The Great American, Grassroots, Rockin’ Road Warrior Dream

Here’s another excerpt from my upcoming book, which is a follow-up to The Boy Is Gonna Rock:

Will Drum For Food: 
Surviving the Nineties with Clubs, Campgrounds, Clinics, and Credit Cards

This memoir focuses on the Nelson hey-day, on through a decade-plus of my pursuits as a drumming educator and solo artist. It delves deep into the creative, philosophical, and business aspects of surviving and thriving in both of those very different musical/cultural worlds and, as you might imagine, there are plenty of stories to tell! Here is an excerpt about my earliest motivations for pursuing the drummer-as-bandleader direction.

And again, this is an unedited, first-draft preview. Enjoy…

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The Great American, Grassroots, Rockin’ Road Warrior Dream

I always had a fascination with that typical storyline of how most bands progress from A to Z in their “journey to the top.” They start off with nothing but some shit gear, a beat-up van or station wagon, and a few bogus gigs, where the five patrons in the bar barely notice them. And then the grassroots climb begins, as our heroes navigate a myriad of treacherous circumstances: roadside breakdowns, borderline financial ruin, perhaps a member change, maybe some drug or alcohol setbacks, and several epic stories of near-disaster that they barely survived.

But then, things gradually begin to pick up. The band’s live performances improve and they start writing better songs. More people start turning up to shows. Gear and transport are gradually upgraded and overall conditions improve ever so slightly. This all leads to more packed houses and even a few national act support spots where the band goes over well… which then leads to bigger and better gigs… which then leads to a bit more money and opportunity. And so the trajectory continues, until at last—after many close calls, disappointments, flame-outs, and then one, two, three or more false starts—a record deal is finally inked and the band steps up to the next level.  

From there, the grind continues to various degrees, with some bands crushing it on their debut attempt (like Van Halen or GNR), and others needing a few records to hit their stride (like Kiss or Rush). Either way, this general narrative exists with practically every single band you can think of. Sure, there are anomalies, especially in our current “American Idol” culture of zero-to-sixty reality TV exposure and overnight YouTube sensationalism. But this classic narrative of the slow and steady grind had always appealed to me. Grassroots. No shortcuts. Building a die-hard following. Earning your acclaim. And, of course, engaging a journey of inexplicable struggle and strife—the likes of which most “mere mortals” could not (or would not choose to) survive—in a modern-day version of the classic Joseph Campbell Heroes Journey paradigm. You face the adversities, slay the dragons, and eventually, in your darkest hour, win the kingdom.  

The only thing was, by 1990, I had never experienced the full arc of such a journey. I had become intimately acquainted with the agonizing first stages of the process, but not so much with the fruits-of-the-labor pay-off stages. And my first major gig, Vinnie Vincent Invasion, had already been primed in the sizable aura of the Kiss brand—at least in terms of elevating Vinnie to a stature of international notoriety right out of the gate. The same could be said of the Nelson gig. In addition to any cache the brothers may have inherited from their family legacy, they had already busted balls through many years of writing, gigging, and all the rest of it—long before I came along—to get to a record deal level.  

And so, since leaving the Berklee College of Music and beginning to pursue that solo direction, I had developed somewhat of a romanticized version of what my own grassroots journey to the kingdom might entail. It would be a drummer-led situation (which was unusual, I know). Buddy Rich was the gold standard where drummers as bandleaders were concerned, but Billy Cobham had also had a great run fronting his various powerhouse ensembles. I was looking to combine some of Buddy and Billy’s “drum hero” attributes with a more rock-oriented, power trio vibe that was squarely inspired by guitar great, Eric Johnson.

Buddy, Billy… and Bobby!
(I literally just noticed the name-similarities in this moment:
5-letter names that begin with a “B” and end with a “Y”… which is followed by matching
consonants. Destiny, indeed! Now, if only I could
play like these motherfuckers!)

To that end, Eric was probably my biggest role model in this capacity: Virtuoso band-leader, fronting a classic power trio, and packing out clubs everywhere. Of course, this guy was a fucking monster without parallel who had procured legendary status throughout Texas for well over a decade before he would have his breakthrough record with “Cliffs of Dover” in 1990. Shit, I remember watching this guy burn the house down at venues like Cullen auditorium, with his first band, the Electromagnets, opening for the likes of prog rockers UK. But then later, at Rockefellers in Houston—one of my favorite all-time concert venues—I saw some Eric Johnson performances that have stayed with me to this very day. Man, could this guy wail… and did he ever play the long-game.

I remember having many conversations about this ideal with my childhood friend, Cobo. He was a huge believer in me, and in this concept of a grassroots ethos, having been a singer/songwriter in several popular Houston-area bands in the late 70s. And he was always the first to encourage me to put on the blinders and diligently head in that direction, without the distraction of all of these “dime-a-dozen” rock gigs. I think he saw the practical value of me doing them, but he was always that friend in the shadows, quietly whispering in my ear about the bigger picture aspiration. Do your own thing was his mantra. These talks always resonated with me and would help to fuel an ever-expanding vision that was developing in my mind:

My elusive power trio and I would go out and struggle in clubs, slowly and steadily building a rabid following around brilliant performances that featured stellar ensemble playing, deep, funky grooves with an arena rock edge, and, of course, solos… lots of solos… from everyone… steeped in that old school jazz world directive of spontaneous improvisation, and of no two shows, or solos, ever being the same. Obviously, I knew this kind of project would not be lighting the Billboard charts aflame, selling a ton of records, or reaching the same type of pinnacle that most standard-issue rock or pop bands might aspire to. But I was convinced that such a project could find its place in the world and blaze an interesting, innovative, and self-sustaining path in the landscape. And more importantly, I felt destined to manifest such a vision, even though I had no idea how to do it.

Good news was, I certainly had the band to pull this off. Bad news was, how does one begin? Brett (Garsed) was in LA at the time, waiting around for the initial crush of Nelson activities to kick in, but the Fox (Carl Carter) was clear across the country in Connecticut. We couldn’t just start playing around LA or the immediate region like a local band. No, our thing would have to be built around shorter jaunts of concentrated touring, where we would step into something of a national grind, as we would block out a few weeks or even a few months of calendar time and dive in. And then from there, we would wash, rinse, and repeat this grind six months or so later, in hopes that there would be a few more folks turning up the next time, and so on. But how could we get this thing going with the geographical realities at hand?

Also, let’s not forget about the harrowing financial logistics of touring on any level. We would need some kind of van to travel in, and that van would likely have to pull some kind of trailer with all of our gear. Then, in addition to us three band guys, we would need at least one crew guy—like my tech, Cubby—to deal with drums and backline, and most certainly a second guy to assist with set-ups and help drive while the rest of us slept… particularly if there were a lot of 500-plus mile hauls between back-to-back shows, which I was sure there would have to be. Now, figure modest wages and per diems (daily cash for food and other basics), a couple shitty motel rooms, fuel, van maintenance, and trailer rental, and all of a sudden, you have a pretty daunting set of numbers to account for—especially for a new, unproven project that was led by a drummer! It just felt like a pipe dream riddle with no real answer.

Oh, what a grueling yet joyous road we would travel…

Additionally, we had scheduling issues to navigate. The Nelson thing would be launching full-time soon and who knew how long Brett and I would be immersed in that. And the Fox was an in-demand east coast player, constantly juggling studio and live dates. It didn’t look too promising.  

And yet, I literally felt like it was divinely ordained that the three of us make a run of it and take this thing to the stage and to the studio. It was just too unique, too compelling, and too exciting of an endeavor to not materialize beyond a mere vision. Somehow, I needed to figure this thing out… and fast.

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Superfood Smoothie Science: Best Time To Consume?

In January of 2021, I launched my very own custom-blend superfood powder called Dragon Dirt. Here’s a question I get from time to time:

When is the best time of day to enjoy my Dragon Dirt smoothie?  

The short answer: The best time to have it is whatever time of day it’s most likely for you to adopt it as part of your new routine. In general, healthy habits are formed when we can “ritualize” the new activity at around the same time each day so that it becomes a sustainable lifestyle change.

The longer answer: Here are some advantages to having the Dirt at various times of day…

The Best Breakfast: I’ve always preferred this high-octane type of smoothie for breakfast. You’re taking in a ton of nutrition, in easy to assimilate, pulverized form, right after “fasting” through the night. It’s a full meal’s worth of macronutrients (protein, high-fiber carbs, and healthy fats) and basically a day’s worth of micronutrients with all of the super greens, high-antioxidant fruits, and stress-busting herb and mushroom adaptogens. It’s a great nutritional foundation for your day. And, if you have to miss it for breakfast, you still have the rest of the day to try and sneak it in.

Excellent for Pre-Workout
: If you add the Dirt to a fruit smoothie as suggested, you’re getting the same amount of high-fiber carbs that you would get in a bowl of oatmeal, which is an excellent amount to fuel a workout. Plus, the beet juice powder will raise the nitric oxide levels in your blood, which helps the arteries relax and promotes more efficient blood flow, which then heightens oxygenation and increases stamina. And, the cordyceps mushroom will jack up your ATP levels, which function as a sort of energetic catalyst to the cells… especially for those short-term burst-of-energy sequences in activities like sprinting and weight-training.

Great for Post-Workout
: We can always use a solid blast of protein after a workout, and the Dirt delivers with 18 grams. But we can also use some help with faster recovery, and for that we look to superfood ingredients with anti-inflammatory properties. At the top of that list? Cherry juice powder and turmeric, both of which have some pretty decent science supporting their ability to ease soft tissue inflammation in the joints and around the body… so we can get back after it ASAP!  

A Rock-Solid Lunch: If you tend to get busy in the middle of the day and don’t always have time for a healthy lunch, the superfood smoothie might be your answer. Just sip on your Dirt and don’t miss a beat. Too busy to stop and prepare your smoothie? No problem. Blend it in the AM, then take it with you in a tumbler or, better yet, a thermos (which won’t even require refrigeration) and it will be ready when you are.

Late-Afternoon pre-Dinner: Yet another strategy would be to have your smoothie late afternoon as a pre-dinner… particularly when a large meal or massive “recreational” dinner is scheduled. The Dirt will curb your appetite and assist you in NOT overeating at that big dinner. 

Dirt for Dinner: And finally, the Dragon Dirt smoothie makes for a fantastic dinner on its own, simply because it’s so filling, and yet so light on the digestive system, which is a plus for your impending bedtime later in the evening.

For more info, or to try your very own bag of Dirt, scope it HERE.

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Living with “Mr. More:” Celebrating 45 Years of Sobriety

Today marks my 45-year sobriety anniversary. Yes, it’s been a minute… but my sobriety is nothing I’ve ever taken for granted. I am forever grateful for how things unfolded for me way back in the day, and how I was able to jump on the wagon early in life and, somehow, never fall off.

Back in the day, with a few years of sobriety already in the can…

When I sobered up at the Palmer Drum Abuse Program (PDAP) in Houston way back in 1976, I was super young, so I’ve always joked that my “stoner résumé” probably wasn’t very impressive: lotsa weed, Schlitz Tall Boys, cheap, fruity wine, and regular gulps of bourbon and coke. And yet, I am still acutely aware—every day—of my ever-present inner-addict… that part of me, all these years later, that can’t seem to live in moderation about anything.

Five years ago, I commemorated my 40-year anniversary with an extensive blog post about my sobriety journey. A few weeks later, I was invited to speak to a group of youngsters at a PDAP meeting in San Antonio. It was a great night, filled with lots of nostalgia and good vibes. I was able to talk a bit about my story, my experience getting sober in the program, and how I had managed to stay clean in the music business all of these years.

At some point during the evening, someone asked how many years of sobriety I had when I was finally able to “defeat“ the inner-addict. I told him that if you are someone who truly has that “addict gene,” the inner-addict will always be a part of you, at your core, and you can therefore never defeat him. BUT… you can employ him. (My inner-addict actually has a name: Mr. More, AKA “The Negotiator,” because he’s always trying to convince me to do “more” of something!)

I went on to explain that, for every disadvantage one might have in dealing with their addictive tendencies for the rest of their life, there was one distinct advantage that we have: IF you can consistently redirect that compulsive energy into something constructive, you will be able to channel an unparalleled amount of drive, resolve, and work ethic towards it, thus giving you an advantage—by my estimations—over “mere mortals” without this addict gene. 

From the 40-year blog:

“…being sober has been the single most critical game-changer for me. Why? Because without the distraction of partying through the years, I have naturally focused all of my turbo-charged addictive-personality energy into more positive pursuits: serious amounts of practice, weight-training and running, a healthy diet, lots of reading, and other activities that have played a key role in my personal evolution. I just don’t know how you can effectively engage in a lot of these kinds of things while getting blitzed all the time… especially in the meditation/self-reflection realm.”

After my talk at PDAP San Antonio in 2016, the gang presented me
with a special “monkey’s fist:” the program’s traditional emblem of sobriety.  

Dealing with Mr. More

In this way, the addict gene can either be a “secret weapon” or a “weapon of mass destruction,” depending on where and how you direct those tendencies. And listen, even with my sobriety so solidly intact, “Mr. More” is always trying to get me to go over-the-top in other areas, particularly where questionable vegan junk food is concerned. Same behavior as the old days.

Example: Let’s say I had a bag of weed that I was intending to smoke through, in even amounts, over two days: 1/2 today, 1/2 tomorrow. So I load up the pipe and start puffing. Soon, I’m at the half-way point. Time to stop. But Mr. More steps in to negotiate:

“Man, this shit is pretty slammin’. Why don’t you smoke a bit more right now, and leave yourself 1/3 for tomorrow?”

Sounds good. 

But in a crazed stupor, I accidentally smoke a bit too much, and now there’s only 1/4 left. Mr. More speaks up:

“Ok, you fucked up and now there’s only 1/4 left. That’s really not enough for tomorrow, so you might as well go ahead and finish it off. Tomorrow, you can ease back and mooch a few hits from your friend’s supply.”

Sounds good. 

And the next thing you know, I’m staring at an empty baggie.

45 years later, this pattern will occasionally repeat itself with, for instance, Ben and Jerry’s vegan ice cream.

Example: I have a full pint that I’m planning on plowing through over two days. I start jamming on it. This shit is killin’. As I approach the half-way mark, “The Negotiator” steps in:

“Man, this fucking Americone Dream is off-the-hook! I say, go ahead and take it to the 2/3rds mark and leave 1/3 for tomorrow. You’ve trained hard today… you could probably use the extra calories. Do it, Thug!”

Sounds good.

But in a crazed stupor, as I accidentally surpass the 2/3 mark, the ice cream has transitioned into that enviable, slightly-melted, extra-creamy stage… my favorite. Mr. More has a plan:\

“Oh shit. The stars have now aligned with the perfect texture here. Plus, there’s probably more like 1/4 left. You’ve already fucked up. Might as well go ahead and finish it off, then do without any more dessert this week.

Sounds good.

The remainder disappears within minutes.

But here’s the flipside. Mr More doesn’t discern whether a behavior is destructive or constructive. He’s only interested in the rush… the dopamine hit… the sweet satiation of the craving, whatever it is. And in my experience, Mr. More has gotten on board with a variety of constructive pursuits, as mentioned, like practice, training, even writing. If you can get any kind of dopamine hit off of something positive, the inner-addict will show up to negotiate for more, more, more!!!

Example: I’m on the road and in the middle of a multi-show run. We just played a set and now we’re just getting back to the hotel. It’s 1:00 AM and we have a 6:00 AM lobby call for the airport, where we will do it all over again the next day. But I feel like I need to grab a quick workout. Weights only. Will run tomorrow. And I’ll make it fast and token so I can get back to my room, shower and pack, then try and get a solid 3+ hours of sleep.

I get to the hotel gym and start hitting the weights. I’m pretty fried, but it’s starting to feel good. The pump is setting in. I prolong the workout a bit, then notice an elliptical machine in the corner of the gym. Mr. More chimes in:

“I know you were only planning to hit the weights tonight, but tomorrow is going to be another crazy day. Running might be tough, so why not jump on that elliptical and get in some quick cardio?”

Sounds good.

I get on the machine and start churning. I’m planning on keeping it short since I do still need to shower and pack. But then, Mr. More has another suggestion:

“Man, fuck this indoor cardio thing. It’s nice outside tonight. You should hit the street and get in some “real” cardio. Hell, even a quick three miles out there will be better than this machine.”

Sounds good.

So I get out on the street and, sure enough, it’s nice outside! It’s after 2:00 AM by now, quiet and peaceful, and my legs feel good. I hit the three-mile mark pretty quickly… guess I’d better wrap it up… but wait. The Negotiator has other plans:

“Listen, you’re already fucked for a proper night’s sleep tonight. What’s it gonna matter? Might as well dig down deep and double-up here. Then, you can have a complete day off from training tomorrow.”

Sounds good.

Typical late-night running scenario…

I wind up running a six-miler. I should feel completely cooked, but I actually feel elation. My body is raging with endorphins. I’m back at the room after 3:00, and by the time I shower and pack, I’m struggling to wind down by 4:30. Mr. More was right. I am fucked for any kind of decent sleep tonight. But it was a hell of a workout!

Perhaps one could make an argument against such obsessive behavior, even if it’s couched in a category of constructive activity. But I don’t care. Mr. More and I have an understanding. And if it keeps the drugs and alcohol away, and the vices at bay, I’m good. 
And I’m happy to celebrate another day of sobriety, every day.

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This whole “Mr. More” concept is something I just shared with my Newsletter readers last week, so I thought I would riff on it here, as well. Needless to say, I feel like there are a tons more advantages to being sober than just capitalizing on the addictive impulse (although that alone can be pretty fucking cool!). To get the whole story of my sobriety journey, scope the blog from my 40th here:

Zero Dark Forty: Celebrating 40 Years of Sobriety

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Lampposts in the Moonglow: A Road Dawg Remembered

I wrote the following piece in ‘97. It’s a snapshot of tour life, featuring one of my dearest road warrior brethren: Ed “Munch” Miller… who we just lost last week. Munch and I started touring together way back in ’84, but our connection was rooted far beyond the “biz.” Munch was extended family… a fiercely loyal friend who I always remained in touch with and would often see during tour stops in his native Michigan through the years. He was also an insanely gifted sound engineer and quite the character, no doubt! We’ll miss you, brother…  

Lampposts in the Moonglow

The warhorse, Winnebago Warrior; my RV – a sling-shot rocket rolling down another black and icy highway. Truckstop neons are a blur to the right and left as speckles of snow, light but steady, pelt our windshield like stars on the Enterprise. We’re going where no men have gone before… at least not men like these.

In the driver’s seat for now, it’s Munch; a sumo-bellied bulldog with a thick, salt and pepper goatee. He’s forcing his droopy eyes to stay open behind dark-rimmed glasses as a Marlboro smolders between fingers that are as wide as they are long.

“You gonna make it, Mack Daddy?” I call out to him, crouching down between the driver and passenger seats. The movie Goodfellas funnels down the hallway from the TV in the rear lounge where I just left a couple of dozing bandmates. Two other crew guys are cocooned in army surplus blankets on couches near the front.

“What? Shit yes… whaddya mean?” Munch grunts back at me.

It’s the usual: me implying that he’s too tired to drive, he insisting he isn’t. Same ol’ shit.

“Well, looks like I might have to get some motherfuckin’ toothpicks up here to keep those eyelids from shuttin’,” I retort.

Munch lets loose one of his signature grizzly bear-with-pneumonia kind of laughs. “You’re dreamin’, Holmes. I ain’t never fell asleep at the wheel and I ain’t never gonna, either,” he says, cocking both eyes at me—and off of the road—for a few seconds longer than I can take.

Me: “Very good. Now, do you mind watching where the fuck you’re going here before we roll this bad boy again?”

Munch: “Man, get your ass back to your movie, will ya? Leave the driving to the professionals.”

Me: “I would, but our budget wouldn’t allow me to hire any.”

Munch: “You got that right!”

We both laugh, and I stand and steady myself through the soft white glow of floor lighting, and down the hall to my haven in the rear lounge.

Life is a series of leaps of faith and, considering only six months have passed since our horrific motor home accident—where a crew guy did, in fact, fall asleep at the wheel and roll the RV four times—I guess I’m taking a leap in letting my boy continue to drive tonight. But the Munch man is armed with a stout cup of coffee and a sacrosanct old bible that his father left him years back—a good luck piece of sorts—which he swears has protected him from harm in his twenty years of driving trucks. And for some reason, I believe it.

Let’s hope this streak continues.

For now, though, I fall into my bunk, power down the tube, then ease onto my side where I can look out the window. Instead of counting sheep, I count passing lampposts in the moonglow. …7, 8, 9… because if we must endure another wreck, I would rather be asleep… 22, 23, 24… that way, by the time I realize it isn’t a dream, it will already be over… 33, 34, 35…

Kind of like life itself.

Post-show, from an extensive tour in ’97 when this piece was written.
Munch is right there in the center. (Thanks for the pic, Kid…)  


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Are You Ready For This?: Finding Rare Vinyl for “Rich” People

It’s hard to believe that, on this day, 34 years ago, we lost Buddy Rich, one of the greatest drummers to ever roam the earth. I had the privilege of seeing him perform live on at least a dozen occasions, and I have amassed many of his recordings on vinyl, cassette, and CD, mostly as a solo artist, but also as a sideman. I can still remember the moment when I learned of Buddy’s passing… and the stinging emptiness I felt in the days after.

The following is a short memoir about finding what appeared to be the Holy Grail of rare Rich recordings at a Boston record shop, way back in ’81 when I was a student at the Berklee College of Music. I wrote this for a recent edition of my Newsletter (#6: 3-10-21) which I’ll share here in its entirety at the request of my longtime friend and colleague, Dom Famularo. Enjoy:

Hello Everyone –

Welcome back! Let’s get into this week’s Newsletter:

In This Issue:

  • Musings: Are You Ready For This?
  • BR Health Beat: Plan on a Daily Workout… Even if it Doesn’t Always Work Out!
  • Down & Dirty: Could this be the world’s healthiest fruit?


Are You Ready For This?

When I was a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, I was hardcore into jazz drumming and had developed an active obsession with collecting classic old jazz albums. One afternoon, I stepped into my favorite used record shop near the school to have a quick scroll through the bins. As I was taking a pass through the Buddy Rich section (one of my all-time favorite drummers), my heart skipped a beat: I had stumbled across a strange title I had never heard of before. And what’s this, I wondered? Louie Bellson is on this record, as well? Some kind of a drum duel performance of the two of them? Holy shit!

But then when I glanced up at the sticker price, I nearly threw up in my mouth. $50! This was an obscene amount of money for a record back then—most were in the $2 to $6 range—and it clearly should have been a dealbreaker for a broke-ass college student. However, I simply could not tear myself away. A rare “archaeological” find such as this might only come once in a lifetime, right? Why else would it have been so expensive, I reasoned?  I pulled the record from the bin, slipped it out of its hand-sealed plastic covering, then caught a whiff of that vintage aroma. It smelled like the inside of a ’65 Chevelle. Oh man… this might be the only copy left in America right now. Must grab.

I slowly brought it up to the register and asked the attendant to please hang on to it for a hot second while I went to the bank to empty my account. (Like I said: $50 was a lot back then!) Fifteen minutes and a couple of painful transactions later, I was back in my dorm room, savoring every scratchy second of my conquest, and poring over the liner notes like a history professor. The record contained one 28-minute track called “Slides and Hides.” It was recorded in Japan with a renowned Japanese big band that only played a combined seven or eight minutes on the whole thing. All the rest was Buddy and Louie, slugging it out like Ali and Frazier. A drummer’s wet dream.

But the story gets even better for this young drum nerd. Over the course of the next two years, I was able to get both Buddy and Louie to sign it when each rolled through town for shows. Buddy was cordial yet methodical in his signing, while Louie was overtly friendly and inquisitive. In other words, both were “business as usual” in their reaction to the record, which was fine with me. And most importantly, I had a sort of “seal of approval” on a valuable drumming artifact that would often inspire focus and clarity in the four decades that followed.

And this, to me, is the real value of collectibles. Not the market value cash price, but the emotional value we assign to a thing as it lives on to represent something important in our life—or to remind us of something pivotal in our journey. In this way, things like classic vinyl and old dog-eared books are holy relics, holding a space for our higher pursuits… and serving as a critical reminder that the best version of ourselves is still out there somewhere: waiting to hopefully show up in someone else’s “collection” one day… if we’re willing to pay the proverbial piper and do the work.


BR Health Beat: Quick Tip

Plan on a Daily Workout… Even if it Doesn’t Always Work Out!

Some days, life happens and we don’t get around to our workout. This is a reality. So consider this: if you plan on training 7 days a week, life will happen and you will likely get 5 or 6—which is great. However, if you plan on training 5 days a week, you will often end up with 3 or 4. Not bad, but I say, let’s shoot higher. And remember, a workout doesn’t have to be an epic 90-minute affair. 20 to 25 minutes (or less) all adds up over the long haul. (Remember the Micro-workout concept from Newsletter #1?)

I believe people’s biggest resistance to this shorter workout idea is that it doesn’t seem worth it. “Hell, if I can’t get a full workout in, it will be a waste of time.” Not true, I say! You might not get a lot of quantifiable benefit from the short, easy workout if you evaluate it from a total increase in conditioning standpoint. But there is value in reinforcing the practice, the ritual, the lifestyle attribute, of moving your body, elevating the heart rate, and getting some increased range of motion happening—daily. If nothing else, it breaks that unfortunate multi-day streak of minimal movement that so many have defaulted to these days. And perhaps even more importantly, it preserves a sense of momentum in your regimen… as opposed to having yet another day off from training, which can often lead to another day off… which, well… we all know where missing multiple days in a row can lead us.

So let’s plan on doing something—even a little something—every day.


Down & Dirty!

I recently launched my very own custom-blend superfood powder called Dragon Dirt. In this section, we offer tips and insights for our kick-ass new DD community. Our Ingredient Spotlight provides info into the why, what, and how much of our ingredients in the Dirt.

The World’s Healthiest Fruit?

Indian gooseberry, also known as amla, is one of the most antioxidant-rich food sources on the planet—particularly when in its concentrated powder form. Native to India and a versatile component in Ayurvedic medicine, amla is an unparalleled immunity-booster, among many other things. It mitigates the build-up of LDL cholesterol (for greater heart health), regulates blood sugar levels, brings relief to a number of digestive issues, promotes healthy skin by protecting collagen, and can even improve the mitochondrial health of eye cells. Amla also appears to have anti-cancer properties, as in vitro studies have shown it to not only stunt cancer cell growth, but also block the invasion of these cells. There is a full 1500 mgs of Indian Gooseberry in a single serving of Dragon Dirt! 

Grab a bag HERE. Find out about our other 17 ingredients at


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An Evening of Nunsense

Here’s a short preview from my upcoming book (working title) – Will Drum For Food
Surviving the Nineties with Clubs, Campgrounds, Clinics, and Credit Cards

My last memoir, The Boy Is Gonna Rock, takes a deep dive into the wild ride of my first major gig with the Vinnie Vincent Invasion during the infamous 80s hair metal era. The follow up—which has a good chance for a 2021 release—picks up where “The Boy” left off: on a high note. The first part of the book details my time in the studio and on the road with Nelson, a band that would enjoy a brief but fiery run atop the charts and throughout the world media. But then, several chapters in, the culture changes, and I phase into my full-time pursuits of being a drumming solo artist and clinician… and we dip down into a decade’s worth of the most grueling touring and financial logistics imaginable. It’s shaping up to be a hell of a read.

There is actually a lot of heavy shit in this book. I go deep into some personal tragedies and other issues that I’ve never fully discussed publicly. But for this initial excerpt—which I shared for the first time in my Newsletter a month ago—I’ve chosen a fun and breezy recollection from the “After the Rain” tour. (Disclaimer: This is an original, unedited first draft excerpt!)


An Evening of Nunsense

One of the more infamous promotional stunts that Geffen coordinated during that first tour went down in Buffalo, New York. It was a promotion sponsored by a local radio station that was directed to all of the area high schools: Nelson would play a private concert at whichever school managed to mail in the most postcards requesting the show. 

The hands-down winner, perhaps not surprisingly, was an all-female Catholic high school. I don’t recall the exact number of cards these girls managed to send in, but it was an alarming amount, and certainly difficult to wrap your head around how they pulled it off. Nonetheless, the date was booked, and the show was treated like any other on our tour schedule. We would roll trucks and buses onto their campus and set up for the show in their auditorium. Basically, it was just another day at the office.

Funny thing was, even though this was an all-girl high school—and the students were able to invite siblings, boyfriends, and parents—the audience ratio of female-to-male was similar to all of our other shows: estrogen heavy! But we did our normal show to a tee, with two notable exceptions:

Throughout the tour, during Brett Garsed’s open guitar solo, I had gotten in the habit of going backstage and taking a mid-show piss, before returning to the drums and waiting for his cue to bring us back up. This cue was always the same: At the end of his solo, he would launch into that classic, opening riff of Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality,” and we would all jump in and play a minute or two of the tune as a segue out of his solo spot. Every night, it was wash/rinse/repeat, and I had become so familiar with the general arc of his solo, that I always had a solid idea of how much time I had before I needed to get my ass back to the stage.

On this night, however, I think Brett, ever the modest virtuoso, looked out at that packed auditorium of high school uniforms during his solo, and presumed that those young girls had little interest in his world-class pyrotechnics. So, he made an impromptu decision to cut his solo short and start the Living Colour riff early… precisely as I was standing over a toilet in the girl’s locker room, fully midstream!

Talk about feeling helpless.

Man, I powered through and forced those remaining drops out of there, then sprinted back to the stage and behind my kit to find five bemused faces looking back at me, waiting in limbo and stalling! All we could do at that point was laugh and carry on with the set. Fortunately, I doubt anyone in the crowd even noticed.

With Brett, circa 2013, when I played in Australia with Lita Ford

The other unusual thing that night was that I bonded with a nun. For real. Her name was Sister Sharon. Don’t know how or why, but it was a visceral and immediate connection… as if we had known each other in another life and had just reconnected in this one. Everyone in her camp and mine noticed the unusual bonding moment between us. Later, of course, there would be a few lewd comments on the bus about what I should aspire to engage in with my new friend. But it wasn’t about that for me (or for Sister Sharon, I’m sure). This was a transcendent experience. I was drawn to her child-like purity and refreshing sense of innocence… something radically different than the kind of thing one might typically encounter on the road back then.

We would exchange addresses and write to each other in the months ahead. And then later that summer, Sister Sharon and several other students and teachers from the high school would all come see us play at the local amphitheater at Darien Lakes… and I would have to endure perhaps the most regrettable and embarrassing moment of my life that night. Stay tuned for that one, kids.


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Out to Sea and Off the Grid: The Ecstasy of Isolation


Here are some random thoughts, pics, and vids from a music cruise I just took through the Caribbean—and its direct connection to some very strange times in the world at the moment.


Just got back last Sunday from the 80s Cruise with Lita Ford and company. It’s kind of like a Monsters of Rock Cruise, but considerably less of a hard rock extravaganza, and more of an immersion into 80s mainstream pop culture. We were out to sea for an entire week, just as shit was starting to implode everywhere else in the world with this coronavirus situation.

Hotel room view of Miami, the night before…

The only shot of the boat I happened to grab…

In fact, the first thing that happened prior to pushing off to sea was we found out a couple of our fellow headliners would not be joining us. This altered the performance itinerary quite a bit: instead of playing on nights one and four, we would now be playing on nights six and seven, co-headlining with Kool and the Gang. This meant five days of out-at-sea downtime before showtime!  (By the way, it would be announced a day or two later that three more bands pulled out, as well. Pretty unprecedented.)

Once we set sail on Sunday, and even as I was catching wind of the “global unraveling” that was beginning to go down, I chose to remain almost completely off-the-grid for as much of the trip as possible, particularly for the first five days. (Yes, even more so than usual!)  Not as an act of reality denial because, after all, what could I do about anything from out there? But more in an effort to take a much-needed digital/communication sabbatical: no texts, calls, emails, internet, TV, or social media posts for virtually the entire trip.

A sunrise, in four parts:





Additionally, I tried to roam the ship anonymously whenever possible, like a ghost: zipping around mostly at odd hours, and/or through lesser-traveled thoroughfares, trying to minimize all forms of interaction. Not because I don’t enjoy talking to people, but because this seemed to pair well with the mental-exile theme of the week: Minimize external input, and maximize internal silence. That said, whenever I had a chance to talk to someone, it was welcomed. Folks were super cool out there. It’s just that I wouldn’t go out of my way to socialize, based on this directive.

The library: 3:35 AM

Couple this with some solitary pursuits—lotsa random reflection, more-than-usual journaling, lotsa reading and writing (especially in the library, my favorite spot on the ship), in-room practice pad work to keep the chops up, and several “medies” (meditation sessions) tossed in throughout the day—and… well, it was essentially the mental equivalent of a nutrition cleanse: a zeroing out, a cleaning house of the mind, a stripping down of the inessential… all so my brain could have some extra leeway to do its glorious thing: Fire on all eight cylinders, rather than trying to juggle and process so much shit all the time that it’s running on five or six!

It was magnificent… rejuvenating… exhilarating… just to feel the full crackle of my brain’s neurocircuitry, connecting and reconnecting in ways that inspire a grander brand of thinking. Moving forward, I no doubt need to double down on this “airplane mode” way of living.


Heading into St. Thomas

The boat made stops in Puerto Rico, Punta Cana, St. Thomas, and Haiti. And while the first couple days were extraordinarily rough with rain and wind—so much so that the upper deck/running track area was initially closed off (the horror!)—things smoothed out by Wednesday. The winds calmed a bit, the sun poked back out, and it was then that a more typical festive cruise vibe seemed to return to the ship.

As usual, the training continued throughout the week. Always. No matter what. Every day. Yes, I train every day—at least that’s my intention. Because life will do what it’s gonna do and you will have to miss a day here or there… which is why I never have any planned days off. They’re gonna happen anyway.  Feeling burnt-out or overtrained? Fine. Do some light calisthenics, with some basic martial arts movements and drills, slow and easy, almost Tai Chi-style. Then, finish up with some simple stretches. The whole thing could take 20 or 30 minutes, tops. That will do more for your recovery than being completely sedentary on a “rest day.”

As it turned out, I hit the gym every morning right around when it opened at 6:00 AM. And I also managed a few killer runs along the way, both around the boat and on land after docking.


Dropping into Haiti on show day…

Friday’s soundcheck shot at the Palace Theater

Once Friday rolled around, it was time to do some playing. The shows were fun and the crowds were lively. As mentioned, we shared the stage with Kool and the Gang. It was so refreshing to see and hear these guys, still out there, preserving the legacy of the large, funky, R&B horn band. I used to play a bunch of their old school 70s stuff back in the day when I was giggin’ a lot in Houston’s notorious fifth ward. (Not so notorious these days, with how much the city’s changed… but that’s probably a good thing!) I would even go on to cover “Jungle Boogie” on a record I did with Neil Zaza and Bill “The Buddha” Dickens called Snap, Crackle, and Pop… Live! The point being, I felt a special kinship to their music, and the band could not have been “kooler” to us. (Sorry… couldn’t resist.)

You never know what you might find backstage at some of these theater gigs…


Saturday’s soundcheck shot at the Palace Theater

All of this personal isolation stuff aside, I got the sense that me and my fellow passengers were in a floating bubble while we were at sea, aware of much of what was going on in the rest of the world, but oddly detached from it—at least for a time. Then, when we all got off the boat and headed for the airport, we could gradually step into the “new normal,” which was rapidly being redefined by the moment.

Another sunrise, in four parts:





Now, here we are nearly one week later, in a time of great uncertainty… particularly here in California, where this new “stay at home” mandate just kicked in.  So, in reflection of these unusual days ahead—and given my recent experience in relative isolation—I guess what I would say to anyone interested in an “isolationist’s” perspective is…

Take advantage of the potential solitude in “elective isolation” (if you’re going that route). Your mind—when unencumbered by all of the screens, hoopla, worry, and distraction—is your most powerful ally right now;

Try to minimize exposure to the 24-hour news cycle. Five minutes of that shit a couple times a day will keep you plenty informed. Beyond that, it’s all designed to soften your mind;

Don’t forget to breathe… deeply… throughout the day, as you take a few “deep-belly” breaths whenever you think about it. I’m guessing that, with our current situation here, we all have a subliminal tendency to breathe shallowly, so as not to potentially inhale anything harmful in our environment. And yet, breathing deeply is one of our best stress reducers and body/brain energizers—as any Buddhist monk would tell us;

And most of all, embrace this unparalleled opportunity at hand to see everything through an illuminating new filter in these days ahead.

These are extraordinary times, the likes of which we may never see again.



A few more pics/vids for your contemplation and reflection… 🙂

Another kick-ass sunrise run on the boat, this one from the North Atlantic

Pre-sunrise shot from the deck

“The Gang” from the Palace balcony

An above-ground cemetery I ran across in St. Thomas

Yet another senseless selfie from yet another gym…





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A Spontaneous Trip to Dubai: In Pictures


Just wanted to document my recent trip to Dubai here on the blog. Both the trip, and my post-excursion decision to ink a quick blog about it, were largely unplanned, so I’m sure I could’ve put together a much more compelling documentation of the experience with even a little bit of forethought. BUT, it’s been occurring to me more and more lately just how disposable social media posts tend to be… how our musings, pics, and vids just seem to evaporate into this big black hole of white noise, only to be seen (and forgotten) by so few. Not sure how much more of a shelf life things have in a blog post, but it seems like a more reliable way to present (and ultimately reference) one’s expressions and experiences, as we go deeper into a densely cluttered future of digital “content.”

As always, thanks for scoping, and enjoy…


The Writing

For me, the ulterior objective of any last-minute trip is to take it with a “have laptop, will travel“ credo. This is a writer’s retreat sort of mentality where I can immerse myself into a project or two that I’ve been working on and make some serious headway. I think it’s the combination of being away from the multitude of things back home that vie for my attention, and the stimulation of a new environment, that makes my writing especially productive on these trips. Sometimes I’ll even seek out different areas around the hotel to write, just to mix things up, as this pic shows:

On this trip, I mainly focused on a follow-up memoir to my latest, The Boy Is Gonna Rock. Coming along nicely…

The New

Dubai is often referred to as the “Vegas of the Middle East,” probably because of its relative over-the-topness where all things grand, huge and ostentatious are concerned. But, from what I could see, even with its garish nature, it’s much more elegant than Vegas… more Beverly Hills than Circus Circus. This is particularly true with the general hotel decor and modern architecture there:







Here are a couple shots taken from the heart of the skyline out the window of a 68th floor restaurant:




And yes, there are some familiar Western touches in modern Dubai!


The Old

But it was the Old Dubai area of town that really spoke to me:






Very maze-like in Old Dubai:


And a lot to take in…



Cool shops in the neighboring textiles/spices districts:





…with water taxis operating at a nearby canal:


The Training

Here’s a quick “behind-the-scenes” video of the gym I had 24-hour access to at the hotel. Obviously, these hotel facilities on the road are never quite as good as what you would find at a real gym. However, if you can focus on a few pieces of gear that are different from what you have available at your gym back home—and you can create a cool routine that integrates these movements in a way that your body isn’t used to—you can get a killer pump and still have an exceptional workout. For this reason, training on the road can be an effective way of making progress, even if the facilities aren’t quite up to par.

For the running portion of this short vid: It was a late-night/early morning trek that I wound up shooting in three quick excerpts, as I tried to capture the perfect skyline shot. (Better luck next time!) But mainly, I hope it conveys the absolute ecstasy I feel when I go out for a run in… well, virtually any city around the world. I LIVE FOR IT!!!

A Few Final Observations

1. For whatever implications or complications one might expect security-wise when traveling to the Middle East, this trip was a breeze. Getting through the security checkpoints and clearing customs on both the departing and returning flights was fast and effortless.

2. Public bathrooms in Dubai are incomparably spotless. I know this might seem like a random observation to make, but with all the traveling I’ve done around the world through the years, this is something I notice… especially in light of the inexcusably disgusting conditions you find in American toilets! These folks are serious about their bathroom cleanliness over there and, frankly, it’s impressive. (By comparison, they must think we are all a bunch of savages when they come over to the states for a visit!)


3. Along the lines of my recent experience in China, stealing does not appear to be part of the culture over there. Apparently, it just doesn’t happen, so you always feel like you can leave your laptop or other personal valuables out in the open in the hotel room… which is not something you can do in most other parts of the world. I find this kind of thing fascinating, although it’s probably sad that I do!

4. Also, like in China, I noticed some of the typical cultural biases and Western filters popping up in my general observations of things. And yet, I didn’t actually feel this dreadful sense of suppression among the peeps there, particularly the Muslim women. It seems to me that they simply choose to live tightly within the moral and behavioral parameters of their religion—with the same conviction that many Americans choose to, by the way—as opposed to being “forced” to. Obviously, I would never dream of making any overarching statements about this: I’m the last person qualified to do so.  But it’s just another reminder that the “American Dream” version of expressing one’s freedom and liberation is not exactly a universal aspiration. And this is important to note if you’re interested in really understanding what makes other cultures tick.

Just a thought…



Looking forward to heading back over there again soon… especially across the sea from Dubai to Iran at some point. Love the art, poetry, music, and history of that culture.




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Saying Goodbye to the Master: Ms. Thompson, the Great


I have been dreading this moment.

My beloved friend, mentor, and teacher has passed. I got the news via text about an hour before a show at the Akron Civic Center, week before last. I had to bury all of that emotion and go play, because that’s what professionals do. Ironically, I learned that from Ms. Thompson.

I went to her service at Oakwood Baptist in New Braunfels last week. The family did a great job putting together a memorial befitting such a legendary human. Ms. Thompson’s casket was in the sanctuary, front and center, and there was a visitation opportunity before the service got underway. It’s always brutal to see a deceased loved one in an open-casket situation. But it’s worth enduring the pain because, at least for me, observing first-hand that the spirit has left the body offers a visceral kick-start to the grieving process.

An orchestra took up the bulk of the stage, just behind the podium, and all of the musicians remained there for the duration of the service. They played a few well-chosen numbers throughout. There was also a sax/piano duet of “Amazing Grace.” But perhaps the most appropriate performance was at the very beginning, when a local drumline came parading through the sanctuary to kick things off with crackling snares, rifling toms, and booming bass drums. Ms. Thompson would’ve dug that.


A vintage Ms. Thompson in parade mode, circa mid-to-late 70s


The service was a poignant testament to a life well-lived, far beyond Ms. Thompson’s tremendous abilities as a teacher. And when the minister offered up an “open mic” mid-ceremony for anyone who wanted to share, the accolades kept coming in the form of personal stories: her paying out of pocket for student’s horn repairs and sheet music when they didn’t have the money; her charitable contributions and stalwart sense of social consciousness; and her motherly influence on so many kid’s lives… including a few who she stepped in and helped raise (nearly 50 years ago) that I didn’t even know about.

One of the more interesting, slightly contrasting elements to the service was how the minister portrayed Ms. Thompson, compared to how all of us students remembered her. He described her as sweet and loving (true), but then added that in his 15 or so years of knowing her, he never recalled her getting angry.

Say what?

Conversely, during the open mic segment, several old students offered up colorful band room anecdotes about flying erasers and drill sergeant antics. This seemed to confuse Ms. Thompson’s more recent peers. It was then I realized something: Ms. Thompson had “retired” to New Braunfels in the 90s to enjoy her golden years near family (even though she continued to teach on various levels until she was 82). Therefore, most of her New Braunfels tribe—particularly her church friends—would’ve never had occasion to experience the more fiery, 40-something version of Ms. Thompson who was, let’s not forget, dealing with a bunch of disrespectful punks who needed to be kept in line. This point of distinction compelled me to step up to the mic.


Enjoying her golden years


But first, of course, I had to reiterate her enormous influence on my life path and try to articulate just how gifted and world-class of a teacher she truly was. And then I explained that Ms. Thompson’s “outbursts”—as endlessly entertaining as they were to us youngsters—were ultimately an expression of her love and concern for us. Frustration? Sure. Anger? Hell yes. But ultimately, it was because she cared so much: about us, about the band, and about the music. I know many people refer to her gruff protocols as “tough love,” but really, isn’t any pure form of love tough when it has to be? I say yes, and I say that we—especially I—had it coming when that notorious Ms. Thompson ire would pop up.

Here’s a quick case in point that I’ve rarely shared before: Toward the end of 9th grade, I auditioned for the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) in downtown Houston. This was a prestigious, nationally revered 10-12 high school—on par with the “Fame” high school in New York. The audition went well, and I was accepted on the spot. This was huge news: I was elated!

A few weeks later, however, several other young hoodlum percussionists and I got caught smoking cigarettes on the Scarborough auditorium stage, while rehearsing for an upcoming band concert. (Yes, on the stage—but out of view from the assistant band director—during rehearsal.) The young, upstart director went to Ms. Thompson to ask how we should be disciplined for such an infraction.

“Kick them out of the band,” was her immediate response. And that was it. I was kicked out of band and would have a bright, shiny “F” on my report card to show for it.

Now, remember, Ms. Thompson liked me and appreciated my talent and work ethic. But if ever there was a time for tough love, this was it. Any 14-year old punk who thinks he can operate outside the rules to that degree and get away with it is setting himself up for much more dire consequences a bit later in life… like prison, or worse. Ms. Thompson understood this, even though, at the time, I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t really care, because I was a big shot, heading to HSPVA the following year. Or was I?

That summer, as soon as HSPVA received my transcripts from Scarborough and saw that I had received an “F” in band, they immediately reversed their initial decision and sent me a rejection letter stating that I was not accepted there. My mom and I tried to call and reason with them, but they were not budging. (Apparently, that bright, shiny “F” in band violated their acceptance criteria for a music student!) I was devastated.


This is the “Bobby Rock” Ms. Thompson had to deal with!


The happy-ending coda to the story is that the next year, upon my return to Scarborough, I was given a fresh start by Ms. Thompson and worked with her in the jazz band. The band was killin’, and we brought the house down at several area jazz band contests, garnering extra accolades from the judges and winning special awards for outstanding musicianship. I had learned my lesson, and we were back on track.

Tough love works… and this seemed to be a reoccurring theme at Ms. Thompson’s service.

That said, her expressions of love weren’t always “tough.” They were often intuitive, selfless, and remarkably generous. And above all else, they were far-reaching. Think about it: Anyone I’ve influenced through the years, is also the beneficiary of her influence because so much of where I wound up is because of her. And I’m just one in an endless line of students who Ms. Thompson affected through the years. Truly, her positive imprint is incalculable.

After the memorial, I had a chance to visit with a few folks at the reception, including two of Ms. Thompson’s close friends. They told me they went to her house, late morning on Thursday, 10-24, to pick her up for lunch. When she didn’t answer the doorbell, they got concerned and called a family member who they knew had a key to her place. Once they all went inside, they found Ms. Thompson “sleeping” on a loveseat in her music room… except she wasn’t actually sleeping. She had peacefully drifted away from this life and into the next, in her favorite room in the house. What a way to go.


At her surprise 75th birthday party


And what an honorable life to have lived.

Mary Thompson was a force of nature… a truly gifted and unforgettable teacher who leaves behind a legacy of thousands of students… all of us forever altered, on one level or another, by her “southern fried wisdom” and insistence that we evolve into the best version of ourselves – both onstage and off.

I was fortunate to have always stayed in touch with Ms. Thompson through the decades. But when she told me a couple years ago that her ailing health was preventing her from being able to play her clarinet—or continue to teach—I knew she would be moving on sooner than later. So now, we can all try and take solace in the fact that she is joyfully free of such cruel impediments, as we envision her playing and teaching her ass off in that Great Band Hall in the Sky.

We love you, and we will never forget you, Ms. Thompson…

PS. See my original post, Ms. Thompson, the Great, here:

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China 2019: The Solo Drumming Tour

After at least a half-dozen almost-trips to China through the years, the stars finally aligned and a solo drumming tour was arranged this summer. It takes a village for these kinds of things to happen, and the two main proponents of this tour were my longtime bro, guitarist Neil Zaza—who has toured there countless times and has had numerous conversations with his promoter about bringing me over—and my old friend and colleague, Greg Irwin, who represents both Sabian and DW in China, two companies with whom I’ve been associated for years, and who would co-sponsor the tour.
Often, the Chinese will take American names when dealing with us westerners (no doubt because they’re tired of hearing us massacre their real names), so “Mel”—impresario of the Mogu network of music schools/stores and longtime China connection for Zaza—would be my promotor for the tour. And the name of my tour manager/drum tech who would travel with me? Rambo. (I couldn’t make this shit up, people!) Rambo was super pro and highly-competent. He was also an excellent videographer, as he would shoot and edit these cool “day in the life” vids of the tour each day, on the fly, with his iPhone. These turned out to be great little encapsulations of the experience over there. (Stay tuned for a few samples.)
The Quick Overview
For me, the China experience was like one very cool, but highly-elaborate Twilight Zone episode, in that it felt like I was in another dimension of time and space, doing familiar things but in unfamiliar ways. So before I jump into some city-by-city tour highlights, here are a few stand-out distinctions to set things up:

Solo Drums:
This was more of a solo drumming tour than a traditional clinic tour since the emphasis would be on sheer performing, rather than teaching. Yes, for the one master class I did, it was more traditional instruction, and yes, each performance would feature a Q&A (with translator) where I could delve into a bit of a teaching vibe. But mainly, the shows were centered around these short-but-intense headlining performances (typically only 30 to 40 minutes) where I would play along with a few tracks and, of course, stretch out with plenty of soloing. No problem!

Cool Format
: In addition to the support of DW drums and Sabian cymbals, each performance was co-sponsored by a “station,” which is basically some cross between a music school and a music store. My opening acts were essentially various performances by the students: mainly drummers, but also guitarists, depending on the particular school. I thought this was a great format… sort of a recital/concert hybrid.

The Drumming Scene:
Speaking of which, the drumming scene in China is exploding! Ironically, they seem to view the study and practice of drums like our youngsters in the states have largely viewed the practice of martial arts: like a fun, constructive, and worthwhile activity. In fact, most of the schools teach drum set in small group lessons (as opposed to private), and as I understand it, many schools have a grading system for a student’s drumming progress that’s not unlike the typical martial arts belt system. Kind of cool!

Unlike many places in the western world like Europe or South America, hardly anyone speaks or understands English in China. Not that we should expect them to, but again, it seems that there is at least a working understanding of a few basics most anywhere else one might tour. (Although there are lots of signs in English over there, which was perplexing.) It didn’t turn out to be a big deal, but it’s a reminder that I do need to pick up a little Mandarin before my next trip over!
* * * * * * *

Before we get into a brief, gig-by-gig summary of the tour, here’s one of Rambo’s videos I was talking about. This one will give you a pretty good overview of the vibe:

Feature Video: A Day in Luoyang


First stop, Beijing, where a strategic “recovery” day off had been arranged for me for the next day. This is not something I normally require when traveling internationally, but I definitely wasn’t going to argue: it would give me a chance to scope out the sights and sounds of the city.
But first… the China adventures began on evening one with a rickshaw ride!

Greg Irwin—who is a veteran of about 60 trips to China through the years—swears by them. And because they are not bound by any of the usual traffic laws or protocols, you can swerve and weave through the ever-shifting maze of cars, scooters, bikes, and pedestrians… so long as you have the stomach for it. I actually dig the adventure. It’s kind of like participating in a virtual video game, where the goal is to simply not hit anyone as you constantly press forward. These drivers are fearless masters of the old credo “An inch is as good as a mile.” And believe me, to miss a car or bike by only an inch would have been a luxury at times!
What better way to start my first full day in China than with an early-AM six-mile run around a local park that Greg knew about. This place was magical.

Here’s a quick vid from the run:

Also, it was inspiring to see so many senior citizens throughout the park getting some exercise, many of whom were participating in these group Tai Chi classes. There is no question that this kind of consistent lifestyle practice is a “secret” to the infamous Chinese longevity factor. I would love to see more of our elderly folks in the states participate in some kind of activity like this.
A bit later in the day, we made our way around Beijing to catch a few “must see’s”:
Just outside the Forbidden City
This crazy elaborate “instrument” of large bells, housed in its own temple!
In another part of town: a designated “Drum Temple”… my kind of place…

A quick visit with the owner of Beijing’s go-to drum shop


Hangin’ with Greg Irwin

And, of course… there was more rickshaw action. This one, shot during the afternoon, really illustrates the “extreme mobility” of these things:

 Getting the Party Started
My first stop was a master class for a smaller audience of 30 to 40 teachers and more advanced students. These folks were attending some kind of weekend “boot camp” type of program (courtesy of Drum Home), and I was a special guest. It was great to be able to delve off into more technical aspects of drumming in a casual but ultra-attentive setting like this.
Here’s a multi-foot pedal demonstration I did, where my feet are playing four different rhythms—on four different sound sources—simultaneously, while my hands do some basic improvisation. Again, this class was mainly for more advanced players, and yet, I got the impression that they hadn’t seen much of this kind of thing before. As you’ll see, I attempted to explain everything through an interpreter. Note: right foot plays two different rhythms on the bass drum and distortion hats; left foot plays two different rhythms on the main hi-hat and cowbell pedal (with the cowbell part doing a lightly randomized “&2&” / “&4&” rhythm; hands do some basic solo stuff around the kit.
The second half of this short vid demonstrates a shuffle double-hat pattern with a more intricate triplet-based ostinato with the double-pedal. The right foot doubles up on the kick pedal and distortion hat and the left takes care of the left kick pedal and main hat. But this time, I figured it might be easier just to ease into the demonstration—one sound-source at a time—rather than try to translate the action set-by-step. (Unfortunately, we only had a short clip of this solo, but you’ll get the vibe.).




Throwin’ Down in Music Town
My first official full show was at the Zhouwo Music Town. This place was a trip. It’s basically a small village built around a total music theme.  I went for a run my first morning there and scoped everything out… and then promptly found myself off the grid, in a farm-land wilderness!

But once I made it back to civilization, I did manage to double back through “music town” and take a few shots.

The hit that night was the DW & Sabian “Contest of China.” This was preceded by weeks of preliminaries, all culminating into the grand finale on this day, where they offered multiple prizes to winners in a variety of age categories. The contest finals ran all day and into the evening, but I wound up doing some meet-and-greet signings and a Q&A session for some of the younger students in the afternoon.


I closed out the night and, even after a day full of drummers and drumming, I was stunned that the theater remained packed until the very end.

With one of the winners. Damn… great prizes!

We even did another signing after the set. These folks are super appreciative!

The Beautiful Chinese Folks:
Man, you just couldn’t ask for more gracious and respectful people than the Chinese. They have a deep appreciation for the arts and for what we do as artists, and they go way out of their way to make sure you are taken care of. As just one example: when word got out that “Bobby Rock needs bananas, oranges, and water every day so he can make his custom smoothie concoction with the blender and special powder he travels with,” boom: I never once had to inquire about where I might be able to find that stuff. Bananas, oranges, and gallon jugs of water would typically be waiting in my hotel room upon check-in. They would also magically appear throughout the day and evening!

One other thing: China is one of the safest places you will ever be, even in terms of your personal belongings. I would leave my “man purse”—complete with cash, passport, keys, credit cards, in-ears, etc.—unattended, virtually anywhere… even places in the venue that I knew were well-traveled by audience members or venue staff. Obviously, this is not something you can do in most other parts of the world.  And yet: No one will take your shit there. It struck me as incredibly odd, but immensely refreshing. (I guess it’s sad that a culture that doesn’t steal seems odd, but… that’s where we’re at right now.)



Ballroom Blitz!
The next morning, Rambo and I had an early flight to Xianyang.
…with Rambo!
This would turn out to be sort of a prototypical show as we would experience most of them for the rest of the tour: big room, high tech, LED wall on stage, and show hosts who introduce all the opening acts and then bring me up at the end. Just another unique aspect of the China experience!

Here’s a Rambo vid that summarizes our Xianyang experience pretty good. (Dropping by the sponsoring “station” is usually part of the protocol, and in Xianyang, you’ll notice we did a little meet and greet there the following day before we caught a high-speed train to the next city.)

Feature Video: A Day in Xianyang

I also managed to capture a bit of video from my run earlier that morning in Xianyang. I acclimated to running in the “controlled chaos” of the streets of China pretty quickly, once I realized how acclimated the Chinese are to navigating around in it!


Hot, Hot, Hotter Than Hell!: It was crazy hot over there, pushing 100 degrees on most days, and humid as a motherfucker. It felt like midsummer Texas or Florida, but with a fraction of the typical A/C power we’re used to. But the training continued, either in hot-ass hotel gyms or in the blazing daytime sun (although I did enjoy a couple late-night runs). And honestly, many of these beautiful venues would be uncharacteristically hot, as well. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of it all, but again… it’s worth mentioning if you really want to get the full effect. Simply put, it seemed as if I was in an almost constant state of heavy perspiring! In fact, I was changing clothes so often every day, that I felt compelled to shoot the following quick vid after one of my workouts:

True, as mentioned, I typically do change clothes at least three times a day on tour. But China was a whole other level of total sweat saturation, let me tell you!

Land of 10,000 Buddhas

The next stop would be the first of three that I did for the Wang family. These were first class all the way.  The Wangs were incredibly generous and accommodating, starting on day one in Luoyang.
Once again, things are often done very differently over there. For this show, I entered the stage from the back of the room, via a runway, as music from an iconic Jet Li movie blasted through the PA… which I would then jam along with. This kind of shit works over there, though, so this joining-in-with-the-orchestrated-soundtrack-theme became part of my nightly intro.
In Case You Missed It: Rambo’s video for this gig—A Day in Luoyang—is the first video of this blog.
The next morning, before heading out to Jiyuan, the Wangs had arranged to take Rambo and me to a staple tourist attraction in Luoyang known as Longmen Grottoes. This place is a must-see if you’re in the Luoyang area. It is essentially an ancient “cave complex,” more than 1500 years old, that features 2,300 grottoes and niches, 100,000 Buddhist statues, and over 2,800 inscriptions. The history and vibe of the place are off the charts.

With Rambo and the Wangs

While I typically try to remain present in the “analog” world when visiting cool places and not be too obsessed with taking non-stop pics and vids, I made an exception at one point along the way at Longmen Grottoes. The grandest single display of Buddha sculptures—known as the Fengxian cave—could only be seen from the sight once you traversed a fairly high and steep stone stairway. So I decided that I would video, from my vantage point, what it was like to first set eyes on this magnificent piece of history and art. Here’s that vid!


Eating Vegan In China: Having been vegan since 1993 (and vegetarian a few years prior to that), I was concerned about the food situation before I split, based on a variety of first-hand reports I received from friends and colleagues. But it turned out I didn’t really have to be. Once my peeps understood what “vegan” meant, there was food all over the place… and lots of it. To help with this on occasion, I carried around a screen shot from my rider that had Chinese translations of specifics:

They are really big on these “roundtable” meals, which usually go down in a private room of a restaurant. Seems like a cultural thing:

This is a “boil pot” roundtable, where everyone has their own boiling water in a
pot to create their own meal. Dig the stove burners on the table!

Typically, I would get some combo of a veggie dish (the broccoli is out of this world over there… something about how they prepare it universally with this clear, garlic-style sauce), a starch dish of either rice or noodles (but sometimes this potato dish which was kind of like spicy, shredded hash browns—killer!), and hopefully something tofu or bean-based for some extra protein:

But usually, they would have food delivered to my room, as I prefer to be alone and eat alone when possible. And in many of these cases, when the meal was a bit protein-light, I would reach for my reserves: one of a number of cans of beans that I traveled with.

Beyond the two of these types of meals per day, I would have at least one, but sometimes two, of my special superfood smoothies (hence all the oranges and bananas), prepared with a special blend of powders in this European equivalent to a Nutri-Bullet that I often travel with (Euro power is most readily available over there). Then I would round things off with lots of snacking on various Clif bars, trail mix, granola, peanut butter, etc. (One of the three bags I traveled with was virtually all food!)

And yes, for the record, the number one vegan-related question here is the number one question there: “Where do you get your protein?” (Sigh) And I would tell them: “The same place where the world’s biggest, strongest animals like elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and apes get theirs from: plants!”



On to Jiyuan

After a couple hours of getting our minds blown at the Grottoes, we had to drive to the next city, which was another one of the Wang’s stations in Jiyuan. The event was in a big-ass ballroom, with a huge LED behind the stage (as usual). There was also a TV crew shooting the show, although I wasn’t sure what program it was for. I will probably never know, but it’s all good. It was a killer set, and there were a bunch of drummers, performing in groups of five or six, all on identical drum kits, essentially playing the same parts. Kind of unusual! But man, these folks were way into the vibe!

From soundcheck

The Chinese Paradox of Tech and Gear: As you tour around the world, you notice how vastly different things are done in various parts of the globe. Doing shows in America has a different feel than Italy, which has a different feel than Brazil, which has a different feel than Japan. As for China, you might be tempted to think that it would fall under the “Asian way” category of Japan and share similar meticulous, punctual, and exacting protocols. But you would be mistaken! China is, in many ways, the opposite of Japan. And therein lies a fascinating paradox.

Most of the shows were at these kick-ass ballroom or theater-type venues, which usually included these huge LED backdrops on the stages. The sound systems were ample, and there were typically an array of high-end production elements like large stage plots and trusses of moving or special effects lighting. And yet, drum gear could be a challenge:

  • For this tour, we relied on each individual promoter to provide gear, since hauling my own kit around over there was logistically impossible (although I did carry around a few things, like extra pedals and cymbals). As they attempted to meet my most basic specs, there would often be mismatched drums in the kit… which is a reflection of how things are still a bit limited there in many ways. Virtually every single kit you see is a basic five-piece set-up, with standard sizes (8” or 18” toms are extremely rare.) It’s crazy. BUT – it’s all good: they are evolving.
  • High-end hardware is at a premium over there, so cymbal stands would routinely get jarred loose (see video below), shifted around, or on an occasion or two, simply fall over—kind of cool for dramatic effect!  (But this is typically what happens when you give me anything less than top-of-the-line DW hardware.)
  • The biggest irony? China cymbals were hard to come by in China! No kidding. Sabian makes the best in the biz as far as I’m concerned, but many places didn’t have them, so they would scare up whatever they could find for me to use… which often met with disastrous results. (Again, see video below!)
  • One other strange thing as it relates to sound: As mentioned, the systems seemed more than adequate in these places, even at the larger ballrooms. There was plenty of power, ample speaker cabs (including subs), decent boards, etc. However, I noticed that the consoles were not typically set up in the traditional place for optimal mixing: out in the audience. Instead, they would usually run the mix from either side-stage where the monitor rig traditionally is, or just off the stage but to the extreme left or right side. Was never sure why…

To be clear, none of these things were really of any consequence to me or anyone else, and they certainly didn’t seem to affect anyone’s enjoyment of the shows—me included. And yet, to really comprehend the “China Way”—at least as things stand at the moment—it’s important to understand all the variables one might be faced with on any given day, so you can be better prepared to “improvise, adapt, and overcome!”

Check out Rambo’s highlight vid from Jiyuan. This one really illustrates this unusual juxtaposition of elements that were typical of the tour.

Feature Video: A Day in Jiyuan


The Zhengzhou Vibe

Show number three with the Wang family was in Zhengzhou. This one was somewhat of an anomaly. It was in a smaller hall, tucked away on the second floor of this bizarre sort of amusement center/1950’s China recreation place (?). Actually, I was never sure exactly what it was, but it turned out to be an intimate, action-packed little venue.

En Route to Soundcheck: Here’s a backseat vantage point of my man, Rambo, slowly driving me through about five football fields worth of twisting, narrow “roads” and heavy foot traffic… just so I could step right onto an elevator up to the hall for soundcheck. (God forbid I should have to walk!) I had no idea that’s what he was doing, but I was so fascinated with his navigation skills, that I shot nearly four minutes worth of video of him doing it.  Here’s a screen shot:

I guess the reason this struck me so odd is twofold: One, he was driving through the equivalent of an outdoor mall/amusement park kind of place where there were obviously no other cars; and Two, no one seemed to care, at all, including the parents of the many dozens of kids we slowly drove past. Granted, Rambo was extremely cautious. But if you tried some shit like that in the states, your ass would likely get thrown in jail. (Only in China, people!)

Once we got a quick soundcheck behind us, the show turned out to be a sentimental favorite in a way, just based on the energy in the room, and the unwavering presence of the audience. And there were no opening acts for this one. Just me and a packed room come showtime. What a vibe.

In fact, the energy levels were so palpable, I actually had to pause during one of my solos and capture the moment with this selfie. This caused some of the younger kids to jump up on the stage, which was cool with me! I will never forget this gig… it was as if I had stepped off a spaceship to play for them. Raaaaad!!!

Once again, Rambo captured the essence of this show with another one of his killer compilation vids:

Feature Video: A Day In Zhengzhou

This day also turned out to be a pretty landmark training day. There was a surprisingly decent gym at the hotel, so I grabbed a workout in the afternoon before we went to the gig. Then, I decided to grab a second one when we got back to the hotel at 11:00 PM. After that, I was gonna crash, but it was such a nice evening I decided to go ahead and grab a run… and in an inspired moment, recorded the following video clip:


The Last Show

We ended up taking another high-speed train to Changsha for the final hit. These are kind of a cool way to buzz around. You can get a good sense of the gorgeous landscape over there, particularly in the rural, in-between areas.

This was another packed ballroom with a super high-energy crowd. And the LED wall doubled as both a “digital backdrop” and, unbeknownst to me, a large screen for a live video feed. I didn’t even know about that until I saw some pics from the show afterward.

The folks in China seemed to really enjoy the performances, especially the younger drummers, who were unabashed and unrestrained at times with their reactions and way of expressing themselves. The short clip in the middle of this Rambo vid where all the kids are jumping around —which I shot during a drum solo as my feet held the fort down with kick drums and hi-hats—illustrates the beautiful vibe I got to experience at pretty much every show. Can’t wait to go back!

Feature Video: A Day in Changsha

After the hit, I did a few shots with the crowd. A memorable final show, for sure!

Unexpected Cultural Observations

I’m sure a lot can be discussed and debated regarding the social/political scene in China. I won’t attempt to unpack any of that here. In fact, before I split, I didn’t even attempt to form any real opinion about how things are done over there, or how my own experience might be affected by their way of doing things. Instead, I went over with a neutral worldview, just looking to be a detached observer to the scene, mindful not to cast any predisposed expectations or judgments on anything.

With that in mind, my primary observation was this: I felt like there was a notable disconnect between the expectation one might have of China when considering the common perception of how things are over there, versus how one feels around the people and in the trenches when you are actually there. Frankly put, I didn’t get a weighty, oppressive vibe—at all. Folks seem easygoing, relaxed, and content, especially the youngsters, who appear to be as joyous and playful as our American youngsters.

Another unexpected thing was the absolute lack of any kind of military or police presence… anywhere, ever! Seriously, I think I only saw one police officer the entire time I was there. And any security personnel I saw on occasion—at the airports or around some of the tourist sites—were always cordial, and surprisingly young! I don’t know what I was expecting… perhaps a more heavy-handed, “big brother” presence somehow… I’m not sure. But I didn’t feel any of that. And yet, folks mind their business, everything seems to be perpetually orderly, and there is a tangible undertone of absolute non-violence wherever you go.

Again, this is just my take from a purely observational standpoint.

* * * * * * *

Musically speaking, the culture in China is vibrant and exciting, and everything feels new and fresh. Looking forward to round two!




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