Capital Region Timekeepers with Pete Vumbacco -By: OP Callaghan

Written by on December 9, 2022

As the holidays quickly approach, I am constantly reminding myself how lucky I am to have a wonderful family, good friends and a wealth of talented musicians in the 518.  I’ve been writing this column for a while now and I still have a list of local drummers that I am looking forward to interviewing. This month, I am so happy to introduce to you a man who likely needs no introduction. Musicians love playing with him, not only for his abilities behind the kit, but also for his professional demeanor. He’s Scotty Mac’s “favorite drummer, hands down! The guy plays his ass off and he’s the strong silent type!”, which is high praise for sure. He’s also one of my favorites, and the only drummer I know who has played with Johnny Rabb AND Stigmata! Ladies and gentlemen, happy holidays, and please welcome Pete Vumbacco!

RRX: How old were you when you started playing and how did that come about?

PV: When I was about four years old, I really liked cartoon theme music and my parents’ Sammy Davis Jr., Leonard Bernstein and big band records. My older brother played the drums, and he would teach me basics here and there. When I was eight, I asked my parents if I could play the drums, but they didn’t want two drummers in the house at the same time, so I started taking piano lessons instead. I played drums in the school band from 4th through 6th grade, but not at home, only at school. During this time, my school music teacher, Bob Button, was interested in starting a jazz ensemble at the school, so he went and got an old Japanese stenciled blue sparkle Continental drum set for the school that I would play. When my older brother moved out when I was twelve, my parents relented and allowed me to play a practice pad set at home. After about three months that pad set got old. I would wait until my parents left the house, set up my brother’s drum set, play, and put the set back before my parents got home.

RRX: Who are some of your early influences?

PV: Neil Peart, John Bonhan, Carl Palmer.

RRX: Tell me about your first band, first gig, first time playing out in front of people?

PV: First gig was in a band called Outrage. We played at Club 2001 (formerly Petars) in Troy. 

RRX: What was your first kit?

PV: My first kit was a Trixon with a couple of extra Rogers tom toms.

RRX: What are you playing now and what is your dream kit?

PV: I have different sets for different situations. Most of the time I use my old Pearl World Series, but certain situations call for one of my vintage Ludwig kits. My dream kit would be the one that I don’t have to carry!

RRX: Worst gig ever? 

PV: I played a wedding way up by the Canada border. We drove through a torrential downpour, packed in a tiny car to get there. The bride and groom’s families clearly did not get along, the reception was full of tension, and we spent most of the time sitting on the stage, not playing anything. Afterwards, we went across the street to this little bar only to find that so did a good portion of the wedding guests. Everyone had a much better time across the street than at the wedding.

RRX: Have you taken lessons?

PV: Not specifically drum set lessons but I spent a lot of time in drum corps during and after high school, and that taught me a lot about technique and reading which I would take home and apply to the drum set. I did have Carmine Appice’s lesson book “Modern Rock Drumming”. Ya know with the square vinyl record haha!

RR: Best gig ever?

PV: One night I was playing at Baileys in Saratoga and Brian Setzer’s Big Band played at SPAC that night. While I was playing, I saw him walking by with two bodyguards. I happened to make eye contact, and unbelievably, he came over and listened to the band for a minute, gave me his nod of approval, and moved on. On top of that, the place was PACKED, and when we finished, it looked like a tornado had blown through the place. People’s shoes and coats strew about, broken glasses, and a couple passed out patrons!

RRX: Do you play any other instruments?

PV: Yes, piano and a little bass guitar.

RRX: Do you read music?

PV: Yes

RRX: Favorite song to play

PV: When I’m home practicing, which isn’t enough, I like to play “Mean Street” by Van Halen or “So This is Love” but at a gig, whatever is working for the crowd, generally works for me too.

RRX: Any Christmas drumming stories?

PV: Yes! About five years ago, around Christmas time, I played a gig at The Ruck, using what I call my “Christmas drums”, which are little St. George red sparkle kit. The gig went well and the next morning, when I came out of my house, my car, with the drums inside, was not in my driveway where I had parked it the night before! And I said to myself “I know I was fucked up last night, but not THAT fucked up!”. As it turned out, the person who stole my car ditched it in Waterford when they ran out of gas. Haha. I ended up getting the car and the drums back.

RRX: How would you describe your style of playing?

PV: I try to serve the song. I find myself listening more than anything else. I don’t know if it’s age or experience but lately I have been taking a less-is-more approach rather than trying to impress myself. 

RRX: What’s one item (drumming) that you never leave home without? 

PV: Bass drum pedal.

RRX: Who are you currently playing with and when is the next gig?

PV: I play with a variety of bands like Blue Hand Luke, Johnny Rabb, Scotty Mac, but of late I have been playing with a band called River Junction.

RRX: Do your kids play? 

PV: Unfortunately, no. I tried, haha.

RRX: What’s one thing that you would like to do better as a drummer?

PV: Hit that down beat!

RRX: Who are some local drummers you admire, and why?

PV: Joe Rocco, he taught me a lot, he had that Clyde Stubblefield/David Garibaldi thing going on. I have also always liked Dave Calarco, that guy can play any style. Also, I’m showing my age here, Ralph Purificato. My older brother took lessons from Ralph, and occasionally I got to listen in. Another guy was Bill Peterson, who was my drumline instructor in drum corps. Great big band drummer. 

RRX: If you weren’t a drummer, what would you play?

PV: Piano.

RRX: What’s your dream band, with you on drums?

PV: Jaco Pastorious on bass, Jeff Beck on guitar, Steve Winwood on keys and Paul Rogers singing.

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