By Scott Sobol
You could be forgiven for not taking Bobby Rock seriously based on his image, but especially if your first exposure to him is the cover of his new book, “The Boy Is Gonna Rock.” It is every hair-metal cliché frozen in time, and sadly it might keep a lot of people from picking it up and finding out that the man is way more than a pretty face and a head of ’80’s mousee’d hair. Ironically, Bobby is pretty much the antithesis of that image – educated, humble, articulate, well-read, and well spoken. He eschewed the metal lifestyle before his career even took off, and in place of drugs, drink and notches on his belt, put in a herculean practice routine, exercise, diet and spiritual pursuits that have probably never before been attributed to someone with his image.
Coming to prominence, first as the drummer for the Vinnie Vincent Invasion in the late ’80s, Bobby quickly also established himself as an educator, doing over 900 drum clinics in the ’90s alone, and touring constantly. Never really being a metal-head, it was not until sometime in the 2000’s when a friend sent me a YouTube link to a solo performance called, “The Octopus,” that I realized I’d been blinded by the image and style of music and that I’d missed the huge talent beneath all the hair spray.
Bobby’s new book tells the story of the metal years from a professional (and sober) perspective and it’s a powerful reminder to never judge a book by its cover, literally as well as so much more. He’s left the stereotypical groupie conquest stories out and focused more on the day-to-day effort to be a professional musician who happens to be working in the metal world. When his colleagues were starting the after-show party, Bobby was usually finding a 24-hour gym or running a mini-marathon around the city he’d just played. When they were downing beers and blow, he was fixing a protein shake in his hotel room. If it sounds boring, it definitely is not, and the tales of navigating all that was happening to him and around him will make most musicians take serious notice, if they haven’t already.
There’s not a drummer alive that wouldn’t learn a thing or two by reading his story. A consummate pro in all realms, Bobby’s tale of his metal years is a powerful reminder that image is just that – an image – and that behind the clichés that the genre fostered and promoted there is a lot of blood, sweat, tears, hard work and dedication, the Spandex not withstanding…
SS: I really enjoyed your book (“The Boy Is Gonna Rock”), and truth be told, I could not put it down. I was knocked out that you weren’t even focused on rock and roll when your career began. You’d played rock music as a kid, but then went to Berklee and you were really only focused on jazz.
BR: Yes, that’s true. The earliest influences where I kind of took a left turn were in eleventh grade when a couple of things happened: first, Buddy Rich happened – watching him on “The Tonight Show.” I had a mentor, Mary Thompson, my high school band director, who I actually dedicated the book to. She gave me a copy of Rich In London, and we did the chart of “Dancing Men,” from that record; so I became a Buddy fan. And then there was Billy Cobham’s Spectrum and Return To Forever’s Romantic Warrior – those were the two big ones; so the jazz thing and the fusion thing started kicking in. By twelfth grade, I got into Tony Williams with Miles, and Elvin with Coltrane, so I kind of did a sharp left turn, went to Berklee and got into all that type of shit–Big Band, the classic be-bop stuff, and a lot of the fusion guys as well. I had a pretty good mixed bag with that, along with Latin. I had a great teacher at Berklee, Ed Kaspic, who turned me on to all the linear stuff, Latin stuff, four-way independence exercises, that whole world. So, I was completely submerged into that whole thing while I was there, thinking that I was going to wind up a kind of jazz or fusion guy, career-wise.
I was also really impressed by the fact that you got the party aspect of things out of your system as a young teenager, and actually did rehab at 13 and never returned to any kind of substance use. Pretty unique that you had the foresight at that age to believe rehab would have value for you.
Yeah, fortunately, I figured out early on that having an addictive personality—basically a compulsion to go over-the-top with everything—could be a blessing or a curse. If I continued down the path I was on, clearly, things were not going to end well. But, if I could figure out how to redirect all of that “addict” energy into things that were actually constructive to my life, like practicing, training, and reading, then I could parlay the “curse” into quite a blessing. And that’s exactly what happened.
I noticed that I had an unusual capacity to grind away for long hours in the practice room or the gym, being fueled by a similar sort of manic energy that I had when I used to smoke weed or drink bourbon. And the crazy thing is, even now, with over forty-two years of sobriety under my belt, that “inner addict” is still in there! Only now, I think he’s gotten the hint that he is only allowed to obsess over shit that is of benefit to the greater cause.
You were also already into working out when you got to L.A. and got into the metal world. I’m wondering if part of the appeal for you was the endorphin rush of playing much more high-energy, physical music than you’d have been doing if you stuck with jazz.
Actually, coming from a jazz-fusion world and coming back into hard rock, I began doing the typical club circuit thing, doing three or four sets a night, and it was exhilarating on the one hand but it was also exhausting. I’d cut my hands open, get blisters, all that. That’s what sent me looking to the weight training world. I knew I had to really up my game. I felt I needed to approach it like a professional prizefighter might. I knew I had to be in shape, I had to hit hard and be able to do that three or four sets a night. I felt like boxers, fighters were probably the closest to what we do – they hit fast, they hit hard, they hit for long periods of time. I looked at what these guys were doing to stay at that level of conditioning and of course weight training was a big part of it, so that got me into it. And once I had the symbiosis of those two things, gigging and weight training, I could really see the benefits of doing it. I just caught the bug and I’ve never missed a week of training since I started over 30 years ago. It’s been yet another thing for the “inner addict” to obsess over [laughs].
You cite Ian Paice and Tommy Aldridge as primary drumming inspirations as a kid. But your first “rock and roll awakening” was from seeing the front and back cover of Alice Cooper’s Killer album, and you became a huge fan of Alice. You then got to tour with him years later when you were on the first Vinnie Vincent Invasion tour.
It was surreal. To have a certain perception of somebody that’s been such an influence on you, who was like my first rock and roll idol, now all of a sudden you’re on the road with him. And as you know he’s one of the nicest guys ever, so that dichotomy of who he always was in your mind, and now you’re shaking his hand and he’s just a very normal, nice guy.
What you’re most known for, and the way you make much of your living, is as a hard rock and metal drummer. But you’ve really worked a lot of different stuff into your playing, even in that genre. Back when you did the Metalmorphosis instructional video, it was pretty groundbreaking for a guy in your position to be talking to drummers about linear patterns and funk but you found a way to make that seem like it fit in fine with hard rock drumming.
I’ve kind of come full circle back to it. Keep in mind that the mid-’80s to the early ’90s was the heyday of the hair-metal stuff. There was a six- or seven-year stretch where I was busy doing those things. With the Vinnie Vincent Invasion, Nelson, all that stuff. When everything shifted in the early ’90s with the whole Seattle thing and Nirvana, what we were doing kind of went out of vogue; things were shifting and bands were splitting up. I had been actively doing clinics since around ’86. Even when I was touring with Nelson I was doing that; getting in a van, hooking it up to a trailer full of gear and hitting the road. So, I kind of segued into that as a full-time thing throughout the ’90s, when my primary livelihood was as a sort of full time educator. On the road, sometimes doing a hundred-plus clinics a year, almost all of them on the ground. I eventually worked up to an RV pulling a trailer, with a two-man crew, and sometimes I’d have a band with me, a trio, so there’d be a three-man crew, I did that thing with Peavy in the mid-’90s, and it became like a cottage industry.
We all bring our experiences to the party, and it was during that time that what I found was that it was very natural to talk about some of the Berklee influences and some of the different styles, because my concept that I sort of developed was what I like to call a “melting pot approach” to playing. A samba, in an authentic, Tito Puente context isn’t going to have much value to somebody doing a drum solo in an arena, tit-for-tat, as is. However, if we can take maybe the ride cymbal part and maybe the left-hand part and do a double bass thing or mix and match; you know, rhythm is a very universal thing. I would think if somebody was seeing an Eddie Van Halen guitar clinic, and they wanted to learn rock guitar, and he was there playing Joe Pass chords, or some country stuff, there’d be less receptivity to it if they were just there to hear a rock guitar player. But with drumming I never saw that restriction. There’s something so universal about rhythm, that I could play almost anything–a Latin thing, a linear thing, a funk thing, some kind of crazy four-way independence thing–and no matter who was there they’d get something out of it and enjoy it. The universality of drumming and rhythm. So that’s been one of the main themes that I’ve run with through the years, and of course when I do the drum clinics, I can talk about in great length all the different kinds of stuff, do all the crazy demonstrations, all of it. But even now playing with Lita Ford, it’s going to pop out now and then–there’s a Latin thing, there’s a syncopated funk thing–it’s just part of my drumming vocabulary that has developed through the decades.
Were there any drummers in the funk world that you were inspired by?
All those guys – all the James Brown records, Bernard [Purdie], [Steve] Gadd, Harvey Mason, and of course [David] Garibaldi, and even going back to the Cobham stuff, a lot of the fusion guys would cross over into that world. Almost any drummer during that period who did a solo record during that fifteen to twenty-year time period, I probably bought the vinyl or the cassette [laugh]. I definitely would study all that kind of stuff.
Another thing about your book I was really impressed with was the lack of the same old groupie stories, which I was prepared for and was pleasantly surprised at not running across that. Was that a conscious decision?
I felt like it was implied in a few areas, in a subtle way…
As a gentleman might imply…
That’s what I’m saying. Everybody knew this was going on, so to then go out of your way to beat people over the head with it by writing about it and giving specific details was not what I wanted to do. Even in the most promiscuous of situations on the road, there was a level of objectification that I would see some of my band mates do, that was never part of my nature. No matter who it was, it was never lost on me that, this is someone that’s sharing something private with me; whatever their motive was, still, it’s sacred. This person is sharing something super intimate with me. Back to what you said, yeah I wanted to imply it a little but I think it’s presumed it was going on and it’s really nobody’s business, basically.
Well, as I said, that alone makes the book unique and special and above the norm, particularly for a guy writing about the hair-metal days. The description of the recording of the drum tracks for the first Vinnie Vincent Invasion album was an epic heaven-hell scenario. Your drum booth was an empty theater with mic’s all over the place and the control room somewhere else in the building – reading that was like porn to me. But then they decided to put the drum machine track against the live drum track and nitpick about where every single note landed and make you record parts over and over. Your patience and calm in the face of it all, and at that young age, was pretty amazing to me, and you didn’t even have the outlet of partying to blow off steam.
Well, first of all, being that it was my first major league gig, I didn’t want to lose the gig, that was the thing man, I was thinking, “I can’t f*ck this up, I gotta just do whatever they ask me to do and just try as hard as I can,” but certainly it was frustrating and all of that. So, there was that, monitoring my behavior and wanting to keep my gig, but I think it was more despondency and disillusionment about my playing, as opposed to being angry at Vinnie. And also, it wasn’t always the most contentious environment. Vinnie would get frustrated at times and make a few comments at the end of the session, but it was more about just working on getting it right, in their eyes. We were all trying to patiently create these perfect drum tracks, and so it wasn’t like Vinnie was railing on me multiple times a day where I’d feel inclined to lose my temper at him. There actually was a balance there and I had a good support system; everybody around me was as disillusioned as I was. Dana Strum as the co-producer was really walking a fine line and he thought it was ridiculous that we were having to do this, but he was working with Vinnie for the first time too, so it was very political and the dynamic was very strange between all of us and we were all just trying to survive it and deliver what Vinnie wanted as best as we all could. It was survival, that’s all it was. So, to get pissed or lose my temper wasn’t going to get us any closer to getting it over with [laughs].
Still, pretty evolved at that age to be able to keep it together, in my opinion.
I also have to say, I would not have traded that experience for anything because it was like boot camp in a sense. I don’t regret any of it. I’ve had some tough days in the studio over the years; you know how it is, certain sessions don’t go quite as smoothly as you’d like and there’s some weird things that can happen working with certain producers, different personalities, etc., but nothing would ever be like that. It was a baptism of fire. If you can do that, then everything else will be, maybe not always a cakewalk, but certainly nothing compared to what that was.
Another thing I’ll throw out there… that program that I was in, which was 1976 when I was a 13-year old, was sort of at the apex of the self-help thing just when it was beginning to kick in–Eastern influences were coming in, meditation was coming in, these things were just starting to become more mainstream, and a lot of these types of ideas were being integrated into the program. It was very self-reflective. When I look back on that experience, which I was involved with for four years, two meetings a week, doing functions on the weekends, and the bands I was playing in were made up of people also in the program, so I was in it hard core. When I look back at the shit we were exposed to, that we learned about–meditation, visualization, journaling, stress management, dealing with anger–these are tools that even adults wouldn’t necessarily get around to worrying about, and we were 14, 15, 16 years old, sitting in meetings talking about this stuff. So that was another unusual life experience that I think altered the trajectory from that point forward in terms of how I would go and approach things–the little tools that really strengthened my coping skills.
Again, incredible to me that you saw the value in it at that age. There’s yet another moment in the book that really impressed me and it was in your short list of regrets about stuff in the VVI. You went to Vinnie to clear the air and be straight about some stuff no one would say to him; you took the risk and it kind of backfired and further alienated him from his band. He couldn’t hear it. Do you find that to keep the peace in the music business that you have to bite your tongue regularly?
You know, that’s a complicated question and I think it gets down to the individual dynamics of the particular situation that you’re in. For example, if it’s my band and I’m hiring the guys, and we’re going to go do a bunch of club shows or drum clinics, I’m going to be upfront with everybody about everything. I’m going to be cool about it, but I’m going to keep it straight with everybody. If it’s a pretty even-steven collaboration with a bunch of people, again you would speak your mind about most anything. Where I think it could be tricky is when you are working in a hired-gun capacity, somebody has hired me to play drums for them. I may have observations of things going on that I don’t agree with. Let’s just say it’s a set list – the leader of the band says, “Here’s the set list we want to do tonight,” or the leader might make certain decisions that I may disagree with. That, I feel, warrants discretion as to what you’d say. And the reason I feel that way is that I know what it feels like to be on the other side of the coin. If I’m hiring somebody, I’m open to their input, I welcome it even, but I know that if I’ve got three or four guys giving me their opinion all day long, I mean, there’s just got to be a hierarchy for things to get done. I guess what I’m trying to say is I pick my battles. If there’s something I want to express, I try to be very diplomatic about when and how, and respect the dynamic; they’re the boss, they’re hiring me and they can do whatever the f*ck they want, they’re going to pay me the same thing every week whether they are losing money or not, so I don’t need to muddy the waters with my opinion at every opportunity. I know that can be an energy drag as well, so in those situations I think you just have to be savvy about when you speak up. If it’s a matter of public behavior – like some guys might walk right past fans who are waiting for an autograph – that’s something I would never do, but at which point is my opinion going to be valuable. If it’s a band mate, sure I’d say, “Hey, what the f*ck?” [laughs], but if someone is hiring you, I think you have to always use discernment and think about how to always be contributing to the harmonious nature of things. That’s part of being a professional; it’s not just about your playing but also about understanding that anything I say in that environment could tip the energy one way or the other. So, these are the big-picture things I think you have to pay attention to.
The first thing I really listened to that you did was your solo album, Out Of Body, which is a great album, with a couple of very cool covers you put in a more prog arrangement as well as some excellent originals. It’s more of a fusion / prog thing than what you’d become known for. I’m assuming that, left to your own devices, that’s the kind of stuff you’d be working on, right?
Yes, that’s my wheelhouse right there. Those guys – Brett Garsed, was a renowned guitar player from Australia who most people know as the guitar player from Nelson, and Carl Carter, who’s the bass player, was my roommate at Berkeley, we go back that far. Once the metal years calmed down, that record was a by-product of all the clinics I’d done with those guys for years after that. This book, The Boy Is Gonna Rock, I consider a memoir versus an autobiography, is about the Vinnie Vincent years – getting the gig and everything that happened during the gig, and I wanted to have a couple of chapters where I at least talked a little about what happened in the aftermath, with Mark and Dana doing Slaughter, and what I did, just to kind of to allude to a few things as a quick over-view.
I’m already working on the next one right now. What I’m envisioning, and I always say writing is like raising a child – you can influence them, but they’re going to be their own person, have their own personality, and there’s nothing you can do about it – but what I’m looking to do is pick it up from the Nelson era and talk about all the shit that went down, and then talk about evolving into me spending the rest of the ’90s doing all those clinic tours. I did over 900 drum clinics, mostly in the ’90s, and most of them were on these extensive tours that were pretty rowdy. I have a pretty crazy, detailed memory, but we also have individual audio journals on cassette from all of those tours. Whenever something happened, we grabbed a Walkman and hit record. You know, “We’re broken down on the side of the 1-10,” or about how the show went and where we’re on our way to now. Plus, we recorded every night, so I’ve got just dozens and dozens of these tapes. So, all of that is really going to come in handy. All the difficult circumstances of touring for any club band, touring in a van, breakdowns in the van, that kind of stuff, plus the musical element, we were really stretching. Even though it was a clinic, we’d play a lot. It was a pretty unusual thing, the extent of it, like nothing I’ve ever really heard about, even when it was just me and my two guys out there doing clinics. It was: “Have drums, will travel” – we’ll go into any market, any area, bring the circus to any town in North America. One way or another, I want to document all that shit.
Was that sponsored by someone you were endorsing?
For the first few years, Sabian was the main player in it. And then when the Peavy Drum thing launched, they sponsored it, but Sabian was always involved.
Did that have its own road madness? Was it just like touring with a band, the lunacy and logistics of it?
There are attributes that are the same. I guess some of the key things were that, from ’94 on, I always had an RV instead of a bus, pulling a trailer. And you’re just trying to make the money work; you’ve got Peavy, Sabian, LP, Promark, and Aquarian and some of the accessory companies kicking in a little something, but you really had to be resourceful about how to make the shit work. Our big thing was campgrounds, because you’re doing multiple shows in a row. You leave one town at midnight, drive three, four hours to the next city, and by noon the next day you’re going to be heading over to the venue to get set up for the show, so to get rooms just didn’t make sense economically, so we would just pull into these campgrounds, wake up and you could use the facilities there if you wanted to, you could go for a walk or a run and then suddenly at noon or one we’d head over to the venue, maybe have a soundcheck in the afternoon and then a seven o’clock show. Then eleven or twelve you’re off to the next show, so it was a different culture having that campground element to it. Then on weekend nights, which typically were not great clinic days, we’d do club shows. We’d already have our nut covered by the clinic shows, and we’d go do a low-dough club show or whatever. We could go and open up for somebody if that was available, but you know, you’re back in that world as a club band. You’ve got the RV parked out behind club plugged in, that’s your backstage, you’re going to play a show. So, it was a strange culture. The drives were excruciating at times, man, we had six-, seven-, eight-hundred miles between gigs on some occasions. We would do ten, twelve, fourteen shows in a row a lot of times, then a day off and another five, then two days off, then another eight. It was brutal as hell, because on a day off you’re just wasting money, so we’d rather go play a club for chump change and maybe sell some merch, and just to play. But doing a clinic, it’s three or four solos a night – and long f*ck*ng solos – there’s no other gig like it. And people wanted to see it! I have a live CD with a 20-minute drum solo on it. In retrospect it’s like, “Did I really need to do that?” But really, who gets to do that? I don’t know who’s going to listen to it on CD but the idea of it live, nobody was complaining. You hear about people going to a drum clinic and saying, “He didn’t play enough,” but you never hear, “Aw, man, that guy did too many solos!” Drummers love that shit [laughs].
One of my favorite stories from that era regarding the length of the drum solo is, at the height of the Peavy era, I was touring with Neil Zaza on guitar and Bill Dickens on bass, and I think we did 140 dates. This was 1997, and we got into this really nice groove with the set, who would speak at what point in the show, the set list, when there was an open guitar solo, or a bass solo, when the big mega drum solo would happen; I would always play a few shorter solos but there was always one big one at the same point in the set, which was basically like a two-hour clinic. We really got into the groove of things, in the different regions we were in, and we knew the different Peavy reps that were there and all that. One night in Canada, we were playing at a hotel and as you walked into the back of the lobby there was a restaurant with a staircase that went up to one of the meeting rooms upstairs, and the music store had rented out the meeting room to have the clinic; you know, they have the little makeshift stage and the iron chairs, and that’s where they were having the clinic. So, we had a nice packed, full room and we’re doing our thing, and during the drum solo, Neil and Bill find the Peavy rep, they go downstairs into the restaurant – during the drum solo – and ordered pie and coffee. [Laughs] They’re sitting there, and they could hear me upstairs, and even though it was different every night, I usually had the big, bombastic ending, but they kind of knew the overall vibe of the solo and they knew they had like twenty minutes. So, they had their coffee and pie, sat and chatted for a couple of minutes and then said, “Ah, we should probably head on up,” and they headed back up the stairs, into the room, just in time to put the guitars on, bang!
That is so great. I love it. You produced Out Of Body. Do you like being in that chair?
Yeah, I do. Especially having been in situations where you’re handing over your drum sound to somebody else, hoping that what you tracked will find its way to the mastering session somewhat intact, without being really compressed, or having a ton of guitars burying it. It wasn’t a role that I relished in terms of having some big, creative vision as a producer, but more out of necessity. Just to have that control, like, “the buck stops here,” type of thing. It was cool.
Any chance of a follow up?
Yes. What I’m planning on is actually sort of a soundtrack for the book, with instrumental versions of those kick-ass songs. The concept would be, take a few Vinnie Vincent songs, take something off of Killer [Alice Cooper], something off of Made In Japan [Deep Purple], something off of Volume 4 [Black Sabbath], and give it the same treatment with those guys from Out Of Body.
Very cool. I’ve witnessed from being friends with [Ace Frehley guitarist] Richie Scarlet that if you’re part of the extended family of the Kiss world–I mean, there may be no other band where this is as true, but by having played with a guy who’s played with Kiss–you’re still valued, respected and cared about by their fan base. It’s really an added bonus you never knew you were getting to just be associated with that person.
Yes. Absolutely correct. It’s been unexpected and phenomenal. Back in the day people had a lot of interest in Vinnie because of Kiss and the thing did pretty well out of the box, so that was just the residual effect–I played with Vinnie Vincent who was in Kiss, so I’m going to get a certain amount of that fan base, or whatever. Then during the Nelson era, people would show up and ask me to sign VVI albums for them, but through the years, the drum clinic years and all the other shit–now we’re ten years later, fifteen years later, twenty years later–it just never stopped, man. And I’ve never taken it for granted, I always thought it was cool. I’ve always thought, these are like m*th*rf*ck*ng Star Trek fans or something! And to this day, exactly as you said, people consider you extended family, anywhere at any time. Playing on the road with Lita Ford, people will pop up at different shows, “Oh yeah, I saw you play with Vinnie back in 1986 opening for Alice Cooper,” and they’re wearing a Kiss t-shirt. It’s a phenomenal thing, and what you can say about it? I’m just eternally grateful.
You got in at this lighting-in-a-bottle moment and got to be part of that movement, which came and went and it really ran the gamut from really great, innovative, original, to total cheese bullshit, I guess like any big explosive cultural shift that is the center of attention usually produces two extremes. What do you think of the current state of rock, and the disappearance of the record company paradigm, and the rock star paradigm?
You know, my short answer is, and it’ll probably surprise you, but I think there’s never been a better time in our history to be a musician, and to be a music lover. Now, philosophically, if we want to look at the then-and-now argument, for anyone who lived that period, we could throw into the ring five or six major points about why it was better back then. Back in the day, I think attention spans were much more focused, there were fewer avenues; you have your local radio station, you had MTV, you had the record store and the magazines, and the concert hall. It was a lot simpler, a lot more assembly-line, the record deal was always the golden egg that everybody was searching for because once you had that, then you could record, get on the radio, do a video, get on MTV, go on tour, do record store signings, go to radio stations for interviews, sell merchandise; these were the things you did. So, it was much more contained; everybody knew what to do and had the same endgame in mind, and there was a beauty in that. To be a musician back then, especially in the ’70s–and this is probably the singular thing I’m concerned about for today’s musicians, on the one hand–back then we had a fraction of the access to the raw data. I mean, if you think about learning how to play drums in the ’70s, what were your options? You could study privately, you could use drum books, but otherwise, for your favorite drummer, you had to go see them live, and you saw the drum solo one time, Or you’d wait by the TV set, for “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” or “In Concert,” which you could also only see one time, because you couldn’t record it yet. You could listen to the radio and hope that your song came on. It was so limited by comparison. No video content, you had to listen to the record and figure out the drum parts that way. The technology now just dwarfs anything we could have ever thought about then. But we also didn’t have the distraction of the technology back then. We could sit in a room for five-, six-plus hours and practice with no real interruption. The phone was ringing in the other room. I think about being at Berkelee and getting those six to eight hours a day in, man; there was no texting, there was no social media, you could really train your brain to concentrate, uninterrupted, for long stretches of time, tap into that frontal lobe, lose track of time, and essentially find your quote-un-quote “inner genius.” That’s what we were able to do back then with all that practice. Maybe somebody would come by and tap on the practice room door, you might take a break to avoid burnout, but essentially you had all those hours of practice and all that concentration, and the proof was in the pudding.
These days, with these f*ck*n’ iPhones in everybody’s back pocket, we are training our brains to be part of this whole multi-tasking, information-overload mentality, so you’re not getting these long stretches of concentrated time. I’m guessing, but I’m pretty sure a kid who’s practicing these days is checking his phone regularly, responding to texts, all that. The modern brain is not being conditioned to do what I think is the most important thing that any creative person could ever do, and that is to get lost in their process for hours at a time. Having said all that, I could also go on a rant about how much of the modern music, while I appreciate it and there are some good bands and some good songwriters, you can’t help but notice the Pro Tools influence, the digital factor, and how so much of that music hits the ears in a very harsh way. I have Spotify and I try to check out different bands and different drummers I hear about, to keep up with the latest and the greatest, but that’s the thing, uniformly, about a lot of modern music. Also, there’s the death of the rock star. There’s a lineage from Elvis Presley, all through to around the early ’90s, ’til Kurt Cobain – the bad boy rock ‘n roller, all through the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, and you could trace the lineage. And then, bang, from that point on, it has all splintered into other mediums and genres. I think I mention in the book that hip-hop artists kind of took over that role. I always think of the kid in the Midwest, who fantasizes about living the rock star life, and he’s in his bedroom listening to his favorite band, wondering what that life is like, and it’s been that way since the Elvis days. That disappeared, other than a few anomalies that have stuck out over the years, like Marilyn Manson and some others, where you know the star’s name, you know the drummer’s name, but interestingly there’s a strange anonymity to most of the rock bands now. You used to know who every single person in every band was, now you know the band name and the songs, and maybe the singer’s name, but not like it used to be. That way, that thing of the personality being very out front, seems to have shifted more towards the hip-hop culture. I kept thinking it was going to come back, but it isn’t, not in terms of being part of the mainstream.
Which brings us to what I said at the beginning: the reason I say this is the best time ever is that, to the extent that you want to still listen to those artists and that music, even on vinyl, you can do it. You can listen to all the new stuff you want, you can stream it, you can still buy it, you can download it to your phone or your laptop, you can watch it on YouTube, whatever. You have access to all the modern shit, but to the extent that you want to delve into the past and what was going on in other eras, you can, all day long. And, if you do want to go in a practice room and practice all day long, your phone has an “Off” button you can push and not get distracted. So, we have the potential always there for the best of both worlds. If you utilize technology in a smart way.
How about the disappearance of the big record companies, and with it the distribution of your product? That’s a double-edged sword, too.
Yes, but let’s not forget, the record industry was hard to break into then; to get a major record deal was tough, you had to get lucky in some cases. So yeah, now there’s fewer of those kinds of deals, and there’s less financial support, but on the other hand, when has it ever, theoretically at least, been easier to reach your fan base directly than now? Through technology, through social media, all these new avenues. It’s unbelievable. I mean, I was able to launch a book through my own publishing imprint, I was able to write it right here in my office, have it printed and shipped to me here, then stocked next door in my online store. So, when orders come in, they’re printed out, the packages are put together. I’ve also got my drum room on site, and if I want to make a new record it can be streamed and marketed out of here. I mean, the technology is just phenomenal.
It truly is. Again, this is not from the book, but I want to ask you about “Drumbell Training.” You designed a fitness training program that is geared specifically towards the way a drummer uses his body, is that right?
Partially, yes. My weight training is rooted in the fundamentals. Pressing movements, pulling movements, squats, all of the standard moves of resistance training. The Drumbell thing is an additional thing that I’ve incorporated that is more specific to drumming movements, and it’s just the idea of taking light dumbbells and replicating some of the movements you might use behind the kit. The idea being that you’re getting more resistance than your drumsticks would ever provide, so you condition yourself to be able to perform these movements for long stretches of time and it makes everything stronger, helps to prevent injury, increases endurance, everything. It’s been a staple for me for a while now.
This is your ninth book. Can you tell me about the other eight?
The first few were basically method books. “Metalmorphosis” was first and that was a workbook companion to the video. Then “The Encyclopedia Of Groove” was a different concept, more groove-oriented, followed by a book I co-authored on funk bass playing with Bill “The Buddha” Dickens.” We did it for Warner Brothers, and it was a DVD and a book together. From there it’s been quite a mixed bag. I’ve written books on everything from health and wellness, spirituality, and even human sexuality. Some have been under my own name, others I’ve done as a ghostwriter or co-author.
Let’s go back to drumming. You could go off and do a jazz session, or play with a pop band, or a Latin thing. You’ve got the chops and the knowledge to do it. Do you ever feel pigeonholed by the music that put you on the map? You’ve really stayed in that world, branching out into more prog kind of stuff on your own, but really staying close the “Metal” world. Do you feel any down side to how you are perceived as an artist?
I think it’s what happens to everybody that’s been doing this for long enough, in one way or another. Even someone like Vinnie Colaiuta, as diverse as the thing that he does is…
He’s not getting a call for a metal gig.
Right, even though he could knock the shit out of it! They want someone who specializes in it. There was a period of time, I guess it was the ’90s or early 2000s, I had a buddy who was doing a lot of movie score stuff and he was calling me in regularly, and it was very diverse. You’d have a scene with some type of Italian music in the background, off the wall, every kind of style you can think of, and it was fun to do that, to exercise those other parts of your ability. And there’s no fanfare, no movie-goers really know who played on it. So really, some of the more diverse things I’ve done are definitely the lesser-known things I’ve done. Through the years, to the extent that certain producers have known what I can do, they’ve called me to do some of those kinds of things. But at this stage of the game now, I feel like I’ve been able to experience a lot of diversity, even if I may not have been recognized for it, and if I wanted to I could always go off and do one of my own things, so I guess because the recognition and the accolades mean less to me as I get older. I guess you could say “pigeon-holed,” or you could say “specialized.”
So, these days, playing with Lita Ford for a lot of folks that may have been Vinnie Vincent fans, or Nelson fans, or Slaughter fans, or fans of other bands I’ve worked with, it’s all kind of one big sub-genre now, whatever you want to call it. I don’t even know what to call it, “Hair Metal,” “Hard Rock,” I don’t know? But I’m happy to be working, I’m happy to be doing good shows in some big places here and there and all of that. To work steady in a particular genre, you have to be known in that niche, that genre, and then once you’re known in that genre, then you’re going to be pigeon-holed because people are going to presume that that is the only thing that you do because that’s all they see you doing. I guess that’s just part of what comes with the territory. As long as you love doing it, and I still love playing that kind of music, and these are people in my age group and we kind of see things in similar ways, we’re birds of a feather; musically we have old-school sensibilities, stretching shit out, changing things up at the last minute, that vibe we grew up with in music, so those are my people and those are the musicians I like to work with. If I’m pigeon-holed, that’s cool. I’m working; I’m an employed pigeon [laughs].
You’ve always struck me as a guy with very little negativity. You never seem to be coming from a negative place and it’s very appealing and it’s also pretty unique. What do you attribute your very powerful positivity to?
Well…almost all of our angst is based around regrets in the past or worry about the future. I just try to live in the present moment and be grateful for the simple things: good health, great friends, animals, nature, sunshine, books, creating shit, training, and hittin’ the drums. With all of that, what’s there to be negative about [laughs]?