Johnny Vidacovich’s drum acrobatics beat out some solid, skilled sounds. Every Thursday night at the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street in New Orleans he jams with his band The Trio, and like his drumming the lineup is always changing. You may see him with James Singleton, or maybe George Porter and Skerik. The constant, though, is Johnny V’s eclectic and exciting rhythm. He’s an improv genius, shifting his style with class to meet the song, switching between jazz, reggae, and street beats.
Johnny plays free and easy. Loose limbs, rocking around the drum stool, and singing a few bars here and there, but he never misses. He keeps the music flowing and the crowd dancing because “It ain’t nothing but a party.” I saw him play with so much grace and having so much fun that I couldn’t stop thinking he was a man built of kinetic energy and absolute talent… And he sure as hell is! But when I talked to him I was surprised to learn that he’s got an extensive background in formal music training.
Starting in grammar school Johnny was educated in drums through both school and private lessons. He even attended Loyola University to major in drums. Then he moved to bars and venues around the New Orleans area, earning a stint as the house drummer at the Playboy Club. There, and all over the city, he continued to learn more beats and genres by playing many different styles throughout the week. Backing up some great Jazz vets didn’t hurt either.
But now it seems a lot of musicians have shied from studying their craft. I know from experience. I’ve played guitar for ten years now and never once took a lesson, but I always think of how much better I could have been, or how enriched some musicians could be if the time had been taken for some education like Johnny.
Johnny’s got the whole package, though. For years now he’s taken his wild but controlled, frenetic and learned skill set straight to the students. He regularly teaches lessons, and there are dozens of great drummers that have benefitted. Just as his songs will defy the genre police by mixing three or four different styles, he believes that “Each person is his own category.” No two drummers get the same lesson. If someone needs book training, they get it. If someone wants to know how to read music, he teaches them. Others can only learn by watching, and Johnny shows them.
Not only is Johnny a fantastic drummer, he’s a generous one, spreading his crazy style all over so it can live on. If I were you I’d check him out. Whether you want a lesson, or if you just want to see a good show, find out where he is and go there. Catch him at the Maple Leaf on Thursdays, and visit his website (http://johnnyvidacovich.com) for show dates at other venues. I asked him for some final words, and here they are: “Peace and love.”