As is often the case with great artists, it’s nearly impossible to pigeonhole Terry Bozzio into any one single genre.
“I’ve gone through so many personas and lives,” he says.
Peruse any part of his 40-year career trajectory, and you have your pick of the varietals at hand. Bozzio, to many, is “Terry Ted,” Frank Zappa’s wild and prodigious drummer at the peak of the late-1970s-era, jazz fusion-y Mothers of Invention. To others, he’s the glammed-out co-leader with ex-wife Dale in the ’80s commercial music experiment Missing Persons. And to others still, he’s a respected composer of intricate, polyrhythmic solo drum kit compositions, proving once and for all that percussion can exist as a classical centerpiece medium outside the conventional rock and jazz definitions.
Today, Terry Bozzio is taking on another task: educator. More specifically, as the host of a streaming Internet program with the intent of informing and uniting the drumming community via cyberspace.
While his new role as the host of DrumChannel.com makes him the honorary artist-in-residence of Drum Workshop (DW) in Oxnard, it also heralds Bozzio’s return to the West Coast, where he and his new wife, Mayumi, call Camarillo home.
It’s a return to the California roots Bozzio had left behind in the 1990s when he relocated to Austin, Texas, with his family for that city’s musical and cultural vibrancy. This time, his move to Ventura County marks a full-time, daily gig at the DW manufacturing plant and studios, a further strengthening of relationships with a company Bozzio’s endorsed for years now.
“I get to be here interviewing other drummers, hanging around and talking,” Bozzio says. “It’s great. It’s a place for drummers to come.”
Part improvised performance, part artist-on-artist interview, “Drum Channel Live” broadcasts on the Web, where Bozzio sits down weekly with one of his contemporaries to talk music, life, philosophy and art … but most importantly, they play. DW founder Don Lombardi had personally invited Bozzio to host the program, an overnight success in its multicamera approach and artistic pedigree.
So far, Bozzio’s impressive guest list has included the likes of Airto Moreira, Mike Portnoy, Dennis Chambers and fellow Zappa alumni Ruth Underwood, Chad Wackerman and Ralph Humphrey.
In addition to his Internet program, the things that Bozzio, at 59, says make him happiest today are his drums and a place to play them. “It’s like being in Santa’s magic toy shop for me. I come here and practice to my heart’s desire,” he says of one portion of the DW warehouse where he keeps his massive, custom kit — chromatically tuned on one end, diatonically on the other.
Although the new gig marks the first time in nearly 25 years that the fiercely independent Bozzio has found himself a regular member of a band or permanent musical situation, the DW arrangement offers Bozzio a unique flexibility to tour when his schedule calls for it.
Last week, Bozzio wrapped up a European tour with prog supergroup HoBoLeMa (short for Allan Holdsworth, Terry Bozzio, Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto), and Drum Channel Live resumes.
But aside from the freedom Lombardi offers, Bozzio’s strong relationship with Drum Channel counters other frustrating musical ventures with groups who offered the drummer little respect or authority in the proceedings. Aside from the collaborative genius of groups like HoBoLeMa, or the Mike Patton-led Fantomas (“That was the hardest stuff I’d done since Zappa,” he says), Bozzio’s attempted involvement last year with members of Korn ended acrimoniously amid managerial and artistic disagreements.
The Korn debacle served as a reminder of something that Bozzio had realized years prior: his priorities regarding fame and fortune have changed. An ardent devotee of author and mythologist Joseph Campbell, Bozzio had perhaps been listening when Campbell wrote, “I think the person who takes a job in order to live — that is to say, for the money — has turned himself into a slave.”
“I’m happy now. I don’t need a lot of money,” Bozzio says. “I learned that after Missing Persons broke up. I ended up beat, being more rich and famous than I’d ever been. I was an internationally known drum artist. I had total artistic freedom. And it dawned on me: I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”