musicians.  Dr. Teeth is a cross between Dr. John and Elton John; Sgt. Floyd Pepper is based on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album, and the original concept for Janice was a skinny, long-haired male character based on Mick Jagger.

“Animal, on the other hand, was designed by Jim Henson, and the rough sketch (also seen in Of Muppets and Men) doesn’t appear to be related to any real musician.”

     Ronnie Verrell, real-life inspiration for  Muppet drummer, Animal

Ronnie VerrellAnimal

Count this list of musicians who played on British Percussion, and you will reach 25:

Alan Weighel – Bass Guitar
Jimmy Page – Solo Guitar
Johnnie MacCloughlin – Rhythm Guitar
Kenny Salomon – Organ
Arthur Greenslade – Piano
Ronnie Verrell – Drums
Andy White – Drums
Eric Allan – Percussion
Barry Morgan – Percussion
Arthur Watts – Bass
Jim Buck Sr. – Coronet
Jim Buck Jr. – Coronet
Stan Roderick – Trumpet
Ray Davis – Trumpet
Albert Hall – Trumpet
Bert Ezzard – Trumpet
Johnnie Edwards – Tenor Trumpet
Keith Christie – Tenor Trumpet
Gib Wallace – Tenor Trumpet
Jack Thurwell – Bass Trombone
Keith Bird – Sax
Roy Willox – Sax
Rex Morris – Sax
Bill Skeets – Sax
Don Honeywell – Sax

1993 would see the UK release of a single by Animal as a solo artist that would reach #39!

Animal 45

Bobby Graham:  UK’s All-Time Timekeeper

*Kieron Tyler writes a great tribute to “the UK’s most prolific session drummer” on Bobby Graham’s own website that quotes from “Session Man” by Ray Davies, released by The Kinks in 1966 and rather appropos given that Graham did the actual drumming on the hits, “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night”:

“A Million Sessions That Go Unseen,
He’s A Session Man,
Playing A Different Studio Everyday,
He Reads The Dots And Plays Each Line”