This business is a most peculiar one. To have sustained myself (albeit sometimes marginally!) exclusively thus far with it is nothing short of miraculous. I don’t fool myself into thinking that I am God’s gift to drumming… nothing could be farther from the truth. I know guys that can play circles around me that just haven’t had the same opportunities and you may never hear of them. This is unfortunate but it’s reality. I say this as a reminder of how very blessed we as working drummers are.
This whole concept of ‘impact for money’ is a bit whacko for starters. I certainly had no idea as a small boy that it would develop into anything. I just thought it fun, and still do. I suppose I’ve just never grown out of it though I think my mom still secretly thinks there’s a chance. After being inspired as a young boy by hearing Joe Morello’s solo in ‘Take Five’ by the Brubeck Quartet I started like most everyone else I should imagine… sticks, practice pad and the book of rudiments. I was fortunate, though didn’t think so at the time that I didn’t have a full kit to begin on. I think that as young kids we all want to be drummers because of the GEAR. We think, hey, I can do that!!! (I know a few pros that still say it and believe it). We see the massive kits with all the cool shiny bits. Who wouldn’t be attracted, right?
We sit down behind it all and start flailing! We flail and we flail, then the flailing gets tiresome and if we’re one of the lucky ones, start to realize that there’s more. It’s also at this point that we realize there just might be some work involved. Like anything of substance, it’s gonna take some time. You’ve gotta play tennis for quite sometime before you become proficient at it. I mean it’s ‘homerun central’ for months before you learn the technique necessary to keep the ball in play. Drumming is no different.
Learning the language (rudiments) of drums is tough and oftentimes tedious. Independence, though easier for some than others, can be a real struggle. Some of my very first lessons in patience were learned behind the old practice pad. The practice pad, given time, ALWAYS separates the drummers from the wanna-bes.
While grafting away at the rudiments I started piece-mealing a kit together. It was a slow process but again, the lesson of working toward something another blessing in disguise. Please don’t think for an instant that any of this was carefully planned. Such was not the case. It just seemed a natural progression so I defer any credit. I, with the help of my amazing mom procured a kick drum, snare, hat and ride cymbal. I worked with these for several months before adding to the kit. It gave me time to learn slowly without being overwhelmed with more gear than I knew what to do with. Truth is I couldn’t afford to pay attention or the kit would have grown bigger sooner. To this day some of the most amazing players I have heard have been on small, minimalist kits. It’s kinda like racing a bicycle… it’s not the bike but the motor.
I am self-taught. I don’t say this boastfully as it wasn’t out of choice. In hindsight, I should have done the drum corps thing but thought I was too cool. Couldn’t get on with the silly hats but I paid later and still do. There wasn’t a teacher locally that I thought was up to the task. There I go thinking again. I’ll explain as we go along.
I learned, essentially by listening to records… Beatles, Hendrix, Cream and later on Zep. I often get the form question ‘who were my influences’ and I must say that, truthfully, I don’t really play like anyone I listened to when I was coming up. I don’t think I was influenced by any as much as inspired by many. I started playing double bass very early on. Not because of any particular drummer but because I heard parts in my tiny little noggin that I just couldn’t execute with one. Not to take anything away from Bonham (thank God he only played one) or any single bass drummer but there’s really no way you can play on one what can be played with two (or w/a double pedal). It’s simply an obvious matter of physics. If you could then sticks would come one (1) to the bag, right? Any drummer that discounts the value of two bass drums (or two sticks) is doing himself a great disservice.
I started out playing in little clubs, at frat parties and the like. You know… all the places you hated. I was playing in a bar in south FL when I received a call from an old friend, Dave Smith who was a sound guy who had just started working for an up and coming band that was looking for a drummer. I flew up to Memphis, auditioned and somehow got the gig. I knew some of the other drummers there and I also know that there were more accomplished drummers present than yours truly. Just luck, chance, circumstance? God only knows…
I toured worldwide and constantly with that band. I was not at all crazy about that music but it was a means to an end. I was trying to establish a name for myself. This all worked out quite well until I decided it was time to move on. I was about to learn my first lesson in the so-called ‘Big Time’ music biz. I won’t go into all the ridiculous details but suffice it to say that it took about a year to unencumber myself legally. I had never experienced anything like that. My experience had always been that if you didn’t want to be in a particular situation or didn’t want to work with so and so, no prob. See ya… don’t let the door hitcha where the good Lord splitcha. Once all the legal machinations were finalized and my VERY expensive lesson had been learned, it was time to move on. I didn’t know it at the time but God was just prepping me for the life ahead.
I began a several year stint with Pat Travers, which was a real blast. We were essentially starting from scratch but the music was perfect drum music and he and Mars Cowling were cool. The trio format was interesting in theory. Some of my favorite bands, Hendrix, Cream, had been 3-piece. We learned early on however that Pats’ music didn’t quite lend itself to the format and Pat Thrall was added. Pat’s an amazing guy and an equally amazing guitarist. He filled things out nicely.
We did a few records/tours and had a really great time. I meet so many people today that compliment the band and the music. We made some mistakes but I think it was, for the most part, time well spent. After leaving Travers I moved to England for a time. I had always liked London and wanted to try working there for a while. I looked up Rod McSween an old agent friend of mine and he offer his place. His kindness helped me through this period of transition.
I started working with Gary Moore at this time. We did a couple albums and a short tour. I enjoyed working with Gary immensely. He is an amazing guitarist with a great work ethic. It was during these rehearsals that Ozzy and Randy came down. After meeting Randy and hearing him play I was anxious to work with him though my commitments wouldn’t allow this until later. We went out that night in London and got to know one another. He was one of the most courteous people I’ve had the privilege of knowing. I miss his playing terribly but miss him even more as a friend.
It wasn’t until I returned to America that I got the call from Ozzy about working together. Well, the call was actually from Sharon who had just become his manager. This call started one of the most adventurous periods of my career. As I look back I think it was like LIVING the ‘Diary of a Madman’ :o)
Working with Randy has been the highlight of my career. His playing inspired the best of whoever was in the band. He made us all better musicians. The funny thing is was that he had no idea. He was so humble, almost self-effacing. When I told him for the first time how great of a pleasure it was to be working with him he became actually embarrassed, red-faced. This was Randy. He had no idea just how very cool he was.
We had quite an exciting run and I don’t have enough time here to go into detail… maybe someday. Suffice it to say that after Randy’s death the fire was gone. I tried as best I could to help Ozzy/Sharon with the daunting task of finding a replacement for Randy but how do you replace the irreplaceable?
It was around this time that Rudy Sarzo and I started toying with taking a shot at putting something together. He had just finished up with Quiet Riot and we were both feeling bold. We started auditioning guitarists and singers in L.A. After a few months of this our enthusiasm started to wane. There seems to be a large pool of ‘journeyman’ musicians whose lot in life seems to be applying at auditions. We seem to keep seeing and hearing the same guys. We even resorted to flying people in. We were becoming more discouraged with every passing day. We did manage to come across Tony MacAlpine and did a couple records with him but it ended up being a project… not the band that we were hoping to build.
During this time I was hanging out with John Sykes. He and Dave Coverdale were in town looking for a rhythm section and Rudy and I were looking for a guitarist and singer. I actually met with them to discuss possibilities but they had decided on a bass player and at that point were only interested in my services. I cannot say it wasn’t temping but Rudy and I had a commitment and I am nothing if not loyal. I suppose I made the right decision as we were both asked to join later though it would have been a real blast to have played on the ’87 record. Not that I could have done a better job than Ansley Dunbar, mind you. His drumming is stellar on that record and seriously question that it could be improved upon. I speak mostly to the opportunity missed. Sometimes you get the bear… sometimes the bear gets you :o)
I must say that my years with WhiteSnake have been the most exciting. Every show was sold out. We were getting so much exposure on MTV that we sometimes felt what it must be like to be a film star. I had experienced fan appreciation before but this was at a different level. It was a privilege and blessing to be part of it. I am thankful for the preceding years as they prepared me for all the silliness that was part and parcel to this success. Though we had a good run, nothing lasts forever and it was time again to move on.
It wasn’t long after the last WhiteSnake tour that I began pursuing freelance possibilities. It was something that I had been thinking about for some time. Necessity has a way of bringing things to fruition. I played on a couple of records during this period but have never had the motivation nor vocabulary to do the session thing. I was kinda torn. I felt I wanted to try freelance but was reticent to give up the security of the band concept. It was a leap of faith though I didn’t realize it at the time.
I have been working on a freelance basis to this day. I sometimes miss the camaraderie and the ‘equal billing’ a band association affords but in life we must take the good with the bad. Anyhoo… I’d be just miserable if I didn’t have something to be miserable about :o)
Though only a brief summary of my career it brings us up to the here and now. You are not going to hear me complain too loudly. The business has, for the most part, been very kind to me. I’ve enjoyed (and still do) a long career in a business that is notorious for cutting them short. Even elite athletes usually experience longer careers than musicians in my genre. I feel so very blessed by God to be, among many other things, healthy and busier than ever. I feel a debt of gratitude to you, the fans. Without you guys I’d still be sitting around somewhere trying to figure what the heck to do with my life :o)
Would I recommend a career in drumming? For me it has been the vehicle by which I have traveled the world, met a host of incredible, amazingly talented people, and has gratified me in more ways than anyone could ever deserve. I thank God daily for His provision in my life without Him the Son I am nothing.
I appreciate your years of support and continued interest. Thanks for taking the time to read this and I’ll see you on the road!!!