Gregg Bissonette has become known as one of the most versatile drummers in the business, his broad experience ranging from big band, blues, and rock, to Latin, fusion, and much more. Gregg’s warm, easy-going down-to-earth manner is refreshing from one of the top drummers in the world. Gregg’s incredible sense of humor comes across clearly whether he’s recording or teaching at a drum clinic. His perfect balance between professionalism, strong work ethic, and congeniality make him a wonderful colleague and session artist, and a much-respected name in the music industry.
The Detroit native comes from a family of talented musicians. Gregg’s dad Bud was a drummer and his mother Phyllis played piano and vibes. Gregg started playing on his dad’s drum kit from about the age of 5! His brother Matt is a bassist and producer, and their sister Kathy also lives and works in concert promotion in LA. Gregg’s dad was his first teacher, and at age 10, Gregg started taking private rudimental snare drum lessons with Bob Yarborough, a local teacher in Warren, Michigan. By age 11, Bob had started Gregg on reading drum set music. At the same time, Gregg also started taking private trumpet lessons from Jim Ruffner. Proficient in both instruments, Gregg would trade off between drums and trumpet with the Warren Michigan Wildwood Elementary School Band.
At 14, Gregg and his brother Matt started a band called Today’s People, inspired by their junior high stage band/jazz band performances while at school under the direction of their teacher, expert drummer Jerry Hasspatcher. That same year, Gregg began taking drum set lessons from popular Detroit drummer Myron MacDonald. At 15 years old, Gregg won a scholarship to attend the Interlochen School of Music summer band program in Michigan. By this time, both Gregg and Matt were performing professionally in and around Detroit with their dad’s band The Buddy Blair Band, a name their dad chose because he thought Bissonette was just too hard to remember! (Bud’s band when he was young was called Buddy Bissonette and His Bouncing Bulgarian Bean Band!)
Gregg’s trumpet hero was always Maynard Ferguson and his dream was to play drums for Maynard’s band someday. This dream became a reality in 1982, when Gregg became the drummer for Maynard Ferguson’s Big Band. An added bonus for him was that the band already included his brother Matt on bass! The band toured the world and recorded a live CD called Live in San Francisco.
Gregg’s big break came in the summer of 1985, when David Lee Roth left Van Halen and started his own band. Gregg landed the gig playing drums, with Steve Vai on guitar, Billy Sheehan on bass, and Brett Tuggle on keys. The band recorded the albums Eat ‘Em & Smile and Skyscraper, both of which went multi-platinum. Gregg’s brother Matt joined the band for the Skyscraper tour and the next studio album, A Little Ain’t Enough. The videos for “Yankee Rose,” “Goin’ Crazy,” “Just like Paradise,” “Stand Up,” and “That’s Life” got plenty of airtime on MTV.
In 1989, Gregg had the great experience and honor to perform with The Buddy Rich Big Band on the Buddy Rich Memorial Scholarship Concert video. This video also featured Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Gadd, and Louie Bellson.
In 1992, Gregg and Matt recorded with Joe Satriani on his CD The Extremist, produced by one of Gregg’s favorite engineers/producers, Andy Johns, who also engineered lots of Led Zeppelin tunes. When Andy asked Gregg what he would like his drums to sound like, Gregg replied, “How about like ANY of the stuff you did with John Bonham?!” Andy quickly smiled and answered, “We can do that!” Gregg and Matt toured with Joe Satriani right after the release of “The Extremist,” and also did a live CD of that tour called “Time Machine.” Matt went on to record three other CDs with Joe Satriani and still tours with Joe when he can.
Gregg and Matt started their own band called The Mustard Seeds in 1993 with guitarists Doug Bossi and George Bernhardt. All four of the members wrote the songs together and sang lead vocals and harmonies. Gregg remembers this band as being a very creative and rewarding time musically. “There is something very special about being in your own band with your brother,” he says.
In 1995, Gregg did a European tour with the band Toto after Simon Phillips (Toto’s drummer since Jeff Porcaro’s unexpected death) asked Gregg to fill in for him for four months due to an injury. The tour led to lots of playing time with Steve Lukather, and a couple years later he worked with Steve on the album Luke, which included a tour of Europe and Japan. Gregg also played on the 2003 Lukather Christmas album SantaMental, featuring Steve, Gregg, Jeff Babko on keyboards, and John Pierce on bass. Gregg played trumpet as well, along with Walt Fowler on trumpet and Jeff Babko on trombone.
In 2000, Gregg had the honor of playing with Carlos Santana on the multi-Grammy winning CD Supernatural. This session came about because the producer originally called one of Gregg’s favorite drummers, Vinnie Colaiuta, to do the session, but Vinnie was unavailable and recommended Gregg.
In 2001 Gregg celebrated the birth of his second child, his wonderful daughter Mary. In the same year, Gregg and Matt toured with Jeff Lynne and ELO on their Zoom Tour Live. Gregg and Matt had both been big fans of ELO and Jeff Lynne, who played with the Traveling Willberries, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, and more.
Gregg has recorded and released two solo albums, Gregg Bissonette on Shrapnel Records (which includes a cover of one of Gregg’s favorite songs, “No Matter What” by Badfinger, with Gregg on vocals), and Submarine on Favored Nations Records. All songs were written and produced by Matt Bissonette, featured on bass, vocals, trombone and cello. Gregg sings leads on both CDs, besides playing drums, trumpet, and percussion. Gregg Bissonette features guest guitarists Steve Vai, Ty Tabor, Andy Summers, Paul Gilbert, Doug Bossi, George Bernhardt, Steve Lukather, Scott Henderson, Michael Thompson, and Mike Miller. Submarine features Joe Satriani, Frank Gambale, Steve Stevens, Tim Pierce, Steve Vai, Gary Hoey, Doug Bossi, Ritchie Kotzen, and the great piano player David Garfield.
From Maynard Ferguson, to multi-platinum albums, to world tours and a Grammy, Gregg has seen his musical dreams come true one by one. And in 2003, another dream became a reality when he and Matt were asked to tour with Ringo Starr to promote Ringo’s album Ringo Rama. Ringo has been Gregg’s drumming hero since his dad took him to see the Beatles live in 1966!
In addition to playing drums while Ringo fronted the band on the songs “Yellow Submarine,” “With A Little Help From My Friends,” “Photograph,” “It Don’t Come Easy,” and Ringo’s tribute to George Harrison, “Never Without You,” Gregg and Ringo also played double drums on Beatles hits like “I Wanna Be Your Man” and “Boys.” Besides a great live concert in New York, they also played on the TV shows The Tonite Show with Jay Leno, Conan O’Brian, Good Morning America, Regis and Kelly, and Last Call with Carson Daly. Gregg also did a music video with Ringo for “Never Without You.”
Some of you might know Gregg as his alter ego, Skippy Skuffleton! Gregg has played with England’s loudest rock band, Spinal Tap, since he first toured with them in 2001. He also played with Tap at Live Earth 2007, and the Glastonbury Festival and Wembley Stadium in 2009. You can hear him on drums on the Back from the Dead album, released 2009.
Gregg got to tour again with Ringo, this time as an All Starr in Ringo’s All Starr band, for their 2008 and 2010 tours. Band members of the 2008 All-Starr tour were Colin Hay (from Men At Work), Billy Squier, Hamish Stuart (Average White Band), Edgar Winter, and Gary Wright. For the 2010 Tour, the band included Wally Palmar (The Romantics), Rick Derringer (The McCoys), Edgar Winter, Gary Wright, and Richard Page (Mister Mister). In July of the 2010 tour, Gregg was part of a birthday celebration when Paul McCartney surprised Ringo for Ringo’s 70th birthday in Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Gregg got to play the Beatles song “Birthday” with both Ringo and Paul, and a star-studded musical cast!
Gregg’s definitive instructional DVD, Musical Drumming in Different Styles, was released by Hudson Music in 2005. It was shot at the Allaire studio in upstate NY, where Norah Jones and David Bowie had just recorded albums. Musical Drumming features eight band tracks from Gregg’s solo albums, in styles ranging from jazz, to funk, to latin, to swing.
Today, Gregg continues to record with and for many other artists, films, and TV shows. Gregg’s favorite advice to drummers? “Be a musical drummer!” he says. “Concentrate on keeping the tempo and the groove for the whole song, and play dynamically. Learn to play big band, Latin, funk, Afro-Cuban, hip-hop, R&B, play with brushes, in small groups, large groups, small or large venues, all ages and all kinds of styles and approaches. Remember, it’s not about playing drum solos, it’s about making a joyful noise…hopefully making a living out of it someday!”
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