The Nashville Drummers Jam, a fundraising gathering that honors prominent artists of the drumming community, held its eleventh production at the Mercy Lounge’s Cannery Ballroom in Nashville, Tennessee, this past December 4. At the event, the organization’s founders—drummers Tom Hurst and David Parks, and guitarist Chris Nix—honored Mr. Big drummer Pat Torpey, who would pass away two months after the show from complications of Parkinson’s disease. Proceeds from NDJ11 were donated to Torpey’s choice of charity, the Wounded Warrior Project, which is a nonprofit organization that benefits military veterans and active-duty service members.
“Folks always talk about their favorite drummers,” Parks told MD at the event. “When I sat down to think about who influenced my playing, one man’s name rang out loud and clear: Pat Torpey. His fills and phrasing were always original and exciting.” After inviting Torpey to the show, Parks got a bit of a surprise. “Not only did Pat agree to be here, but his former bandmate, bassist Billy Sheehan, asked if he could come as well.”
Torpey’s career spanned several decades, including work with, among others, Robert Plant, Belinda Carlisle, the Knack, John Parr, and the band he’s most known for playing with, Mr. Big. “While he might be best known as Mr. Big’s drummer, he’s much more than that,” explained William Ellis, a Nashville-based drummer and NDJ regular. “Pat has solo albums too. He played other instruments, and he had a wonderful voice.”
Many top drummers clamored for a spot on the show, including the Offspring’s Pete Parada. “Pat is one of my favorite drummers,” Parada said. “I wore out the first two Mr. Big cassettes. Those were some of the first records I played along to, so Pat taught me how to groove.” Parada played “Bad Motor Scooter” by Montrose, a rock group Torpey played with in the early 2000s.
Korn’s Ray Luzier, who performed at the event, is also intimately familiar with Torpey’s work. “I first discovered Pat at Mates, a rehearsal facility in Los Angeles,” Luzier said. “I’d hear this amazing drumming coming out of one of the other rooms, so [one time] I asked the owner who was playing. He told me it was Torpey tearing it up. Pat would play Latin, rock, and crazy four-way coordination phrases. It was very inspiring, and it made me step up my game.” During his performance, Luzier played a double bass shuffle along with Mr. Big’s “Colorado Bulldog.”
Tracy Broussard (Blake Shelton) performed Mr. Big’s version of Humble Pie’s “30 Days in the Hole.” Sean Paddock (Kenny Chesney) played “Hangover,” a selection from Torpey’s solo album Odd Man Out. “It’s a linear funk pattern,” Paddock explained, “very Garibaldi-esque with some ghost notes.”
While touring with Mr. Big, Torpey customarily performed a drum solo while singing a Beatles tune. Nashville drummer David Black (Easton Corbin), who’s also known for his singing skills, paid homage to that aspect of Torpey’s legacy during his performance at the event. “I didn’t feel as though I could pull off a solo exactly the way Pat did and get the reception he did,” Black admitted. “So I decided to do my own solo and sing the Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life’ while bringing up some of my favorite drummers to each perform a sixty-second solo of their own.” Black recruited Nashville-based drummers Marcus Finnie, Angela Lese, Billy Freeman, and Donnie Marple for the homage.
Mark Poiesz (Tyler Farr) performed one of Torpey’s favorite Mr. Big songs, “Take Cover.” “That song was familiar territory for me,” said Poiesz. “Pat and I shared a love of David Garibaldi’s linear grooves, but Pat made this song really rock. Instead of having the right hand on the hi-hat, it’s on the floor tom, which creates a double kick vibe. He added hi-hat foot splashes in the verses, which is a great four-way coordination exercise.”
This event also marked the first time that an honoree had participated in one of the NDJ gatherings. Torpey, although weakened from Parkinson’s, played with Parks on “Just Take My Heart.”
Billy Sheehan commented on how the event impacted Torpey. “Pat’s a humble guy,” Sheehan said. “I know the event was incredibly gratifying for him. All night people were telling him what his playing meant to them. It was quite touching to see. Pat was very much like a brother to me. He’s probably the closest musician friend I had. I was thrilled to be a part of this tribute.”