I've been a drummer all of my life. My mom tells a story of how I wandered into the next door neighbor's garage when I was two and started banging on some pots that were stored there. I picked up a real pair of sticks in fourth grade, and have never stopped. I played in high school band, and was introduced to a teacher who'd been involved in something called drum & bugle corps... I looked into a group in the Boston area, joined, and discovered that for several reasons, I loved it more than anything in life up to that time (except maybe girls...). While I was in the corps, I remember having nightmares in which I was literally crying because I had "aged out" and couldn't march anymore. (drum corps is a youth activity for those aged 21 and under). Fortunately, I was able to become an instructor for my beloved 27th Lancers Drum & Bugle Corps for two years after that. Unfortunately, changing times in the drum corps world then caused the corps break up. Fortunately, this eventually led to a personal crisis for me that changed my life forever...
I know, that doesn't make a lot of sense, but it will - trust me.
By this time I was 23, a rebel, and having experienced freedom of "doing what you love", I was now a full fledged non-conformist with no direction forward. My parents recommended that I "get into computers", so I took a six month electronics course and started working for a field service computer repair company. It was good money for a 24 year old, but the angst to work hard at something compelling - and succeed - was still boiling under the surface.
After several months of dealing with people made unhappy by malfunctioning computers, I decided to go to college. I applied to UNH - New Hampshire's biggest state school, and somehow got accepted. I still didn't realize I was going to major in music, but it was a step forward.
And that was when everything fell apart.
I quit work early to go on a mountain hike in Vermont, about 3 weeks before school started, and there, at the base of Mount Mansfield, my life transitioned from monaural to stereophonic. Instead of everything having an absolute separateness and particularity - such as a tree - I began to recognize that there may be another meaning behind my banal understanding of the world. I didn't know it then, but I would eventually begin to understand that the tree wasn't just a tree, but a part of a whole expression of reality, in which anything that exists has no separate identity - including people. I began to understand that old joke:
Q - What did the Zen student say to the hot dog vendor?
A - "Make me one with everything".
My mind was literally blown, and it took me about a year to find my bearings. They used to call this event a "breakdown", and now, more appropriately, it's called a "breakthrough". During this time - and purely by chance - I saw the Bill Moyers interview with Mythologist Joseph Campbell, which was the first step in understanding the new world I'd found myself in (I would find myself returning to Campbell's work many times in the coming years). I wasn't able to start school just yet, but when I went back a year later, I majored in music performance.
"Everything happens for a reason", they say, and I agree. Looking back, it now seems that what appeared to be totally chance events have led me further down my musical path. For example, after I finished my 4 year degree, I was once again clueless about my next step in life . I'd graduated in December, but my jazz band leader suggested I join the band in January to play at a Jazz Educator's conference in Boston. We did our show, and as I was walking around the conference center, I happened to start talking to a guy at the University of Southern California booth. He mentioned that the USC Jazz Department was looking for grad students/teacher's assistants. Long story short, I apply (the only school I applied to) and get accepted.
Right before I began working on my masters at USC, the Lancers put on an alumni reunion exhibition show at the Drum Corps International Championships in Foxborough, MA. There were over 300 members on the field, and I played in sync with 27 other snare drummers. There was a huge crowd in attendance and we had - by far - the biggest ovations of the night. Once again I got a big emotional push from my first musical love.
So now I'm living in Los Angeles, thousands of miles from home. During my first semester, I go to a big-band jazz concert and get introduced to a fellow drummer. He mentions that he knows a band leader at a local community college who has no drummer, and maybe I could get some extra practice. So I contact the guy, and ended up playing 3 semesters for the Pasadena City College Jazz Band.
Two years down the road, I've graduated from USC, and again, I have no idea what's next. I began working with a developmentally disabled guy as a sideline, was playing a few gigs, and after about a year I get a letter from that band leader at PCC. Turns out he's also the department chair, and he's letting me know they now need a drum set instructor.... I apply and get the job, and end up teaching drums and music theory/ear training for 11 years...
Towards the end of those 11 years, I began feeling that angst again. Why? I've always loved Americana Rock music, and while jazz is a tremendous tradition, my heart was elsewhere, which turned out to be Nashville.
Nashville is obviously known as a country music town, but I'd gone to high school with Jeff Coffin, the saxophonist with the Dave Mathews Band, and he lives in Nashville. DMB is definitely not country, and after looking deeper, I discovered that Nashville hosts all kinds of Americana based music, so I quit my teaching gig, grabbed my drums, and headed back east.
I had about $10,000 in a retirement fund by then (I was making $50/hr when I left PCC), and spent that in my transition and acclimation. Nashville hasn't been easy, but again, that has played to my advantage. I've been in three separate bands that blew apart for the usual reasons - personalities - and I've been in three relationships that ended unhappily since I moved here. But that's how this project got started. Now I make all of the creative decisions, and my life experience has given me what it takes to write a song.
This is what "following your heart" means - working hard at the thing that drives you. It's not always easy, but as I've tried to point out, doors will open in unexpected ways when you do so. I've got a lot done, with still a lot to do - record vocals for several songs, record drums and other instruments in the studio, hire and pay musicians, pay for studio mixing and editing time, mastering, marketing, etc.