Terry Bozzio

Terry Bozzio

Photo by Terunobu Ohata

If you travel much you’ve probably experienced things like fatigue from lugging around your suitcase and shock at realizing you forgot to pack that much-needed pair of dress shoes. Imagine then, being master drummer Terry Bozzio, who tours with the world's largest tuned drum set that consists of more than 100 pieces!

A veteran of Frank Zappa’s band, Missing Persons, UK and the Brecker Brothers Band to name but a few, Bozzio is no newcomer to the road, and as far as traveling with his big drum kit goes, he’s got it down. In our email conversation below Terry explains just what it takes to get the kit ready for a show, one of which he’ll be playing Aug. 14 at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, one of his favorite venues. Bozzio’s commentary is given exclusively to AXS.com.

AXS: You famously play a drum set with more than 100 pieces. It must be a bear sometimes to get everything tuned, set up and sound checked. Can you run us through the setup process, and how much of it are you personally involved with?

Terry Bozzio: It’s overwhelming! Like a checklist for flying a 747! My techs Michel or Michi do the load-in and set up and I tweak things as we go. The linkage and placement of the remote pedal instruments are crucial and change every day because of uneven flooring and angles. Each drum has to be adjusted a fraction of an inch to not touch each other or anything that would transmit as a MIDI trigger. Cymbals and bells must not touch each other so they don’t make contact and rattle or buzz. Each drum has to be tuned in consideration of temperature changes: air conditioning and hot lights. The mic’ing and the MIDI (36 triggers) have to be plugged in. The sound check is very technical with each mic being equalized to the frequency range of the drum or drums they pick up, to reinforce the pitches they are tuned to and be level in volume with everything. Then the splitter boxes for the MIDI, mics and ambient music have to be tested so I can hear through my system and it's okay in the house. My OCD kicks in with all the percussion! I’m constantly rearranging bells, rattles, and little things so I can use them more efficiently and place them around where I can get to them easily! So, I always say I spend more time “under the hood of that thing” than I do playing it!

AXS: You have a daughter and a son who are both drummers. Did you have to nudge either of them to the instruments or did they pick them on their own? You must be able to have one heck of a family drum circle from time to time; what’s a jam session like?

TB: Both of my kids, Raanen and Marina, are now in their 20s and they needed no pressure from me; they wanted to play the drums and studied all on their own! I feel blessed that I have them and my drummer bro-in-law Vince Littleton, who’s married to my singer sister Carol! All are very good musicians and I’m so proud of them! We don’t get the chance to play together much because we are all busy and in different cities. But one time I had a peak experience “dad moment” when I got to play between Marina and Raanen at a DW (drum manufacturer Drum Workshop) event! It was a beautiful thing!

AXS: Tell us a little about your recent lunch with the Woodland Hills Drum Club. What do you guys talk about? Which member is most likely to start tapping out a rhythm on the table while waiting for the food?

TB: The Woodland Hills Drum Club are my dear local drummer friends! All are doing well and are very successful in their own right! We get together for fun and talk about life and support one another. We laugh a lot and tell jokes and share ideas and stories. We all are busy so it’s not often enough that we have a chance to get together, so I think it’s important to all of us. I’d say Gregg Bissonette (Ringo Starr & his All-Starr Band) is the guy who would be most likely to drum on the table! He one time, many years ago, came late to a dinner we had and snuck in behind a counter at the restaurant. Without being seen he banged out a theme of one of my drum compositions! It not only surprised us, but there was that “Hey, I know that rhythm!” moment too! He still does this when we get together!

AXS: Your latest release is the Composer Series box set. Not that a song title has to have any particular meaning, but we’re curious about how “Music for Idiots” came to be named.

TB: The “Music for Idiots” title is a little gaff for Frank Zappa! Who in their right mind but a composer would write music like that (or any modern classical music) for people who don’t get it, can’t comprehend it and probably don’t want to listen to it? We do it for ourselves because we must. Of course I appreciate anyone who does take the time to listen to it. I was going to put in parentheses “Not You, You Idiot!” under the title!

AXS: Your current tour stops at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix where they have an incredible collection of instruments from around the world, many of which are exotic percussion instruments. Have you seen the collection, and if so, which pieces would you love to play and have in your kit?

TB: MIM is a sacred place for me! Beautiful theater, people and amazing collection of instruments! I spent many hours there after my last gig and I don’t think I got to see all of it! I would love to have the whole thing to play with! I do collect a lot of stuff and I’m working towards having it all set up ready to play in one place. I get close at Drumchannel.com but other things are done there too, so I have to store and put stuff away so others may work. I think from a comedy standpoint I would love to have that giant six-foot-long trumpet! Never saw that before! I don’t play trumpet, but I love being in the same room where one of those things are!

Find more information on Terry Bozzio including tour dates here.