Watching Joe Russo work a drum kit is theatre in motion, a story unfolding in sweat and limbs, the emotions and ideas of a piece playing across this generational standout’s face. When you add your ears to the mix he brings you bodily into the tale, a reminder in our bones of rhythm’s role as storytelling’s pacesetter. A bicentennial baby – he snuck into this world at the tail end of 1976 – Russo is a true blue American musician with a wide open perspective on the role of percussion in an almost ridiculous array of settings, the melting pot ideal in beat-making form.
He’s as adept at the avant-bounce of his longtime duo collaboration with keyboard ninja Marco Benevento (where the daring pair marries classic 60s jazz keyboard-drum dynamics to WHATEVER the fuck falls into their imaginations) as he is as the revitalizing drum force in Grateful Dead torch keepers Furthur. And between these two poles one can find Russo exploring modern electronic grooves in Shpongle as well as past stints with projects as diverse as the Gene Ween Band, American Babies and Younger Brother. If there is one defining thread to these divergent outlets its Russo’s unerring ability to find THE right pulse for the specific moment.
His feel and range are somewhat ludicrous, yet he never comes off as some drum clinic guru. His undisguised delight at finding the mythical “pocket,” even in downright perverse music, always carries over, the technique and endless hours of study and practice invisible when he’s onstage or immersed in studio exploration. This knack for being completely present for the song at hand is one of Russo’s gifts which spills over onto his collaborators. If he’s behind the drums it’s a good bet that everyone else playing with him will be a bit more dialed in, even if only to what Russo is laying down, and the results will be richer, more interesting and more unpredictable (in the finest sense) than they would be without him.
Here’s what Russo had to say in the Impound’s drummer survey.
- Favorite part of a standard trap drum kit – bass drum, floor tom, snare drum, tom-toms or cymbals?
- I love ’em all. I do have to say I get pretty giddy when I get to use my old 28″ marching bass drum. It just makes the whole kit seem liquid.
- Tastiest drummer ever? Tastiest drummer today?
- This one is hard! Ever?!?!? The first person to come to mind is Levon [Helm]. Just so understated and in the pocket at all times. He just has his own approach that is so inventive without being obtrusive. I think Ringo [Starr] would easily fall into that as well. So musical and perfect for the song at all times.
As far as today goes, I’d have to give it to Andrew Barr. He’s just a phenomenal musician all around. I’m always inspired by his approach to songs. When I grow up I want to be Andrew Barr
- A drum solo I never get tired of listening to is…
- Moby Dick
- Preferred brand of drums? Why?
- Ludwig. The first vintage kit I ever got was a ’62 Ludwig silver sparkle kit after I pawned my fancy GMS kit while living in Boulder. Also, being a huge Bonham and Ringo fan, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the Luddys. I’m very lucky to now be on their artist roster and I am beyond grateful. Love ’em.
- John Bonham, Art Blakey or Charlie Watts – which one gives you the biggest drum boner? What makes them SO sweet?
- Bonham Boner for sure! I love all of them but Bonham has always been a huge influence on me. His power mixed with his subtlety really can’t be matched. Everything he did has such absolute intention and conviction. Just a monster.
- One lesser known drummer folks should check out is…
- Again, Andrew Barr is just fantastic. Also, Joe Tomino from the Dub Trio is incredible.
- What aspect of being a drummer always makes you happy?
- All of it. When surrounded by great players, there’s no place I’d rather be.