Don’t let the title fool you; I guess I really never left 🙂 As usual, I’m way overdue and there’s just too much stuff to tell you about, so I’m going to start with some very cool recent activities, and work backwards in future blogs.
But first a brief update: You might know that I began Representing three of my very close drummer friends, Steve Gadd, Peter Erskine and Rick Marotta, this past spring. And you may or may not know that I have been consulting for a company in the Percussion Industry for about a year. I only mention this because many of my friends in the business said that I couldn’t “retire” and, well, I guess they were right! Though I still refuse to admit that I’m back to work… at least not the way it used to be. I don’t ever see myself returning to the corporate world and working in an office. When people ask if I’m staying busy with my little venture “Viper Representation” my answer is, “I’m as busy as I want to be” unless it’s a beautiful, sunny, summer day, at which point my answer is, “I’m busier than I want to be.”
I’ll come back to how Viper Representation came to be in a future blog. Obviously it involves Steve Gadd, since I represent him, and he was the catalyst in, to quote Michael Corleone, “Pulling me back in” and as you can imagine, there’s a funny story that goes with it. But it’s an honor to be working with Steve, Peter and Rick who are three of my best friends and biggest drumming influences. Not to mention truly legendary musicians. We have a long history together and our relationships continue.
But one of the more recent very cool developments has been me finally getting off my ass and getting serious about playing the drums again. I’ve been dabbling here and there on my drums since leaving Zildjian in 2013, but it was my old friend Neil Porter asking me to play with his band “Grand Theft Audio” that was the push I needed. I’ve known Neil for 40 years and he was a friend of the guys in my first professional band “Trigger” that I joined when I was 14 in 1975. Neil didn’t play an instrument back then, but came to all our rehearsals and gigs and helped move our equipment. He was a roadie! Well years after Trigger, Neil took up the guitar and singing and formed “Grand Theft Audio” with another old friend and guitarist, Paul Gianelli, who I played with in several bands (“Voyager” and “The Features”) over the course of 10 or so years, and another guitarist/bass player named Paul Candilore. They’re all great guys and musicians and do quite a few gigs. Anyway, Neil said they had a gig in a month or so and needed a drummer and could I do it?
Part of me was like, “Yeah, I’m in!” and another part of me was scared shitless! Neil assured me I could handle the material and after he emailed me the set list, I was like, “I think I can do this.” The funny thing is: they’re all old rock tunes that I grew up listening to and for the most part are simple to play, but there was just one problem: I was seriously rusty! I had sat-in with my friend Bob DeLorenzo’s band “Larry’s Closet” for two Rolling Stones songs back in June and had begun playing more to get my hands in shape, but this gig was over 40 songs, an entire night’s worth of music. I didn’t want to let the guys down and most of all, I didn’t want to suck.
It’s funny how you hear a song and in your head, you can easily execute the drum parts… but when you actually sit down behind the drums your hands say, “Ah, not so fast buddy.” This happened a lot. And I kept thinking I could find a quick and easy shortcut to getting my time/feel better, my hands in shape, and my playing back to somewhere remotely close to where I was 20 years ago. I wanted it to happen overnight, but guess what kids: there are no shortcuts. At least not for me. So I started playing my drums for two plus hours a day, every day and little by little I saw and heard results. I had a lot of encouragement along the way from my father in-law (Vic Firth), Charlie Watts, Steve Gadd, Peter Erskine, Rick Marotta, Kenny Aronoff, Gavin Harrison, Gregg Bissonette, Stan Lynch, Danny Seraphine, Myron Grombacher, Russ Miller, and a whole bunch of drummers I listen to for inspiration. I told Charlie in a phone call that I was having a hard time with the feel of “Paint It Black” (where he rides the tom tom during the verse) and he laughed and said, “You can play that – it’s very easy. Just don’t play it too fast.” Sage advice from my friend and hero. And he’s right! And when I told Vic about my upcoming gig, he said with a smile, “Are you getting paid?” My answer was, “I don’t know” and we both laughed!
I also went to see a few of my drummer pals in the weeks before the gig, so that gave me more inspiration. Keith Carlock came through Boston with Steely Dan in September, which is always a lesson. And a week or so later, King Crimson came through town with the triple drummer assault of Gavin Harrison, Pat Mastelotto and Bill Rieflin. Truly amazing and very inspiring. The band had a night off before the first show, so Gavin and I had a nice, relaxing, dinner and talked about drums and life. Gavin is a phenomenal drummer and it was great see Pat Mastelotto, who I met in 1985 while working for Simmons Drums, and also great to meet and talk with Bill Rieflin. My old friend Russ Miller was in town visiting Vic Firth, so he came to the King Crimson show too. It was a total drummer hang!
The Grand Theft Audio gig was set for Friday, October 3rd. I had also been invited by my pal Nate Morrison, owner of the Drum Shop North Shore in Beverly, Mass to do a clinic for their “Wednesday Drum Hang”, which they do the first Wednesday of each month. I had agreed to do the October 1st Drum Hang several months ago, after I went to Danny Seraphine’s clinic there. A little more about Nate and the Drum Shop North Shore. It’s a fantastic place that’s reminiscent of the drum shops we (well, those of us who’ve been around for a minute) remember as kids. The vibe is great and they do these events and drum clinics to promote drumming and the drum community and it works! So with our one and only GTA rehearsal on Tuesday, my clinic on Wednesday and the GTA gig on Friday, it made for a busy, but productive and very fun week. I was honored to have my friend and drumming legend, Dave Mattacks, in the audience at the clinic. It was great to see many old friends that I’ve known over 30 years, from my days at EU Wurlitzer. On my drive to the clinic I received a call from Steve Gadd, who was in England with James Taylor and he knew about the clinic and upcoming gig, so he said, “Give me a call if you need any help tonight.” So of course I called him and put him on speaker phone and he had the audience laughing!
I had a great time doing Drum Hang and appreciate Nate inviting me. Of course there were a whole bunch of things I wanted to cover, but couldn’t due to the time and me talking too much. I hope to do it again sometime.
Then came the the gig on Friday night and I felt good and ready for it. The guys in the band made me feel at ease immediately. It was a private party, so we were the entertainment and background music, but the people really seemed to dig it. I had a blast playing again. Loading my drums into my car, then setting them up, brought back so many great memories. This was the first time I played my ’74 Gretsch kit out on a gig. I bought the kit in 2005 to replicate the kit my Dad bought me in 1974, that I stupidly sold in the 80s. They were originally covered in a Gold wrap and my friends at Gretsch Drums (Paul Cooper and Fred and Dinah Gretsch), were kind enough to recover them in Midnight Blue Pearl to make it an exact replica of the kit my Dad bought me. I kept them in my office at Zildjian until I left in 2013, then here at my house. They sounded fabulous at the gig! I use all vintage hardware and a mixture of mostly old cymbals. Playing drums and doing gigs is what led me down the path of working in the drum industry for the past 30 years and it felt great to be back home, where it all started for me. Anyone who’s played a gig knows what I’m talking about… there’s really nothing else like it.
And best of all, my son John Jr, two brothers Chris and Matthew, and best childhood friend, Mike Mahoney, (who gave me my first snare drum in 1972 and a big part of why I became a drummer) were all there to watch and support us. It was especially cool to look out there and see my son, a great drummer himself, in the audience giving me the “thumbs up.” Sidebar: I did indeed get paid for the gig! Vic was very happy to hear this 🙂
Here are few pics from my “comeback gig” with Grand Theft Audio…
So now that I’ve been re-bitten by the drumming bug, I’m “all in” and feel the same love and enthusiasm I felt as a kid. Next month I’ll be attending PASIC (Percussive Arts Society International Convention) which I’ve been going to for 30 years, but this time I’ll be attending it (for the most part) as a “civilian” much like I did at NAMM back in January. I have a few Viper Representation meetings scheduled, but will otherwise be there to enjoy three days of great drumming, the drum community and connecting with my Industry friends.
And looking ahead to 2015, there’s serious talk between me and my former “Trigger and “Voyager” bandmates Mike McKee, Frank Hussar, Paul Bencal and Paul Gianelli to do a reunion gig, with the addition of Neil Porter and Paul Candilore. Now that will be a blast! So stay tuned!
Hope you enjoyed and thanks for reading! See you soon!