There are two elements in rock music that don't get the credit they deserve: the percussion and the bass. Both work together to provide the foundation to the beat of the song and the melody. While the bass works as the bridge between the percussion and the rest of the band, the drummer acts as the backbone, a detrimental part of the music that, without it, would often cause the entire composition to collapse.
Great drummers are hard to come by. There’s much more to the art of hitting the skins than speed and strength. It takes tempo — the ability to be a human metronome — and the good taste to know when you should showcase your soloing skills, and when you should draw back and provide a solid backbone for the other instruments. You have to take the time to tune your drums and experiment as much as possible, from double bass kicks to the snare.
The Arizona music scene is a diverse, rich tapestry — there are bands that undoubtedly fall within the genre of jazz, indie rock, or metal, while others do a great job at fusing together styles like pop, funk, hip-hop, and rock to create a sound completely all their own. It goes without saying that this list was difficult to create. Eventually we had to take into consideration some factors: Does the drummer still live in Phoenix? (Yes). Are they currently working with or touring with a band, aka. actively working as a drummer? (Yes.) Do they have to live in the metro Phoenix area, i.e. not Sedona or Prescott? (Yes.) Should they be a part of building the local musical landscape? (Yes.) Do they need to fit into one genre? (No.)
That’s why the number of shout-outs we’d like to send out into the void is vast — seriously, this list was originally 30 strong. So without further adieu, in no particular order, here is our list of the top 10 drummers in the Valley and surrounding areas.
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10. Zack R. Sewell – (sic)monic
While Sewell has played with about 25 different bands — sometimes up to five at any given time — he’s found his true home in (sic)monic. The progressive heavy metal quintet is experimental and edgy, and has been noticed by outlets like Aural Music and Jackson Guitars. A few weeks ago, we even included the group on our recent Ten Best Arizona Metal Bands of All Time roundup.
Sewell contributes to the band’s structure with his punchy impetuous style and his drumming is a perfect competitive balance to the soaring guitars, melodic bridges, and sandpapery, growling vocals. His explosive “championship” mindset is fitting, considering he approaches his drumming like a sport: He has dabbled in bull riding, is a two-time Arizona kids' freestyle wrestling champion, and a 2008 International Brazilian jujitsu novice champion.
9. Eric Bongiorno — Razer
Since he was 10 years old, Bongiorno has been training in an array of genres — think classical, jazz, and a deeply rooted love for Sabbath — which has made him such a standout Phoenix drummer today. After earning a first-chair timpanist seat at Oklahoma State University, he went on to be featured in Modern Drummer magazine, shared the stage with icons like Bruce Dickinson, Judas Priest, and Buck Cherry, and recorded in-studio with Marty Friedman. It’s in Razer where he excels at incorporating a little taste of everything into his arsenal, laying down the most genre-unique attributes of drumming from rock to R&B, funk to metal.
Even though the band released their debut album more than half a decade ago, 2015’s self-titled album confirms just why Razer caught the attention of Guns N’ Roses manager Alan Niven years back, and are now signed to his Prescott-based Tru-B-Dor Records. Besides the fact that the band recorded it at Detroit’s Pearl Sound Studios (which has one of the best drum rooms in the U.S.), the record truly puts Bongiorno’s ability on display, from perfectly nailing the drums within a few takes, to his refusal to include drum sampling.
8. Greg Hall — Sacred Reich
A list of Phoenix drummers wouldn’t be complete without the legendary Greg Hall, who has been a strong component of not only the desert metal scene, but the American thrash landscape with the band Sacred Reich. Some may call him an underrated drummer, but I’ve since changed my opinion about that because true fans of thrash — and the Reich — are acutely aware of his talent and contribution. Yes; while many thrash drummers’ motto is to play as fast as humanly possible—Sacred Reich is known for very, very fast drum speeds—Hall also does a great job at knowing that there’s a time to play fast and a time to just play, and he shies away from cliché drum licks. Sacred Reich is loved for their balance of socially conscious (yet often politically charged) lyrical content, ability to have fun and not take themselves too seriously, and powerful instrumentals—and Hall has helped create that musical persona.
7. Lee Reichenbacher — Deathgrip and Desert Plains
It doesn’t matter what Deathgrip song you listen to first: One of the first musical elements you’ll notice is the pure melodic thrashcore drumming. When Reichenbacher was only 8, his dad — a percussionist who auditioned for Ike and Tina Turner and Chuck Berry — purchased his son a drum set. Over the years, Reichenbacher has played with an array of desert metal bands, and he currently is a member of two: Desert Plains, a Judas Priest cover band, and Deathgrip. Rollicking double bass kicks is Reichenbacher’s trademark, but his transition from the steamrolling pure power to the more melodic, atmospheric interludes that randomly pop up Deathgrip’s repertoire is seamless.
6. Bobby Blades – Soundmankillz and The Spider Hole
Bobby Blades’ name is well known in the AZ music scene as a valued drummer. After starting out in junior high in the school band, he found inspiration in '80s and '90s thrash metal bands (making double bass drumming a heavy part of his repertoire) as well as drummers like Neil Peart and Billy Cobham. Blades went on to work in musical projects like Back from Ashes, Deadline, and Pathetic, and now is a member of two bands: the metal/electronic rockers Soundmankillz, and the alt rock band The Spider Hole.
Soundmankillz list of influences range from Ministry to Sevendust, and the band just released their new full-length, Until The End, in March. The music and style of Soundmankillz is strangely magnetic to just about any fan who appreciates rock, hip-hop, and funk, while The Spider Hole is releasing new music in the upcoming months as well, and has been hailed as one of the most unique and entertaining musical acts in the Valley — and drummer Blades is a key factor in both bands’ consistency and energetic live performance.
5. Zyon Cavalera — Soufly and Lody Kong
You may think that the Cavalera boys get the praise because of their name — but you’d be wrong. Max Cavalera’s boys have contributed a ton to the local music scene, from Richie’s band Incite to Zyon joining Max and Igor (Max’s brother) in Cavalera Conspiracy, to Igor and Zyon’s sludge metal/punk act Lody Kong. Zyon, one of the youngest, is currently the skinman for Soulfly and Lody Kong, the latter of which releases its debut full-length album, Dreams and Visions, on March 25.
Zyon pulls inspiration from a range of genres, from groove and death metal, to tribal and hardcore punk. It goes without saying that these boys have had the opportunity to be around some of the biggest musical legends while growing up — and they absorbed it all like a sponge. Zyon has the ability to light a fire under metal fans, and brings raw talent and passion to the table. Then again, the Cavaleras have always had a flair for eclectic: Max added Zyon’s utero heartbeat into the start of Sepultura’s ’93 tune “Refuse/Resist.”
4. John Ogle — Pelvic Meatloaf
Competing with the decibels of Pelvic Meatloaf frontman Rich Formy vocals — or hell, even the dueling guitarists Bryan Filson and Dejan Knezevic — can, at times, seem like a fool’s errand. But that’s probably one of the reasons drummer John Ogle’s percussion skills have stood the test of time in the band ... more than 20 years, to be exact. Ogle began playing at the age of 10, and fell in love with ’80s pop and hard rock, including Rush and Van Halen. He studied music at the University of Nebraska, and after playing in a few bands joined local legends Pelvic Meatloaf in ’97 (although he played with Motive and BLESSEDBETHYNAME when Pelvic broke up from 2000 to 2007). But it isn’t just his ability to provide a steady powerful bridge that links the other chaotic elements together — it’s also about his machine-gun blast beats, crashing cymbals, and ability to blend unique tempos. It's impressive, since this key element in Pelvic Meatloaf’s metal chaos admits he’s more likely to listen to Steely Dan than Slayer these days.
3. Brian Regalado — Sectas
When Regalado was around 3 years old, Mötley Crüe was on regular rotation in his house, and, blown away by Tommy Lee, he would practice on toy drums until he could get his real drum set at the age of 12. He wasn’t so interested in teaching himself the “proper” way to drum to take lessons; Regalado learned by emulating his favorites — Vinnie Paul, Nick Menaz, and so forth. Practicing was — and is — paramount in his eyes. After starting a few death- and black-metal bands, he found himself in the power rock trio Sectas, a band that originally scraped its way from Mexico to take over the Arizona rock music scene [note: Regalado was not with the band in Mexico]. That doesn't diminish Regalado's breadth of talent, though. The band is garnering lots of attention locally and won the Producer’s Choice Hard Rock Band of the Year (2015) at the LA Music Awards.
2. Nick Ramirez — Harper and the Moths, Decker, Rose Colored Eyes
Ramirez is one of those dynamic drummers that can nail just about any genre — over the past 15 years he’s performed with more than two dozen bands and artists including Vistalance (metal/rock), Butcher Jones (Western, dirty rock), The Dead Eyes of London (psychedelic, vintage rockabilly), Zero Zero (the electrofuzzpop side project of The Love Me Nots founders), Harper and the Moths (soul pop dance rock), and Decker (psychedelic desert folk). He’s even had a solo endeavor as a DJ mixing EDM, multimedia, and performance art. Something I’ve always noticed about Ramirez is that the drum kit is truly an extension of himself; there’s never been a show where I didn’t hear someone in the crowd compare his drumming energy to that of the Muppets’ Animal.
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1. Jeremy Jalowiec – Howitzer
Jeremy Jalowiec decided to become a drummer at the age of 8 after his parents took him to see the rock opera Tommy by The Who. Ever since then, he’s focused on how bands and communities of music can, and should be, built: by bringing people together to capture a musical moment and time. As drummer/vocalist of the three-piece metal outfit Howitzer for the past 15 years, Jalowiec has helped develop the band’s unique brand of thrash (which emphasizes groove and dynamics), pulling from influences that range from Cream to the Ramones to Pantera.
Their live performance has allowed them to share the bill with bands like Suicidal Tendencies, Five Finger Death Punch, and Hatebreed. On top of that, the band has had a strong hand in helping build the local musical landscape, and Jalowiec is a key component to that equation, organizing annual events like Desert Frostover that hosts dozens of bands over the course of two days.