GREGG LOHMAN FINDS REAL LIFE LESSONS THROUGH MUSIC
Nashville drummer, Gregg Lohman, grew up in Teutopolis, Illinois. Not to be confused, in any way, with a metropolis. It’s a farming community of about 1400 people, located in America’s Heartland. Family and community are the backbone in places like this, where life lessons come early, and often. Music and sports programs that are readily available in most places are nonexistent or basic, at best. For Gregg, having a band director that was dedicated beyond the requirements to his students, and extended his mentor reach through a national project, made all the difference in his life path. What he learned about music gave him a foundation to build on. What he learned about life has kept him from becoming a starving artist. Certain elements of a music education are vital to establishing yourself as a working musician in a town that’s crawling with them; but it’s the bigger lessons in life, that you learn along the way, that may impact your career the most and weigh in on the longevity of it. As Gregg learned from a life-changing event, relationships and community not only provided him with career opportunities, they brought much needed life support at a very critical time.
“Heart(land) And Soul.” Growing up in a Heartland farming community, life was pretty much as you’d picture it to be. Gregg comes from a large, close-knit family, where everyone had to do their fair share and mom and dad work hard to ensure the family’s needs are met. His dad was a mechanic and part-time farmer, and while calling his dad “retired,” he still does both. His mom still works 50 hours a week at a cleaning job, and even when she was a young mother with six kids in the house, she cared for other children to supplement the family income. As those who’ve grown up around farming can attest, life is a work in progress, and the work never stops. Keeping hands busy isn’t hard to do, and you know what they say about idle hands. In the little bit of downtime that may exist in a regular day, music is often a welcome respite. Gregg’s dad played the mandolin and fiddle in a band before he was born, so the musical gene may have been inherited. He said his parents always had country music playing on the radio at home, and he tapped out his musical interest on pots and pans in the basement. Freeing him from culinary drumming, his aunt and uncle had an old, beat up drum kit they let him use. He set it up and started playing, having no idea what he was doing. What he did know was that his heart and soul were drawn to music, and aside from what he could teach himself at home, the school band program was the only formal educational outlet available to him.
“Bad Is Bad” and other life lessons. About fifth grade, when Gregg started playing drums on a real kit, his music of choice was Huey Lewis and the News’ Sports album. He loved it and could play along with it, so it fueled his budding interest. The music he would be influenced by came largely from what he heard on the radio at the time, both country and rock. Def Leppard was one of his favorite bands, and the plight of their drummer, Rick Allen, was a source of inspiration. Rick was in a car accident in 1985 that led to the amputation of his left arm. With the encouragement of his band and support from the people around him, including a unique kit built especially for his disability, he has continued to play drums to this day. Outside of being inspired by popular music, the school band was his lifeline, and the band director, Craig Lindvahl, took on a mentor’s role that went far beyond the classroom. Gregg likened him to the character of Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, saying he learned things from him that he didn’t know he was being taught.
It’s not an unusual story to hear that a band director played a big part in a student’s developing love of music, especially in a small town like Teutopolis, but Craig Lindvahl’s story goes far beyond the ordinary. Gregg called him, “the most amazing person I’ve ever met,” and with good reason. Mr. Lindvahl was the music teacher and band director for the Teutopolis school system for 30 years. In such a small community, resources are scarce, and a limited student body does not allow for robust music programs that are the norm in more populated areas. The band program at Teutopolis High School didn’t revolve around sports, as they had no football team. The marching band did two or three parades a year. That’s it. The rest of their playing experience had to come from elsewhere. Mr. Lindvahl’s instruction started in the classroom, where Gregg said kids joined the band just to be around him. His inspiration wasn’t limited to a chalkboard or a lesson plan. He had the gift of being able to inspire his students in ways that resonated outside the school environment. He taught them music, gave them opportunities to perform when possible, and led by example, showing them right from wrong without needing to spell it out. Gregg said, “I learned more about life than I did about music from him,” but his choice to be a professional musician came from Craig Lindvahl’s inspiration. Knowing that playing experience was limited within the school’s program, he offered Gregg his first crack at studio performance when he made a solo record. When a professional gig came up in nearby Cincinnati, Gregg got it with his band director’s help. He never missed an opportunity to help or inspire his students.
In a small farming community, such as Teutopolis, the demands of daily life leave little time for dreaming. It often takes someone of Mr. Lindvahl’s character to give young people a larger world view and the encouragement to believe that all things are possible. He started teaching a filmmaking class after his own love of filming led to making some documentaries. In 2008, he started the CEO (Creating Entrepreneurship Opportunities) program for high school students. The successful program now has an award-winning curriculum with roots in 40 communities, in six states. Whether through music or other avenues, the program gives kids a foundation for a brighter future with an outreach beyond their local communities. In 2014, Mr. Lindvahl published his first book, Things You Wish You Knew Yesterday. He still lives in Effingham, Illinois, and continues to inspire through speaking engagements around the country. Through a variety of means and activities, he has the gift of being able to reach people. For many, he is their salvation.
“I Want A New Drug” – drumming beyond high school. To augment the music instruction Gregg got through his high school curriculum, he took private lessons from a local drummer and attended a week long percussion camp every summer at Eastern Illinois University, about 45 minutes from Teutopolis. After high school, he chose to continue his music education at the school he was already familiar with. To get a jumpstart at Eastern Illinois, he worked with professor, Johnny Lee Lane, to improve his playing and reading of music on mallet instruments, prior to starting his freshman year. The focus of his bachelor’s degree program would be a full range of percussive studies and performance. In college, he was exposed to a much broader range of music and musical styles, such as the full-bodied sound of Tower of Power with drummer, David Garibaldi. He was also heavily influenced by the drum styles of Steve Gadd and Jeff Porcaro. After graduation in May, 1998, he started his master’s degree program in August at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He had already decided that Nashville would be his future home, so in addition to having a good jazz program where he could focus on drumset, UT satisfied his desire to be in close proximity to Nashville. While at UT, he had an assistantship with a stipend that allowed him to teach a few classes as well as private lessons. In May of 2000, he earned his master’s degree after six straight years of college level studies. It was the culmination of an intense focus on music, theory, drumset, percussion, and performance that would give him the skill set he needed to start a career as a professional musician. The challenge ahead would be to establish himself in a city teeming with talented musicians.
“Finally Found A Home.” A connection Gregg made during grad school turned out to be the key in making his move to Nashville a smooth and easy one. He said he almost didn’t attend the show at the Tennessee Valley Fair where he met George Lawrence, drummer for The Kinleys. They talked after the show, and Gregg subsequently took private lessons from him, driving to Nashville every six to eight weeks to do so. After graduation, George told Gregg he had an opening in a house he owned and rented out to drummers. Moving to Nashville, he now had a place to live. George also introduced him to drummer, Johnny Rabb, who owned a drumstick company at the time. When Johnny learned of his move, he asked him to work in the office during the day, thereby giving him his first job in Nashville. From attending that one show while at UT, he landed a place to live and a job in the city he now called home. As there was no social media to speak of in 2000, Gregg said personal relationships were essential to establishing yourself and networking among colleagues. He can trace all of his current relationships back to his affiliation with George and Johnny. Even with an advanced degree in music, Gregg found it wasn’t the end of his learning by a long shot. The musical landscape in Nashville was such that it required constant progression if you were to keep your skill set competitive with your peers. Being proactive in this regard was necessary to navigating the job market and finding your place in it.
“Honky Tonk Blues.” As most everyone does when they first move to Nashville, Gregg made his way to Broadway most nights to get his feet wet playing the honky tonk bar scene. He would learn the true definition of being a “working musician” by the intense schedule he kept daily. His 9-5 was working at Johnny Rabb’s drumstick company. He taught at a local middle school a couple of hours each day, and at night, he often played two 4-hour shifts on Broadway. He now says he’s glad he did it, but admits, he would never want to keep that schedule again. It wasn’t the money that motivated him to play the honky tonks, it was the experience he gained that made it worthwhile. He learned a lot about the way things in Nashville worked, and tuned his ear to the old school country still being played on Broadway at that time. Despite the Garth Brooks takeover of country music in the 90s, Gregg said Broadway largely turned a deaf ear to his music in the early 2000s. Merle Haggard and the like still reigned on the main drag in Music City. The value of the experience from playing that scene was worth far more than the actual cash Gregg pocketed. He remembers vividly playing for eight hours a night and bringing home $48. The base pay back then was $20 per shift, and over those eight hours, his share of the tip money was just $8. As traffic on Broadway is much heavier these days, the pay scale has improved somewhat, but musicians don’t get rich playing in that environment. They pay their dues and hope to move on to a better gig.
One of the early gigs Gregg got, as a result of the hours spent playing on Broadway, was with a band called Raisin’ Cain. He’d played with the various members previously, but not altogether as a named band. Their first time playing as a unit was to record a project. From that, Raisin’ Cain was born, and they played together for years on Broadway, three nights a week. As things often go, one introduction led to another, which led to a new gig. He met the fiddle player for country artist, Aaron Tippin, while playing with Raisin’ Cain. That led to meeting Aaron’s band leader and an audition. Though he didn’t originally get the job, when the guy they hired didn’t work out, Gregg was offered the gig. He took it in May, 2003, and it was steady work for three and a half years. In 2006, one of the guys he played with downtown was putting together a band for new country artist and Idol alum, Kellie Pickler. He asked Gregg if he’d be interested. It was a tough decision, considering the steady work he had with Aaron as an established artist versus taking a risk with a brand new artist. At the time, Kellie only had four gigs on the books, but it was all television stuff. Ultimately, he decided to take the risk, and he’s now been Kellie’s drummer for the past ten years. The bass player from Raisin’ Cain, Gregg’s bandmate, is also an original member of Kellie’s band that Gregg still plays with. That longevity is rare in Nashville, and it’s a family environment that Gregg appreciates. After a life-changing event in 2013, he would learn just how much that Nashville family cared about him.
“(You) Crack Me Up” – a life-changing day on a Kentucky highway. On a Saturday morning in mid-2013, Gregg was driving his truck back to Nashville for a show he was to play when he was rear-ended by a semi, 40 miles south of Louisville, Kentucky. His injuries were severe and life-threatening. He broke the C2 vertebrae in his neck, which usually means paralysis. In addition, he had bleeding in the brain, a broken nose, broken ribs, and a collapsed lung. They did a fusion in his neck and put him on a breathing machine for a handful of days. It took nearly a day for police to identify him. His wallet and cell phone were in the totaled vehicle, and it was only when police returned to the truck to search for identification that they found, and answered, his ringing phone. When Gregg was a no show for his gig in downtown Nashville that night, worried band members began calling his phone and everyone closely connected to him. Eventually, his high school band director received a call, and in turn, called Gregg’s cell phone. That was the call the police answered, so Craig Lindvahl was the first to hear the news. He contacted Gregg’s immediate family, who rushed to Louisville. A brother and sister arrived Saturday night, while the rest of the family made it to the hospital by Sunday morning. The fusion was done on Monday morning. It was the beginning of an uncertain and lengthy recovery.
“Walking On A Thin Line” – learning to walk, eat, and function again. Gregg spent the next three weeks battling through his injuries, two in the hospital and one in a rehab facility next door. The brain injury left him with a foggy memory and a combative disposition. Family members took turns at his side throughout the ordeal. Weakened muscles left him unable to walk on his own, so he used a walker to assist in the basic steps until he regained his strength. His injuries also left him unable to swallow and eat. In order to be released from the hospital, he had to pass a swallow test, which he failed twice, before passing on the last attempt. A third failed attempt would have meant insertion of a feeding tube for several months . Gregg said he remembers nothing of the accident. His first memory is of Kellie Pickler showing up at his bedside the Wednesday after the accident. His memory was still foggy and he couldn’t talk because of the breathing tube. He communicated with her by drawing on a board. He assured her he would be ready for their next show, having no idea how severe his injuries were or how long his recovery would actually take. True to Kellie’s benevolent nature, she told him his job would be there whenever he was ready to resume playing. It was the first in a series of kindly acts that would come from family, friends, his former band instructor, and the drum community in Nashville.
Craig Lindvahl has a calming effect about him that made a huge difference in Gregg’s recovery when he visited him in the hospital several times during his stay. Discomfort from his injuries and a disjointed memory made for a difficult and unpleasant patient. Once, when Lindvahl came to visit, he spent an hour with Gregg and got him talking about his home music studio and plans to record. It was the subject matter and Lindvahl’s personality that soothed where needed and took his mind to a comfortable place. Relaxation came easier after his visit. After three weeks in Louisville, Gregg was sent home with a neck brace, unable to drive. His brother drove him back to Nashville and got him settled at home. This was the beginning of a new chapter of recovery that would require assistance from his surrounding network of friends and colleagues. He was to continue doing outpatient therapy at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. Unable to drive, he had to rely on friends, not just for hospital visits, but for daily needs. Craig Lindvahl drove five hours to check on him and see how he was doing more than once. His recovery took three months, during which time he was out of work. The drum community in Nashville organized a benefit for him at Douglas Corner. He was able to attend for a bit to show his appreciation for the overwhelming support they’d shown him since the accident. The drum community is unmatched in their care, concern, and determination to take care of their own in times of need. Gregg has the utmost respect for the network of drummers he is proud to be a part of, and his appreciation for their support was still palpable in our interview.
“If This Is It” – being prepared for every situation. The paramedics who attended to him on scene were originally dispatched to the accident on the northbound side. When Gregg’s accident was reported, they were diverted to the southbound lanes. One of the paramedics has since told Gregg that had they not already been en route, his survival was unlikely. His recovery was miraculous and uncertain. His life thus far had been dedicated to music. With the extent of his injuries, it was unknown if he would ever play again. After three months of recovery time, and being off the road and away from his band, Kellie had a show scheduled at a theater in Effingham, Illinois. It was a homecoming of sorts, and the first show Gregg felt ready to play in. He wasn’t up for playing the entire set, and Kellie had no idea he would play at all. He soundchecked with the band in the afternoon and surprised her on stage that night when he came out to play the final song. It was quite a moment for Gregg, the band, and his hometown crowd. After this life-changing event, he thought about the importance of diversification in his work and putting the pieces in place to cover the unexpected.
Gregg was fortunate in that he does have health insurance. Many musicians do not have this benefit. Because the accident was not his fault, all related medical expenses were eventually covered by the trucking company. Had they not been, the cost of the Life Flight to Louisville was $30K by itself. The importance of having benefits and a savings plan is something Gregg takes into consideration these days. Where work is concerned, he understands the need to diversify and have multiple revenue streams, especially in today’s volatile music industry. He’s been teaching part-time at Tennessee State University for the past ten years. He does session work when he can get it, and records in his studio at home when hired to do so. The gig with Kellie Pickler has been a steady ten years of work, but as every musician knows, no gig lasts forever. He calls Kellie an excellent boss and a lot of fun to work for, but she hasn’t received much radio support in recent years, and has, herself, diversified. He works on keeping his skill set fresh and pushes himself to not become complacent or lose perspective of his role on stage. Being a working musician is a work in progress, and Gregg is most appreciative of the opportunities to do what he loves.
“The Heart Of Rock And Roll” will always beat in a musician’s chest. Gregg Lohman has been playing drums most of his life. What he’s learned about music in that time would likely fill more than a few volumes. However, it’s not the study of music that is ultimately important. It’s the application of those studies, and the life lessons learned, that must be applied when forging a career in the music business. Nashville is full of musicians who can all play the notes. What differentiates one from another is how they do everything else. That is where the lessons learned from a high school band director, like Craig Lindvahl, can make the difference between getting work and losing it to someone who paid attention to those lessons. Gregg’s admiration for Craig Lindvahl is as strong today as it was when he was a student. Mr. Lindvahl was recently diagnosed with stage four cancer. Choosing to remain optimistic, he still does everything he possibly can to keep a normal schedule. He writes a blog and continues to spread positivity, despite his personal challenge. That courage is not lost on Gregg.
Huey Lewis and the News celebrated the 30th anniversary of the release of their number one album, Sports, about the same time as Gregg’s accident. Both were life-changing for him. One started his musical heartbeat, and the other nearly took it away. He told me he saw Huey Lewis on tour just a few months ago, where he played a lot of the songs off that album. It was a full circle moment for a kid from a small town in the the Heartland, who didn’t know whether playing along to that album was good or bad for his drumming. Seems there was a lot of foretelling in those songs of what was to come in both his personal and professional life. Life lessons with a beat. Thankfully, the heart of rock and roll still beats in both, Huey Lewis’ music and Gregg Lohman. Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump…..
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Gregg Lohman is sponsored by the following companies:
Big Fat Snare Drum
Regal Tip Drumsticks
Craig Lindvahl’s book, “Things You Wish You Knew Yesterday,” is available here:
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