Andy Doerschuk | Drums Across the Decades

By Dan Kimpel
Reprinted with permission from Music Connection Magazine, March 2001, Vol. XXV, No. 07

What makes the editor of a well-respected music magazine spend his weekends crammed into a van with a blues band fronted by a guitarist young enough to be his son? For Andy Doerschuk, it is his belief in the power of music to transcend generations.

Doerschuk, the editor of DRUM! magazine, is the drummer for 19-year-old Corby Yates, a rising blues artist. At the end of a long week running a magazine, Doerschuk, who is based in the Bay Area, runs out the door to join the boys in the van, traversing a tour route that now extends from Southern California to Oregon.

"These are some of the most fun gigs I've done in a long time," shares Doerschuk. "At least 50 percent of the shows are totally sold-out and [Yates'] audiences are rabid, kind of like the Grateful Dead crowds, because they follow him from gig to gig. It's been 20 years since I've done gigs that have been this exciting. He's revitalized this experience for me."

Earlier in his career, Doerschuk racked up serious road and studio credits with Rick Derringer, Steppenwolf, Debbie Davies, Billy Vera and the Beaters, Leslie West, Pat Travers, Naughty Sweeties, the Pop and Kevin Russell. Still, he had to diversify in order to make ends meet. "Most working drummers must develop more than one profit center to stay afloat," confides Doerschuk. "That typically means they teach or work in a drum shop." But his editorial talents served him well as the founding editor of Bass Player and Drums & Drumming magazines [both GPI (Guitar Player) Publications], the editor of The Bass Book, and as the author of Drum Hardware Maintenance & Setup. "When I first started working at GPI, I didn't stop playing," Doerschuk clarifies. "I stopped trying to make it as a professional player. The gigs I was doing were more local and low-profile."

Drums & Drumming was funded by a well-heeled publisher. Not so for Doerschuk's next venture, DRUM!, which he describes euphemistically as "soft-financed." He explains, "At that time, DRUM! was more than a full-time job. For three years I had to earn my living playing gigs to fund my hobby of being a full-time editor. Out of necessity I started playing 15-20 gigs a month around the area with bands. It was the easiest and most lucrative way for me to pay the bills while I got the magazine off the ground. When I could afford to, I happily stopped playing. When DRUM! started to be more of a job, it was a happy day in my life. But the grass is always greener; when I stopped playing I was happy not to play, but I got that itch again."

Two years ago, Doerschuk played with the Russell Brothers at The Mystic Theater in Petaluma, CA. On the bill was Corby Yates. "It was like watching The Exorcist," chuckles Doerschuk, "the kid was so into the music it was just astounding to watch. Corby is 19 now -- he looks like he's 15 -- and when you see him onstage you're struck by the incongruity of how he looks and the notes coming out of his amplifier."

Doerschuk's and Yates' touring schedule has strengthened their bond. "We spend so much time travelling together we've gotten to know each other really well,' he says. 'I'm 45. You don't get many opportunities to develop relationships with 19-year-olds because you tend to gravitate to people your own age."

Introducing Yates to different artists has been another enjoyable part of the equation. "I do find that, as talented as Corby is, when we're in the van and talking about music and about being a musician, there are plenty of holes in his knowledge Š It throws you off -- when you talk to him you realize that he's never heard of Grand Funk Railroad."

What music has Doerschuk played for Yates that resonated? "Recently, an album from Boubakar Traore, a guitarist from Mali. Also, the North Mississippi Allstars. In terms of older stuff, he likes Tom Waits and 13th Floor Elevators." Doerschuk doesn't consider himself a mentor per se, though he does believe that the life experiences he shares with Yates may point to creative directions for his young front man. "Not that I'm going to be his main influence," he clarifies, "but it's nice to know that things we've talked about may help him to make better decisions along the way -- and to optimize and make the most out of situations that present themselves to him."

Current technology has enabled Doerschuk to maintain dual careers. Though his two interests complement each other, he acknowledges that they involve vastly different skills and demands. As a journalist, he has to handle e-mails and phone calls, transcribe interviews, write and edit copy, work on layouts, and print pages of the magazine for proofing.

As a drummer he has to travel, rehearse and record music. Fortunately, he is able to accomplish it all with a laptop computer, portable printer and cell phone, and he has retrofitted a mini computer desk to fit in the band's van. Powered by these tools, he travels up and down the West Coast doing business for DRUM! magazine on his way to the next gig.

There is also another benefit: as the editor of a trade magazine he is involved, hands-on, with what he writes about. "My revived drumming career enhances my ability to be an effective editor who understands the challenges and rewards of a professional drumming gig," he says. "I've also been able to employ organizational skills acquired from my work as a journalist to become a more effective musician. I've talked to the greatest drummers in the world over the past 13 years and I've learned a lot from the conversations I've had, particularly in the technical areas: tuning drums, recording, how you conduct yourself on the road. I've been able to use things from the drummers I've interviewed and apply them to my drumming."

Meanwhile, Doerschuk is creatively revitalized by the energy of working with a new artist. He enthuses, "It's like a new magazine or company. Being at the ground floor of any enterprise is exciting in the music business or shoe business, taking something from an idea to a full-blown enterprise."

Still, Doerschuk is realistic enough to realize that at some point something may have to give. " I'll keep playing with Corby as long as I can," he stresses. "But there'll be a point where his manager will say, 'I've booked three months in Europe,' and there'll be a point where I'll have to back off or find a sub for a tour. Even though I've been able to work on the magazine on the road, the truth is the most I'm out of the office is two or three days, not two or three weeks. I'm not sure I can sustain that. But my hope is the CD we record will push him to the next level. And that's what I wanted to do for him."

Until that time, though, on any given weekend you can find Andy Doerschuk doing what he's done for over two decades: traveling the highway to set up his kit and count off the tunes that define the heartbeat of the music he loves. In sharing his experience and commitment with a rising artist he is sustaining the legacy of a classic American music form.

"It's never too late to jump back into playing music," he testifies.