Terry Bozzio circa early ’80s
BY JAMIE KNERR Terry Bozzio has seemingly done it all in the world of drums and percussion over the last 40-odd years, in the rarified air at the very highest peaks of rock, pop, jazz, fusion, world music and, well, you name it. Or so you might think. Fortunately for him, and for all of us, he hasn’t yet reached his pinnacle and is still climbing. Now more than ever he’s inspired to find new directions, other musical worlds to explore and map, in 2016 and beyond.
Already held in the highest esteem by both his musical contemporaries and worldwide audiences alike, Bozzio is currently undertaking a tour of solo appearances across the U.S. Challenging his own limitations, expanding old forms while forging new ones, mining deeper, subtler layers of his musical expression, these performances–partly improvised, partly composed, ever-changing–invariably produce some truly breathtaking results, with plenteous rewards for the listener.
Probably best known for his brilliant work on ten albums with Frank Zappa in the 70’s, Bozzio has a drumming resume that’s enough to make your head spin right off your shoulders. He has recorded and/or performed with no less than Captain Beefheart, Jeff Beck, the Brecker Brothers, UK, Herbie Hancock, Robbie Robertson, Billy Sheehan, Holdsworth-Levin-Bozzio-Mastelotto, Group 87, Andy Taylor, Missing Persons, even Korn, and far too many other luminaries to name. Not to mention his significant accomplishments as a composer, drum clinician, and visual artist.
A lifelong fan–but not generally star-struck–I confess to swallowing down hard on a lump in my throat when I spoke to Terry last week, in advance of his upcoming show at World Cafe Live on September 22nd. Thankfully he immediately put me at ease by being a sincere, personable, self-effacing, gregarious guy. We talked for nearly an hour.
PHAWKER: Hey Terry, how are the shows going?
TERRY BOZZIO: Well I’ve only done one so far, and that was perfect. It was sold out, at the Musical Instrument Museum Theater in Phoenix. It’s really a great place, you should check it out. You could spend hours there looking at instruments from around the world.
PHAWKER: On your current tour of solo performances in the U.S.: Is the music based on preconceived musical motifs and themes, or are you more or less shooting from the hip in terms of improvisation?
TERRY BOZZIO: Well, it’s both. There’s through-composed compositions, and improvisations. There’s form and structure and composition, but it’s always open when I solo. I never do the same thing twice, or know exactly what I’m going to do.
PHAWKER: Could you talk a little about what brought you to where you are now musically, particularly with the greater emphasis on melody and harmony, using pitched drums?
TERRY BOZZIO: I think I started to develop my own style after Zappa. I started to compose more melodic drum parts, I threw my ride cymbal away, starting stacking cymbals, using other instruments on my set. Even more so around the time I got with Jeff Beck. Also when I began doing drum clinics I was starting to play simple ostinatos. To my amazement everybody seemed to like that, so it encouraged me to do some more. I started using a gong as ride cymbal, using multiple hi hats…it sort of went in that direction. Now I’m just trying to go deeper and deeper. I look to people like Joe Zawinul, Miles Davis, to sort of inspire me in that direction. On my current kit I started with eight DW piccolo toms, set up in a diatonic scale…eventually I expanded the kit to include five more toms, tuned chromatically, so the drum set really became almost like a European-style button accordion.
PHAWKER: The kit you’re playing these days is just enormous, it must take forever to set up for performance…
TERRY BOZZIO: Yes. We can do it, in a relaxed way, in about four hours. I think the record was about 45 minutes in Chicago when I had a lot of really good help!
PHAWKER: Tell us something that would surprise us, either musically or personally, about Frank Zappa.
TERRY BOZZIO: I think the greatest misconception was that he was a crazed drug-addict hippie or something. He was a total tea-totaler. I’d seen him take a sip or two of alcohol in my life, never seen him anything like drunk or anything. He was always anti-drugs and would fire or fine anyone in the band that was messing around in that direction. He was a genius on at least seven different levels. He could have been really successful in any of those areas…he really enjoyed being an observer though. He never participated in anything that could be considered foolish or stupid at any time. He was an arrow, absolutely straight-ahead. “Get up every day and kick it to death” was kinda his thing. That was what his dedication was like.
Read the rest of this entry »