Over the past 15 months, we have learned that life is uncertain and, as the old saying goes, “No one knows what tomorrow will bring.” As we slowly emerge into post-lockdown life like a caterpillar exiting its cocoon to become a butterfly, perhaps this is a time for each of us to start anew and pursue dreams we have been putting off for “tomorrow.” That, however, involves taking chances, and taking chances can be daunting. Some of the best places to look for inspiration when it comes to taking chances are the worlds of art and music.
One artist who has never been scared to take chances is legendary drummer Stewart Copeland. Most people know Copeland as the drummer for The Police. His career with that iconic band only begins to scratch the surface of someone who is truly a renaissance man.
To understand Stewart Copeland we really have to go back to the beginning. Like most of us, he picked up many of his traits as a child. His teen angst enabled him to get behind a drum kit which developed his monster-drummer persona. He is a very down to earth guy, youngest of four with a great sense of humor. Being the youngest in the Copeland family, he was raised like a normal kid. That upbringing empowered him to feel very comfortable behind a drum kit. For Copeland, being behind that kit was just like being part of another family.
The first concert he attended led him to see Jimi Hendrix, and it was a mind blowing experience. Luckily Hendrix impressed Copeland and he didn’t take hid dad’s advice after all to take up the French horn.
Copeland’s first hit record did not come from The Police. Under the pseudonym Klark Kent, he recorded a series of singles on which he played all the instruments, and in 1978, he landed a top 50 hit in the UK with a song called “Don’t Care.”
In 1995, the songs were released on CD under the title “Kollected Works.”
Coming out of the British new wave scene, The Police developed their niche by fusing punk, reggae, and jazz to forge a sound that remains all their own. Formed in 1977, the trio that made up The Police included Andy Summers (guitar), Stewart Copeland (drums), and Gordon Sumner aka Sting (bass). The Police had an eclectic sound, even for the New Wave crowd. Copeland specifically took chances creating his own signature sound on the drums.
We first took notice of the dynamic trio with their debut 1978 album titled Outlandos d’Amour which featured hits like “So Lonely,” “Roxanne,” and “Can’t Stand Losing You.”
It was the 1979 follow-up Reggatta de Blanc that fostered a culture that propelled them into a higher plain of musical existence with “Message In a Bottle,” “Bring on the Night,” and “Walking on the Moon.” By this time the names Sting, Andy and Stewart were part of the new wave fabric.
Fast forward to 1980 and Zenyatta Mendatta made the Police international sensations with songs like “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” “Canary in a Coalmine,” “Man in a Suitcase,” and DeDoDo Do, De Da Da Da.
This combination of unique percussion along with the ska elements gave many in the U.S. a reason to take notice of this band, and their soon-to-be legendary drummer Stewart Copeland.
Before it was all said and done, songs like “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” “Every Breathe You Take,” and “Invisible Sun,” made them a part of the soundtrack to our lives. For musicians, Copeland took Godlike status for his unique drumming style. His unorthodox tempo and backbeat mastery did not go unnoticed by the faithful in songs like “Rehumanize Yourself.”
Copeland’s experimentation included extremely high-pitched snare and tom tunings; deploying octobans (small diameter, single-headed elongated tom drums) into his drum kit; not relying so much on the hi-hat cymbals, but instead riding on crash cymbals; and incorporating extremely syncopated rhythms into the songs. Copeland changed the landscape and sound for drummers, and influenced music production for decades to come.
Like many musicians who have gone on to success with a popular band, Copeland’s career did not begin with the group for which he is most known. He got his start as the road manager of a band called Curved Air. That job soon parlayed itself into a drumming gig when their original drummer left the band.
Copeland is also quite the movie buff. During his time with The Police, he was constantly filming and documenting their touring experience. This led to the 2006 documentary “Everybody Stares,” a favorite among Police fans. He has also merged his musical genius and passion for film through the scoring of soundtracks. Copeland began with Francis Ford Coppola’s “Rumble Fish” and went on to score music for the films “Wall Street,” “Highlander 2,” and “Talk Radio.” He has also created theme songs and music for hit TV shows like “The Equalizer,” “Dead Like Me,” and “Babylon 5.”
Proving once again that anything is possible, and not being one to back down from exploring new musical challenges, Copeland decided to take a swing at ballet and opera. Most musicians from the pop world wouldn’t even think of dipping a toe into those pools, but Copeland composed a score for “King Lear” in association with the San Francisco Ballet. As if ballet wasn’t a big enough departure from popular music, Copeland launched his own production of the opera “Holy Blood and Crescent Moon” and did a version of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” with Terry Jones from Monty Python.
Copeland is as legit as it gets among his peers. That’s why nobody blinked an eye when he was ranked as the 10th best drummer of all time Rolling Stone Magazine’s 2011 readers pole (he was #7). According to MusicReader, his “distinctive drum sound and uniqueness of style has made him one of the most popular drummers to ever get behind a drumset.”
These days you can catch the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and the Cleveland Orchestra on an upcoming summer show in Cleveland. On his website it says “Stewart Copeland announces his upcoming summer trip to Cleveland. Police Deranged for Orchestra is an orchestral survey of Copeland’s career and especially of his many years with The Police. Copeland himself, a percussionist will play drums.”
Another noteworthy announcement is about Copeland teaming up with Ricky Kej on a project titled “Divine Tides” which will be released July 21, 2021.
If that’s not enough Stewart Copeland for you… you can also catch him on tour this summer. He’ll visit Southern California on August 27, 2021 with a stop a the Copley Symphony Hall in San Diego playing with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra. You can also catch him in Nashville March 24 through the 26th as he plays the Schermnerhorn Symphony Center along with The Nashville Symphony.
Ludwig Von Beethoven said, “To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.” When looking at the career and life of a musician as accomplished as Stewart Copeland, one can see that he was not afraid to play a wrong note. If we take anything from the Copeland playbook in this post-quarantine world, it should be to take chances, take risks, and not be afraid to play a wrong note. I’m sure Copeland played a few in his time.