Photo: Alex Kluft
“I’ll look out into the crowd, at the dude in the far back, and think about all the shows I’ve seen and what it took to get there, and I’ll say to myself, ’Whatever you do, remember this moment, because you’re here.’”
—— Jason Sutter
Out of the small town of Potsdam, New York, a drummer has emerged in recent years with an eye toward conquering the world with a wildly diverse tribe of musical masters. Jason Sutter is his name, a man who’s lent his touring and recording chops – and admirably humble attitude – to the likes of Chris Cornell, Vertical Horizon, Foreigner, Pink, The New York Dolls, and, currently, Marilyn Manson.
Sutter worked as hard as anyone you’ve likely ever met at his craft to get where he is today, which happens to be sipping iced tea by the pool at his art-filled house in North Hollywood, where we’ve come to pick Sutter’s brain on how he got from there to here. Fully prepared in the fundamentals of a wide variety of drumming styles and techniques, the affable Sutter was ready to strike when the iron got hot, and today is supremely grateful for his good fortune – which even to him seems larger than real life.
“I don’t ever, ever take it for granted,” he says. “With the New York Dolls, I savored every second I was onstage with one of my favorite bands ever. And to play these gigs with Marilyn Manson? He’s climbing the drum riser, screaming in my face, and I’m looking at him going, ’I’m playing with Marilyn Manson, it’s insane. It’s like, This is freaking crazy!’”
Sutter’s dad was an artist and professor at the local Potsdam University – but what he really wanted to do was play the drums. His son beat him to it. Potsdam was unique, Sutter says, because there were four colleges in town, and a lot of bars. So when he was growing up there in the ’80s, there were tons of live venues, and live bands ruled the day.
Eventually young Jason got to play in those bars, and was able to see the real dudes playing with the real gear and the real amps and speakers and trucks loading their gear … and it was good.
“So, at a super young age I was seeing really great professional acts,” he says. “I still feel like cover bands in the ’80s were as professional as the professional bands. They were just so pro and so good.”
To Sutter, these local players were like real rock stars whose performances and, really, mere presence in town would inspire kids like himself to run back to their bedrooms and practice. “It also gave us a pretty clear blueprint of how we could do it on a smaller level, like high schools and grade schools – my first gig was in fifth grade, at a dance. We were playing Rolling Stones tunes, and we knew we could make them sound good – unlike other bands that were trying to play Journey or something and failing miserably at it.”
There was a great music store there in Potsdam, too, and most of Sutter’s teachers in grade school and high school were grads of the local Crane’s School Of Music. At Crane’s, a guy named Jim Peterzak became one of Sutter’s mentors; Peterzak went on to teach Dave Weckl and Vinnie Colaiuta and other top drummers. It was under Peterzak’s tutelage that Sutter started to learn to read music, and by fourth grade he was accompanying the choir, thrown in by the music director, who’d gotten him started with a basic rock beat.
“Next thing you know he’s playing piano with a bass player who’s probably in fifth grade, and I’m playing a real straight beat, and learned very quickly how to accompany – and get out of the way.”
As soon as Sutter learned how to play a beat, he was gigging, playing his first bar gig when he was 13. “And my mom was fine with it,” he says. “I’d get home at three in the morning and go to bed with my ears ringing.”
For Sutter, it was drums, just drums, and nothing else, that pricked his ears. “I went to music school and studied piano and ear training and sight singing and all these things, but I never cared about any other instruments. I never went over and was, like, trying to pick up a dude’s guitar or bass after rehearsal – they all wanted to get on my drums, always.”
Sutter has roots in a lot of different styles, but even as a kid, he knew: I am a rocker. “When I first started playing in ’78/’79, John Bonham died. Well, all they did was play Bonham on the radio for, like, two months straight, and I would just record everything. Within a couple of weeks I had every Led Zep record there ever was. That changed everything.”
Sure, drummers from here to Ouagadougou cite Bonham’s enormous influence on rock. Sutter’s no exception. “There was an attitude,” he says. “John Bonham was never perfect; never too clean; but he had something like raw power, heart, and passion. It was just so undeniable.”