1989 was a crucial time in my musical education. At age 11, I was several months into taking drum lessons when my teacher asked me a loaded question: “What drummers do you listen to?” Given that it was the ‘80s and I was deeply enthralled with metal, I rattled off a list of big-haired, double-bass drum playing thunder gods, including Anthrax’s Charlie Benante. My teacher, in what was likely a well-rehearsed speech, quickly rattled off a list of drummers I should be listening to including: Neil Peart of Rush, Bill Bruford of Yes, session drummer Steve Gadd and jazz masters Billy Cobham and Art Blakey. All great drummers, who I’ve been listening to for years – the fact that I can still rattle off the list 31 years after the fact is telling.
Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.
Alex Skolnick routinely straddles the line between two different musical universes. He is known to legions of metalheads as the lead guitarist for the thrash band Testament. Yet, for nearly two decades, he has had a side hustle as a jazz guitarist for the Alex Skolnick Trio, playing an eclectic blend of fusion jazz.
He credits this genre-fluid existence to a moment in the late ‘80s when he was in Ithaca, NY recording Testament’s sophomore album The New Order. According to his memoir, he and a bandmate were flipping through the channels in a hotel when he came across a PBS concert film featuring Miles Davis performing with one of his electric fusion bands. (Given the date and Skolnick’s description it was likely Miles Davis – That’s What Happened: Live in Germany 1987.) “I had to find out more about this music. It had spoken to me, in an almost mysterious way, as though it were reaching out and calling for me to come closer. … I’d soon own more Miles Davis albums than any other artist (even Kiss),” he wrote.
Already an accomplished guitarist, having studied under the legendary instructor Joe Satriani (whose former students include Kirk Hammett and Steve Vai), Skolnick wanted to expand his horizons beyond metal. So, when the recording sessions ended, he tapped several music instructors at his hometown college, the University of California, Berkeley, to help him expand his skills.
No Rush song speaks as directly to the tormented teenage soul as 1982’s “Subdivisions.” Its fat synthesizer lines and darkly perceptive lyrics about suburban teen alienation made it the perfect angst anthem to turn up to 11. Forget “How Soon Is Now”; “Subdivisions” is the song that truly understood what you were going through. The song’s release coincided with the launch of MTV, so its video was a frequent part of their daily rotation.
It’s a strange circumstance: What has been awful for humanity at large has been pretty good for the world of cover songs. Even we would say that’s a terrible trade-off!
Nevertheless, we’ve been grateful that so many musicians have taken to Facebook, Instagram, etc to share their music and, in many cases, cover favorite songs that are helping get them through. So, for the fourth time and certainly not the last, we’re rounding up some of the best we’ve seen recently and encouraging you to add your own below.
One note: There are some obvious names you won’t see here. John Prine. Bill Withers. Adam Schlesinger. Kenny Rogers. So many wonderful covers are emerging to pay tribute to artists no longer with them that we’ll be rounding them up separately. We did the first set for Prine here.
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
Neil Peart, the deep-thinking, world-traveling, book-reading, book-writing, virtuosic drummer and primary lyricist for the Canadian power trio Rush, has died at age 67. Peart died of glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, that had first affected him just over three years ago. He joined Rush in 1974, replacing original drummer John Rutsey, who had to leave the band due to health-related issues. Peart was a drummer’s drummer, with dozens of industry and press awards and hundreds of accolades from his peers. While his technical prowess is beyond impeccable, he received nearly as much attention for the lyrical direction in which he steered the band. As we mark his passing here at Cover Me, we’ll look at cover versions of Rush tunes that honor both of these equally important contributions.
Anderson .Paak – Old Town Road (Lil Nas X cover)
Given how thoroughly “Old Town Road” dominated the summer – the longest-reigning Billboard #1 in history, for those under-a-rock-dwellers among you – it seems shocking that it took until now for the first truly great cover to emerge. Less shocking: that it came from rapper/singer/drummer extraordinaire Anderson .Paak. Back in May, he performed a more straightforward version with Lil Nas X himself, but for BBC’s Live Lounge he and his band The Free Nationals reinvented it into a soul groove with shades of D’Angelo.