M, 82 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

As a doco about the overlooked, drummers who were integral to the success of famous rock bands but weren’t celebrated, Count Me In has its work cut out. Not only is there a lot of territory to cover, there is no shortage of people who have focussed on frontmen and women without acknowledging the importance of the beat. The gags in some quarters of the music industry, about drummers being people who hang out with musicians, don’t help either.

Count Me In steps forward to contradict these negative views with a swathe of persuasive evidence to overturn the idea that drummers are interchangeable just so long as they can manage the kit.

Instinctively we know that drumming is important, because of the way it speaks to us. Although the percussive beat seems to be deeply significant in non-verbal human communication, our attention is often directed towards other forms of music, from string and wind instruments. Ancient flutes discovered in Europe are the oldest instruments found to date, but an object on which to tap a rhythm was surely music in its earliest form.

This documentary directed by Mark Lo is an eye-opener on drumming in popular culture, concentrating on rock, while referencing jazz and swing. It has arrived on screen shortly after Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones left the stage, and is ever so timely. If a rock band is only as good as its drummer, then Lo, who has a career specialising in music for the screen industries, has put together a package lending full support to this view.

Count Me In assembles clips from outstanding performances alongside interviews with some of the drumming greats who reminisce on their influences and share their views, often generous and appreciative, on their contemporaries. A number of the women drummers interviewed reflect on how they have been gradually accepted since the 1990s.

a touch ragged here and there, but tells a genuinely intriguing story about an underrated artform

A drumming circle performance within the sturdy walls of the Mt Wilson astronomical observatory in California bookmarks the narrative structure. It opens with a voiceover from Stephen Perkins, the drummer for Jane’s Addiction.

Too many music docos are undermined when musicians open their mouths to explain, but Perkins and others who contribute are articulate and insightful, throwing light on the particular contribution that drumming makes. Percussion can drive a song and simply turn people on, and it can even thrill audiences with unpredictable pyrotechnics. Brilliant exponents of the art like Keith Moon of the Who, and John Bonham of Led Zeppelin have left an enduring legacy.

We don’t often hear from drummers, and there are many here with plenty of interest to say. Like Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden, Roger Taylor of Queen, Abe Laboriel who has played with Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney, Stewart Copeland of the Police, Cindy Blackman Santana who has played with Lenny Kravitz, and Chad Smith of Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It all gets a bit untidy but the content is consistently interesting.

These drummers’ influences were wide-ranging. They include jazz greats Buddy Rich and Max Roach, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, the Surfaris, and the Beatles and the astonishing spinning drum solo performed in the late 1980s by Tommy Lee of Motley Crue. Many started out in the kitchen, and can recall beating a rhythm on their mum’s pot and pans, before their parents gave in and bought them a kit. Some grabs of home video with kids receiving their first drum kits are interpellated to help make the point that drumming can manifest from early on as an overwhelming obsession.

How interesting it would have been to hear from the enigmatic Charlie Watts, the dapper figure behind the cavorting flamboyance onstage. It is said that the last time Jagger called for ‘his drummer’ the famous frontman earned a punch in the face from Watts himself, and he has never used the term since.

Watts had his moments when he was young but he evolved to be quite the opposite of the equally amazing but unrestrained Keith Moon and John Bonham. Both were of similar vintage to Watts, but they both left the stage at the youthful age of 32.

Count Me In is a touch ragged here and there, but it tells a genuinely intriguing story about an underrated artform.

First published in the Canberra Times on 24 October 2021.   Jane’s reviews are also published at Rotten Tomatoes