I don’t know exactly why I started playing drums, but I was doing the typical beating on pots and pans by the time I was four. So my mother and father decided to get me a starter drum kit, probably from Sears or Woolworths in our Southern California area. I destroyed it in short order. I turned five in November and the following Christmas—actually Christmas eve–I got my first real drum kit. We were opening the gifts and there was a knock on the door. I ran to see who was there, and when I opened the door there was a 1965 blue sparkle Ludwig kit all set up on our front porch! Santa not only delivered the drums but set them up before heading off to his next stop! What a guy! I played those drums for years until I persuaded my father to get me a Tony Williams yellow lacquer Gretsch kit when I was about 15. I think he realized I was serious about being a musician and he worked a deal and got me the kit I really wanted.
For reasons only God knows, I had a knack for playing the drums and understanding music from the very beginning. I understood what I was supposed to do and could play beats right away. My older brother Mike was playing guitar in a band when he was a teenager. He turned me on to almost all of the music I listened to as a kid, especially Led Zeppelin and Genesis. I was six or seven at the time, and I begged him to bring me to rehearsal all the time. When he let that happen, I would jump right on the drums and play Led Zeppelin’s “The Rover” with the band. The guys always patted me on the back and said “RIGHT ON!” It just confirmed: I was hooked on music.
And I listened to music every day, learning as many songs as I could fit in my brain. A lot of them—big surprise–were by Genesis and Phil Collins. During those formative years I was also singing and playing guitar and trumpet. Trumpet? My brother played it for a little while, so I had to do it, too. I got pretty good. By the time I was in 8th grade, I played every brass instrument in the school band. It was good fun and something different from playing the drums (which I did every day after school at home). No, the school band didn’t play Zeppelin or Genesis, but it was interesting to play all the instruments and learn how to read music.
At 15, I joined my first band (I don’t remember the name) with long-time friend Stan Ausmus, playing parties and other functions. I was able to totally let loose with guys who were into the same kind of music–Rush, David Bowie, Genesis (of course), Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and so many others. I really started to spread my musical wings and Stan was a huge part of the journey (and still is). I was also developing a love for fusion jazz, Latin music, and anything funky. I realized that I LOVE a good groove more than chops and flash, and I found my style—courtesy of Phil Collins. He was like a Motown drummer playing Progressive Rock. Sure, I loved (and still love) Tony Williams, Vinnie Colaiuta, Buddy Rich, Steve Gadd and so many other amazing players. But Phil’s feel, sound, and style still inspire me.
MAKING A GO OF IT
After high school (1986 to 1988), I attended the Dick Grove School of Music in Los Angeles. The school had a great reputation and Dick Grove’s composition course was well known. Dave Garibaldi was one of the teachers at the time, and he was literally the first person to give me a drum lesson. How cool is that?! But other than that, I was not getting much out of the drum program at the school, so I changed direction and studied song writing and singing. I joined a number of bands and networked like crazy.
Out of music school I became like so many other players in LA: a working musician. I took every gig I could get, and when I was not playing, I was hustling other gigs. I went to jam sessions all over town and tried to meet anyone and everyone I could.
My first steady gig was in a cover-band called The Neighborhood, a typical bar band that played anywhere and everywhere. A keyboard player/singer named Michael Brockman and Guitar player Kim Cuda were in that band. Both great players and we had a lot of fun together. One night we were playing at a restaurant bar in Pomona California called Baxters and I made another big connection — my life-long mate Tiffany. She happened to be there at the bar with her friends. Talk about being at the right place at the right time! I asked for her number and she actually gave it to me! I called her the next day, we went to lunch, and I have been with her ever since — 28 years as I write this.
The LA music scene was pretty tight—we knew most of the other bands and all of us played the same clubs. One night, Brian Haner of Susie and the Knockouts told me they were looking for a new drummer. They were doing more gigs, making better money, and even traveling around a little bit. So as nicely as I could, I quit The Neighborhood and became a Knockout. I was in that band for about five years and had a lot of great times. All during that period, I did all I could to meet more people in the music biz and make a name for myself.
MY BIG BREAK – KEVIN GILBERT, TEARS FOR FEARS, GENESIS, AND MORE…
Along the way, while still playing cover gigs with Susie and the Knockouts and hustling throughout LA, I came upon an opportunity that sounded great at the time. I got a call and was asked if I wanted to play a ski resort close to LA for a weekend. There would be no pay for the gig but Tiffany and I would get free ski passes. I didn’t have any other work that weekend and we both loved skiing so I said yes.
The band was a group of guys who had a business in LA that prepared and installed the wiring for a lot of the major recording studios in town. The music was something they did for fun once in a while and they invited a lot of “name” players to come and sit in. The only “names” that showed up were Kevin Gilbert and his then-girlfriend Sheryl Crow (before she was superstar Sheryl Crow). I was a huge fan of Kevin’s earlier band Toy Matinee (and its self-titled album), so I was excited to meet him. We played and talked about all things music and then exchanged numbers. I tried to stay in touch but he didn’t respond until about 5 months later, when he called me out of the blue. He asked if I would be interested in playing The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway at festival called Progfest. Kevin remembered me telling him I was a huge Genesis fan and I loved Phil Collins. Dave Kerzner played the part of Tony Banks, Stan Cotey played the part of Mike Rutherford, Dan Hancock played the part of Steve Hackett, Kevin played the part of Peter Gabriel, and I played the part of Phil Collins. We had only a little rehearsal and the gig had a few rough patches but overall it was a glorious evening. As I had hoped, I made a good impression; Kevin then asked me to join him and his band, THUD.
I can say with total certainty that meeting Kevin Gilbert at Mt High ski resort was my “big break” in the music biz. Everything else I did, even certain things with my band Spock’s Beard, stemmed from that one weekend. All of a sudden, I was hanging out with people who were part of much bigger things than I’d ever been involved with. Kevin took me under his wing and taught me how to record (he was an amazing engineer) and treated me like a brother. I lived close to his studio and went there every day. He even gave me keys to the studio and I came and went all the time.
Kevin’s record THUD had already been released and I went on the road to help promote it. We did all kinds of gigs, from full band to a duo where I played bass guitar, kick drum, hi-hat, and sang all at the same time – a little one-man rhythm section. We toured, opening for singer songwriter Jonatha Brooke and from that Jonatha asked me to join her and do the same thing. I’ve been working with Jonatha on and off ever since.
When we were off the road, we jammed at Kevin’s, making all kinds of music. From that, the band Kaviar was born. At the beginning, it included Kevin, world-class drummer Brian MacLeod and me. Brian had worked with Kevin in Toy Matinee and also participated in the Tuesday Night Music Club, the loose jam project that evolved into Sheryl Crow’s first record, the thing that propelled her to stardom. Brian had also played with Tears for Fears, touring for the record Elemental and recording on the record Raoul and the Kings of Spain (aka RATKOS). The band was ready to tour for RATKOS and Brian did not want to go, preferring to stay back and work on Kaviar. Brian recommended me to Tears for Fears leader Roland Orzabal and I got the Tears for Fears gig sight unseen!!! I still can’t believe that. Brian’s word got me my first major tour (thank you, thank you Brian!!!).
I was scheduled to fly to the UK, go to Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio, and rehearse for the Tears for Fears world tour. Needless to say, I was ecstatic! I was a huge Tears for Fears fan and I knew I had to show up at rehearsal with my everything totally together. So I studied every Tears for Fears song for days, just in case Roland called something other than the songs they told me we would be playing. On the first day of rehearsal, the first song we played was the title track from RATKOS. I NAILED IT!!! I knew that if I tanked I could have very quickly been sent back to LA. But instead I began a long run with Tears for Fears that lasted from 1995 to 2010.
But wait there’s more!
While in London on the RATKOS tour I had a phone call with Kevin. He told me that Phil Collins had quit Genesis and they might be auditioning drummers for a new record. Kevin said, “You should go find their manager’s office and see if you can get an audition.” That is exactly what I did. I brought with me the only record I was on at the time, which was the first Spock’s Beard album “The Light” (more on that later). I didn’t get to see the manager, but I gave the secretary the Spock’s CD and invited the whole office to that night’s Tears for Fears show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. I don’t remember anyone from the office coming to the show but about six months later, on a Sunday morning, I got a phone call from Nick Davis, who’d been working with Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks on a number of things and was going to produce their first Genesis record without Phil Collins. I was blown away; it was something that I did not expect. Nick asked me to send him some other things I had played on. I sent a DAT tape with everything I had at the time; they called me back to fly to the UK and audition. I was on the road with Jonatha Brooke, and after the last show, I flew to England and went to The Farm, the Genesis studio in the UK.
It’s a big understatement to say that it was very surreal walking into the studio and meeting Mike and Tony. In my wildest dreams, I’d never thought of making music with those guys. Genesis was a major inspiration me as a kid. For a period of time, I listened to their music literally every day. I knew every song in the catalogue. But I soon realized that they were normal, everyday gentlemen ready to move on with their careers and keep on making music and here I was in England auditioning for them.
We got started by listening to a track, and then I went into the drum room (THE ROOM PHIL RECORDED SO MANY GREAT SONGS IN!!!!! WOW!!!!! ) to play the song. I remember doing a few takes of each tune, and then we moved on to the next one. We recorded a lot of songs that day. I went home and waited to hear back, and soon Nick Davis phoned me and said they wanted me to come back and record the songs for real. I GOT THE GIG! I could not believe it. It was one of the highlight moments of my career. My name is on a Genesis record (“Calling All Stations”) as a drummer. I didn’t care that I was not the only drummer on the record (the great Israeli drummer Nir Z also played). My name is there and that is amazing in my eyes.
Sadly, my friend and mentor Kevin Gilbert did not get the chance to celebrate my Genesis gig. He suddenly passed away in May of 1996. Kevin would have loved that I had that experience. God brought Kevin into my life, and that weekend in the winter of 1994 changed my life forever.
There was also a connection between Spock’s Beard and Kevin. Spock’s had recorded our 2nd record and we hired Kevin to mix it. We were half way though when Kevin died, but he made his mark on the band in a big way and we kept going with his spirit as a guide. We finished Beware of Darkness and proceeded to have a great run as a band.
But that’s jumping ahead. Let’s go back a few years.
It was sometime in 1990 or ‘91 when I went to a blues jam at the Universal Bar and Grill in Studio City, CA. They had a jam night very week; I attended several times but not much ever came from it. The way it worked was you’d write your name and instrument on a chalkboard and the host would call you up when it was your turn. One very special evening, the host called brothers Neal and Alan Morse and myself. We played some sort of bluesy rock tune. I have no idea what it was and the three of us even to this day don’t think it wasn’t very good. I think there was alcohol involved. But we talked and exchanged phone numbers. A few days later, one of the guys called and invited me to a networking jam session at Valley Center Studios in Van Nuys. I had never been to a jam session like that, especially during the day! They booked 2 or 3 rooms and we all rotated around and played all kinds of music.
Soon after, Neal called and told me that he and Alan wanted to start a progressive rock band. Neal had a lot of music already written. I was a prog head from way back and at the time, the early 1990’s, progressive rock was dead, especially in LA. That’s what intrigued me about it all. I knew Neal and Alan were great musicians from the jams we had, so I thought, why not check it out? Tiffany and I drove to Neal’s place in west LA and he gave me a cassette tape with all of the songs for what would be the first Spock’s Beard record, “The Light”. It was really good, with everything demoed out and the drums programmed in a way that blew both of us away. I called the guys and said, “Let’s start a band,” and we did.
Originally, we were not called Spock’s Beard, and we had a different bass player, but it was enough to get started and get serious. Soon after, bassist Dave Meros joined. Alan Morse generously put up the money for us to make that first record and then we started playing shows around LA. Not long after that, Ryo Okumoto joined, rounding out the core five that would propel Spock’s forward for years to come.
Spock’s played at Progfest 1995, and at the show we met Thomas Waber, who was starting his record label Inside Out. We signed a deal with Thomas and more than 20 years later, the band is still working with him.
Spock’s played around the LA area, returned to Progfest in 1997, and then did our first European tour in 1998 to support our 3rd record, Kindness of Strangers. It was so much fun because we soon realized that there was a whole continent of people who were into progressive rock, came out to see shows, and supported their favorite bands. So Spock’s kept making records and did more and more tours of Europe and the States, building our fan base. We were really gaining momentum after our 5th record “V”.
But big changes were afoot. We did a show at the London Astoria, where we were finally getting a chance to play the big room upstairs. There was so much energy that night and we felt like we were on the verge of something big. All of us, except for Neal Morse, our lead singer and songwriter. We didn’t know it at the time, but Neal had been thinking of leaving. We made our 6th record “Snow”, and after a rehearsal for an acoustic show, Neal told us he was exiting the band. Dave, Al, Ryo, and I knew that we didn’t want the band to end and decided to move on. Once the smoke had cleared, I knew I wanted to take on being the front man in Spock’s. I felt I had the voice and ability. After a little bit of convincing, the guys all agreed, and I became the singer in Spock’s Beard. We went on to make 4 more studio albums with me as the singer – “Feel Euphoria”, “Octane”, “Spock’s Beard”, and “X”. I am very proud of that time in Spock’s Beard history and the music we made. We got to spread our wings as writers and performers and it felt great.
BIG BIG TRAIN
I met Rob Aubrey when he handled front of house sound on the first Spock’s Beard European tour in 1998. He handled that job on every tour after that and became one of my dearest friends. Rob also has his own recording studio in Southampton England, and generally, every time I was on that side of the pond, I would stay at Rob’s place and record. Rob recommended me to his pals in Big Big Train, a group that had been around since 1990 but was looking to do more things. I first recorded with them for 2007’s The Difference Machine. Band leaders Greg Spawton and Andy Poole asked me back to record The Underfall Yard, which also featured new lead singer David Longdon. Soon after that, Greg and Andy asked me to officially join the band.
This wasn’t a typical band situation, where we would make a record then go on tour. BBT was a studio band; we just kept making records. Among them: “English Electric” Parts 1 & 2, a few EP’s, and we made a video for the song “Make Some Noise.” During that time, the band grew to 8 with the additions of Rachel Hall, Danny Manners, Dave Gregory, and Rikard Sjöblom. But we’d never played live.
That started to change in 2014, when the guys decided to go to Real World Studios and film a live performance (without an audience). We knew this giant thing that we were building could become something very special. The Real World performance featured five amazing brass players and a band at the top of its game—as you can hear on “Stone and Steel”. When that came out, there was a real buzz about BBT and it was time to really play live in front of people. Greg and Andy were already planning live shows and since the band had built such an amazing following, we were able to play at a venue called Kings Place in London. Three shows sold out and the reception was amazing; we all knew we wanted to push it further. The next two records were “Folklore” and “Grimspound”. At the 2016 Prog Awards, BBT won for Best Live Event and Band of the Year. With all of the momentum of the records, videos, DVD’s, and live shows under our belt, we played three more sold out shows at London’s Cadogan Hall in September 2017. I have now recorded eight studio albums with BBT, including our latest studio effort ” Grand Tour” and the live album ” Merchants Of Light”.
OTHER BIG MOMENTS
At this point I am going to jump around in time a little bit because it’s very hard to keep everything is chronological order. Throughout my career, I always seemed to have 10 things going on at once. That’s the life of a working musician.
Somewhere in the late 1990’s, Roland Orzabal started working on a solo record and I got to go to his studio in Bath, England for a few weeks to work on his music. It was a blast, not only because I was making music with an artist I have huge respect for, but I also got to know Roland a bit more, which made the whole experience more fun. The record Tomcats Screaming Outside was released in April 2001 in the UK and Europe, but it was released on September 11, 2001 in the US. It goes without saying that Roland’s solo record was not the first thing on people’s minds. It was pure bad timing, but the record did turn out great and touched a lot of people.
One evening while I was hanging at the studio there was a phone call from Chris Hughes. He produced TFF’s Songs from the Big Chair record and also co-wrote the song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Chris was over at Peter Gabriel’s studio working on something with Peter, and he called to see if I was available to play drums on a song. I tried to not act too excited when I put the phone down and asked Roland if it was OK. He knew it was a big deal for me to get asked to record for Peter Gabriel, and he said it was fine. I got in the rental car and made the short drive over to Peter’s studio, Real World.
The evening went like this – first, I sat down and ate dinner with Peter and Chris. Then we went into Peter’s game room and played table tennis. I have always thought of myself as a pretty decent ping-pong player, but I got my ass handed to me by not only Peter, but also by the chef who made us dinner. After they murdered me on the ping-pong table, it was finally time to go jam. The song we worked on was for a Princess Diana tribute record that had a ton of artists on it. The song that ended up on the record was way different what we played in the studio. But that doesn’t change the fact that I was in the studio with Peter Gabriel, who played the Rhodes and sang as we jammed! It was very cool to look out the drum room window and see Peter there singing. VERY COOL!
In the late 1990’s, I met engineer/producer Mark Hornsby. Mark lived and worked in Nashville and he started bringing me there for sessions at Java Jive Studios. We did all kinds of fun and adventurous things. One project was recreating the Genesis record The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. We replaced almost all of the keyboard parts with real strings and a wide array of instruments like accordion and clarinet. It was a lot of fun and turned out great! We even did a couple of gigs with it, a small one in Nashville with a fairly normal sized band and a full-on show in LA with a huge ensemble. Mark and I continued to work together throughout the 2000’s, with a break while I went on the road with Cirque Du Solei. In 2012, Mark became the recording studios director at Sweetwater Sound with an idea of building a team of players and making Sweetwater a destination facility. I joined the Sweetwater team in August of 2014, but more on that later.
There were also a bunch of other highlights between 1996 and 2010.
- I have released a few solo records over my career, starting with Karma in 2001. It was my first foray into that world, and even though to my ear now it sounds like I was searching for something, there are parts of that record that I am very proud of. I put out a Live &Acoustic record and DVD not long after that, based on some of the solo shows supporting the record. Fast forward to 2011 and I released an EP called Pieces. It is a five song EP of material that scans some different areas of my musical tastes.
- As I mentioned before, Kevin Gilbert died in 1996, and after a bit of time passed, it was decided to finish his rock opera The Shaming of the True. We actually started working on it together. But he only finished a bit more than half of the project; the rest of the record was in varying stages of completion. I worked with engineer/producer John Cuniberti and we completed the record. It was released in early 2000.
- Also in the early 2000’s, I had the wonderful opportunity to join the Mike Keneally Band. I met Mike and Bryan Beller at Kevin Gilbert’s studio in 1995 when we gathered to cut a song for a YES tribute album. I realized very quickly how amazing Mike and Bryan are. One of my dearest friends, guitarist Rick Musallam, was playing in Mike’s band and I secretly wished I was part of it every time I saw them play. They were awesome! One day there was an opening in the band. Mike had put out a record called Dancing and was heading out on the road. I asked Mike for a tryout and I got the gig. We had so much fun on that tour and I was really able to raise my game, just by being around all those guys. From there we went to recording the record Dog, which was released in 2004, and playing lots more shows.
- During those same years, at Rob Aubrey’s studio in England, I had the great pleasure to make a lot of music with Martin Orford, Jerusalem, Lynden Williams, Steve Thorn, Robin Armstrong and many others. I think I have recorded more then 1000 songs with Rob.
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
There came a point in 2009-2010 where work was just sparse. Even with all of things I had done over the years, it was slow. I had to go back to playing clubs and weddings and whatever I could find. TFF was barely touring, Spock’s wasn’t doing very much at that time either. And on the personal front, I had a family to support. Tiffany was working her butt off, we had two kids in school, and I had to do whatever it took to help provide for the family while still trying to be a musician. I decided to put in an audition video for Cirque Du Soleil.
I had seen a few Cirque shows over the years in Las Vegas. The music seemed pretty cool and the shows went on for years. I made up my audition video and went about my normal business until some months later, I got a call about a new Cirque show called TOTEM. It was not a Vegas based operation, but a touring show where they set up the big Cirque tents and stayed in each town up to three months before moving on to the next city. Along with the offer of the job as drummer/singer for the show I was told I could also bring my wife and kids! Anthony and Sophia would be schooled through Cirque and we would get apartments in each town. It took me a good month or more to make my decision, but after lot of conversations with Tiffany, we decided to go for it–and we left to join the circus. I was drummer, singer, and assistant bandleader for TOTEM for almost five years, performing the show more than 1400 times (and I never missed a single gig). We lived in Europe for a time and played at the Royal Albert Hall in London on two separate occasions; for almost six months, my kids’ schoolhouse was the hall! We experienced every corner of the US and a very big chunk of Canada, too. It was an amazing experience for all of us, and I think I would do it again. The main reason we left the show was that the company had some major cutbacks in 2014. A big part of the cutbacks was the closing of the school. I could have kept my job but it would have been hard on the kids, so I decided to leave.
I had some lead time before my stint with Cirque was ending, so I put the feelers out for work. As I mentioned earlier, Mark Hornsby was already at Sweetwater and I called to tell him what was going on. Sweetwater is located in Fort Wayne, IN, in the Midwest, not far from Chicago and Detroit. When I was in Columbus, OH with Cirque, I took the three-hour drive with Tiffany and the kids to check out Sweetwater and Fort Wayne. At the time, none of us expected to be living there, but we checked it out anyway.
Fast forward a few months, and I was feverishly looking for work. After four-plus years of very steady work, I was a bit scared of having to start over. Through a mutual friend, I was able to get in touch with and audition for Steven Wilson. He sent me a track he was working on and I recorded myself on the song. He liked what I did, we started talking, and he offered me the gig! I am a big Steven Wilson fan and have been for a long time. He only has the highest caliber musicians in his band, so this was a big deal. The money he offered was not bad, either.
I also got an offer from Sweetwater to work as a studio musician and in the marketing department. It was a very tough decision; my heart was pulling me to go on the road, but I also had to think about my family (who actually liked me and wanted me to be around). The tour with Steven would have had me away for a long time. As a family, we had been on the road together for almost five years and done everything together. If I joined Wilson, I’d have to leave them at home for months at a time. I didn’t want that; they didn’t want that. We decided as a family that Sweetwater would be the best thing for us. A couple of months after my last show with Cirque, we were living outside Fort Wayne. I made the right decision. Sweetwater’s drum division has exploded and I am getting the opportunity to meet a lot of very interesting people while building some new life-long relationships. I am also getting the chance to play on so much great drum gear–it really is Disneyland in that regard! Sweetwater Studios is also growing like crazy and a lot of fun, creative, great sounding projects are happening there. It is a world-class facility that I get to be a part of. Many of my old bands and music compatriots have been there to record or do workshops, which is icing on the cake. Sweetwater rocks!
I released my debut solo album “Karma” in 2001 and the five song EP “Pieces” in 2011. Additionally I worked with engineer/producer John Cuniberti to complete Kevin Gilbert’s rock opera “The Shaming of the True” which was released in 2000. Now with the release of my sophomore solo effort “Invisible” commences another fascinating chapter in my multi-faceted journey.
My career has taken many twists and turns. I have been able to live out some major musical fantasies. I have seen some of the highest highs as well as some of the lowest lows. It has been a wild ride that is not over yet!