Drum & Drummer

Valley jazz musician Rob Schuh pounded skins, pumped iron, shot steroids, went to prison and almost died. Now the feisty trapsman has added an organ to his repertoire -- a transplanted kidney.

Schuh had a great time playing with the Side Street Strutters, but he got fed up with the Disneyland circuit and quit in the late '80s. During the same period, the Craig Render Band split up when Render took a gig with a Top 40 cover band. By then, Schuh was up to his pecs in the bodybuilding movement.

He'd always been a good athlete. As a freshman in high school, he'd run the 100-yard dash in 9.9 seconds. And he'd messed with weightlifting as an adolescent. But it wasn't until he was at ASU that it became a compulsion.

One day, he noticed how flabby he'd become and decided to do something about it.

Rob Schuh teaches a rudiment to 10-year-old Alex Towell at the Scottsdale shop, the Drummer's Den.
Paolo Vescia
Rob Schuh teaches a rudiment to 10-year-old Alex Towell at the Scottsdale shop, the Drummer's Den.
A grisly scar from stomach surgery.
Paolo Vescia
A grisly scar from stomach surgery.

"I went on this nutso diet," he says. "I went from 190 to 140 in about four months, just from aerobics and dieting. Then I started working out again with weights, with the preconception that I was just going to be an in-shape kind of guy. But then I got back in the gym and the bug hit me again about putting weight on. So I got back up to 230."

In a way, bodybuilding replaced drumming as an obsessive physical activity that Schuh could commit to without reservation. By the time he'd reached ASU, Schuh's drumming technique was so well-established that he no longer needed to practice for hours a day. Drumming had become an afterthought, a skill as deeply ingrained as knowing how to use a knife and fork.

Schuh admits that he's "always had a bit of a problem keeping a balance," and he lost all perspective when it came to bodybuilding. In order to maintain his strength and be competitive at contests, he began taking anabolic steroids, which were legal in the 1980s.

He says he first started taking steroids in 1986. He'd use them for eight to 12 weeks at a time and then get off them for a similar period of time. He generally took an injectable steroid called decaderabolin, which was relatively low in toxins. "When I went on dialysis, they were still using it on a lot of patients to keep their red blood cell count up."

He began entering amateur bodybuilding contests in 1987, and won the Mr. Phoenix competition in 1988 and the Arizona Gold Cup in 1989.

In October 1990, he entered a national bodybuilding contest in San Diego and felt a bit run-down. Shortly afterward, he checked into a Redondo Beach hospital, thinking he had bronchitis. Through a biopsy, doctors discovered that he had a kidney disease. Weakened, Schuh moved back to Florida in late 1990, and stayed there almost three years.

By then, Congress had made possession and distribution of anabolic steroids a felony offense. When word reached federal authorities in early 1991 that steroids were turning up on Valley high school campuses, the government began planning a huge sting operation against local steroid peddlers.

A couple of years earlier, Schuh's friend Robert Clapp -- a teacher and unabashed libertarian who had long advocated the use of steroids -- asked him to accept a package of steroids shipped from Europe. Schuh says he passed the package along to Clapp and forgot about it.

On July 8, 1991, 35 people were arrested in the Phoenix area in what the feds dubbed Operation 'Roid Raid. Clapp was branded the ringleader of the Valley's steroid-smuggling ring. In 1993, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy and filing a false income-tax return, for concealing $282,500 obtained through steroid sales.

During the raid, authorities found the package, saw Schuh's name on it and issued a warrant for his arrest. There was only one snag. Schuh was in Florida getting dialysis treatment.

"This was right after my kidneys went, and I was sick as a dog," Schuh says. "Somebody called and said they'd seen my name in the paper, that I'd been arrested. I said, 'What are you talking about? I'm sitting in Florida.' So I called up the U.S. Marshals and told them, 'I'm not dodging you guys. What do I need to do?'

"I was too sick at first to fly out, and finally, I got on a plane and came out here. They did the fingerprint thing, and I saw the judge, and he let me go until the trial date."

Schuh eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and received three years' probation. To this day, he sounds unrepentant about his use of steroids.

"You have to remember, when I was doing that in the '80s, the legality of it was nothing," he says. "It was just like getting some penicillin for a friend. At the gym I trained at in Tempe, you'd walk into the bathroom and there'd be three guys sticking needles in their butts. It was as available as vitamins. Cops were doing it, firemen were out of control with it, because it helped them on the job."

In 1993, Schuh returned to Phoenix after three years in Florida. He says that while in Florida, he had begun experiencing "restless leg syndrome," a condition that created unbearable tingling sensations in his legs and caused them to maniacally kick in every direction when he was asleep or resting. His Florida doctor had prescribed a painkiller for him, which had helped him deal with the condition.

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