Melanie Jo is a pro drummer living in Los Angeles, California. She was most recently the touring drummer for Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, whose solo group is called Billy Gibbons and the BFGs.
Women are underrepresented in the percussion world. Our weekly series, Woman Crush Wednesday (#WCW), aims to recognize, celebrate, and inspire female percussionists of all stripes. Each Wednesday we’ll feature a profile of a drummer, who will share tips, advice, and videos.
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What is your city, country, and age?
Los Angeles, California. Age 25.
What kind of gear do you use? What’s your setup?
I have two DW spruce maple Collectors Series kits, a DW 9 piece waterfall bubinga Collectors Series kit, a DW Mini Pro, and a PDP Classic Bop kit. I have lots of different set-ups depending on the kit I’m using, but mostly I like having a 10” rack tom, a 14” and 16” floor tom, a 14” snare, and a 22” or 23” kick drum.
Do you have any endorsements?
What bands/groups do you perform with, if any?
I toured with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top in his solo band called Billy Gibbons and the BFGs. I’ve also recently played in the LA all-star band and we did a performance with Slash, Nancy Wilson of Heart, Liv Warfield, Robert Randolph, Haley Reinhart, and Benton Blount. I also play/and tour with various musicians around LA.
What led you to your instrument?
I originally started out playing clarinet in the middle school band and I had a crush on the drummer in the jazz band. He did not like me back, so I told him, “I’m going to take your spot as drummer in the jazz band,” and that’s exactly what I did. [Laughs] That’s how I ended up playing drums, but even before then I’ve always had a love for music.
Who is your favorite drummer and why?
There are so many drummers I love, like Tony Royster Jr., Eric Moore, Thomas Pridgen, Tony Williams, and Jose Pasillasii. It’s so hard to pick a favorite, but I’d have to say John Bonham. He’s a monster on drums. His groove and feel are so good, and also the power in his right foot. Most drummers have to use a double pedal with what Bonham does with his one foot. I suggest all drummers watch live versions of “Moby Dick.”
How do you practice? Do you have a routine?
I don’t have a routine. A lot of times I’ll just sit down, put a metronome on, and start experimenting. When I practice, I’m also often learning songs for a show or tour.
Are there any specific playing tips or techniques, or advice, exercises, or discoveries you’d like to share with Drum! readers?
Always remember: Groove over chops is what gets the gig. You can have all the chops in the world, but if you can’t groove and you don’t know how to play musically with others, having all those chops become pointless in a sense. I’m not saying having chops is bad — it’s knowing the time and place to use them. Steve Jordan is a great example. I could listen to him play the same groove for hours, he’s so good. Look up how many people Steve Jordan has played with and that list is never-ending. There is a reason his groove and every little nuance fit perfectly with the music.
As artists, the goal post for “success” is always moving. There’s not one “I made it!” point. How do you think about and define success?
My goal was to always make a living playing music but I’ve surprised myself with the people I’ve played with. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would have played with Billy Gibbons, Slash, and Nancy Wilson. These are musicians I looked up to, and admired their talents, and to play with them was an honor. One goal I do have is to keep pushing my drumming. I want to be better from week to week. A few musicians I’ve played with have said “She’s the hardest working musician I know,” and I want to always keep it that way.
Any advice for girls contemplating getting started and making it in this arena?
Don’t take no for answer and don’t let anyone say you can’t. I had a college music professor tell me I should consider switching majors and go to nursing school — keep in mind I had A’s in all my classes, yet for some reason she told me this. So when anyone tells you something negative or that you can’t, don’t let it get to you. Show them that you can and you’ll end up being more successful than them. Most the time people say things like this out of jealousy when they see the true potential in you.
Where else to find Melanie Jo