Most people are probably unaware that Academy Award–winning actor Billy Bob Thornton is an accomplished drummer. Playing since the age of nine, Thornton leads a band called The Boxmasters. A homage to his ’60s youth and hillbilly roots The Boxmasters play originals and cover tunes, including countrified versions of The Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and The Who’s “The Kids Are Alright.” Thornton handles all the drums on the record, as well as lead vocals.
On tour, he leaves most of the drumming up to Mike Bruce so he can come out front to handle the vocals. Thornton started out on Ludwigs as a kid, a red-sparkle four-piece kit with a ride cymbal, and graduated to Slingerlands which he continues to play to this day. He sets up his four-piece similar to how Buddy Rich did with all of the drums and cymbals positioned low and flat.
Thornton lives by the mantra “Play for the song.” In a 2008 interview for Modern Drummer he said, “It’s not to go back there and show off. The idea is to feel the song. If you’re paying too much attention to a click or to your time, sometimes the feel can get lost. The idea is to play to the click, but ignore it as much as possible.”
Thornton credits drumming for bringing him out to LA in the first place. Originally he started out in the early 80’s playing drums and singing in a band called Tres Hombres. In 1985, Thornton joined the South African rock band Jack Hammer. It was then he claims to have accidentally become a movie star.
In 2001, Thornton released an album titled Private Radio. Then The Edge of the World (2003), Hobo (2005) and Beautiful Door (2007). With The Boxmasters he has released The Boxmasters (2008), Christmas Cheer (2008), Modbilly (2009), Somewhere Down the Road (2015), Providence (2015), Boys and Girls… And the World (2016), Tea Surfing (2016) and In Stereo! (2018). Today he only does two movies a year so he has time to record and tour.
Here’s Billy playing live:
It seems like you can’t go anywhere on the internet today without finding a new scandal surrounding someone wearing blackface. Politicians, entertainers, fashion designers and even law enforcement officials are being identified every day for wearing blackface makeup for a variety of reasons. All of them wore blackface in the past and didn’t think it was offensive. Now they are being identified using photographs they never thought would backfire on them. Obviously they are asking for forgiveness. It’s not difficult to acknowledge that this is deplorable behavior and has no place in a society that prides itself on equality. Blackface was a racist practice prior to the Civil Rights era and was used to dehumanize African-Americans and entertain white society. Minstrel shows were the main promoter of the practice which was performed on stages around the world. It is still practiced in some countries.
Many musicians wore blackface and performed music on stage and in parades. Many of their performances were captured on film and they were played in theaters for predominantly white audiences. Drummers were included among the blackface musicians although it is difficult to find any photographic evidence singling out a drummer. I was able to find this autographed photo. The autograph appears to say “Jack Russell.” You will notice that he plays a kit consisting of a snare, bass drum and two cymbals. He also uses a regular chair to sit in. I cannot tell if he has a bass drum pedal or if he used the “double-drumming” approach in which he played both the snare and bass drum with sticks. It is difficult to determine the exact year of the photograph but based upon the set-up I would venture to say it was taken in the early 1900s.
In honor of Black History Month, here are two brilliant drum solos by my favorite drummer Papa Jo Jones. His technique and creativity is extraordinary. Jones influenced many drummers both black and white. Many copped his tricks.
As morning broke shadows awoke from their twilight slumber and began to stretch their limbs in acknowledgment of the recurring day. Below in the valley, an army was also just beginning to stir. Many soldiers however, did not share nature’s sentiments in welcoming back another sunrise. Exhausted, homesick and terribly traumatized by the horrors they had witnessed on the battlefield, the promise of another day was nothing more than prolonged suffering. After all, weeks had turned into months, months had turned into years, and no end appeared in sight. Many felt as if they had been on campaign forever. Most were only able to find a sense of peace and comfort while sleeping. That is, when they could sleep.
Looking more dead than alive, they were now faded memories of the vibrant men they had once been. Long gone was the patriotism and thrill of recruitment parades and brand new uniforms. No longer were they believers in the promise of adventure or the romance of war. Emerging from their weathered tents, some struck fires as the smell of stale coffee began to permeate the air. The gentle sounds of the surrounding countryside gave way to the neighing of irritated horses. As they began their daily rituals, muskets were inspected, swords were sheathed and once pristine jackets were pulled on over dirty white shirts and tattered suspenders.
The stillness of the morning was broken by the sound of a long roll acting as reveille calling the men to attention. Ironically it was the responsibility of boys to command these men to muster. Boys who had marched off to participate in a man’s conflict. The army relied on the services of these boys as musicians and as communicators. Just like their counterparts, they were regulars. Military divisions had multiple drummers spread throughout their ranks. They suffered the same hardships as the men.
Whether playing a monotonous cadence to keep men moving while on long marches, long rolls to call men to assemble in the mornings, or booming signals to communicate for their officers on the battlefield the skill at which the drummers played was far too often overlooked. Drummer boys during the Civil War were required to play 26 rudiments. The courage at which this had to be done was also neglected as the youthful age of these boys paled in comparison to the men they served. The precarious risk at which they put themselves in was often equal to that of their elders and when they were not acting in the role of musician they served as stretcher bearers witnessing firsthand the horrors of war and the carnage it inflicted on those who fell.
As rows of anxious soldiers took the field drummers played the Call to Battle to keep them assembling and in step. Lining up the rank and file the daring infantry waited for the signal to move forward. Standing by the officers on the field the drummer boys managed to maintain their composure despite their obvious fear and provide critical communications to gesture movement. The scent of smoke filled the air and permeated their already dusty clothes. Once fully engaged they often moved to the rear, exchanging their drums for makeshift stretchers. From then on they struggled to maintain their composure as they carried their bloody comrades off the field. Perhaps that was their greatest challenge of all. Whether drumming on the march or bearing the wounded these courageous boys quickly grew up in a man’s war. They had to.
For over a dozen similar posts search “Drummer Boy”
Did you know you could become a FUNdamentals franchise? This is a unique opportunity to teach the FUNdamentals program while receiving an educator’s discount and cool incentives. Click here for information.
Our best friend Rich Redmond has released an amazing educational product that provides over five hours of insightful information. Years in the making “Drumming In the Modern World” features demonstration and deconstruction of drum parts for Jason Aldean’s #1 hits, drum performances with top recording artists like: Doc Walker, John Eddie, Rick Orozco, Rockett Queen, The Stellas, and many others, lessons on playing with click tracks, building loops, cheat chart creation, the Nashville Number System, overdubbing percussion, money beats, styles (rock, country, pop, latin, fusion), rudiments, playing in a rhythm section, drum tuning, insights on touring, interviews with industry leaders and much, much more!
Shot by an award-winning team with multiple camera angles and state-of-the-art production, “Drumming In the Modern World” is changing the way students receive music education. Rich’s passion and infectious energy propel each section and his dedication to the drums is revealed in each lesson. His talent for presenting information makes this product inspiring from beginning to end. Students will feel motivated to move forward from section to section while building their skill set and improving their playing. Their overall knowledge of the instrument and the music industry will also grow exponentially.
According to Rich: “My goal in creating these resources is to share my hard earned lessons and insights with you about the musical, mental and business skills needed to achieve success in today’s music world.” If you are interested in making an investment in your drumming, look no further than “Drumming In the Modern World.” Highly original and well worth the price, this online trainer will change the way you look at and play the drums.
For more information visit: drumminginthemodernworld.com
For a video trailer visit: https://vimeo.com/194359595
One last post for the year…Recently an interview was posted in which RUSH bassist Geddy Lee mentioned that Neil Peart had given up drumming in his retirement. Referred to as “The Professor” and considered to be one of the most talented and technically astute drummers of all time Peart’s reputation among drummers is one of reverence. Citing a myriad of medical issues and the desire to focus on his family Peart’s reasoning was understandable. Known to be a perfectionist, he also stated that he wouldn’t play if he could not perform at a high level. Personally I found it poetic for someone to become the best at something and then walk away.
What bothers me is the backlash that he faced from rabid RUSH fans who were disappointed to the point of becoming angry. They seem to be in disbelief that their hero could quit drumming no matter what his reasoning was. Their selfishness and lack of empathy is downright disturbing. First, it’s none of their business what Peart does in his private life let alone in his retirement. He remained dedicated to the music for four decades. Second, drumming is not who he is, it’s what he does, or did in this case. Third, health and family always come first. That’s called priorities.
That said, there is also a lot of love being sent his way by fans who are expressing their appreciation for Peart’s body of work. He played on close to 20 studio albums and every one is a tour-de-force of drumming. To be honest I was never a Peart fanatic like so many of my drum bros. I liked RUSH but not to the point of trying to learn their songs. I was more into drummers like Stewart Copeland and Jon Farris. I spent my time on Police and INXS songs which I still play today.
Looking back, I probably appreciated Peart’s lyrics more than his drumming. I will admit that his influence and contribution to drumming is probably at or near the top of the list. Peart won just about every award an accolade a drummer could win. He certainly left his mark on the instrument. I wish him the best of luck in his retirement and hope that fans will look at his departure as a well-deserved ending to a remarkable career.
As 2018 comes to an end I’d like to reflect on some of our most popular posts of the past year. Our interviews get the most hits overall so here are the drummers I interviewed in 2018: David Abbruzzese – Marisa Testa – David Thibodeau – Robert Perkins – Sarra Cardile . I even had the privilege of being interviewed myself: Radio Appearance 1 and Radio Appearance 2. I am already lining up new interviews for the coming year including our first candidate Bill Stevenson. Have a great holiday and I’ll see you back here in 2019!
It’s Christmastime. That means the shopping season has begun. Why not give your child or beginning drummer a copy of FUNdamentals of Drumming for Kids? It’s a best-selling and award-winning program guaranteed to introduce them to the instrument in a fun and inspiring way. It’s available in print or electronic formats and is perfect for students and teachers. Go to our FUNdamentals Modern Drummer page and order your copy today! Also visit our Course Syllabus linked above for more information and materials.
Over the years I’ve run the marathon between coated and clear drumheads. I’ve gone from Pinstripes – to Fiberskins – Emperors to Ambassadors. This of course has been in response to the type of music I was playing at the time.
Lately I’m using a coated REMO Emperor on my snare drum and clear REMO Ambassadors on my toms. I don’t use any kind of muffling other than a small Drumtac on the snare and my drums have a “big band’” booming sound to them.
According the REMO website: The Ambassador® Clear drumhead features an open, bright and resonant sounds with plenty of attack. Constructed with 1-ply 10-mil Clear film, Ambassador® Clear drumheads are used as batter heads and are the industry standard Tom resonant drumheads. (Available in sizes 6″ – 40″.)
The Emperor® Coated drumheads features warm, open tones with increased durability and projection. Constructed with 2-plies of 7-mil coated film, Emperor® Coated drumheads provide a soft feel and subtle attack for studio and live applications. (Available in sizes 6″- 40″.)
I also like the durability of these heads. I’m not what you would consider to be a heavy-handed player but I do have my moments and these heads stand up to any abuse that I dish out. I have yet to break a head. They don’t pit either.
I’ve used other brands such as Evans and the REMO heads seem easier to tune. I was able to change out my entire set in a short amount of time and tune it fairly quickly. (I haven’t used any muffling with these particular heads so I can’t comment on that.)
If you are interested in getting a big sound with durability I highly recommend the clear REMO Ambassador (top left) and the coated REMO Emperor (top right).