Bruce Gary And the Riff He Drummed Into Your Head
Friday, August 25, 2006
You didn't know Bruce Gary. But I guarantee if you were capable of conscious thought in the summer of 1979, you knew Bruce Gary's handiwork. You may, in fact, have been driven to the brink of insanity by it.
Da da boom, da da boom, da boom, da da boom . . .
No? Let me supply the lyric:
That was the Knack and that was Bruce Gary, the band's original drummer, who died of cancer Tuesday in Los Angeles at age 55.
Drummers everywhere -- from Def Leppard's one-armed skins basher to amateurs whose only percussion is pencils-on-desks, fingers-on-steering-wheels -- should mourn his passing. Few are the drummers who so resolutely pound their way into the nation's skull.
I spoke to Gary a few years ago for a profile of the Knack. The drums are not typically an instrument that attract the shy and retiring, and Gary, the son of a tile and linoleum salesman in Canoga Park, Calif., was a bundle of pre-Ritalin energy in search of an outlet. He found it in an older cousin's drum set. When the cousin got bored with the drums he gave them to Gary, who set them up at home and played along with his older sister's Little Richard and Ray Charles records.
A drum set in the house! His parents must have been thrilled.
"The reason they allowed that was that I was a very hyper kid and they thought that would help physically get that steam out," he told me.
It certainly got Gary out. He left home at 15, then played with the likes of Albert Collins, Jack Bruce, Mick Taylor and Dr. John. In the 1970s he linked up with Doug Fieger, a Detroit native who had written a bunch of songs about adolescent lust. One day Fieger and lead guitarist Berton Averre unveiled a song they'd penned about Sharona Alperin, a teenage girl Fieger was obsessed with.
"When the song was first brought in I was a bit dubious of it," Gary said. "I remember saying, 'No, I don't want to play that. It sucks.' "
Drummers don't stay employed long by refusing to play the singer's songs, so Gary came up with something to match "My Sharona's" stuttering style.