Top drum stars shine at world’s biggest drumming competition in LA

Rhythm´s US correspondent, Patrizia Mazzuoccolo flew over to Los Angeles to witness some mind-blowing performances by top drum stars from fusion legend Billy Cobham and lanky rocker Tommy Lee to esoteric prog rock guru Danny Carey and funk monster Chad Smith. This year'sDrum-Off turned out to be the flashiest event for anybody who gets a kick out of the art of smacking heads without landing in jail.

Brann Dailor (left) and Danny Carey (right) at Drum-Off

Organised by Guitar Center in the US, Drum-Off is the world´s biggest drumming competition. Of the 4,000 American hopefuls that entered, five of the best performed at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles on Friday, 8th January in front of high-calibre judges including Peter Erskine (Steely Dan) and Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters).

The specially commissioned drum performance ‘Bezerk´ featuring Tommy Lee, Frank Zummo and his Street Drum Corps, Chad Smith, Jose Pasillas, Matt Sorum, Jay Weinberg and others kept the audience entertained until the early hours with a variety of jams. Towering over a white, sexy Molecules kit while wearing an unfeasibly large platinum afro and black shades, Smith kicked off his groove-driven performance with a special rendition of the Red Hot Chili Peppers´ hit ‘Give It Away´, instantly turning the party atmosphere up a few notches and quickly becoming the reason behind a lot of booty-shaking going on that night. Fusion master Billy Cobham´s show was short but sweet - five minutes, worth their weight in gold for anybody inspired by the man whose style is still considered the Holy Grail of drumming. The tribute to John Bonham of Led Zeppelin led by his son Jason was the injection of all things British that this particular evening screamed for.

Above: Chad Smith struts his funky stuff at Drum-Off (pic: Daniel Cristol)

The special collaboration between Tool´s Danny Carey and Brann Dailor from Mastodon that kicked off the whole event earlier that evening injected the spirit of prog into the equation. “The point of that jam was not to just do a drum solo,” Dailor explains. “But play some music, build things up and go off on tangents, do big long fills separately and then together.” Accompanied by Carey´s fusion/jazz ensemble Volto, the Carey-Dailor prog extravaganza unleashed a set whose improvisational allure also provided a challenge for the two musicians.

“There were a couple of near train wreck experiences that happened,” Dailor recalls. “Things did get a little weird, but it is the beauty of those improvised situations where anything can happen. I am usually pretty regimented in the way that I play with Mastodon, everything is all planned out but for this I was enjoying being on the edge of my drum stool, trying to hold it all together looking at Danny all the time. It was a really big, special thing for me...”

Someone else who celebrated their big moment that night was Ramon Solomon, the 19-year-old from Tennessee who won this year´s Drum-Off competition. Watch Solomon´s performance here.

Chris Barnes

I'm MusicRadar's eCommerce Editor. It's my job to manage the buyer's guides on MusicRadar and help musicians find the right gear and the best prices. I'm a guitarist and a drummer and I've worked in the music gear industry for 18 years, including 7 years as Editor of the UK's best-selling drum magazine Rhythm, and 5 years as a freelance writer working with many of the world's biggest musical instrument brands including the likes of Roland, Boss, MusicRadar and Natal.