Being the backbone of Ratt ‘n’ roll isn’t easy, but somebody has to do it. Bobby Blotzer was such a highly desirable player in the L.A. area a few years back that the members of Ratt had to put up a big struggle to get him to join. At the same time as he joined Ratt, tons of offers were pouring in from top European bands, as well as from local bands who wanted Blotzer to do session work for them.
Oddly enough, Bobby started out as a guitarist back when he was 16 or 17. But when he began comparing himself to his friends who played, he realized he wasn’t that good and switched to drums. Soon he began outplaying every hard rock drummer in the L.A. area, but opted for touring Europe with Swiss artist Vic Vergat, which led to a year-long stint with Nazareth. Bobby also played with Don Dokken for a couple of years, before joining Ratt in the early ’80s.
Despite his long list of credits, Bobby is only 27 years old. Along with Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee, he represents the cream of the L.A. hard rock scene—young drummers who have accomplished an incredible amount in just a few short years. But Bobby is a modest guy, despite the fact that he has a great deal of attention from fans and other players lavished upon him. When off the road, he’s your basic family man—the father of two up-and-coming drummers, Michael, six, and Marcus, four.
Bobby is constantly receiving compliments about his time from other players, and they’re well-deserved; he has spent a great deal of time working with click tracks and recommends that beginning players work with a metronome. Although he’s a bit too shy to do clinics, he’s always happy to take new players under his wing and give them tips on what they need to secure top gigs. this world, and it isn’t to be the best heavy metal drummer. He wants to be known as a versatile player, and he’s well on his way toward that goal.
AR: What got you interested in drumming in the first place?
BB: Well, in ’74 I started playing guitar, but I wasn’t doing too well at it. A friend of mine started playing guitar at the same time as I did, and he was kicking my ass. I had another friend who had started playing the drums, and he wasn’t doing too well, either. I’d go over to his house to play the guitar, but I’d end up on the drums! So we just switched, and I began practicing drums every day. I quit school in the ninth grade and just kept practicing.
AR: Did you have any formal training on the drums?
BB: No, I was entirely self-taught.
AR: What was your first kit like?
BB: It was a mixture of Silvertone, Gretsch and a couple of Rogers toms. I had silver sparkle, orange sparkle, green sparkle—all mixed. It looked pretty dumb. I had really trashy cymbals: Zildjians that were 50 years old and all cracked up. Thank God I got a deal with Paiste in 1980. There are really good people there. I’ve always had cracked cymbals, and now I’ve got so many cymbals that I don’t know what to do with them all!
AR: When did you begin playing professionally?
BB: When I was 19. That’s when I joined a Top-40 band and started making money. Before that, I would be playing three gigs a month and making nothing. By playing Top-40, I learned a valuable lesson. I was playing six or seven sets a night, and just exhausting myself. That’s a valuable piece of advice to aspiring drummers: Don’t overplay! If you do, you’ll lose your gigs quickly, man! Playing Top-40 helped me to stop overplaying, because I was so tired towards the end of the night that I couldn’t play any more fills!
AR: Can you tell me about the groups you were in before Ratt?
BB: I was in Don Dokken’s band for two years, and then Vic Vergat’s band. He’s this guy from Switzerland. I went down to the audition for Vergat and all these guys were trying out, including Frankie Banali, and Jan Uvena from Alcatrazz. I got the gig and I thought, “Wow, 300 bucks a week! Goddam!” . . . because I had been starving my ass off. I went to Europe with Vergat and just stayed over there for a little while. After touring with him, I did two tours with Nazareth over the period of a year. The tour wound up over here, and then right around Christmastime, I got a call saying that I was fired from the band. After I got that phone call, I started doing some local session work in L.A., but nothing really worth talking about.
AR: How did you get to audition for Ratt?
BB: I auditioned Ratt; they didn’t audition me. I knew Stephen [Pearcy, lead singer], and I had seen the guys play before. I knew there was talent, but the drummer and the bass player they had were just horrible—really bad! Anyway, Juan [Croucier, bassist] drove me down to the audition in his truck. He was getting ready to go out of town to play with a Top-40 band in Arizona. This was when Ratt was rehearsing in a garage. I went in and played with them, and then I started packing up my equipment. They said, “Hey wait, what are you doing?” And I said, “Well, I have to go home.” Then they said, “Aren’t you going to leave your stuff?” So I said, “Alright.” I went back a couple more times and just stayed in the band. Thank God!
When they got me in the band, I got rid of the bass player. I just couldn’t play with him, so I said, “Either he goes or I go.” So they let him go. I still see him occasionally. He’s a nice guy, but I just couldn’t play with him. Then we got Juan.
AR: What made you persist through all the dues that Ratt had to pay?
BB: I don’t know. I just did what I had to do. Once, indirectly, I got a call from Krokus, and I got a call from Saxon. I decided that I wasn’t going to play with any more Europeans after Vic. There was just no way! We were starving in Ratt, but we were all like brothers. We still are. We’re going to be doing this for a long time. Nobody knows what the future will bring, but what has held us together is the fact that we love what we do. If you want to be one of the supergroups—selling millions of LPs and playing at large arenas—you have to stay together. You can’t be changing members all the time.
AR: Did you go into rock ‘n’ roll with a glamorous image in mind?
BB: Yeah, I always wanted to join a band that looked like Ratt. The members of Ratt look like rock stars. We’re all having fun playing Ratt ‘n’ roll. We know how to rock, how to party, and how to show someone a good time.
AR: What are Ratt’s after-tour plans?
BB: The record company’s just releasing the third single now, “What You Give Is What You Get.” We made New Year’s Eve the last show of the U.S. tour. We took five weeks off, then went on to Europe, came home for one week, and then headlined in Japan for one week.
Then we took a few more weeks off, and now we’re writing new material. Juan has a mini-studio that he carries around with him all the time. He’s got this giant case with all these effects racks and some unbelievable other stuff. I don’t know how we get it in the bus! On our days off, he brings that into his room and records new stuff. He’s got a drum machine, and the guys go in there and lay down rough ideas. Then I’ll go in there and go crazy with the percussion. I went in there and fried the last song Juan was working on. I laid down the weirdest beat I could think of and had about 9,000 tracks of percussion behind it. The machine couldn’t take it; it started smoking and just stopped working. Thank God it was under warranty!
That happened in Hawaii. The last tour ended in Hawaii, and we stayed there for two weeks. We went over to Maui, where we just relaxed and wrote music. We had condos on the beach—right on the sand. It was great.
AR: You said earlier that, in the beginning, the guys in Ratt were like brothers. Is that still true now, after the success you’ve had?
BB: God, yes. We’re so close that it’s sickening. We’re so much like brothers. For example, if someone is late to an appointment or show, we have a docking system.
Juan is incurably late. His punctuality has always been the worst I’ve ever seen. Last year, everybody would get charged two dollars per minute for being late, but now I think it’s five dollars per minute. When somebody comes in late, everybody starts saying, “Dock! Dock!” but everyone says it with a cough, like this: “Dock! [coughs] Dock!” It’ll drive you crazy! Everyone just rags on everybody else. If somebody says something dumb, it’ll be the joke of the day. Yeah, we’re still very much like brothers; we share everything.
AR: Do you live near each other?
BB: Yeah, but I live right at the beach, and the people are very, well, beachy. It’s pretty gross. It’s very trendy where I live; people go to rock ‘n’ roll sushi bars.
AR: Is it hard on your personal life to be on the road all the time?
BB: It’s hard, but not on an “I-can’t-take-it-anymore-so-I’m-moving-out” kind of level. Yeah, it’s hard, sure, but it’s hard on a lot of people. It’s hard on the guy in the navy to leave his family and friends. My wife, Jenny, is hip to it. Before Ratt, I was with Vic on tour; before that, I was in a Top-40 band. I’ve been with Jenny for almost ten years, and I’ve known her for 15, which is more than half my life. So it’s not easy for her, but she understands. I usually go home a couple of days a month, but I haven’t been home now for about six weeks. I won’t be making it home probably until three weeks from now. I’ve got two boys, and I miss them. I miss my wife. I miss my pad. I miss my privacy. The name of this tour, “Invasion Of Your Privacy,” couldn’t be more fitting, I tell you. This group’s so over the top now that we’ve got all these security guys with walkie-talkies, [imitating security guard] “He’s coming down the hall now. Be on the lookout….” Or girls keep calling and asking for Stephen. To get away from it all, I’ll just go play golf . . . that is, if I have the time or the chance to do it. We’re on the last leg of the tour now, and we’re doing three or four nights on, and one night off. But when we were on the first leg of the tour, we were performing six nights a week.
AR: Does fatigue build up when you’re working so many nights in a row?
BB: The only thing I’m concerned with is keeping my playing fresh. When I’m tired, I’m on automatic pilot; I’ll do the same stuff, and I won’t shake my head as hard. But I love being on the road; I really do.
AR: Are you very health-conscious when you’re on the road?
BB: Yeah, I am health-conscious. This year I’ve dropped 20 pounds on tour, and I’ve cut down on drinking a lot—not that I had a problem or anything. You know, it’s very easy to get bored and get smashed every night. I’m taking a lot of vitamins and I’m trying to eat just square meals, which is hard to do on the road. When you get room service, you get the same junk in every city. Other than that, the band has weights and stuff—not that I’m really into exercising and aerobics. It wouldn’t be a bad idea. I’ve dropped 20 pounds, and now I’m really happy. This is thin for me!
We play almost two hours a night, and I’m playing harder and more aggressively than I’ve ever played. I’ve been sweating a lot; I guess that’s what made me lose all this weight in such a short period of time. I weigh now what I weighed when I was 15.1 want to take more off, but I feel good.
AR: What’s your attitude towards drugs?
BB: I went through my drug stage when I was really young. When you’re growing up and going to school and everybody’s doing it, man, you have to do it, too. You don’t ask; you just do it. With the schools I went to, you had no choice. It was a real peer-pressure thing. I wouldn’t recommend for anyone who’s young to get involved with drugs. Kids are smarter these days, I guess. Kids I meet seem to be a little more hip than we were when we were growing up. Not that I’m old.
AR: Would you consider yourself to be the typical all-American?
BB: Yeah, totally. I was totally into baseball, football, etc. . . . the whole gig. I was the total American guy.
AR: Do you still get nervous before a show?
BB: I get nervous when there’s “family” around—meaning my family, or the families of other band members, or the record company family, or whatever. But no, I don’t really get nervous anymore before the shows. But for some reason, I do get nervous right before my solos come up. I get this weird feeling, like the beater is going to fall out of the pedal or something. It always happens, and I don’t know why. Once I’m in the middle of my solo, everything falls right into place.
My solo is during “The Morning After,” right in the middle after accompanying Juan on his bass solo. We’ve been playing together for almost nine years. He’s a really excellent bass player. Our stage is really big this year, and we have ramps that go up over here and over there. He can be like way the hell over there, and we’ll be doing something at the same time, without even looking at each other. He’ll look over at me, we’ll start laughing, and I’ll know what he’s thinking. He’s thinking, “Man, we’re so tight.” It’s a good feeling when that sort of stuff happens.
AR: Tell me about your current setup.
BB: I’m using a Ludwig kit: double 16 x 26 kicks, 8 1/2″ Colosseum snare, two rack power toms, two floor toms—all double headed. I also use a Simmons SDS7 setup, all Paiste 2002 cymbals and DW5OOO Turbo pedals.
AR: You don’t have any additional percussion? A gong, perhaps?
BB: Well, I have some percussion stuff programmed into the Simmons setup during the show. I used a gong last year, but each year I’ve been trying to do something new. I’ll come out with a new look and a new sound. The kit that I have now was customized by Pat Foley, who did Myron Grombacher’s kit. It’s incredible—the best-sounding kit that I’ve ever had. Who else’s did he do? Jonathan Moffett’s . . . and he’s been in the studio with a lot of people
AR: What kind of sticks do you use?
BB: Dean Markley, size 9R, which is kind of like a 2B.
AR: How long have you been playing double bass?
BB: I just started last year.
AR: Was that hard to adjust to?
BB: No, because I’m not doing anything new or different. I think that Tommy Aldridge and Terry Bozzio are the best double-bass players around, and I’m not doing anything near what they can do. I just take the figure that I would do with my left foot on the hi-hat and apply it to the second bass drum. It’s simple stuff. I basically did it to make the kit look bigger. Everyone in the band had been begging me to do it ever since I joined the band. I’ve always played single kick. If Leonard Haze, from Y & T, can play double-stroke foot patterns with one kick, then who needs two kicks? That’s the way I look at it.
In the studio, I don’t use a double bass at all, which is hard to explain to the youngsters who play drums and who ask me about the records. When they ask me about playing double bass on the records and I tell them that I only play single kick, they always say, “Oh, come on.” For instance, “Sweet Cheater,” which is from this really old EP that we did, kind of sounds like a double bass in a way, but it’s not at all.
AR: Can you tell me about your miking?
BB: Shure SM57’s shock-mounted in the racks and AKG D-12’s shock-mounted inside the floor toms. In the bass drums, we have 57’s inside to trigger the Simmons, which we’re not using right now. We were, but we were having a problem with other Simmons triggering. I couldn’t tell you all the model numbers on the overheads, because I don’t know them. I feel bad; I bet Phil Collins knows what he uses. [laughs]
AR: Do you use the same setup in the studio as you do for live work? You already said that you only use one bass drum in the studio.
BB: Well, on the last two records we used Simmons toms instead of regular toms, because it was a quick way to get a sound that I liked. We used an AMS Digital Delay unit that made them sound like real drums, actually. The attack is a lot better; it’s easier to work with. We used my kick, my snare, my cymbals, and Simmons toms. For the last album, I bought a Ludwig brass snare from Myron Grombacher that sounds great.
AR: What was your first experience with the Simmons drums like?
BB: Weird, because it was like playing on tabletops. That was when they first came out, and they had the real hard pads. Later, they put rubber over them. I don’t remember experiencing the elbow problems that other drummers said they had. I use them a lot live, because they have 16 different presets you can use. So I use four or five different kit sounds—different tom sounds—on different tunes.
AR: Do you listen to any non-rock drumming? I know that you’re mainly a rock drummer, but do you ever listen to drum corps or anything of that nature?
BB: I listened to a drum corps the other morning about 9:00. I was in Philadelphia, and I heard this drum corps outside my window. I thought I was dreaming, but a parade was going by with all these bass drums. But no, I don’t really listen to drum corps—not as a habit.
AR: What kind of music do you listen to in your free time?
BB: I hardly listen to heavy metal at all. I’ll listen to something new to see what it’s about.
AR: Are you interested in playing jazz at all?
BB: If I play jazz, it’s more of a fusion kind of thing. If I do a solo album—which I won’t do for quite a while—I’ll throw a couple of funk numbers in there. But it will still be rock. I’m a rock drummer; I’m not going to try to be something that I’m not. I’m not a jazz drummer, although I love jazz and I love jazz groups. But when I go to see groups, it’s hard for me to get turned on by drummers unless I know them and they’re good. When I go to see players like Vinnie Colaiuta, I go home thinking, “Hell, I could never play like those people.” Like Terry Bozzio—the guy is amazing. Neal Peart’s really incredible. I freak out when those guys play real “outside” and stuff; I don’t play that way. That’s the way it is with drummers: They like the drummers who can do something they can’t do.
AR: Which drummers would you say have been the most influential on your style?
BB: God, there are so many. For double bass, I like Cozy Powell, Tommy Aldridge, and Terry Bozzio. I like Terry Bozzio for everything. Vince Colaiuta has got to be the best drummer I’ve ever seen. I saw Vince play at a club called The Flying Jib out in the San Fernando Valley. You can see him on a Tuesday or Wednesday night for only two bucks, and the guy is insane—absolutely insane!
Let’s see, when I was growing up, Ian Paice was a big influence, as was John Bonham. I like Aynsley Dunbar. On the old Journey stuff, he used to play really well. The first three Journey albums really inspired my drumming a lot, because Aynsley was wild and “outside,” and all that kind of stuff. I could play all of his stuff. Don’t tell him that. He’ll give me hell! Today, I listen to Frankie Banali and Tommy Lee. I was just thinking that my greatest influence in terms of footwork was Larry Hayes. Other drummers I really like include A.J. Pero from Twisted Sister; he’s pretty cool. And Mick Brown’s pretty solid. There are so many cats out there now who are really good; I can’t even think of them all. But if I had to name the one drummer that I really love, it would be Mitch Mitchell. When I listen to old Hendrix records, and I hear all those weird Mitch Mitchell riffs, they just stick with me. I start to play them at sound-checks when I’m fooling around.
AR: What recommendations do you have for young players who are getting discouraged, because they’re not getting any work?
BB: My advice would be to double-check their time. That’s what it’s about, man. When I get compliments from other musicians, it’s usually about time. When I was recording with Vergat, the producer, Dieter Derks, drilled into my head the fact that I should work with a click track. I had done a really weak rehearsal with a click track, and I could feel a real difference in the tempo. The guys in the band kept telling me that I had been speeding up too much. So from then on, even when I was at home watching TV, I would put on a metronome and just play along with a pair of sticks. After a month, I really noticed a difference. At home, I’ve got one of those old things where you can dial in all the different variations of speed. At one point, I was getting really fanatical about it. I wanted my time to be the best. I’d even put the thing on when I was going to sleep.
AR: Do you recommend the use of a metronome for beginning players, or do you think it might discourage them, since it is perfect time?
BB: It’s not your choice. If you don’t have the patience to work with one, you’re going to end up taking grief from someone—like what happened to me. I’m sure that, in the early days, I lost gigs over it. I’m not saying my time’s perfect, but I know it doesn’t stink.
AR: Have you done any clinics yet?
BB: Well, I’ve done a couple of in-store things, and I was beginning to think about doing clinics, but now I don’t know if I’m ready to do that. Aldridge and those guys do them all the time, but I’m afraid of doing them for some reason. I’m afraid that some kid will come up to me and say, “Hey, play in 9/8,” or something like that. [laughs] Do you know what I mean? I can play good drums; I’m not worried about that. I just don’t know if I’m ready to do a clinic. When I do these in-store things, I do them by myself—I don’t have the rest of the band to help me—and it feels kind of weird.
AR: Do you practice a lot in your spare time?
BB: No. I have a practice kit at home, but my kid plays it more than I do. I mean, I play, but I don’t sit down and play for three hours straight. I don’t know how to explain this, but I just can’t sit down and play. I don’t need to practice, because I can go two months without playing and then sit down and play the same way I did before.
AR: Do you use practice pads before a gig?
BB: Yeah. Tico Torres of Bon Jovi gave me this little electronic pad kit, and I warm up on that a little bit. Before that, I would just sit down with a couple of chairs and some sticks, and warm up that way.
AR: I hear you recently got a call from Jon Anderson [formerly of Yes] to do some work with him.
BB: Actually, I saw him at a club in L.A., and he asked me if I’d like to play on his new record. And I said, “Oh yeah, I’d pay you in order to play on your record!” I’ve always loved Yes—completely—and his voice especially. But unfortunately, I couldn’t take him up on the offer due to touring obligations. But I told him, “Always remember me; I’m always going to be around.”
AR: Are you very interested in guesting on other people’s records?
BB: No. I mean, I’ll play with anybody, but I’m fully into Ratt. But if I like the person, I’ll do it. It’s not only the money. Maybe someday the money factor will be a big thing, but it’s not that way right now. I’ll play with someone just because I respect that person musically.
AR: Do you think about your career on a long-term basis—like about where you want to be 20 years from now?
BB: Twenty years? I have no idea. It scares me.
AR: Have you ever considered teaching drums?
BB: I don’t have the patience. What I see myself doing—if I wanted to do something other than playing—is maybe having a music store. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just kick back and be lazy.
AR: What frightens you the most about being in this business?
BB: Finding myself at 40 with no bread. I’d have to be pretty dumb at this point in my life—when Ratt is doing so well—to be in that situation. I’m doing all that I can to make sure that I’m not broke when I’m 40. You hear all these horror stories like, “This guy made five million dollars, and now he’s broke.” Broke, to him, might just be having half a million, but still he shouldn’t have lost that much money, unless he squandered it all on drugs. I think that’s the only way you can lose your bread—on some weird cocaine habit or something.
AR: What are your personal goals? At what point would you really feel like a success as a drummer?
BB: I’d like not to be just a drummer. I’d like to be an all-around performer, but not like Phil Collins. I could never see myself sitting at the piano singing. But I would eventually like to do a solo album just for fun. I’d have all my friends play on it, and I’d play all the guitars and bass and whatever. I can’t sing, though. My voice is terrible, although I have sung on some of our songs, way in the background. But I’m content playing drums; it’s my life and it’s what I was put on this earth to do, obviously. I couldn’t do anything else—as well, anyway. Let’s put it that way.
AR: Do you mind being tagged a “metal” drummer?
BB: I don’t care what I’m called. All I care about is that they like me. Unless people see me live, they don’t know that I’m not just limited to being a “metal” drummer. I’ve been in a lot of different bands. I can play just about everything. I mean, if Jon Anderson asked me to play on his new record, I must be pretty versatile.
The only thing that bothers me about being dubbed “metal” is if people regard me like they regard W.A.S.P.’s drummer—or a drummer in a metal band of that type. Some of the best drummers out there are in metal bands, man. So call me anything you want; just call me good.