10 reasons why Jimmy DeGrasso is a drum legend
DRUM EXPO 2013: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-born Jimmy DeGrasso is hands-down a super nice guy. Thanks to a work ethic that would make the majority of us keel over from fatigue, he's become one of the most versatile and well-respected drummers in the industry.
Having played with Alice Cooper, David Lee Roth, Suicidal Tendencies, Y&T (Yesterday & Tomorrow), Lita Ford and now Black Star Riders, there's no substitute for hard work in Jimmy's world. As you'll learn from the man himself, a positive attitude goes a long way too.
Here are 10 reasons why he's an absolute legend...
He was a good boy in school
"I wasn't the typical rebellious kid. I pretty much did whatever I was supposed to do and got good grades. When I was in elementary school, I was already in the middle school band. When I was in middle school, I was in the high school band – I was always ahead. I was playing drums, band and orchestral, and playing timpani when I was 11 or 12. My high school had a huge marching band, like 300 people. We had to wear those heavy wool English uniforms with the bear skin hats and do these four mile parades. We were dying!"
He was playing drums before he was three
"My parents got me a cheap drum set when I was two and a half. I immediately trashed the crap out of it. A couple of months later they got me a real drum set. My dad was a weekend musician and my mum had a lot of music in the house – The Beatles and Elvis. I used to play along with the records. My dad taught me basic rudiments."
He played his first paid gig at seven
"I played my first bar when I was seven. It was a little jazz trio thing. My parents had to go with me because it was a bar. I think I made 50 bucks. I was 11 or 12 when I started playing weddings and private parties – Top 40 songs, all the rock standards. Then when I was in high school I started playing with local rock bands. I got into playing five nights a week in my senior year in high school. It got really busy. In the last year it was hard to get anything else done."
He began his musical career on a wing and a prayer
"I moved to California in the mid 80s – I didn't know anyone there and didn't have any work lined-up. Thank god you're that naïve when you're that young. The music scene was really happening in LA so I loaded up my drums and drove. I started getting sessions and jingles and demos for bands pretty quick. A few producers called me for radio commercials and it went from there."
He landed a coveted Ozzy Osbourne gig
"When I moved to California, I started going into a music school and there was a bulletin board where you put your card up. One person hears about you, they talk to another and word travels fast. After a few months I was getting work. They had this cattle call for Ozzy Osbourne and I wound up doing it. When I was about 21 I moved to London for a few months doing sessions for Ozzy. We did part of 'The Ultimate Sin' record and I was there for a couple of months before the whole thing imploded. I started getting calls after that gig because the producer recommended me for other things."
He doesn't enjoy networking
"I'm really not that good at it. I know how some guys network and they're super aggressive but that's not me. I've had situations where if I know somebody I might say, 'Hey, if you ever need me for anything give me a shout, it would be fun to play together'. I think people are a little taken aback by people that are too in your face. There's a fine line. You have to know how to make connections and introduce yourself in the right way but don't be overbearing. Be careful."
He's constantly evolving as a drummer
"When you're breaking in [to the industry] you're spending a lot of money on gear, then when you attain a certain level of success you have people throwing gear at you. I could have used that stuff ten years ago! I'm always trying to improve. You can never rest on your laurels; you develop technique as you go. I already had a good basis – I was formally trained for a few years so my rudimental skills were pretty good and I had basic timekeeping. I'm always experimenting with different drums and heads and cymbals and combinations. I'm always looking for a new sound."
He was in the famous "We're not worthy!" scene in Wayne's World
"I got a call to do Alice Cooper. I couldn't do the gig but wound up shooting Wayne's World. It was right before a Lita Ford tour when I got the call from Alice. Eric singer, who was playing drums with him, was going to do Kiss sessions. He said, 'Do you want to do this movie thing?' So I went down to LA for a couple of days. Nobody had any idea [Wayne's World] was going to be a cult hit. I remember when we did the dressing room scene... Mike Myers and Dana Carvey were really funny. I was the guy sitting on the edge of the couch when they were doing the 'We're not worthy' scene. As they walk by, I'm stood right behind them drinking a beer, talking to someone."
He supported Metallica and Guns N Roses. At. The. Same. Time.
"After Alice I did the Lita Ford tour then joined Suicidal Tendencies and it kept rolling from there. Suicidal were doing well here in the States, then the next year we got the Metallica tour in Europe. At the same time we got offered Guns N' Roses. We made it work. It was unbelievably expensive! We had two full backlines in Europe that would truck around with each band, and we would either bus between shows or fly. I remember the crowd numbers were so ridiculous. We played every stadium in Europe. I remember when we did Nuremberg... The place was this coliseum used during WWII where Hitler would address the troops. It was huge."
His latest band, Black Star Riders, finally feels like home
"I'm really happy with this Black Star Riders situation. I've always been a huge Thin Lizzy fan and I like to be creative and make music – our album, All Hell Breaks Loose – is so good. It's such a great gig because it's a creative outlet and, at the same time, we have an entire Thin Lizzy catalogue. I look down during the night at the set-list, at those Thin Lizzy songs, and laugh – I can't believe I get to play all these great songs! Right now I'm in the best situation I've been in in a long time. It's really exciting right now."
Interview: Claire Davies