Brian Bennett

Born: February 9, 1940 in Palmers Green, North London

Here’s a story that may sound familiar: Early ’60s British rock drummer strikes gold with his quartet, becomes a teen idol, tours America, performs on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and discovers Ludwig drums. Interestingly, the figure in question is not Ringo Starr, but Brian Bennett, one of Britain’s earliest and most influential rock drummers.

Bennett, who grew up in a house filled with sounds of American big band music, understood the power of rock early on. At age 17, he became the house drummer at the 2i’s Coffee Bar in Soho, the mecca for aspiring rock’n’roll musicians in England. After working with a variety of British and visiting American acts as a sideman (he toured with Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent in the late ’50s), Bennett joined the Shadows, Britain’s first real superstar rock act. Their two guitars, bass, and drums lineup—a relatively new concept in rock—would serve as the blueprint for many British bands to come, including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

The Shadows had the unique distinction of being successful on two fronts: They often backed teen idol singer Cliff Richard, and they also commanded their own audience as an instrumental outfit. Often described as a British version of the Ventures, the Shadows’ best-known hit is the tom-tom–driven “Apache.” Although they never made a strong impact in the U.S. (their single tour in 1961 was a flop), Shadows concerts at home were riotous, huge sellouts in front of hordes of screaming fans.

Belying the stereotype of the unschooled rock drummer, Bennett’s strong musical background gave him the power, control, and chops to really stand out in the context of the Shadows’ work. Listen to his long, well-structured solo on “Little ‘B’,” and you’ll hear not only the influence of swing-era heroes like Gene Krupa and Louie Bellson, but the driving power that would become a trademark of future rock soloists like Cream’s Ginger Baker (“Toad”), Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham (“Moby Dick”), and Iron Butterfly’s Ron Bushy (“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”).

When the Shadows broke up in 1968, Bennett quickly graduated into work as a top-tier session player, backing the likes of Olivia Newton-John, Al Stewart, and Chris Spedding. For the past three decades, Bennett (who had a hand in writing many of the Shadows’ big hits) has also enjoyed a “second” career as an award-winning film and television composer.