“Our job is to chronicle the careers of successful musicians, not to make unknown musicians successful.” So said my very first publisher, Jim Crockett, a true visionary who, through his pioneering development of Guitar Player magazine, created the editorial format mimicked by every ensuing publication and Web site that ever catered to musicians, including this one.
That was 25 years ago, and even though some might find his comment a bit coldhearted, I understood what Jim meant. As much as certain readers claim to prefer reading about unknown local drummers, most actually base magazine purchases on the famous names they recognize on the cover. We’re in the business of selling magazines, just as Jim was a quarter century earlier, so we try to cover artists our readers are interested in.
But I’ve seen the flipside of that picture. I remember back in 1976, at the age of 21, while living in Berkeley, California, writing a scathing letter to Miles Hurwitz, who was on the editorial staff of BAM magazine at the time. I met Miles through a mutual friend and sent him a copy of Electronic Wizard, the debut album by my band, Vic Trigger Band.
If I correctly remember the letter, I was absolutely outraged that he didn’t publish a review of our album in BAM. I recall accusing the magazine (whose name was actually an acronym for “Bay Area Music”) of failing to live up to its promise of covering local bands. I was pretty huffy.
Naturally, all these years later, I now know Miles was just doing his job. He wanted every story to count – every paragraph and word to be punchy. He couldn’t do favors unless they were calculated risks.
Nonetheless, such editorial rationalization ignores an important issue. The big stars we put on the cover represent the smallest fraction of drummers playing on any given night. The rest of us, to borrow the phrase, are the 99 percent.
We have day jobs to cover the bills. Drumming is just a little gravy. When you see us dragging our drums into a club on a Thursday evening you can count on the fact that we’ve already logged a solid eight hours at the office. We get home at 2:30 in the morning and still wake up on time for work the next day.
The real, everyday experience of drumming for 99 percenters takes place in grungy bars and churches, casinos and cruise ships, wine festivals and weddings. (I once played with Gurf Morlix at the opening of an L.A. Lamps R Us store in the ’80s. Whatever.) We don’t have roadies or endorsements. We drive ourselves to gigs, and pay our way.
Some folks think we’re crazy, but we know why we go to so much trouble to play drums. At the end of the night, when your bandleader folds a hundred dollars into your hand, you’re still amazed you get paid any amount of money for doing something you love so much.