Video Rewind: Tommy Lee’s trademark drum solo

When most people think about Tommy Lee, the first thing that comes to their minds isn’t always music related. I mean come on. We’ve all seen the honeymoon tape or we’ve heard the stories. Maybe the second or third thing people think of is something musically involved. He’s a drummer. Okay. Good. That’s a good place to start.

These days Tommy Lee’s musical exploits are nowhere near as popular or enjoyable as they once were. Even in an ironic way. I’ll admit that I owned the Methods of Mayhem album when it came out while I was in high school, but I didn’t buy it myself. I spent some time listening to it while driving too fast down rural back roads. I didn’t completely enjoy it, but it had some stupid fun and dirty words in it. To a 16-year-old sometimes that’s all you need.

Way before he was tabloid fodder, Mr. Pamela Lee Baywatch, and nu-metal rap-rock wannabe, Tommy Lee was just another spandex wearing, sleazy, hard-livin’ rock-star drummer. Playing with Mötley Crüe, Lee ruled the L.A./’80s-rock scene with a sweaty, whiskey-soaked fist. He toured all over the world, and everywhere he was met with sold-out stadiums and hundreds of groupies. Love ’em or hate ’em, they were one of the biggest bands of the decade, and 100 percent encapsulated the ethos of the glam-rock scene.

One of the staples of the ’80s rock concert was the drum solo. A chance for the drummer to be alone on stage, and take the spotlight for a few minutes while the other members of the band went back to grab another bottle of booze, another quickie, or another line of snow. Tommy Lee usually had the spotlight anyway, but he still would give the crowd its requisite five- to 10-minute drum-solo satisfaction. Usually Lee would do so on a huge rotating shifting extending (keep the dick jokes in your brain) and light-up monstrosity of a set-rig. He usually gave some just fantastic and articulate stage banter to start and then launched into some decently fast and moderately skilled solo.

One of the better solos I have seen was recently shown to me by a friend who is a drummer himself, as well as a fan of the over-the-top extravagance that was ’80s rock (the guy LOVES Kiss). This particular solo was filmed during a concert in Tacoma, Washington, in 1987. Mr. Lee begins by asking how Tacoma is doing. Tacoma responds with a cheer that can only mean “Why, Tommy, we are doing splendidly!” Mr. Lee responds with, “Sounds like you’re doing pretty fucking choice.” Then Mr. Lee waxes poetic about how since the last time the band was in Tacoma he had a “sick motherfuckin’ dream one night,” but instead of explaining the dream fully he just tells Tacoma to “check this shit out,” and he starts in on the solo.

He finally explains how in the dream he went in all kinds of directions, which then corresponded to his rig moving in that direction. It goes on like this for about six minutes with various screams of “yeah!” and “OW!” as he plays. You can hear the fantastic flange effect that is put through the mikes on his cymbals throughout the video. Like a space wave just moving from the right channel to the left channel. Giving his drum set a futuristic sound. The future of rock ‘n roll. He even has some drum triggers that give his toms a deep, almost techno sound to them.

It’s well worth watching all the way through—if you can stand it. The video ends in typical Tommy Lee fashion: a threat of violence to a crowd member. It was a different time. It was a different scene. One that, in 1987, was a mere five years away from being blown away by some punk grunge kids from, oddly enough, Washington state. If you enjoy ridiculous, fairly decent drum solos, or just like watching something that should have been in This Is Spinal Tap, this video is definitely for you. As Mr. Lee says, “I guess dreams really do come true.”


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