Terry John Bozzio was born on December 27, 1950 to Italian-American parents in San Francisco, California. His upbringing was fairly simple. Music was a part of his life from the get-go and was always around him. Terry Bozzio’s mother had sing in the high-school band, while his father was once a child-prodigy accordion player.
Television was Terry Bozzio’s window to the world of percussion. It was through it that he was first exposed to the infectious energy of drum-set playing at the age of six. Inspired by child drummers like Cubby O’Brien from Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club, Terry Bozzio began playing on household items to simulate the drumming of Tito Puente. At the age of 10, Terry Bozzio was given his first real drums in the form of a set of bongos. Instead of using them to play, Terry Bozzio took them apart to create a makeshift drum set. Once his contraption was set, he played along to music from bands like The Ventures and The Beach Boys while using broken arrows from his archery set as drumsticks.
In February, 1964 everything changed for the 13-year-old Terry Bozzio. After watching The Beatles play live on The Ed Sullivan Show, he begged his father to get him into some drum lessons. On July 15, 1964 Terry Bozzio’s wish was granted when he began taking drum lesson with two teachers: Todd Fleicher and Ken Blewer.
“That was it. I told my dad I had to have drum lessons. Ringo had a small kit and he sat high so you could see him play. So I sat in front of a mirror we had in the living room and I emulated his movements. By the time I took my first drum lessons I was ready to go because I had practiced it in my mind and mimed it so much. My teachers told me I was four or five weeks ahead as far as coordination and that stuff.” – Terry Bozzio in “Makings Of A Complex Man” by Jared Cobb, Traps Magazine, Autumn 2008.
Terry Bozzio began his studies with a practice pad, drumsticks and books like George Laurence Stone’s Stick Control and Ted Reed’s Syncopation For The Modern Drummer. For the following six months he’d learn how to read music and all the basic drum beats and drum rudiments.
Throughout his years in Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo, California Terry Bozzio played in various garage bands. Blue Glass Radio, The Yarde, and Tamalpaias Jungle Mountain Boys were some of the projects he was involved with. In 1968 he was awarded a music scholarship that enabled him to pursue music studies at a college level. Terry Bozzio studied in the College Of Marin, California concurrently with Chuck Brown on drum set and Lloyd Davis and Roland Kohloff (San Francisco Symphony percussionists) on percussion and timpani.
By the end of the sixties and early-seventies the music scene was quickly changing. Heavy-rock acts like Jimi Hendrix, Cream and Led Zeppelin where being replaced in the pop realm by singer/ songwriters like Elton John and David Bowie. Pop music lost its appeal to a drummer like Terry Bozzio, who quickly felt the urge to check more demanding and interesting genres like jazz and classical music.
“I really felt like I was at square one. It was one of those complete ‘collapse-and-build-yourself-back-up’ moments. My teacher, Chuck Brown, changed my hand technique, which kind of crippled me. And I was used to playing loud and letting go, and it’s hard to groove at a soft level – that’s definitely a cultivated art.” – Terry Bozzio in “Makings Of A Complex Man” by Jared Cobb, Traps Magazine, Autumn 2008.
This huge undertaking Terry Bozzio was going through challenged him like nothing else had ever done at the time. He was waking up at six in the morning so he could practice for two hours before school. He became the first-call drummer in college where he was used for various types of situations. Terry Bozzio got to play for the Marin Symphony and Napa Symphony and was always chosen for the faculty/students combination concerts. He also attended jazz classes as well, where he met people like Mark Isham and Pete Maunu who taught him a lot about the style.
After graduating from college, Terry Bozzio was able to move out of his parent’s house and start making a living out of his drumming. He secured a 13-month gig with the rock-musical Godspell, was enlisted as the drummer for the bands Azteca, Listen and the musical Walking In My Time. It was during this time that Terry Bozzio made his debut on a recorded CD, namely, for Latin trumpeter Luis Gasca. The album featured great names of jazz like Jack DeJohnette, George Duke and Joe Henderson. From there on Terry Bozzio became a regular on the San Francisco studio and club scene and in the Monday Night Jim Dukey Big Band at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall.
In 1975, Terry Bozzio got a life-changing call from George Duke. Frank Zappa was auditioning drummers in Los Angeles, California and George wanted to know if Terry was interested in being one of them. Terry Bozzio had never heard any Frank Zappa albums at that point in time. Nonetheless, he decided to take a plain to Los Angeles, California and give it a shot since this posed as an opportunity of a lifetime. A couple of days before, Terry Bozzio decided to buy two of Frank Zappa’s records: Roxy & Elsewhere (1974) and Apostrophe (1975). Terry was blown away and scarred by the music. For the following days he had trouble sleeping and was so nervous he hardly practiced.
“You had this incredibly complex music going on. Then you had the sheer volume of memorization of this stuff. It was all just overwhelming. I had no idea this music even existed, that this guy could do all of this…” – Terry Bozzio in “Makings Of A Complex Man” by Jared Cobb, Traps Magazine, Autumn 2008.
The day of the audition, Frank Zappa’s rehearsal space had around 50 drummers waiting for their turn to shine. Drummers dropped like flies because they weren’t good readers or weren’t listening to what the band was playing. After taking center stage, Terry Bozzio had to go through various tests: playing an approximate representation of a very complicated piece of music as he sightread it, memorizing the structure of a piece of music and then play over it, perform in 19/16 time signature and in a groove-based style of music to see how good was his feel. After hearing Terry Bozzio’s performance, all the remaining drummers refused to audition. Without any other drummer to review, Frank Zappa welcomed Terry Bozzio to Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention since he had really enjoyed how he sounded.
Terry Bozzio stayed with Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention for three years. During that time, he performed on three world tours and Saturday Night Live. Terry Bozzio contributed drum parts for Frank’s albums as an official band member from 1975 to 1978 and as guest artist for many of the albums that ensued. Bongo Fury (1975), Zoot Allures (1976), Zappa In New York (1978), Studio Tan (1978), Sleep Dirt (1979), Sheik Yerbouti (1979), Orchestral Favorites (1979), Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar (1981), Baby Snakes (1983) and Thing-Fish (1984) are some of the Frank Zappa albums you can find Terry Bozzio’s drumming in. During his tenure with Frank Zappa, Terry Bozzio recorded Heavy Metal Be-Bop (1977) with the Brecker Brothers, one of the most significant albums in jazz-fusion history.
“In my case, he (Frank Zappa) sensed I was ready to go and he said, ‘I think it’s time you go off and do your own thing.’ I said the same thing to him as when I was asked to join the band: ‘Are you sure I can do this?’ Like a good father he kicked me out of the nest. And it took me a while to learn how to fly.” Terry Bozzio in “Makings Of A Complex Man” by Jared Cobb, Traps Magazine, Autumn 2008.
After leaving Frank Zappa, Terry Bozzio recorded drums for Group 87’s self-titled debut album. In 1979 he joined progressive-rock super-group UK and recorded two albums with them: Danger Money (1979) and Night After Night (1979). After touring the United States (US) twice, Europe and Japan as a supporting act for Jethro Tull, UK called it quits. Shortly thereafter, Terry Bozzio joined forces with Dale Bozzio, his wife at the time, and Warren Cuccurullo, Frank Zappa’s ex-guitarist, to form the band Missing Persons.
They eventually added Patrick O’Hearn (bass) and Chuck Wild (keyboard) to the band and recorded a self-titled four-song extended play (EP) shortly thereafter. The EP was heavily promoted with tours and a cameo in the movie Lunch Wagon (1981). Missing Persons quickly became a must-see band among the Los Angeles live-music audience, selling over 7000 copies of their EP. After two years of hard work, Missing Persons was signed by Capitol Records. In 1982 the EP was re-released, selling around half million copies. Spring Session M, a full-length album, was released in that same year. Heavy rotation of the music video for the song “Words” on the recently created MTV channel helped the band sell over half-million records and earn a gold certification.
Missing Persons’ next studio release Rhyme & Reason (1984) wasn’t as successful. The following year, Terry Bozzio was invited to record Solo Drums, his first instructional video. In 1986, Missing Persons followed Rhyme & Reason with a less experimental Color In Your Life. During the short-lived promotional tour, increasing tensions between Terry and Dale Bozzio led to the end of the tour, the couple’s marriage and the band.
With Missing Persons out of the way, Terry Bozzio joined ex-Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor’s solo band and also played on sessions for Robbie Robertson, Gary Wright, Don Dokken, XYZ, Paul Hyde, Herbie Hancock, Dweezil Zappa, and Richard Marx. He began touring as a clinician/solo drummer and would later team up with Jeff Beck & keyboardist Tony Hymas to co-write/produce and perform on the Grammy-Award winning album Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop (1989).
In the early 1990s, Terry Bozzio recorded his second instructional video Melodic Drumming and the Ostinato and his first solo album Solo Drum Music (1992). He joined Tony Hymas, Toney Coe and Hugh Burns to form the Lonely Bears and contributed drums for their three studio-albums: The Lonely BearsInjustice (1992) and The Bears are Running (1994). From 1995 to 2002 Terry Bozzio toured the US, Canada, Australia and Europe as a solo artist. He recorded two more albums in 1998: Drawing The Circle and Chamberworks, and got together with Tony Levin (bassist and Chapman-stick player) and Steve Stevens (guitarist) to form Bozzio Levin Stevens. They released two albums during their tenure: Black Light Syndrome (1997) and Situation Dangerous (2000).
In 2001, Terry Bozzio teamed up with Chad Wackerman to record Solos & Duets. In 2002 Terry Bozzio released Nine Short Films and in 2005 Prime Cuts and Chamber Works featuring the Metropole Orchestra. The year of 2008 was highly eventful as well, seeing the release of two more Terry Bozzio solo efforts: Four From Ten Twenty Nine and Seven Nights in Japan.
In 2006 Terry Bozzio recorded drums for Korn’s eighth studio album. Terry has been touring with guitarist Allan Holdsworth, Tony Levin and drummer Pat Mastelotto since 2008 as HoBoLeMa. He’s also an artist-in-residence at DrumChannel.com, through which he has been featured on various DVDs: Bozzio & Wackerman: Duets #2 (2007), The Buddy Rich Memorial Concert (2008), The Drummers Of Frank Zappa (2010), Mike Portnoy On The “Art Of Drumming” Show With Terry Bozzio (2010), Performance And Seminar (2011) and Gannin Arnold: 5 World Class Drummers (2011). For more details on Terry Bozzio’s work click on this link.
Terry Bozzio was inducted into Modern Drummer magazine’s Hall of Fame in 1997. He has won two Modern Drummer magazine awards for “Clinician of the Year,” as well as DRUM! magazine’s “Drummer of the Year” and “Best Clinician” awards. Internationally, Schlagwerkrant magazine (Netherlands) and Player magazine (Japan) have bestowed upon Terry Bozzio the “Best Drummer” award. In 2007, Terry Bozzio was inducted into Guitar Center’s RockWalk in Hollywood, alongside Ronnie James Dio and Slash.
“We were doing an orchestra gig at Royce Hall, we had 40 or so of the best percussionists and instrumentalists in this town that had been very famous in doing session work and also with the symphony, and he [Zappa] noticed during coffee breaks and stuff that they lived in mortal terror of something called ‘the black page.’ This would be a situation where they would get called for some innocuous little jingle at 7:00 o’clock on a Monday morning, and come in and be faced with a page so full of notes that it appeared black, hence the name. Zappa decided to write his own version of it, and I was his guinea pig.” – Terry Bozzio in Terry Bozzio & Chad Wackerman by David Aldridge, DRUM! Magazine, June/July 2002.
The now infamous and very challenging “The Black Page” took Terry Bozzio to the forefront of drum-set performance. The complexity of the piece set a standard from which drummers would be measured from there on and gave Terry Bozzio a godlike status. Although many may think of his tenure with Frank Zappa as his defining moment, it were actually the events that followed it that really took Terry Bozzio to a completely new and unique level of musical expression and sensitivity.
Around the time Missing Persons was formed, Terry Bozzio began offering drum lessons to help cover the costs of getting his band off the ground. A decision that had financial grounds to support it would ultimately work as a catalyst to Terry Bozzio’s astonishing rhythmic vocabulary and independence development. One day, realizing one of his students was no-showing the lesson, Terry decided to kill some time by going over some ostinato patterns on the drum set. Soon enough, he realized there was a limited amount of rhythms to play as ostinatos: 16 when playing 16th notes and 12 when playing 8th note triplets. That finding would eventually give birth to an awful lot of ostinato material that would become Terry Bozzio’s calling card.
An ostinato is a repeated musical phrase. On the most basic level, ostinatos are used to develop coordination skills. You can play them with any combination of limbs and with hands and feet. With 8th-note rock drum beats for instance, you play 8th notes on the hi-hat and counts two and four on the snare while varying the bass drum pattern. By doing so, you’ll eventually be able to play just about any foot pattern against that specific hand pattern–in this case the hand pattern is the ostinato. For jazz drumming, an ostinato is usually kept between the ride hand and the hi-hat foot as you work on independence by playing different ideas over top with the snare hand and bass drum foot. The free drum lessons Broken Hi-Hat Concepts, “Bass Drum Independence Etude” and “Snare-Hand Comping” have great examples of this concept. However, some of the most out-there drummers like using them to play complicated and extremely orchestrated musical pieces and solos.
If you’re willing to keep at it with this concept, you’ll develop an incredible set of chops and independence. You’ll be way more creative and free to express exactly what you want to at any given time. This concept, coupled with Terry Bozzio’s background on music composition, orchestration, form, structure and melody, opened the door for Terry Bozzio’s own voice to speak out loud and clear. This is the main reason behind the gigantic drum set Terry plays on. The drums on his kit are tuned to different notes so as to be as musical as it is rhythmical, like if it was a piano that you play with sticks.
“(…) What I thought I needed to have in order to be happy didn’t make me happy. I had the money, the car, the beautiful wife. We grossed something like a million dollars or more with Missing Persons, and I was never more miserable. So if money and fame don’t make me happy then what does?” – Terry Bozzio in “Makings Of A Complex Man” by Jared Cobb, Traps Magazine, Autumn 2008.
Finding something he was passionate about was as all Terry Bozzio needed to be happy. He found that in his drumming, with all the ostinatos and compositions he got into. Money and fame had nothing to do with it, in fact, they only distracted him from what really mattered to him, musical expressiveness. Terry Bozzio’s experience comes to show that no matter how out-there your concepts may be, if it gives you enjoyment you can go a long way in pursuing them. It’ll take you on a journey that will make it well worth it just for the sheer fact that you’re happy and enjoying your day-to-day existence. It probably won’t make you rich though.