Every aspiring metal band knows that if they want their band truly to soar into the major leagues of arena playing, they need a drummer. Not just any drummer, but one who can keep the rhythm of the song and also provide the guttural devastation that lends depth and power to the growling of the guitars as they rage through their solos. Legends like John Bonham, Dave Lombardo, Vinnie Paul and, yes, even Tommie Lee have taken good tunes and transformed them into instant classics.
Drummers are the backbone of any good rock outfit, and they are the hardest workers. They have the most equipment to set up and tear down, and they take the most shit from other band members when a song fails. And while guitarists and bassists must use their fingers to create magic, drummers must use their whole body to weave their spells.
Finding a good drummer is like trying to find a good rehearsal space in a sea of suburbia. So when Bruce Corbitt and Scott Shelby of Warbeast spotted Joey "Blue" Gonzalez blasting spells from his drum kit with his former death metal band Demonseed, they knew they were witnessing something special--a true legend in the making.
"I said, that is the one I want," says Shelby. "I don't care what I have to do to get him or who I piss off!"
Corbitt approached Blue after he finished his set at Ridglea Theater in Fort Worth, handed him a copy of his band's CD, and said, "Hey man, do you want to see if you can learn it?" Blue took the CD home, learned the tunes and spent a few days jamming with the band.
"The chemistry was there," says Blue. "For me as a drummer, I'm hungry and I want to play. This is what I want to do, and these guys had an energy about them. They were serious, so we clicked."
But Blue was only 17 and still in high school.
"When I joined the band, the stipulation was that I finish high school," Blue says.
Blue practiced with the band and played show after show. Finally, the band got signed by Housecore Records. "I'm just tripping out," he says. "I'm out of high school and the world is in front of me, and the first thing I get to do is cut a record."
Today, Blue, 23, is providing a backbone for not only the Warbeast crew but also former Pantera/Down frontman Philip Anselmo's new band P.H.A. and the Illegals, who will be playing the final leg of their tour in support of their new album Walk Through Exits Only on Tuesday night at Trees in Deep Ellum.
"The crowds have been amazing, and it's very important to me that Dallas gets out there and supports," he says. "I want a sold out show because Dallas has a reputation of being one of the best stops on lots of bands' tours, so I'm hoping that it stays true. It will be exciting to see all my family. I grew up in the metal scene. I'm excited for everybody to see this. It will be bittersweet for sure."
Blue joined Anselmo's new outfit while cutting another demo with Warbeast in Louisiana. The legendary frontman was needing a drummer to help him make his solo project a reality. Corbitt looked at Anselmo and said, "Hey man why don't you just keep it in the family and ask Blue to do it?"
"Philip saw something in me, sees the potential that I have, and he wants to definitely nurture that, see me succeed and push me forward, just like everybody in Warbeast," says Blue. "it's been an awesome experience, and a healthy environment for me to just excel as a drummer. I mean, thrash legends, metal legends, these are my teachers. It's just a massive download of information. It's killer, man. I love it."
Blue was 12 years old when he first discovered his love of playing drums. He and a friend decided to attend a church youth service in Fort Worth, and setting at the front of the church was a drum kit. Blue sat down, picked up the sticks, and something just clicked. "It was comfortable for me," he says. "I'm kind of a short dude." He kept returning to the church on a weekly basis to play those drums, and his playing kept getting faster and better. He finally got his first drum kit a year later.
In high school, while other kids were going to parties or preparing for prom, Blue was skipping school to work for bands, driving trucks loaded with equipment without a license and playing bars, but he was never asked for his ID because he had facial hair which made him look older than 14.
"It was just for the sake of rock 'n' roll," he says.
Some of his early influences included Rob Zombie, Slipknot and Mudvayne, but he eventually gravitated toward heavier bands like Pantera, Cannibal Corpse, Slayer and Exodus. He then started focusing on the drummers themselves: Dave Lombardo of Slayer, Gene Hoglan of Testament, Joey Jordison of Slipknot and John Bonham of Led Zeppelin.
Blue downloaded video clips of drummers and spend all day just trying to imitate what he saw. And once he got to Pantera, everything changed for him "because I saw how extreme it evolved." For Vinnie Paul, he explains, every note counts, and less is more of an impact.
"It all comes back to being blessed to having these awesome teachers, a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work," he says. "Practice makes perfect and it's true."
It was this hard work and determination, practicing like he was going to play on stage, that led to his current success. He pushed his playing during every practice, training his muscle memory and getting them into shape for what they needed to do.
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"A death metal Bonham is what I hope to one day be," Blue says. "The biggest challenge right now is trying to find myself, trying to find my identity as a player, and I think the easiest way for me right now is to smack the every living shit out of my drums, and that usually keeps me pretty focused."
Be sure to catch Blue and the rest of the P.H.A. and the Illegals crew on Tuesday night at Trees.