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GUITAR CENTER 2012 DRUM-OFF
The 24th Annual Guitar Center Drum-Off held at the Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles brought out hundreds of drummers to watch as five finalists—chosen from over 4,000 entrants—battled to be anointed the winner of the 2012 competition. Juan Carlos Mendoza, a Middle School band director took the prize (and rightly so) with a five-minute set that absolutely blew everybody away. Judge Peter Erskine (former drummer for Weather Report) was so knocked out that he gave Mendoza a perfect score.
Before the actual competition, however, there were some live performances and some other stuff that happened. This is what took place:
5:30 p.m. Saturday Jan 19 – Press check in/Credential Pick-up – You couldn’t get in without a pass so Sarah Chavey, the press contact, set up at the front of the club with her clipboard and list and passed out the laminate passes for entry. In fact, Chavey—representing Filter Public Relations—was so on top of it that she even provided for a parking validation.
6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Red Carpet
6:30 p.m. Doors open
Stephen Perkins, drummer for Jane’s Addiction, emceed the event (he’s been doing this for many years now). He greeted everybody with a huge “Are you ready?” and talked about the performers and the judges who were present. Those performing including Mutemath (with drummer Darren King), Gerald Heyward, Keith Carlock, John Blackwell with Zigaboo Modeliste, and Steve Gadd with Pedrito Martinez (the featured artist of the evening). The judges included Peter Erskine (Weather Report), Brooks Wackerman (Bad Religion, Tenacious D), Adrian Young (No Doubt), Ray Luzier (Korn), Glen Sobel (Alice Cooper), Tony Royster Jr. (Jay-Z and the 1995 Drum-Off winner), Jamal Moore (Cee-Lo Green), Josh Freese (Slash, Devo, Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle, Vandals, Sublime), Kenny Aronoff (Chickenfoot, John Mellencamp, John Fogerty, Elton John, Mick Jagger, Bob Seger and performed at President Obama’s inauguration), and Nisan Stewart (Jamie Foxx, Nellie, Nicole Sherzinger).
Other notable attendees in the audience included Rick Latham (Juice Newton), John Tempesta (Rob Zombie, The Cult, Exodus), Keith Harris (Black Eyed Peas, Michael Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Chris Brown, Pussy Cat Dolls, John Legend), Cyrus Bolooki (New Found Glory), Street Drum Corps (drum and percussion show that performed at various festivals around the country), Vinny and Carmine Appice, Gil Sharone (Stolen Babies, +44, The Dilinger Escape Plan),Gil Sharone - An American drummer and member of the band Stolen Babies, and formerly The Dillinger Escape Plan. He was also a fill in for punk rock band +44), Terry Santiel (Justin Timberlake), and Brian Frasier-Moore (Usher, Christina Aguilera, Janet Jackson).
7:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. Darren King
Darren King and Mutemath performed first. King explained that the band were currently in the studio and had put together five instrumental ideas they’d been working in a kind of ad hoc medley. He took a roll of duct tape and wrapped it around his headphones to make sure they wouldn’t fall off. At one point he removed one of his cymbals, placed it in his lap and used it almost like a hand-held instrument. He also picked up two sticks at one point and played with them in his right hand. Bandmembers Paul Meany and Roy Mitchell-Cardenas beat on toms during one particularly percussive moment.
8:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Stephen Perkins introduced Gerald Heyward (Michael Jackson, Puff Daddy Coolio) by saying, “This is where Chops and feel meet each other.” Heyward played along to a pre-recorded funk track and laid down very serious R&B grooves. At one point a cymbal on his kit had gotten loose and Perkins, like a little rabbit, ran out from the side of the stage to fix it. Heyward dedicated “Song Of Spain” to Steve Gadd and was accompanied by other players.
8:30 p.m. – 9:15 p.m. Drum-Off Competition
The five finalists in the competition were Aric Improta (Fullerton, CA), Robert “Diamond Johnson (Gardner, KS), Alphonso Lovelace (Houston, TX), Devon Taylor (Fayetteville, GA) and the winner Juan Carlos Mendoza (Perth Amoby, NJ). Each contestant was given five minutes to impress the judges with his groove, originality, stage presence and technique. All five players were gifted musicians but Mendoza simply blew the others away. Following his performance judge Peter Erskine gave him a standing ovation and it was obvious who the winner was going to be.
9:15 p.m. – 9:45 p.m. Keith Carlock
Keith Carlock performed in a trio situation and jammed on an extended fusion groove. Turlock’s left hand was sublime and his sense of note placement and how he played with the time made his performance the outstanding appearance of the evening. He combined an almost New Orleans second line feel with a fusion approach that made his playing unique amongst all the drummers gathered that evening.
9:45 p.m. – 9:50 p.m. Winner Announcement
Stephen Perkins proclaimed Juan Carlos Mendoza the winner (to nobody’s surprise). Mendoza said, “I am super, super humbled. My experience in this competition has been really humbling. I was honored just to be selected as a finalist because all of the contestants are awesome players and have become great friends. Guitar Center’s Drum- Off has blessed me not only with a new audience but with amazing gear as well. I feel truly privileged to be a part of this program.” He dedicated his performance to the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting (he wore a t-shirt to t hat effect). As the winner, Mendoza would receive:
* Custom Drum Kit (winner’s choice: Gretsch, OCDP, Tama, Pearl or DW)
* Drum Kit endorsement deal (winner’s choice: Gretsch, OCDP, Tama, Pearl, or DW)
* Complete Set of Cymbals (winner’s choice: Zildjian, Sabian, or Meinl)
* Cymbal endorsement deal (winner’s choice: Meinl, Zildjian, or Sabian)
* Drumhead endorsement deal (winner’s choice: Evans or Remo)
* Stick endorsement deal (winner’s choice: Pro-Mark or Vic Firth)
*Shure Deluxe Drum Mic Pack
* Roland TD-30KV Electronic Kit & PM30
* Roland SPD-SX
* Feature in Modern Drummer Magazine
*2013 NAMM VIP Experience
9:50 p.m. – 10:25 p.m. John Blackwell and Zigaboo Modeliste
John Blackwell, king of the groove and someone who has laid it down for everyone from Price and Patti LaBelle to P Diddy, Cameo and Justin Timberlake, duetted with legendary New Orleans drummer Zigaboo Modeliste. Famous for his work on “Cissy Strut” by his band the Meters, Modeliste and Blackwell jammed on some funky riffs where Zigaboo would provide a scat vocal while playing his kit.
10:25 p.m. – 10:35 p.m. Steve Gadd Rock Walk Induction
Guitar Center’s Dave Weiderman and KLOS DJ Jim Ladd inducted Steve Gadd into the Rock Walk. Gadd (Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, George Benson, James Taylor, Paul McCartney) dipped his hands into cement during a ceremony held onstage. Appearing most humble, the great Gadd admitted, “I only try and copy you guys,” referring to all the drummers in the audience. “I don’t know I got here.” He then performed a set with Pedrito Martinez, a New York-based Cuban percussionist. Though the audience was hoping for Steve to play “Aja” or “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,” they were more than satisfied when he ran through a set of Cuban Rumba and Afro-Beat music.
It was a great evening and an ear-opening experience. What became apparent was how much a musician could create a sound, style and personality so uniquely their own with tools essentially as simple as wooden sticks beating on tuned wooden boxes. It was a great testament to the soaring limits of human creativity.
Photos below from top to bottom:
Steve Gadd pressing his hands in cement for the induction into the Rock Walk of Fame.
Zigaboo Modeliste and John Blackwell duetting.
2012 Guitar Center Drum-Off winner, Juan Carlos Mendoza
Darren King (Mutemath)
Steve Gadd with percussionist Pedrito Martinez and band