Gregg Bissonette is one of the hardest hitters in the music industry, a GRAMMY Award-winning drummer who has played with some of the most celebrated names in modern music history-Ringo Starr, Santana, James Taylor, David Lee Roth, Toto, Andrea Bocelli, and Brian Wilson, to name a few. Bissonette is also one of the most-heard drummers in the business, between performances for TV-NBC’s hit show Friends, for example-and soundtracks such as Best in Show, American Pie, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Enchanted, and the Academy Award-winning song Man or Muppet from the film The Muppets.
It’s no wonder Bissonette was voted Best Studio Drummer in the latest Modern Drummer Magazine reader’s poll-an award that speaks to his all-around ability to play any style, any time. His massive versatility ranges from big band, blues, and rock, to Latin, fusion, funk, and beyond.
Bissonette can pinpoint the beginning of his multi-faceted career to a drum set in a basement in Detroit, listening closely to what could be the most influential band ever to exist-the Beatles.
“The first band who really inspired me was the Beatles,” Gregg says. “I remember listening to them at 4 years old I was a huge fan. My dad took my entire family to go see the Beatles when I was 7. The tickets had been sold out for months, but my dad managed to get six!”
Music has been important to the Bissonette family since Gregg’s earliest years. “Both of my parents were great musicians-my dad Bud was a drummer and my first drum teacher, and my mother Phyllis played piano and played vibes in his band.” Music ran through their blood and led each of them to a related path: Gregg’s brother Matt is a bassist and producer, currently touring with Elton John, and his sister Kathy plays violin and works in concert promotion in LA. Gregg and Matt played in bands together throughout high school and college; 1982 found them playing together in Maynard Ferguson’s Big Band, what Gregg refers to as his “dream gig”-the first dream gig, as fate would have it, of many.
Gregg’s “big break” came in the summer of 1985, when David Lee Roth left the iconic rock band, Van Halen, starting his own group. After a daunting audition process, Gregg earned his place in Roth’s newly formed band playing drums, with Steve Vai on guitar, Billy Sheehan on bass, and Brett Tuggle on keys. The band recorded the albums Eat ‘Em & Smile and Skyscraper, both of which went multi-platinum.
After his stretch with Roth, Bissonette was comfortably in the industry’s line of sight. He went on to work with many other major artists, including guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani, joined by his brother Matt, and soon after, rock heavyweights Toto and pop icon ELO. Gregg and Matt also started their own band, the Mustard Seeds, a rock four-piece influenced by King’s X.
Bissonette had another milestone year in 2003 when he got the call to do a promotional tour with Ringo Starr, a coveted spot touring with the drummer Gregg grew up listening to. By 2008, he was a regular member of the All Starr Band. “It’s the greatest gig,” he says of touring with Ringo. “I’m on stage and I look out to my right, and there’s Ringo. I get to play double drums with my favorite drummer-what a ball!” The All Starrs head out for their next tour on October 1, 2015, with the lineup that has toured the world for the past several years. “It’s Mister Mister Richard Page, Steve Lukather from Toto, Todd Rundgren, Gregg Rolie from Santana and Journey, and Warren Ham-it’s such a great group, and we have a blast.”
Besides his prestigious tours and studio work, Gregg is an influential drum educator, with his Gregg Bissonette Drum School online via DrumChannel.com, the world’s biggest online drum education website, and Audix partner. He has released three instructional DVDs and continues to give drum clinics all over the world. Bissonette has also released three solo albums; his latest is Warning Will Robinson. The album includes a bonus second part of drumless tracks that drummers can play along to on their own.
Bissonette is often looked upon in a mentorship capacity, encouraging young drummers to follow their dreams by working hard-advice that has gotten this world-class drummer to where he is today. His tip on making it in the music biz? “Play with musicians! So many drummers practice alone by the hour, rudiments, beats… If you can’t find live musicians to play with every day, just play with music, play with YouTube or iTunes, and try to play what the drummer on the song is playing. That’s the best teacher.”
Gregg’s capacity for finding the perfect groove for the song is unparalleled, making him one of the industry’s most musical drummers. “Concentrate on the groove, and learn to play all genres,” he says. “Big band, Latin, Funk, Afro-Cuban, hip-hop, R&B… Play dynamically, play with other musicians, play in small groups, large groups, small or large venues, all ages, and styles.” More than armchair advice, these are words Bissonette himself has lived by, and by which he has forged his reputation as one of the hardest-working drummers in the business.
Bissonette recently chose Audix for his drum miking setup. “My cousins’ band Deer Park Avenue are Audix endorsers and they introduced me to the mics,” he says. “I love the way my drums sound with the Audix mics-big, full, dynamic. I love the punchiness, and the tone…they record well, and the engineers I’ve worked with love them. It just sounds like my drums, without having to do a lot of EQing, or overcompensating.”
You can see and hear Gregg’s Audix setup at his clinics around the world and catch him on tour with Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band this fall in Northern America.