2019, Strings Attached Tour.

Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz just completed his 39th year with Weird Al Yankovic. And, the band just finished a career-topping, 67-stop “Strings Attached” tour in which they played with full orchestras in every city. This milestone was just one of many in what is no doubt the most successful music and comedy career in our lifetimes. Yankovic’s approach, which combines note-perfect arrangements of the hits with clever parody lyrics, original tunes, and highly popular polka medleys of pop hits has made him a household name and earned a loyal legion of fans across much of the world.

Anchoring the band’s sound is Schwartz, a great drummer and programmer for the band, who has appeared on all the band’s recordings and tours since 1980. He grew up in Phoenix and began taking drum lessons in 1965 at age nine. By the late ’70s he was playing with bands in Los Angeles and taking occasional studio gigs. He met Yankovic on the Dr. Demento Radio Show in 1980, when they were recording their Queen sendup, “Another One Rides The Bus.” The rest is history.

In addition to drums and programming Jon is also the group historian and has kept meticulous notes on over the 39 years. I asked him about the musical challenge of playing with orchestral backing on this tour.

[Ed. Note: See the pictorial overview of the career of Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz.]

DRUM! How are the arrangements changing how you approach the material?
Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz There’s almost no change for the band. We play pretty much our standard show, and the orchestra basically plays along. There are a few occasions in the show where we need to follow the conductor for a cue, but that’s the only new aspect to what we do. Of course the newly written orchestration for songs that never had those parts in the first place adds a new dynamic to songs such as “Smells Like Nirvana,” “Dare To Be Stupid,” “Word Crimes,” etc. and changes how the audience hears songs they were familiar with.
How does the rest of the band react to playing with orchestras? Does it affect roles or merely enhance them?
The keyboard player is the only one directly affected. Since the orchestra is handling the horn and string parts live that formerly came from him (or occasionally a track,) there are fewer additional parts for him to play. He’s freed up to focus on his piano and keyboard parts, and those are enhanced as a result.

Red Rocks in 2019. Before the show.

Bring it on. Playing Red Rocks was a dream of Johns.

What’s been the greatest show in the tour?

By all accounts it would be Red Rocks near Denver. Not only because it’s a majestic and classic venue, but the Colorado Symphony Orchestra was stellar, perhaps the best group of the whole tour. Selling out 9,000 seats on a Thursday ain’t bad either! For me personally, playing any stage that The Beatles played is special, and we have a few such venues under our belt. Runners-up include Wolf Trap with the National Symphony, Forest Hills Stadium in New York where The Beatles and hundreds of other major groups played, and the Minnesota State Fair for the tour’s largest audience with a sold-out show of 13,170.
With both drumming and programming you’re so integral to the band. How do you keep it fresh after 39 years?
I enjoy playing the drums, period, so it’s always fresh for me even when playing Yoda for the 2,000th time. And because I handle all the drum and percussion duties on the albums, I’m kept on my toes from performance, programming, and sound-design standpoints as we re-create the work of cutting-edge producers and artists. It’s a challenge that’s always evolving, always exciting, and has helped me grow as a musician in ways that I wouldn’t have with almost any other band.