Doane Perry: A Biography
“Determined, talented, driven, passionate”…these are just a few of the adjectives people use to describe this multifaceted percussionist. A professional musician since 1972, Doane Perry has been called one of the most prolific and versatile drummers in contemporary music.
His career spans over 28 years with the internationally acclaimed progressive rock band Jethro Tull, incorporating 18 world tours, countless records, videos, and DVDs, and a Grammy. As a performer, composer or producer, he has appeared on more than 100 records to date, many of which have attained gold or multi-platinum status, and also on numerous #1 records in multiple genres. He has worked in the recording studios of New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, and London. And as an author, he has been a featured writer for musical magazines, anthologies, book publications, websites, CD liner notes, Jethro Tull concert programs, four treasure hunts and one crossword puzzle!
Born June 16, 1954, in Mount Kisco, New York, Doane began piano lessons at the age of seven and later picked up drums when he was eleven. “The Beatles arrived on the scene and changed everything,” he says, adding with a smile and his characteristic charm, “and the possibility, however unlikely that might have been, of young girls chasing me down the street if I took up the drums!”
Determined and smart, even at the young age of 14, Perry had his own working band. He spent his time gigging on weekends until he graduated from high school at 17, filling a brief beat as a Baskin-Robbins ice cream vendor. He never stopped studying music, crossing a myriad of styles and absorbing music from some of his major percussive influences, which included Ginger Baker, John Bonham, Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon, Billy Cobham, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Barry Altschul and Clive Bunker (Jethro Tull’s first drummer) amongst many others.
The year 1972 found the 18-year-old already a professional, juggling time between school and gigging — which ultimately created a serious conflict. Having to choose which direction to go, Perry made the life-changing decision to pursue his music full time.
No sooner had he made his choice, than Doane embarked on gaining a broader understanding of as many musical genres as possible. This opened up doors to both live and studio work — Rock, Pop, Jazz, Fusion, Latin, Classical, R&B, Folk, Indian, Middle Eastern, Asian, Celtic, Broadway Shows, TV, and numerous film scores. It was New York City, and the age of diverse thriving ethnic and world music surrounded him. “It was a wonderful time to be a young musician, particularly in that city,” says Doane.
Perry’s love not just for music but also for literature and learning had him attending Browning, St. Bernard’s, and Collegiate Schools in New York City. He also spent a brief time at New York University, and was part of extension programs at The New School, Rutgers, Julliard…anytime his busy music schedule would permit and immersed himself in private musical study in Jazz and Orchestral Percussion.
Jethro Tull and 1984
For many, 1984 brings to mind George Orwell, but for Jethro Tull, it was a very good year. Doane became their drummer, making him the second American to join the band and the third longest serving member of the band.
Doane’s passion for learning different music styles has served him well as Tull’s drummer, and each show has been for him an exercise in ever-expanding skill and insight. Doane says he records nearly every performance, reviewing the music in detail and determining how he can improve his playing the next time around. A few of his tips? “Very often it’s harder to play slower and quieter than louder and faster. You learn what not to play. The space between the notes is just as important. Any good musician will tell you that.”
Even after all these years, Doane remains human and humble, and still admits to getting a few butterflies before going on stage — something he considers very helpful to keeping one on their toes.
“You want to play as well as you can,” he says. “Being prepared helps counteract that, although it would feel strange not to feel a bit of nerves before a performance. There is a fine line between being relaxed and complacency, and I can say with the benefit of some experience that complacency does not often result in a great performance.
“However, after it’s over, more times than not I feel dissatisfied rather than satisfied. But every once in a while when you really do get it right, there is tremendous satisfaction, until you are faced with the next performance! I think it is just the nature of the beast — whether playing live or recording. All I can do is to keep trying harder.”
Even with the level of expertise he has achieved in his career, Doane continues to display the sincerity and dedication to his craft that started him on his drumming journey.
The 40th Anniversary Jethro Tull Tour commenced in 2008, which extended itself into the 41st, 42nd, and 43rd Anniversary Tours around the globe, wrapping up in the summer of 2011.
Collaborating, Composing and Producing
Always eager to put his creative muse to work, over the past several years Doane has been involved in a number of outside writing and recording projects. Having worked with hundreds of artists, both world-renowned and not so well-known, Doane says he has learned something from each of them and always enjoyed the challenge.
Balanced with composing music for personal and outside projects has been his pursuit of prose writing, from essays and short stories to book projects. Doane composed and recorded a solo marimba, percussion, and drum piece called “Balindians” for “Congo Square,” a benefit CD put together to assist the New Orleans musicians affected by Hurricane Katrina. It’s an eclectic piece, loosely based around his interest in Balinese Gamelan, Japanese Taiko drumming, Indian, African and a little bit of Western music.
Recently he has been working on mixing tracks for a live album with Martin Barre and Willy Porter that they recorded on tour several years ago, as well as writing and recording some instrumental tracks with old friend and phenomenal jazz-rock guitarist Bill Derby at Doane’s studio.
He has been working with longtime musical partner Vince DiCola on tracks for an upcoming release, possibly under the Thread moniker, which he says “is probably one of the most musically adventurous projects of which I have had the good fortune to be a part.” He believes it is a substantial step forward from the last Thread CD and is excited about the release and performances planned for 2012.
He has finished a trilogy of records with a core group of himself, Vince DiCola on keyboards, and Paul ILL on bass: Pity The Rich, featuring Reeves Gabrels (David Bowie, Tin Machine) on guitar and Vincent Kendall on vocals; DPI (DiCola, Perry, ILL) which is a completely instrumental outing; and a third now in the process of editing and mixing, which will feature some other guest artists.
They are all very exploratory, each with a unique quality, and are based on a series of extemporaneous improvisations — very different from Thread and certainly Jethro Tull, owing more to the music of Miles Davis and Weather Report. “It was great fun doing them and I expect we will explore more of that territory in the future with different groups of guest musicians,” says Doane.
Perry also played drums on three tracks for a recent Led Zeppelin tribute record. Imagine his surprise when, as they were recording, Doane found himself staring at the drum cases sitting stacked on top of one another in front of him that all read simply “BONHAM.” The kit he was playing belonged to Jason Bonham, John Bonham’s son.
“That was a little bit strange and I had to try to put that out of my mind as we were recording these classic Zeppelin tracks,” says Doane.
The bass player was the phenomenal Tony Franklin, Jimmy Page’s bassist in The Firm, plus a constellation of great guest star guitarists and singers. Doane adds, “John left a huge pawprint on that music and it was quite challenging to try to put my own spin on it with all of the ties to the band’s members literally surrounding me.”
Following that was another offbeat record with Travis Dickerson on keyboards and Buckethead (Guns and Roses) on guitars entitled Iconography—a project he found fun, experimental, and uniquely different from the rest.
In between other projects, Doane took time to work on an album called Roots, Rock, & Revolution with two fantastic songwriters who call themselves Emma’s Revolution. “Great artists,” he says, “and we recorded it ‘old school’ style, with all the musicians playing at once and in real time. What a concept! It turned out beautifully. Check them out. I have just completed work on their new record, entitled RPM — Revolutions Per Minute, which will be released at the end of 2011.”
Teacher & Author
As much a passionate teacher as an avid learner, Doane served as a member of the faculty of the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, California, from 1988-1996. He released an instructional video in 1992 called “Creative Listening,” which is still widely used in the curriculum of music schools in the US and abroad, and continues to perform solo clinics at Drum Festivals and Music Colleges around the world.
He has started work on a book project, that is proving to be a substantial undertaking, involving a great deal of research and interviewing. Being the thorough and methodical person he is, Doane says simply, “It’s going to take as long as it’s going to take.”
Additional prose assignments have ensued, plus essays for two separate upcoming music anthologies and some further musical composing. There are other interesting writing and recording projects in various stages of development that Doane will be posting more about in detail as they near completion.
In 1990, Doane married the beautiful and talented Heather Woodruff, which he considers one of the best things ever to happen to him. Doane enjoys swimming, gentle exercise, Yoga, Tai Chi and gardening – but primarily as a spectator sport, which consists chiefly of encouraging vocal support to Heather – taking walks with his dogs, talking to their aviary full of birds and enjoying “country life” in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Reading tops the list of all his hobbies — especially if it’s followed by a dish of hot curry! Doane also enjoys “not for the faint of heart” cooking, so check back soon for some of his favorite recipes.
He has often been asked how has he survived so long in a business that is riddled with crash-and-burn stories. Doane replies thoughtfully, “Some people had a steep trajectory upward and then found they couldn’t maintain that pace or cope with the pressure. I had a much slower, steadier climb, all of which seemed like a natural evolution from the previous step. By and large, I managed to stay away from most of the typical traps to which so many great musicians succumbed. It’s a tough business and staying reasonably healthy and mentally fit is a secondary art form to the music and pretty necessary if you want to consider a long career. I think I’m pretty lucky to be able to continue to be a working musician, composer and writer. I still have so much that I’m looking forward to – I have wonderful friends, family and a very satisfying career and I thank my good fortune that I am here to appreciate it!”