Category: Drummers

Jerrie Thill: She's 91 and still rocking (and there's a new YouTube video to prove it)

Jerriethill What do you get when you combine a 91-year-old female drummer on an oxygen tank; an eccentric, Grammy-winning songwriter; and one of L.A.'s funkiest, hyper-local galleries? A party that will likely be unlike any you've ever attended.

The drummer is Jerrie Thill, a spunky phenom from the Jazz Age who still performs at the El Cid in Silver Lake. The songwriter is Allee Willis, who has penned a wildly diverse catalog of tunes including the theme to "Friends," the Pointer Sisters' "Neutron Dance" and "The Color Purple" musical. The gallery is Ghettogloss, the tiny Silver Lake-salon-that-could. The fortunate union of the three is in celebration of the YouTube premiere of a music video called "Hey Jerrie," directed by Willis and starring Thill.

The video features a catchy, jazz-driven number that Willis wrote and animated photos from Thill's life of drumming (featuring almost as many era-defining styles as I have fingers), interspersed with footage of Jerrie, as she is today, swinging her brushes above her head and pleasantly tap, tap, tapping on her kit.

"I generally like very offbeat talent," explains Willis. "But Jerrie is just a fine musician." Willis had already made a number of music videos featuring herself as her alter-ego "Bubbles" when she discovered Thill, who was playing her monthly Sunday gig at El Cid. Willis was immediately bowled over by the spunky nonagenarian. "I adored being around her," she says.

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Jerome Flood II wins Guitar Center Drum-Off finals


From his opening drum roll of the "20th Century Fox Fanfare" to the end of his re-creation of the entire composition -- including ALL the orchestra parts -- on only his drum kit, Jerome Flood II was the man to beat in the Guitar Center Drum-Off finals. All six finalists at Saturday night's competition were impressive, but Flood wasn't just another drummer with amazing chops who knew how to string together a funky groove. Here's a drummer who's willing to go so far off-book, he's out of the library.(See for yourself by checking out this video of his set.)

Wearing a bright orange shirt* that spelled out Jesus in the Reese's peanut butter cup logo, Flood looked like he was having the time of his life during his five-minute set. The man had flair and originality, and the pros on the judging panel appreciated it.

Now in its 20th year, the Guitar Center Drum-Offs is the final showdown after months of regional contests held at Guitar Center stores around the country. Flood, a 22-year-old Rochester, N.Y., native who now lives in Atlanta, has been playing drums since he was 2 years old. But even after all those years of practice, Flood didn't win until his fifth year in the Drum-Offs. That should give hope to all the drummers picked off in the earlier rounds of this year's contest.

Aside from the contest itself, the evening's show-stopper was a 20-minute percussion set by Austrian drummer Thomas Lang and Mars Volta drummer Thomas Pridgen, who in 1993 at age 9 was the youngest person to ever win the Drum-Offs. He was the ultimate bad-ass on Saturday night -- playing shirtless, sucking a lollipop and flailing like Animal from the Muppets. And that's exactly what you want in a drummer.

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Guitar Center Drum-off grand finals this Saturday


It was like Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July rolled into one drum kit. As soon as Thomas Pridgen saw those glorious, gleaming drums, he knew they were meant for him.

Preternaturally self-confident at only 9 years old, Pridgen entered the Guitar Center Drum-Off, and round after round he blew away drummers who were two and three times his age. "I told everybody I knew that I was going to win," Pridgen says. "They asked me, 'What if you don't win?' But it was like seeing a bright, shiny red bike. I knew I had to have that drum set."

Without a trace of nerves, he tore through his five-minute solo, easily winning the Drum-Off finals and making it clear that a new drumming phenomenon had just bounded into the spotlight.

Sixteen years later, Pridgen, now the drummer for the prog-metal band Mars Volta, will be judging the contenders at the 20th annual Drum-Off grand finals Saturday at the Music Box at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood. The festivities also feature performances, including one from the band Papa Roach.

But it's the competition that counts, and the stakes are high. Along with Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters, Danny Carey of Tool, Alan White of Yes and seven to 10 other drummers (possibly including Tommy Lee), the judges will pick a winner from among six finalists who have collectively beaten nearly 5,000 competitors.

Winning can be a steppingstone to a pro career. Previous winner Eric Moore (2003) is the drummer for Suicidal Tendencies, and Cora "C.C." Dunham (2002) drums for Prince. Last year's winner, Donnie Marple of Keyser, W. Va., has moved to Nashville and is pursuing a career under the wing of his idol, Thomas Lang.

The judges rate the contestants on five criteria: originality, technique, style, stage presence and overall performance. Winning isn't all about triple ratamacues, single-stroke rolls and precise paradiddles.

"All of the finalists are beyond good as far as being able to display an array of chops," says No Doubt drummer Adrian Young, another judge. "But some guys forget to lay down a really good groove because they're trying to jam in as many fancy things and fast notes as possible. On top of that, are they playing with style? Are they fun to watch? Both are necessary."

--Elina Shatkin

Drum-Off grand finals at the Music Box at the Henry Fonda Theater, 6126 Hollywood Blvd., L.A. 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 10. $15.

Photo: Guitar Center Drum-Off Championship finalist Ivan Garcia delights the crowd at the Music Box at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood, Calif. on Jan. 5, 2008. (Stefano Paltera / For The Times) 


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