Mar. 25 2006
Ronald Bruner Jr.

Ronald Bruner Jr.

Stanley Clarke / Suicidal Tendencies / Marcus Miller / Lee R

TAMA :Your father, Ronald Bruner Sr., was an accomplished drummer who performed with Diana Ross, the Temptations, and Gladys Knight, among others. How did you get started on the drums, and what role did your father play in your development?

Ronald : The way I got started… to be honest, it just kind of happened. I don’t know, it was just what I gravitated toward. My father played the role of the person who saw what was going on, and just encouraged it incredibly. My father set me up a lot of times. We used to go to the drum shop every Saturday, and every weekend he would buy a new tape. So one week it’d be John Scofield’s Loud Jazz, one week it’d be Steve Kahn’s Public Access, the next it would be John Patitucci’s On the Corner … so it’d be all these different records he’d buy every week, with all these incredible drummers. What he would do is, when we were traveling, he would play the tape the whole way there and the whole way back. And he’d play all the songs that had just bizarre drumming on them. Then, after school sometime during the week, he’d set up a little walkman, headphones, and the drumsticks, and he’d leave them on the kitchen table… and the drums would be in the living room set up. And so he’d leave the tape out… so I would see the tape, and think, “oh that’s that tape from this weekend.” So I would take it and just go crazy on it, just go nuts. He saw where I was going, and he just pushed it. He never really did anything that was over the top. And I started playing my daddy’s drums. He used put me in a suit, and let me come to his gigs. And I’d be sitting there, hanging out with him and watching him play.

TAMA : Did he ever give you formal drumset lessons?

Ronald : Yeah, when I turned like 13 or 14, he made start reading. He had me working out of Ted Reed’s Syncopation book when I was coming up. And you know how kids are – you don’t want to do anything remotely close to studying. But he said all I had to do was 20 minutes a day, and then I could go nuts after that. So I did my Ted Reed, and then I’d put on my records and go crazy. So he gave me some formal direction, but he never really… he never really was like… I mean, he just kinda let me go. It was never really like “lessons” – it was conceptual. With my father, and everybody else I’ve had a chance to learn from, it’s always been conceptual.

TAMA : What was your first “professional” gig, and how did that come about?

Ronald : Ah man, I was 11, and my father couldn’t do a gig at a wedding reception. My uncle Gerald Brown was playing bass, and my father was supposed to play drums. But he had another gig that came up, so he said, “well, my son can do it.” So one of the members of the band came to my house and helped me pick up my drums, and we drove out to the reception and I did the gig. And got paid $175... so I bought myself some new Jordans (laughs).

TAMA : Did you have a chance to do any rehearsals beforehand?

Ronald : Nah… no. I just walked in there, and they just played tunes that I had heard coming up… Top 40 stuff that I heard that was being played in the house. My mother listened to that kind of stuff. I was always listening to things, so that’s what helped my ears come into development. I was always listening to music… my whole life, my whole life is music. I don’t know anything but music.

My mother played the flute. My dad plays drums. My younger brother plays bass, my youngest brother plays piano, my grandmother played the organ, and my grandfather played guitar. So there was always music in the house.

TAMA : You are currently performing with Stanley Clarke and George Duke. Can you tell us a little bit more about those gigs?

Ronald : Oh man… those gigs are probably the most inspiring and incredible gigs for me because I’m getting an opportunity to be with people who have made history. So I just sit there like a little lamb… it’s a like baby bull with some bulls, and the baby bull is just following the big bulls around. That’s exactly what it is. I’m just following them around, listening to stories, and it’s all an incredible learning experience for me. And I take all the nutrients from the vitamins they’re providing musically. So I’m just learning, and experiencing some new music, because for me, I mean, the way God has been setting it up for me, I’ve been playing with a lot of artists and people that have really been allowing me to be me. And that’s probably the most important thing. And it’s helped me so much, because it’s really opened me up to be able to show myself in musical situations. So Stanley and George are really just letting me be me musically… it’s possible, you know… go for it, you know, reach for it. And that’s what’s really cool about it. And almost all the other gigs I’ve done… Lee Ritenour, Suicidal Tendencies, and Marcus Miller… they all let me be myself. They’re all different musical situations, but they’re all situations where you’re forced to be yourself in the musical context. That’s what it’s all about. They are very open-minded, and they teach… I’m just a student in the school of Stanley and George. I’m in Duke and Clarke University.

TAMA : What other projects are you involved with these days?

Ronald : I’ve been doing Kenny Garrett for awhile, we just did a DVD in New York, Live at the Blue Note. I just did Suicidal Tendencies’ record a couple of months ago, and they’re in the process of getting it engineered and mixing it. I’m also working in a new band called The Security Council, and we’re finishing a record right now. That’s with Melvin Davis, a great bass player, and another one of my family members. I’m gonna start my own project with my brother Stephen Bruner… a jazz fusion slash whatever record. That should be pretty hip, and I’m gonna get that out to the drum market, let them hear what’s going on in my head. I got a singing R&B project – I also sing – that’s in the works, in the process of getting done.

TAMA : What about the Young Jazz Giants, is that still happening?

Ronald : We’re all still buddies. That band is always able to get together and play some music. With that situation, everybody’s really busy, but whenever everyone is available we get together and act a fool.

TAMA : You’ve played with a lot of jazz greats, including Kenny Garrett, Marcus Miller, and Stanley Clarke, but on the flip-side, you’ve played with the punk rock band Suicidal Tendencies. Have you always been interested in various styles of music, and how did you learn to play in such diverse genres?

Ronald : My father taught me two things. Well, it’s not just two things, but these two concepts are what caused me to be the way I am variety-wise. My father always told me, “nothing is hard.” It doesn’t matter what you hear… if you hear someone playing odd time, if you hear a Billy Cobham fill, or a Vinnie Colauita thing… it’s not hard. It just depends on how much time you put into it to break it down. That’s the first thing.

And he also told me, whatever style of music you play, play it with conviction. Play it like it’s the last time you’re gonna play it. If you play funk, play funk, and the person that’s listening to you play, whoever you’re working with, does not need to know that you play jazz fusion. You know what I mean? Because you’re playing the music. It’s all about playing the music with conviction… whatever you’re hired to play. So I took that attitude and I put it to everything. I said, well okay, it ain’t hard to play no music. I’m gonna listen to this punk rock, and I’m gonna play this punk rock. I’m gonna listen to this jazz fusion, I’m gonna play this jazz fusion. But you ain’t gonna hear me play some jazz fusion in some punk rock. I might take my inflections from the other styles of music that I’ve learned and put it in there musically, but I’m gonna play the music with conviction.

TAMA : Let’s talk about your new drum kit.

Ronald : Ohhh, it’s so sexy. Oh, it’s so hot and… oh, it’s so steamy, man. It’s sweaty, man.

TAMA : Can you outline your setup?

Ronald : Yeah, I have 3 rack toms up front… 5”x8”, 5.5”x10”, and 6”x12”… 15”x15”, 16”x16”, and 16”x18” floor toms in a triangle on my right. For bass drums, I have an 18”x22”, with a 16”x20” on the left. Then I have a 5.5”x14” as my main snare, and a 7”x13” on my left. They’re all Starclassic Maples.

TAMA : Why such shallow depths on the rack toms?

Ronald : I’m a very heavy drummer, and I really enjoy the attack. I love drums that have strong attack and quick tone. That’s what I’m into. So for me, those shallow toms offer me the quick tone I need, as well as the attack… the tone is easy to get to, because the sound travels a shorter distance between the heads. So that’s kinda why I’m into shallow toms. They’re easy to tune, too.

TAMA : Are you using two kick drums just to get different tones, or for playing double bass?

Ronald : I have them for both purposes… tonally and for double bass, because I play double bass too.

TAMA : Do you use this same setup for most or all of your gigs?

Ronald : Yup. I use this setup for all my gigs. I believe in consistency. And I believe that no matter what sort of music you play, you should be able to play your drums on everything… it doesn’t matter what situation. Whatever gigs I get, I try to stay consistent and keep my setup the same.

TAMA : How do you like your drums tuned, and do you vary your tuning to suit different situations?

Ronald : No. I’m all about having my own sound. If I’m playing jazz, I have the same sounds tom-wise as I have playing punk rock. I usually keep my toms a little higher pitched. I like the attack of higher-sounding rack toms. And I usually tune the top and bottom heads about the same. I keep my floor toms fairly low… I keep them kinda open and low. I like the deep tones from the bottom. As for my bass drums… usually, I keep the batter head tight and the front head a little bit loose. That offers me enough attack from the batter side and enough response from the front head to get the tone I want. And my snare drums are usually cranked up pretty tight.

TAMA : You’ve amassed quite an impressive list of credits to your name, and you’re still in your early twenties. What do you see in your future, and are there any specific artists or styles of music that you’d like to get involved with in the future?

Ronald : I want to play with Sting… I’m going for Sting. But really, whatever door God opens for me, I’m gonna walk through it. It’s that simple. For me, it’s a journey that I’m just walking hand and hand with God. And all the stuff that’s happened to me has been because of God. I’m very spiritually influenced. For me, it’s just walking where He wants me to walk.