|Crossroads: Terry Bozzio|
Pivotal moments in musicians careers propelling them from obscurity to infamy
by Mark E. Waterbury
Photo by Todd V. Wolfson
There can be plenty of tough aspects in the life of a successful musician. There is the near constant ass-busting work and sacrifice to get your name out in the beginning, the continuing struggle to keep popularity and the almost certain interference of elements in your personal life. But let's face it; anything you have passion for is going to take a prodigious amount of hard work and sacrifice. If you have a true passion for what you are doing then it is not really work, and the harder you work the greater the chances are that you may catch that lucky break. Drummer extraordinaire Terry Bozzio knows this all too well. From his days cutting his teeth with numerous Bay Area musicians, to his stepping stone days with Frank Zappa and video lit stardom with Missing Persons, Terry knew and respected the work ethic and sacrifices necessary for success, and had to survive a tough trial simultaneously in his personal and professional life right when his success seemed to be at its zenith. But one reason that Terry is still kicking as one of today's most respected percussionists is that his passion and love for music made him rise above the tough times and realize the true reason he took the musical path with his life.
Terry's father would often play the accordion for friends or relatives that stopped by the Bozzio home. "He would just do a scale or something to warm up and the whole room would stop and pay attention," Terry remembers. "He could make people cry, and I remember being incredibly jealous and envious of my father's power to do that. I think a lot of the emotional aspects of what I would end up doing came from those experiences." Terry later picked up the drum sticks instead of the squeeze box, and played in several garage rock bands as a teen in his San Francisco hometown when he realized he had to become more serious. He took a music course at the College of Marin, and stayed there for over two years to earn an associates degree, obtaining exposure to classical and jazz music as well through studies with other musicians. "I basically turned pro through luck. Since that time, I've been more or less self-taught; I ask people things or I get inspired by something or get a book and start reading it. It wasn't really from that day on, it was more of a continuing process." In the early years, Terry played numerous varied gigs including performing with a local production of "Godspell," the Marin Symphony Orchestra, Group 87, Azteca and bands which included Eddie Henderson from Herbie Hancock's Band and Mark Isham. Eventually, performing with Eddie Henderson paid off for Terry. George Duke was the musical director for Frank Zappa, and Eddie recommended Terry when Frank was looking for a new drummer. Terry flew to L.A., auditioned and shortly thereafter landed the Zappa gig. "At that time, I must have had five or six different musical experiences, one every day of the week. I was starting to get a rep as one of the better drummers around town. But when I joined up with Frank, literally within six months, I was internationally known and had the credibility you can only get playing with Frank. So that was a serious break in my life."
After his stint with Zappa in the late 70's, Terry moved on to join the prog rock outfit U.K., which became a trio with Eddie Jobson and John Wetton. U.K. disbanded about a year after Terry joined, and it was around this time that he married a woman named Dale Consalvi who he had met in his days with Zappa. Soon afterwards, they formed a band that was quite different from what Terry was previously doing. "U.K. was a step towards being an equal band member, whereas I was a sideman with Frank. But I decided to form Missing Persons to actually form my own band. We were very influenced by bands like the B-52's, Talking Heads and the Flying Lizards, and I had seen Devo audition on a Monday night at CBGB's. And it was just amazing with the full blown theatrical show, and it was one of those moments where I wanted to do something different and innovative." Recruiting Zappa bandmates Warren Cuccurullo on guitar and bassist Patrick O'Hearn along with keyboardist Chuck Wild, Missing Persons hit the road because, in spite of Terry's and his cohorts' pedigrees, fame did not come instantly. "I really thought with our credits and the people calling me for side gigs, this would be a slam dunk," Terry muses. "We had management with Ken Scott, this famous producer in L.A. so we thought we were in like Flynt. But it was a very funny time with the record companies and there was a whole shift happening and a lot of egos. In three years, we couldn't get a record deal. Ken said let's press up our own EP so that's what we did. It wasn't easy. It took a long time. I went broke and had to teach drum lessons to keep going. We used favors galore, and lived hand to mouth." Finally in 1983, due to tenacious touring in their area, they sold out the Santa Monica Civic Center and that brought Capitol Records into the mix. For the next three years Missing Persons was a staple on MTV and radio with hits like "Words" and "Destination Unknown". But in 1986, Missing Persons and the Bozzio's marriage broke up, which left Terry in one of the rough predicaments of his life. "It was one of those horrible things that you go through that ends up being one of the best things for you. You learn and grow and change your perception, and your whole persona and you move on. Then those things don't seem to happen as much anymore. I got on a program that really helped me, I did therapy. I stopped putting all my eggs in one basket and started looking at my relationships like my whole perception was out of whack. I was doing music out of fear and low self-esteem in order to be rich and famous to have that beautiful girlfriend who makes me look good and that car that makes me look good. Those are all the wrong reasons. You have to sit back in that depression and remember what first got you into music, and if you can find that you can move ahead in a more healthy way."
It took Terry a couple of years, but he did find it by practicing drums every day as sort of a therapeutic regimen. He discovered that a lot of the work he was putting together was the type that was popular at drum clinics. "At the time, I thought that the last thing I needed to do was practice. I'd already played some very difficult stuff with Zappa, and am well known as a technical drummer and worried at first that it may alienate me in the commercial musical world." Of course, Terry began doing clinics, becoming one of the most respected purveyors of drum clinics in the music business as he traveled around the country teaching budding drummers his techniques and unique perspectives on music. His solo career didn't suffer either, as he performed and recorded with numerous artists including Robbie Robertson, Don Dokken, Herbie Hancock, Dweezil Zappa and a nearly three year stint with Jeff Beck. His clinic work led to solo performances and recordings of his astounding drum work, and he garnered several "Best Drummer" and "Best Clinician" honors from music and drum magazines worldwide. "As I got older, I finally started to realize that, hell, if I am somehow able to survive as a musician for all those years without actively pursuing anything and the phones just rang, that's obviously what I'm supposed to do."
In the 90's and on into the 21st century, Terry did several albums for Magna Carta Records with the groups The Lonely Bears and the Bozzio, Levins, Stevens project. The label's president Pete Mortecelli suggested that Terry do a recording together with madman bassist Billy Sheehan. Terry had already played on a couple of tracks for Billy's recent solo album and he liked the music that was being done there. "We had literally never played together before that. And without any preconceptions, Billy came to my home in Austin and we started jamming. In a few days, we assembled enough songs to be on the record." The two then sent the session tapes back and forth until it was tweaked enough to send to the label, who rejected it at first because it was just drums and bass and not good enough to release. "I ended up dragging out some spoken word poetry that I had written years ago. And I overdubbed some keyboards and lead guitar type sounds as well as singing, and it turned into something with a life of its own - something I'm very proud of. I took this more ambient approach and the vocals seemed sort of cinematic so we named it "'Short Films.'" As "Short Films" begins to create a buzz for two musicians that have been creating buzzes for many years now, Terry is once again ready to embark on a clinic tour of the country, continuing his reign as one of the world's top drummers. Looking back at his long, varied and distinguished career, Terry knows that he re-found his musical passion after the Missing Persons breakup, but still gives plaudits to the late Frank Zappa as having a profound affect on his career. "I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for him. It was an example of how to live and survive in music. Just being around Frank, you can't help but learn something. And a lot of guys can play that nobody has heard of who could do amazing things that many, many people would enjoy who somehow don't get that lucky break like I did. I don't really know how I got it. I just got it and I'm very grateful."
Terry Bozzio's Advice for Musicians: "I really don't see it as being one way to make it successful in this business. It's not something you can apply yourself towards with any specific results. What worked for me was I had a feeling for music and had an education about it to a certain extent, and then self-educated to another extent. Here I am and it worked for me. Of course, there are people with no schooling who are intuitive geniuses, and then there are people who have all the schooling in the world that are geniuses. The main thing is just have your motives pure in wanting to create or perform and not worry so much about the professional thing. If you have a day gig then you have your nut covered and you don't have to worry so much about the commercial aspects of being a musician. The main thing is just don't worry about having any results in mind, just enjoy the process of making music whatever way you choose. Consider yourself lucky to be able to do so, whether or not you are a professional."