Sandy GennaroInterview by Jonas Mannon // July 02 2012
The consistency of a groove, a pulse, it’s inherent in our souls like a heartbeat.
Some musicians play to live, drummer extraordinaire Sandy Gennaro lives to play. The stellar roster of top tier, arena-filling artists he has manned the drum throne for includes Bo Diddley, Cyndi Lauper, Joan Jett, Pat Travers Band and The Monkees, among many, many others. In fact it would be easier to list people he hasn’t lent his signature sound to.
When listening to Sandy’s unique, cement-solid grooves and watching his explosive live performances, it’s easy to imagine Todd Rundgren’s, “Bang The Drum All Day” running in his head on a perpetual loop, his personal life’s theme.
He was generous enough to take some time recently to answer questions, drop some wisdom and talk tempo. And so, with a classic drummer’s “1,2,3,4,” we begin.
So, Sandy, my old friend, thanks so much for taking this time. I know the fans will appreciate it, as I do. Let’s begin with some of your early work. Tell us about the monstrous drum track on Benny Mardones’ “Into the Night,” which by the way is one of only 10 songs to make it to The Billboard Top 100 twice. What kit did you use on those sessions?
It was a beautiful Ludwig blonde maple kit with a super sensitive snare.
And who were your band mates in Blackjack?
Well there was Michael Bolotin on vocals, and he, as most people know, went on to become Michael Bolton. Bruce Kulick played guitar and Jimmy Haslip was on bass. Bruce Kulick of course went on to play with KISS for a long time and Jimmy Haslip was one of the founders of The Yellowjackets, a big jazz-fusion group.
Not a bad line-up there. You also once sang a song on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. What was the name of that tune?
The name of the song was “Tweezers of Your Love.” That segment is on a “Best of Carson” cable special that still runs. That was in 1978 and I still get calls and e-mails about it. It’s also on my site, www.sandygennaro.com.
You also were once being eyed by AC/DC to possibly lead their sledgehammer charge from behind the kit. Was that gratifying to you as an artist, being considered for such a rare opportunity?
Oh definitely. I can’t think of any drummer who wouldn’t kill for a chance to play the Back in Black album for two hours with Angus, Malcolm, Cliff and Brian. I was fortunate enough to have that experience. It was at the old S.I.R. Studios on 54th St. in New York.
While on the subject of 54th St. in New York, tell us about the artists you gathered for your drum-off at New York’s legendary Studio 54?
At my drum-off at Studio 54 I used Thommy Price, who played with Scandal at the time and is now with Joan Jett; Mickey Curry, who was with Hall and Oates at the time and is now with Bryan Adams; Michael Shrieve and Michael Carabello, who both played with Santana.
Okay, let’s skip ahead a few measures. What are some of the main projects you’re currently playing in?
Pat Travers Band is the main gig right now. We’re very busy gearing up for a European tour. I also do four or five Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy camps every year.
And are you still teaching at The Drummer’s Collective in New York?
Yes, since 1987. I also teach at my home studio in New York.
Have you ever written or recorded any of your own music?
Well, I have a writing credit on “(Gonna wanna) Kick Booty” on Pat Travers’ Black Pearl album but I don’t have any solo music per se.
Getting back to the beat, what do you feel it is about drums, the rhythmic pulse, that leads people to dance, sway and stage dive?
Well, it’s something that speaks directly to the heart. The consistency of a groove, a pulse, it’s inherent in our souls like a heartbeat.
You’re close friends with the great Peter Criss of KISS fame. He once talked about the first time he heard Ringo Starr’s drum pattern on “Ticket to Ride” as a moment of epiphany. Can you remember a specific defining moment, or whom you were listening to when it became clear that drumming is what you’re meant to be doing?
Well seeing Ringo with The Beatles on Ed Sullivan changed the way I looked at drumming and music forever. Before that, however, my mom told me that I was always tapping on something, whether it was pots and pans on the kitchen floor or with two butter knives on the kitchen table. It’s something that was always inside me. One day when I was a kid, my friend and I were looking for a softball in his closet and I spotted an old snare drum that had belonged to his dad. I asked to borrow it and that was the beginning of my drumming adventures.
Do you remember some of the songs you tapped along to on that snare drum?
I played along on that snare to a lot of records but the main one was definitely “Surfin’ Bird” by The Trashmen. When my folks saw how much I loved it, we went into the city six months later and bought my first kit, which I still have the receipt for.
On the subject of getting gigs, clearly you have world-class experience. What advice can you offer musicians as they face those big auditions?
If you’re given material to learn, play it exactly as it appears on the recordings. Do not add anything of your own unless asked to do so. Also, and surprisingly this is very often overlooked, be on time! Remember to be positive, be prepared and smile—you’re drumming after all.
There’s an old saying about good luck being a formula of preparation meeting opportunity. As a point of focus for musicians, do you feel more attention should be given to technical study or to just playing as much as possible?
I believe good balance is key. I’ve always looked at music study and playing as a kind of dinner plan. First is the main course, the meat and potatoes. That’s where you sit down with the practice pad and metronome, practice reading, technique and honing your basics. Consistency and meter are the essential keys; if a groove slows or wavers people just aren’t moved. Then comes dessert, which is playing to records, band practice, soloing, and the like. I also encourage my drum students to play along to more challenging things which I feel pushes the understanding of drumming dynamics more.
Can you tell us some of the drummers that you dig listening to?
Groove-oriented drummers have always been the most inspirational to me. Some of the groove legends such as Jim Keltner, Al Jackson, Ringo, Charlie Watts and of course, Bonzo, these are the guys that speak to my rhythmic soul. The technique-oriented drummers that play a million notes a minute, while I respect their craftsmanship and dedication, just doesn’t move me. It looks good on paper but just doesn’t move me in my soul.
Do you have any instructional material for drummers?
Yes. There is Drum Basics: parts 1 & 2, (DVD/book), and I also have Contemporary Rock Styles for the drums, (audio c.d./book), published by Carl Fischer.
Do you have any big projects coming up that we ought to know about?
The Pat Travers Band European tour will run from October to the middle of November. I also have a Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy camp coming up in L.A. in February of 2012. There’s a rumor going around that Steven Tyler will be starring so that would be really great.
Well, Sandy, thank you so much for this time. Here’s wishing you much continued success, peace and paradiddles, my friend.
Thank you, and remember the glass is always half full, not half empty.
Visit Sandy online at www.sandygennaro.com
About the Author
Jonas Mannon has been fortunate enough to work with people like Duff McKagen, Peter Criss and Bill Ward, among others. He still contends, however that he's still "just a knock-around drummer kid from New York." As a freelance journalist he has interviewed 13-time Grammy winner Ricky Skaggs and drumming legends, Artimus Pyle, Sandy Gennaro and Kenny Aronoff, among others.
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