September 20, 2018 Interview – Terry Bozzio
When running down a short list of some of Rock-n-Roll’s most legendary drummers, a few of the names that immediately come to mind would of course be Rush’s Neil Peart, The Beatles’ Ringo Starr, and Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham. A list that could extend forever, with so many other talented stickmen to strike the kit, Terry Bozzio could easily be added to the conversation. Inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame back in 1997, Bozzio has built a career which spans four plus decades and counting. Playing with everyone from Frank Zappa to Jeff Beck, and many others in between, he has a mass of credits to his name as a musician and songwriter.
Launching his own band in 1980, Missing Persons, Bozzio would remain a leading creative force with them until their breakup in 1986. Unfortunate, due to the band’s unique style, out of the turbulent time, he would soon embark on a prolific solo career. Seasoned, astute, and wiser, Bozzio continues to rock audiences around the world. Amidst his busy schedule, he took the time to talk about his experiences as a drummer, the rocky ride of Missing Persons, working solo, future projects, plus more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in music essentially your entire life and would go on to a very successful professional career working with Frank Zappa and Missing Persons, among many others. Briefly, tell us, what has this musical ride been like for you?
Terry Bozzio – It’s pretty much a learning experience. I think we all start out with not the purest motives. For me, I wasn’t so good in sports, I wasn’t the smartest person, not the best looking, and not popular. In eighth grade, I sat in another drummer’s kit with their band at a graduation party, and fifty kids were standing around me with their mouths open. You get this inspiration that this might be the best thing you do, so let’s do that! (Laughs) My father always wanted me to have a teaching credential to fall back on – I thought, I can do that in music.
I started to take lessons and I had some really good teachers who taught me the pure stuff. I fooled around in high school with bands doing that Rock-n-Roll thing a lot in the ’60s when Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Oxford Circle, which later became Blue Cheer, and Jefferson Airplane were all local bands. Then from there I started to study music more seriously. I got a really great teacher, majored in music in college, started to study Classical and Jazz. I got a show that ran for thirteen months called Godspell. I was able to move out, get a car, and that kind of a thing.
During that time, I studied a lot and started to play/jam with local Jazz musicians, and ended up playing with some of the best in the world – Eddie Henderson, Woody Shaw, just phenomenal guys. Being in Eddie’s band, he said Frank Zappa was looking for a drummer; he had been auditioning and couldn’t find anybody in Los Angeles. I somehow got the gig with Zappa, and that was a musical education beyond my wildest dreams!
After that there was a stint in the UK, then forming my own band Missing Persons. Missing Persons was pretty much like all the behind the music videos you’ve seen. (Laughs) Drugs, mental illness, alcoholism, all that kind of stuff broke it up. It was also very much like the Andy Warhol 15-minutes of fame thing, and fame doesn’t come with a manual – those were tough times. I fell back into doing drum seminars where I perform and teach about what I am doing. I found I had a captive audience with drums without any commercial restrictions. I started to develop my own style, and that developed into ultimately becoming a solo drum artist playing music on my traditional American drums on steroids. (Laughs) That’s me up to the moment!
CrypticRock.com – Wow, it is a amazing story. You have proven yourself, not only to be an elite Rock-n-Roll drummer, but also an extremely diverse one, working in various styles of music. As a performer and songwriter, how important is musical diversity to you?
Terry Bozzio – To me, it’s key. There are really two major schools in music and this has been true for hundreds of years. There is troubadour tradition, where a troubadour would strum a chord, which were not that important, and tell the news of the day, poetry, or things like that; that comes up through Folk and Rock-n-Roll.
Then there is the Classical school of music where music is more about art, invention; the science of music and its development. I would say Jazz is somewhat affiliated with that; Rock-n-Roll was affiliated with that too. You have English Art Rock bands that were art school students: they were very good conceptionalists; they may have not been excellent musicians in terms of their virtuosity, but they had very interesting ideas and innovative styles.
My path has kind of been stepping into either one of those fields, depending on what was convenient at the time. I could remember not feeling good about being asked to be doing a drum clinic after Missing Persons broke up because I was a famous rockstar. Fame does that to you and makes your thinking awkward and backwards. I remember even feeling a little bit of resentment of having to play with Jeff Beck.
I remember meeting Ronnie James Dio one night and I said, “Yeah, Missing Persons broke up. I tried to be a singer-songwriter and got 10-grand for one tune, just to make a demo, and they passed on it. Now I have to go play with Jeff Beck now and be a sideman.” Ronnie says, “Oh, I’m so sorry you have to go back and play with Jeff Beck.”(Laughs) Little did I realize how great Jeff was! I always loved him, but when I got to play with him, man, he was something else. I never heard sounds come out of a guitar with no effects whatsoever, all just playing with his fingers; playing things, innovating things that are not traditionally done on the guitar. He was just doing it all right in front of me on a tiny little amp you could put in a suitcase. I was just amazed and I am very grateful now that I got that opportunity to do Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop (1989). Through that connection, we did all the Lonely Bears stuff.
It’s a convenience – what is the circumstance in your life and what are the opportunities? When an opportunity like that comes around to make money, you go for it! Then you realize, wow, I am really learning something here too. At other times, I have turned down major Rock bands because I wanted to do other things and I had something to learn on my own. It’s been a back and forth like that.
CrypticRock.com – It has certainly lead to a very diverse career. You would also be an intricate part of Missing Persons as a driving force behind the kit and as a songwriter. When things were going well, what were the Missing Persons years like for you?
Terry Bozzio – It was pretty much neurotic. We had one person with mental illness – bipolar and manic depression – then another person who was on drugs and alcohol; it was an impossible situation. I became very neurotic and needed to seek help, which I did; I got a lot of counseling help, and just changed the direction of my life.
You learn things, such as you really can’t control other people, other places and things. When you’re young you kind of think you are invincible – you can do it, leap over the hurdle, grab onto the ceiling with your claws, stay up there, and turn it over for yourself. In life, things happen that are beyond your control. When you put all your eggs into one basket like that: I lost my wife, my friends, my band, my income – all in one shot there. It was a tough time to go through.
You play the game: you do what you think is best for the moment and you move on; you learn and grow from it. That is the key thing: everything has a lesson it. If you keep your eyes open, seek help, don’t think you have all the answers and you know what you are going to do to fix this, that, or the other. I think you will then have an open-mindedness – ‘Okay, I am going to learn from this and I’m not going to allow that to happen again. ‘
In many ways, my solo drum situation is a result of that kind of information and lessons being learned. I have a tech and my wife out here on the road with me, and I can’t do it without them; but I don’t have to worry about another person I am collaborating with affecting what it is I do and love so much. I play by myself, and if a band situation happens, or another musician comes up and wants to collaborate with me, I am happy to do that. That said, I have my own core values, way of expression, and my own authentic path that I take; that can’t be messed with until my health fails, then who cares. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – Like you said: life is about learning. We all have had experiences – some we regret, some we don’t. It is what we do and how we grow from there that matters.
Terry Bozzio – Yeah, and I wouldn’t trade what I have now for anything! Every situation I’ve been asked to be a part of was totally different, a shock, and had some adjustment for me to do – from Zappa to Beck to you name it. It’s got to the point where I think, okay, my definition of a band is unconditional acceptance of every member and their ideas. I want to play with people that I would never think of telling how to play. I’m not going to bring in a composition and force someone to do that, because I wrote it.
Some of my experiences have been like that, such as with BLS (Bozzio Levin Stevens) for example, and Polytown, with Mick Karn and David Torn. The most successful of that was with Allan Holdsworth, Tony Levin, and Pat Mastelotto. I just love what these guys do and I was so happy to be on stage with them. We were totally free, improvising in a compositional way. There would be times where someone was soloing and another person would be backing them up. There would be times I would take it in a totally different direction then someone else would. There was some beautiful music all spontaneously composed, never to be repeated, and highly authentic, because no one was telling anyone what to do at any moment. I’ve had those experiences as well, which I would welcome back into my life at anytime.
CrypticRock.com – Beyond all this, you also have released a slew of solo material and toured regularly. Speaking of touring, you are currently touring the USA. How is this tour going?
Terry Bozzio – It’s been great! I had some issues with some early shows. I did three perfect shows, and I got to Austin, Texas, and my midi system started to act really funny. I had a few shows going through a few moments of that, we fixed it, and the last few shows have been on fire. There has been no distractions whatsoever technically, so I am really happy.
CrypticRock.com – That is great to hear. You have a lot of shows through October.
Terry Bozzio – Yes, we go back and forth across Canada, and ultimately are going down the West Coast back to L.A.
CrypticRock.com – There is a lot of cool stuff coming up! Beyond just playing, you also have a really compelling art project going on associated with your drumming. What inspired this artistic endeavor?
Terry Bozzio – It started with Captain Beefheart on my first tour with Frank Zappa. He was a great artist; he was always carrying around sketchbooks and magic markers. I was inspired by that and I got some myself. He was encouraging; helped me and gave me some direction. I have been kind of doing it ever since; it is something I have kept pretty much to myself. It was in one inner sleeve for the Missing Person’s album Rhyme & Reason (1984), that is one of my paintings.
Maybe three to four years ago, I spoke with Stephen Perkins from Jane’s Addiction/Porno for Pyros, and he told me, there is an art group doing an interesting project with drums, would you be interested? I said yeah! The group is called Scene Four and they put in a dark room playing with lit, multi-colored drumsticks. They used long exposure time to capture what we do when we play. Each drummer’s setup is different, each drummer’s style is different. You would have some who would just stay in one play, keep a beat, and there would be masses of color in their stick path, and that was pretty cool. Then you have a guy like me who has drums almost 360 degrees around, and we came up with some interesting things there.
I showed them some of my artwork and they noticed my sketching had a lot of similar or compatible movements on a sheet of paper. We decided to combine the two things making this project called [RHYTHM] + [SKETCH]. Then last year, I did an art, music, and poetry collaboration with a poet friend of mine named Todd Griese. I showed some of my paintings as they are, took some of his poetry, and put them on some of the paintings that had the space where it would work. Then he also sent me some voice-overs of him reciting his poetry. For me, the music just flowed out of his words and I composed to twenty-two of his poems within weeks. It is some very beautiful stuff, it is on a CD called No Work No Food.
I’ve been doing all that and I am trying to put it out there little by little; it is difficult for me to market anything. As a drummer, it takes me a paragraph to describe what I do. With a band like Death Angel, you know what you’re going to get. When it’d, ‘Terry Bozzio plays an evening of solo drum music,’ you probably think, “Oh god, Ginger Baker playing for too long and I want to go get a beer or go to the bathroom.” (Laughs) It’s difficult for me to market myself and my paintings as well. I have had some good support over the last few years and I continue to want to do that.
One of the projects that was really cool in Japan, where they still have a flourishing music business and record labels, I did a project called Composer Series. I took all the compositions I have been doing over the last twenty years and put them into a compilation. It is a big book/box set of CD/DVDs of some solo drum performances and compositions I’ve made, and I put 70-plus abstract paintings of mine to go along with the movement of each piece. That’s kind of a life’s work and I am very proud I got to do that.
CrypticRock.com – You have a lot of really compelling material under your belt with more to come. Would you say that at this point you are more artistically-fulfilled than ever before?
Terry Bozzio – Yeah, I’ve had some really good years. I don’t know about commercial success, I am still just bumping along and making a living. In 2008, when the economy crashed, that was a signal to the death of the music business; a preview to that was in the late ’90s when the internet started giving away music for free. Nobody in the record business world was watching out for the artist or for themselves, fighting for the rights to broadcasting on the internet; we get nothing compared to what we used to get from jukeboxes, the radio, and record stores.
At the same time, in 2008, all the manufacturers stopped supporting drum clinics. Especially mine, because I need to bring my drum set, which I need a trailer and SUV; that is how we travel around the country. I got a booking agent, took the risk, and started going alone. So far, I can survive and I get to do what I love to do. It’s time consuming, it’s a lot of hard work for myself, my tech, and my wife; with their help I get by. I am not in the poor house yet! (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – Good for you! It is creative and exciting stuff. Last question is pertaining to films. If you are a fan of either Horror and Sci-Fi films, what are some of your favorites?
Terry Bozzio – Not, per se, but in terms of Anime, I am really into that. I started with my son and I watching stuff when he was younger. I am especially into Japanese Anime – there is a series called Cowboy Bebop. I like Rick and Morty and Family Guy too. Living part-time in Japan, I get to see some fantastic stuff. There are some fantastic composers who make music for that too. I am not a pitch guy, but I am waiting for someone to hear myself, and go, ‘This would be right for this project,’ and use it. I think it’s pretty atmospheric and covers a lot of emotional range that might be suitable for enhancing the visual aspect of Anime and movies.
I am a little more into Element, The Blacklist, detective type things. I like NCIS, stuff like that is always making you wonder who did it. There is some pretty gory stuff in Japanese Anime, and I am up for that as well. There is one series called Tokyo Ghoul – there is a beautiful piece of music in the opening and ending of that. It’s very interesting, I can’t quite figure it out; I love when I can’t quite figure things out, I love to live for the big question mark. I am inspired by people who do something interesting and different.