JIMMY ELCOCK’S BLUEPRINT FOR A CAREER IN PERCUSSION
From New England to New Orleans to new drummer in Nashville.
The awakening of a musician usually happens with a single performance. It may be a guitar solo that electrified the stage, a tickle of the ivories that went beyond the ordinary, the sound of jazz coming from Louis Armstrong’s trumpet, or the unique style of Carter Beauford’s drumming that lights the inspirational fire. For Jimmy Elcock, it was a group performance by inventive percussionists, Blue Man Group, that shook the ground beneath his feet and opened up a world of percussive possibilities. It was an introduction to the big picture of sound in the modern world, where the powerful playing of drummers in the classic rock era no longer defines the instrument or the players. Hybrid styles that involve genre mixing and personal inflection are what sets today’s drummers apart. Jimmy started out with a peripheral vision of drumming on a massive scale, with Audio that didn’t just go in one ear and out the other, with sound that resonated like thunder. Upon that blueprint, his obsession with percussion began.
Accessibility, opportunity, and exposure are imperative in the inspirational stages of a career in the arts. Jimmy Elcock was fortunate to grow up in an area where all of those things were within reach. New England was home base for Jimmy, growing up in both the lakes region of New Hampshire in Center Harbor, and in Westwood, Massachusetts. He called it having the best of both worlds, the rural scene of central New Hampshire, and the suburban side of Boston. Westwood lies just 25 miles southwest of the city, making its wealth of educational and cultural opportunities easily accessible. Jimmy’s exposure to music began with piano lessons at a very young age, followed by playing trumpet with the elementary school band. It was a foundational introduction to learning to read music and understanding the elements that make up jazz and orchestral sound. His exposure to farm life in central New Hampshire taught him the value of hard work at a rudimentary level, which would serve him well as he pursued the musical opportunities available in suburban Westwood and downtown Boston throughout his young life. Studying the rudiments and learning them well were key to the success Jimmy earned in his music education, giving him a solid foundation on which to build his dream.
By the end of elementary school, Jimmy had seen the Boston Pops with his grandma and was exposed to drumming in that setting. It wasn’t a situation where drums took center stage. Around sixth grade, Jimmy’s dad got tickets to see the Blue Man Group, a percussion ensemble of sorts, at the Charles Playhouse in Boston. It was drumming like he’d never seen it before, visually interactive, and thunderously loud. He said the performance shook his whole body. It was percussion meets visual art, and it blew the roof off his world. All of the percussion-based instruments were custom built, and the tunes were entirely instrumental. It was the beginning of an obsession and the germination of a career built around percussion. Like feeling the earth shake beneath your feet at the outer reaches of an earthquake, he was determined to reach the epicenter and discover its power from within.
Acting on his newfound obsession, he got a pair of Zildjian drumsticks and bought the newly released Blue Man Group record, Audio (1999). In the absence of a drum kit, he started drumming along to the record on the ottoman, the chair, and the armrest of the couch. Just by listening, he taught himself the hits and the sticking patterns. It was the basis on which he learned the rudiments. To pair the sound with the visual, he got a Blue Man Group photo book for Christmas that year. It was the beginning of an intense desire to replicate the instruments on which they played. He went to Home Depot and began to collect the pieces he would need to build the PVC instruments to exact specifications. Picture a sixth grader calling the engineer at the Charles Playhouse to assist with part identification and measurements. It took him a year to collect the pieces, build the instruments, and teach himself to play all the songs. When he was finished, his dad contacted the group and told them what his son had done. Jimmy was granted a backstage pass to meet the members of the group, tour the setup, and play with them through soundcheck. It was a night he would never forget, and the start of his own personal residency at the venue. The Blue Man Group played there several nights a week, and Jimmy had a pass to come back as often as he liked. It served as his immersion into the world of innovative percussion, a very unusual starting place from which to embark on a career in music.
At the start of middle school, Jimmy played trumpet with the school’s jazz band, but when an opportunity to exhibit his drum skills presented itself, he was more than ready to embrace it. During the building of his PVC percussion rig, he’d gotten a plastic drum kit for Christmas. He taught himself some basic grooves and worked on improving his playing. When the regular jazz drummer was sick one day, Jimmy raised his hand and said he could play the part to “Louie Louie.” He played through the rehearsal and soon became the regular drummer. Up to this point, he’d had no formal drum lessons. It was a year and a half since he’d been swept up in this exploding passion for drumming, and with the full support of his parents, he started a supplementary music education program that would give him the fundamentals for success at higher levels.
The New England Conservatory of Music is a jazz preparatory school with a college credit program that is spread out over six years of instructional courses. A certificate is awarded upon completion of the program. From middle school until the end of high school, Jimmy attended classes and took private lessons at the Conservatory every Saturday. The courses included such things as ear training, theory, and ensemble, with a juried review at the end of the year. His private lessons were in both drumming and piano, as he didn’t want to lose the ability to play well on that instrument. It was also helpful in both reading and writing charts. Jimmy attributes most all of his drum education to the years spent at the Conservatory. The program exposed him to the jazz world, where he discovered the styles of Elvin Jones and Carter Beauford, both influential on his own. In high school, he’d become a huge fan of the Dave Matthews Band, and through the many concerts he got to see, a big fan of Beauford’s. The six years Jimmy spent at the Conservatory would serve as a main support beam in the blueprint plans he was designing for the building of his future career.
When the time came to make a choice about which direction he would go for college, it was a no-brainer for Jimmy. His education plans were already well thought out. He’d spent six years studying in downtown Boston, and though Berklee was practically in his backyard, he opted for a new experience. He wanted more from college than just classes and dorm life, he wanted a cultural vibe that was different than anything he’d known. One of his music directors in high school was from New Orleans, and when he visited the city for the first time, he stayed with his family. It was post-Katrina, a time of rehab and rebuilding, and an interesting time to be there. Jimmy found this an upside to the city. There were a lot of young people coming into the area with new ideas. This forced renaissance would serve as a cocoon for his own metamorphosis and adaptation to life in a southern town. He was well schooled in jazz and loved brass band music with its trumpets and drums, both an integral part of the sound of New Orleans. The overall experience of spending the next four years there would add cultural variety and practical knowledge of the music business to his already impressive blueprint.
Loyola University in New Orleans is not a place you’d expect to find many Yankees, but Jimmy Elcock chose to swim against the tide. In 2008, he packed up his New England roots, and his already extensive background in music, and headed about as far south as he could go for the next phase of his education. Loyola isn’t just a school for music. It’s a Jesuit school that specializes in global arts education. Like other universities, the curriculum includes classes in all areas. The first two years cover certain required courses while working towards specialization the last two years. Jimmy had decided to pursue a degree in Music Industry Studies with a Performance track as well. His junior and senior year, he focused on production and marketing courses. It was a practical education paired with a huge local music scene that provided opportunities to apply what you’d learned. The corporate music scene you would find in New York and Los Angeles was nonexistent in New Orleans. This small, close-knit city offered its own culturally-based gigs and related jobs in festivals and a 24/7 bar scene. Unlike campus-centered universities elsewhere, Jimmy said that city life was a big part of getting an education at Loyola. It offered the experience of living alongside the traditional school experience of taking classes and hanging out with friends. Seeking out live music was a regular part of student life, especially music students who were looking for inspiration and practical experience. For Jimmy, it was a cultural awakening, and the impetus to factor in a global view when planning his career in music.
While taking full advantage of the educational and employment opportunities available during his four years in New Orleans, it was a couple of activities outside that environment that would lead Jimmy to his next home base. Back in the early part of high school, through a friend in New Hampshire, he met Rich Redmond, Jason Aldean’s drummer and a production partner in New Voice Entertainment. Circumstances were such that they ended up hanging out in a barn in Ashland, New Hampshire the day after a concert, and that connection led to an internship in Nashville during the summers between 2010-2012. Rich was partners with Kurt Allison and Tully Kennedy in NVE, and Jimmy learned about the music business and what it would take to get a start in Nashville over several summers under their tutelage. When he was ready to make the move after college, this experience gave him a road map to navigate the early years of his music career. He’d done a lot of networking while he was there, and learned what he would have to do to hit the ground running. His internship was essentially a tool box that came with some instructions. It was up to him to use the tools and apply what he’d learned to find the employment opportunities he was looking for. He’d grown up with a passion for country music, and working in Nashville would allow him to play the music he loved. That connection with the music might be an advantage in working with artists who also loved it, and hoped to find success in the genre.
During his time at Loyola, Jimmy had started playing with the Christian rock band, Jones Unleashed. They were based out of Mississippi and toured mainly the southern circuit. After graduation in 2012, the band relocated to Nashville, allowing Jimmy to make the move with a gig in tow. Having a solid education behind you is a great foundation on which to begin to build a career, but as Jimmy said, there’s no substitute for being thrown into the environment and having to learn as you go. Liken it to being given a few tools, some building supplies, and a zip code. Putting a roof over your head and collecting a paycheck will depend on you. Jones Unleashed landed a gig as the house band on an arena motocross tour that had them traveling with race teams on the weekends. That gave Jimmy the opportunity to travel and play music and still have several days during the week to network and begin to establish himself as a new drummer in town. While he worked at that, he needed a revenue stream, so he worked on farms in Franklin feeding livestock and shoveling the unsavory. Jimmy was well aware that in the music business, no one slides into town and leaps to the top of the hierarchy. Even a college degree from a prestigious university is no golden ticket. At most, it may give you the skills to build on and a focus on where to center your energies.
This is the point where Jimmy’s blueprint started to take shape. Playing gigs on Broadway is standard fare for almost any new musician in town, and Jimmy did a little of that to get his feet wet in the early days. He knew, however, that those gigs were not likely to be a stepping stone to the dream he visualized. Jones Unleashed eventually splintered and the band members went their separate ways. Jimmy knew he wanted to tour and play drums, and it was with a clear vision of where he wanted that to take him that he focused on the individual parts of his overall blueprint. The big picture was to have his drumming take him around the world where he could experience different cultures, different people, and try different foods. He wanted to play the venues he’d gone to as a kid and check things off his bucket list along the way. Obviously, this was no five-year plan. It was a long-term career plan in the early stages of realization, and rather than setting his sights on the top of the mountain, he began with a peripheral vision that showed respect for the many layers that mountain top rested on. His internship with three very talented and well known Nashville musicians hadn’t given him a pass to skip any of the rudimentary steps and leapfrog into a cushy gig. He likened Nashville to another form of university. You had to start on the same playing field as your fellow classmates, the guys who moved to town at the same time you did. Making a name for yourself depends on how you play the game from there, and showing a certain amount of respect for the process. It was a simple sizing up of the landscape that led Jimmy to plot his course from point A to point B and beyond.
The plan was to immerse himself in the Nashville music scene, not just the microcosm that Broadway represents. He met as many musicians as he could, not just drummers, and took advice from those above him in skill and experience. He went to songwriter’s rounds and talked to people he knew on the publishing side of things. The key was to do more listening than talking, and to gain an understanding of how the many pieces of the industry come together. Jimmy found that meeting a songwriter might lead to being asked to play cajon on an acoustic gig. Do that well and you might get some demo work. Playing a few shows for someone could lead to playing a lot of shows if they have some success and you’re a good fit for the gig. If the songwriter or the artist gets signed to a record deal, you may have a shot at landing a spot in the band. Jimmy found that establishing meaningful relationships, and being prepared to do your best on a moment’s notice, is the way to find consistent work and put yourself in a position to get the opportunity you’re looking for.
Jimmy’s first Nashville gig was with Abigail Rose, and it proved to be an important first step that would add to his skill set and lead to future work. Her family took him in as one of their own, asked his advice on some things, and gave him the responsibility of organizing the band for a bit. He says the experience has served him well. While he was playing with Abigail, he was doing some demo sessions in town to fill in the gaps, but his focus was on being a touring drummer and building the skill set and the relationships it would take to keep him on the road. Cole Taylor was a songwriter in town who’d been writing some with Abigail and came out to some shows to perform with her. Jimmy was invited to play some gigs with Cole, and when he got signed to a deal with Sony, he was asked to be his regular tour drummer. They ended up traveling through Georgia and much of the south over the next two years. Another introduction during his time with Abigail led to a big opportunity and one of his current gigs.
Jamie Lynn Spears’ producer, Corey Crowder, had come out to see one of Abigail’s shows when they were touring. Jimmy met Corey at that time and Corey was impressed with his playing. When the time came to put a band together for Jamie Lynn, Abigail Rose’s guitar player, Ryan Barnette, recommended Jimmy as band leader. Corey contacted Jimmy and gave him the opportunity to show what he could do. He had 36 hours to put a band together and do a showcase for management. He got the job done and the showcase went well. He was then asked to put the first show together and that was successful as well. In November, 2013, Jimmy became Jamie Lynn’s drummer and band leader. After just two weeks of playing with her, they had their first media day in New York City, as things were moving at a very fast pace. Being prepared is essential when it’s crunch time and things need to get done. Jimmy’s extensive music education and performance experience made him ready for the real life tasks he was now facing. He has since been touring with Jamie Lynn, headlining clubs, and opening for larger acts. To fill in the gaps where Jamie Lynn’s tour schedule allows, another previous connection led to landing a gig with a rising artist.
When Jimmy was interning in Nashville before his graduation, he lived with John Paul, a friend and classmate from Loyola. John Paul worked for Big Yellow Dog, the publishing company for country artist, Logan Mize. When he and Jimmy were working on some things that summer, Jimmy met Logan and his management. They worked on Logan’s first video and he got to know the people on his team. Aware that Jimmy was a drummer intending to move to Nashville after graduation, they contacted him prior to graduation when they needed a sub for a couple of weeks. He learned the tunes and drove from New Orleans to Soundcheck in Nashville for the audition. He didn’t get the job, but it was a great learning experience, and they stayed in touch. Fast forward to the spring of 2015. Logan had parted ways with his drummer and called Jimmy to ask what he was doing. Jamie Lynn wasn’t on the road as much and he was able to go on tour with Logan last summer. Being thrown into the fire, Stagecoach was the first show he played with Logan and there was no rehearsal. This is often how things happen in the music world. Welcome to the hot seat. It has worked out well so far that Jimmy is able to juggle the schedules of both Jamie Lynn and Logan without compromising either gig. As they both continue their rise in the market and prepare to release new albums, Jimmy fills in the down time playing with up and coming country artist, Alyssa. Finding balance working with all three, there will likely be a tipping point where Jimmy will have to choose one over another. Until then, he continues to devote himself equally to these three artists and keeps himself in top shape to ensure that.
Jimmy Elcock doesn’t waste much time in a day, nor does he take his health and fitness for granted. It can affect how he plays and his preparedness for a show, just as much as knowing the music. Today’s tour environment is not like it was in the days of Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses when extra time on the road was spent doing things that were likely illegal or sleeping off the vices of the night before. Day schedules on tour often incorporate exercise, in one form or another, depending on the logistics. If you follow Jimmy on social media, you’ll often see pictures from the road that show the nature he’s discovered on a run or a hike somewhere. If possible, he takes in the local culture and samples local cuisine. It’s all part of keeping his mind and body in the right place to do his job. He says it’s important to recognize your goal with each gig and to make sure that your schedule on the road prepares you to play. It’s important and necessary to get into the proper headspace for entertaining.
Describing what happens behind the kit, Jimmy explained the multifaceted role of today’s drummers. The responsibility for keeping things in sync on the stage and with any auxiliary components of the show, falls largely on the shoulders of the drummer. Through his in-ear monitors, he’s listening to a mix of conversation, instrumentation, and the coordination of lighting, video, and any special effects. Generally, the stage manager and perhaps a few others will have a line into the drummer so they can converse with him during the performance. The drummer runs the click track that keeps the band in sync, shuffling count-ins, and starting and stopping the tracks as necessary. The music is timed to the lights, video, and any other production elements involved in the show. He may occupy a darkened, back corner of the stage, but the drummer’s role carries 360 degrees of responsibility. In the event of a technological failure of any kind, he has to be able to adjust on the fly and go old school if necessary. Getting off track is not an option, lest the show comes completely off the rails. Multitasking is second nature to most drummers, and serves them well in producing and in business-related aspects of their career.
Jimmy’s degree in music business has served him well in branching out from tour drumming to product marketing and entrepreneurial pursuits. In 2013, Jimmy met JC Clifford and Cristian Beaulieu, representatives of Drumtacs, at NAMM in L.A. He liked the product, a new age solution for tone control, and stayed in touch. When the product arrived in Nashville via Rich Redmond, Jimmy marketed the product to guys at his level. His marketing success impressed JC, and he asked Jimmy to be a partner in Scorpio Marketing. Jimmy brought in college friend and fellow bandmate in Jones Unleashed, Lee Gomila, now Logan Mize’s tour manager. Scorpio Marketing is like a tree for business with three main branches: one for marketing products, such as Drumtacs, one for marketing artists, such as Rich Redmond, and the newest branch for building that supports the music industry. This year, they’re working on expansions that include a project in Chicago and bringing Rich’s Drummers Weekend to L.A., Seattle, and Chicago. The growth of his business projects supports his touring and performance aspirations during any down time he may encounter. In whatever way the chips may fall with a gig, he has a safety net for financial stability, a must in today’s volatile and ever-changing music industry.
Jimmy Elcock began the blueprint for his future when his passion for drumming exploded into a career choice. He was intent and methodical in building the instruments he’d seen on the Blue Man stage, and equally so in producing the same sounds. He learned the rudiments of his newfound obsession, and mapped out the steps it would take to lay a firm foundation under his drum kit. His commitment was as pointed as his vision. He surrounded himself with experiences at every level and traveled to the places that connected his dream. New Orleans was an awakening and an aphrodisiac for the global opportunities that piqued Jimmy’s interest. With drumming as his ticket to the travel and experiences he craved, Loyola gave him the credentials and the skill set to punch his ticket to Nashville. By carefully honing his craft and planning his path, he didn’t arrive in Music City with no direction. He knew the challenges and the maze he’d have to navigate to reach the opportunities he was looking for. As the music industry changes, Jimmy recognizes that each generation has to adapt to what they come into. He knows that it will continue to change, and his plan is to stay one step ahead of the changes. His blueprint continues to develop, as his peripheral vision takes in the landscape. As the power of drumming from the Blue Man Group literally shook the ground beneath his feet, his future became a sensory pursuit. He saw it. He heard it. He felt it. And then he built it.
Visit Jimmy Elcock’s website: http://jimmyelcock.com/
Jimmy is endorsed by the following companies:
Extreme Isolation Headphones
Porter and Davies
The Kelly Shu
Lyon Heart Snare Drums
Woodshed Stage Art
Photos from Rich Redmond’s Drummers Weekend and photo shoot shots, including the featured image and bottom picture, are courtesy of Lauren Elle Jaye.
©2016-nashvillethreesixty.com. All rights reserved.