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Revolutionary Skate Punk Drummers: Lagwagon and RKL's Derrick Plourde, Bomer Manzullo, and Dave Raun
Derrick with Lagwagon
Every genre of art, literature, and music has its canon.
Rhythm is intrinsically rooted in the living world. Waves lick the shorelines of coastal areas. Rivers ebb and flow through valleys. They wrap around mountains and dramatically cascade off cliffs and rock faces. Crickets play the score of the night, and birds welcome the sun in the morning. Rain beats gently on tin roofs in the springtime, and thunder rolls in times of atmospheric turmoil, highlighted by booming crescendos that follow bolts of lightning as they twist and dance in the shadows of clouds. Beats from ancestral drums haunted and soothed as early human communities created rituals to appease spirits as they sought to find their place in the world. Time keepers corral harmonies into fluid measures so that they don’t stray off tempo. Drumming is an art. I find it to be one of the most primal of all artistic expression. If classical music were to score a warbling brook, and jazz the fluidity of city street traffic, punk rock plays the soundtrack of a volcanic eruption.
Punk rock took the art of time keeping and sped it up. At its inception, punk musicians recognized that the intensity of their guitars and vocals had to be properly accommodated by an evolution in in modern drumming. Each decade since the 1970’s has seen evolution and progression in the punk rock format. The bass beats have to be fast. Traditional 4/4 time signatures are perpetually retooled, reworked, and evolved. The evidence of the maturation of punk rock is highlighted by masters of their craft. The line between skill and virtuosity is continually crossed as punk rock enters its fifth decade of existence. Throughout its history, the genre of the ambitiously frustrated counterculture has shown bits of brilliance through revolutionary applications by some of the world’s most brilliant yet underrated song smiths.
There is a go to list of musicians within every genre of music. Each has its own canon that aficionados familiarize themselves with before they learn to identify lesser known contributors on their own. The classic rock canon of drummers contains notable greats such as John Bonham, Keith Moon, Mitch Mitchell, and Doug Clifford. A discourse on heavy metal drummers usually includes Hellhammer, Vinnie Paul, Bill Ward, Martin Lopez, and Mike Portnoy. The punk rock canon includes Josh Freese, Brooks Wackerman, Travis Barker, Bill Stevenson, and Tre Cool. One usually has to delve deeper and deeper into specific sub genres and offshoots in order to find drummers who have eluded mainstream recognition. A search for notable metal drummers and notable “black metal” drummers will more times than not yield different results. The same goes for progressive rock to rock or skate punk to punk in general. It is difficult, and frankly unfair, to categorize anything as the “best” until one has a complete knowledge of a subject. A veritable rolodex of information is needed on a topic before one can consider themselves an expert. A mental glossary of technique, rudiments, syncopation, fills and rolls, and composition enhances one’s ability to spot undeniable talent, but at the end of the day, music is subjective. Appreciation is in the ear of the beholder.
Skate punk is the term of the day here. By adding the word “skate”, the doors to punk enlightenment begin to fly off of their hinges. Skate punk takes traditional hardcore punk and complicates the heck out of it. It is aggressive yet melodic. It takes elements of thrash and hardcore and integrates catchy hooks, implements harmonizing vocals, and sprinkles in the occasional guitar solo. It is a very technical breed of punk rock. Attention is paid in great detail to a complete method of songwriting.
A discussion of prominent drummers associated with skate punk is sure to include Richard “Bomer” Manzullo, Dave Raun, and Derrick Plourde. Ranking any of these four among or above other more famous drummers in any genre would be a compelling argument. I, however, aim to recognize the skill of musicians rather than attack other notions and opinions regarding the greatness of other musicians. Music is not a competition.
Bomer Manzullo played the drums for Montecito, California band Rich Kids on LSD (also known as RKL) from 1982 to 1992. He later did stints as the band’s bassist and vocalist and was responsible for the formation of other bands Slang and The Other. He may very well have invented the standard punk beat on the drums. Before RKL, there was no such thing as thrash punk crossovers or skate punk. The Oxnard scene hadn’t yet been born. RKL revolutionized elements of punk that would later come to define distinctive genres. The guitars were fast, abrasive, and technical, the bass lines galloped at breakneck speed, and the vocals provided by Jason Sears were snotty and defiant. The drums were revolutionary. He played consistently fast, incorporating his rudimentary knowledge and chops into lightning quick rolls, pauses and starts that happened so fast that the listener couldn’t catch up until he was into the next measure, and metronomic timing. After gaining notoriety in Europe and with the booming eighties skateboard scene RKL temporarily disbanded in 1992 after releasing three full length albums and a slew of singles. Though they would reunite the following year and continue to release new material until 2002, Manzullo would never appear again as the band's primary drummer. He passed away on December 12th, 2005 of heart failure. His death was referenced in NOFX’s memorial tribute song “Doornails.”
Dave Raun took over drumming duties from 1993 until 1996 when he joined Goleta, California band Lagwagon in replacement of Derrick Plourde. RKL guitarist Chris Rest would also join Lagwagon, replacing original guitarist Shawn Dewey in 1997. The RKL swap would be complete in 2010, when longtime RKL bassist Joe Raposo permanently replaced Jesse Buglione. The two bands other notable swaps included Derrick Plourde who toured for RKL for a few years around the turn of the century, and Lagwagon guitarist Chris Flippin who would go on to play for RKL off and on from 1997 until their hiatus in 2006. Raun handled the monumental task of replacing Derrick Plourde exceedingly well. Both drummers had similar styles and influences. Raun would even add some unique elements into Lagwagon’s established style. Playing songs from Derrick’s tenure with the band stroke for stroke would put anyone on my drummer radar. Dave Raun’s tracks are very impressive on their own. There is plenty of footage of Dave Raun Playing drums on YouTube. His Dave Raun cams seemed to be a constant tour companion. He also plays drums in the punk rock super group Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. It’s amazing that two bands would feature three prominent top notch drummers.
The crème de la crème of the skate punk drumming is Lagwagon’s original drummer Derrick Plourde. He took inspiration from Manzullo’s days in RKL and cultivated a style of drumming that set the bar so high, it is insurmountable. Lagwagon released three albums with Plourde. The musicianship displayed by all of the members is so complete that the drums only act as the icing on the cake of perfection. Every note strummed or plucked is highlighted by the perfect precision of Plourde’s drums. His drum tracks were almost scientifically linked with the rest of the band. Every verse, chorus, intro, outro, and breakdown was put to its own proper beat. His rolls were thunderous. His kick drum reverberated as though cannon balls were being repeatedly fired into it. He played live with such force and ferocity; it was as though his life depended on it. He would go on to play in Mad Caddies, The Ataris, RKL, and Bad Astronaut, the latter of which he formed with Lagwagon vocalist Joey Cape. Derrick’s death by suicide in 2005 was the subject matter of Lagwagon’s entire album "Resolve". Ironically, Dave Raun laid down the drum tracks. A full album dedication was Joey Cape’s way of saying goodbye to his friend, and dealing with his own grief. Derrick’s death was also the first one mentioned in the NOFX song “Doornails.”
The contributions of these three drummers were immense. Had they never picked up a pair of drumsticks, a generation of punk rockers would have missed out on some of the catchiest speaker assaults ever to grace the airwaves.