Keith LeBlanc Drums & Percussion Lessons
An Interview With Keith LeBlanc
LeBlanc started playing drums at the age of four. He started playing in clubs at the age of fourteen. In the summer of 1979 Keith LeBlanc met Doug Wimbish and Skip McDonald. This trio would become the legendary rhythm section behind the hits for Sugar-hill Records. They performed on such classics as Grandmaster Flashes The Message and Freedom, It’s Nasty, the Melle Mel album White Lines, and Angie Stones first record, Funk You Up. The Sugar Hill Gangs Eight Wonder Funky Fours Thats the Joint.
Moving on from the early 80’s rap explosion, drummer Keith LeBlanc already released some solo work on Tommy Boy Records, mixing the DMX drumbeats with his own special drumsound. His release No Sell Out featured the cut-up raps of civil rights activist Malcolm X pitched against the infamous DMX drumbeat and is acknowledged as the first ever ‘sampling record’ – ahead of the time and timeless.
This led Keith into producing and doing drum sessions for Tommy Boy Records. He worked With Africa Bambatta and James Brown and many of the Tommy Boy artists. He also did lots of sessions for Arthur Baker. Doug and Keith also contributed to the Artists United Against Apartheid Released 1985.
In London and Tackhead
LeBlanc moved to London working with British mixer/producer Adrian Sherwood of On-U Sound. Together creating the sound of funk noise giants Tackhead with Wimbish and McDonald. They achieved success in the underground and dance hall scene with hits like Mind at the End of Tether and Whats My Mission Now?
Tackhead’s first three songs at the Ritz on Saturday re-emphasized its status as one of the finest rhythm sections of the 1980’s. Skip McDonald on guitar, Doug Wimbish on bass, while Keith LeBlanc drums – the core of the famed early rap label Sugarhill Records – put on an astonishingly hard show; the beat sounded like a thousand iron doors shutting at once.
Like the great rhythm sections of the past, from Walter Page and Jo Jones to the Meters, Tackhead has its own set of addictive rhythms -which can be listened to, with no embellishment, all night long. – PETER WATROUS New York Times. They also did some work with Mark Stewart, formerly of Popgroup, Gary Clail, and Bim Sherman.
Keith’s landmark album “Major Malfunction” (WR005) was of great influence to a whole generation of musicians. The album, a reaction to the 1986 disaster with space shuttle Challenger, started off a whole new genre of industrial music.
Tackhead went on to produce Friendly as a Hand Grenade, featuring vocalist Bernard Fowler, followed by the SBK album Strange Things. Tackhead members have never stopped recording together. They have worked under various names such as Interference, Strange Parcels and of course Skip McDonald’s soloproject Little Axe featuring vocalists Saz Bell and Keven Gibbs…
Apart from his work as member of the legendary On-U Sound posse, LeBlanc also played with many brilliant musicians in london and Europe Playing on many hit records. He released ten sampling CDs with loads of drum samples and sound effects, and also many solo projects from his label Blanc Records. Keith also plays with a long established musician in Peru, Mano Ventura.
Thier UK outfit NOH GROUND is a blend of haunting Peruvian sounds, complexity of Arabic/Latin/African rhythms, with exciting bass patterns (drum and bass orientated) within the jazz format, featuring Keith LeBlanc on drums, Nico Gomez on bass and Mano Ventura on guitar.
Back to the USA
LeBlanc recently moved back to the states and has also been doing gigs with Bernie Worrell,Eric Gales,TM Stevens, and of corse the Tackhead boyz. Keith’s writing production and drumming skills have attracted the likes of Living Colour, Peter Gabriel, The Cure, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, James Brown, Trevor Horn, Seal, R.E.M., The Rolling Stones, Annie Lennox, Jalal (Last Poets), The Stone Roses, Robert Palmer and Bomb The Bass.
He also produced Charles & Eddie’s hit record Would I Lie To You, along with Tim Simenon of Bomb The Bass. Michael Stipe (REM): “Keith Le Blanc is a revolutionary. House God Head with a benie cap on. He rules my roost”.
The worlds first Hip Hop session drummer
When Keith LeBlanc got his gig at sugarhill records in 1979, there was no such thing as a hip hop drummer. There were no rules of thumb. No drum machines. Just DJs cutting beats off records. Keith was the first to do it on drums.
Keith LeBlanc’s beats are some of the most copied in the world. Yet he has never received credit for this. Keith and his pals Doug Wimbish and Skip McDonald wrote the book on hip hop tracking. These guys should have been some of the first elected to the hip hop hall of fame. But for some reason they have been overlooked. Keith invented many drumming techniques that are still used in hip hop tracks today. He also along with Pumpkin Eroll Bedward pioneered the use of drum machines in hip hop.
When these guys were cutting the first hip hop records RUN DMC was still in school! From 1979 to 1981 It was said that these guys were on almost all the turntables in the world at once !
But as Keith put it “we were just trying to get paid. We didn’t think that we were changing the music industry. I was just trying to be a good session drummer and a good one can play anything well no matter what style of music”. The diversity of music Keith appears on is staggering enough. Here’s just a short list:
View Keith’s full discography here!