Todd Sucherman: From Swing To Styx

Todd Sucherman

“My father was all about making it swing,” recalls Styx drummer Todd Sucherman. The importance of finding the groove is a value his father, Arnold J. Sucherman — podiatrist by day, big band drummer by night — instilled in him. “He wasn’t a flashy, super technical player, although he still had the most beautiful buzz roll I ever heard.”

This was one of many values Sucherman picked up from his father, who had learned the ins and outs of the music business moonlighting as the house drummer for the famed Chez Parre’ in Chicago throughout the 1940s and ’50s. The father-son relationship was based on a mutual admiration for drums, and for playing them the right way.

“Supportive parents can really nurture young musicians and their love and drive for the creative. My parents let us create such a racket. It was such a noisy household all the time,” laughs Sucherman, who could read music by age five. “I intrinsically knew that I wanted to do this at an early age. I never wanted to be an astronaut or fireman. I never had to have that soul-searching moment of making a decision on how I would make my living or how I would define myself.”

Don’t be fooled by Sucherman’s ability to swing. He is undoubtedly a solid pocket drummer, but as fans at the 2006 Montreal Drum Fest can attest, Sucherman has chops too. “The crowd in Montreal was so enthusiastic. I was taken aback at the response,” he recalls. “It was like a warm blanket being put around me. But I’m not thinking of proving myself in a situation like that. First and foremost, even though I’m playing by myself, I’m trying to play music on the drums, because it is a musical instrument. I’m not just trying to blow off rounds of chops. When chops are being displayed it’s for a musical purpose, rather than a ’look what I can do’ kind of thing.”

Message boards lit up with praise for Sucherman after Montreal. But wowing the crowd with technical prowess and odd time signatures is not what makes a great drummer, at least according to Sucherman. He suggests that just being able to lay down a straightforward 4/4 rock beat is much more important. And, of course, your best bet at keeping your job.

“While soloing is all fine and dandy, I want to instill, especially to the young drummers, that if you want to work as a musician or if you want other musicians to play with you, you have to be able to play time,” asserts Sucherman. “Serve the music. Make the music feel good. Listen and interact properly. That is the job of the drummer. We are accompanists. I see a lot of young drummers that want to learn all these intricate ideas, they want to twirl their sticks while they’re on fire, but that doesn’t mean anything if they can’t play eight bars of time without seizing up.”

It’s his steady and consistent drumming that led to the Styx throne, the uber-successful arena rock band from the 1970s and ’80s. Playing with them has been somewhat of a dream come true for Sucherman. “It’s great to be in a band that can always work as long as it wants to. Though I’m not involved in the executive decision making, I know that the guys want to play. They enjoy the process of working and being out on the road. Now the band is in a position where they can do whatever they want,” says Sucherman, who joined Styx in 1996 after the untimely death of John Panozzo. “Will the glory days ever come back? Mostly likely, no. However, the fact that this band can go out and play to a million people a year is an incredible thing. It makes me wonder how many current bands will be playing venues in 30 years.”

And working with legendary Beach Boys maestro Brian Wilson has been icing on the cake. “No matter where I go or who I play with, I will count the times with Brian Wilson as an unbelievable highlight,” says Sucherman. “He hears everything. To watch him piece together harmonies is like watching the sun poke through the clouds. And, of course, being able to play songs like ’God Only Knows’ and ’Good Vibrations’ with a modern-day Mozart was exhilarating. It’s particularly surreal because I was fan of his as a kid. To end up working with him, you couldn’t script that. Anything can happen to anyone. If you’re open to the possibilities, you could find yourself in the most incredible situations beyond your wildest dreams.”

Being younger than the rest of his Styx bandmates has invigorated Sucherman. With no sign of letting up, he won’t be caught lagging behind or getting outshined by his older, much wiser mates. “I’m 20 years younger than those guys, there’s no way I’m going to be a deadweight in that act,” jokes Sucherman. “There’s no chance I’m going to let that happen.”