Helping youngsters find the beat
Ivywild students benefit from knowledge of veteran drummer in their midst
Paul Johnson has been playing drums since he was 15 years old. Along the way, he's been in various rock, blues and jazz bands,
supporting such musical luminaries as Bobby Rydell, Bobby Darin and the Drifters.
Now age 66, Johnson is trying to give back some of his knowledge and experience. Working as a custodian at Ivywild Elementary - in addition to running his Westside-located Drum Academy USA - he recently started offering drumming classes to the students at the school.
Thanks to the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, which began partnering with Ivywild this year, about 90 percent of Johnson's “Drums for Kids” class costs are being “graciously donated,” according to school Principal Libby Bailey, leaving an up-front expense of $10 each for eight once-a-week one-hour classes.
“I think it's going to be a good opportunity for the kids,” she said. “He's an outstanding percussionist.”
Johnson also offers classes at his Drums USA, which he started last fall with support from his wife, Frances. At first, he wasn't sure how he would like teaching, “but now I'm hooked on it,” he said in a recent interview. “I don't have an associate's degree, but I don't think you have to have one if you have experience.”
He definitely has experience. Known by the nickname, “Mr. Drums,” he was playing in bands by age 17. One of these (the Roulettes, later the Divots) toured the college circuit, also backing up singing groups and serving as a warm-up band for shows. From 1961-64, he was in the Marine Corps, where he performed in the marching band, concert band and drum and bugle corps. In the 1970s, he joined a gospel-rock band, Earthen Vessel. The group's record from that time has recently become popular in Europe, he noted; then, in answer to the obvious question, he shrugged, “but I'm not going to see any money from it.”
His touring has taken him to three foreign countries and all but nine states. Johnson's playing since the '70s has primarily been with Christian groups. A case of alopecia (hair loss) has slowed him from intense band involvement in recent years.
One of his most vivid band memories was when Earthen Vessel was forced to cancel a gig in Sweden because church leaders believed their loud music was un-Christian. “We were ahead of our time,” Johnson said. Traveling to gigs also proved interesting in those days. Traveling with his then-band, Manna, there was a close driving enounter with an unfinished bridge. And, with Earth Vessel, he recalled that their bus had no heat, so that in winter weather they would ride in their sleeping bags.
Most of his students probably won't have adventures like those; he'll just be happy if they appreciate music and can learn how to lay down a nice backbeat.
Westside Pioneer article