Memoriam | Drummer Who Sang
by Robyn Flans
On February 3rd, Karen Carpenter died of a massive cardiac
arrest. Reports have linked her weak heart to a disease
from which she suffered, but recently had overcome: anorexia
nervosa; the compulsion to be thin.
Like many, I only knew Karen through her music and her smooth,
stirring vocals on such songs as "Close To You", "For
All We Know," "Rainy Days and Mondays," and "Goodbye
To Love." I can't recall the number of brides an
grooms I saw walk down the aisle to "We've Only Just
Begun," and I can recall how the depth of her emotion
on "Superstar" touched my adolescent heart.
I want to express my gratitude to those I contracted who
knew Karen and worked with her and were willing to answer
questions and share memories in a time of personal loss. Bassist
Joe Osborn recorded Richard and Karen Carpenter in his garage
studio while they were still in high school. "Karen
always had a terrific style," he recalls. Osborn
wanted to help them and constantly told Hal Blaine about
these two special kids--Richard on organ and Karen on drums
"I met Karen during the Jimmy Webb session of 'MacArthur
Park,' I believe," Hal remembers. "Joe invited
them over to the studio because he had always told me about
them and said we should do something with them. He wanted
me to produce them. We talked and they were very nice,
but I said to Joe, 'How in the heck are we going to go into
the studio and produce them when we're doing four, five and
six sessions a day?"
But both Osborn and Blaine ended up on Carpenter's records
when A&M signed them, with producer Jack Daugherty at
the helm. Their first album, Offering (later reissued
with the name of their semi-hit of the Beatles' song "Ticket
to Ride"), made some noise and paved the way for their
second album, Close to You. Entered Hal Blaine.
"When they decided to go with professional musicians,
they had talked to Karen about my playing drums, and as far
as she was concerned, it was fine because they wanted a hit. Her
mother was upset at first and said, 'I've watched drummers
on TV. for years and Karen is as good as any of them.' She
didn't understand that there were different techniques involved,
but eventually she understood.
"I've always said Karen was a good drummer to begin
with. Often times, guys think that a girl drummer isn't
right, no matter what. But I knew she could play right away
when she'd sit down at my drums on sessions. She played a
lot of the album cuts as well, and we had Howie Oliver make
her up a set of my monster drums. But about the third
or fourth hit, I remember I said to her, 'When are you going
to get off the drums? You sing too good and you should
be fronting the band."
Enter Cubby O'Brien. Cubby was asked to join the road
band in 1973 and also recorded some of the album tracks,
remaining with them until they stopped touring around 1979.
"Karen was very knowledgeable about the drums and was
a very good drummer, there's no doubt about that. Some
of the things we did together were not easy. Richard
wanted it exactly the way it was on record. When I first
joined the group, Karen was still playing in the show. We
worked out all the drum breaks from the records and I played
exactly what she did. The idea of getting me was to
actually get her off the drums, and in order to do that,
they needed a strong drummer. Richard had grown up with
her playing and thought a lot of it, so it was hard for somebody
else to take over that chair.
"But at one time, playing was a very big issue in her
life. I remember one time Karen and I went to see Buddy
Rich and Louie Bellson's band. I know Buddy fairly well,
so before the show, I took Karen to meet him backstage. He
was getting ready when I introduced her, 'Buddy, this
is Karen Carpenter.' And he said, 'Karen Carpenter!
You're on of my favorite drummers, you know that?' When
we got back to our seats, Karen turned to me and said, 'Was
he putting me on?'
"Karen was a very special person. She was always
a very happy, very up, person, even when things were bad. Her
death shocked me and really saddened me. I spoke to
her just four or five days before she died and she was feeling
good and much stronger than she had felt. She wasn't
getting as tired as she had in the past, and all the way
around, things were straightening out. She and Richard
were making plans to perform and thinking of going over to
Japan and playing out of the country first." (According
to Joe Osborn, there are still about forty tracks recorded
last year that are yet to be released.)
In 1969, a woman drummer was unheard of. Today, in
1983, it is still unusual. It does, in fact, take a
lot of courage for a woman to pursue that instrument when
the stereotypes are so difficult to penetrate. "Karen
hated somebody to say, 'You're really good--for a woman,'" Cubby
said. "Nobody better have said that!"
.Copyright 2000, Modern Drummer Publications, Inc. Used
by permission. All rights reserved..
NOTE: Many thanks to Modern Drummer for
sending and for the use of this article! The photo used
here is not the one used in their magazine at the time of
It's a great magazine for any and all drummers!
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