Drummer’s Showcase to feature music of Hal Blaine at Nevada County Fairgrounds
Special to Prospector
Know & Go
WHO: John’s Drum Studio
WHAT: The 15h Annual Drummer’s Showcase featuring the hits by Hal Blaine
WHERE: Pine Tree Stage, Nevada County Fairgrounds
WHEN: Thursday August 8th at noon
HOW: Free with fair admission. For more information call 530-271-0992
In April 1966, a 13-year-old boy living in a small town in rural upstate New York found his life forever changed after seeing The Beatles perform. A year later, John Basa could not put away his desire to learn how to play the drums and began taking lessons with a local teacher, Tony Monforte. Monforte was known for featuring his drum students in an annual showcase — concerts that featured the fledgling percussionists as they progressed through his program. A year later, Basa joined the school band and continued playing through high school. Shortly after graduating, he enlisted into the U. S. Army where he auditioned for, and was accepted into, the U.S. Army band. Basa said over 10 years he played all over the world at various events, including a gig in the DMZ in 1982, welcoming then-President Ronald Reagan.
“We were all in one big mass formation,” Basa said. “He steps out and turns to the General and says, ‘Thank you, Colonel.’ It was hard not to laugh. We played and marched him out of Camp Liberty to his car waiting outside.”
He has Uncle Sam to thank for bringing him to California, where he met fellow musician Michael Gregory in the Monterey Bay area and began playing in a rock and roll band. Eventually, the group moved to Nevada County, playing under a variety of names with varying members.
For 53 years, Basa has never stopped drumming, laying down the beat for countless bands in about every genre.
“I have been in rock bands, jazz bands, country bands and polka bands,” he said.
In 2004, Basa made drumming his profession, opening John’s Drum Studio in Grass Valley, and began carrying on the tradition of showcasing students just as his first teacher, Tony Monforte, had done for him.
“Many of Tony’s former students who teach now do the same thing,” Basa said. “We gather up the students and have a show every year to display their talents.
The “Drummer’s Showcase” is the longest-running and only drum show in Nevada County.
Playing the drums has several benefits, including improved math skills andhoning an ability to analyze information while playing. Holding the Drummer’s Showcase gives the students a bit of confidence, Basa stated.
“It takes away the fear of playing in front of other people,” he explained. “You need to get used to it and can’t let that scare you. If you know what you are doing, you think about that and concentrate on that and you will do fine.”
Basa estimates he has taught about 400 students, ranging in age from as young as 5 and up into students who are in their 50s, proving it is never too late to follow a passion. Some of his pupils have gone on to teach students of their own. Basa said it is incredibly gratifying.
“The first time they play something correctly, their eyes light up and it is just so cool,” he said. “I love seeing it. I get a big kick out of it, every time, because I was the same way.”
The first Drummer’s Showcase was held at the Center for the Arts and is now part of the Nevada County Fair entertainment schedule (for more on this year’s fair, see page 13). Each year the students follow a theme. This year they will play the music of one of Basa’s mentors, Hal Blaine. Blaine, who died in March at the age of 90, was part of a band called “The Wrecking Crew” who served as the studio musicians for recording artists over several decades.
“Hal Blaine was the most recorded drummer in the history of rock and roll,” Basa said.
Beginning in the early 1960s, Blaine played drums on over 3,500 songs including over 150 top 10 hits, for the likes of Sonny and Cher, The Mamas and the Papas, The Beach Boys, Neil Diamond, The Carpenters, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and countless others.
“Blaine was a mentor long before I had ever heard his name.” Basa added.
He learned about Blaine while watching a special on television.
“Hal played when I was growing up,” he said. “Every week I would listen to the Top 40 and those hits would be in there. I would listen and play along and play along and I did that over and over and that is how I got to know rock and roll so well. I learned so much from listening to him play but didn’t know it at the time.”
Another inspiration was Ringo Starr.
“I studied Ringo’s moves — how he played, the way he played.,” Basa said. “That is why I can play The Beatles so well.”
You can hear that sound when Basa performs with his current band, Dave and The Cool Beans, who perform throughout the county playing Beatles tunes.
In 2007, Basa was diagnosed with throat cancer. He said he spent about two minutes having a pity party and then got down to the business of beating it.
“I said to heck with this,” he recalled. “I started swearing at it, telling it to get out my system, get out of my body. I just hated it.”
Basa was often heard repeating the phrase, “I may have cancer, but cancer does not have me.”
It took three surgeries along with radiation and chemotherapy treatments, but Basa beat the odds and diagnosis, and is celebrating 11 cancer-free years.
While he still has some issues related to scar tissue around his throat, Basa barely (excuse the pun) skipped a beat. In addition to playing drums for Dave and The Cool Beans, Basa offers lessons at his studio five days a week. He also leads the Lyman Gilmore Drum Line, teaching students in grades 6-8 how to read music and play. And he is active in the Nevada County Concert band which he says he loves because it is very much like how he played while in the service.
“We play pretty much the same music,” he said. “We have to set up and play and then breakdown. I did that in the Army so many times.”
And the beat goes on. Look for Basa and his students at the 15th Annual Drummer’s Showcase on Thursday, Aug. 8 at noon on the Pine Tree Stage at the Nevada County Fairgrounds.
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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