November 18, 2009

Another list

Since I made my picks for the top-five competition band pipe-majors of all time, it’s only fair that I try the same for the lead-drummers. Both of these lists are prompted by recent pipes|drums polls, which proved popular and effective conversation-starters.

Granted, I know the ins-and-outs of piping more than I do drumming. The criteria for those listed on the drummers’ poll was less defined than the pipe-majors’. The drummers listed by and large were those who had some combination of World Drum Corps, World Solos or teaching achievement.

Before I give you my list, I have to remark on something else. Each poll entry could submit five choices. That means that, if a drummer were named on every submission, he would get 20 per cent of the overall vote. I may have relatively limited knowledge of snare drumming, but I do know this: Alex Duthart and Jim Kilpatrick should have been named on every submission. Since each received a less-than-20-per-cent share, that means that they both were left off of quite a few entries.

Maybe these submissions were from infants sneaking on to their parents’ computer. Perhaps they were mentally challenged. Or maybe they were from folks who are so vindictive and twisted that they would take leave of their senses. But not selecting Duthart or Kilpatrick makes my mind boggle.

Anyway, based on my admittedly limited knowledge, using competition success and teaching impact as criteria, here are my choices for the top-five pipe band drummers of all time.

1. Alex Duthart. No one has had a bigger impact on pipe band drumming as the elder Duthart. He essentially invented modern music for the pipe band snare, adapting concepts from Swiss-style drumming, and composing some of the most musical scores ever. He is to drumming what GS, Willie Ross, Angus MacKay and Donald MacLeod were to piping.

2. Jim Kilpatrick. While he is by a wide margin the most successful competitor in pipe band drumming history, with solo and band records that may never be topped, Kilpatrick would probably be the first to admit that he trails the legend that is Alex Duthart. But it can be argued that KP has made a bigger impact on the development of the snare drum itself than anyone, and his tireless teaching around the world certainly rivals, if not bests, that of Duthart. History may well eventually decide that Kilpatrick deserves the number-one spot.

3. Reid Maxwell. He’s won the World Pipe Band Championship Sash numerous times, and with two different bands. As a member of Dysart & Dundonald in the 1970s, the 78th Fraser Highlanders in the 1980s and Simon Fraser University in the 1990s and 2000s, Maxwell has won World Drum Corps championships in four decades. For my money, Maxwell is most responsible for SFU’s always terrific ensemble production. He’s taught dozens of top-flight drummers, many from scratch, and he still seems to have many playing years ahead of him.

4. Tom Brown. “Tam Broon” has played such a major role in the development of drummers in the West Lothian corridor over almost forty years with the Boghall & Bathgate organization that he has to be in my top-five. In the 1980s he made great use of the bass-section, experimenting with differently pitched tenors and a rhythmical bass that, along with a technically brilliant snare line, would lift Boghall further up prize-lists at majors.

5. Wilson Young. It may sound trivial, but Young was the first drummer to actually incorporate other percussion instruments into the pipe band. As Lead-Drummer of Red Hackle – a band that narrowly missed winning the World’s several times – Young partnered with Pipe-Major John Weatherston on several albums to raise the musical complexity of the modern pipe band. Wilson Young is an unsung pioneer of pipe band drumming.

History will determine whose names will live on, and who knows who the next Alex Duthart or Jim Kilpatrick will be? I’d love to hear your choices for the top-five pipe band snare drummers of all time and why.


  1. “4 out of 5 aint bad” as the saying goes. Wholeheartedly agree with your top 4 and no disrespect to Mr. Young , my number 5 was Bert Barr. Won the world solo drumming 4 times, a member of all of Alex’ great drum sections and all that they achieved – in Alex’s own words ” Bertino my man, my right hand man” and of course the teaching and world titles won teaching the St.Thomas’ program for over 25 years

  2. Tough to argue with the top 4 selections; all legends in their own right. As for number 5, I think there are a number of qualified candidates that could easily fill this spot.

    One candidate I was surprised to see omitted from this extensive list was Willie McErlean. As many know, Willie was the leading drummer of the Triumph Street Pipe Band when they won the Sash in 1979 – Willie’s corps was the first to bring the Sash out of Scotland. This is a groundbreaking achievement that, in my mind, qualifies Willie for a mention on a list of other legendary players.

  3. It just doesn’t seem like 5 spots are enough!
    Alex, Jim and Reid make my list, no question.
    Tom Brown, Bobby Rae, John Kerr and James King all taught and influenced so many drummers, and have so many dedicated followers…
    John Seton, Jimmy Catherwood, Paddy Donovan all get honorable mention for early developments…
    Talking purely about skill level, it’s tough to beat the young guys like Wilson and McWhirter, and I think every generation will continue to improve the skill set…
    It’s just like hockey; it’s tough to compare eras. Howie Morenz was a legend in his day, but probably couldn’t skate with 12 year olds by todays standards. But that’s not to cheapen the importance and impact he had on the game. We have a lot of legends in our game as well! Geordie Pryde, Willie McErlean, Dave Armitt, John Kirkwood all had huge influence on areas of North America.

    Well, anyways… this is how I voted:

    1. Alex Duthart
    2. Jim Kilpatrick
    3. Jimmy Catherwood
    4. Reid Maxwell
    5. Tom Brown

  4. I have to agree for sure with top two no one can argue with that but it seems to be that people have forgotten about. people will disagree or what ever but hear it goes

    1) Alex Duthart
    2) Jim Kilpatrick
    3) Andrew Scullion
    4) John Scullion
    5) Reid Maxwell



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