Ode to one-stick percussionists

I suppose that shouldn’t be plural. I only know of one one-stick percussionist, not counting Sheila E. when she puts a stick down to make a couple of sexy gestures before whipping through a few cowbell-and-timbale patterns. (Seriously — Sheila E. can play.)

The one-stick percussionist here is the woman in Was (Not Was)’s classic video Walk the Dinosaur.

I’m guessing she could also play. Even though Stereogum dismisses her as a “token, cowbell-hammering female … wearing David Byrne’s blazer instead of a cocktail dress,” I’m guessing she wouldn’t have been hanging with the Wases if she didn’t have some chops. I’m sure that’s news to the Stereogummers who think Was (Not Was) “paid for their hubris with obscurity,” which just goes to show you why I prefer to read music bloggers like Jason and Jefito who … you know … know something about music and research what they don’t know.

That said, I’ll admit that I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the question: Why didn’t she have another stick, at least to keep up appearances? If my college percussion teacher insisted that I have four mallets in my hands even for the simplest marimba parts, shouldn’t she have two sticks? Instead, she’s just standing there, one arm stiff against her side.

Until …

Heyyy! Fancy move!

If she could dance, of course, I’m sure she would’ve been “walking the dinosaur” with the dancers, cowbell in one hand and stick in the other. She could always wander over for the occasional cymbal crash — which is surely superfluous, since the band had a drummer in the back who seemed perfectly capable of hitting the cymbals.

I played percussion for three years in a wind symphony, with occasional appearances in pit orchestras and a symphony. That included some boring parts. In a typical rehearsal, percussionists sit around for about 20 minutes. Just when you think you’re going to play, the conductor quickly waves a hand so the group can go back over that tricky passage the third clarinet section just isn’t getting. And that “part” sometimes consisted of one good thud on a bass drum.

But never — not once — can I remember going one-handed.

Maybe men are just too self-conscious to play such a small part in a song and video, especially when the repeated close-ups draw such attention to the fact that you’re adding only slightly more to the sound than the guy in the Mighty Mighty Bosstones who just bounced around on stage all the time. A typical male probably would’ve cracked the cowbell against his head all night.

And so, almost 20 years after the fact, we salute you, One Stick Percussionist. You did more with one stick than most of us accomplish with two hands and all the gear we can buy.


One thought on “Ode to one-stick percussionists

  1. Then there’s Def Leppard’s one-armed drummer. And the fact that I even know such a thing annoys me because it means those brain cells 1) are filled with stuff I don’t need and 2) are cells I’ll never get back.

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