Terry Bozzio continually seeks innovation on the road
It’s overwhelming to think about how many bands there are. It’s even more overwhelming to think about how many people are behind these bands. For these players, it can be tough to distinguish themselves.
Band members and session players, unfortunately, usually go unnoticed by the public — apart from their names appearing in liner notes and maybe a quick shoutout or two on tour. However, with his incredible talent and passion for music, Terry Bozzio didn’t fall into the same trap that many musicians from the ’70s and ’80s found themselves in. Distinguishing himself as an incredible drummer during his time with Frank Zappa, Bozzio went on to gain praise from critics and fans alike while playing with groups like the Brecker Brothers, Korn and Beck before branching off and writing his own music.
From the very beginning, Bozzio found himself drawn to the world of percussion. His father, an avid accordian player, introduced him to the world of music.
“He could silence the room just by playing one chord,” Bozzio said in an interview with The Daily. “And I saw that power and what music was, and it really inspired me.”
But while creating his own instruments out of paper and trash cans, he eventually begged his father for drum lessons after seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. The rest is history.
While most kit players tend to avoid other percussion instruments like the plague at a young age, Bozzio was drawn to orchestral instruments, like the timpani. This interest stuck with him throughout college and continued to influence him throughout his life.
“I have three major schools of influence,” Bozzio explained. “The first is the classical European school, with composers like Bartók and Revel. Then, in jazz — not swing jazz but generic jazz à la Miles Davis — I learned about open-ended improvisations. Atmospheres. And then the third is ethnic percussion from around the music from traditional musicians. Every country in Africa has a different style of drumming, and they all speak to me.”
While in college, Terry began to realize the significance of music. His friends at the time turned him on to the “authenticity and quality of the artists instead of copycat artists,” Bozzio said. “I’d bring them an artist and say, ‘Hey, check this out,’ and they’d say, ‘Oh yeah, well Tony Williams was playing that three years ago.’”
After working as a musician for a short while after college, Bozzio eventually got his big break when he auditioned for Frank Zappa’s band. After an incredibly tough audition process, he got the gig that would push him to levels he had never been pushed before.
“When I played with Zappa,” Bozzio recalled, “it was like Marine Boot Camp for a musician.”
Zappa began to take on a sort of father-figure role with Terry, giving him advice on his career and fostering his musical talent. And after a few years, Zappa, like a mother bird, thought it was time for Bozzio to fly and take the reins in regard to his own music.
While playing with other groups, Terry picked up sponsorships from various companies and began playing solo shows, showcasing his immense talent.
“At first, I didn’t like it,” Bozzio said, “but then I realized I had a captivated audience of talented drummers and no commercial restrictions.” From there, he started to take some chances; unsurprisingly, people enjoyed it. And he continued to develop his sound and his craft.
“There’s a classic quote from Buddy Rich that says, ‘There’s only two bad kinds of music I don’t like: country and western,’ and that’s not true. You know, there’s good music and there’s bad music; there’s music that’s authentic and there’s music that’s being played to be popular and make a living. And it’s OK to do the latter, but it’s not for me,” Bozzio said.
One of the most recognizable things about Bozzio is how huge his drum kit is. Many drummers are often criticized for having huge kits yet not utilizing the whole kit — essentially using it for show. However, every piece of Bozzio’s kit serves a purpose. All of the bass drums are pitched diatonically, while his many toms are pitched chromatically. With access to all these tones, he’s able to explore not only rhythmic concepts, but also tonal concepts, making solos eclectic, and not just “thrashing drum solos,” as Bozzio mentioned.
After all these years of being on the road and perfecting his craft, one would think an artist would start to grow tired and banal, but assuming these things about Bozzio would be a grave mistake. Continuing to listen and learn has proved for Bozzio to keep his music fresh, complex and interesting.
“I think it (has) gotten a whole lot more impressive melodically, and it’s on a whole different level of coordination,” Bozzio explained. “I can sit down at a practice pad and practice rhythmic exercises, but utilizing the whole kit is a whole different thing, and it (has) been growing by leaps and bounds.”
Terry Bozzio will be at the Token Lounge in Detroit on Sept. 16 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $25.