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Preview: Drummer Yonrico Scott pushes beyond his Derek Trucks days to “Life of a Dreamer”

Since Yonrico Scott’s arrival to Atlanta in 1977, he’s become revered as one of this city’s best drummers/percussionists. Scott came to fame as the long-time drummer behind slide guitar icon Derek Trucks in The Derek Trucks Band. But the list of musicians Scott has recorded with or performed with is extensive and wildly diverse: Sammy Davis, Jr., Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, Gregg Allman, The Allman Brothers Band, Widespread Panic, Phil Lesh, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, The Supremes, Kansas, Whitney Houston, George Benson, Peabo Bryson and Stevie Wonder.

Scott’s new record, Life of a Dreamer (Blue Canoe Records), is his fifth solo album and includes such guests as Colonel Bruce Hampton, Jeff Mosier, Diane Durett and Kofi Burbridge. He will perform Saturday night at the Vista Room in Decatur in a show that will also feature his works of art painted on drum heads.

ArtsATL recently caught up with the ever-busy Scott to discuss his new CD, how the break up of The Derek Trucks Band affected him and the one jazz icon he’s always wanted to perform with.

ArtsATL: What happened to you to flip the music switch on in your life?

Yonrico Scott: You know, the music switch has really always been flipped on my whole life. My mom (Ruth Scott) was a gospel singer and our house and entire world was always filled with musicians. I just thought that was normal. I didn’t really realize how special it was to have all these musicians like Sam Cooke and Johnnie Taylor around until I got away from home and into college and looked back. You gotta realize I grew up with [legendary Motown bassist] James Jamerson; I went to high school with his son. I mean, Jamerson was one of the main architects of Motown. Everyone in Motown was playing music all the time back then. I grew up in the time when Motown was at a peak — bless her heart. So, music was just a natural part of my life from as early as I can remember.

1_origArtsATL: How was it that you left Motown and made your way South to throw roots in Atlanta?

Scott: After I graduated from college (University of Kentucky), my mom encouraged me to move to Atlanta. She said, “Atlanta is the city of the future.” And, you know, she was right on it about that one.

ArtsATL: Tell us about your introduction to drums.

Scott: When I was around three years old — maybe pushing four — my older cousins, Cookie and Howard, gave me a really pretty nice set of bongos for Christmas and playing them landed me the nickname “Pretty Ricky.” Then my mom bought me my first drum kit at age five. It was nice, too — a Starlight. You know, there was always a guitar in our house but I wasn’t feeling the guitar. It was the drums that caught me.

ArtsATL: I read that you were playing professionally while in grade school. How did you manage that?

Scott: Yes, I was gigging with professional gospel groups at age 7 and then I began playing churches and clubs with the Sons of Truth at age 11. My mom would allow me to go without her as long as we were playing a church, but she would come with us if we were playing a club so she could keep an eye out for me. It was with the Sons of Truth that I recorded my first album.

ArtsATL: You mentioned coming to Atlanta after you left college. I understand you were an all-American football player in high school and got a full football scholarship to go to college. How does a jock become a drummer?

Scott: It was a process. In 1973, I just couldn’t believe that a person couldn’t major in music without being in the marching band. I wanted to major in music. So, much to my mom’s dismay, I left Alabama A&M towards this pursuit. That led me to another football scholarship at Kentucky State, where I played football for two years and then, when I became a sophomore, I finally got a music scholarship to the University of Kentucky and majored in music. I got to play with the philharmonic orchestra and play on Broadway and it was exactly what I’d been wanting.

ArtsATL: Following an abundance of success right from the onset of your move to Atlanta, you eventually made your way to The Derek Trucks Band in 1995 and played with them until 2009. You then joined Royal Southern Brotherhood (with Devon Allman, Mike Zito, Cyril Neville and Charlie Wooten) for a couple of years. Both bands disbanded while they were enjoying success and public acclaim. Did you feel the break ups were more tortuous, blessings in disguise, or something of both?

Scott: Both of those had a lot of the same emotions but because I spent so many years with Derek and he was so young when we began, I’d have to say that break up was much tougher. We were really a family unit and Derek is really family-oriented, so that made it even harder. When we started, Derek wasn’t even a teenager and we all grew with him. We were absolutely a family. And we still are. I’m also very close to Derek’s wife (Susan Tedeschi) and their kids. But with Royal Southern Brotherhood, we’d never played together and came together more as a brainchild of the record people. I learned how to go into a studio and record an album with that band. I’m very proud of that band and feel it was a great band. But things were more full circle for me when Royal Southern Brotherhood broke up, so it wasn’t as hard or disappointing as the break up of Derek’s band. Both experiences helped me expand myself. And definitely new doors opened after the ending of each.

Scott (far left) with The Derek Trucks Band.
Scott (far left) with The Derek Trucks Band.

ArtsATL: Didn’t The Derek Trucks Band win a Grammy in 2010 right after breaking up?

Scott: Yes. And what was funny about that is we knew we were disbanding within a few months at the end of 2009 because Derek and Susan were going to start playing together and there wasn’t room for all us [from both bands]. Yet, it was right there, at the tail-end of The Derek Trucks Band, when we got the word we’d been nominated. And then we won the Grammy. That’s life, right?

ArtsATL: When you’re playing drums, there seems to be an intersection of undeniable discipline with unapologetic playfulness. Would you agree with this?

Scott: Well, yes, I would. Although I was trained classically on the drums, you might not know it to look at me. I hate to see myself on film playing drums with all my movements and head swings. I think to myself, “That guy looks possessed. What’s wrong with him?” But I just do my thing and let it go. This is what I got (chuckles).

ArtsATL: Complete the sentence, “For me, drums are ____.”

Scott: Air.

ArtsATL: Name your most significant mentors and tell us why you choose them as such.

Scott: My mom, first — and not just because of the obvious for being my mom — but because she had such an influence on me musically and supported and encouraged me in every way. Patrick Arnold because he was one of my first percussion teachers. Stevie Wonder because playing with him has had such a profoundly positive effect on me. Jacob Lawrence, who is an African-American folk artist, because his art has greatly influenced my painting. And, I’d also have to include Bruce (Colonel Bruce Hampton) because, you know, Bruce really does this thing from the heart. He’s not looking to be big, he just wants to gig. The dude is hanging in there. He and I are buddies.

Scott received a Grammy in 2010 for his work with Derek Trucks.
Scott received a Grammy in 2010 for his work with Derek Trucks.

ArtsATL: You’ve played with countless top musicians; who would you love to play with that you haven’t played with, thus far?

Scott: Herbie Hancock. I love Herbie Hancock. And, you know, it almost happened — but didn’t. Maybe it still will.

ArtsATL: Name the two people, other than two great musicians, who jump to your mind for most shaping the music industry as we know it today?

Scott: Les Paul, for sure. Of course, Les Paul is known for inventing the solid-body electric guitar, but most people don’t realize he had many inventions which helped shape the music industry and are still used in recording studios today. If you look at all he’s done to advance the music industry, his contributions are just tremendous. The second thought that comes to my mind is the listener. It’s the listener who helps shape every performance. The performer wouldn’t be anything without the listener. We’re entertainers. Our whole life force is to play for people. That’s what it’s been through the mark of time — that we have someone to play for.

ArtsATL: What is your favorite sound?

Scott: The birds in the woods chirping.

ArtsATL: And, what’s your least favorite sound?

Scott: Gunshot explosion.

ArtsATL: You’re also a painter. What caused you to pick up a paintbrush for the first time?

Scott's career began in gospel groups as a child.
Scott’s career began in gospel groups as a child.

Scott: It all started with me just messing around painting set lists. I had painted over a thousand of them. Then, Colonel Bruce took me to meet Howard Finster. His paintings were so weird and I thought to myself, “I could do this.” One day I started painting a drumhead and (former Allman Brothers Band bassist) Oteil Burbridge saw me doing it and said, “How much would you sell me that drumhead for?” I told him a hundred bucks. He said he’d pay me three hundred. And he did. So, Oteil bought my very first painting. That was the beginning of it (chuckles).

ArtsATL: Do you feel your artwork mirrors your music, or are they dissimilar expressions for you?

Scott: Well, they are similar but different. The artist comes to the instrument and then that instrument — whether it’s a drum kit or paintbrush or pen or whatever it may be — becomes your voice. You choose the tool you use to express your creativity. I feel that because I had formal training on the drums, my approach is more structured there, whereas, my approach to painting is free form — with almost no structure because I’m funky trained there. 

ArtsATL: Your new album feels as though the music can go anywhere it wants — from the tribal edge on,“From the Arms of Ogone” to the funky, bluesy track, “Baby Girl” to the surreal, “Cabbage” to “Red Clay,” which has a big band/jazz feel. Was the versatility your intention, or did it just play out that way as you were going along?

Scott: I think much of it was organic. I intentionally didn’t want too much electronics on this record. People are always trying to define my music. They ask, “Is it funk, soul, blues, contemporary blues?” But for me, my music is a derivative of jam band, like The Allman Brothers Band. And I wasn’t afraid to go for the drums on this album. It was the first time I was able to capture the drums exactly as I wanted to. It’s like baking a cake and throwing all the ingredients in there knowing you’ve done it before so it’s going to turn out pretty good. But you don’t know for sure until you finish. You’re really hoping it’s going to be great. I’m not a lizard musician. I’m a crazy guy. People say, “What’s that?” I say, “That’s me.”

ArtsATL: How would you like to be remembered?

Scott: First and foremost, as a good father to my two great kids. And then, as a good guy who had a lot of energy and passion for whatever I did and whose music somehow left a mark.