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Published: 2001/04/15
by Rob Johnson

Yonrico Scott: Hangin’ with the Jamband Clique

It’s no secret that drummers are treated like second-class citizens in the music world. First of all, with rare exceptions, in most bands the drummer is shrouded in shadows at the back of the stage. Then there is the widespread belief that drummers aren’t “real” musicians, whatever that means. And don’t even get me started on the fact that to many concertgoers, “drum solo” is equivalent to “bathroom break.”

The fact is, it takes a special breed to be a drummer. Somebody who is willing to hold down the beat for the rest of the band, while at the same time keeping things fresh with fills and accents. Somebody whose satisfaction derives from making great music, not getting the most attention or the most groupies. Somebody who is willing to put aside their ego in order to serve the almighty groove. Somebody like Yonrico Scott of the Derek Trucks Band.

MUSICAL ROOTS

For some six years now, Yonrico has been the musical yang to Derek Trucks’ yin. The precocious slide guitar prodigy gets all the publicity (after all, it is his band), but anyone who has actually seen the Derek Trucks Band in action knows that Yonrico is the foundation that the House of Derek is built on. His combination of raw funk/rock power and subtle jazz chops makes him the perfect traveling companion for Derek’s wide-ranging musical excursions.

Like many musicians, Yonrico Scott’s music has deep roots in spirituality and family. His mother was a gospel singer with the Detroit Harmonettes, who played the legendary Apollo Theater, and Yonrico was surrounded by music growing up. “From singing in church and living on the street, I got that sense of soul in music,” he explains. Formal music training added sophistication and technique, but that soul is still at the core of everything Yonrico does.

For a while, Scott was like most working musicians, taking whatever gigs he could to make ends meet. While he cherishes the opportunity to work with legends like Stevie Wonder, it wasn’t always fun. “There was a period called the local yokel syndrome,” he admits, “where I was making a lot of money, but I wasn’t happy.” At one point, he was playing four sets a night in a lounge. “By the time you get to the third set, the audience should be drunk,” he offers helpfully. “By the fourth set, YOU should be drunk.”

YONRICO GETS ZAMBIFIED

Yonrico Scott’s musical life took a turn for the better when became the drummer for Col. Bruce Hampton’s often-overlooked Fiji Mariners in 1994. He had known keyboardist Dan Matrazzo (now fronting his own jazz fusion band, Shock Treatment) since 1985, but nothing in his previous experience had prepared him for the all-consuming weirdness that is Col. Bruce.

After years of playing sideman gigs where somebody else was telling him what to play, the Fiji Mariners thrust Yonrico into an unshackled atmosphere of pure freedom where he could express his considerable musical creativity. “Playing with Bruce is a very liberating experience,” according to Yonrico, and he wishes more musicians had the opportunity. As exciting as the Fijis were, however, an even more enticing gig soon arose with one of Bruce’s other proteges: Derek Trucks.

Even though Derek was only a teenager at the time, his restless creative vision was already outstripping the abilities of his band, a collection of solid but unspectacular middle-aged pros. To move forward, he would need to be surrounded by musicians who were as creative and resistant to stagnation as Derek himself. Enter Yonrico, by way of Bruce Hampton.

“Bruce put this band together,” Yonrico says matter-of-factly. If so, add another item to the Colonel’s ever-growing list of musical accomplishments. Keyboardist Bill McKay is no longer with the DTB, but Scott and bass ace Todd Smallie are still with Derek some six years later, (along with Kofi Burbridge on keyboards and flute and Javier Colon on vocals and percussion) and they are creating some of the most original and exciting music on the planet.

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