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Interview with hardcore drummer – Lucky Lehrer

Lucky Lehrer’s foray into the politics of marijuana was in 1974 working in Washington, D.C., for a freshman Congressman on Capitol Hill. Writing on the front page of the student newspaper at the University of California, Lehrer observed “the nation’s policy on cannabis appears inconsistent and ill advised.” Back then, the issue involved the defoliant Paraquat being sprayed to eradicate foreign plants making their way into the lungs of America, Lehrer reported. Today’s battle is to support California’s Prop 64, which seeks to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

“I am hosting a celebration of the music of Mary Jane at the legendary Whiskey A GoGo in West Hollywood on Tuesday, November 1” Lehrer says. “That’s exactly one week before the election. It’s free to get in the Whiskey that night and the event will feature some of the biggest musicians to ever get behind a political movement. Performances will include jams by a growing list of luminaries that includes band members of Quiet Riot, The Doors, Pink, Ozzy Osborne and plenty of others.

Lucky Lehrer

Lucky Lehrer

There’s going to be some surprise guest stars” Lehrer hints, because “you can’t imagine the number of celebrities that feel passionately in favor of Prop 64. Lehrer is no stranger to the limelight as a founding member of the seminal punk rock group The Circle Jerks, and later with Bad Religion and The Darby Crash Band. “It’s great coming back to the Whiskey, the kind of venue where most of us got our start, and feel the club’s support at an important time,” Lehrer states.

“The initiative appears to have support on the left and on the right” Lehrer continues.

U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) says “Our current marijuana laws have undermined many of the things conservatives hold dear – individual freedom, limited government and the right to privacy. This measure is a necessary reform which will end the failed system of marijuana prohibition in our state, provide California law enforcement the resources it needs to redouble its focus on serious crimes while providing a policy blueprint for other states to follow.”

So far as theme music, there’s no lack of songs for Lehrer’s list of musical celebrities to perform including Jimi Hendrix’ The Wind Cries Mary, Along Comes Mary by The Association, I’m in Love With Mary Jane by Rick James, Smoke Two Joints in the Morning by the Toyes (later covered by Sublime), Reefer Head Woman by Aerosmith and, of course, Led Zeppelin’s Goin’ To California. There’s Sweet Leaf by Black Sabbath. Who can forget One Toke Over The Line by Brewer & Shipley and Neil Young’s famous Roll Another Number? Then there’s The Joker by the Steve Miller Band (“some people call me a space cowboy….”) and You Don’t Know How It Feels by Tom Petty. There’s loads of references to marijuana in hip hop, including Doctor Dre’s The Next Episode and lots of other songs, some of which we’ll perform on November 1 at the Whiskey, Lehrer smiles and says.

“We’re going to have fun, play some great material and get people to rally behind Prop 64. Cannabis today is a billion dollar cottage industry. We want to get people out of the shadows and work to create rules and practices that make common sense.”

Checkout this exclusive interview with Lucky Lehrer –

When you read stuff like “The best hardcore drummer in the world” or “Lucky Lehrer is considered the Godfather of hardcore drumming, what thoughts go through your mind?

Lucky Lehrer: I don’t pay attention any more than polls that, for example, ask who the best center ever was in the NBA? There were so many good ones, and everyone played a part. People have favorites, that’s normal. My particular favorite is Spit Stix of Fear, who played like a psychotic piston dressed as a pall bearer.

So how does a drummer seriously influenced by Buddy Rich and frequenting Jazz clubs make the move to something as visceral as Punk Rock?

Lucky Lehrer: I have some shows coming up at Vibrato, one of the most serious jazz clubs in L.A. I dress comfortably as a jazz drummer and play small diameter drums and use the brushes a lot. I love this music as much as I enjoy punk and classic rock. Antonio Carlos Jobim is a God to me.  1 I look for subtle opportunities to add musical flourishes and have a good time. If you love music, it’s easy. You mention Buddy Rich, he’s a good example. His body of work shows Buddy was adept playing slow jazz in a quiet trio as he was driving a 20 piece swing band playing driving tunes at tempos fast as a hardcore punk song.

How much of what you picked up from Buddy Rich in the early days has still remained in your style and where does any of that technique become essential in making you a better hardcore drummer?

Lucky Lehrer: Mentally I’ve never left. I’m studying now with Bruce Becker, a direct disciple of Freddy Gruber  2 We work on hand and foot technique with a goal of increasing flexibility and control. The idea is getting the body to play what the mind imagines. From that place, magic can occur and you can perform the unimaginable.

  • (Jobim is considered the father of the Bossa Nova. Gruber was a Rich’s room mate and shared ideas about playing drums.)

lucky-lehrer-jamAlready an established drumming legend for many, do you still consider yourself in the learning process? And which drummers do you still keep your eye on? Whom do you study with or learn from?

Lucky Lehrer: One of the great things about living in L.A. is we have a great community of drummers. The guys I see at auditions are friends and, competitive human tendencies aside, I’m happy when brother/drummers succeed. Glen Sobel, Dean Butterworth and Jordan Burns started 818 lunches where I’ve made everyone from Denny Siewell (Paul McCartney’s drummer) to Ralph Johnson of Earth, Wind and Fire. I love to watch Glen play, Brian Tichy (of Whitesnake, founder of the Bonzo Bash), Matt Starr, Mark Schulman, Joey Heredia, I’ve studied with or learned from all of them…I can go on.

What are you consider as your signature style, or which particular traits do you think sets you apart from your peers or contemporaries?

Lucky Lehrer: There are no secrets, I explain everything on my website. I draw from many disciplines, which gives me a broader perspective than drummers who know only one or two styles. I still love going out to hear Latin music. I consider Afro-Cuban drumming a wellspring of ideas for rhythms and drum beats. I’m inspired by established masters like Joey Heredia, who I consider the most versatile drummer out there. There’s not a musical style Joey can’t excel at playing. The amount to learn is infinite.

Part of your time is spent giving drumming lessons, as well as producing an online drumming series. What kind of a response have you been receiving? And are kids still interested in playing the drums considering all the electronic and programmable stuff available?

Lucky Lehrer: I’m teaming up with one of the funniest comedians in Hollywood to continue my lighthearted approach to drum education. Everyone should own a drum set, acoustic preferred but if you’re in an apartment or something, then an electronic kit is fine. It’s a great way to express yourself, get out aggression, develop coordination and a better feel for music. Percussion makes everyday life palatable, if not a pleasure.

Besides the drumming lessons are you involved in a recording or performing activities right now?

Lucky Lehrer: On the hardcore side, I’m working on a project with Greg Hetson and Earl Liberty  3 I’m doing another recording project with a local guy named Kris Olsen, who I met through sound man Dave Henszey  4 Kris’ style has a bit of country in it which I also like playing. He pulled in Damian Valentine and Chuck Cicirello for that, these are heavyweight cats. I’m always getting invites to play, and I’m thankful and never smug about it. In 10 days I’m going to Europe to play and record with a guy whose got a big following in Finland. Today, most of the time, I can do drum tracks at my place and send the files anywhere, which is in the plus column of the digital age.

  • (Lucky played with Greg Hetson in the Circle Jerks and in Bad Religion. Earl Liberty filled in on bass with the Circle Jerks after Flea. Henszey worked with Andy Johns recording Led Zeppelin among others.)

I still love to play out and L.A. has one of the best jam scenes in the country. When there’s time I’ll jump on a tune Tuesday nights at the Whiskey for Ultimate Jam Night or Wednesdays at Soundcheck Live. Due to popularity, I understand the Viper Room is picking up the slack on Monday nights. I’ve jammed all kinds of tunes, played with veteran players and met a lot of super-cool people in the process. The jams are unrehearsed, there’s occasional surprises, and one-time only performances that are golden.

lucky-lehrer-300bwHaving played in bands like The Circle Jerks, Redd Kross, Bad Religion, Darby Crash Band and LA’s Wasted Youth, with who would a talent like Lucky Lehrer be looking to expand his playing career now or in the near future?

Lucky Lehrer: One of the main reasons to keep visible is to get the call when veteran band needs a drummer. But you need a thick skin and I’ve had my share of disappointments. Recently the Misfits needed a drummer and they grabbed Dave Lombardo, whose one of the fastest and best. That’s a band I could have fit into. Any touring band or a post-punk outfit like Pennywise, NOFX, The Offspring, Social Distortion,The Vandals, etc., etc., are in my wheelhouse.

Having already been invited and having performed at the Bonzo Bash, are you looking towards a return visit? And what are your thoughts on John Bonham in general?

Lucky Lehrer: The best part of being in a Bonzo Bash is you’re hanging with some of your favorite drummers. I wish Bonzo  5 could see today’s Bonzo Bash. “Tich,” for one kills the tunes and is more Bonzo than Bonzo (I know, I’m talking blasphemy). Chas West of Lynch Mob seriously conjures Robert Plant. Honestly, drummers are some of the coolest people in the universe and I’m down for that every time. I think about John Bonham every day. His beats were so deep and heavy, deceptively simple yet massive. Kashmir, one of my favorite songs, a beginning drummer might think “that beat is easy.” Yet try playing that bass drum for 5 minutes with precise, equal intensity. Not one beat is louder than any other, not one beat is off. Bonham was rock solid and restrained. He didn’t let his power and ability interfere with playing sparse served the song best. When the time came on Moby Dick Bonzo showed he was a virtuoso soloist with insane chops.

  • (Led Zeppelin’s drummer John Bonham was usually addressed as “Bonzo”.)

What would you consider a really successful or high point in your career so far?

Lucky Lehrer: It was fun to see 40 cop cars on Hollywood Boulevard for the movie premier of THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION but I’m not looking back, I’m not nostalgic in that way. It’s about how much did I practice today? Tomorrow then takes care of itself.

On the other hand, what has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your music career so far?

Lucky Lehrer: I wish we could take the ego tendencies out of it, mine included. Of course, we’re all human. When you spend hours in closet with a practice pad and a metronome, you look forward to playing out. All I can work on is myself, but I think most people (and all the cute girls) say I’m friendly and approachable. Every other day someone on Facebook will ask “when are the Circle Jerks getting back together?” My response is “you’d have to ask Keith Morris,” because Greg, Zander and I are 100% ready to play. In his book, Keith couldn’t say enough kind things about me. When we talk, he says everything is totally cool. There’s festivals, shows and tour dates offering the Circle Jerks stratospheric guarantees. When you think of the funds, females and fun it makes you wonder….

If you had the opportunity to change one thing about the current music business, what would that be?

Lucky Lehrer: It’s very easy to get down on the paradigm where a lot of bands have to give away their recorded music for free just to get popular enough to tour and sell T-shirts. But where does it get you? I think musicians always had to hustle and for most, the money is meager. Dave Grohl told me, and I prefer this optimistic approach, if a player works hard enough and a band does everything humanly possible to be amazing, there are still opportunities and you will get noticed. I’m perseverant and that’s a trait artists need more than ever.

How do you market and manage your music career currently? Do you have a management team or do you control everything by yourself?

Lucky Lehrer: I was surprised how many of today’s top drummers are marketing savvy. Some of the biggest names don’t like to admit it, but today chops alone are not enough. A lot of young people have grown up in a SEO (search engine optimization) world and they have online strategies. I’d rather prefer a nine stroke ruff-a-diddle  6 than learn Photoshop. The problem is there’s so many people who are happy to take your money to improve your online presence but they deliver little. So it’s buyer beware when you pay people help you.

  • (A drumming manoeuvre.)

lucky-lehrer-350What are your thoughts on the current Punk Rock or Alternative Rock scene? Do you still think it still has a future or has it lost all momentum with the advent of electronic music?

Lucky Lehrer: So called “electronic music” was around before indie-style bands. No form of music is a problem. A lot of drum sets today are hybrid, with acoustic drums and electronic triggers. Protest music goes back to the chants African slaves hummed in various dialects, through Appalachian stomps, anti-war cheers and hard rock anthems. Future generations can rely on music to tell life’s story: pain, beauty, injustice, love, betrayal, excess….all fertile ground for the poet’s inspiration.

Which keywords would you personally use to describe Lucky Lehrer – the musician and drummer today?

Lucky Lehrer: Enthusiastic, curious, supportive on the bright side. Introspective, conflicted and spotlight chasing on the darker side.  Lao Tzu said “what the world recognizes as  beautiful is ugly,” and I’m reminded to keep humble, stay in the moment and I’m thankful for all my good fortune.

Do you follow any particular training or exercising to stay in shape and perform those energetic drum patterns as if you were still in your late teens?

Lucky Lehrer: Don’t you hate it when you hear that at age 28 an NBA star’s career is over? One of the main reasons I stick with playing punk, as oppose to retiring and playing just jazz, are the physical demands. Playing hardcore music, preparing for shows and so on, is great for sex stamina and physical endurance. This keeps the pressure on, my wife turns 29 next week, so I better stay in shape. I don’t do drugs and I go to the gym. I want to do an ad for vitamins, Geritol liquid energy drink or something (laughs).  7

Do you consider Internet and all the social media websites as fundamental in building a career in music today, and what is your personal relationship with the new technology at hand?

Lucky Lehrer: I think we kind of covered this and the answer is yes. The phenomena must be embraced, because it can’t be fought. The digital age opened as many doors as it closed. Since the dawn of consciousness, the goal is to recognize opportunities and create human connections.

Looking back on what you’ve achieved (or have not achieved) thus far, is there any choice or decision you made during your career that you would definitely do differently now?

Lucky Lehrer: I’ve admitted this before and I’ve often repeated I was wrong about punk music. Being wrong about stuff keeps you humble. I thought punk rock was really like the pet rock, a one-off thing with a short shelf life. So many of the early players had sophomoric music ability I couldn’t see sustaining itself. But the best players, guys like Pat Smear who I played with in the Darby Crash Band, stuck with it and got better. It was a thrill to see Pat play at the Grammy Awards and to hear what people like John Doe (of X) and Mike Ness (of Social Distortion) are doing. These guys were confident and their talent continues to be rewarded.

  • (Lucky Lehrer married yoga teacher and fitness model Holland Baxley last year.)

lucky-lehrer-logoWhat music and which artists in particular are you currently listening to, and is there any one or ones of these you would enjoy working with?

Lucky Lehrer: As you probably see, I’m not one of those guys who says all the great songs have already been written. One benefit of technology is bringing the music world together. With Indie music, Bellicose Minds from Portland are exciting, as Soft Kill and Arctic Flowers (again from Portland, OR). I like the Savages. Deathcamp Project from Poland is the band my guy from Finland wanted me to check out before we went in the studio, and I like those guys. Most musicians I know are as also serious fans listening to music. I like music that defies categories, like Exploded View. Locally, the New Flesh from Oakland and Flamingos from L.A. sound good.

If you had to think of an inspiring slogan or piece of advice that would leave a positive impact on young up and coming drummers, what would that slogan be?

Lucky Lehrer: On LuckyLehrer.com I have a quote I learned when I was eleven and my mom took me to an Ed Shaughnessy drum clinic at the Pro Drum Shop. Ed said “play it straight, strive for tone.” That quote stuck with me as something I had to remember. When you get to playing fast, you have these chops. The tom-toms are staring up at you and it’s good to remember—just like John Bohman—leave that fancy drum fill out. Be patient, there may be a better spot for a drum fill later. Tone, that’s a what good drumming is all about. It’s not just the way you tune the drums or playing the best cymbals you can afford. Properly striking the drum, not mere bashing, is fundamental, the fruit of thousands of hours of dedication to this craft. Great drummers pull a pleasing, natural sound out of the instrument.

Check the Official Lucky Lehrer Website

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