Monday, October 22, 2007

Almost Famous

While growing up I played the drums and other related percussion instruments beginning in the fifth grade and continued through high school and beyond. During grade school I quickly became the best drummer at public school #18, located in the Fountain Square section of Indianapolis. While the first chair drummer in grade school I began the first ever pep band for athletic events and even marched in a parade; something not many people in the 7th grade did in those days, the year was 1968.

As I transitioned into high school, I eventually sat first chair and studied privately from the head of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for all four years of high school. A key event was placing 1st in the state solo ensemble contest held at Butler University for snare drum competition. During high school I played in concert band, orchestra, pit band, pep band and marching band. I was fortunate enough to march in the Indianapolis 500 parade, around the track before the race, and on Monument Circle for various city events that required a high school band. The high school was Manual, which is on the south side. In the 1970’s Manual had a reputation for being the best band and music program in the city.

David Letterman had a show on Saturday morning at channel 13 called “Clover Power” which was sponsored by 4-H to showcase local high school talent. I put together a drum ensemble called “36 heads” which was one of the coolest music events going on at that time. The piece called for 4 drum sets, 8 drum heads each, i.e. two heads on the snare, two heads on the ride tom, two heads on the bass, and two heads on the floor tom. 4 x 8 = 32, then you add in the human head of each drummer which is 4 total and you have 36 heads. The piece was so extraordinary we played at various schools, art museum, and sectional basketball games at half time.

We were spotted by a scout from Clover Power and they had us on the show. I remember it well, we drove to 11th and Meridian where the old channel 13 studio was located (now channel 20) and met a very, very young an not famous, not yet discovered David Letterman. He was very nice to us, and very funny. He told us what a break it was to have something besides kid with their sheep. He bought us cokes in the commissary and joke with us during the taping. I like to tell people “have I ever told you about the time I played the drums live on David Letterman”.

I graduated from high school and went to London with the thought of trying to live there and play live music. Understand at this time I have been playing every day and practicing no less than 30 minutes per day every day of my life since grade school. I was among the best out there. I met a music booking agent in London who told me Steve Miller (who I didn’t really know at the time) was looking for a studio drummer for his next album and was auditioning. If the drummer selected fit the band well, they would go on tour with them. The audition neared and I had met some friends who were going to the continent and down to Greece for the winter. I thought this sounded just about perfect so I took off with them and did not show up for the audition.

I came back to the US and through correspondence learned Steve Miller had really wanted me to audition after hearing my credentials (which were impressive for an 18 year old). He did get a drummer and they cut the studio album which was called “The Joker” and went to #1 within one month after release. The song is still popular to this day.

So, here I am writing about it and thinking whenever I heard the song “The Joker”, I smile and think to myself - that could have been playing the drums on that album…..but at least I got to play on David Letterman!