Since 2012, drummers David Parks and Tom Hurst, along with guitarist Chris Nix, have hosted the biannual Nashville Drummers Jam benefit concert. The event began as a one-off show to raise money for King’s X drummer Jerry Gaskill after he suffered a debilitating heart attack. Following on the success of the first benefit, Parks, Hurst, and Nix held NDJ shows for other musicians in need. For each edition, the organizers would dedicate the concert to an accomplished drummer—such as Jeff Porcaro, Stewart Copeland, or Alex Van Halen—and create a set list around that player’s music. This past May 15, the tenth edition of the event paid homage to the late funk pioneer and James Brown alumnus Clyde Stubblefield, at Mercy Lounge’s Cannery Ballroom in Nashville.
Seventeen pairs of drummers took the stage over the course of the evening—a welcome performance setting for Keith Urban sticksman Seth Rausch, who played James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” with Easton Corbin’s drummer, Gregg Lohman. “Drummers don’t typically get to have the experience of playing together,” Rausch said before the performance. “It’s a slow 6/8 tune, and we found a great live version that we tried to replicate. It’s a straight-ahead groove, but we’ll probably sneak in some ghost notes.”
Tyler Farr’s Mark Poiesz and Craig Morgan’s Russ Whitman played Brown’s “Get on the Good Foot,” which pushed both drummers out of their comfort zone. “I’m excited about playing this song with Russ, because it’s one of the classics,” Poiesz said. “Folks might think we have a heavy touch, so it’ll be fun to demonstrate our ability to play something a little bit crispier. This style has a lot more snap, crackle, and pop, and a lot more relentless head bobbing. It’s pocket the whole way through.”
One of the more anticipated pairings of the show was Korn’s Ray Luzier and Steven Tyler’s Sarah Tomek, who teamed up to play “Soul Power.” “It isn’t one of Brown’s giant hits,” Luzier told MD, “but all the grooves are really hip and funky. Clyde was one of the funkiest drummers on the planet—and I always felt like we had a lot in common. I’d heard that James was really demanding and tough to work with, and I worked with David Lee Roth for eight years, who was very demanding. With Roth, you had to constantly be on alert. If he dropped his finger you had to immediately drop your volume. Brown did a lot of that as well, and I’ll be en-visioning James staring and yelling at me while I play.” [laughs]
Among the show highlights, Brothers Osborne’s Adam Box played Brown’s “Mother Popcorn” with Little Big Town’s Hubert Payne. “I wasn’t familiar with the song when Hubert suggested I join him,” Box said. “But when I listened to it, I realized that the groove is my go-to when I sit down at a kit. If I’m demoing drums at a shop or anything like that, this is the groove I play. So this song felt very natural for me.”
Reflecting on his standout performance of Brown’s “Funky Drummer” with Chase Rice’s Jeremy Roberson, Marcus Finnie (Keb Mo, Taj Mahal) explained how the pair considered tackling the song. “At first I thought we’d just play the tune and keep it funky,” Finnie said. “But once I saw the liberties that other performers were taking, we decided to really go for it.” The two played off each other while building the groove, before seizing the audience’s attention with a series of improvised fours. “Marcus definitely started it,” Roberson said with a laugh after they played. “He laid down this funky groove with his own twist, and then I came back with a similar groove with my own thing on it. We were building blocks with no agenda—having a conversation back and forth on the drums.” Finnie clearly enjoyed himself immensely. “We should go all out for any drummer we pay homage to,” he said. “And I believe we all did just that!”
Other drummers performing at the event included Ben Sesar (Brad Paisley), Nick Buda (Taylor Swift), Chris McHugh (studio), Matt Billingslea (Taylor Swift), Kent Slucher (Luke Bryan), Lester Estelle (Kelly Clarkson), Rich Redmond (Jason Aldean), Angela Lese (the Dead Deads), and Caleb Gilbreath (Brett Eldredge). Funds raised from the event went toward purchasing a headstone for Stubblefield.