I tend to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. Yet, I don’t mind being call Jack… I’d feel odd being called master. (No worries there!)
“Yeah, I’ll be king / when dogs get wings” – It’s Good to be King by Tom Petty
Recently, I had a chance to talk to drummer Graham Lear, on his induction into the Jack Richardson London Music Hall of Fame. As Canadians, we tend to hold back our approval of homegrown talent until they’re honoured by the outside world. Not so with Graham Lear.
Before his meteoric rise to international fame – including stints with Gino Vannelli, Santana, REO Speedwagon, and Paul Anka – I became familiar with Lear’s reputation when he started his professional career with the London Symphony Orchestra at 13 – plus, local rock and R&B bands like, ‘King Lear and the Playwrights.’
Lear’s drumming style has been described in various ways: legitimate, educated… with a natural sense of rhythm. Or, as Carlos Santana described it: “soulful precision.”
I asked him what it feels like to be “world-class.” But, I could tell he was uncomfortable with comparisons. Personally, “success” meant that he’s never needed a job outside of music, unusual for most artists, to support his family.
I tried to get some agreement on the fact that he was one of the best to come out of the London area. He allowed me a little latitude; but, qualified it with the fact that outlying regions have always produced great drummers, all along its highways and byways.
He seemed too modest, so I tried another tack. He beat out dozens of exceptional drummers to get the gig with legendary Latin-rock super group, Santana. So, doesn’t that mean he had something special? But no, he wasn’t buying into that either. As he’s stated in other interviews, it’s just too competitive to be complacent… you can catch acts, in any town, that just blow you away.
Yet, Graham Lear – in addition to becoming the ultimate professional – has obvious inter-personal skills.That’s important because only 15% of a person’s success is based on technical abilities alone; the rest is based on how you get along with others. And, playing with other highly skilled musicians, egos can easily get bruised… becoming a minefield: one thoughtless step and you could have a blowup.
During his acceptance speech, Graham mentioned the contribution of all his teachers. It’s also been said that his father reinforced a self-disciplined approach to young Graham’s practices. So, he advised younger musicians, no matter where they’re from, to keep learning and aspiring to believe that – like “the call” he got from Santana – all things are possible.
So, is he one of the world’s best? It depends on your criteria, but accolades about Lear’s tenure in the music industry have one commonality: Respect.
Still, you’d be hard pressed to find his name on any genre specific ‘Top 100’ list. But Carlos Santana may have said it the best, “Graham Lear the Great.”
Yes, long live the king!