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The 23rd Annual Guitar Center ‘Drum-Off’: New Stars and Legends Rock Together

Charles Epting

On Saturday, Jan. 14, Guitar Center, the world’s largest retailer of guitars, amplifiers, drums, keyboards and pro-audio and recording equipment, held their 23rd annual ‘Drum-Off’ in search of the next great drummer. Five finalists that had survived a series of competitive rounds from all across the United States were brought to the showdown held at Club Nokia in Los Angeles, where, in addition to the final competition, a galaxy of veteran drumming legends were to play, judge the up-and-comers and be honored themselves.

On the red carpet before the show, former KISS drummer Peter Criss (seen above with John 5) told Noisecreep that he was proud not just to be a judge, but also that he (along with Terry Bozzio from Missing Persons and Frank Zappa fame) was being honored with a ‘Drum Legend’ induction. “I’m 66 years old,” he smiled. “So I’ve been around a while and to still be thought of well means a lot to me.” In terms of who he looked up to back in the early days, he didn’t hesitate for a moment. “Gene Krupa. The one and only.”

Krupa, the famed jazz and big band drummer who died in 1973, came up again moments later when Jane’s Addiction drummer (and host for the evening) Stephen Perkins, also cited him as a major influence.

Former Marilyn Manson guitarist John 5 was one of the many other musicians that attended, simply as a show of support. “Peter Criss is an idol of mine and a good friend, too,” he told Noisecreep. “So I’m here tonight to see him get honored.”

Watch ‘Peter Criss and Stephen Perkins Share a Favorite Drummer’ Video

Inside the theater, it was all about the passion of percussion. Fans were treated to dynamic sets by drummer Ilan Rubin from Angels & Airwaves and Nine Inch Nails fame, and Aaron Spears, whose soul-funk set brought out Jabo Starks (drummer for James Brown) and Iz Avila (DJ for Usher).

The mighty Mike Portnoy (Adrenaline Mob, ex-Dream Theater) showcased a band featuring Billy Sheehan on bass (Mr. Big), Tony MacAlpine on guitar, and his old Dream Theater band mate, keyboardist Derek Sherinian on keys. Their proggy, space-age set seemed to leave the crowd in awe, and soon after, there was another big surprise.

Drummer Brooks Wackerman, from Bad Religion and Tenacious D, had just finished playing a set that featured two bassists, Robert Trujillo from Metallica and Armand Sabal-Lecco from Paul Simon’s band. He then brought out Jack Black, Kyle Gass and the rest of his Tenacious D bandmates who shook the walls and melted faces with a fiery 15-minute super set.

Watch Robert Trujillo and Brooks Wackerman at ‘Drum-Off” Video

The evening’s panel of judges, including Cora Coleman-Dunham (Beyonce, Prince), Tony Royster Jr. (Jay-Z), Criss, Dave Elitch (The Mars Volta), Ray Luzier (Korn), Jose Pasillas (Incubus) and Tommy Clufetos (Ozzy Osbourne), had their hands full when it came time to judge the five finalists: Jean-Pierre “JP” Didier Bouvet, Robert Devon Taylor, Fred Boswell Jr., William Joe Freeman and Jesus Mendoza Garcia.

These young drummers had been slugging it out for weeks in regional store competitions and now were fighting for a grand prize package, valued at nearly $50,000 (including cash, drums, endorsement deals and lots more).

One by one they took their turns behind the kit to show off their different styles and energy and each drummer received rousing waves of applause from the crowd, In the end, the judges settled on 21-year-old Jean-Pierre “JP” Didier Bouvet, originally from Minnesota and now living in Boston.

Charles Epting

“I am shocked!” he told Noisecreep just moments after learning that he had won. “This is the fifth round for all of us, we’ve been at it a couple of months, and I can’t say enough about the other guys. They are all awesome. And so is Guitar Center. This competition, which I have entered many times before, is life changing. And I’m also really excited about is that this might bring some attention to my band, Helicopria. That’d be nice, in addition to all the amazing prizes, if that happened.”

Then he was whisked away to whatever awaits next, the legends were inducted and Terry Bozzio capped the night with an impressive set of his own.

All in all, the ‘Drum-Off’ was an amazing night featuring the best drummers past, present and future. It was an event where all styles mattered equally and thunder ruled the night.

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