The story of bands with two drummers

Subscribe to Mixdown Magazine


The story of bands with two drummers

Double Drummers
Words by Christie Eliezer

Soul pioneer James Brown popularised twin-skins in the 1960s with his band The JBs, but it was not for any musical reasons.

What do these bands have in common? N⋆E⋆R⋆D, Bon Iver, Gorillaz, James Brown’s JBs, The Allman Brothers Band, Butthole Surfers, The Party Boys, Pavement, Big Pig, White Rabbits, Pere Ubu, Boredoms, Genesis, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Yo La Tengo, Osees, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, The Glitter Band, Grateful Dead and The Tubes. They are just some who had, or have, two drummers, for more power or to incorporate polyrhythms into the music.

Two drummers

Why add Radiohead, Korn, ABBA, Yes, Massive Attack, Mushroomhead, The National, Arcade Fire, Ministry, Godsmack, The Charlie Daniels Band and The Fall to the list?

They used the two-kit set up at live shows.

Read all the latest product & music industry news here.

James Brown’s JBs

Soul pioneer James Brown popularised twin-skins in the 1960s with his band The JBs, but it was not for any musical reasons.

He’d fine any of the JBs for being drunk, late, playing bum notes or having scruffy shoes.

On one occasion they refused to go onstage unless a list of demands was met.

A furious Brown had to submit but promised: “I’ll never be caught without two of everything.”

He brought in numerous players for each instrument, with a pool of 40 musicians to choose from, so as to not be caught out again.

Legendary Duo

The legendary John “Jabo” Starks and Clyde Stubblefield were the foundation of Brown’s groove.

Clyde remembered when he auditioned, “I went on stage and there were five drum sets up there.”

Neither had drum lessons. Stubblefield listened to the clatter of machinery in factories he worked in while Starks’ rhythm lessons were from the joyful uplifting hymns in church.

Brown dug how their styles were different; during the show if the singer wanted to hear something different from Stubblefield, he’d point to Starks. 

Brown became the most sampled artist in history, with a count of up to 5,200 times.

“Funky Drummer” (1969) with its unique beat and D minor key, was sampled 1,584 times, including by Public Enemy, Run DMC, N.W.A., LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, Ed Sheeran, Ice T, De La Soul, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Dr Dre, George Michael, Madonna and Britney Spears.

The Party Boys

Mondo Rock bassist Paul Christie formed The Party Boys in 1982 as a supergroup with an ever-changing lineup of singers and players during downtime from their main bands.

In 1986 and 1987, when the lineup was fronted by Angry Anderson, then John Swan, Christie brought in Status Quo’s bassist Alan Lancaster.

Rather than watch from side-stage, he opted to become a second drummer, replicating what skinsman Richard Harvey (of Divinyls fame) was doing, using a Gretsch that Simple Minds’ drummer left behind in Sydney after a tour.

Christie told Mixdown: “Alan was a really really powerful bassist, he played a metal neck bass with a pick.

“The three of us together were unstoppable, just great! The trick was to underplay but Richard and I really whacked those drums!”

The dualistic kit, double drumming sound was on their #1 cover of “He’s Gonna Step on You Again” (1987).”


Californian psychedelic folkers have had the same lineup since 2018, made up of leader John Dwyer, bassist Tim Hellman, double drummers Paul Quattrone and Dan Rincon, and keyboardist Tomas Dolas.

The double rhythm sticks make them one of the more exciting live bands around, with perfect coordination even in 10-minute songs.

But Dwyer notes that the idea was used with other players on their early albums.

“I love double drums, they’re all encompassing. As we get older we want to be noisier, weirder, harder and longer.”

Big Pig

Big Pig was a Melbourne seven-piece in the 1980s with many drummers and percussionists.

When conceptualising the band while in London, drummer and singer Oleh Witer wanted to mix 1930s a cappella gospel and “lots of drums.”

His original plan was “four guys playing like a giant drum kit and have each one play a different part. But I wasn’t really sure how to do it.”

The answer came when he saw a performance by a 10-piece Japanese taiko drummers.

“When I saw them, the key to it was orchestration – that each guy had his own part,” Witer told the Los Angeles Times. 

“There was no improvisation at all… So from that point on, I knew how to do it. It was just a matter of getting the right people.”

Big Pig who wore butcher’s aprons as costumes, reached #5 with their debut album Bonk and had hit singles with “Hungry Town”, “Breakaway” and “Big Hotel” before breaking up in 1991.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard went from double drummers (Michael Cavanagh and Eric Moore); to one when Moore quit in August 2020; to none at a gig in Athens, Greece last July.

Cavanagh was bed-ridden with COVID, so they got an 808 drum machine, draped with his T-shirt, and played their set over trap beats.

The Allman Brothers Band

The truly awesome Allman Brothers from the American South were the best example of double drummers, with Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson.

It worked best with their mix of rock, blues and country and jamming style onstage.

When Jaimoe asked leader Duane Allman – that’s him shredding guitar on the opening of Eric’s “Layla” – why two drums, the guitarist replied, “Because James Brown has two.”

Trucks and Johanson came from two different music paths although they’d played in the marching band in their respective schools.

Butch took the rock path, and Jai honed his jazz chops to become a sought-after session player in Florida which is where he crossed paths with Duane and moved into his house on the river.

“From day one there was a chemistry, we never had one argument,” Trucks said.

Jai left the band in 1980 and Butch died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in January 2017.


One-time child actor Phil Collins joined prog-rockers in 1971 as their drummer, their fourth.

Four years later, when their theatrical singer Peter Gabriel left, they could not find a replacement despite 400 applications, so Collins also took that role.

In 1976, U.S. drummer Chester Thompson (Frank Zappa, Weather Report) was brought in to play with Genesis’ and Collins’ solo bands until 2010, improvising duets with Collins.

Towards the end, with Collins a workaholic and going through a divorce, the relationship between the two collapsed.

Collins now plays with his 21 year old son Nic.

Keen to keep reading? Find out “Why Bands Have Two Drummers” at Ennui Magazine.