August 22, 2006 – Bruce Gary was born on April 7, 1951 in Burbank, California. Bruce had a tormented and horrid childhood as he grew up in the early ’60s in the west San Fernando Valley, not far from Malibu. “The popular music of my peers at that time was a wonderful combination of guitar, keyboards, bass and drums called surf music,” he said in a 2002 interview. “It made me forget a lot of what was going on at home”. “Somehow it perfectly reflected the carefree times of my youth. I started playing drums when I was six years old. The first proper band I played in was called The Watchmen. I was eleven. We cut our teeth playing music by such artists as The Ventures, The Beach Boys, Dick Dale & The Del-Tones, The Surfaris, The Astronauts, The Wailers, and many more bands of that nature. We enjoyed a healthy dose of playing local parties and youth centers in the Valley.”
Bruce Gary attended Taft High School in the San Fernando Valley, and after tenth grade went to the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967. At age sixteen he left home and moved into Topanga Canyon, where he became friends with guitarist Randy California. “There was a very fertile music community there which allowed me to further my ambitions of being a successful working musician. It was there that I was fortunate to hook up with blues guitar great Albert Collins. This began a four-year trek of touring throughout the United States. It marked the beginning of my career as a professional drummer.”
In 1969 his surf band opened for The Kinks at Pierce College. Starting in the late 1960s and continuing through the 1990s, Gary studied, observed, and took drum lessons from Louie Bellson, Buddy Rich and Freddie Gruber. In the ’70s he played on numerous albums for in-house Capitol Records producers. Later in that decade Bruce played drums on albums by Alex Harvey,Giants, and Roderick Falconer, produced by Peter Ivers, before he helped equally create and shape the sound for the multiple platinum, Mike Chapman-produced Knack debut album, The Knack, in 1979.
“During our club break-in period we rehearsed daily at an old storage complex in Hollywood,” Bruce explained. “Our guitarist brought in a song he was working on, which eventually became ‘My Sharona.’ He wanted it to feel similar to the Miracles’ hit, “Going to a Go-Go.” As we rehearsed it, I had the idea to inject a sort of surf beat formula—all flams. A flam is when you hit the drum with both sticks at the same time but slightly apart. This gives you an echo effect… a very surf-like formula.” That approach helped make “Sharona” a worldwide #1 hit in 1979.
“When I first played with Bruce in 1973, my musical stature took a nosedive as I realized I was playing with a true great. His combination of grooves, polyrhythmic beats, rambunctious fills, and a kinetic energy that could light a city block, gave me a new standard to aspire to. I could never have imagined that I would be sharing the stage with Bruce Gary in 1979, playing Carnegie Hall to a sold-out crowd, with our single, ‘My Sharona,’ being number one all over the world,” remembers Prescott Niles.
For the “My Sharona” recording session, Bruce used his 1967 Ludwig drum kit, and a Zildjian cymbal formerly owned by studio session master and “Wrecking Crew” member Hal Blaine, an item he had purchased at a musical charity auction in 1971. Just after the “My Sharona” recording date, Bruce Gary began endorsing Gretsch Drums and remained with the company as a clinician from that time forward.
Ironically, branded as Bruce Gary was with the Knack tattoo and membership in a chart topping global rock and pop band, his fans, friends, followers, and especially the music media, writers and magazine editors for dozens of years, never really could comprehend and acknowledge the countless other viable and memorable performance and studio activities Bruce actually achieved in his lifetime.
This was especially true of his determination and Phoenix-like medical rebirth. All through the 1980s he dealt daily with a life-threatening case of rheumatoid arthritis, gulping down the strongest prescription anti-inflammatories, and against the odds, emerged once again as an active drummer and record producer. He navigated a thyroid condition for two decades, and some slight hearing problems in this century. For nearly fifty years he walked and gigged around town—and occasionally the rest of the world—with a pair of 7A drumsticks in his back pocket at all times. “He had rheumatoid arthritis, the worst kind, but when the music started, no one would ever know it,” explained Helen Gary. “Nothing affected his music. In his rehearsal room in summer, 2006, with guitarist Randy Zacuto, they played for over three hours, and Bruce never missed a beat.”
In 1997 Bruce received a phone call from another music industry friend, musician David Carr, who told him that Ventures drummer Mel Taylor had passed away suddenly and they needed a replacement for their annual tour of Japan. Mel had become a good friend in previous years and Bruce was told that he had requested him to do that while he was in hospital recovering from what was initially thought to be pneumonia. “The experience of playing twenty-four concerts with The Ventures in Japan was amazing,” Bruce enthused later. “I felt like I had come full-circle. What a thrill!
“At the time,” Bruce continued, “the third set of Beatles Anthology had just been released. I had an idea for the band. I’d brought with me a tape of an early Beatles recording called “Cry for a Shadow,” an instrumental song written by John Lennon and George Harrison during their early Hamburg days, which mirrored the Ventures’ formula. It was the Beatles’ tribute to a popular British band called The Shadows, a very Ventures-like combo. Amazingly, the Ventures hadn’t ever covered that one.
“My idea was for the band to record the song in Tokyo and rush-release it there to tie in with the Beatle-wave (no pun intended). The band was up for it, but unfortunately their record company wasn’t. When it came time to record their annual album in L.A., they remembered my idea and gave me the honor and thrill to produce the track. Ventures keyboardist David Carr played Mellotron for that Beatlesque touch. The recording was issued on a CD called New Depths.”
Bruce Gary is also documented as a producer on 2002’s The Ventures Play the Greatest Instrumental Hits of All Time, and as drummer on The Malibooz’ CD, “Beach Access”, released the same year.
Bruce also had the ultimate regional and karma escrow distinction of jamming with Jimi Hendrix at a Sunset Boulevard music club called Thee Experience in 1969, when the guitarist sat in with the Bonzo Dog Band’s encore number, “Rockaliser Baby.” Bruce worked extensively with the Hendrix archives and produced The Jimi Hendrix Reference Library for Hal Leonard Publishing Company. Under the auspices of producer Alan Douglas, he also co-produced a series of posthumous album releases from Jimi Hendrix that included the popular Blues collection.
Working with engineer Dave Kephart, Bruce Gary produced and compiled Jimi Hendrix “Live & Unreleased” – The Radio Show for the nationally syndicated Westwood One radio service, and he was also a production consultant on Westwood One’s weekly broadcast series, The Lost Lennon Tapes.
He produced and played on a selection for an all-star John Lee Hooker tribute CD. He was behind the skins with a late 1970s version of Arthur Lee and Love, and recorded with the sound pioneer. His name can be found in the credits on several other albums, including Just Yesterday by Al Stewart, and Emmett Chapman’s Parallel Galaxy. In 1978 Bruce played on recording sessions with John Locke, Phast Phreddie, Harvey Kubernik,Chris Darrow, Dan Kessel, David Kessel, and Kim Fowley.
Bruce Gary toured and recorded with Cream bassist Jack Bruce as a member of the Jack Bruce and Mick Taylor Band. At that time Gary, along with Bruce, met Bob Marley in Jamaica, and jammed with him over a two-day period, a “music lesson” in which Marley helped Gary learn some vital reggae music techniques. Later, he visited a dying Marley at Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York. In 2003 Gary played drums on Jack Bruce’s album, Live at the Manchester Free Trade Hall.
He was the drummer on several tracks of John Hiatt’s Slug Line album, produced by music industry veteran Denny Bruce, who also hired Gary for his album with guitarist Albert Lee, Hiding. In 1977, Bruce Gary produced the debut Vox Humana EP. In the 1990s he provided a tambourine overdub on the movie score for George Harrison’s Shanghai Surprise soundtrack album.
He is also heard along with Jim Keltner on the historic but unreleased Record Plant recording session, Too Many Cooks, featuring John Lennon, Mick Jagger, and Jack Bruce, engineered by longtime Bruce Gary friend and confidant Jimmy Robinson, who later would record Bruce in numerous recording sessions, including a musical teaming with his childhood friend Randy California, of Spirit fame.
Bruce Gary sang with Spirit on their live concert video, on the song “I Got a Line on You,” and was a lifelong friend of Spirit’s Randy California, on whose 1982 album, Euro-American, Gary played drums. His work with Spirit included percussion and vocals on 1984’s Spirit of ’84 and Thirteenth Dream. He’s also one of the musicians listed on Mick Skidmore’s 2005 Spirit compilation, Son of America.
Bruce Gary subsequently worked with Jack Bruce and Andy Summers of The Police on a project called “Hot Flash.” In the spring of 2006, Bruce recorded over half a dozen tracks with keyboardist Irvin Kramer and bassist Warwick Rose in a southern California studio. Other endeavors include Bruce Gary’s Drum Vocabulary, a CD of drum loops and samples, produced by Steve Deutsch in 1995 and available through Big Fish Audio.
He died at the age of 55 at the Tarzana Regional Medical Center in Tarzana, California of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma on August 22, 2006