The first time I watched Brian Tichy play was a few years ago, at a tiny club in Queens, New York. At the time, Brian was doing some dates with ex-Deep Purple bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes. He reminded me of John Bonham – not only in his style of playing, but in his appearance.
by Billy Amendola
After the show I went backstage to introduce myself and compliment him on his killer performance, and I found out that not only is Brian a fantastic drummer, he fronts his own band, Ball, on guitar and vocals. I remember thinking, “Wow, I’ve discovered this amazing new talent.” Well – not really. Tichy proceeded to fill me in on what he was doing prior to that night’s show.
After graduating from Berklee College Of Music, Brian went on to play and tour with guitarist Vinnie Moore, vocalist Sass Jordan, guitarist Stevie Salas, Nickelbag (with Bowie bassist Carmine Rojas and Rolling Stones backup singer Bernard Fowler) Pride & Glory (with Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde), Slash’s Snakepit, Foreigner, and Ozzy himself – not to mention his own projects.
Long story short, I’ve been a fan of Brian’s drumming ever since. And as talented a drummer as he is, you should hear him play guitar. He’s also quite a songwriter; he recently co-wrote eight of the songs on Billy Idol’s latest CD, Devil’s Playground.
In 1994, after Berklee, Brian moved to California, where he lives today. (The drummer was born in New Jersey.) “I was playing with Zakk Wylde,” Brian recalls, “and during a break in the middle of the tour I made the move out here, because everything was based here. One of my buddies had a house with a practice room in the Hollywood Hills – which is a rare thing – so we split the house and I moved in.”
Currently, Brian is touring with Billy Idol. But he hasn’t stopped playing his guitar. In fact, after laying down the beat for Idol all night, on the encore “Mony Mony” Brian gets to showcase his impressive axe chops while his drum tech, Toast, does a great job of filling in on kit. MD Online caught up with the multi-talented musician during a two-week break in the tour.
MD: Let’s start at the beginning. What or who inspired you to play drums?
Brian: I think it was just the sound of a drumset, and the look of a drumset. I’d see a picture of anything drums, or hear drums – it didn’t matter if it was a TV commercial or a song on the radio, I’d just instantly be focused in on the sound of the drums and the look of the drums. The first actual drummer who was “the man” to me was Peter Criss from KISS. That was the fist band I got into, so it really started with them.
MD: Would you play along to KISS records?
Brian: Yeah, totally. And my dad was cool. By the time I was eleven, he took me to Madison Square Garden to see them on the Dynasty tour. I remember it was insane in the arena; it was the first time I ever heard a rock band live in concert.
MD: How old were you when you started playing?
Brian: I started when I was eight or nine.
MD: As you got older, what other drummers influenced you?
Brian: It was pretty much the big rock drummers of the time. Right after KISS, I got into Zeppelin. Then Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Foreigner, Sabbath, AC/DC, Rush, Van Halen?.
MD: Did you start taking lessons?
Brian: Yes. That was the deal – I had a little kid’s kit from the Sears catalog or something like that, and I wanted a real kit. So, my parents said, If you take private lessons starting at the beginning of the school year, and you’re serious about it, we’ll get you a kit for Christmas. So I started taking lessons, and a few months later I got a four-piece Leedy kit – which I wish I had now. I still have the snare, which is really cool. I took the finish off. It was like a psychedelic swirly wrap. [laughs]
MD: When did you start playing in bands?
Brian: Not until high school. A couple of kids playing rock around town eventually put a band together, but it was more about playing in my basement and rehearsing than playing live. It was a couple of parties, a couple of shows at the high school, a few battle of the bands?. Or somebody’s parents would go out of town and you’d drive all your stuff up to their house and go crazy.
MD: It sounds like your parents were very supportive.
Brian: Very. And my younger brother, Michael, is a great musician. He was the guitar player in his band. He’s a great singer too, and he plays drums better than a lot of drummers. So I broke my parents in for my brother. [laughs]
MD: What music did your parents listen to?
Brian: My mom’s a fan of music, but it’s really my dad who just loved cranking up the stereo. It pretty much started with The Beatles, then it was The Eagles, Beach Boys, Elton John, Billy Joel – all the big ’70s stars of the day. Neil Young – I can’t even tell you how many times I heard “Heart Of Gold” when I was a kid. I really got into The Beatles from my dad. He had all the records – it was The Beatles and KISS for me, and he was totally into it.
MD: Did he play at all or did he just love music?
Brian: He could sit down at the piano and sing some old rock songs. He could pick up a right – handed acoustic and strum it lefty. He showed me my first E major chord. He showed me the first lick I ever learned, which was “A Hard Days Night” by The Beatles. I was like, “Wow, Dad can play a Beatles riff. It’s not as cool as a KISS riff, but it’s a riff.” [laughs] And he could sit down on drums and keep a beat.
MD: How long have you been with Billy Idol?
Brian: This is the longest-running gig I’ve been involved with. It’s going on four years now.
MD: How did you hook up with Billy?
Brian: At that time his drummer was Mark Shulman, but Billy was laying low. So Mark called me and said, “I’ve got an offer to go with Stevie Nicks, do you want to go down and jam with those guys?” At that point the Ozzy thing wasn’t happening, with my own band, Ball, the label fell through, and that just became a disaster?. I was like, Billy’s got a few weeks of shows so I’ll go and jam with him, and that was it. I went in and played with [guitarist] Steve Stevens, and we hit it off. Playing-wise, I kind of adjusted the hard rock I was playing and tried to condense it into a little bit more of a punk machine thing. It’s a great organization, and Billy’s great.
MD: The show really impressed me, he’s a great front man.
Brian: That was one of the reasons I started playing with him. Everybody knew Billy Idol growing up from radio and TV, but I had never seen him live. And to start playing with him and to see that – man, he’s the same as he was back then. He really cares about putting on an ass-kicking show.
MD: The band did a great version of The Who song “Who Are You.”
Brian: Thanks, that was fun. Billy’s a great singer. When we were writing together we started talking about The Who and the recklessness of the band, but how amazing they were as a unit and how badass a singer Roger Daltrey is.
MD: You’ve been doing a lot of TV with Billy. I saw you on Jimmy Kimmel last night.
Brian: They only showed one full song on TV. We also did “White Wedding,” and I think they faded the show on that song. But we kept playing another four songs for the audience. It was outside in a parking lot. That was cool. Out of all these TV shows, Kimmel’s got this whole party vibe going on. The other shows are kind of quiet.
MD: What do you mean?
Brian: Usually when you walk in these places, like a Letterman, Conan, Leno, it’ quiet. You get your one room or your one area in the hallway, and that’s where everything is. Then you go to the stage, and it’s kind of mellow and all. But Kimmel, he’s got this green room with this open bar, and there’s a party going on. It was just a different vibe there. It was really laid back. My buddy, who I’ve known for years, is the music supervisor, so it was a totally relaxed situation. And to get that stage, with the lights and the PA and everything going like a gig – that’s way more than just throwing a band on a TV stage.
MD: While we’re talking about TV, what’s involved with that? Do you get a soundcheck?
Brian: Yeah, we didn’t get there until 5:00 in the afternoon, but we were playing by 9:00. Usually, on the other shows, you get there early, like at 10:00 a.m., because the crew has to set up everything really early. Then you do a quick run-through, an hour or two later you do an official soundcheck, and then everybody breaks for lunch. Then you do one more run-through, and then they start taping the show. It’s like ten to twelve hours before the whole day is done, and you’ve played one song on the show for three and a half minutes. I can understand it, because if there are any problems that they could have avoided, it probably saves a lot of time to make sure all those things are right. One thing I think is important is that after you do a soundcheck, usually the band has the opportunity to go into the control room and listen to the mix before it goes to TV.
MD: How do you hit the drums for TV sound? Is it the same way as in a live situation, or is it lighter?
Brian: I play the same as I do at a live concert. It’s still a loud rock band playing.
MD: Are you using in-ear monitors?
Brian: Yes. I’m used to them now, even though it’s still not as powerful-sounding as having a bunch of monitors around you. But they work great. If you really think about how much volume you’re pushing across the stage with drum monitors, you’re cutting into all the microphones on the stage with your drums. Then the first thing that usually happens is the singer starts to notice that he can’t hear himself.
MD: Let’s backtrack to the early days. What was your practice routine like?
Brian: I didn’t really have a set routine. I had to practice for my lessons, though I kind of did as little as I could to get by. But I got my rudiments together, and I could read?
MD: You wanted to play.
Brian: Exactly. Nothing was cooler than playing the drums, playing to records with cranked up headphones. And if I wasn’t playing to a record, I was just trying to make up licks, or imagining, “If I was onstage doing a solo, what would I do?” I don’t know if other drummers were like this, but if my parents were like, “We’re all going to the beach!” I’d be like, “Are you kidding me? Where am I going to play drums, what am I going to do?” [laughs] I always had a pair of sticks and a pad with me. By high school I was also playing guitar, probably even more than drums. I hit a place where I liked the music I listened to, but I wasn’t exploring any new styles of playing. I wasn’t getting more than the Bonham and Neil Peart side of things. But guitar-Man, I’m trying to play these Randy Rhodes licks! [laughs] Every time I learned something on the guitar I got more obsessed with it. When I went to Berklee, I started practicing drums six nights a week, five or six hours a night. And in between playing drums and classes, I would be in my room playing guitar. I wasn’t taking guitar classes at all at Berklee – it was all drum stuff – but you learn so much from being around all these guitar players.
MD: What would you say is the most valuable thing you learned there?
Brian: The most valuable thing I learned was to not assume that Berklee was the way it was out in the real world. Too many people go there and get caught up in the fact that they’re from Berklee. It can make a kid think he’s got to learn how to play everything all the time, and that’s his style. But there’s not enough of himself there, because he’s been shedding and practicing to be the most well-rounded musician.
I did get into Weckl and Simon Phillips and Tony Williams and Bozzio and all the awesome drummers that I still love. Bozzio was busting out that ostinato stuff?. And I was like, Maybe I want to be a fusion/funk/metal/rock kind of guy. So I was practicing and looking at drums that way for a while. But then when I put on an old Zeppelin album or Aerosmith or KISS or The Stones or whatever, I’d like it better. Everything for me reverts back to Zeppelin. When I got into Bonham – to me, he’s the perfect rock drummer. When Zeppelin would play some kind of over-the-bar riff, or “Black Dog,” or a displaced kind of riff, Bonham would keep the steady 1, 2, 3, 4, and keep that pulse going with the broken riff on top, and that was one of the coolest rhythmic things to me. He’s the anchor.
MD: What do you do to stay in shape on the road? Do you exercise?
Brian: I’m a little more conscious about it now than I was a while ago. I’ve been kind of lazy the past few months. I want to get back into it – basic weight stuff, and running. To be honest, I hate working out and I hate running, but I’ll do it because I know that it’s something totally good that you can’t get any other way. I also love mountain biking.
MD: Do you warm up before you go on stage?
Brian: Yes, for a half hour to forty-five minutes. It’s air warm-ups, some stretching, and just gripping the sticks and forcing single strokes out faster and faster with more and more force. The whole thing is to loosen up the wrist.
MD: Do you play matched grip or traditional?
Brian: Matched. That all came down to AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell.” When they went, “Bang, Bang, Highway To Hell,” I wanted to go right, left, right, and with the traditional grip the left cymbal crash just was not as fun. So in lessons I would go and play traditional and at home playing records it was matched.
MD: When you were touring with Vinnie Moore, how was it opening for Rush?
Brian: It was ten arena shows on the East Coast, two of them at Madison Square Garden. I was twenty-three years old, and that blew my mind. The whole thing was too trippy, because we were in a van driving around the States playing little clubs having a blast. I had my Tama Swingstars that I had since high school. Anyway, Eric Johnson cancelled the last two weeks of opening for Rush. I don’t know if it was similar management, somebody throwing somebody a favor, or just being in the right place at the right time, but Vinnie ended up getting to open up for those two weeks.
I’d be like, “There’s Neil, there’s his drums!” He was the biggest reason I got Tamas when I was in high school. So there I was, setting up my little Swingstars on Rush’s stage. And getting to meet Neil and having him watch me play, and just meeting Geddy and Alex – I was obsessed with Rush in high school. I even got to play Neil’s drums. He goes, “Have you tried them yet?” because we were talking about them and I go, “No, I wouldn’t just go and play your drums.” He’s was like, “Go ahead,” and he stood in front of the kit laughing while I was jamming. His tech was spinning the kit around and did all the percussion and electronic stuff behind me. He was super-nice.
When I was with Pride And Glory we did some Aerosmith shows, and Joey Kramer was really nice to me. He gave me a pair of his gloves and some tape for my hands, because I had all these blisters. A couple times I soundchecked their drums. Just to sit there and do “Walk This Way” on Joey Kramer’s drums – those are the things that really stay with you.
MD: Talking about Joey, let’s talk a bit about the Kenny Wayne Shepherd record. That was produced by Marti Frederiksen, who produced Aerosmith and Joey’s loop CD. I remember Joey telling me, “You should interview Marti; he’s a great drummer.”
Brian: He really is, and he’s worked with a ton of drummers. He’s really talented – a good singer, a great songwriter. He was a drummer in his own bands in LA. I met him doing a session years ago. We haven’t worked together that much over the years, which is strange considering how long we’ve known each other. But I called him to mail him some of my band’s music, and he said, “Why don’t you bring it over, and while you’re here you can do drums on this track I wrote with the guys in Foreigner.” That led to the Foreigner gig.
But back to Kenny’s record, it was done in many different ways. A few of the songs we demo’d up at Marti’s house in his home studio, and one of those drum tracks ended up making the record. We went to redo it, but it just didn’t have the same vibe. Some of the other stuff was done at Capital Records Studios, and there were a couple things we did live in the studio. Kenny’s a great guitar player, by the way.
MD: Did you hear anything beforehand?
Brian: No, just in the studio when he played. Every now and then somebody will send you a demo of something, just to prepare you. It’s great if you can come in with a chart or structure, because no matter how much they change it, you’re still familiar with where it started.
MD: How were the drum tracks recorded for Billy Idol’s CD?
Brian: Some of them were in a big studio, but we redid some of those in a smaller studio, because we got a better sound there.
MD: Did you play parts into Pro Tools, or did you play the songs straight through?
Brian: I’m proud to say that there’s minimal Pro Tools going on there.
MD: If you could have played on one song, any song, what would it be?
Brian: Wow, that’s hard? I’m going to say “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin. And there’s so many amazing Beatles songs – it would have been pretty cool to play on “Come Together.” “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney, that song’s badass. I love “Barracuda” from Heart with Michael DeRosier. That’s one of the best rock drum tracks that I know of. And “Hot Legs” by Rod Stewart with Carmine Appice is badass. But if I only got one song, it would be “Kashmir.”
MD: Finally, what gear are you using?
Brian: Zildjian cymbals, Remo heads, and Vater sticks. And I recently switched over to Tama, because I really liked what they had in mind with me. DW puts out great drums and great hardware. But I just like the support Tama offered in terms of my career. And like I said, I grew up on Tama drums. So it was kind of a nice to come full circle.
For more on what Brian’s up to go to: www.briantichy.com.