Exclusive Interview: Rich Redmond

Above: Check out Rich on Drumeo.com. Below: Interview follows:

Rich Redmond: A Man on a Mission
By Michael Aubrecht

Few people can boast the resume that Rich Redmond has. Actor, Musician, Author, Producer, Educator, Motivational Speaker and Spokesperson are just a few of the titles that describe Rich. As a drummer he has been featured on 20 #1 hits with multi-platinum country rocker Jason Aldean, and has appeared on many morning/late night TV talk show and award shows such as The Grammy Awards, CMT Awards, ACM Awards, The Tonight Show, The Today Show, Good Morning America, The Voice, American Idol, People’s Choice Awards and many more. Rich has also been voted “Best Country Drummer” in multiple magazine polls including DRUM and Modern Drummer and has performed on such legendary stages such as Madison Square Garden and the Hollywood Bowl. He has forged a reputation for being a first-call session player in Nashville and Los Angeles and is an in demand clinician and public speaker. Rich took some time out of his incredibly busy schedule to discuss his experiences as a drummer and more.

MA: Let’s start with the obvious question, what brought you to the drums?

RR: I began playing drums in 1977. I was a restless, high-energy type of kid who was always bouncing off the walls and hitting everything in sight. Hoping to raise a child that was more constructive than destructive, my very wise father encouraged me to play drums. (Secretly, I think he always wanted to be a professional drummer himself.) Like most kids with an interest in music, I started taking lessons. The early sessions with my first drum teacher taught me the fundamentals about stick control, the rudiments, reading music and four-way independence.

MA: Did your school have a music program?

RR: Yes. I joined the school band program in the fifth grade and never looked back. From that moment on, I was hooked. Each year I played in every performing ensemble that I could get into. This included the marching band, concert band, pep band, orchestra and jazz bands. I wanted to play-play-play! It seemed that I had found my purpose in life and it felt really good! When it came time to choose a college, I decided on Texas Tech University where I studied percussion with the renowned Alan Shinn. I lived and breathed drumming day and night for four and a half years and soaked up as much knowledge as I could. After graduating I decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Music Education and Percussion from the University of North Texas. While there I played and practiced with some of the best and most dedicated musicians in the world. It was definitely an inspiring and fruitful time, a period of incredible musical growth.

MA: Upon graduation did you start working as a professional musician?

RR: Yes, I moved to Dallas Texas, where I developed a reputation as a top-call drummer and percussionist. Despite being employed as a drummer, I knew that there was a glass ceiling in Dallas and I was going to have to move to New York or Los Angeles to take my career to the next level. I made my friends aware of my heartfelt feelings and told them that I was planning my escape. Seeking new gigs, I asked them if anyone of note was looking for drummer. Surprisingly, one of them gave me the name of Tricia Yearwood, who was currently searching for a drummer.

Recognizing this as a great opportunity, I sent my demo tape to the bandleader. He listened to it and immediately contacted me. He invited me to come to Nashville (on my own dime) and audition. Knowing that doing your homework meant everything in this business, I practiced day and night in order to prepare for the audition. Although I played my best, the gig went to a guy who lived in Nashville. Fortunately the band was so impressed with my playing, attitude and professionalism that they recommended me to Deana Carter, a new artist who was auditioning musicians the following week. I can remember my conscience and my wallet telling me, “Here we go again, memorizing five more songs and flying back to Nashville on my own dime.”

That audition rocked, but once again, the gig went to another guy who was already living in Nashville. The rhythm section was so impressed that they recommended me for an audition with Barbara Mandrell (for my flexibility, personality and skill). Barbara was a huge star! I listened to the board tape of the previous drummer and learned the songs note for note, in one week! Well, at this point you can probably guess what happened. Yep, that gig (again) went to another drummer in town. I remember saying to myself, “That’s it! Time to relocate.”

MA: It sounds like you were driven to do whatever it took to break into the scene.

RR: Looking back, I can now say, “What a conundrum!” People in town loved my playing, but nobody outside of Dallas knew I existed. It was time that I moved in and made myself known. I became a man on a mission. I gave my band a two-week notice and took my pickup truck, a set of drums and my little black cat ChaCha and set out for Music City. Unfortunately, I had no money saved, so basically it was a laser focus and a passion-fueled determination that had to make it happen. The only people I knew were the musicians I met during my auditions.

My dad, Richard Redmond, a massively supportive parent, decided to drive to Dallas, TX to help me pack and move. He, being the loving and worrying father, gave me a big hug and handed me some cash for the road. That money turned out to be my saving grace. When I got to town I rented a one-bedroom apartment on Edmonson Ave. (That lasted about a year. Fifteen-years later, I was living in my first home, less than half a mile from that apartment. During the time in between I was living on couches, floor mats and sharing band rooms.)

MA: What did you do when you first arrived in Nashville?

RR: Ready to take on the world, ChaCha and I arrived in town on a Tuesday and immediately cold-called everyone in the yellow pages of the Nashville phone book, informing them of the fact that I had reliable transportation, a command of different playing styles and my own tuxedo. Now, after years of experience and networking, I’ve found that cold calling isn’t really the way to go. Too often it results in a “chilly reception.” It’s about paying your dues and making a name for yourself. However, the one time it did work was when I met Paul Ross, from a band called The Kadillacs. He was gracious enough to take chance on me because of my experience from North Texas. I owe him tremendously for helping me to plant my seed in Nashville and keeping me on his call list for several years. Let’s face it. You need to be on a lot of call lists to stay afloat as a budding musician!

Hustling and bustling was the name of the game and I stayed busy right from the start. While I was playing at a popular place in Printer’s Alley one night, the band covered the classic hit “Superstition.” A gentleman named Ken Allison happened to walk in and heard me playing. He was the leader of a popular circuit band called The Blues Other Brothers and was looking for a drummer for his group. They played up-tempo cover versions of Motown and Soul songs. Ken invited me to a local club on Second Avenue called Mere Bulles to sit in with his group. I remember playing “Brick House” by the Commodores and I recall that after the signature opening drum fill, I hit a funky groove with his son, Kurt Allison, who was playing the electric guitar. I stayed on the bandstand for a couple more songs and he invited me to join the band shortly thereafter. That night gave birth to two of the Three Kings and we ended up playing clubs, casinos and private parties all over the southeastern seaboard. A steady gig was great, but I was still actively looking for opportunities everywhere.

A friend that I met in Dallas, Tom Van Schaik, the original drummer from the Dixie Chicks, gave me a list of musicians to reach out to in Nashville. A woman named Judy Seale, the manager of a prominent management company in town was highly recommended. I had previously cold called every management company in town, but this one was different because I had a name to drop. Thanks Tom! Judy told me to bring her a resume and a demo tape. Later, she told me that she liked what she heard and recommended me to a young talented Mexican-American singer-songwriter from San Antonio, TX named Rick Orozco.

We set up a rehearsal with his band and immediately hit it off. The vibe felt amazing and Rick and I played together in Japan, Korea, Sarajevo and Bosnia for the U.S. military. At the time he was signed to a record deal and we were doing these shows as a promotion for his album that was getting ready to drop. At the time, I truly thought this was my big break, my “Springsteen/Mellencamp moment,” but the album was never released. This incident was my first big disappointment on my Nashville journey. Despite the setback, Rick and I made great music together all over the world and developed a friendship that still exists today.

After the first month of being in town, I came across a good college friend named Jim Riley who was literally sleeping in his car outside the bar he just played. I invited him to stay at my place on a makeshift couch that I made from the back seats of my leased mini-van. Together, we raided the town, playing for tips only all over Lower Broadway. He quickly went on to land a gig with a band you may have heard of named Rascal Flatts and still holds the throne. I on the other hand was still waiting for my big break and quickly realized that I needed to supplement my income. Following in the proud tradition of so many other musicians with master’s degrees I started waiting tables. I remember getting pages on my pager…yeah the good old days…and having to go to a pay phone to return the call. I was always excited and very anxious to find out if it was a “drum call.”

My father always reminded me of the phrase “the cream rises.” He said it was the law of the Universe. I accepted every gig opportunity that came my way during the first ten years in Nashville, with the hope that someone would hear me play and hire me. It is truly a luxury to be in a position to be able to turn down work. In 1999, I juggled twenty-seven different bands and by the grace of God I didn’t have a single conflict of schedules that year. I had a card file of charts for every band and sometimes my kit would stay set up at the 12th and Porter Lounge for a week straight. I would play with a different band every night. It was quite a juggling act and a stressful time because nothing seemed to be leading to “the big gig.” Nothing was coming to fruition. Little did I know that with every backbeat and handshake I was solidifying my reputation both as a person and a player. I also came to the realization that my career as a musician would be a marathon and not just a sprint. I started getting paid to play gigs when I was eighteen and I was twenty-nine when I played with those twenty-seven bands. I dedicated eleven years of my life to playing and waiting for my break. Nashville is a small town, but a tough town. How does that old adage go? “Be patient?” I was!

MA: So your patience finally paid off.

RR: Eventually I started playing gigs with Hank Williams III and Earl Thomas Conley. These shows lead to a cattle call audition for Pam Tillis, who had seventeen top-ten hits. A good friend of Pam’s vouched for my drumming, personality and professionalism. The audition was simply a formality because of this recommendation and the gig lasted for two years. It was a special time and it was my first marquee job. It was also the first time I had someone else setting up and tearing down my drums, the first time I was playing for someone whose name was in “lights” and the first time I accompanied someone whose audience knew the words to every song. I finally felt like I was getting somewhere and had a sense of security from receiving a steady salary. I had never made a steady stream of revenue like this and I was living large! Needless to say, I learned my lesson through plenty of bar tabs, personal trainers, masseuses and soy lattes. The lesson learned was to save what you can when you can and store some nuts for the winter!

At the same time I was invited to play a show in Kickers, TN with my friend Kurt Allison. The singer’s name was Aimee Johns and the bass player’s name was Tully Kennedy. Aimee wanted to play five forty-minute sets of music and she really wanted to rehearse. I had no time with the other gigs that I was playing and Kurt vouched for me. He promised Aimee that I would come in to the gig and know the songs better than her. During the first show, I remember we were playing one of the songs that I had previously auditioned for Trisha Yearwood. Tully and I hit it off with that groove and I knew Kurt and I had found a bass player. Tully’s uncle was a songwriter who introduced him to Michael Knox, the vice president of Warner Chapell Music. Michael is also responsible for shaping the talent of a little artist from Macon, GA named Jason Aldean. Michael started inviting Kurt, Tully and me to play showcases and demo recordings for Jason. We showcased many times at many venues all over Nashville until Jason landed a record deal with Broken Bow Records.

At this time, Kurt was playing for Tim Rushlow in a previous band called Little Texas that sold ten million records. He was able to bring Tully into the band, which lead to me joining them. Now the Three Kings were complete! I had to give Pam my notice that I was quitting to join Rushlow’s band called Rushlow. We went on to be signed to Lyric Street Records. For the first time, I had hands-on experience in learning the operations of a signed band. We did meet-and-greets, as well as radio interviews at eight o’clock in the morning after playing until two A.M. the previous night.

MA: Was it then that you got the Jason Aldean gig?

RR: We played show after show and we were all flat broke. Eventually, Rushlow came to an end. Despite our disappointment, the timing could not have been more convenient as Jason was signed at the exact same time. We recorded our first album in 2004 called “Jason Aldean: Jason Aldean” and had the hit song “Hicktown.” At the same time, I was playing for a young talented girl named Emily West. She gave me goose bumps and chills when she sang. Kurt, Tully and I were her backing band and it was a special time for all of us. From my experience, for an artist to be successful there has to be a perfect storm of the artist, the songs, management, the booking agency and radio and video channels. None of these elements can be missing. Between 2005 and 2011, with Jason Aldean, we played every honky-tonk club, festival or fair and opened for every major touring artist in the country. We never took it for granted and never “mailed in” a performance. (I have literally played shows with bodily fluids spewing from both ends of my body. The only time I have ever subbed an Aldean show was when both of my grandparents died.) It has always been a band mentality with commitment, charisma, stage antics and a high level of musical communication and listening.

MA: You have been with Jason for many years, many albums, and many number one hits. What do you credit this longevity to?

RR: The most important thing with this gig is consistency and kicking butt every single night, no matter what the circumstances. This requires overcoming the challenges of hunger, fatigue, playing on less than professional-grade equipment, sleeping on airport floors, showering in a YMCA and sometimes eating carnival food. What made it all bearable was the fact that we were all best friends. Whatever we accomplished, we did together by the sweat of our brow.

MA: What advice do you have for those who are trying to break into the business?

RR: Music is art. Art and business don’t usually mix, but they have to if you want to make any money. If you aren’t interested in making money then relax and just play music as a hobby. But if you want to make music your career, be prepared to work for it. The music industry is a massively competitive market and you have to learn to persevere and fall in love with rejection. I achieved my goals simply because failure was not an option for me and because I was ridiculously persistent. You have to have relationships with many people that champion your cause and want to help you succeed. You also have to be able to play or sing very well. The best musicians get the best gigs. That’s a given. I routinely get emails from kids all the time who are graduating from colleges and universities and they are not going to New York or Los Angeles. They’re going to Nashville. It seems like one of the last places on earth where there is a style of music that is popular across the board. Country music still puts butts in the seats. And there are musicians that are recording in Nashville in the same room at the same time. We still do that and it’s a wonderful process! It feels great to be part of that. I love it.

MA: You wear many hats. Tell us a little about your side projects.

RR: I developed a customized motivational program that features what I like to call “edu-tainment.” It is called C.R.A.S.H. Course for SuccessTM. That is an acronym for “Commitment”, “Relationships”, “Attitude”, “Skill” and “Hunger.” I have presented this class to a variety of audiences including Fortune 500 companies. My message is that you can be successful in any situation if you have the right tools for the job. I use audience interaction, humor, music and an infectious attitude to make it a one-of-a-kind experience for every client.

I do a lot of drum clinics, master classes, private lessons and educational appearances. This gives me an opportunity to share insights from my craft and teach others how they can improve their drumming. It’s always a pleasure to interact with drummers from every age and stage. I still appreciate my teachers and I want to give back to the drumming community in the same way I was taught.

I’ve co-written a best-selling book titled “FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids” It is a new step-by-step program geared toward introducing drumming to young children (ages five to ten). The book uses a variety of unique teaching techniques that mimic the curriculum used in the elementary school classroom. These exercises present drum theory in a fun and familiar way by using flash cards, counting exercises, clapping, and more. Each step in the program is designed to build upon itself to provide children with practical and applicable skills for drumming. Students begin by learning the history of drums, types of drums, proper technique, warm-ups, and basic note recognition. The specially designed ninety-six-page activity book is filled with photos, coloring pages, and cutouts that keep the lessons fun. The complementary hour-plus DVD provides an intimate one-on-one lesson with me.

I’ve released an instructional DVD titled “Drumming in the Modern World.” This project features over 5 hours of educational insight surrounding the business and music skills required for success in the modern music industry. It is an intensive learning course designed to enhance the knowledge and expertise of any drummer at any level. This project is a culmination of my knowledge and experience from working 20 years in the music scene. After three years of focused effort, I am proud to release this to the world. I hope it helps people effectively and efficiently achieve their dream of being a professional, working drummer.

Recently I’ve entered the world of acting. I am currently studying the craft in Hollywood and Nashville. Having played the role of Lieutenant Paxton in the horror film “Reawakened,” I have been able to take an exciting new career track that utilizes all of my passion and talents. I’ve produced and acted in several short films to include “The Jam Session,” “Life in the Suburbs, ” and “A Small Big Problem.” I’m even doing voice over work. My ultimate dream is to be on a sitcom and I’m pursuing that dream with the same enthusiasm that I did with my drumming.

MA: You certainly live an amazing life. Do you ever have time to sleep?

RR: I take care of myself. I eat right and exercise. If you want to take care of business you have to take care of yourself. That applies with everything you do. I’m very fortunate to have the opportunities to pursue my passions and that is something I never take for granted.

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