Let’s talk longevity. While most bands struggle to remain relevant a year after they break-out, REO Speedwagon continue to record, tour, and sell out large venues well into the band’s third decade with Bryan Hitt at the drum chair. Here, Hitt talks about being the “new guy”, their latest shed tour with Styx, and playing for free!
Ludwig HQ: You are the "new guy" in REO, right?
Bryan Hitt: Yep! I’m the new guy and I’ve been in the band for 20 years now.
Ludwig HQ: What were you doing before you got the gig, and how did you get it?
Bryan Hitt: I had been playing with Wang Chung, who had just broken up, and I was playing some dates with The Spencer Davis Group, a couple of “showcase bands” and doing some sessions in L.A. I was recommended by two different sources for the REO audition. I had met Dave Amato (new REO guitar player at the time) at another audition and he suggested me to the band. I had also met lead singer Kevin Cronin’s girlfriend (and future wife) Lisa, who worked for Geffen Records at the time, at a showcase with one of the other bands I was playing with. She wasn’t too impressed with the band but was very complimentary about my playing and told me that REO was looking for a new drummer. I was the first of about twenty-five drummers to audition and Kevin told me after playing “Roll With The Changes” that the song felt better than it ever had before. I got the gig, but the band still had to listen to the remaining 24 drummers over the next few days out of courtesy.
Ludwig HQ: This is not the first time REO has gone out with Styx. Is there aunique chemistry the two bands share?
Bryan Hitt: Most definitely! We all seem to get along great. There is a friendly rivalry that happens every night. We are on the side rooting them on to have a great show, but we are always hoping to do better than them. And I am sure they are feeling the same way. As a matter of fact, we have even recorded a single together called “Can’t Stop Rockin’.” Lead singers for each band, Kevin Cronin (REO) and Tommy Shaw (STYX), got together and wrote the song. Then both bands proceeded to record the tune together. 2 drummers, 2 bass players, 4 guitar players, 2 keyboard players and a multitude of singers. We all come out and play “Can’t Stop Rockin” together for the last song of the concert and have a BLAST!
Ludwig HQ: You are occasionally given room during songs in the set to show off some of your chops, what do you like to incorporate in your solos?
Bryan Hitt: I wouldn’t really consider them solos; they are more like big endings to some of the songs. I try to play something interesting, and show off some chops, that still kind of relates to the song.
Ludwig HQ: How is the tour going so far?
Bryan Hitt: The tour has been going great. We have been having exceptional crowds everywhere we have played. We have tried to keep ticket prices low and offer a very large bang for the buck (Big production.) We have added 20 shows in the fall and are planning to continue on into 2010.
Ludwig HQ: What kind of drum kit exercises do you do off the road to stay loose?
Bryan Hitt: I have become a real practice fanatic the last couple of years. I work on everything from hand and foot technique (Moeller, finger, push pull, etc.) to cross-overs and cross-unders. I really believe in studying from books, DVDs and just listening to a lot of music.
Ludwig HQ: The band really seems to have a great time playing together. What do you guys do to keep it fresh?
Bryan Hitt: I think it always helps to keep things fresh by having new music. We put out a new CD last year and are working on a new Christmas CD for release later this year. We all seem to care more and work harder than ever before.
Ludwig HQ: What is your schedule like for the next few months?
Bryan Hitt: I will be on the road for the next month and then we have about a month off before beginning the late summer/fall schedule.
Ludwig HQ: What are some of the things you love about your job?
Bryan Hitt: The chicks, DUDE! Not really...The 90 minutes or more that I am playing drums on stage are the greatest.
Ludwig HQ: What are some of the drawbacks?
Bryan Hitt: Traveling and being away from family. Our motto is “We play for free, we get paid for the traveling.”
Ludwig HQ: Are there certain shows that stick out in your mind above others?
Bryan Hitt: There are the shows that are in naturally beautiful surroundings, such as Red Rocks in Denver and The Gorge in Washington State. There are also the shows where we are doing a benefit or helping some organization or worthy cause. Those can be very special events.
Ludwig HQ: What was the strangest thing that has happened (or that you have seen) during a tour?
Bryan Hitt: One recent event that stands out in my mind just happened last month. Our friends .38 Special had just started their set when the stage right outdoor roof support system collapsed and suddenly fell 10 feet. Luckily no one was hurt. Unfortunately the show had to be cancelled as the entire roof was compromised structurally.
Ludwig HQ: You are "road testing" Ludwig's new Epic Series Drums on this tour. How did that come about?
Bryan Hitt: I was signing autographs at the NAMM Show for Ludwig and this beautiful drum set was just to my right. I could tell it was a new line of drums but had no idea that they were a mid-priced line. After the NAMM Show I talked with Kevin Packard from Ludwig Marketing about possibly using the drums on this tour. My good friend Todd Trent, (Ontario Music) and former Ludwig Artist Rep, had a set in his store from the NAMM Show. So, I tried them out and liked the looks as well as the sound.
Ludwig HQ: You have really high standards where your gear is concerned. Now that you have had some time to break them in, how is the kit performing?
Bryan Hitt: The kit is working just great! I have had no problems with keeping the drums in tune. The lugs, mounts, legs, spurs, hoops, etc. are all in great shape, after a month of hard touring.
Ludwig HQ: Can you describe the sound you are getting from the Epic kit, and how did you tweak it to get your personal tone?
Bryan Hitt: I get a nice round, warm, fat sound from the drums with plenty of attack. My tech, John Aldridge, and I went through all the drums when we got them and checked all the edges which were finished remarkably well. We did put a couple of coats of polyurethane finish on the inside of all the drums. (I’m not sure if this made a large difference, but in my mind, it did.)
(Editor’s note: we recently spoke to John Aldridge about the reactions the Epic Kit is getting on the road. His words were simple: “Everyone that steps on stage is knocked out by the look of the kit, and it sounds great on stage. When I tell people that they can get this kit [minus the custom kick woofers and extra bass drum,] for under a grand, they don’t believe me!”)
Ludwig HQ: You occasionally hold master classes during tour stops. What concepts do you like to bring to the table?
Bryan Hitt: They are not really master classes; they are just private lessons I teach at a few drum shops along the tour. What concepts I use depends largely on the student’s ability.
Ludwig HQ: Are there any upcoming projects that you are particularly excited about?
Bryan Hitt: As I mentioned earlier, I am excited about the Christmas CD we are working on. It’s being produced, engineered and arranged by Joe Vanelli. We have taken liberties with some more traditional Christmas songs and have added a bluesy rock twist to them. There are also a few non-traditional tunes.
Ludwig HQ: Everyone has his or her own snare drum sound. What snare are you playing, and how have you made it your own?
Bryan Hitt: I am playing a 6 1/2” Ludwig Black Beauty, beautifully engraved by my drum tech, John. I use die cast hoops with a Remo Emperor X Head on top and a Remo Ambassador snare side with Purecussion snares.
Ludwig HQ: Who are your major drumming and musical influences?
Bryan Hitt: That is such a difficult question. There have been so many different kinds of influences and I continue to be influenced by new people everyday.
Ludwig HQ: Having been at this as long as you have, what is the key piece of advice you would give to the aspiring player?
Bryan Hitt: “Time” is not just a magazine. Having great time and a strong groove are extremely important if you want to work with others.