Mike is one of the world’s foremost experts in pipe band bass and tenor drumming and has instructed in workshops throughout North American and Scotland. He has written volumes of bass and tenor scores and has served as a drum technician and consultant to some of the world’s top level competitive bands.
Mike began playing the drumset in 1964 and before becoming active in pipe bands in 1987 played professionally for 15 years in a wide variety of bands including work with several Chicago blues and R&B artists.
In 1998 Mike won Best Bass award in Grade 2 at the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow and numerous North American trophies. His bass sections secured the Grade 2 North American titles in 2004 and 2005 as well as Grade 1 in 2006, 2007 and 2011. In 2007 Mike won the Midwest Highland Arts Fund’s Davis Drums Gold Medal in the professional bass drumming competition. Since then he served as a judge and instructor at that event for three years, and is now a member of the board of directors.
In 2009 Mike was asked to fill a vacant bass drumming position for the Grade 1 Inveraray and District Pipe Band. He moved to Scotland for the summer, playing all of the major contests of the 2010 season, and then trained his replacement for the 2011 season. Shortly after returning to his home in Chicago, Mike accepted the bass drumming position with the Grade 1 City of Chicago Pipe Band.
Please tell us a little about yourself and your activities.
I am a recently retired mathematics educator and an avid motorcycle enthusiast. Aside from drumming I am involved in various Veteran support organizations, including Honor Flight Chicago, The Patriot Guard, and Warriors' Watch Riders.
As a professional drummer do you have a ‘day job’ and how is this affected?
Since retiring in December 2010, my time is devoted to pursuing my main hobbies, teaching, drumming, composing scores, designing & crafting bass mallets, and recording. I no longer have time for a "real" day job!
How and when did you get into pipe band drumming?
I began my career in pipe bands in 1987 as a snare drummer. I was part of a church ensemble performing at a St. Patrick’s Day Mass. A pipe band marched down the center aisle at the conclusion of the ceremony. Afterwards I approached the Pipe Major about a "possible" interest in playing. When he found out I that was a drummer, I was all but tied up and carted off to the next band practice! As it turned out the band traveled to Scotland that year to play at the WPPBC in Grade 3. I was hooked for life.
What was it about pipe band drumming that attracts you to it instead of say, rock or jazz drumming?
Having played drums across a fairly broad spectrum prior to becoming involved in pipe bands, my first exposure to this particular style of drumming sparked a curiosity that developed into a passion that has continued to burn for 25 years. The crisp precision and incredible swing of this idiom, coupled with the power and dynamics of a full drum corps sound is, simply, intoxicating. As a bass drummer, standing in the middle of a band is unlike anything I can imagine. It's an incredible experience.
Who would you consider your favorite or most influential percussionists, pipe band or otherwise and why?
Jim Kilpatrick has been a source of inspiration to me for over 20 years. From his soloing to the amazing accomplishments of his drum corps, his contributions to the art form are unparalleled. Big Luke Allan was the first bass drummer that really stood out from the crowd for me...he was a game changer. I've drawn from so many pipe band drummers and pipers since I began playing, it's impossible to list them all. My first drumming hero was Buddy Rich. Aside from his incredible talent, something he said at a clinic in Chicago really stuck with me, “ Don’t be just a ‘jazz’ drummer, a ‘rock’ drummer, a ‘show’ drummer….be a drummer!” As a result of that bit of unsolicited advice, I've never been bored!
Which events would you consider ‘defining’ moments in your career and why?
In my early pipe band career winning the 1998 world’s “Best Bass” in Grade 2 was a great experience. Most recently it's been winning the Best Drum Corps and Best Bass Section Award at the 2011 North America Championships. It was the City of Chicago's first season in Grade 1, my first year with the band, and I was playing bass in Chris Barr's corps once again.
What’s your current corps set up and why do you choose it?
We are playing the HTS 800 and the Premier Professional bass and tenor Series. From a mid section player's perspective, this is a product line that is providing us with excellent tonal quality, a wide range of pitch possibilities, and simply beautiful timbre qualities. We’re very pleased with every aspect of the design and quality of this product: superb finish, precise bearing edges, sturdy hoops and hardware. It’s all there. The rest is up to us.
What are your plans during the coming months?
I am really looking forward to the 2012 season with the City of Chicago Pipe Band. We’re a young band and part of a growing organization that is focused on educating and developing pipers and drummers at an early age. In April of 2012 I will be on a road tour of US Route 66 with Stuart Liddell, Jim Kilpatrick, Willie McCallum, and Angus MacColl. We are planning a number of performances and workshops from Chicago to Santa Monica, California.
What are your feelings about the future of marching drumming in general?
The future of pipe band drumming is extremely bright. The quality of recordings and the expanded coverage of contests have helped to raise the bar. We're seeing younger and younger players with incredible skills and potential stepping into the game. With the proliferation of hand held technology, video conferencing, and the Internet, the availability of first class instruction and inspiring performances are no longer restricted by geography.
Do you have any advice for aspiring drummers out there?
Explore the wide world of drumming, its languages, various cultures, and numerous voices. Expose yourself to every drumming style possible and absorb what is useful to you. You will never be bored.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I contribute much of my success to the unflagging support of my wife, MJ, a former piper and my greatest fan. Because of her, I have been able to play with some of the best pipe bands, not just in the U.S., but in Canada and Scotland as well. Every successful musician needs this level of support from his life partner in order to develop his potential and to explore the depths of his creativity.