One of the most active artists in the jam scene today is Kung Fu’s drummer, Adrian Tramontano. If you’re in the Northeast, you’ve undoubtedly caught Tramontano tearing it up on stage with either Kung Fu or during any one of the many super jams he’s regularly tapped for each year. He’s also performed on stage with the likes of Twiddle, Pink Talking Fish, and Dopapod, to name a few. Live For Live Music caught up with Adrian before one of Kung Fu’s recent performances in New England to find out more about the busy drummer.
Live For Live Music: Let’s talk about your earliest influences and what led you on the path to where you are today.
Adrian Tramontano: My dad is a guitar player. When I was about 9 years old, he had a band called Recall and he used to bring me to band practice. I was attracted to the music. I basically sat behind the drummer at their band practice and watched him. A couple other kids were upstairs playing Nintendo and I didn’t care. I just wanted to play drums, so I watched what he did with his arms and legs.
One time the drummer took a piss, and I climbed on the drum set. They were working on the Rolling Stones tune, “Time Is On My Side.” Just from watching them do it, I climbed on, though I couldn’t really reach the kick pedal and the high hat because I was so young. I started playing along with them and mimicked everything he did—to the drum fills and everything. I had never even really heard the original version at the time; I was just going by what they were doing. That felt really good, and the band was like, “Whoa, where did that come from?”
They started to let me play more here and there. At gigs when I was around 11 years old, I started to play with them. They let me play “Wipe-Out,” Satisfaction,” and “Youngblood,” and stuff like that. They would even toss me $20. It felt so good. I even got to play a couple outdoor gigs in front of a lot of people. It was amazing.
At the time, and since my father’s a guitar player, I listened to a lot of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix. I was heavily into John Bonham, so immediately I was hooked on drums when I heard that, as well as Mitch Mitchell playing “Fire” and the whole first Jimi Hendrix record. Cream was another band I learned a lot from as well. My dad is a huge Clapton head. I also listened to Metallica, Bon Jovi, Poison, Whitesnake, and basically all of the bands that were on MTV at the time in 1989. I played along on a Walkman cassette recorder. I played along with whole albums. I would put them in and go. I was really into the ’80s because that was the shit that was going on when I was a kid. I wasn’t really into rap or New Kids On The Block and all that other stuff. I was into the rock and metal.
When ’91 or ’92 rolled around, it was Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Green Day, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. I was into that at the time, but of course, I always loved my classics. I was mainly a rock drummer, and I loved the feeling of playing gigs with my dad’s band.
L4LM: Is there any one particular drummer that you would love to emulate or just really look up to?
AT: Later on, I got turned on to different music. I was in a band that played more jazz infusion called Magic. Tim Palmieri was also in the band, and I filled in for their drummer for four months or so. They started turning me on to Dave Weckl, Chick Corea, and Jeff Lorber, which was sort of electric jazz. I started getting into some really good drummers at that time, which changed my life. The three drummers that totally changed my life right away when I saw them play was Dave Weckl, Dennis Chambers, and Vinnie Colaiuta. These acrobatic drummers were taking these huge drum solos and were just amazing.
I got a drum video when I was a kid that had all these drum solos on it, and it blew me away. All I did was watch and study it and basically started copying licks and playing it. I would practice three or four hours a day sometimes. During at least two of those hours, I was playing drum solos. My chops were building and I was just trying to be Chambers or Weckl. That right there just changed everything. If you saw the video, you could see where the influence comes from, especially with the soloing.
L4LM: You’ve played with a lot of different artists. Are there particular moments on stage that stand out above the rest?
AT: Jon Fishman, for one, Victor Bailey, and another drummer Johnny Rabb. There’s a lot. Mike Gordon.
L4LM: You can jump on other instruments, such as the guitar or keys, and seem to have a wide variety of knowledge musically. Tell us more about that.
AT: I like to play percussion too. I played percussion in that band Magic for like four years. I’ve been doing it since I was 15 or 16 professionally. It took me a long time to get good at it. I was obsessed with Santana, so I always wanted to play good congas and timbales.
I took a couple lessons from a friend of mine a few years back to really get into it. The percussion is a big thing of mine, and it takes a really good sense of musicianship to play. There’s a lot to be said about playing something with percussion, but I get off on doing new things and taking new risks. It’s opposite my drumming, obviously, and it’s not simple.
My father was a guitar player, so I’ve been around guitars way longer than drums. I would learn things when I was really young like how to play a chord. I had to put the guitar on my lap and play like Jeff Healey. I learned a lot of chords like that.
I’ve owned a guitar for a long time. I love guitars and I’ve been practicing ever since. For a while when I was on the road with Psychedelic Breakfast, I wasn’t making money, but touring two-hundred days a year. When I wasn’t touring, I had to actually go get gigs and make some money, and the guitar was the easiest way. It was easy to get on a gig or play a bar gig with a friend who was a really good guitar player and singer. I would play second guitar a lot. I’ve got a lot of experience playing and obviously, I put time into it. My father is a really good player and I have almost the same tone as him with bends and vibrato.
Piano is something I’ve been around a lot since I was a kid. I never wanted to embrace it, but I’ve played and practiced it. I’ve also played some gigs on piano and keyboards. Bass, same thing. I’ve played gigs on bass. I just zone in on what these musicians are doing that I’ve played with. I single them out and hear what they’re doing, and I learn the roles so I know what you’re supposed to do. It comes naturally to me to play the bass like a bassist and not a drummer. Whatever I get obsessed about or focus on, I get into it and learn. The only thing I can’t play is saxophone or woodwinds. I’m terrible. I’m really bad at it and I don’t think I will ever get good. I wish I could.
L4LM: Have you ever injured yourself on stage?
AT: Injured myself on stage? Yeah, minor. Sometimes, I’ll be playing and the drumstick will just punch me in the face. Once in a great while, I will hit my knuckle with a drumstick. When you’re playing, you’re kind of numb from shit too, so you don’t know you’re hurt if that happens. I don’t get blisters that much anymore. People bleeding and doing all that shit with drumsticks, I feel like something’s wrong. There’s a technique to not doing that stupid shit.
L4LM: Is there an artist that is still on your bucket list that you would love to perform with?
AT: Peter Gabriel. I had a dream about that one time. I was obsessed with Peter Gabriel for a while. His live show is so amazing and theatrical. I want to get into more of that. I want to get into a show with a big name like that and just be a part of something like a huge tour at least once. Any of those big Dead projects would be fun. I wish I could play guitar in one of those projects. I love Jerry [Garcia]. I love the way he plays. We have similar styles. Of course, I recently saw Chick Corea and would love to play with him or Herbie Hancock. On the funk fusion sense, Steely Dan. Kung Fu is going to honor Walter Becker as best we can. We love Steely Dan, so his loss hurt.
L4LM: Do you have any projects coming up that you are working on?
AT: I want to go to NAMM [National Association of Music Merchants] in January and am working on getting an endorsement with Zildjian. Remo drum heads I would prefer. I’m endorsed by Vater drumsticks, and I’ve got my own signature model. Musically, I’m so busy with Kung Fu all the time, and we’re writing a lot of songs. Between studio time and mixing, we’ve got four songs that are ready to release. I also play with BRYAC Funk All-Stars which is a more traditional boogaloo funk band like James Brown, and a bit Meters-esque. It’s got a couple members in it from Deep Banana Blackout.
I also play with a Beatles band called Psychedelic Beatles. We know every single Beatles song. We had a five-week residency where we played every single Beatles song ever recorded, in alphabetical order. We did it very accurately too. We even did Revolution 9 with somebody conducting it. We did a really good job of that, but now we’re doing versions of Beatles songs that are jammed out. It’s fun and it’s awesome and I definitely enjoy it. I fill my schedule quite a bit. Some stuff I don’t even tell people about and I just do it. I find fun in anything I do, but sometimes it’s best not to tell everyone about everything.
L4LM: Is there anything else you would like to say to fans out there?
AT: I want people to come out to Kung Fu shows a little more. We’ve been switching it up a lot. I’ve been writing the setlists for a while now. I’ve been changing it up to where we are doing a lot of different exploratory ideas. We’re writing a lot of new tunes. We’re just changing up our show a lot from what it used to be in the past. We are getting really open about how we’ve been playing stuff lately. I want people to get into the band, dig into the set list and check stuff out on archive.
Check out Tramontano’s chops below, courtesy of TELEFUNKEN.
For more information on Adrian Tramontano and Kung Fu, please visit their official website.
Words and Photos by Sarah Bourque