On Jan. 31, 2010 drummer Yonrico Scott was onstage at the L.A. Convention Center for the pre-telecast award ceremony of the GRAMMYs accepting the award for Best Contemporary Blues Album for the Derek Trucks Band. On Dec. 3, he and his own Yonrico Scott Band will hit the stage right here at the historic Myrtle Beach Train Depot for the final South By Southeast Music Feast of the year.
This is why I “Trust the Frog.” The folks at SxSE spend their time scouring the road not taken by the mainstream bandwagon to bring us some of the country’s most respected singer/songwriters and musicians, most of whom aren’t household names to the public, but are well-known to other musicians.
Yonrico Scott is one of this talented community of musicians. He played with the Derek Trucks Band from about 1993, he guesses, until the band went on hiatus late last year so Derek could form a new band with wife Susan Tedeschi. He has toured with Peabo Bryson and Earl Klugh and played with greats like Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Freddie Hubbard and the Allman Brothers Band.
In a telephone interview earlier this week, we talked about his GRAMMY experience, his career and his passion for art.
As a child, Scott was greatly influenced and encouraged by his mother Ruth Naomi Scott, a gospel singer who grew up in Detroit. She was a member of the Detroit Harmonettes and it sounds like she cherished her son’s budding talent.
“She was truly an angel,” says Scott, “always encouraging me. I started playing drums at about five years old.”
By age 14, he was studying with Motown drummer George Hamilton. At 15, he recorded “Message From the Ghetto” with The Sons of Truth for the Stax gospel subsidiary.
He went to college in Kentucky, studying drums and percussion with Chicago Symphony classical percussionist Patrick Arnold and classical timpanist Dave Davenport. Scott says his classical study is the reason that he is the drummer he is today.
Upon moving to Atlanta, Ga. in the late seventies, he immediately met guitarist George Greer, who turned him on to the neighborhood arts center. Connections made there helped get his foot in the door of the jingle business, and he started doing work for Atlanta mogul Ted Turner.
Sometime in 1992 or 1993, he had a call from Col. Bruce Hampton (Gov’t Mule) with the news that then 14-year-old Derek Truck was looking for a drummer.
“The first time I heard him play, I knew this was big,” Scott tells me. “The first year we played 320 dates. We did all the small cities.
“A lot of people don’t know, but when I started with DTB, we were doing bebop … all sorts of stuff.”
Because DTB took a regular hiatus, Scott was able to play with his own Yonrico Scott Band, which includes Kofi Burbridge, keys/flute; Todd Smallie, bass; Mace Hibbard, sax; Nick Johnson, guitar; Laura Reed, special guest vocalist; and many other players on different occasion. YSB’s debut release, Turning the Corner, a 12-track disc of mainly jazz instrumentals, was released in January, 2004.
His first touring job was with Peabo Bryson and Patti LaBelle. Through Bryson, he connected with Broadway and spent several years working in productions such as The Wiz, Dream Girls, Les Misérables and Five Guys Named Mo, which featured the music of Louis Jordan.
What was it like getting a GRAMMY, I wanted to know.
“I loved it. I walked the red carpet with Ringo Starr on my right and Mick Fleetwood on my left.”
He continues, “Derek had been really cool with it, said he wasn’t going to go, so I said that I was thinking of going and Derek asked me to represent the band, so then it was official. I was going!”
Scott kept a GRAMMY journal about the experience that’s posted on the Derek Trucks Band site. It’s a great read. I love how much fun he’s having with it. Here’s just a snippet:
“I get the award and I’m trying to stay composed on stage but in my mind, I’m freaking out! A lot of the other winners seemed so relaxed when we won, but for me it was just such a huge deal. I had this Grammy in my hand and I was just blown over! Right now I still think it’s a dream and I just wonder when the dream will be over.”
Throughout all Scott’s stories (and he has many), I was impressed by just how jaded he is not. He is embracing every experience that comes along.
“After I got the Grammy, I decided I wanted to do another album. I started in March of 2010, and I finished about three months ago.”
Scott is very excited about the new recording, Be In My World, which he expects will be released in early 2012. Players include his sister Ronda Scott (they sing a duet); vocalist Laura Reed from South Africa; Derek Trucks; DTB bass player Todd Smallie; DTB vocalist Mike Matteson, jazz guitarist Grant Green Jr.; virtuoso bassist Joseph Patrick Moore; singer/songwriter Diane Durrett and more. Three of the tracks are written by funk keyboardist Reverend Oliver Wells. Scott himself wrote several tracks.
“There are 15 original songs and a cover of Buddy Miles’ “‘dem Changes,’” Scott says, “and this is the first recording with me as a lead vocal. So that’s me on vibes, percussion, singing and drums. The album, titled Be In My World is a tribute to Buddy Miles.”
Art is another passion for Yonrico Scott. “I was always drawing and making stuff, as a kid.”
Once again, his mother was at his side, encouraging him.
“‘You can have the upstairs. Do whatever you want,’ my mother told me,’ Scott laughs.
“Then, when I started with Derek, we were making up set lists and I started drawing on them. We would make color copies for the band, and then for some of the fans. And now they’re collected all over the place.”
Scott is a prolific artist, painting drum heads for his many gigs along with paintings.
“I’m not a trained artist,” he continues. “I’m making a statement . . . One of my biggest idols was Howard Finster [legendary Atlanta folk artist known for his 1980s album designs for groups like R.E.M. and Talking Heads]. He told me to keep doing my own stuff. Don’t take lessons. So that’s what I do.”
This past October, when visionary artists Alex and Allison Gray, known for their psychodelic album covers, came to Atlanta’s inaugural Visionary Arts Fair, Yonrico was part of it.
“I was playing drums, wearing a crazy suit. I loved it.”
So much is happening for Yonrico Scott these days, it’s hard to keep up.
“The biggest thing for me right now is a new band. I’ve been invited to join the Royal Southern Brotherhood with Cyril Neville, Devon Allman and MIke Zito with Charlie Wooton on bass. The band will debut at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, and we have bookings through Dec. 2012.”
Joining Scott at the SxSE gig will be jazz keyboardist Buzz Amatto, guitarist Randy Honea, and Ted Peccio on bass. Something tells me this is going to be a genre-jumping adventure, and I can’t wait.
Music Feasts are $25 per person ($20 for SxSE annual concert series members). Reservations are suggested. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the number of tickets and your zip code. They’ll put you on their A list.
The Myrtle Beach Train Depot is located at 851 Broadway in Myrtle Beach. For more information about the SxSE event,log onto http://www.southbysoutheast.org.
Note: I loved talking with Yonrico Scott, and there’s a lot more to the interview, so I plan to organize my notes and add some of them to this blog post soon.