Born with a heartbeat for drums
Think back to what you were doing when you were 5 years old. You were probably going to kindergarten wearing your favorite light up sneakers, coming home, having a snack, watching cartoons, taking a nap, watching cartoons, taking a bubble bath, watching cartoons, eating dinner, and going to sleep. Then you'd wake up the next day and do it all over again. Life was so simple. Unless you're Jason Hartless.
By the time Jason was 5 years old, he was already playing drums with professional musicians. By the age 8, he was recording with the legendary Corky Laing of the band Mountain and Richie Scarlett of Ace Frehley. By the age of 12, he was already a seasoned pro drummer and out on tour with Brian Schram, former guitarist with Uncle Kracker.
As you can see, Jason was not your average little kid. Not your average drummer. Now, on tour with the legendary "Mad Man" himself, Ted Nugent, Jason is holding his own and keeping the rhythm as he makes his own name in the rock history books.
September 1, 2019 By Kreig Marks
TRR: Hi Jason. Welcome to Tru Rock Revival Magazine.
JH: Hi Kreig. Thanks for having me.
TRR: It's our pleasure. Where are you today? I know you're still on tour with Ted Nugent.
JH: We actually have the day off. We're in Chattanooga. We drove up from Daytona Beach and we're heading up to Cincinnati tomorrow. So, I'm just hanging out today and enjoying the scenery.
TRR: Chattanooga has really grown. I went to college there and the city is almost unrecognizable from where it was 20 years ago.
JH: Yeah. My drum tech and I went by the Chattanooga Choo Choo train station and we stumbled upon a really cool guitar museum there. It's called Songbirds.
TRR: That must be new. I had no idea it's there.
JH: It's pretty cool.
TRR: Well, next time I head up to visit my friends I'll have to check it out. Alright. Let's get this show started. But first,
I need some clarification on this. I've heard you started to play the drums at 6 months of age?
JH: Yes. Pretty much. My dad was a drummer so the drums were always in the house. My dad used to sit me on his lap with some drum sticks and I'd take them and start banging them. I would always be crawling around the house holding on to some drumsticks so by the time I was big enough to get on the stool I'd get up there and start playing.
TRR: And, by the age of 5, you were playing cover gigs?
JH: Yeah. My dad would have some of his musician friends come over the house and I'd sit in and play the drums with them, just jamming with them.
TRR: Do you have a full recollection of those shows?
JH: Somewhat. But, mostly from photos and some video.
TRR: Did your dad teach you how to play the drums or did you have formal lessons?
JH: My dad taught me how to hold the sticks and a basic beat but for the most part, I was self-taught my entire life until I was about 13 and I took some weekly lessons. But from the time I was about 7 until 13, I studied with a bunch of guys like Corky Laing from Mountain and was mentored by Eric Singer, Todd Sucherman from Styx, so it really wasn't until my early teens that I decided I didn't need to be a rock drummer but I needed to be a musician.
TRR: I'm sure that really helped you reel it all in and develop better habits and techniques on the drums.
JH: Oh, absolutely. When I was in elementary and high school, I was involved in every ensemble, symphony band, concert band, jazz band, marching band, percussion ensemble, drum line. I tried to engulf myself in every single aspect as possible so I didn't miss out on any experiences as a growing musician.
TRR: Let's take a step back for a minute. I'm assuming that your father played a very big role in you playing the drums. Did he push you into playing the drums or is it something that you just felt you wanted to do?
JH: You know, I think about this a lot. The thing about my upbringing, my parents never pushed me into playing. It was something I wanted to do from the time I can remember. I've seen these "stage parents" who push their kids into modeling or whatever and they force their kids to practice every day or tell them to do this or do that. Fortunately, my parents never told me to go practice. I was usually a pretty good kid, not really getting into trouble. But, when I did get in trouble, my parents grounded me from the drums because they knew that would really affect me more than taking away a toy or television. So, I was never forced into it. It's something I loved. I know so many other musicians who are very talented or were, who's parents just forced them into it rather than letting them just enjoy it and they stopped enjoying it and quit. I'm fortunate that my parents let me make my own decisions and supported me in them.
TRR: Does your dad still play the drums?
JH: Yeah, occasionally. Every few months he'll sit behind the kit and he'll play. His band from the 90's will get together every once in a while and play a gig here or there.
TRR: Does your dad try to show you how it's done?
JH: (laughing) No. Luckily he's never told me how to play. He guides me more in the business side of things. My dad taught me that in this business, it's important to voice your opinions and communicate. My dad is in sales and is a great communicator so he's taught me how to communicate better in social situations and I've become very good at it.
TRR: You're now working on a degree in Music Business?
JH: Yeah. I'll have my Bachelor's next Spring from Berkeley College of Music and then I'll begin my Master's right after. There's so many great musicians out there who are 55 years old and scrounging around for gigs, playing a corner pub and trying to make fifty bucks. I don't ever want to be in that position. That's when music doesn't become fun and I want to position myself in other aspects of the industry so I can transition myself into other positions of the business when my phone stops ringing in the future.
TRR: Jason, I think you're gonna be ok. I think your phone is going to be ringing a lot for a long time.
JH: Thank you. I hope so.
TRR: Who were you listening to when you were growing up?
JH: My earliest influences were some of my dads, early 70's glam rock. Like Sweet, T-Rex. Then I got into KISS and STYX and bands like that. I've listened to a lot of different genres because I want to be able to play a lot of different styles.
TRR: What style of music do you prefer to play?
JH: Whatever the check clears! (laughing)
TRR: Way to be politically correct! (laughing)
JH: In all seriousness, I just love music and love to play all kinds. I'm not locked into one set genre.
TRR: What do you prefer more, session drumming or being on tour as a hired drummer?
JH: I love both equally. They're both completely different avenues and different styles of playing. But I love both.
TRR: Do you want to have your own band?
JH: Absolutely not. I've never had a desire to go in that direction or be in that position. I love to be a studio and touring musician. I can play with tons of artists and each one can be so different. In the past year I've played on hip hop, a big band Christmas album, a funk record, an R&B and the new Ted Nugent record. There was even one day I was in my car and this Chevy commercial came on and I'm like, "I think that's me on the drums." (laughing)
TRR: So you play jingles too! Jingles can be big bucks! Just ask someone like Barry Manilow.
JH: (laughing) Oh, it's fun as hell.
TRR: What’s it been like touring with Ted Nugent?
JH: It's been phenomenal. This is my 4th year touring with him. I couldn't ask for a better boss. He's such a great person to work for and he's a phenomenal musician. I always knew he was a phenomenal guitarist but the musicality he presents on stage is incredible. Every night there's so much improvising of our set, I'd say about 70% of it. There's a lot of jamming and free-form stuff.
TRR: Has he taught you how to use a bow and arrow yet?
JH: (laughing) Actually the first time I ever shot a gun was with him. My first rehearsal at his ranch in Michigan, he found out that me and my drum tech had never shot a gun before and the rehearsal stopped immediately! A screaching hault! (laughing)
TRR: I see Ted's eyes getting real big and wide and that big grin of his.
JH: That was it! Exactly! (laughing)
TRR: Does he get all political on you?
JH: (laughing) No, I don't get into any of that at all!
TRR: How did you hook up with Ted?
JH: I'll keep it short. I was touring with a band called Pistol Day Parade. We had some pretty decent active rock success. Our record was launched and it was so good people were comparing it to Rumors by Fleetwood Mac because every song was going to be released as a single. We did a tour and opened for Ted Nugent. After our tour, a couple of the guys in the band decided they didn't want to do this anymore. After the tour I was looking for some work for the next year and I sent out some emails and one of the guys I emailed was Ted's manager and he emailed me back and asked if I could do a Ted Nugent set. Ted called me 2 days later and we spoke for about an hour about Detroit music and what he was looking for in a drummer. I flew out to Waco, Texas a few days later and sat in a hot sweaty room with a bass player and Ted and I've been with the band ever since.
TRR: What type of temptations have been presented to you on tour that you just say, “I think I’m gonna pass on that.”
JH: Well, you know, being that I've grown up in the industry, I've seen a lot of phenomenal musicians waste there life away on drugs. I was exposed to that very early on. I'm proud to say I've never done that, I've never done drugs, I don't smoke or drink. The days of sex, drugs and rock n roll don't exist for me. That's all Hollywood. When I'm on the road, I'm here to work.
TRR: In your relatively short time here on Earth, you’ve already accomplished a lot, musically. Let me ask you this. What really stands out as a “wow” moment for you where you’ve been on stage or in the studio and you looked around and thought to yourself, “Wow, I’m playing drums with so and so.”
JH: Every single night with Ted. Being a Detroit guy, Ted is a folk legend. The highlight of my career was a few years ago when we went to Okinawa, Japan and played for the US Military. I'm a big World War II buff and we had a day off and got to go see Hacksaw Ridge. I'm grateful for all the places I've been able to see.
TRR: You ever pinch yourself to see if all of this is real?
JH: Of course. But, I'm the type of person who really loves music. I love the gig with Ted but I get the same type of buzz just playing a corner pub or jamming with friends.
TRR: What’s on the schedule for the rest of the year?
JH: I've been splitting a lot of time between Detroit and Nashville and keeping busy doing Master Classes and Clinics. I take my life one day at a time. I could get a call today that could change the next 6 months of my life.
TRR: Do your parents have the opportunity to get out and see you play a lot?
JH: All the time. They just flew out to Clearwater a few days ago. We played Melbourne and Clearwater. They always try to make it out to a lot of the shows.
TRR: Where are you next?
JH: Next stop is in Cincinnati. Then, I believe we have another 5 shows left and we finish at home in Detroit.
TRR: Then, more studio work?
JH: Yeah. But, you never know what phone call is going to come.
TRR: Jason, again, I think you're gonna be getting a lot of calls for the next several years.
JH: That's the hope. (laughing)
TRR: Jason. It's been a pleasure speaking to you. Thank you for getting together with me here today. Is there anyone you want to give a shout out to?
JH: I have no idea. (laughing) I've been very lucky to have so much support from everyone from school teachers, friends, family. There's just too many to give just a single shout out to.
TRR: Be safe and enjoy the rest of the tour. And send our best to Ted
JH: Will do. And, Kreig, thanks again. I really appreciate this.
TRR: My pleasure Jason. Keep making great music.
JH: Will do. Speak to you soon.
For further information about Jason Hartless, visit http://www.jasonhartless.com/