I’d like to share with you an experience that my good friend Tom Shelley had this past July. Before I do, I should tell you that Tom is the founder and president of Universal Percussion, which is America’s largest exclusive distributor of percussion products. That means he sells to drum shops the gear that they, in turn, sell to you. He’s a very talented drummer and percussionist in his own right. And he’s also one of the nicest men in the entire percussion industry.
The experience that Tom had was something that any drummer—or anyone even remotely interested in drumming—would envy. He spent eight days with Terry Bozzio.
Over the past couple of years Tom and Terry have been touring the country in a totally unprecedented and unique clinic format. In order to work out details for their next tour, Terry and Tom got together at Universal Percussion’s headquarters in Columbiana, Ohio. And work they did: Some nights didn’t end until 4:00 a.m.
Terry Bozzio needs little introduction to drumming fans. From his groundbreaking performances with Frank Zappa, through his innovative work with The Brecker Brothers, UK, Group 87, and Missing Persons, to his unprecedented work as a solo drum composer, Terry has established himself as a totally original and innovative artist. And then, of course, there’s that incredible drumkit, known throughout the drum world as the “S.S. Bozzio.”
In their duo format Tom accompanies Terry on a percussion rig that rivals Terry’s kit for size and number of components. As he puts it, “Playing with Terry is always an honor—and a challenge—for me.”
Terry and Tom team up for presentations designed to entertain, educate, and inspire all who attend. Terry focuses on drumset performance and technique, and Tom demonstrates how a wide variety of hand percussion instruments are played. Then they play together to illustrate how drumset and percussion can be combined in the most musical fashion. In many venues Tom also conducts a drum circle for children, their parents, and any other interested would-be rhythmatists.
You can catch a few video clips of Tom and Terry taken at previous clinics by visiting youtube.com/universalpercussion.
A large part of the time that Tom and Terry spent together in July was devoted to preparing a beautiful purple birds-eye maple DW kit for their next tour. That kit (which had been in storage in Austin, Texas) is now road-worthy and ready to support Terry’s brilliant playing.
As an addition to that already massive drumkit, Terry asked Tom to build him a 1 ½-octave set of tubular tom-toms. This was a labor of love for Tom, since building tubular toms was actually what got him into the drum-manufacturing and distributing business.
Back in the early 1970s, when Tom was a budding drum retailer, he created some 8″-diameter single-headed tubular drums, which he dubbed “Cannon Toms.” This project taught him that while it’s easy to buy shells and fit them with hardware, making high-quality professional-sounding drums takes a great deal of time, and no small amount of experimentation. His own experimentation included trying all different types of woods, bearing edges, and drum lengths, until he found the combination that produced the best sonic performance. It was a lesson well learned, because over the years Tom has built and sold thousands of Cannon Toms.
Tom hand-crafts each Cannon Tom, making sure that the bearing edges are perfect—a process that involves many painstaking cutting and sanding operations. The final step is to lay a thin layer of wax on the top of the bearing edge. This promotes smooth head-to-shell contact for easy tuning and maximum projection.
The drums are assembled with hardware components designed in the USA and manufactured to Universal Percussion’s stringent specifications overseas. The resulting Cannon Toms are absolutely unique, superior instruments. Frankly, they’d have to be in order to be a worthy part of Terry Bozzio’s performance arsenal.
Terry and Tom had a great time playing, designing, building, and talking about all the great drummers that have graced the music scene over the past fifty years. As Tom told me, “Those eight days reminded me how much fun it is to come to work each day and be able to do what I really love to do. Honestly…it was more like a vacation than a job!”
By the way, Tom and Terry are booking their 2016 clinics now. Check with your drum dealer, or visit the Universal Percussion web site to find out if they’re going to be near you. If they are, you definitely don’t want to miss them.