Bruce AitkenInterview by Sean Mitchell // April 02 2008
You are only limited by two things, your lack of imagination and the tenacity to give it a go.
How did it all get started? A small town like Sydney Nova Scotia seems far from the ideal location for a major international drum festival.
Well it all started with a conversation with a mate, we were shooting the breeze, and it came up, I ran with it. I made some enquiries and realized right away that I knew no one, nor anything about promotion on this level. But I had the vision (the dream if you like) to give it a hook.
Bruce you have been running The Cape Breton International Drum Festival for eight years now. How do you keep it fresh and exciting from year to year?
I think that comes down to one of my teaching inspirational lines. That is; you are only limited by two things your lack of imagination and the tenacity to give it a go. I’m always thinking of ways to bring people in, because we are primarily an educational based festival. It’s important to have diversity in the performers, also we have a very strong link with the past and I believe we should honour and always remember those who have gone before us. We have also promoted cultural identity and it’s so important to share the love of music to as many people as possible.
Who do we have to look forward to this year?
The year of the classics! This was an idea I came up with after the fact as opposed to prior to booking artists. There are so many incredible artists who; because of age, or not being in the limelight as they once used to be, are often forgotten about. This experience and wisdom should be shared and kept alive. These players are not over the hill mate, they are the hill! The things that they gave us in the past are now the future and with out them we would not be where we are today.
So this year we honour, Danny Seraphine, Carmine Appice, Alan White, Ed Mann, Michael Shrieve, Uriel Jones, Billy Nuku, Bill Ludwig III, David Jones. There are the ones making waves in today’s scene, Aldo Mazza, Larnell Lewis, Pamela Lynn and of course the festival would not be complete without the global ambassador for our festival, Mr. Dom Famularo! There are also some very special guests and a few little surprises to boot.
Can you give us an idea as to what goes into organizing this colossal event?
Faith, trust, and a belief in yourself and your team mates. It’s a twenty-four-seven operation, loads of planning and emails phone calls etc. It’s been hard work and we are grateful that it’s all panned out. I think the single most important thing for me has been the love and support of my wife, my partner, my mate; Gloria Jean. This would never have happened without her and our family members Ryan, Colin and Jen.
My best mate Mike Megaffin is also in that team, it’s a family thing. We have had pretty much the same staff and volunteers for years; they are simply the best. The hours spent talking to sponsors in our region, and of course developing a rapport with all the major and minor drum companies has been paramount to its success.
Developing relationships with other major festivals like Modern Drummer, Montreal, Australian Ultimate Drummers Weekend, KoSA, and Aldo Mazza that has been very helpful. Each of the festival directors, Ralph Angelino, Bill Millar, and Frank Corniola have given unselfishly of their time and advice to make sure we also succeed. Last but not least the drummers who have put their faith and trust in us.
On a more personal level I understand you will be returning to your homeland for a special gig. Where are you headed and what’s the occasion?
I am being flown back to my birth town Invercargill the southern most city in New Zealand. “Bottom of the world, glistens like a pearl mate!” To quote Tim Finn of Split Enz. The very first band I ever played in, Rogers Dodgers, are heading a Stars of the Sixties show there on September the 27th at the Invercargill Working Men’s Club.
It would be the first time we have played together in 40 years, it will be a blast. We were at the time, New Zealand’s youngest beat band. Average age was 11 or 12. We were offered a recording contract and opened for the big stars when they came to the remote region. Roger McLachlan, Lyall Barron and Barry Withington and myself are the line up. We are also being joined by Jackie Cooper who sang for us in a big talent-quest all those years ago. Jackie will be doing two or three numbers, including our talent-quest winning tune; Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walking. It’s a small world but my great mate, the Legendary Hal “The Drummer Man” Blaine (the most recorded drummer in the world) played on the original, so that will be so very important for me.
After the show Roger and I are being inducted into the Southland Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, quite an honor. I am very humbled by this, and am grateful that we are being recognized for our contribution to the world music industry.
Bruce you have a gig that I am sure many drummers would love to sit in on. Tell me it is too much fun to back up the Irish Rovers.
Yes indeed I am very fortunate to have this gig. I share it with an Irish drummer depending on the gig as to which drummer George Millar uses. I did two shows at the Casino Halifax on St. Patrick’s day, it was amazing, they are a great deal of fun to play with and to hang with. It’s not an easy gig by any means, and a certain amount of Celtic drumming styles are required. Plus a real understanding of Scottish pipe band drumming as well. On top of that you have to be able to play the Bodhran and sing! It’s a well oiled show and as many shows of this type can change from night to night, so it keeps you on your toes. I have had much practice at these types of shows as I did tonnes like this backing many of New Zealand’s tops artists in my younger days.
Tell me a bit about your new CD.
My CD is called In For a Penny, In For a Pound. It’s a tune CD as apposed to a drum CD. Ten songs from Reggae, to Rock, to Brit pop, to ballads, to Rock-a-Billy. So it’s a collection of songs I have written with two co-writers. One with my great mate in New Zealand, Dieter Burmester (Don’t Take My Monkey), and one with my daughter Becci Aitken who’s just twenty one, (Your Voice). I’ve had lots of radio air play locally, but that was not the reason for doing the disc. It was to have my own material to play along to when doing clinics. I figured that it would be nice to have my songs (so far so good) I am already 10 songs into my next project.
I understand you and your wife were also recipients of the 2007 Hype Award for “Excellence in International Development”. What exactly is this distinction?
It was award given Gloria Jean and I for the work we have done with the festival (putting Cape Breton on the world map in the drumming community and beyond). It was a real surprise as we did not know we’d even been nominated. To get the award was really great for the festival. It’s good to get this type of recognition; it lets others know what we have contributed to the economy and that it’s a good role model for the kids in our region. To us that’s very important.
What have been some of the highlights for you over the years as not only the organizer of the CBIDF, but as a fan of drummers?
Way too many to name but in no particular order some of the drum related people or playing I’ve seen or know personally include:
- Billy Ward just a magical, magical player and personality, one of my all time favourites.
- Terry Bozzio solo and in duet with Chad Wackerman.
- The Legendary Denny Seiwell, awesome. One of my closest friends.
- Hal Blaine, the greatest studio drummer of all time.
- Bernard Purdie, Uriel Jones, Earl Palmer. Having meet the four most recorded drummers in the history of the world, having played on the stage with two of them (Bernard and Uriel), and having done a joint two drummer clinic with Uriel Jones. Funk brother number one and Motown legend.
- Gustavo Meli at CBIDF 2004 bought the house down with an amazing solo.
- Todd Sucherman greatest soloist I personally have ever seen.
- Paul Wertico, innovative in a world of his own.
- David Jones simply unbelievable. A true gentle person in this crazy world.
- Roy Burns, way too many ideas for one drummer to possess. I love Roy he’s such an incredible roll model and a wonderful human being.
- New Zealand drummers, John Husband, Billy Nuku, Frank Gibson Jr., Alan Burdon,Tommy Swainson, Warren “Bricky” McLew, Lindsay Lange, Gavin Pearcy and the legendary Billy Brown.
- Percussionists Lenny Castro and Hossam Ramsey.
- Legends Bill Cobham and Bill Bruford.
- Playing drums with the legendary Irish Rovers.
- Performing or recording with local Cape Breton legends including Matt Minglewood, Gordie Sampson, JP Cromier, Sam Moon.
- Working with the late Lobby Loyde, the Rock ‘n’ Roll hall of famer and the godfather of heavy punk rock.
- Working with my great mates Richie Waitai and Harry Kamaru in New Zealand.
- And the greatest drumming ambassador of all, my very close friend Dom Famularo.
All of these people have influenced every thing I do and have done. Ringo Starr, Charlie Watts, Levon Helm, Jim Gordon, studio legend Jim Keltner (the guy that I have probably been influenced by the most), Michael Shrieve, Alan White, Bill Ludwig III, Terry Williams, Pugwash, Ian Paice, Ndugu Chancler, Wally Reyes Jr., and not forgetting the incredible Ed Mann whom I will always be eternally grateful for his friendship and advise. You rock my friend. There are lots more, but to name them all: well you get the picture.
Who and what has kept you busy behind the kit as of late Bruce?
I have just finish a CD in Edmonton with Asani (Juno Nominated in 2007 for Rattle & Drum) and Ed Mann (Frank Zappa). This has been an amazing experience, working with the ladies (Sarah, Debbie & Sheryl) who are in my opinion the greatest vocal band I’ve ever heard. And Ed; well its Ed Mann for goodness sake! Ed’s an amazing dude to hang with, and such a knowledgeable person, I learnd much from this collaboration. We are touring soon.
I am going to Melbourne Australia in July to perform at the Australian Ultimate Drummers Weekend, in fact I am the first Canadian drummer to ever be invited, so its history in the making. I am a Canadian citizen and have been here for 10 years. (I consider myself a Canadian, but also a Kiwi). It’s going to be trip for me. My great mate Roger McLachlan (Little River Band) is playing bass, and we will be presenting A day in the studio. We are going to play three tunes from the new Asani CD entitled Listen and one of Rogers tunes called Doin’ Luv. I can’t wait.
Any hints as to next year’s festival?
Good question, some artists have been booked but right now I’ll keep it close the chest. My best mate Mike Megaffin and I have some very cool stuff planned, some very special artists indeed.
What’s coming up for you musically in the next few months?
Apart from the Rogers Dodgers gig, Roger and I are doing some clinics in New Zealand right after the Invercargill show, and then I’m doing a full New Zeland tour with Asani and Ed Mann. Some shows are also planned for Australia and I have some clinics in Canada as well. I am doing a duo with Ed Mann at the Cape Breton International drum Festival in April, and heading to Saint John in New Brunswick to teach at a summer drum camp. The Irish Rovers have asked me again to drum for them on the Canadian Christmas tour. I am teaching, and also do gigs round Sydney Cape Breton with Joey MacLeod (awesome bass player). We have a wee band called the Groove Monsters. Some school clinics and some recording projects as well so I’m quite busy, but its all good.
What advice would you give any young drummers is just entering the industry?
(laughing) Make friends with a bass player with a van. Find a good teacher, never have blinkered ears or eyes, learn the history, and always try new things in the practice room. This being to improve as a player.
Always be open to new ideas, never be afraid to ask, talk to other musicians, see as many clinics as possible, try to be yourself, respect others views and opinions, always be on time in time, be honest, reliable, trustworthy and don’t do drugs or drink on the gig. Look after your ears this is the single most important thing. But most of all it’s supposed to be fun (serious true); so I refer to it as serious fun.
About the Author
Sean has 15 years experience behind the kit, studying under greats like Mitch Dorge and participating in master classes with Dom Famularo and Zoro. It was these life-changing exchanges that prompted the Canadian-born drummer to create a global drumming community, The Black Page, that was easily accessible to drummers of all backgrounds and levels of expertise. In addition to his work with BP, Sean is one-half of the world soul group The Mitchells.
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