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Kansas City’s finest female drummers talk about their influences and styles

They are typically the exception and not the rule, but women drummers have been around for decades. Karen Carpenter, Sheila E., Maureen Tucker, Sandy West, Cindy Blackman, Janet Weiss, Samantha Malone: All have been cogs in some of the best-known bands.

In the biography “Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter,” writer Randy L. Schmidt recalls Carpenter, who died in 1983, being told by a high school band director, “Girls don’t play drums. That’s not really normal.”

In 1969, after the Carpenters released their first album (Karen was 19), a writer in “Modern Drummer” magazine wrote of her performances on the album: “Here we witness a drummer in full command of her technique, assured and full of fire, playing imaginative fills and great hand/foot combinations. Her drumming is alive with the joy of self-discovery.”

Kansas City has its share of women drummers in full command of techniques and playing a variety of styles, women who buck the notion that drums aren’t for girls. Here is a look a some of them and a peek into the people and musicians who inspired them.

Lisa McKenzie

Bands you are in/have been in: Cher U.K., Goodpuss, the Grand Marquis

How old were you when you started playing drums? 15.

Who has had the most influence on how you play drums? I am really moved by New Orleans drumming and how it takes the second line to the kit. I love traditional West African and Afro-Cuban music. I like to hear the rhythms work together through call-and-response. In my opinion, there is nothing better than a group of percussionists locking in and playing together. I have also been taking dance classes a few times per week. It’s fun to see how rhythm is expressed through movement.

Name a favorite drummer or two and what you like about them. I have loved Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth since my punk-rock days. I like his approach to playing behind noisy, punk rock. It’s very rhythmic and interesting. Herlin Riley is also a favorite of mine. He is so versatile, and the way he plays you can feel it in your soul. And snare drummer Derrick Tabb of Rebirth Brass Band is amazing.

What is the most important rule about drumming? I think the most important things to remember is keep it tasty, don’t overplay and, most of all, have fun.

Bree Plaster

Bands you are in/have been in: Ruskinquartet, Street Legal, Lipriddle, Heather Thornton Band, Cowboy Crush, Monta at Odds, Rick Gibson and the Peacemakers, the Walltalkers, Two Headed Cow, Satori, Morton Tibbs, Band Quattro, Blue 88, Heather’s Art Garden, Mama Ray

How old were you when you started playing drums? 6.

Who has had the most influence on how you play drums? My dad, Tom Plaster, is a percussionist and performed with the Kansas City Symphony for 45 years before retiring. He has been the most important influence in my drumming career.

Name a favorite drummer or two and what you like about them. Sheila E.: My first female drummer role model! Antonio Sanchez: I dig his emotive musicality and cymbal choices. Vinnie Colaiuta: He is tastefully technical. Dave King: His sense of humor and playfulness on the kit is electrifying. Steve Gadd: Because … Steve Gadd.

What is the most important rule about drumming? Have fun, be yourself, listen, don’t step on the music or other musicians’ toes, be consistent, be on time, be prepared and never forget to smile.

Stephanie Williams

Bands you are in/have been in: I currently drum for Katy Guillen & the Girls and Claire & the Crowded Stage. I have previously played for several local bands, musicals and seasonal productions at Worlds of Fun.

How old were you when you started playing drums? I started when I was 12 and quickly got involved in every marching, jazz and garage band I could. Before that, I drummed on tables, pots, cabinets, etc. I’ve always wanted to be a drummer.

Who has had the most influence on how you play drums? I’ve been fortunate to work with fantastic teachers and mentors, including Ken Rausch, Walter Bryant, Dave Jarman, Go-Go Ray and Michael Sekelsky. I’ve also been highly influenced by the musicians I’ve played with in various settings. I think it’s important to be open to finding influences everywhere.

Name a favorite drummer or two and what you like about them. Of the well-known drummers, John Bonham probably had the greatest impact on my playing. Other favorites include Ginger Baker, Hal Blaine and Janet Weiss. I’m drawn to creative grooves and hard hitters.

What’s the most important rule about drumming? Play what the song calls for. And have fun. If you’re not having a good time, you’re doing it wrong.

Michelle Bacon

Bands you are in/have been in: Currently in Chris Meck and the Guilty Birds (drums) and the Philistines (bass). I’ve played drums in Dolls on Fire, Drew Black and Dirty Electric, Deco Auto, and the Straight Ups, and have filled in with a number of other bands.

How old were you when you started playing drums? 21.

Who has had the most influence on how you play drums? I basically learned how to play through being in rock bands and one-off projects. I think that interplay within a rhythm section is crucial, so my style has primarily been informed by the drummers and bassists I’ve worked with. To me, drumming is just as much about emotion as it is skill, and there’s nothing like locking into a groove with another player and letting it carry you into the next movement with the rest of the band.

Name a favorite drummer or two and what you like about them. I admire Stewart Copeland’s rhythmic vocabulary and voice. He’s not just a skilled jazz/reggae drummer, he has an ear for melody that keeps his rhythms tasteful and accessible to pop fans. I’ll probably always be a rock ’n’ roll drummer at heart, but since joining a trio and becoming a better player, I like to put more creativity into what I do. Janet Weiss’ drumming is solid and primal, but she also comes up with really interesting beats and fills that stay in your head. She also sings while drumming, and I respect anybody who can do that. That’s a lot of breathing.

What is the most important rule about drumming? It’s not always about what you play. Sometimes what you don’t play has a much greater effect.

Amy Farrand

Bands you are in/have been in: Amy Farrand and the Like, Sister Mary Rotten Crotch, the Silver Maggies, American Catastrophe, Atlantic Fadeout, Experimental Instrument Orchestra, Whiskey Boots, Shotgun Idols, Transylvania 2000 and the Young Johnny Carson Story.

How old were you when you started playing drums? 7.

Who has had the most influence on the way you play drums? There isn’t one person who has influenced my playing. I’m influenced by everything I hear around me, from the bird in the backyard to the industrial mixer at my job. Rhythm is in everything.

Name a favorite drummer or two and what you like about them. Phil Puleo of Swans, Cop Shoot Cop and Angels of Light. I like his intricate time-signature changes and experimental noise-rock feel. Both aggressive and tasteful.

What is the most important rule about drumming? It doesn’t matter how flashy you are. Just keep the time.

Candice Hill

Bands you are in/have been in: Drummer for Project Mayhem, steel pan and percussion for Tropical Dreamers, solo work, Rougher All Stars, Candice Hill Trio, MR8

How old were you when you started playing drums? I started playing drums at 14 years old, but I started on piano and saxophone at age 8.

Who has had the most influence on how you play drums? There is no single individual who has had the most influence. Rather, years of training and listening to many great different musicians have influenced me most. They include Buddy Rich, Dave Grohl, Mitch Mitchell, Moe Purtill, Liam Teague, Boogsie Sharp, as well as many of my teachers through the years.

Name a favorite drummer or two and what you like about them. Buddy Rich is my favorite, as he had an impact early on when I first started playing, thanks to my dad. I love how he used rudiments in his playing and how he developed a solo. He didn’t just play a series of fast notes, he told a story through phrasing. I also really appreciate Neil Peart. He actually took several years of lessons to revamp his technique and style after having already enjoyed tremendous success with Rush. He could have just stopped trying to improve, as he had already “made it.” But he wanted to keep pushing himself and learn new things. That’s a true, lifetime musician.

What for you is the most important rule about drumming? Keep it simple. This rule has taken me the longest to develop, but has done the most good for my drumming, and applies to keeping time and playing fills as well as soloing. Too often, drummers want to play fast, or play a lot of fills that don’t compliment the music. Unless you’re playing a solo, you are there to be the glue, set the groove with the bass player and enhance everything else. This is a rule I still have to remind myself of every time I play.

Nan Turner

Bands you are in/have been in: Currently in Schwervon!, Nan + the One Nite Stands. I’ve been in Pantsuit, Bionic Finger, Dream Bitches, She’s so Pretty (a Twilight-themed Vampire Band with two drummers), Toilet Mouth (featuring John S. Hall of King Missile).

How old were you when you started playing drums? 25.

Who has had the most influence on how you play drums? Songwriters and friends in NYC, especially pals in the “antifolk” scene, definitely influenced and supported me when I began drumming. ... I also studied with a wonderful drum teacher named Paula Spiro. She has been a mentor for me over the years. Also, Matthew Roth (my partner and bandmate in Schwervon!) is a big influence on my playing. He hears inventive beats in his head and has really inspired me to want to approach drumming like a dance.

Name a favorite drummer or two and what you like about them. Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Quasi): She is a powerhouse. So solid. I am in awe of how she plays the toms. Georgia Hubley (Yo La Tengo): I love her diversity, sometimes upbeat, sometimes very soft and syncopated. Also, she sings so effortlessly while she plays the drums.

Sara Teasley

Bands you are in/have been in: I drum and sing in the Heavy Figs, the Cave Girls, and the New Lost Souls and play tambourine/sing back-up in the Mad Kings. I also drummed in the Sunshine Destroyers.

How old were you when you started playing drums? 30.

Who has had the most influence on how you play drums? My husband-bandmate-best friend, Chris Teasley.

Name a favorite drummer or two and what you like about them. I like B.J. Wilson (Procol Harum) and Kenney Jones (Small Faces) for style; Buddy Miles for style and for singing/playing with a smile. Locally, Stephanie Williams constantly inspires me, and Lisa McKenzie is my longtime hero.

What for you is the most important rule about drumming? Stick with it! (Badum-bum-crash!)

Heidi March

Bands you are in/have been in: Was in Soundcheck from 2010-13 with brothers Colton Gibson and Tayton Gibson.

How old were you when you started playing drums? I was 6 years old. That is also when I started taking lessons with Bree Plaster.

Who has had the most influence on how you play drums? Bree. I have looked up to her for almost 10 years. She has taught me everything I know. I wouldn’t be able to lay down the beats I can if I didn’t have her showing me the ropes and helping me discover my talents since Day 1.

Name a favorite drummer or two and what you like about them. Dave Grohl, because I admire the way he could give a simple beat to put behind a song to make it all flow together (and because he’s a super cool dude).

What for you is the most important rule about drumming? Let it all out. Don’t try to force anything that doesn’t sound like it wouldn’t come from behind your kit. Your style is yours. Play it how you feel.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

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