A Satisfying Documentary About Drumming

“Count Me In,” a fun music doc about rock drumming, is a must-see for all drummers, but you don’t need to know about drumming to enjoy it. You’ve heard the music of most of the drummers interviewed here, countless times on the radio, such as Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones, who, coincidentally, passed away on the exact date this movie was released.

What’s drumming? What’s its function? Drums are the world’s oldest, most ubiquitous musical instruments, and the basic design has remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years. Alligator-skin drums have been found in Neolithic Chinese cultures dating back to 5500 B.C.

Drums have always featured in heavily in shamanistic ritual ceremonies around the globe, not to mention the military usages: the Rig Veda, one of the oldest religious scriptures in the world, contains references to the use of the war drum. Drums are also used as a means of communicating over great distances, and even certain animals use drumming.

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Stephen Perkins, drummer for band Jane’s Addiction, in the drumming documentary “Count Me In.” (Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)

Which Humans Become Drummers?

I’m a classic example of a former, self-taught, drum-kid who became enthralled after watching a rock-band playing in a friend’s barn at age 7. I became immediately obsessed with how the drummer’s limbs did four extremely different things simultaneously and thought the hi-hat was some kind of amazing, hypnotic, brass UFO of time-keeping (how does it work?!).

In a frenzy of creativity, I happily assembled a make-shift drum-kit from cardboard boxes, pots, pans, and whacked holes in them and dented them. I then graduated to the toy drum-set in the window of a local mini-mall which arrived magically under the Christmas tree. (“Thank you Santa!!”) A later Christmas featured an actual Zildjian hi-hat (“The best!”) and a red-sparkle Ludwig floor-tom (to be added to the cardboard boxes). “Count Me In” uses numerous shouting-and-hugging-Christmas-drums home-video examples of early drummer infatuation.

Drummer with green shirt and yellow drums in COUNT ME IN
Drumming documentary “Count Me In” arrives as a timely tribute to Rolling Stone drummer Charlie Watts. (Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)

Rock Drumming

Ringo Starr of the Beatles was always underrated. Charlie Watts and Ginger Baker of Cream were both jazz drummers in rock musician bodies. The jazz greats such as Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones, and Max Roach are mentioned, but Jon Bonham of Led Zeppelin is considered by the drummers of the ’70s and onwards to have been the greatest rock drummer ever (a fun tribute and explanation is given by Samantha Maloney). The Who’s Keith Moon was clearly the nuttiest and hotel-room-trashingest. And Neil Peart of Rush—also considered by many to be one of the best drummers of all time—is strangely missing here.

“Count Me In” is no definitive, authoritative history of drumming, as it basically only covers the early years of rock drummers and the jazz drummers who inspired them: so basically Ringo, Stewart Copeland from The Police, Cindy Blackman from Santana, Nicko McBrain from Iron Maiden, Ian Paice from Deep Purple, Will Ferrell-lookalike Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and so on.

drummer in blue shirt and hat with green drums in COUNT ME IN
Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, in “Count Me In.” (Shutterstock)

It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s well representative. For me, the main attraction are the women who smashed rock’s glass ceiling and all but usurped the drum throne. Samantha Maloney, who made her bones sitting in for Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee, has the most fascinating story. As she notes, men get into rock drumming to get chicks, and women get into rock drumming because they absolutely love it.

woman drumming with christmas lights in COUNT ME IN
Emily Dolan Davies, drummer for The Darkness, in the drumming doc “Count Me In.” (Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)

I’ve been watching women over the last two decades completely destroy the glass ceilings separating them from former bastions of male-dominated disciplines, such as rock-climbing, all manner of extreme sports, CrossFit training, mixed-martial-arts, motorcycling, fighter-jet flying, bass guitar playing, and drumming. Women can do it all now. Except maybe playing nose tackle for the Chicago Bears.

In the ’70s, if you’d told me (and especially my dad) that in 2023 there’d be 19-year-old girl named Madden Klass who could blow the doors off legendary jazz drummer Max Roach, we’d have both told you you must be taking some very strong psychedelics.

All in All

As a musical discipline, drumming trains the body to punctuate, convey, and interpret musical rhythmic intention to an audience and to the other performers. “Count Me In” definitely won’t be enough for music scholars, but as a fun, get-to-know-them series of portraits of a few people you’ve heard a lot about but never knew who they were, and who consider themselves to have “the best job in the world,” it’s a fun ride.

Much could be said about the role of rock music as a major contribution to the current downfall of modern society, especially the younger generations exposed to lyrics of increasingly explicit content, but this is a celebration of the art of drumming, and as, quite harmless and enjoyable.

“Count Me In” is on Netflix.

Movie poster for "Count Me In."
Movie poster for “Count Me In.”

‘Count Me In’
Director: Mark Lo
Running Time: 1 hour, 26 minutes
Release Date: Aug. 24, 2021
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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