Online Drum Lessons

Drum Cover – “Jacob’s Ladder” by Rush, Exit… Stage Left

by Omar on September 24, 2010

in drum cover

Welcome to another drum cover edition of The Paradiddler! This time we'll be analyzing my cover of one of my favorite Rush songs, "Jacob's Ladder".

I became a fan of Rush during the Moving Pictures era, as many of their current fans did. Soon after that studio release, Exit... Stage Left (ESL) came out (1981), and I was permanently hooked. I loved how these three guys could produce so much music. I also loved how they absolutely toyed with the beat of the songs, always seeming to play ahead, right on, or behind the beat - and in unison!

One of my favorite tracks was "Jacob's Ladder". It has four 'movements' of varying speeds and moods, starting off foreboding, and then ending triumphantly. In this live version, there's an additional old ballad-type intro, which is not found in the studio release (Permanent Waves, 1980).

And speaking of the studio release, it was inevitable that eventually I would want to hear it. So I did, but to me the live version is significantly better. The live version seems much smoother, and more adeptly fills the musical space. So when the time came to cover the song (as in now), the choice was obvious.

However, recording this cover was a nightmare. For all my covers up until this point, I've decided to record the whole performance in one take. It just seems like a more genuine, organic performance recording it that way. I never minded so much leaving a few errors in, since I could use these as teaching points.

But recall that I mentioned that the guys were 'breathing the beats', as it were, playing behind, spot on, and in front of the beat throughout the whole show. This was very evident on this song as well, and it gave me fits! I lost count of how many times I re-recorded myself playing this song. And the song is over eight and a half minutes long! Many times it sounded like there were two drummers, and that is very distracting.

To change things up, I played to the song on the CD instead of the mp3 player. After finishing that recording, I was feeling pretty confident that I nailed it. I then went to Windows Movie Maker to sync the video with the mp3 on the computer. Much to my chagrin, I was playing faster than the mp3! The CD player was playing at an ever-so-slightly faster speed than the mp3, so right from the get go, I was already playing too fast. Of course, I didn't notice the speed increase because the 'key' of the song did not change. I was about to do a Keith Moon on my drums when I settled down, and decided to record myself another day.

Eventually, I settled on a recording that I could live with. Like I mentioned in "A Perspective On Drum Covers", I look at it as how the drummer would play the song on any given night on a tour. No two nights are played exactly the same, but they all turn out pretty good!

I again had a few timing issues on this recording, but they were brief. I added the video effects to break up the monotony of the single camera angle.

As an aside, in the article "The Paradiddler’s Wish List for Rush’s Next Tour", I listed "Jacob's Ladder" as a song they should bring back. This was before I knew what the format would be for their present tour. And although Alex Lifeson mentioned that this song was a strong possibility to be included in the tour, it wasn't, possibly due to time constraints. Maybe next tour? One can hope!

In any case, please feel free to leave your comments below regarding my playing, yeah or nay, or anything else regarding the recording as a whole. Till next time, enjoy!

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert June 10, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Hello, again. Another question, please. When you play this song, are you counting in your head throughout…or do you do it by feel?



Omar June 11, 2012 at 1:44 am

Hi Robert.

I’d heard this song for so many years, that when I finally sat down to play it I didn’t really need to count; I play it almost exclusively by feel.

In fact, most of what I play is by feel more than by counting, although at times I’ll count, if I think it will help me during certain parts of the song.

Do what works best for you though! And please, as many questions as you want! 🙂


Robert May 31, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Thank you very much for your advice. I practiced single stroke rolls during my lunch break yesterday & today. I used to practice that roll when I was taking lessons but never seemed to gain much speed. I’ll continue focusing on just this rudiment on the pad and try to remain as relaxed as possible.

I’m supposed to be able to play Jacob’s Ladder in about 2 weeks. My friends know I’m inexperienced and just tell me to do my best & what I can but this is a real challenge. Did you study sheet music or a tab or just use youtube & your ears? I like how you did the bell/ chimes effects using just cymbals.

By the way, new essay by Peart at his website today.


Omar May 31, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Hi Robert.

You’re very welcome! And good luck with your gig – I hope it goes well. And if you’re going to practice one rudiment, the single stroke roll is the one.

I haven’t studied sheet music or tabs, although I’ll look at them on occasion to verify what I’m hearing. I’ve learned by eye and ear almost exclusively, which is not to say that the other forms of learning are not as valuable – they certainly are! I just happen to trust my ears a lot. 🙂

And for those interested, the article Robert is referencing is called “Where Words Fail, Music Speaks” – it is excellent.


Robert May 28, 2012 at 9:22 pm

It was a good surprise when I was looking up drumming videos for Jacob’s Ladder and saw that you had done a cover of it. I’ve been checking out your site now & then for over a year now and enjoy it.
A friend, who plays bass, has asked me to learn Jacob’s Ladder on the drums. Since I’m a Rush fan, I’ve been familiar with that song for a long time. The problem is I’ve only started learning to play drums over the past couple of years and with all the time constraints of 3 kids, family, job, other responsibilities, etc, it’s been tough making time to practice. Advancement has been pretty slow. But I don’t want to let my buddy down.
Anyway, my questions are: how did you pick up speed with rolls? (for example: the ones on the snare at the beginning)
And…how do you make time to practice adequately? Dude, you’re even maintaining a web site with interviews & covers!
Thanks and keep up the cool work.


Omar May 29, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Hi Robert.

Thanks for the very kind words! Most appreciated.

I can empathize with your situation. Time is definitely at a premium, with a whole host of activities vying for it. But within this short space I will recommend a few things:

1. Get yourself a practice pad (does not have to be expensive). You’ll need it to practice your single stroke rolls (unless your family and neighbors don’t mind the noise 🙂 )

2. If you can spend even 10 or 15 minutes a day, sit at the practice pad and just practice single stroke rolls – and nothing else. Try to play them as evenly as possible, and as fast as you can without getting sore too soon. If you tense up, just slow down. Be as relaxed as possible

3. Practice “Jacob’s Ladder” – a lot. That’s a drum lesson in and of itself, and it’s more fun that actual drum lessons.

That should at least get you through “Jacob’s Ladder”, although you didn’t say by when you need to know the song.

And as far as practice, I don’t practice nearly as much as I should. 🙂

Hopefully we can see the final result!


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