Almanac Music: My Favourite Drummers – Karen Carpenter


My Favourite Drummers – Karen Carpenter


Karen Carpenter, 1972. (Wikimedia Commons.)



Karen Carpenter is widely known for her role as the lead singer of the highly successful duo, Carpenters (active 1969-1983), and, unfortunately, for her untimely anorexia-related death in 1983 at the age of 32.



She had a beautiful, memorable voice. Carpenters’ hits such as ‘Close to You’, ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’, ‘For All We Know’ and ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’ testify to the quality of her singing.



Lesser known is Karen’s fabulous drumming. I first became aware of her talent in this area around the age of fourteen in the mid-1970s, when I played in my school brass band, and our bandmaster enthusiastically praised her.



Carpenter’s early, high school drumming was influenced mainly by jazz and Ringo Starr – her main drum teachers were jazz musicians, while Ringo was a general influence and one that compelled her to play on a Ludwig kit, Starr’s chosen brand of drums. The clip below is of eighteen-year-old Karen playing ‘Dancing in the Street’ with her brother Richard in the Dick Carpenter Trio in 1968 – she lets loose with a fine, brief drum solo just near the end of the song.





When the Carpenters began as a duo in 1969, Karen was both drummer and co-lead singer; gradually, as the years rolled on in the 70s, this changed. According to Wikipedia: ‘Initially, Carpenter was the band’s full-time drummer, but gradually took the role of frontwoman as drumming was reduced to a handful of live showcases or tracks on albums.’



The following clip from a Carpenters TV special provides ample evidence of Karen Carpenter’s phenomenal drumming talents. (In this clip, her playing builds to a wonderful crescendo.) It seems she could play just about any type of music, and was capable of fast, precise, intricate work to boot. Iconic drummers such as Buddy Rich and Hal Blaine praised her drumming. Interestingly, a Playboy magazine readers’ poll of 1975 voted her best rock drummer of that year, beating Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham into second place. Apparently, Bonzo wasn’t happy at all. (I think he took the poll a bit too seriously!)










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Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, was published in late 2020 by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Other writing includes screenplays for educational films.


  1. Great tribute, KD. Certainly knew her way around the skins!

    I feel like Karen Carpenter has been embalmed by her tragic and fragile end to some extent, a nightingale with (to mangle your last drummer’s band’s hit) a ‘facade of glass’.

    While on the topic of bands that feature iconic women, how do you feel about Lindy Morrison from the Go Betweens in your drummer pantheon?

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, JL Very interesting comment about Karen Carpenter’s legacy.

    I like Lindy Morrison’s drumming, too – interesting, precise and a little quirky is the way I’d describe it. She adds her own individuality – more than simply rhythmic accompaniment – to the Go-Betweens’ music. This is the kind of important role good drummers play in bands.

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