Drummers get no love, hunkered down behind the kit while the guitar and vocal frontline gets the glory.
That’s just fine with Liam Hogg, who’s been pounding the skins for local bands for over 35 years — nearly 25 of them with Earth Junior performing new wave covers and 15 years with the Rip-It-Ups, an Outer Cape institution. For the last dozen years, Hogg has provided a steady rockabilly beat for Sarah Swain and the Oh Boys.
Over coffee one crisp morning, Hogg looks like any number of locals pouring a cup of Contractors Blend. With his goatee, baseball cap, hoodie, and blue jeans, Hogg appears to be the carpenter he is 10 months of the year. He saves the summer for a heavy schedule of gigs.
Raised in Eastham, Hogg now lives in Harwich with his partner and two dogs. He took trumpet lessons as a kid (“Didn’t like that!”) before a friend introduced him to drumming in the sixth grade.
“I tried it, and I was hooked!” says Hogg, adding, with a laugh, “It was a lot easier than trumpet.”
Hogg just turned 50, and after drumming for nearly 40 years he is now a well-oiled machine, an effortless timekeeper who maintains an easy swing that’s deep in the pocket, not flashy — in the canon of Charlie Watts and Ringo Starr.
While he loves the showmanship of Gene Krupa (“My guy!”) or the drive of jazz great Philly Joe Jones, Hogg adheres to a less-is-more aesthetic. “I don’t like drum solos,” he says. “People try to get me to do them and I’m like, ‘Nah!’ ”
Hogg began getting more serious about drumming in high school. “I was kind of a metalhead,” he says. “My first concert was Iron Maiden.” Things changed when he joined Philthshack, a local punk band in the early ’90s. It was just the beginning of Hogg’s involvement with a succession of bands all over the Cape and beyond, including Overnight Sensation, Aaron Spade of the Incredible Casuals, Randy and the Oak Trees, the Spampinato Brothers, the Cyclones, Sensible Shoes, Sugarbucket, and the Lustre Kings.
His enthusiasm for rockabilly has been steady ever since he was introduced to the Reverend Horton Heat years ago and learned from NRBQ’s Tom Ardolino to play the side of the snare drum with a stick to mimic the slap of a rockabilly bass.
“That’s when I went all in with rockabilly — old rock ’n’ roll songs,” says Hogg. “That’s the kind of stuff I really listen to now.” He admits, however, that he is going to see Iron Maiden when they come through in October.
Hogg’s spare four-piece drum kit supports the rockabilly music that he plays. “It’s getting smaller and smaller as I get older,” he says of his kit. “When you get older, you’re like, ‘Hey, I don’t need all that stuff.’ Plus, I don’t have a roadie.” He has even fashioned a portable drum kit to fit inside a suitcase.
Hogg talks casually about the time he went on tour backing “Queen of Rockabilly” Wanda Jackson, including a gig at the Montreal Jazz Festival; or when, alongside bass legend Joey Spampinato, he provided the rhythm section for Steve Earle’s band at the Cotuit Center for the Arts in 2016.
Hogg’s matter-of-factness reflects his adaptability and instinct for the type of sound needed. “It depends on the band,” he says. “You figure out who’s driving the bus, then you walk into that place.”
Speaking of the almost psychic connection that has formed over time between him and upright bassist Ron Siegel of Sarah Swain and the Oh Boys, Hogg says, “Still, to this day, we know exactly what each other’s thinking. Stops will happen spontaneously. We’re basically sharing a brain when we’re playing together.”
What a lot of people don’t know is that Hogg is also a great singer, effortlessly harmonizing or taking a solo with the same composure that he puts into drumming — back straight, eyes bright, smile wide.
“His range is just ridiculous,” says Sarah Swain. “It’s really like a gift. He can also do impersonations like nobody I’ve ever meet in my life! He can do people and movie actors. It’s uncanny. He can do anything with his voice.”
“I’d do it more if I could,” says Hogg of his singing. “It used to be harder. Now it’s like walking and chewing gum. But I’m not a front guy. Leave me in the back.
“I’m not a very good drummer, to be honest, but I know my place,” Hogg contends. “I’m not a technical drummer. I don’t know all the rudiments. I just know how to do what I do.” Hogg’s advice: “Keep it simple.”