Terry Bozzio has evolved into a world class drummer. Through the years he has been in the spotlight performing or recording with the likes of Frank Zappa, Missing Persons, The Brecker Brothers, George Duke, Jeff Beck and many others. He takes pride in the art of drumming and shares his artistry with other drummer contemporaries at clinics and online workshops. Look for Terry's current show "An Evening with Terry Bozzio" at a venue near you.
R.V.B. - Terry this is Rob von Bernewitz from New York, how are you?
T.B. - I'm doing good man. How are you doing? Sorry you just caught me in the bathroom there.
R.V.B. - Oh what a bad place to catch you. Did you have a good magazine at least? (hahaha)
T.B. - Yes (hahaha)
R.V.B. - So are you on the west coast?
T.B. - Yeah, I'm out in Ventura County, north of LA.
R.V.B. - Did you feel the rumbling there about a month ago?
T.B. – No, I just got back from Japan, but we felt a little rumbling over there though.
R.V.B. - Oh really? You felt something over in Japan?
T.B. – Yeah, I got married about six years ago Sunday. (hahaha) (We had our anniversary)… to a wonderful Japanese woman named Myuni. We have been trying to spend more time over there. I'm working over there, and this time I didn't do any gigs or anything, but I have articles I write for magazines and just live with the family and practice and paint and do my thing. She has a great family.
R.V.B. - That's nice. It must be beautiful over there?
T.B. - Yeah man, you know, I was born in San Francisco. Where we live is south of Tokyo. It's right on the coast and it reminds me of San Francisco or Oakland... you know, that kind of vibe. There's a lot of hills. The culture is amazing. The people are polite... it's safe. It's a beautiful place to spend time. My daughter Marina is a drummer as well... and her parents are great. I'm very lucky... very, very, lucky.
R.V.B. - Very nice. I just wanted to mention that a drummer friend of mine (I play in a band with him) saw you a couple of times at drum clinics and he met you at King of Prussia Pa. He had a giant poster. I don't know if you remember. They were like an inter-racial couple. He had a gigantic poster - like a Guitar Center poster.
T.B. - I remember the King of Prussia (hahaha)... not personally. We don't play to royalty.
R.V.B. (Hahaha) Well, he must have a lot of money.
T.B. - Who's that, the king?
R.V.B. – Yeah, the King of Prussia.
T.B. - Yeah, he's loaded.
R.V.B. - I'm supposedly related to Fredrick the Great somewhere. That and $2.50 gets me on the subway, lol. So thank you for taking this time... I appreciate it. To get started, let me just ask you what was the first kind of music you were exposed to at a young age?
T.B. - Whatever was popular on the radio. I was born in 1950, so I can remember all the standards that were happening then. My father was an accordion player and at a very young age, I remember him... you know, he was a child prodigy and my family would come over on the weekends, and after dinner they would beg my father to play the accordion. He would rebel. He had a teacher who would rap him on the knuckles and stuff like that. He would always say "No, no, no, no, I ain't got it anymore. I have to practice". But finally after enough prodding, he'd pull out the accordion and as soon as he just played one note, he'd silence the room. He had this ability to really move people with his music. So at a very young age, I saw this power he had and really envied him for that. I can remember Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, and all that kind of stuff, was always around the house being played. One day, he brought home a Tito Puente album and that really moved me. I started to imitate that stuff on tabletops and what not. Those are my earliest memories of music. Then I think when I was ten, I kinda set up bongos. A year or two later, the Beach Boys, and surf drum music was happening in the early sixties, so I took my bongos and put paper over the little one to make it sound more like a snare. I would play with broken arrows and stuff from my archery set. I would play along with the surf trend music at the time. Sandy Nelson, The Ventures, and the Surfaries, "Wipe Out" of course and all that kind of junk. Then when the Beatles came on TV, that was it. That's when I begged my father to get me drum lessons. He didn't want me to be a musician because he had been one and had a bad experience and probably for security reasons and my financial security reasons, he didn't want me to do that. Finally he broke down and I got my first drum lesson. This year, fifty years ago, on July 15th in Marin County at this Little Miracle Music Shop, it was called.
R.V.B. - How long after that did your father break down and buy you a drum set?
T.B. – Well, that came in stages. I think by Christmas time or by my birthday, which is around the same time I got a snare drum and a high hat. Then I used to play with brushes and accompany my dad on the accordion so that was fun too. I think it was later that spring after the rest of the guys in my band got instruments, he was forced to get the bass drums and toms, a cymbal and junk. Yeah, in ‘64 it was my first full kit and then I was just off to the races.
R.V.B. - So being the guy with the drum set, did that mean all your local musician friends had to come to your house to play?
T.B. - Oh Yeah.
R.V.B. - That's one thing about being a drummer, number one there's a lot of noise, and number two, everybody has to come to your house. So what kind of stuff did you guys tackle with your first band?
T.B. - Mainly like Beatles, Stones, and standards like "Louie, Louie", "Hang on Sloopy" and all that kind of typical dance rock music in those days. Yeah, you know like "Gloria"… that kinda stuff.
R.V.B. - Did you play at the high school and the churches or whatever?
T.B. – Yeah, I mean one experience I'll never forget which I'll always say, I wasn't very good looking... I was never good in sports... I was never that smart or that popular... but when I sat down at a graduation party and got to sit in on the band’s drum set the whole class of fifty people were standing around with their mouth open. That was a great reinforcement moment for me. They were egging me on and cheering me and all that stuff. Yes, we played high school dances, parties, and you know we were quite good. I'm still friends with the guys and we just started talking again recently because of the internet, and facebook, and all that kind of stuff. It was called, "The Blue Glass Radio". That was the name of our band. (haha) I remember we broke up over something stupid like, me and the singer wanted to do more psychedelic stuff. The San Francisco scene that was happening. We called it City music. (hahaha) - Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane, they all lived around where we lived. You could kinda see them on any weekend for $2.50.
R.V.B. - Did you do that a lot? Did you see those guys?
T.B. - Oh yeah. It was like a fad, and some great music too... very original stuff. I mean, I think back and you know there was AM radio, and then suddenly around that time had big black band that maybe had a police call or two on it called FM... came alive, and you heard all this music that was new and different. You had guys like Bill Graham in San Francisco, who would put these really eclectic shows together with the psychedelic posters. I used to collect those. My dad was a salesman and he would go around to different drug stores. He worked for a drug pharmaceutical company... wholesaling company... so he would get posters from the ones who had them and bring them home to me. I had quite a collection of those things, which unfortunately I don't have anymore, because they would have been worth some dough if I didn't screw them up. That came alive, Bill Graham would put things like Ravi Shankar and Charles LLoyd (a a saxophone player) along with the Grateful Dead and everybody loved it - loved the variety and the whole thing.
R.V.B. - So I guess you were seventeen at the time of the "Summer of Love" as the press call it. Did you go out and explore those events also?
T.B. - Yeah, I mean the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore had the first big rock concerts. I think I went to those maybe even with my parents. I remember seeing with my Dad and my uncle, we went to the Avalon Ballroom and it was Canned Heat and Vanilla Fudge, were the bands playing and I saw Carmine Appice play and he was fucking ridiculous. He was incredible and he was...
T.B. – Yeah. Absolutely. The way they played was very dramatic. Their covers were just ridiculous. Carmine is still a friend, I love the guy. You know, he was no slouch. There was just a lot of great music that happened. I mean a lot of great players. Oh, "It's a Beautiful Day" was the other band. Do you remember them?
R.V.B. - I love that band.
T.B. - They had that long haired violinist.
R.V.B. - Yeah, White Bird. They were a very psychedelic band.
T.B. - All that stuff was a huge influence to me and I think it boiled down by, say, the end of my high school years. I really loved Hendrix, and Mitch Mitchell, and Cream with Ginger Baker. I was a little bit into Led Zeppelin, but not so much because... I don't know, they weren't as cool as the other two, Hendrix and Cream. I got to see Jeff Beck down there. I saw Hendrix live at the Fillmore. I went to college and got exposed to jazz and classical. I majored in music and my friends turned me on to some of the best guys. We went to go see them. I think to this day one of the best concerts I've ever seen was the "Bitches Brew Band" at the Carousel Ballroom, which was the Fillmore, Bill Grahams show.
R.V.B. – Yeah, Miles Davis you mean?
T.B. - Yeah, yeah - in 1970 and I think that's on record now. I mean it was like voodoo. I've never seen anything like it.
R.V.B. – Yeah, what an album that is. A real classic.
T.B. - I would say Miles, and Weather Report, and all the guys who played with them were my biggest influences, still to this day. And the classical music of Stravinsky, Debussy, and Verez were a lot of the guys who broke a lot of rules and did some cool stuff. Those are my favorites. Yeah, so that's my influences in a nutshell.
R.V.B. - At this time, were you still involved in playing music yourself locally?
T.B. – Yeah, but it changed. I became more like a jazz musician, or a guy who was willing to be able to play anything for anybody. I learned how to sightread. I was doing commercials, and I did that show “Godspell”. I started to jam with local musicians in clubs where you could sit in and then got hooked up with a lot of the great jazz players that had settled in San Francisco. I played with Joe Henderson, Eddie Henderson, Julian Preister, Woody Shaw, Luis Gasca, and my first recording with Luis was with… I played the drums when Jack DeJohnette played on the whole album... except for one song that he wanted to play piano on. The tune was "A Love Supreme", and I'm playing drums with fucking Jack DeJohnette playing piano. George Duke, and all the rest of those guys were on that session as well. It was kind of a small "Big Band". Talk about being thrown into the deep end. I'll never forget when my girlfriend and her parents and I went out to dinner. We went over to our little one room apartment after and I turned on the radio and on KJazz - the local station - and I hear this music... and I'm going "Wow, who's that drummer? That sounds interesting. Oh my God, "that's me" and it was on the radio. There I was, looking good in front of the parents, and hearing myself for the first time on the radio.
R.V.B. - That's pretty cool. So you basically got your feet wet through the jazz world?
T.B. - Yeah, I would say Rock and Roll for me through high school... I took six months of drum lessons. I learned how to read... I learned rudiments... I learned stick control. I had enough in my pocket to be dangerous, but not refined. So when I went to college, that's where I met Mark Isham, and Pete Monue, and a trumpet player by the name of Tom Chandler, who really turned me on to the best of jazz. So my sensibilities weren't just any jazz. It was like, who was the innovator. That kind of stuff stuck with me. Plus, my teacher Chuck Brown from the bay area was a real perfectionist. So between studying with the guys from the San Francisco symphony, and getting some classical training and this great drum teacher, I got a really good education in a few years. At that point, then it was more or less a professional, you know. Right out of college I got the “Godspell” gig, which ran for a year and enabled me to move out of my parents home and get a car.
R.V.B. - Now did “Godspell” run in one theater or did it move around?
T.B. - It was two theaters. It moved from "The Geary", which was a big place, to "Marines Memorial" which was a smaller place. It ran for like thirteen months, which was unheard of. I was so lucky to have that. I remember a friend of mine that I used to play with by the name of Glen Cronkhite, who was in a band with me later said to me "Hey, I'm doing “Godspell” this year, would you mind subbing for me for two weeks because I've gotta go on the road." So I ended up playing another two weeks a year later. So aside from getting the unemployment for a year, and all that income originally ... I'll never forget when Eddie Henderson called and said George Duke called him and said Zappa was looking for drummers in other cities. He couldn't find one in L.A. and did I want to audition. So that's kinda how that happened. I was on unemployment and the phone rang and I got the call from Zappa.
R.V.B. - What song did you have to audition to?
T.B. – “Approximate” Do you know that one?
R.V.B. – Yeah, I do
T.B. - Then there was “Echidna's Arf (of you)”. It's like a bunch of fives, da da da da da - da da da da da. That one he said, "Ok, here's the structure of it - there's so many fives and then there's a nine... more fives and an eleven" and it cycles so I had to just kind of memorize that and play it by ear. Then I had to jam with George in nineteen, and that I was comfortable with, because Billy Cobham had done those kinds of things. I was a big imitator of him. Then he says to me, "Ok I like the way you play. Let's play a blues shuffle together" to kinda check my feel. After that, the rest of the drummers were shaking their heads and nobody wanted to audition. Frank said "You got the gig".
R.V.B. - Did you find out right away or did you go home and get a phone call?
T.B. - No man, he said "You got the gig if you want it". I said "Are you sure I could do this?” He said "If you're willing to work hard, then you can do it". So he took me out to dinner, and I met his wife Gale (cough). Then we went over to the Record Plant, and he played me the unreleased "One Size Fits All" record on ten... with those big Westlake speakers. I looked at him and said "I think this is the best stuff you've ever made" (hahaha) I was right. That album is fantastic.
R.V.B. - That was with Chester Thompson on the drums right?
T.B. – Chester - yeah- my buddy Chester. He is phenomenal on that.
R.V.B. - You keep in touch with some of the alumni, right?
T.B. – Yeah, as much as I can. We are all out there just doing our things but our paths cross a lot. I've been working the last seven, eight years with Don Lombardi, who's the owner of DW Drums. He made an educational website for drummers called "Drum Channel". So my gig there is kind of artist in residence when I'm in town. So we'll try and put together shows with different drummers and I'll interview them and we'll jam together. It's all for sale for five bucks a month or whatever on the internet. I had this idea of "let's get as many Zappa drummers as we can together " and so we made a DVD in which I got Ruth to come out... which was great... and Chester Thompson, Ralph Humphries, myself, and Chad Wackerman, and we talked about all the stuff and jammed later.
R.V.B. - Did the floor implode with all that talent in one place?
T.B. - (hahaha) No, no. Everybody's humble... and rightly so, because Frank was definitely somewhere above us all. Really deep.
R.V.B. - How did you enjoy the satire and getting involved with that, by putting on the mask on "Titties and Beer", and that kind of thing?
T.B. - All that stuff was great fun. When Napoleon left the band, it must have been my second year, or a year and a half later, all that stuff left, and I thought to myself somebody's got to pick up the pieces here and do the show parts. So I had fun doing that. By then, I was more comfortable with Frank. I was what was considered a veteran, so I just had fun with it. Every night, Frank would crack me up or I would try and crack him up. It was just great, and always with that pressure and that fear. Every day was a rehearsal. Every sound check was new arrangements, and every night we were playing something new. Your memory, your chops, and everything was just stretched to the limit. He just really pulled your full potential out of you. You know, I didn't know I could sing and play at the same time, and one of the first things he had me do is "Wind Up Working in a Gas Station", which is playing in 5/4 and singing that lick on top of it. I didn't even know I could do that, but from the jazz listening training... when you're playing complicated stuff, and you're listening to a saxophone player, note for note playing complicated stuff. I realized I could kinda do that. So yeah, he was a phenomenal talent, multi-talented in so many ways... very, very creative.
R.V.B. – Now you went from the regional San Francisco area and started on major tours. Did you totally have to be on your game on these tours? Were you able to enjoy yourself visit cities, or were you always in the study mode?
T.B. – Well, you know touring is hard. That's another thing I learned with Frank. You really got to take care of yourself. My first tour I was a little wild and my second tour, (cough) I learned what to do and what not to do. So when there's days off , of course you get to walk around some beautiful city, and take in some sights, and have some fun. And then on other days, it's just sleep in the limo... sleep on the plane... sleep back at the hotel... and then start drinking coffee around four for the sound check. Then you're alive until midnight. You go to sleep and wake up the next day and do it all over again.
R.V.B. - Now I presume this brought you overseas also?
T.B. - Yeah, I think the first time I went overseas was in the middle of an American tour with Frank. We went to Yugoslavia. I think we were only like the third band to go behind the "Iron Curtain" and play in Yugoslavia, which was a little bit of a more open communist country. That was unique, and scary, and also fun and beautiful to see Europe. Then he took us to Japan, Australia, and then several times all over Europe. So yeah, I got to see a lot of the world and got some time in some great cities. Occasionally, there would be like a week in Copenhagen, where we would get over jet lag and rehearse, or something where you could really look around and take in the culture. It was great.
R.V.B. - How difficult was it playing Black Page?
T.B. - Well, he handed that to me and I think I was a year or two in, and I was pretty comfortable with Frank and his music. He walked in one day and said "What do you think about this, Bozzio?" and had written "The Black Page" for like, my kit. I said "Wow, I'm impressed". There's parts of it that are fairly easy that you could sight read, but the other parts are very difficult, and took some time to work out the stickings' and coordination, and the melodic aspect of it. So it wasn't a pressure thing like, “Do it now you know, or you're out of the band”. I just chipped away at it for twenty minutes a day, for a week or two, and then I was able to play it for him. When I played it for him he said, "That's great". He then took the drum part back and wrote a melody and changes and that's how the whole thing started. So yeah, that was a challenge but you know, I would really give credit to Chad and Vinny, who played much more difficult stuff right after I left Frank. With "Moe and Herb's Vacation" and some of these tunes he wrote were even more poly-rhythmic.
R.V.B. - Did he shake up set lists out of nowhere and throw stuff like that in when you weren't expecting it?
T.B. – Yeah, constantly. Every night he would change the set. You know you kinda have basic groups of tunes that were being played and then maybe even during a solo he would turn around and go into this or something and then just jump up and down and you're doing a new tune. Every afternoon at the sound checks we were working on new stuff or new parts to an arrangement. It was constantly evolving and growing, but once again, you know... credit to Chad Wackerman... my dear friend, because he - at that point - I think in the eighties - they had almost like a hundred and fifty tunes that they had memorized... and complicated stuff to the simplest stuff. One night Frank…you know he had all those hand signals and stuff?
R.V.B. - Right
T.B. - One night Frank gave the hand signals to do these tunes in a reggae style as a joke. So they did the whole show (haha) in a reggae style. Even the more difficult classicalish' pieces. It was that kind of a thing - you know - kind of scary and very funny, and humorous at the same time.
R.V.B. – Well, one comment that I read that Frank Zappa said about you that happens to be very flattering - he said "He didn't play drums, he created music".
T.B. – Hmmm… see you got me. (hahaha) I never read that. I remember one night he did say something like that live after a drum solo. One day, we were in Boston and we were talking about classical music and stuff before the show. Verez, and Ingorf Dahl, and Bartok, and Stravinsky, - so I was kind of thinking that way and then did a drum solo. After the drum solo you always get an applause. So the audience is applauding and Frank goes up and silences them and says "That wasn't a drum solo, that was a fucking piece of music." I'll never forget that man. That was very deep.
R.V.B. - So obviously everything comes to an end, and you moved on, and you started doing various different types of things. You joined the Brecker Brothers for a short time?
T.B. - Yeah, I'm gonna do a reunion with them for that album this summer in July in Europe.
R.V.B. - Was that a welcome change of pace?
T.B. - Oh yeah. It was like all the discipline of Zappa and then being really able to let go with all that you had learned, and how much you had grown. They were just really free and no matter how far out I went, they wanted more and it was a terrific experience. One of the best experiences of my life.
T.B. – Yeah, and then at the end of UK ... I really didn't quite fit into that in terms of the direction. I never listened to Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and Yes, and some of the bands who we were being compared to... and by then, I really wanted to do something new and modern. I knew I wanted to form Missing Persons before I finished with UK. Then we did that thing, which was kinda taking great players and some tricky music but putting it in an accessible kinda pop commercial new wave thing. It worked the first time. We had our fifteen minutes and I learned a lot from that band.
R.V.B. – Yeah, I mean the popularity. You guys were all over the airwaves. That did very well for you.
T.B. – Right. It was an amazing time, because MTV had started and we were one of the first bands that had videos. We were able to get in there when they only had, maybe ten videos. (hahaha) We got to play all day long. We were in heavy, heavy, rotation and got to go to places like Lovett Texas, which we had never been to and is kind of remote, and we weren't getting any radio airplay there and sell out a big theater... 2,000 or 3,000 people on our first time in. A lot of that had to do with timing and just being in the right place at the right time.
R.V.B. - Did you enjoy making videos and doing television appearances at that time?
T.B. - Well it's a bit of a pain. It's a kind of pressure that you got to look good... you know you hope the lighting's right, and you do the right thing and don't come off like a jerk. There's a lot of waiting around for all that stuff - so no- not really. What I developed into is more of a very spontaneous person. I believe the real creativity for me comes from having done your homework and using everything you know to make music spontaneously in the moment. So I try and improvise in a compositional manner. Not just throw away licks or chops or stuff like that. It's gotta have a purpose, and a meaning... a beginning... a middle... and an ending. That harkens more back to my jazz roots, and now I try and combine the elements of classical music and jazz, because improvisation... ethnic percussion, and a wide pallet of orchestration on my drums to make a musical event on the drums that I'm most comfortable doing.
R.V.B. - I see obviously your drum set grew. After Missing Persons I see you were in the studio and moving around with all different types of people
T.B. - I tried to do a solo project. I did some sessions with Richard Marx, Robbie Robertson, Dokken, and all kinds of Metal... whatever was happening at the time. Then I got the call from Jeff Beck, so I did that for a while. That was just wonderful. We got a Grammy for "Guitar Shop" record.
R.V.B. - You went full circle. You saw him in the 60's and then you played with him.
T.B. - Yeah, that was really neat.
R.V.B. - That was a good album, “ The Guitar Shop”. That took you on a tour also right?
T.B. – Yeah, I think we did three tours with Jeff, out over five or ten years. At that time, he wasn't touring regularly. So yeah, we went to Japan and Europe, and I think three major tours in the states. One was with Stevie Ray Vaughn, the other was with Santana, and the last one was with B.B. King. So that was a lot of fun.
R.V.B. - Throughout the 90's, you did a lot of instructional videos. Are you still doing them? I know your next tour is not going to be a clinic because I listened to your album. It's very interesting. That's the ostinato style of playing where you keep a rhythm going and you work off that with your other limbs?
T.B. - Yeah, yeah
R.V.B. - I'm a guitar player. I'm really not well versed in this.
T.B. - It's like a piano player. Most music is some kind of an accompaniment with a lead melody line over it. This is the same thing, but just applied to the drums. So we'll use an accompaniment rhythm and then play counter rhythmically against it. So it's the same thing as a piano player playing one thing with his left hand and a melody with his right hand. So that's music. But I think it was around 2008 when the economy crashed and manufacturers weren't sending artists on clinic tours so much. I slowly but surely took the ball and got a booking agent and I'm doing it myself. At drum channel, I’m off the road. I have put most of my lessons and my knowledge together for people to be able to study and then I get to jam and perform with people on there as well, so that kinda covers that part. Now at my age, I just want to play. I don't care so much about money as long as I can get by, but I don't want to "NOT" play. (hahaha) I want to be active and sharing my music so that's what I'm doing.
R.V.B. - How long did it take you to design your drum set?
T.B. – That's like an evolution that has been from day one. When I was a kid, I had a single tom Ludwig kit and it had a little L arm for a single tom, and I asked my brother in metal shop to make me a U arm instead of an L arm, so I could put a second tom on there and it's been growing ever since. As I hear a sound in my head, or think I want to be able to do something, and wouldn't be neat if I had this. I have these great companies I work with and say, "Can you make me this?". A pedal that's by my foot that goes out and plays a bass drum that's over in left field. So that's how it started and over the last twenty - five years it's grown into something that's really unique. It's not a Guinness book of world record thing. It's mainly so I can do the music I want.
T.B. - I would say it truly the biggest practical drum set... the one that's being used. There are guys in the Guinness book of world records that have drum sets, but you know but they're not really professionals and they're probably impractical kits made for that purpose rather than for a musical purpose. For me, everything that's on there I need and use. Why I have so many toms is because I need the black and the white notes of the piano and I need to play real melodies. So it's not just how many drums you can buy and put together and throw in the kitchen sink - to get in the Guinness book of world records. Practically and professionally speaking it's probably the largest.
R.V.B. – Well, thank you very much for taking the time. Congratulations on your career so far and I will see you at the Iridium.
T.B. - Ok great! I look forward to it.
R.V.B. - Take care, Terry
T.B. - Thanks Bye
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
This interview may not be reproduced in any form with out permission
For more information on Terry visit his website www.terrybozzio.com
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