For former COM student Terry Bozzio, the beat goes on

By Nash Kurilko

Terry Bozzio, who’s played with Frank Zappa and other rock legends, performs with his 50-piece drum set. Bozzio earned his associates in art degree at College of Marin in Spring 1972.

Terry Bozzio, who’s played with Frank Zappa and other rock legends, performs with his 50-piece drum set. Bozzio earned his associates in art degree at College of Marin in Spring 1972.

In January, Rolling Stone named him fifth on their list of the greatest drummers in rock. He’s considered one of the preeminent drummers alive, but most College of Marin students don’t even know Terry Bozzio honed his skills at the Kentfield Campus.

Bozzio attended COM from 1969 to 1972. He would go on to play with some of the most famous names in rock, including Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Jeff Beck, Billy Cobham, Niel Peart and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Today, Bozzio does gigs as a clinical drummer, musical instructor and touring artist.

Born in1950 in San Francisco, he lived in the city until third grade. When he was eight, the Bozzio’s moved to Fairfax. While watching TV as a kid, Bozzio was introduced to drumming.

“I can remember my first impressions of drumming were Cubby O’Brien on the Mickey Mouse Show and Little Rickey in I Love Lucy—that was the first time I saw children playing drums, and that’s what began to get me interested,” he said from his home in Austin, Texas.

Between 1956 and 1962, young Bozzio produced ragtag drums-sets with coffee pots, broken arrow sticks, cooking pans and crumpled high-voltage signs. He enjoyed practicing to records by Tito Puente, the Beach Boys and Sandy Nelson and the Ventures. Two of his favorites were “Wipeout” by The Safaris, and “Walk Don’t Run” by the Ventures.

At the age of 13, Bozzio saw The Beatles make their televised debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, and knew he wanted to be a drummer. He begged his father for lessons. That summer he started taking lessons at Miracle Mile Music in San Rafael. At first, he trained with instructor Todd Fleicher, who had to back out of the sessions after suffering a spinal injury in a car accident. Instructor Ken Blewer took over. After six months of lessons, Bozzio had learned the basics—reading notes, practicing stick control and starting beats.

As a freshman at San Anselmo’s Sir Francis Drake High School in 1965, Bozzio played in garage rock bands around Marin, including Blue Grass Radio, The Yarde, and Tamalpias Jungle Mountain Boys. By the start of his senior year in 1968, Bozzio really started focusing on improving his drumming skills.

“So I got a good drum teacher by the name of Chuck Brown, and I started to take the music courses at school,” he said. “I got to play a school concert before I graduated.”

Just a few weeks after graduation, Bozzio attended summer school at College of Marin. He wanted to continue his musical studies, and trained with San Francisco Symphony percussionists Lloyd Davis and Roland Kohloff.

“At that point, I knew how to read rhythms pretty good, I knew how to read the names of the notes on the staff, the melodies, the harmonies. I’d taken the Music Mind class in high school, which was basic music theory,” he said.

The Music Mind class had been taught by Charles Meechim, who was a Center Violinist with the San Francisco Symphony.

“He suggested that I join the College of Marin Band, under John Myers. I did that, and played some concerts with them towards the end of summer.”

At the start of the Fall 1969 semester, he was still practicing with the COM band and its instructors.

“There was Dr. Estrom… and Dr. Wolf, who was the leader of the chorus. He used to do concerts with members of the San Francisco Symphony, and he’d always get professionals symphonists, and after a year or so, he saw me play, and I got to do that too,” he said.

“So I was very proud, [but] I never really saw my own talent. I always thought a lot of the other guys were better than me, but somehow I got the key to the percussion cabinet. I ended up playing with the symphony, the band and the orchestra.”

Bozzio credits much of his early musical development with playing in the COM band.

“I was able to get six weeks with each instrument, and was able to get familiar with most of them, though I wasn’t very good at violin, or brass,” he said.

As he became known among local rockers, he played drums with the Napa and Marin County symphonies.

He received his Associates in Arts as a Commercial Music Major in the spring of 1972, which helped him get gigs in local musicals, including “Godspell” and “Walking in My Time.” He also played with Bay Area jazz groups alongside artists like Mark Isham, Peter Maunu, Mike Knock, Art Lande, Eddie Henderson and Woodie Shaw.

Bozzio also partook in the Monday-nights Jim Dukey Big Band shows at the Great American Music Hall on O’Farrell Street, in San Francisco. He did his first studio recording with Luis Gasca on the 1974 LP “Born to Love You.

Around this time, L.A.-based Frank Zappa was looking for a new drummer and his management put out the call to neighboring cities. The Zappa band was familiar with jazz performer Eddie Henderson, who was working with George Duke on a project at the time. Both Henderson and Duke remembered Bozzio from “Born to Love You,” so Duke recommended Bozzio, who was unfamiliar with Zappa’s music. He bought the albums “Live at the Roxbury” and “Apostrophe”, liked what he heard, and flew down to L.A. to audition.

“And that was pretty frightening,” Bozzio recalled. “There were about 50 drummers auditioning, a huge drum set set-up on stage, and they were just dropping like flies. I saw a lot of good drummers go up there and fail. I thought to myself, ‘Well, I owe it to myself to try, even though I don’t think I’m going to get this gig.’ My audition consisted of reading a very difficult piece of music and [then] getting into the superimposed rhythms that Zappa is famous for. The notes were written with X’s up and down the staff, and I was supposed to imply the melodic curve, but you could make up your own pitches.”

Zappa and his bandmates were impressed, so they let him to play other pieces. After, Zappa  spoke to his band manager, and then told Bozzio, “I really like the way you sound, and I’d like to hear you again after the rest of these guys.”

The band manager looked at the remaining drummers, some 25 in all, and received stony looks. He turned back to Zappa and said, “That’s it, Frank. Nobody else wants to audition after Terry.”

Frank then turned to Bozzio and told him he got the gig, if he wanted it. And from 1974 to 1978, Bozzio played on some 10 Zappa albums, the first being 1975’s “Bongo Fury (Live at the Armadillo in Austin, TX)”, also with Captain Beefheart and George Duke.

“…That was the last version of the Mothers. We came back [to LA], and George Duke and some other people had left, so [Zappa] wanted to start fresh. We did “Zoot Allures” at the Record Plant in Los Angeles, then we did “Sheik Yerbouti” and “Zappa in New York.”

In 1978, he played on “Studio Tan”, and in 1978 they recorded “Orchestral Favorites”.

“By now there’s probably 50 records put out by the Zappa Family Trust that I’m on one or two of,” Bozzio said with a bit of well-earned swagger. “It was all done during that three year period. You know, it was really like a musician’s boot camp. I would rehearse for eight hours a day for three months, then we’d go on the road for six months. It was a lot of hard work, and I learned a lot, on a lot of levels.”

Bozzio left the Frank Zappa band in early 1978. He’d auditioned for CBS records in a band called Group 87, with a two other fellow COM alumni Mark Isham and Pete Maunu.

“[Group 87] got the deal and we immediately went to the first Zappa rehearsal of ‘78. I asked him the same question as when he hired me–are you sure I can do this?”

Zappa could tell Bozzio’s direction was drifting into his own career, and that after the experience of landing a major deal, Bozzio wouldn’t be into Zappa’s music enough to continue touring. Zappa told him, “Yes, you got your record deal. It’s time for you to go do your own thing.”

So Bozzio moved on. Throughout 1978-1979, he pursued projects and continued playing shows, including with the Brecker Brothers in New York. He auditioned for more groups, most notably Thin Lizzy. Bozzio married his first wife, former Playboy Bunny and budding singer Dale Consalvi, whom he had met while playing with Zappa in 1976.

The 1980s got off to a good if not ambitious start. Group 87’s self-titled debut LP was released in 1980, after which Terry and Dale Bozzio started the New Wave band Missing Persons. The group achieved one Gold record with October 1982’s “Spring Session M.”

Subsequent records didn’t fare as well on the charts, and in 1986 Bozzio split with the group and began working as a clinical drummer. This also coincided with his divorce from Dale.

“I was sponsored by my drummer’s cymbal company, and it’s basically a solo-set and a seminar from me. I had total artistic freedom,” he said.

In 1988 he collaborated with Jeff Beck and together they won a Grammy for “Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop,” after which they went on a few tours in support of the album. In the same year, he met Ev Kvamme, a young woman working at Capitol Records, and they were married late in 1988.

The next year, he toured Japan with Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble. In 1990, Terry and Ev’s first child Raanen was born. He moved the family from L.A. to Austin, Texas. Up until 2002, Bozzio was regularly on the road, mainly in Japan and Western Europe.

In February 2007, he agreed to co-direct drumchannel.com with Oxnard-based Drum Workshop CEO Don Lombardi. The website is a drumming forum for theoretical discussion and the showcasing of educational performances, for both aspiring and trained drummers.
Bozzio continues his clinical drumming work, which he says helps him further develop his style of “orchestral” drumming.

“I’m attempting to make a musical statement on the drum-set itself. My current drum-set has eight bass drums which tune into the white notes of the piano, the right half of the drum-set is also tuned to the white notes, while the left half is chromatic. It’s got a whole lot of gongs, percussion, three different banks of cymbals. It’s orchestrally diverse, and has a lot of different colors and textures. I can play harmonically, melodically and rhythmically, at the same time.”

Towards the end of the year, Bozzio made his first solo tour in Japan, where he recorded his live LP “Seven Nights in Japan.”

Upon returning to the U.S. to run drumchannel.com full-time, his marriage with Ev went into dire straights. In February 2008, they separated, and 10 months later, they agreed to divorce.
Two years later, Bozzio was lovestruck again, this time with Mayumi Yoshimoto, from Yokusuka, Japan. After marrying in Ventura, Bozzio assumed the role of stepfather to Mayumi’s daughter, Marina Yoshimoto, who is also drummer.

During the summer of 2010, Bozzio started hosting his own webshow, ‘The Art of Drumming.” It streams weekly on Tuesdays at 6PM. The show usually consists of a guest interview and then a drumming piece. Famous guests include Nick Mason of Pink Floyd and Beatles producer Ken Scott.

“I would love to [play in the Bay Area again]. I’ve played at Banana’s At Large before in San Rafael, I’ll probably play there again, maybe for a master class. I’d love to play College of Marin, too. I don’t know what their budget is like, but my experience is that with a drum company sponsoring the event, things can happen. I know universities are just struggling for dough right now. It’s awful compared to Europe and Japan, and other countries where there’s just a little more emphasis placed on arts, and the development of the arts,” he said.

Overall, Bozzio says he’s satisfied where he is in his with life. He continues to tour internationally, with more shows in Europe and Japan on the horizon. He also continues to find love, both his in his art and family. But mostly, he says he’s content to continue following his passion: drumming.

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