Drummers get their fill

Acclaimed rock drummer Jim Keltner, who has played on major albums by Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Neil Young and many others, sits for a photo at Drum Doctors in Glendale.
(Tim Berger / Staff Photographer)

It is said that a band is only as good as its drummer. Not only do drummers serve as the anchor that keeps the rest of the players in time, they also provide the essential foundation upon which most songs are built.

The one thing most rock drummers can agree upon is that it takes a lifetime of learning to master.

Neil Peart of Rush, widely considered one of the world’s best rock drummers, says that even 40 years into an incredibly successful career, he seeks out teachers who inspire and challenge him.

“I’ve been fortunate to have three really good teachers in my drumming career, from the beginning up until quite recently,” says Peart, who will participate in the Drummer’s Reality Camp at the Los Angeles Music Academy College of Music in Pasadena from June 27 to 30.

The camp, now in its third year, offers aspiring drummers from all walks of life the opportunity to learn from the masters.

The Canadian drummer, who lives in West L.A., hopes to inspire burgeoning drummers at the camp in much the same way his teachers have inspired him.

He also cites the unique sense of community among drummers as a key aspect of the camp.

“It’s pretty well recognized among all musicians that drummers are tighter — and looser — with each other than any other players,” Peart says. “Two drummers get together and immediately their hands are moving around and they’re talking about what they do with an excitement that’s rare. There’s no such thing as jealousy, vanity or competitiveness among drummers, for the most part.”

Also participating in the camp are legendary session drummer Jim Keltner, Doane Perry of Jethro Tull, Uli Frost and drumming instructors from the LA Music Academy including Ralph Humphrey, Joe Porcaro and Gary Ferguson. The camp is open to drummers ages 14 and over who have had at least one year of private instruction, and costs $495 for the four-day session, which includes clinics, concerts, lectures, private lessons, a tour of the DW Drums factory in Oxnard and a roundtable discussion.

Keltner, whose percussion work can be heard on countless landmark albums, including the solo projects of three of the four Beatles, as well as Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton and Neil Young, will join Peart for the roundtable. It will examine the importance of going beyond drumming to master songwriting, penning lyrics and playing other instruments, and also look at the attributes of great drumming.

“Good drumming is good listening,” says Keltner, who just finished working on Jerry Lee Lewis’ new album and is contributing to projects with Don Was and Dhani Harrison. “The drummer is like the catcher on a baseball team. He’s involved in every play, and he’s watching everything and everybody. He’s got the ball in his hands all the time. You’ve got to be able to hear everything. The better your ear is trained, the better musician you’re gonna be.”

Keltner cites Dave Grohl, who drummed for Nirvana and now fronts Foo Fighters, as an example of a drummer who hits hard but still has incredible finesse. “For my money, Dave has always been the greatest rock drummer I’ve ever heard,” he says. “Dave is proof that you can play hard and still groove like crazy. He has really interesting fills and supports the guitar and vocals in an amazing way.”

Keltner also admires the unique, laid-back style of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. “I was a peer of John Bonham, and I saw him play with Zeppelin at their first gig in the U.S.,” he recalls. “What was great about him was he played like a jazz drummer to me. I was like, ‘Wow, he sounds like a rock ‘n’ roll Elton John!’ He also played like he had no cares and no worries.”

For Peart, jazz greats Jack DeJohnette and his teacher, Peter Erskine, top the list of drummers he admires. Erskine’s teaching had a particularly “huge impact” on his playing, says Peart, who is Rush’s lyricist. “He led me along a path and gave me exercises to work on. And once I applied myself, I found a whole new freedom in that I’ve been wanting to get more improvisational.” Peart says he used this improvisational technique on Rush’s highly anticipated new album, “Clockwork Angels.”

“It all came together in the recording of the drum parts that I was able to play completely improvisational,” he says of the new album. “It was fun and gave me a whole new character to my playing I’d never had before. So even after playing drums for more than 40 years, there’s somebody that had some valuable information to help my development.”

In addition to offering campers wisdom culled from decades of experience, Keltner and Peart will be there to support the vision of their longtime friend Don Lombardi, president of DW Drums and chief executive of drumming instruction website, who helped organize the event and whose companies are co-sponsoring it along with Guitar Center.

Lombardi — a drummer himself — is passionate about music education and sees the Drummer’s Reality Camp as the perfect forum for sharing techniques and having fun. “We have great drummers covering all different areas, from Latin to jazz to rock, and we try to keep it small so it’s personalized,” he says, adding that they expect 60 to 80 campers to attend this year.

“Participants get a lot of personal attention and get exposed to other campers from around the world,” says Mike Packer, vice president of the L.A. Music Academy. “For kids coming here from other parts of the country and the world, it gives them a glimpse of what it’s really like out here. We want to give them a sense of what it’s like to be a professional musician and a professional drummer.”

While most participants are young drummers just starting out, Keltner — who remains more active at age 70 than most people in their 30s — encourages people of all ages to take up the drums and pursue their dreams.

“If you’re older, like my age, don’t ever think it’s too late for anything,” he says. “Start now, and five years from now, you’re gonna be a monster.”

LAURA FERREIRO is a Los Angeles-based music journalist.


Drummer’s Reality Camp

Where: L.A. Music Academy, 370 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena

When: June 27 to 30

More info: (866) 439-7924;;