THE NASHVILLE DRUMMERS JAM PUTS THE CAUSE AND EFFECT IN SYNCHRONICITY
By its very nature, drumming was meant to be a communal thing. Long before there were rock bands that needed unique, larger than life personalities behind those massive drum kits, there were drum circles in even remote parts of the world. Individuality was not encouraged. What the group had to say was far more important. A drum circle was not part of a larger performance, it was its own marquee event. In the circle, there was equality, with no head and no tail, and people of all ages were included. Grateful Dead drummer, Mickey Hart, said, “The main objective was to share rhythm and get in tune with each other and themselves.” Out of this came a group consciousness, a collective voice that would resonate. Life in the 21st century doesn’t accommodate drum circles with the ease in which they once formed. Drummers who play for their livelihood are on the road a lot, or they’re busy doing session work, teaching, or otherwise engaged in musical pursuits. Even living amongst each other is more a sharing of zip code than time. The closest thing to a drum circle, in the modern version, may be a drum hang. Instruments may or may not be present, but it’s a communal gathering of drummers in a social setting. Out of the consciousness of that community and their collective voice, The Nashville Drummers Jam was conceived.
David Parks is a Nashville drummer, formerly of LoCash Cowboys, who took an interest in the LA drum event Brian Tichy organized called the Bonzo Bash, a tribute to John Bonham. He’d been thinking about doing something like that in Nashville, only with a different bent, when an opportunity presented itself. In February, 2012, King’s X drummer, Jerry Gaskill, had a heart attack. It was a long term recovery with mounting medical bills. David and another Nashville drummer, Kevin Murphy (Randy Houser), were kicking around the idea of doing a benefit for him when the notion of putting the two events together found their synchronicity. Liking the idea of drummers helping drummers, David called a friend and shared his thoughts. Drummer, Tom Hurst (Tracey Lawrence), had been booking bands and events for years as Tom Hurst Presents Loud Jamz. Taking an event like this on was a natural outflow of what he was already doing, so he was all for it. Bringing in friend and colleague, Chris Nix, guitarist for Chuck Wicks, as musical director, was the final piece in putting together the ultimate drum circle.
The basis for this event being a success started with its location. This was not planned as a charity event with a headlining artist to pull in the crowd. The draw would be a selection of Nashville’s finest drummers, fronted by a house band created just for the event. In Nashville, you have an educated populace and a large musician community who knows the resumes these guys come with. As Tom Hurst put it, “In the middle of the country, they may not know who Rich Redmond and Chris McHugh are. If you don’t know those names in Nashville, you’re probably in the wrong town.” The challenge now would be to synchronize the cause with the effect these top notch drummers would have on its behalf. Finding the right rhythm to hosting such an event would mean bringing the cause and effect, “Synchronicity I” and “Synchronicity II,” together in perfect time.
In the beginning, the three organizers said it was a balancing act trying to figure out who did what best. When you bring such highly skilled people to a large task, it’s often difficult to narrow down their respective talents to what suits. Having settled that, it was on to the job at hand. David’s drive from the beginning has been to help people in need and spread positivity in the community. He finds the camaraderie amongst the players to be inspirational, and the group’s desire to take care of their own resonates with his intentions. The cause for this first event had been decided. Funds raised would go towards helping Jerry Gaskill pay medical expenses. Danny Beeler, graphic artist with Heart of The City Design, has graciously given of his time and efforts since the first show. He has never charged them for his work, despite “wearing him out with particulars,” according to David. In tribute to Jerry Gaskill and the band he played for, this first show was titled: JAMMIN FOR JERRY: A TRIBUTE TO KINGS X MUSIC. The date set was June 11, 2012, and the venue would be Douglas Corner in South Nashville. Finding the venue was a key factor in the event’s success, and Tom said they owe a huge debt of gratitude to the owner of Douglas Corner, Mervin Louque. As their needs would grow over the years since this first show, Mervin was accommodating in every way. He was instrumental in the growth of the event and generous in their move to a larger venue as the need arose.
David’s ideas for ways to benefit the community didn’t stop with a single drummer. Channeling the power of the drum circle, he’s rallied music sponsors to take up the cause like “Spirits in the Material World.” “If it’s something we can’t buy, there must be another way.” He uses a two-pronged approach to maximize the benefits. Sponsors donate items that can be used as door prizes, raffled off, or bid on in a silent auction. Funds raised through ticket sales, auction items, or donations, go directly to the individual or groups named as beneficiaries. Other musical items donated may be given out to kids in the area who need them to further their music education. With each show, the monetary donations and the number of items they’re able to give away has grown. David’s goal is to get at least one signed item from the person they’re paying tribute to. Ideally, he wants this item to go to someone who will respect its musical value, not what it may garner on ebay. Most every musician in the room at these events can tell you what it was in their life that lit the spark and inspired them to pursue their musical passion. That’s what they’re looking to do for any of the kids who attend and may need equipment and a spark to light their fire. David recalled something drummer, Rich Redmond (Jason Aldean), said. “Music takes you places, both mentally and spiritually.” David believes that if they can give the gift of music, with that kind of power, to a troubled kid, there is no greater impact than that. What may seem like a small gesture, can truly change a life.
To bring synchronicity to the cause and effect of this event, the effect must now equal the lofty intentions of the cause. The integrity these guys bring to the cause can only be matched by the quality of their playing. Tom Hurst was quick to point out that the group of drummers selected for each event has been pulled from an “empowering network of vetted people.” From the beginning, there has been an outpouring of support from the drummers themselves, and a long list of guys who’ve volunteered to play on behalf of the cause. Their compensation comes in the form of lifting each other up in the context of the circle, helping their own who are in need, and using their talent as kindling to light a fire for others. On the promotional side, Tom sees satisfaction in having this platform “to champion these great players.” With pride, he talked about the unselfish spirit of the group as they’ve pulled together to create something bigger than themselves. With so many individual drummers involved in each show, he says it’s a “turn and burn” on the night of the performance. It’s an opportunity for these guys to cheer each other on, enjoy the spirit in which they gather, and give back to a community that is wholeheartedly invested in the greater good. By that same token, their charitable spirit extends to other players who cannot match their skill, but through whose inclusion a brighter light shines from within the circle. David gave the example of giving a sick kid a chance to play, or shining a spotlight on someone new who has yet to be recognized outside the community. The organizers understand the need to employ those with marquee names to draw in a philanthropic crowd, but wish to extend the platform for a broader reach whenever possible.
This being a charitable event has not lessened the seriousness of the preparation or the attention to detail that music director, Chris Nix, brings to the project. Chris is the band leader and lead guitarist for Chuck Wicks. He has a wealth of experience in putting together pieces of a musical puzzle to ensure the finished product is a work of fine art. As he goes about the task of assembling the parts to compliment each song, he draws inspiration from the lyrics, “We know you, they know me, Extrasensory, Synchronicity.” Nothing is compromised in the matching of players with songs nor musicians to support their impeccable performances. At times, he’s asked that participating drummers reply with their top three song choices from the tribute catalog. From that, he decides on an individual basis who would best play the song, eliciting the most powerful performance of it. Chris said there is only one player he’s ever expressly directed to play a particular song without discussion. When the Neil Peart tribute was decided upon, he texted one word to Kevin Murphy, “Limelight.” Watch the video of that performance and Chris’ decision will explain itself. He feels abundantly blessed to have the pool of top notch players he has to work with. In his words, “These guys are so pro, they make my job a piece of cake.”
With the bar set so high for the quality of the drum performances, Chris’ challenge is to find the perfect accompanying players to match them in musical prowess. Using the house band approach, it is still vital to compliment each drummer appropriately, which sometimes means bringing in several bass players, guitar players, and vocalists to hit the right notes accordingly. For each song, Chris must decide the musicians who’ll be playing, the lead vocalist, any backup singers that may be needed, and the instrumentation that best elevates the performance. Chris plays guitar on most of the songs, maintaining the pulse of the whole. Even with the large number of drummers featured at each show, he says quality control is never shortened. He has impressed upon the accompanying players that their goal is to create the perfect storm of individual elements to provide the atmosphere in which these drum stars will rise. He reminds them that each of the drummers will have just one song to know, and they will be relentless in their preparation. The other musicians must be just as dedicated to their success. Stylistically, the approach is different for each tribute. Chris must know intricately how each band plays live and in what ways the drummer contributes to that sound and the effort as a whole. With RUSH, he said they play everything note for note in their live shows, whereas The Police play a looser format, tightening things up for effect in the right spots. Playing a tribute means doing justice to the original work while giving the featured player some latitude to create moments uniquely theirs in the simple things.
When cause and effect truly reach their synchronicity is on show days. The expectations for musical superiority are high for these shows. These are well known players with abundant experience at the top echelons of their profession. Their unflappable professionalism has made each of the five shows to date an unparalleled success. The second Nashville Drummers Jam was billed as a Jerry Gaskill Benefit Concert as he suffered a second unfortunate event in 2012. In October, just eight months after his heart attack, Jerry lost his home to Hurricane Sandy. The show took place on December 3, 2012, at Douglas Corner, with the drummers playing the music of King’s X. In the true spirit of community over individual needs, Jerry respectfully expressed his desire to share the proceeds with those less fortunate than himself in the wake of the hurricane. Embodying the spirit of synchronicity, the selflessness of the drum community and Jerry’s request are literally written in these lyrics, “If we share this nightmare, Then we can dream, Spiritus Mundi.”
The Nashville Drummers Jam 3 was staged as a Jeff Porcaro Tribute at Douglas Corner on September 9, 2013. The set list drew from the large discography of Jeff’s work with Toto, Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, Eric Clapton, Michael McDonald, and Jude Cole. The cause taken up for this event was threefold. One of the drum community’s own, Paramore drummer, Miles McPherson, was in a serious vehicle accident that left him with extensive injuries and medical costs. The proceeds from this show would benefit The Miles McPherson Fund, ALS Research in the name of Mike Porcaro, and the W.O. Smith Music School in Nashville. On April 21, 2014, the fourth Nashville Drummers Jam event took place at Douglas Corner. The show was a John Bonham Tribute, with “all proceeds donated to the NDJ Foundation, benefiting fellow musicians and children in need.” This would be the last of their shows held at Douglas Corner, for the popularity of the event had grown such that a larger venue was necessary.
The Nashville Drummers Jam 5, Neil Peart Tribute, was held on December 22, 2014, at their newly chosen venue, The Exit/In in Nashville. Besides being a larger space, it has a backstage area that would come in handy for the size of the cast assembled for this show. It would be one of their most difficult and largest undertakings to date. There were 24 drummers on the bill for this show, all playing the complex music of RUSH, not always brief in their musical expression. Through the generosity of Ludwig, a custom kit was built for the tribute, modeled after the white Hold Your Fire kit that Neil used in the late 80s. Ludwig personnel flew in for the show, and Neil, himself, autographed a cymbal that was bestowed upon the lucky winner of a drawing. Proceeds were divided between St. Jude, W.O. Smith Music School, and the NDJ Fund. The overwhelming success of this event was the culmination of three years hard work that resulted in putting the very best of the drum community in the “Limelight.” It’s sparked a fire no one can hold.
Nashville Drummers Jam 6, the Stewart Copeland Tribute, is set for May 18 at The Exit/In. Both the size of the event, and the scope of their charitable outreach, have converged in a way that’s broadened the drum circle beyond what its organizers imagined. “It’s so deep, it’s so wide, You’re inside, Synchronicity.” The proceeds for the upcoming event are earmarked for an NDJ member house fire fund and the NDJ Fund. They are currently in the process of joining with the Musician’s Assistance Fund, a non-profit organization, to address needs on a larger basis with the help of an advisory board. On the drum side, this will consist of a group of about 20 guys whose task it will be to bring to the table the names of people who need help. Tom said some of the guys have recused themselves from playing so others can have the opportunity, choosing instead to focus on the charitable aspect of things. For the performance, 24 drummers will take part in the Copeland Tribute, with a finale Chris says encompasses the group. What he loves most about the project is the guys he gets to work with. Bringing together such a large group of drummers and musicians who all have that “mutual light in their eyes,” and are “riddled with soul in their playing,” can produce the perfect storm of a performance and sometimes an all out train wreck. He says the finale has the potential to be either. What is never in question is the fact that the drummers will all be pulling for each other. Whether it becomes a deafening cheer, or a friendly razzing, the bond within the drum circle is never in question. “With one breath, with one flow, You will know, Synchronicity.”
When David Parks talks about the beginning of The Nashville Drummers Jam, he speaks with pride and humility, not at what he’s created, but what’s become of the whole. It started with a near-sighted vision of helping one guy through a group effort. “A star fall, a phone call, It joins all, Synchronicity.” From the success of that first effort and the joy he found in helping people, his view became more far-sighted. Stewart Copeland sees the world through the rims of his glasses, but it’s the influence he’s had as a drummer on the world stage that’s given him a clear vision. Born in Alexandria, Virginia, he became a citizen of the world by the time he reached adulthood. Traveling from the United States to the Middle East, on to Europe, and back to the United States for college, he came full circle to embark on his music career. The heart of his drum beats with the pulse of his percussive history. Master of the syncopated beat, he brings things together in strength and weakness to create a stronger whole, rhythmically bonded. Through NDJ, David Parks and Tom Hurst have formed the ultimate drum circle. The legacy they wish to leave behind is one of creating something sustainable through their group effort, with no boundaries for its magnitude. The drum community in Nashville has selflessly given of their time and talent, not to emblazon their individual names on a show bill or marquee, but to strengthen their collective voice in a resonance of cause and effect that ripples through the community and makes the whole stronger. “If you act as you think, The missing link, Synchronicity.”
Special screening of John Bryant’s documentary film, DARE TO DRUM, just added to the evening’s lineup! Get the details here:
The following companies proudly sponsor this event.
Fork’s Drum Closet
Heart Of The City Design
Queen City Drums
David Parks, “Time Stands Still,” The Nashville Drummers Jam 5 Neil Peart Tribute
Rich Redmond, “Fly By Night,” The Nashville Drummers Jam 5 Neil Peart Tribute
Billy Freeman, “La Villa Strangiato,” The Nashville Drummers Jam 5 Neil Peart Tribute
Follow The Nashville Drummers Jam on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Nashville-Drummers-Jam/591800264211945?fref=ts
If you’re in Nashville, come out and join them for NDJ 6 Stewart Copeland Tribute!
GREAT MUSIC. EXCEPTIONAL MUSICIANS. A GREAT CAUSE.
To purchase tickets in advance, please visit the Exit/In’s website:
To read about some of the players who will be performing at this event, please click on the links below.
KEVIN MURPHY (Randy Houser)
MARK POIESZ (Tyler Farr)
RICH REDMOND (Jason Aldean)
BEN SESAR (Brad Paisley)
©2015-nashvillethreesixty.com. All rights reserved.