I didn’t know Bobby well, but in my career I’ve come across a great many of his pupils over the years, and to a man these guys really could play. I bumped into him at Zildjian Artists days, and also at trade shows. To be honest, because of his reputation I was always concerned I’d be found out because for many years Bob was the drum teacher, and I’d never had a drum lesson. We spoke on the subject once and I was surprised he knew me but he said he’d been watching me.
We always promised we’d sit down for a cup of tea one day away from drums and drummers but we never did.
As I said Bob’s reputation precedes him and I’m hard pushed to find a successful drummer who didn’t go to him for at least a few lessons. I’m told by everyone he wasn’t the sort of teacher who started the metronome and then slipped out to wash the car!
His first professional gig was in a summer season in great Yarmouth when he was fifteen and after that he never looked back.
On thinking about it, Bobby Armstrong seems to have played every sort of gig that a drummer could. Here’s a list of artists so that you can get the flavour of what he was doing. He was probably with Roy Castle for the longest time, which was eleven years when the gig ended abruptly with Roy’s untimely death from lung cancer due to the passive-smoking which all musicians of the era were forced to endure. He was nothing if not versatile because besides comedians and specialty acts like Mike Yarwood, Bruce Forsyth, Rolf Harris, Cannon and Ball, Morcambe and Wise, Joe Longthorn, French and Saunders, and Victoria Wood, he also somehow found time to back Tom Jones, Cilla Black, The Three Degrees and The Four tops. He was also doing jingles, sessions for TV and Radio, along with the ‘BBC Radio Big Band’ and ‘The BBC Radio Orchestra’.
Because of his ability to sight-read complicated drum parts he was in demand for West-End shows like Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, Starlight Express, Mutiny, La Cage Aux Folles, Singing In The Rain and The Wiz.
It was in the midst of all this activity that he began to teach drums. His students are out there making waves as we speak. These guys need no introduction so here’s a short list: Stevie White, Andrew Small, Alan White, Andy Gangadeen, Chris Dagley, Guy Richmond, Ian Thomas, Pete Riley, Bradley Webb and Darren Altman. I know Bob was immensely proud of these guys.
RIP Bob Armstrong
Bob Armstrong RIP
We all awoke this morning to hear that drum teacher Bob Armstrong has passed away. But to call Bob a drum teacher is like calling the Atlantic a puddle – he was so much more to so many.
Bob’s list of students, past and present, includes so many names, and I feel privileged to say that Bob was my teacher for 5+ years, but his influence has and will remain with me forever, as I’m sure it will for countless others.
Bob had been ‘the guy to see’ in London for many, many years, before I first heard his name, mentioned in hushed tones, while I was at college. I was petrified before first meeting him, but he put me at (semi) ease by saying to me “Simon, don’t put anyone on a pedestal – we all fart in bed and shit in the morning”.
But like I said, Bob was much more than ‘just’ a teacher. Judging by the social media comments this morning, Bob was also a massive mentor of sorts, not taking any rubbish from anyone, and straightening out many lives and opinions, whether he meant to or not. He was also a great friend to all the thousands (literally) of students he saw over the decades, and he always had time to say hello.
How many students walked out of their first lesson with a 5A and came back the next week with an SD9? Hard to say. How many students still think of the phrases ‘Salt Peanut’ or ‘Yeah, Yeah, Shit, Yeah’ in a new way? Many I’m sure.
Bob was also an expert in making one not take things too seriously. He was an expert in ‘taking the Mick’ (but he used different words) and he would constantly remind me about falling backwards out of his studio when I was a young, nervous drummer seeing him for the first time. To be honest I’d feel slightly upset if he didn’t remind me whenever our paths crossed.
Lessons were unlike anything I had ever experienced. His experience just seemed to be transferred via some weird osmosis – every lesson I came out of every lesson being able to almost see the physical progression I’d made from an hour earlier, almost like lightning coming from my hands and feet. I have never been so fired up as I was every time I came out of his lessons.
Another thing which always amazed me was how Bob would continue conversations that we’d had at the previous lesson, two weeks before, as though no time had passed. Whether he was a meticulous note-taker or just had a phenomenal memory I never found out. I suspect the latter though…
While I had lessons (at that time in his studio in the garden in Hornchurch) Bob decided to learn tabla and bodhran as ‘a hobby’. Needless to say, in no time at all he was being asked to give lessons to other players (which he wasn’t keen on doing as it wasn’t ‘his thing’!), and he did some sessions on these ‘hobby’ instruments as well. It just sums ups Bob’s brain – he just ‘got it’ as far as drums and percussion were concerned – that he could go from beginner (his word) to expert (my word) in what seemed like a few weeks.
Bob’s legacy is massive. There are, as I previously mentioned, thousands of drummers now who have the ability, technique, poise (my wife can spot a ‘Bob’ drummer instantly) and awareness now thanks to his ability to pass on his immense knowledge.
I have said many times that there is no one on planet earth who I respect more in the musical field, and I stand by this. Bob will always be on a pedestal, one I’m sure he’d hate to be on, but I’m sure he’s very proud of the differences he’s made to all our lives.
There is a big Bob shaped hole in many thousands of drummers now.
Bob Armstrong was simply an incredible man. It’s been amazing to read the numerous tributes from countless people who like myself considered Bob to have been such a massive influence in our lives.
It’s also great that we all seem to have celebrated his brilliance as both a teacher and a human being while he was here with us and not just now that he’s gone.
I’m immensely proud to have known him and grateful that so many others share my sadness at his passing simply because they also were fortunate enough to experience his integrity, his generosity, his wisdom and his unique ability to draw the very best out of all of us.
RIP Bob, I will miss you dearly
I remember going to Bob when I first moved into London, and not only did he help me with my playing but he also helped with the mental struggles as a new boy in London.
A good teacher is somebody who can connect with a student quickly and find how to reach their goals and Bob was that teacher. I still use all the mambo patters he showed me and I am proud to say that I kept in contact with Bob and had many a laughs at various events.
Thank you Bob for leaving so many great drummers behind. Your legacy will be with us all
Very sad to hear that my teacher and good friend passed away today. Bob changed my life and I will never forget that. I will miss him dearly and always cherish the special moments we had together.
I met this young kid at a TV station in Germany, in 1984, playing with Paul Weller, wide eyed and bushy tailed, brimming with enthusiasm, and we became fast friends. His name was Steve White.
Soon, as we delved deep into our drumming philosophies, the name Bob Armstrong came up, along with this strange word I’d never heard: Moeller! Steve explained, and demonstrated, the ideas behind this approach to drumming, which he was making his own, but I was self taught and, in that moment, wasn’t going to be shaken from my self-diagnosed path by some seemingly esoteric doctrine.
I watched Steve blossom (he was 19 when we met), and kind of pretended not to be too interested in what Bob had to offer, but secretly stole everything Steve showed me and practiced up strokes, down strokes, tap strokes, especially within paradiddles, constantly, all the while proclaiming how self-taught I was.
But there were questions unanswered, and I knew, as my 20’s came to their inevitable end, that I probably wouldn’t find the answers on my own.
So I made my way to see Bob. I’d left Level 42 by this time and was wondering if I even wanted to be a drummer. We, initially, had some great discussions about music and some purely technical matters, but when it came to following any kind of methodology that he could impart, it was he asking the questions, not I. This is what most impressed me about Bob. He wasn’t looking to mould me, like some clay figure, into his vision of what he thought I should be. He was looking to understand who I was and how he could be of help. He saw that I had a thing and encouraged me to develop it further. I wasn’t like a golfer who needed to rebuild his swing, but I had a few technical flaws which he helped me with and what he gave me in those few meetings was invaluable, and helped to open new doors musically as well as stave off injuries I may have had if I’d have continued as I had been doing.
This, to my eyes, is the hallmark of great teacher. To be somehow the font of all knowledge, to allow the student access to a whole world of music, and yet to still be able to see the unique spark in an individual and not blow it out with rigid ideas or a fixed ‘my way or the highway’ kind of thinking. His only concern was that you succeeded at fulfilling your own potential.
So sorry to see you go Bob. But rest assured your legacy will live on in all the players you taught and nurtured along the way.