Terry Bozzio may not be a household name, but chances are, you’ve marched to the beat of his drums over the years. Bozzio, started banging out music “do it yourself” style at the early age of six using anything he could find (coffee cans, broken arrows, high voltage signs) to emulate and accompany the beautiful noise he heard emanating from the records of Tito Puente, Sandy Nelson and The Ventures. At the age of 13, Bozzio saw The Beatles’ momentous appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and like so many others of his generation, his life was transformed and his musical direction was set in motion. Shortly afterward, he convinced his father to let him take drum lessons and soon began playing in garage bands. He went on to study music formally at Sir Francis Drake High School and the College of Marin and received scholarships to study with the San Francisco Symphony. He joined Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention in 1975, and has played with Jeff Beck, and UK. Bozzio was one of the founding members of Missing Persons, an MTV favorite back when the cable channel lived up to its name and played music videos exclusively. Take a quick glance at Bozzio’s résumé and you’ll see it’s full of many of the big names in the music business he’s jammed with throughout his career. This might be an ample set of accomplishments for some musicians but not for Bozzio. He continues to make music with the energy, enjoyment and dedication he had as a child banging out songs on coffee cans. He’s currently in the midst of his solo coast to coast North American tour showcasing the “World’s Largest Tuned Drum and Percussion Set.” The tour coincides with the 50th anniversary of his first drum lesson. Bozzio will be playing August 28, at the Dosey Doe in Conroe.
If you’d like to get to know a little more about Terry Bozzio before he hits the stage, he was kind enough to take a break from his busy touring schedule to answer some questions. Here’s what he had to say about his elaborate drum set, his music, his influences, the music business and his future in music.
Meet the Bozzio
Bob Langham: For the everyday, casual music fan, can you describe the “World´s Largest Tuned Drum and Percussion Set”?
Terry Bozzio: Well, it’s something unique and takes a bit to describe. It’s not like I use it to play a bombastic drum solo in the traditional sense at all. My kit has developed and evolved over the last 40 years or so into a beautiful “abstract sculpture” that follows the system of the instruments I use. To begin with, there are eight tuned bass drums to play bass notes. Then an octave and a fourth of larger diatonically tuned toms (like the white notes of the piano). Then a smaller group of toms tuned to both the black and white notes (chromatically), so I play real melodies with my hands, with bass notes from my feet, the same as a piano or organ player would. The drums trigger a MIDI note of the exact pitches I tune to so they are combined with an electronic pitch to reinforce the pitches. Then there are cymbals and bells in eight note sets, plus tuned gongs, glockenspiel and xylophone to play melodically on. And finally, many different percussion instruments for added color.
So I play real music on the drums. It can be soulful, melodic compositions or ethnic influenced from anywhere in the world, or classically influenced and film music influenced with ambient loops and atmospheric sounds. People tell me it feels like time traveling and is an emotional and spiritual experience for them.
BL: Like so many other musicians, your life changed when you saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Do you think it’s possible for another landmark event like this to happen again and change the face of music and inspire a generation of future musicians?
TB: I really don’t know about that. Aside from the phenomena and talent of that group, there was a very intact and naive music business with all the freedom and corruption available to make things happen, as well as a public in need of this sensation and revolution of outdated social conventions. I think something entirely new and different would have to happen in a new way, not the new things that are happening like or because of what The Beatles and the music business has done already.
BL: You hear many guitarist cite The Beatles as their influence to pick up the guitar and learn how to play, but you don’t hear many drummers list this historical Beatles’ performance as their inspiration. What aspect of that performance made you connect with Ringo Starr and want to pursue the drums as your instrument of choice?
TB: Oh I think that was just teenage energy. He was an inspirational catalyst at that time but I already had the desire to play the drums. I soon went much deeper into the archetypal realms of rhythm and music. This year was the 50th anniversary of my first drum lesson on July 15th, 1964. I studied jazz and classical music in college. I got scholarships to study with members of the San Francisco Symphony, and I have really embarked on a life-long journey of self- teaching and the study of music. I always practice new things, things I don’t know how to do. I’ve followed whatever creative intuition I’ve received to wherever it takes me. As a friend of mine says, after humans have food, clothing and shelter, what’s next? We are curious.
BL: Have you ever had the opportunity to meet or jam with Ringo Starr? If so, can you describe what it was like?
TB: I met him once in passing with Jeff Beck at a London premier of the “Concert for George.” I met so many stars that night, [Paul] McCartney, Ringo and their wives, Bill Wyman, Eric Clapton and David Gilmore. I even sat next to Terry Jones of Monty Python. I’ve found it’s best just to be cool and polite, not to gush. I always feel uncomfortable when people gush over me.
BL: What was it like appearing on Saturday Night Live with Frank Zappa during the infancy of the show? Was there a sense that you were involved in a burgeoning cultural phenomenon at the time or was it just another gig?
TB: I felt we had just slayed millions of people on TV. It was a very important gig for me and of course to be affiliated with Frank… well, nobody would know who I am if it wasn’t for Frank Zappa. But, to burn with [Patrick]O’Hearn and Ruth [Underwood] on “The Purple Lagoon”? That was a peak experience.
BL: Do you have a behind the scenes story about the Saturday Night Live appearance, about the cast, the band’s performance or overall experience you could share?
TB: You mean like going to the bathroom after the show and snorting coke with [John] Belushi and [Dan] Aykroyd? Yeah, I guess that’s one. I was young and stupid and very lucky I didn’t end up dead as well. I remember I used to sweat so much from playing so hard that I played without a shirt on. That’s no big deal today, but they told me I had to wear a shirt on TV. I had only brought a stupid looking ski sweater with reindeer on it. So I played without my shirt and caused a bit of a stir in the production office. That’s two stupid things for you.
BL: In your opinion, who are the top three drummers of all time?
TB: I don’t even think that way. This paradigm doesn’t exist for me. There are millions of drummers in millions of styles and ethnic genres from all over the world you or I have not even heard of. Why would anybody be so arrogant or ignorant as to think he could choose the top three?
BL: Who is your favorite drummer living or dead and why?
TB: I can list many influences that I have had at different times in my life, but not a favorite.
BL: You’ve played with so many big names in music. Can you name one band or artist you haven’t played with but would like to? Is there someone that is no longer living that you would like to have played with?
TB: I think I would have loved to play with Miles [Davis] or Joe Zawinul. I love their music so much and they have been huge influences on me. But in reality, I don’t know what kind of people they are on a very personal level. (I only met Miles once and he called another time to ask me to write something for him). I never met Joe. But musical relationships are about chemistry, more than just music. So this is fantasy.
BL: Are you happy with the current state of (popular) rock music or music in general? If not, what changes would you like to see?
TB: I don’t listen or follow it. It’s music for consumers and those consumers are kids. Just like I was. If it works for them, great. Otherwise I don’t have an opinion.
BL: Has the digital age and outlets such as iTunes, YouTube, Spotifiy and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter made it easier for musicians to get heard and build and keep a fan base? Do you prefer this to touring or is touring and performing live something you still get a charge out of doing?
TB: Live music in a room is truly spiritual and magical. You can’t get that experience from any other media. I want to play live as much as I can while I still can before my body or brain won’t allow me to do it anymore. I want to share that experience with others. The whole web thing is a great tool and opportunity, but more importantly for me, was having the name I earned playing with the greats I’ve played with. Otherwise, anyone can put anything out there, but who cares or even knows?
BL: Can you share a memorable “being on the road,” “backstage,” or “touring with a band” story or anecdote from your extensive musical career that your fans might not have heard before?
TB: Too many and too long winded. Someday I’ll write a book.
BL: What advice can you give to drummers, either just starting out or those who are playing in an indie or local “undiscovered” band?
TB: Check your motives and try to keep them pure. Are you in it for the challenge of growth, curiosity and bettering yourself as a musician, for the advancement of music? Otherwise, there may be easier ways to get women or money or fame.
BL: What moment would you say was the highlight of your musical career?
TB: I’m hoping this tour will be a new high water mark.
BL: Artist like Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger are still going strong into their seventies. Do you see yourself playing drums and rocking and rolling until the day you die or is retirement from making and performing music something you’ve considered?
TB: I only think about stopping if my body won’t let me play. And even then, I hope to be able to compose music and paint and teach.
BL: What can music fans expect to see when they come see you play on your latest tour?
TB: Hopefully, it will be a unique, honest, authentic and never to be repeated musical event. It will be something they have not experienced before.
If you’d like to witness a piece of musical history, and experience an intense musical performance you haven’t seen before and won’t see anywhere else, come see Terry Bozzio perform live at the Dosey Doe in Conroe on Thursday, August 28. You can click here for more information about the show. To learn more about Terry Bozzio, you can visit his website.
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