By day he makes hits with country-music superstars. By night he pounds it out with his melodic punk/hardcore/sludge metal band. And everybody—fans, musicians, the modern country scene itself—wins.
It’s not certain which came first for Jerry Roe: toddling or paradiddling. “There’s video proof of me playing a straight dotted rock beat at one-and-a-half or two years old,” Jerry confirms. “My grandfather and my dad saw that I had rhythm and got me a Remo Junior Pro kit.” Once Jerry navigated the challenge of reaching the pedals on his yellow child-size drumset, his upward trajectory never ebbed.
There was never any doubt in Jerry’s Nashville household that he would have a pro career. It was in the blood. His grandfather was none other than country music legend Jerry Reed, and his father, Dave Roe, is a top session bassist who’s worked with everyone from Loretta Lynn to Chrissie Hynde, including a twelve-year stint with Johnny Cash.
Fast forward to Jerry playing his first pro studio session at the seasoned age of eleven, gigging around town in his teens playing country, rock, and Americana gigs, and eventually touring with headliners like Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Michelle Branch, k.d. lang, Alison Krauss, and Gretchen Wilson. Becoming increasingly in demand for recording dates, Roe gradually whittled down his road commitments in order to firmly establish himself as a top-call Nashville session drummer.
Between 2009 and 2012, he was active in the L.A. session scene before resettling back home, where his studio calls have continued to escalate. In addition to his recordings with Harris and Crowell, Jerry’s lengthy discography includes titles by Molly Tuttle, Florida Georgia Line, Luke Combs, Grant-Lee Phillips, Lee Ann Womack, Greg Laswell, Darius Rucker, Amy Grant, Josh Groban, Scott McCreery, Aaron Watson, Will Hoge, Lee Brice, and many more. He also laid tracks for numerous seasons of the hit television series Nashville.
A motivation for Jerry’s return to Nashville was to reunite with guitarist/singer/songwriter Buick Audra (aka B. Arson). Now a married couple, they’re also bandmates in Friendship Commanders, a duo he describes as a “melodic punk/hardcore/sludge metal band.” Though Jerry was surrounded by country music in his upbringing, many of his drum heroes were from the rock and prog-rock world, and Friendship Commanders is a vital outlet for those influences.
In addition to the duo’s albums DAVE (2016) and BILL (2018) and four EPs, a new EP is slated for spring and an album for 2021, accompanied by tour dates. On potent tracks like “Horrify” and “Women to the Front,” Jerry serves up accurate power chops with a punk attitude, booster-rocketing Buick’s crunching guitar blitz and urgent vocals. In contrast, his work with country and Americana/singer-songwriter acts is frequently marked by a subtler, economical approach centered with a satisfying pocket. His robust sound and irresistible groove bring out the best in both worlds.
A multi-instrumentalist, Jerry adds bass on Friendship Commander cuts and wears that hat on numerous local gigs and occasional studio sessions. And his upcoming instrumental solo album, intriguingly titled I Infiltrated the Belle Meade Good-Ol’ Boy Network and All I Got Was This Pink Polo Shirt, showcases his guitar, bass, and drum talents.
Jerry’s extra-jammed recording schedule this past season has also reaped new and upcoming sides with Paul Franklin and Vince Gill, Keith Urban, Carly Pearce, Buick Audra (solo), Luke Combs, Seaforth, Fairground Saints, Runaway, and a Rodney Crowell album, Texas, where he plays double drums with Ringo Starr.
Hard work and tenacity have gotten Jerry where he is today. Yet, reflecting on his roots and musical journey, the thirty-five-year-old drummer still cherishes many of his earliest lessons. “It’s like learning languages,” he says. “We’re better at it when we’re younger—it’s easier to home in on the nuances. That’s definitely one of the coolest things about growing up in a musical family—having that edge, if you will.”
MD: You’ve been in demand for a long time in the studio scene. Many drummers—some of them plenty talented—haven’t succeeded in that highly competitive world. Is there something they’re not getting right?
Jerry: I can’t stress enough about being great at what you do, and working hard is really important. And much of it is the right time and place: don’t underestimate what luck and coincidence have to do with you doing well.
MD: Perhaps you’re being too humble. It’s one thing to be hired for an occasional session. But to be called consistently for a long period—that’s more than luck.
Jerry: Yeah, if you weren’t doing good work, you definitely wouldn’t be hanging around. And there’s nothing at all wrong with not working out in the studio scene. Your strengths may lie elsewhere. I got an early jump on it from my family; some level of nepotism factored in for getting my foot in the door. But it does take a long time. You’ve got to keep going. If you are good and know you’re good and you care and work hard enough, something will happen eventually. It’s just always going to take longer than you think it will.
MD: You’ve worked both in the L.A. and Nashville session scenes. Are there differences in how the sessions are run?
Jerry: In Nashville there’s a structure that most people stick to: 10:00, 2:00, and 6:00, three sessions a day. While that kind of used to exist in L.A., it doesn’t really anymore. There’s a lot less band tracking now, and what band tracking there is doesn’t follow any sort of rules.
Mostly it’s overdubs. For example, I did two Greg Laswell records when I was there, and on the first one, I did all twelve songs in one day! [laughs] I just played to or replaced programming that was already on those tracks so that it had a real feel. Real quick and painless.
MD: Are Nashville sessions still frequently using loops while recording the rhythm track?
Jerry: There’s a move away from that. There are still some loops and programming, but it seems there’s now more of a critical mass toward organic stuff and a little more reverence for the older style. It feels more right. I actually played on some shuffles lately. I never thought that would happen.
MD: Was the consensus that loops were stiffening things up?
Jerry: The loops are indicative of a type of music—more rock-leaning or hip-hop influenced—and you’d be playing some very busy drum parts. Now there’s more cool, spacey psychedelic indie-pop stuff happening with a country veneer—more like honky-tonk style. What’s great about playing those sessions is that lots of those bands are huge—eight or nine pieces tracking all at once.
MD: What’s the isolation situation for those large band sessions?
Jerry: A lot of studios have booths, but generally the core group of the band will be in the main room with amps isolated. The bass, guitars, and keys will be in the main room, but piano, fiddle, and acoustic will be in their own booths.
On the Emmylou and Rodney record (The Traveling Kind), we did it all in one room, with bleeding and everything. On one track, “The Weight of the World,” we were all in the room, and the album take was actually what happened when Rodney sat down to show us the song, and we all just started playing along.
MD: Vocals and all?
Jerry: Yes, that’s the tracking vocal. Unless he’s lying to us, Rodney doesn’t like to overdub. He just shoots for a tracking vocal. If he doesn’t get it, we all go down again. [laughs]
MD: How much gear do you bring to a major recording session?
Jerry: I send about twenty snare drums in cartage. I’ll have four bags of cymbals and some percussion stuff . I have five kits ready to go. One is a weird, trashy kit with Chinas and micro cymbals that I use to create loop-style parts. It’s meant to be used as a secondary kit in a small room with a lo-fi mic setup on it. Also, I have a Craviotto kit tuned regular and wide open for a big modern rock sound; a ’70s Ludwig with no heads on the tom bottoms or kick front for a deader super ’70s sound; a ’62 Gretsch Round Badge tuned higher and more open; and a ’66 Ludwig tuned low and dead. I’ll often have two kits sitting around. They’ll set up one while I have another one sitting in cases that has a different sound makeup.
MD: You’ve had a long relationship with Meinl cymbals.
Jerry: They just sound like cymbals should sound. I’ve been playing them for so long that other cymbals sound wrong to me at this point. Every engineer I’ve worked with loves them. There are so many different types; I have a big collection, and I pull a wide variety. That freedom of tonal choice, it’s perfect.
MD: You posted a video of yourself playing onstage behind Emmylou and Rodney. It’s a classic, great-feeling country groove—a deep backbeat with a subtle shuffle on top. What’s the secret of that ideal placement?
Jerry: That I can’t tell you. I’ve never necessarily thought about it; I’ve just done it. I learned that more from being at country gigs in bars with my dad, watching the old guys do it. The whole band has to be on the same page, or it just doesn’t work.
MD: Growing up in a pro musical family, you were thrown right in the pool.
Jerry: My grandfather’s favorite instrument was drums. He always wished he were a drummer, and he was very particular about who played drums on his stuff . And my dad being a bass player, of course he loved drums. And he was originally a drummer, too. He only started playing bass because there was a major shortage of bass players in Hawaii, where he grew up.
My dad was highly responsible for me getting into prog rock and metal, because that’s what he really enjoyed. He had an openness and eclectic tastes that influenced the strange mish-mash of things that I value.
MD: While you were building your chops, your dad must have also clued you in to important pro working skills.
Jerry: He liked me being into the metal guys who could play chops-y, but he did make it very clear that I needed to be able to play with a click track, to play quietly and loudly when needed, and to be able to swing. He got me into the nuances of shuffle grooves.
MD: Was reading encouraged?
Jerry: Well, I don’t know how to read music. I know how to read charts. [laughs] He didn’t show me how to read charts but then just booked me on my first session when I was eleven and said, “Aw, you’ll figure it out!” It was an off–Music Row session in Hendersonville with some heavy dudes—guys who only like to do one take. I knew them all; I’d been hanging out in the studio. My dad said, “Look at it and it’ll make sense.” He was right—and being young and pliable helped. Mostly I just faked it while looking at the page and figured it out eventually.
MD: I understand you devoured your dad’s record collection.
Jerry: The two most foundational, important records to me as a kid were Red by King Crimson and Truth and Soul by Fishbone. I played along with them a ton and have loved those bands ever since. Any old Bill Bruford, I’m a huge fan. I was also obsessed with Pete Thomas’s drumming with Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Metal and grunge hit me hard. Matt Cameron was one of my most influential drummers. His feel is pretty unmatched—really laid-back all the time, but it feels like the wheel is constantly moving forward in a natural, even way. I latched on to that at a young age. Vinnie Paul was big, also Neil Peart, Dale Crover, Levon Helm, Dave Grohl, Jim Gordon, and Tom Ardolino from NRBQ. Larrie Londin was also big—my grandfather was a major factor in discovering him and getting his career going.
Also very important are all the guys I was seeing in clubs around town while I was growing up—some of them that made it out to playing with bigger guys and some of them that no one will ever know.
MD: Many of your early inspirations were from rock. Has it informed your country playing in any way?
Jerry: Maybe. In my discography, I do play on some hard-hitting stuff. But even in the very mainstream thing, what gets me hired is my ability to not do that. [laughs] I thought the more rock-leaning, hard-hitting playing, which was very much happening in the aughts and early 2010s in country, would factor in more. But in the past couple of years, I’ve ended up getting hired to do more organic, midrange-y, quieter drums. The country and American roots influences have served me more than the rock stuff has, as far as making a living is concerned.
MD: Of the many tours you’ve done, were there any that were especially lasting learning experiences?
Jerry: You learn something on all of them. On my first lengthy tour at age twenty, I learned how to be myself and get along with other personalities, because it was a smaller environment, touring in a van and playing small venues. It was six months straight with a band called the Legendary Shack Shakers. I lost fifteen pounds playing super fast psychobilly/rockabilly. I learned a lot. There was even a huge fight I had to navigate.
MD: Inter-band politics?
Jerry: No! A fight broke out in the venue we were loading into. We had to get out of there. Somebody threw a cinder block through our windshield, just missing the guitar player’s head.
Also, I’ve toured with a lot of women in my career. That taught me how to be a much better human being. And I learned a lot musically from those gigs. They value their musicians; I felt more treated as an equal on gigs with women leaders. I’m connected from a severely feminist-man perspective. I think women are a lot less tolerant of bullshit and need to have great players behind them. The standard is just higher on those gigs.
MD: Technical musicianship level?
Jerry: Not necessarily more technically accomplished, but more tasteful. I played with Michelle Branch; she didn’t want dudes who played like they were the center of attention. Same thing with k.d. lang, Alison Krauss, and Emmylou. I’m grateful because I gleaned a good perspective on how to play music tastefully and to be a grown man who better works and communicates in the workplace.
MD: Regarding feminism, Friendship Commanders has strong political messages involving equality, human rights….
Jerry: Buick is the direct voice of the band, and she values and lives human/women’s rights. Her songs are based on personal experience, so the message comes through poetic metaphor rather than direct address. Outside of that, we believe that you need to use any influence you have for good. All of our releases benefit progressive charities, so that aligns us directly with liberal politics or leanings. People ask me if being “loud” politically has caused me trouble working in the country genre, but it really hasn’t. It’s never been a problem for me; it’s never caused me trouble—as far as I know. [laughs] But I wouldn’t care if it did.
MD: Your aggressive drumming with Friendship Commanders seems a polar opposite to your studio/touring work with country artists. But is there a thread, drumming-wise?
Jerry: It comes from the same place. Some players approach music from the standpoint of “what’s fun to play,” regardless of the vibe, but I just care about the song and what makes that work. Whether that be a flurry of notes played really loudly, or just hitting the same drum quietly over and over again—if that’s what’s best for the song, I’d rather do that. I enjoy that much more.
In Friendship Commanders, I play real fast and real loud. It’s very athletic. It’s about power and intimidation, almost. I have to be in good shape and make sure I eat well, because it can wear me out. That sets it apart from what I do as a session/touring-for-hire drummer, where I’m really just adapting to a pre-existing template to make a song work the best it can.
MD: Not having a bassist on live dates, do you alter your drumming to compensate?
Jerry: We accidentally ended up as a duo. In typical Nashville fashion, a bass player we’d been working with got a last-minute gig and couldn’t do an out-of-town date we’d booked. So we decided, “Why don’t you [Buick] use this bass rig and guitar amp at the same time and I’ll play my biggest drums, and we’ll just play more.” I played very big drums; I needed more sound, more thunder. And I played more and more aggressively than I would have with a bass player. It occurred naturally and was a wonderful side effect for us.
MD: A big longevity challenge for session players is changing times and tastes. Many once-sought-after musicians have found their shelf lives suddenly cut short. Versatility must help. And adaptability must be key.
Jerry: But I don’t think the answer to that is to be the jack-of-all-trades. The answer is to figure out what’s best and most natural about your playing and figure out how to make that fit in as many places as possible. A lot of people are naturally versatile, and that’s great. But there are still hallmarks to your playing that other people don’t have. I definitely wouldn’t use those in the interest of being more usable overall, because it will have the opposite effect in general. Because otherwise, why would anyone hire you over anyone else?
Two of a Perfect Trio
Jerry Roe on Making Two Sound Like Three
“The name of the game is to always be playing as full and heavy as possible,” says Jerry Roe about Friendship Commanders, the band consisting solely of him and his wife, Buick Audra. “I play really big drums and rely on a fair amount of cymbal wash to take up space, and I approach my parts sort of as if I’m a second rhythm/lead guitar player to Buick’s first rhythm/lead guitar and voice. As in, whenever Buick isn’t singing or playing a focal/lead part, I tend to jump in with something. Whether it’s a flurry of notes or just three very deliberately placed ones, it has to be very propulsive and as melodic as possible while still taking up a lot of sonic real estate. With the kind of (usually very) fast punky rock/metal we play, breaking the momentum for the sake of a ‘sick fill’ could be fatal! I also tend to repeat things and slowly build on them within a song in the hopes of creating drum ‘hooks’ whenever possible.”
Roe’s Studio Setup
Drums: Craviotto Walnut/Cherry Hybrid
A. 8×14 Brass AK snare
B. 10×14 tom
C. 16×16 floor tom
D. 16×18 floor tom
E. 14×24 bass drum
1. 15″ Byzance Brilliant Medium Custom hi-hats
2. 18″ Byzance Jazz Medium Thin crash
3. 24″ Byzance Traditional Medium ride
4. 20″ Byzance Jazz Medium Thin crash
5. 22″ Byzance Sand crashride with rivets
Hardware: DW 9000 series double pedal, hi-hat stand, snare stand, and tom/ cymbal stand and 7000 series cymbal stands; Roc-N-Soc throne with bicycle-style Seat
Heads: Remo, including X14 snare batter and Ambassador Hazy snare side, Ambassador X Coated tom batters and Ambassador Coated resonants, and Powerstroke P3 White Suede bass drum Batter
Sticks: Vic Firth 2B, 5B, and SD4 combo maple
“As far as gear is concerned,” Jerry Roe chuckles, “I use everything, basically.” Pictured in this feature is his typical studio setup. For band gigs he uses a Craviotto Ash kit with baseball bat edges (12×15 tom, 16×18 floor tom, 15×24 kick, and matching 8×14 snare), and Meinl 15″ Pure Alloy hi-hats, 19″ and 20″ Byzance Traditional Medium crashes, and a 23″ Byzance Traditional Heavy ride.