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Jimmy Sullivan (The Rev) Was A Drumming Genius: Here’s Why

Brandon Toews  /  Mar 25, 2024

Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan. Those who knew him loved him, and those who didn’t admired him.

The original drummer and founding member of Avenged Sevenfold has become an iconic figure in rock and metal with his skills, creativity, and huge personality.

Though he passed away far too soon at just 28 years old, his drumming continues to make a massive impact – and he’s quickly become a legend in his own right.

Here’s why The Rev is still one of the greatest modern metal drummers.

Who was The Rev?

Jimmy Sullivan, known to fans as “The Rev” (short for “The Reverend Tholomew Plague”) grew up in California with parents who encouraged him to play piano and drums at a young age. He eventually started drum lessons at age 10 on a toy drum set from Sears, getting a proper kit a year later.

By the time Jimmy formed Avenged Sevenfold with his schoolmates in 1999, M. Shadows and Zacky Vengeance, he’d already cut his teeth in other groups, playing in various other bands and projects throughout high school and joining the percussion ensemble at Harbor College in LA.

He had a huge personality, and according to those closest to him, was “everyone’s best friend”. A larger-than-life figure who used to wear kimonos and sport wild hair, The Rev has become a bit of a holy character in the book of modern metal.

Who were The Rev’s biggest influences?

Early in his drumming journey, Jimmy was interested in breaking down his favorite songs and started transcribing Pantera and Slayer, moving on to Dream Theater and Rush, then expanding into funk with Dave Weckl and Terry Bozzio pieces.

Also a Zappa fan, his diverse interests helped shape who he was as a musician, helping him build what would become a unique style in the heavy music genre.

When The Rev passed away in 2009, his band asked one of his drumming heroes, Mike Portnoy, to help record the remaining drum parts on their fifth album Nightmare, which they released in 2010. By refining the demos The Rev had recorded before he died, Portnoy was able to stay true to the original vision.

The Rev’s signature style

With such a range of musical tastes, it’s no wonder he took an atypical approach to writing metal drum parts.

Influenced by punk music in his early years, he’d often incorporate skank beats in sections where a meat-and-potatoes metal drummer might make a less “bouncy” style choice. But it’s this type of punk beat that gave Avenged Sevenfold songs a unique flair and set them apart from their genre-mates.

Check out the bridge in “Bat Country” – it’s a drummy part with rudiment-based fills, double bass and thrashy grooves, but with that bouncy punk beat at the end:

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“Bat Country” by Avenged Sevenfold

Like most rock and metal drummers, The Rev was a master of single strokes – but he’d add other rudiments, like drags, to give parts more flair. Here’s the intro of “Chapter Four”:

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“Chapter Four” by Avenged Sevenfold

And then there’s his hand-to-foot combos, which you can hear throughout Avenged Sevenfold’s discography, like in the bridge of “Unbound (The Wild Ride)” or the intro from “Remenissions”:

The “Remenissions” bridge (1:57) also features an intricate ride bell pattern with a two handed hi-hat groove at a blazing tempo. The verse of “Almost Easy” also features double bell flourishes, which has become a Rev trademark.

Avenged Sevenfold’s current drummer Brooks Wackerman acknowledges it too: “Whenever I’m doing double rides, it’s an homage to him.”

While he had his own distinguishable style, The Rev was still full of surprises. For example, the hi-hat part in the verse of “Brompton Cocktail” has a hip-hop vibe:

And there are some nods to classic rock in his drumming, whether intended or not. This fill from “Blinded In Chains” sounds a bit like Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher“:

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“Blinded In Chains” by Avenged Sevenfold

And the kick doubles in “Scream” are undeniably Bonham-esque:

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The verse of “Scream” by Avenged Sevenfold

If you’ve ever seen video footage of The Rev – or saw him live during his career – you can see how Tommy Lee influenced his showmanship. He loved the visual component of performing, twirling drumsticks, doing crossovers, and making huge motions while crashing.

Not every excellent writer or musician emphasizes the performance element, and vice versa. But The Rev did both, and a high level.

Jimmy Sullivan, double bass beast

Power and finesse: a rare combo for metal drummers. Most tend to lean one way or another, but The Rev was an exception, especially with his feet.

Here’s a live video of “Critical Acclaim” – a slower song for double bass, but a powerful groove nonetheless:

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“Critical Acclaim” by Avenged Sevenfold

You can also see how he moves seamlessly between kick patterns in “Almost Easy”, adding bursts of 16th notes to spice up an otherwise straight forward groove:

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A hallmark of metalcore and djent, the verse of “Unholy Confessions” features syncopated kick patterns that perfectly complement the guitar chugs. The bridge switches things up with a flurry of 16th notes, 16th note triplets and 8th notes:

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And then there’s “Beast And The Harlot”, a rite of passage for any aspiring double bass drummer. It features a killer drum solo that builds perfectly, showcasing rapid fire footwork and hand-to-foot combos:

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“Beast & The Harlot” by Avenged Sevenfold
Screenshot 2024 03 25 205835
Learn how to play like The Rev with Avenged Sevenfold transcriptions, drumless tracks and practice tools in the Drumeo members area.

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The Rev sang and wrote with Avenged Sevenfold

He wasn’t just a drummer, but a total creative force. The Rev was able to pull off demanding drum parts and vocal runs simultaneously. You can hear him take on lead vocals on multiple tracks, including the chorus of “Critical Acclaim”:

…and backed up lead vocalist M. Shadows with additional vocal parts on “Seize The Day”, “Afterlife” and “A Little Piece Of Heaven.”

A skilled pianist as well, you can hear The Rev’s melodies in songs like “I Won’t See You Tonight Part 1”:

Or the intro of “Warmness On The Soul”:

An integral part of Avenged Sevenfold’s songwriting machine, The Rev wrote melodies and arrangements for entire tracks. “Almost Easy,” “Critical Acclaim”, “Afterlife”, and smash hit “Bat Country” contain anthemic pop elements but take on a somber tone:

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“Afterlife” by Avenged Sevenfold

The verse of “I Won’t See You Tonight Part 2” has a memorable djenty, syncopated double bass groove in 7:

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While not every band lets their drummer go off the rails, The Rev loved to include drum breaks and mini drum solos, which you can hear plenty of in “Darkness Surrounding”:

He was an accomplished player at a deceptively young age. Even though he’d never recorded to a click track before, he recorded the drums for their first album, Sounding The Seventh Trumpet in one take (at the age of 19, no less).

Not content with just one band, he launched a side project in 2001 with Avenged’s lead guitarist Synyster Gates. It was called Pinkly Smooth and featured The Rev on drums, piano, and lead vocals.

Check out “Mezmer” that features a King Crimson-esque groove:

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“Mezmer” by Pinkly Smooth

While Pinkly Smooth was The Rev’s outlet to do something different, his flair for the theatrical – influenced partly by Danny Elfman – still made its way into some Avenged Sevenfold tracks, like “A Little Piece Of Heaven”, which he wrote in its entirety.

The Rev wrote over 60% of the album Nightmare, but he tragically never got to record it.

Complemented by a haunting piano line, “Fiction” showcases The Rev’s vocals – salvaged from the demos he recorded prior to his death. It’s the last song he wrote for the album, handed in three days before he passed.

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“Fiction” by Avenged Sevenfold

A creative and unusual character, Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan was a beloved bandmate and friend whose impact on the rock and metal world is undeniable.

Countless drum covers pay homage to his iconic drum parts:

A trailblazer, he inspired drummers to pull ideas from outside of rock and lived each day like an adventure.

Gone too soon, but never forgotten.

A final song, a last request
A perfect chapter laid to rest
Now and then I try to find
A place in my mind
Where you can stay
You can stay away forever

Brandon Toews is an author, educator, and performer based out of Vancouver, Canada. Brandon is the author of The Drummer's Toolbox, co-author of The Best Beginner Drum Book, and the Content Director at Musora, home to the award-winning online music education platforms Drumeo, Pianote, Guitareo and Singeo.

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