Alan Myers, the drummer in the “classic lineup” of Devo who provided precise beats and jerky rhythms for seven of the Akron band’s most popular albums, has died of brain cancer. He was 58.
The Firestone High School graduate was nicknamed “The Human Metronome,” but not because he was a mechanical drummer, although he could do that if demanded by the song. Mr. Myers’ exacting rhythms and fills and taut sound — whether imbued with the kinetic, punk-rock energy of Uncontrollable Urge or the more robotic grooves of We’re Through Being Cool and the new wave and synth-pop sound the band helped create — always propelled the group’s songs and inspired its legions of spuds and DEVOtees, past and present, into dancing fits.
When Mr. Myers joined Devo, he was its third drummer, replacing Jim Mothersbaugh in the lineup that also included brothers Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh and Gerald and Bob Casale. Shortly thereafter, the band recorded its debut, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, containing classics such as Uncontrollable Urge, Mongoloid and the soon-to-be-infamous version of the Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. The song, which had already been covered by a host of diverse artists including Manfred Mann and Otis Redding, was deconstructed by Devo, and Mr. Myers’ unusual intro, a jerky sequence of snare/tom/ride cymbal/bell/hi-hat/kick drum, turned its familiar rock rhythm inside out.
The band’s early albums gained much of their punk and rock ’n’ roll energy from Mr. Myers, even on weird, decidedly un-punk songs such as the fractured 7/8 rhythm of Jocko Homo, the start-stop groove of Blockhead, the steady head-nod-inducing grooves of Freedom of Choice, or the punk power and machine-gun fills driving Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin’).
Devo’s greatest hit, Whip It, reached No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1980.
Departure from band
Mr. Myers left Devo and the rock lifestyle in 1986 as the band’s use of drum machines heightened, leaving him with less to contribute musically. He became an electrician in Los Angeles and played drums in Babooshka, improvisational band Skyline Electric with his wife, Cristina, and the avant ensemble Swahili Blonde with his daughter, Laena Geronimo.
Mr. Myers’ childhood friend, horn player Ralph Carney — who recorded and performed with Tom Waits and is the uncle of lifelong Devo fan Pat Carney of the Black Keys — played with Mr. Myers in garages and for a few gigs in the band Jazz Death when both were teenagers (Mr. Myers was a year older) in West Akron in the early 1970s, and they were co-workers at Disc Records at Summit Mall. The two musicians remained friendly throughout their lives, talking occasionally.
“We continued to play music together until he said, ‘Hey, I’m starting to play with this band called De-Voh,’ and I didn’t see much of him after that,” Carney said laughing.
Devo’s dominating visual elements and high concept purposely didn’t highlight the players’ individual skills, but Carney said Mr. Myers was a drummer’s drummer, a musician who is appreciated by fellow musicians.
Praise from colleagues
Mr. Myers’ death brought tweets and praise from the music world.
Patrick Carney tweeted: “Rest in Peace Alan Meyers. One of the most creative and influential drummers of the last forty years.”
Gerald Casale tweeted several times, saying: “In praise of Alan Myers, the most incredible drummer I had the privilege to play with for 10 years. Losing him was like losing an arm. RIP!!.”
He expanded a few minutes later: “RE: Alan Myers. I begged him not to quit Devo. He could not tolerate being replaced by the Fairlight and autocratic machine music. I agreed.”
Casale told the Associated Press on Wednesday that without Mr. Myers, Devo never would have reached the heights it did, calling him the best drummer he has ever played with.
“We were mostly in basements and garages writing songs. It was Alan that brought everything to life,” Casale said. “That was the catalyst where everything clicked.”
He added, “People watching him thought we were using a drum machine. Nobody had ever drummed like that.”
Casale described playing with Mr. Myers for the first time in 1976. After their first session ended, Casale turned around to see the drummer standing on one leg with his eyes closed, practicing the meditative Chinese martial art of tai chi.
“I thought, ‘Man, this guy really is Devo. He fits right in,’ ” Casale said. “Some bands would be doing drugs and drinking. Alan would find quiet places backstage and do a full session of tai chi.”
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3758.