@schmidtydrums Lays Down A Starr Quality Groove
You can tell a lot about the aspirations of a musician from where they draw inspiration. Drummer, Jason Schmidt (henceforth referred to as Schmidty), was following two of the best by the time he was six years old. Stylistically, Ringo Starr and John “Bonzo” Bonham have zero in common. Turn each of them loose on a solo, in a clutch situation, and they’ll define who they are as drummers. According to Paul McCartney, no one hates drum solos more than Ringo, but he nailed the transition solo they begged him for between “Carry That Weight” and “The End.” Where Ringo begrudgingly gave them a few seconds, Bonham would often fill 30 minutes when he played “Moby Dick” live. The rest of the band would exit the stage and leave him to it. His playing was often so ferocious that he would break his drumsticks and throw them into the audience, continuing the solo with his bare hands. Drawing blood from the effort was signature “Bonzo.” Both had a style that suited their respective gigs, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin – obscure little bands of their time. Fast forward to the style of schmidtydrums. Schmidty is a student of music and all things drum related. His intense passion for the instrument he loves and constant study of precision and style have morphed into his unique style of play. Watch closely. You just may see Ringo sitting on one shoulder and “Bonzo” on the other, happily coexisting, at least for 90 minutes. So, how did he get there? “It’s Been a Hard Day’s Night”……
For Schmidty, his passion started early. Growing up on Long Island, NY, he saw a rebroadcast of The Beatles first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Seeing Ringo Starr playing drums changed his life. From the television to the kitchen, he started banging on pots and pans and anything that would make a sound. When his parents bought him a toy drum kit at the age of three, he was hooked. Watching the older kids in his neighborhood, he said he heard Zeppelin by the time he was six and knew it was amazing. In just three years, he had the spark of Ringo and the fire of Bonham. Ringo was his visual while Bonham was the sound he heard in his head. He was driven to play, and wanted to learn how to turn the noise he’d been making into percussion. His first semi-formal instruction came from his elementary school band director, Lou Goldman. It was the first level of the solid foundation he was building, learning the basics and how to play well with others. Lou would be the encouraging link to the next step in his music education.
Making the jump to middle school, three things happened that would put pressure on an already expanding passion. Learning is something Schmidty takes seriously. If he was going to become a competent drummer, he needed the equipment and the knowledge to further his intentions. He joined the school band, and at age 12, got his first real drum kit. It was a Pearl World Series and it would become the Mothership where he honed his abilities. He still has it. Shortly after this acquisition, he started formal drum lessons under Napoleon Revels-Bey in New York. Under his new teacher, he grew to understand music and technique and the power of practice. Inspired by his first mentor, Schmidty would develop a love of teaching as his own skills matured. Adding to this experience, he sat in on band rehearsals in his neighborhood and watched the older guys play. There was no saturation limit on what he absorbed musically during that time. “When the Levee Breaks,” everything in its path is consumed. Moving to Maine for high school, he found new inspiration in band director, Jeffrey Priest. Old Town High School became Schmidty’s proving ground for performance training. He played in the jazz band, concert band, and marching band there. Outside the school environment, he broke new musical ground playing with a bevy of bands ranging from rock to jazz. All of this added another layer to his rock solid foundation in music and bolstered his decision to pursue professional drumming.
After high school, North Carolina would become home base for Schmidty‘s budding music career. Immersing himself in the music scene in Raleigh, he multi-tasked a number of opportunities that gave him a chance to grow his road legs, begin teaching, and continue his own education. Beginning in 1993, he started teaching private lessons and toured with a number of different rock and funk bands. Gaining some attention, he was featured in the 1996 March issue of Modern Drummer in Pro-Mark Sticks’ “Salute to the Not Yet Famous Drummers.” His dedication to the instrument and tireless pursuit of improvement made him someone even MD had their eye on. In 1997, he added another educational element to his music studies, attending Berklee College of Music in the summers between ’97 and ’99. During the school year, he was touring and teaching private lessons. During the summer, he went to classes at Berklee and toured with bands. In 1998, he was added to the faculty at the Raleigh Conservatory of Music. Never one to stop learning, he continued to take lessons outside of his Berklee studies from the likes of Rick Latham, Jim Chapin, Trichy Sankaran, and many others. He says he wanted to soak in as much music and different drummers as he could. Based on his work load during this time, he needed “Eight Days a Week.” (*photo courtesy of Rachel Norris)
Heading into the 21st century, Schmidty was working hard to build his music career among the professional ranks. He’d started doing studio sessions in addition to touring and teaching private lessons as part of a business he started called JC Drumworks. He hired three other teachers, and together they taught 80 students per week. 2112 Percussion was a big part of his music scene in Raleigh. As the longest running drum shop in North Carolina, established in 1986, he says he grew up with this store. He went from being a customer to a staff instructor there up until the time he moved to Nashville. It’s a family-owned store that has bred some amazing talent from the area – Jason Michael Carroll, Kellie Pickler, and a little-known country singer named Eric Church. In 2001, one of those three locals would change the course of his music career in a move he never saw himself making. Having consistently toured with rock and funk bands dating back to his teen years, when someone suggested he audition for country artist, Jason Michael Carroll, he responded by telling them “What Is and What Should Never Be.” “Country? Are you kidding?” Overcoming his “Dazed and Confused” reaction, he auditioned and got the gig. He ended up playing with him for six years, and it was the catalyst that pointed his career aspirations in the direction of Nashville. (*photo courtesy of Lovin’ Lyrics Photography)
Schmidty says he got his inspiration and drive from the time he spent in Raleigh. It would serve him well in Music City. He moved to Nashville in 2006, got an apartment with friends, and rarely saw it. He connected with the drum community in town and says they are still an inspiration. Over the next four years, he played with a number of artists including Phil Vaught and Rick Monroe. These gigs took him all over the U.S. and Europe. In 2009, he played on Krista Marie‘s video for “Drive It Like I Stole It,” which became the the theme song for ESPN/NHRA. Little did he know when he played on that video that he would soon be trading that hot rod song for something that might make you wanna roll your windows down and “Cruise.”
When Schmidty joined a band called Florida Georgia Line in late 2010, they were not the superstar duo they are today. Then, they were made up of Tyler Hubbard (vocals), Brian Kelley (vocals and guitar), Brian Bonds (guitar), and Tom Beaupre (bass). Schmidty took over on drums. There was no record deal, and how they rolled was in a crowded SUV with six guys in it. One of the tours they participated in was called The Best Damn Country Tour with Chase Rice and Brian Davis. They used one band for all three acts, and the order they played in depended on the city and who had the largest fan base there. Schmidty said they toured like a rock band, incessantly. They were gone all the time, only home maybe 30 hours, just long enough to do laundry. It was touring in the trenches, long before “Dirt” was a good thing. When Here’s To The Good Times was released in late 2012, they did the radio tour as a full band. “Cruise” was the first track on the album and had been released previously as a single in August of that year. Schmidty played on the video for the song. He got to experience the rise of “Cruise” and the launch of a duo that was about to blow up with the release of their full-length album.
Brian Davis is from North Carolina, and Schmidty had met him back in 2004 when he was living there. At one point, Brian had encouraged him to move to Nashville. When he was with FGL, he met up with Brian again when they toured together. In 2013, he was offered the position of being Brian’s drummer and musical director. Weighing his options, he took the gig. That year, Brian opened for Brantley Gilbert on the Hell on Wheels Tour. 2014 saw Schmidty diversify his professional music portfolio, subbing with other artists when he was on break from touring with Brian. They were still opening some dates for Brantley Gilbert and headlining their own shows. At the beginning of the year, when Lindsay Ell’s drummer, Mark Poiesz, was tapped to play with Tyler Farr, Schmidty replaced him on that gig. He joined her at Stagecoach, on a two and a half week run in Europe, and at CMA Fest. When Jon Pardi was in need of a drummer to sub in for a month to play his album release shows last year, Schmidty sat in with his band, The All Nighters. He also subbed with Miss Willie Brown on a tour with Frankie Ballard and Jon Pardi on a west coast run. Rounding out his efforts for the year, he started Banged Oddities Productions, offering a multitude of production options out of his home studio.
In 2015, Schmidty finds himself focused on his current path. He’s the drummer for rising country star, Lindsay Ell, and he’s on tour with Brian Davis, headlining 90 minute shows. He does lessons via skype and is working on putting together some clinics on the road. Schmidty takes the responsibility of teaching very seriously. He sees his role as not only teaching skills, but being in charge of their inspiration, and if you’re not fully committed to that, he doesn’t believe you should take the job. To be a good teacher, you first have to be a good student. Schmidty finds lessons in everyday living, some musical, some otherwise. His attitude is that every day is another day to make music, and he tries to be creative each day. His goal is to challenge himself and try to improve every day. He’s been like that from the beginning, when he used to play to records with headphones on in his bedroom, getting lost for hours learning to play drum parts. When he was in high school, he learned to play bass and piano in addition to drums. He said he gigged out as a bass player when he lived in North Carolina just to see what the other side of the rhythm section was about. When touring, he said he loves festival season because he gets to hang out and watch several different drummers. If there’s an opportunity to learn and absorb music, Schmidty will take it at each show.
I got the chance to see Schmidty play live with Brian Davis at a bar in West Virginia. It certainly wasn’t Stagecoach, nor CMA Fest, but he took the performance as seriously as if it were. There is a method and a routine to his preparation, regardless of the setting or the size of the audience. I’d heard very little of Brian Davis’ music prior to this, and I had no idea what Schmidty’s style of play would be. However, we’d done the phone interview so I knew who his influences were. He has every bit of the relaxed style of Ringo, poised and confident. It’s almost as if the song is waiting for HIM to tell IT what to do. He controls the beat with such ease that you know it has to be harder than he’s making it look. As Paul said about Ringo, “you could turn your back on him and never have to worry.” I sensed the same confidence from Brian Davis and the rest of the band. With Schmidty in the driver’s seat, it’s all good. When the music called for a more forceful interpretation, enter Bonham. The passionate musician that Schmidty is runneth over when the time was right. I could see it in his eyes when he was about to strike, before the drum knew what a beating it was about to take. As if someone had suggested starting a “Revolution” and Schmidty picked up Bonham’s sticks and started the damn thing himself. When Brian introduced his solo and stepped aside, I thought surely “Bonzo” would surface.
Schmidty had told me that his drum solo is evolving. He pulls from the vibe in the room and what inspires him at the time. His intent is to lay down a groove, which he defined as a “warm blanket.” He said every drummer approaches it differently, and how you play it is your stamp. Not caring to play to the two drummers who might be in the room, he focuses on making a connection with the audience and playing something that will move them. His particular stamp that evening was “Let It Be” meets “Whole Lotta Love.” Like a locomotive coming at you, with Ringo in the driver’s seat and Bonham with his foot on the gas. The whistle was blowing, but eventually, you knew you were going to be run over by that train. Somewhere, Bonham was most pleased by this, as was the audience! In the middle of the set, Schmidty would have the chance to get his groove on. Brian and Schmidty performed three acoustic songs with just a guitar and a box kit. With relaxed shoulders and an easy smile on his face, he looked like there was no place he’d rather be. He never lost eye contact with the audience, nor did he stop smiling. He was totally in his element and you were happy to be there with him. When your heartbeat is a backbeat, laying down the perfect groove must come naturally. It was a relaxed effort that would have satisfied even Ringo. (*photo courtesy of Byran Roberts)
Schmidty was born to be a musician. He talks about music with the same passion that he plays with. His music collection is extensive and all over the map. Admittedly, his drum video collection is ridiculous. He will tell you that he is a product of life – the teachers he’s had, players he’s been influenced by and played with, what he listens to, and the people who have encouraged and inspired him to play music. As the song says that was written for and sung by Ringo Starr, I get by “With a Little Help from My Friends.” His elementary band director, Lou Goldman, told him something that he says has served him well in his professional career. “If you can collectively do something, you can do anything.” In concert band, you’re playing with maybe 100 people, building a sound. This will turn you into a team player, which factors enormously into touring and how well you can get along with people on a bus. How you groove with people may be as important as that killer drum solo. In that same light, Schmidty believes that music is for everybody, and we should listen more and critique less. He said that every style of music has gone through changes and country is no different. Music must evolve to be healthy. So long as we’re free to change the station, or hit skip, he really doesn’t see what the fuss is all about. @schmidtydrums is the nexus where Ringo’s relaxed, yet precise style meets Bonham’s passionate force. Outside of music, those styles may not mesh, but Schmidty has developed a unique style that is forceful groove with a polished touch. Starr quality with the power to break a stick once in awhile. When he crosses the sticks above his head to begin the drum solo, there’s a slight hesitation, with perhaps a nod to Ringo on his right and Bonham on his left. Stylistically, it says to each, “Come Together,” right now…..over me.
JASON PROUDLY ENDORSES AND EXCLUSIVELY PLAYS THE FOLLOWING:
Pearl Drums & Percussion
Regal Tip by Calato
Humes & Berg Cases
The Box Kit
The Kelly Shu
Adam Argullin Mallets
Great Leather Stick Bags
Slug Percussion Products
De La Cruz Drumkeys
Free Hand Music
Grover Pro Percussion
Wright Hand Drum Company
FLORIDA GEORGIA LINE – “CRUISE”
BRIAN DAVIS – “HURT LIKE HELL YEAH”
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