Marcus Petronius Bashore: The Best Seat in the House
Marcus Bashore is probably best known in the Southern California music community as a blues drummer. But, in reality, Bashore has pursued his artistry in several different disciplines. Yes, his blues drumming skills have expanded into the jazz and big band swing world, but his creative drive also steers him toward experimentation in the fundamentals of reggae and those trippy, hypnotic Louisiana second-line rhythms.
What you probably didn’t know, Marcus uses the same precision involved in making music and applies them to his wood-working artistry and craftsmanship. As a master cabinet maker his carpentry skills have been featured in San Diego Home and Garden magazine three different times, highlighting his incredibly detailed decorative inlay artwork.
That drive for perfection and seeking out more challenges has taken Marcus, to date, from the Jersey Shore to the West Coast and all points in between. From classic rock bands and drumming behind an Elvis impersonator to performing with some of blues and rock’s most legendary icons like Bo Diddley and Big Mama Thornton, Marcus Bashore has shown himself to be a studied and gifted artist in almost every creative endeavor.
Our conversation started with home, early family life, and, of course, music.
My true home is in central Pennsylvania: Shamokin. I grew up in the coal region there! My family lived in Mifflinburg, and we moved to Gettysburg where my dad went to the Lutheran Seminary there. I’m the fourth of eight kids, right in the middle. My mom and dad were always supportive of all the kids. We all played an instrument, but we didn’t play as a family. In 1963 we moved to Shamokin. That’s my town; that’s where I grew up and went to high school. I’m truly East Coast and I go back there as often as I can to recharge. My mom will be 92 this year and dad is 95.
You mentioned your dad’s seminary study; did you grow up on church music?
No, but I was born and raised Lutheran so when I graduated from high school in 1972, I figured I had had enough church. I had extra credit for church. [Marcus smiles] But I played in worship services recently and chapels around town. I have a strong faith—I wouldn’t say I’m religious, because I’m far from it…but my faith is really strong.
When did music become a focus for you?
It was the sixth grade in 1966 when I went to a Labor Day parade and the Shamokin High School marching band comes down the street. When the parade gets to me and the drum line gets to me…it’s like that cartoon when you get blown completely backwards, my hair flies back on my head and I’m blown back. So the first day back at school, the music teacher comes in and asks, “Does anyone want to play in the marching band?” My hand shoots up: I do! I want to play drums. Then I take a drum assessment and Mr. Hopple says, “Marcus did very well with pitch and hearing but he’s very deficient in rhythm, so we suggest he takes drums for a year and switch to a different instrument.” What they didn’t know during this whole process is that I’m left-handed. It’s a right-handed world and I’m left-handed. It’s been a challenge my whole life being left-handed and playing right-handed. [We left the rails talking about James Gadson, Ringo Starr…] My drum teacher, Ray Nunzi, told me, ‘you go to a certain point and you’re not getting anywhere.’ And I said, well I’m left-handed. He said, ‘you’re left-handed? We’ve been doing this for a year and a half and you’re left-handed?’ He wrote down the Big Change and now I’m going to start playing left-handed. I have a dominant left-hand so my double-shuffles have been really strong because of it.
You never stopped playing?
In high school the marching band and orchestra were great avenues to get through high school. I never thought it would go past that. But, in college I sat in on a little jam; they said I sounded good. That piqued my interest. And now, decades later…after a gig the other night, two different patrons told me I sounded great and held the band together, so the musical journey continues… [Marcus grins] I’ve really been blessed through music, and I hope to continue to share it.
Marcus Bashore with the Chris Fast Band.
You lived on the Jersey Shore for a period. Were you playing music?
Yes, the Morning Thunder band was my first professional band and paying gig. It was 1978-79 in South Jersey. We played rock tunes of the ’60s and ’70s. As the summer season closed in ’79 I got a little gig in a theater in Cape May, New Jersey for a show: I Do! I Do!, a musical with lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt.
So, you have a third artistic discipline, theater!
…and then came the Elvis ’80 show. That took place in Wildwood Crest, NJ, all summer long, six nights a week. It was the ultimate pro gig; no drinking, no fraternizing with the waitresses [laughing] We reproduced the classic show Elvis from Hawaii. Dave Elsi was a true professional and his voice was so uniquely close to Elvis, I would sometimes get chills. Dave had full custom costumes made complete with capes…for me reproducing someone else’s drumming; in this case Ron Tutt [Elvis’ drummer] is complete insanity. [laughing] After that I headed to California.
Who were some of the drummers you admired?
So, I was in State College and went to see Buddy Rich. He was standing by the stage, down by the railing, so I went down and talked to him and got an autograph. I said, “Hey, I’ve got a question. I’m left-handed but I play right-handed and I’m not really sure which way to go. He said, “Which way feels more comfortable to you?” I said probably left-handed. And he goes, “Well then, do that!” And that was the end of that! [laughing]
Well, if Buddy Rich told you to do it…
Yeah, I know. But I still didn’t do it! [laughing]
You play in so many bands and work in so many different genres of music, it’s just crazy. That’s a lot of dedication.
It’s studying, practicing, and listening to other music. I’m a blues drummer and known as being a blues drummer. Jimmy Woodard used to call me the “shuffle king!” But I’ve been to New Orleans and taken drum lessons. I listened to Johnny Vidacovich and have his instructional DVDs and videos and that’s how you learn… ‘cause I’m not going to be an idiot up on stage. I play from the heart, not from my brain; I use more intuition and emotion.
That’s probably why you’re working all the time… you sub for people a lot.
Recently, I was asked to sub for the Hickory Wind band. My friend told me that I knew all the songs—they sent me 38 songs and I knew two of them! I downloaded every one of those songs, all 36, in order of the set list and I practiced them as if at the gig, for two and half weeks. It was a challenge to me! I did the same with Chickenbone Slim when his regular drummer, Marty Dodson was out of town. I learned all his stuff from the records. I played the records over and over and over. I hope that’s why people call me to sub, because I do my homework. You really have to be studied; just listen and have an open mind. A lot of credit, again, goes to my one and only drum teacher, Ray Nunzi back in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He taught me the 6/8 feel time, that shuffle. So, within that 6/8 feel you have a shuffle, you have a swing and a triplet feel and from that ground rule when I got to San Diego in the ’80s, I was able to drum my way into the Barry Cunningham and the Black Slacks band. Then I met Eric Lieberman and Jonny Viau and worked with the King Biscuit Blues Band.
We played shows at the Belly Up. You know, I’ve played on that stage over a hundred times. Because I played there, I met Tom Moore, who was the bouncer then. I came off stage once and he said, “I’m going to put a band together and you’re going to be the drummer.” And he created the band Five Careless Lovers with the Bad Habit Horns. We were the San Diego blues backup band for a lot of the touring national acts. The Lovers band was with my friend, guitarist Jimmy Woodard.
Well, you certainly beefed up your musical resume; you backed Pee Wee Crayton, Jimmy Witherspoon, Big Joe Turner, James Harman, Pinetop Perkins, Bo Diddley, Hollywood Fats, Smokey Wilson, Charlie Musselewhite, and even Big Mama Thornton.
My Big Mama Thornton story: We were on stage and she was frail and toward the end of her life; she had a big trench coat on. She sat down and she sang. We’re at the Belly Up, it’s sold out, and it’s Big Mama Thornton. We’re playing a slow blues…and like all these things you’re thrown into the fire, basically. No rehearsal, no listening to the records; we just show up and we play.
So, we’re playing a slow blues and Big Mama turns around… [Marcus turns in his seat] “Drummer Man! You follow ME! I don’t follow YOU!” I got really, really small. A friend of mine said I looked like a scared rat!” [laughing] I heard she would carry a gun in one pocket and whiskey in the other.
Tell me about working with Bo Diddley.
We had a band meeting in the very beginning, and Bo Diddley’s there. He says, “Alright, where’s the drummer?” I raise my hand. “Do you know the Bo Diddley beat?” Yeah, I know the Bo Diddley beat. He says, “Don’t play it! Nobody knows how to play it! Just play on the two and the four all night long, just straight time, all night.” So, we’re playing and we’re doing maybe 90 minutes and my buddy, Tyler Buckley, was running sound. The tension in the room was building because everybody in the room wants to hear the Bo Diddley beat. They want to hear that groove because he’s doing all the Bo Diddley guitar stuff, and I’m back there just clicking away on the two and the four. Bing, bang, bing, bang! And it’s at the very end, and I just said to myself f*#k this! And I went into the Bo Diddley beat…Everybody exploded! The place blew up. And Bo Diddley is waving his hand like this or it may have been like this…I don’t know; it was NUTS! It was Pandemonium!
I asked guitarist Jimmy Woodard if he remembered that show.
Jimmy said, “You mean the story about after we met Bo Diddley and he told us nobody plays the Bo Diddley beat right, so he showed us a simple rock beat that he wanted?”
Yeah, that one.
Bo was rolling along but we could sense there was something missing with the energy and all of a sudden Marcus busted out with the Bo Diddley beat that we are all familiar with and the crowd went crazy! Bo Diddley gave a look that might have burned a hole in us but carried on and the crowd loved it.
I asked both guys what happened after the show.
Woodard says, “Needless to say we didn’t hang out after the gig.” And Marcus agreed. “I didn’t see him, which was probably a good thing because maybe I would have been dead.” [laughing] “I’ve always wondered what he said to his NEXT band. Because Freddie Below did that song, I know the groove.”
Jimmy Woodard is still playing here in Southern California and remembers those early days very well.
Jimmy: We had better luck with Smokey Wilson and Pee Wee Crayton. Pee Wee really liked Marcus. Crayton liked the band so much he brought us up to San Simeon for a gig that we played with Big Joe Turner and then up to the Catfish Blues Festival, where we ended up backing Lowell Fulson and Jimmy Witherspoon. On many of the big-time gigs on my resume, Marcus was the drummer.
Audio clip of “Pink Alligator” with James Harman.
Without getting too technical, it seems timing can be an issue for any musician. How do you deal with it?
I worked really hard on my timing. There was a point where I was getting yelled at for speeding up or slowing down. [Marcus looks like he may be re-living a Big Mama moment.] I used a device that clicks on to the side of my snare and it would calibrate what I’m hitting like a speedometer. Like a radar gun. And I did that for about five years, so my ears are pretty good. I’ve worked decades to make my tempo solid.
Again, with the work ethic.
I’m a slight perfectionist. [laughing] My grandfather, my mom’s dad, is from Sicily. I think I got his gene…I love that gene.
Your craftsmanship with an attention-to-detail skill set has other outlets…woodworking and cabinetry.
I’m an artist, not really a businessman…but I did stuff for Jerry Coleman. I built cabinets for him. I’ve been in San Diego Home and Garden magazine three times for kitchen projects I’ve done. Jason Mraz was my most recent project; a walk-in closet and he converted a wet-bar into a DJ station! It’s a passion and when I’m done with my cabinetry work and I have a gig, that gig just clears my brain and refreshes me. They’re both hand in hand; there’s a precision surrounding both. I’ve worked behind a table saw for 35 years, but I’ve been drumming almost 60.
Let’s take a quick glimpse at your Southern California projects…the Jukes, Blue Largo, Chickenbone Slim and the Biscuits, Chet Cannon, Candye Kane, the Rhumboogies, Billy Watson, Kid Ramos, the Cadillac Wreckers, Mercedes Moore, Charles Burton, the Hickory Wind Band, Bob Corritore and John Primer, Chris Fast, William Clark, Li’l A and the All Nighters, Hook Herrera, Zach Zunis, Taryn Donath, James Harman, the Swingin’ Kings, Missy Andersen, Sharifa and the Good Thing, the Mellow Downs, Nathan James, Adrianna Marie, and LA Jones…
I have a special place in my heart for Adrianna Marie, talk about an ultimate band leader that would defend her band at any moment, at any club, at any given time. I would go to Lake Arrowhead where they lived, and we played at the Tudor House, which was Bugsy Siegel’s club, I think. We did a lot of shows and tours over two years.”
I read the nice piece that the late Candye Kane wrote on your website.
We’d been close friends for years, through family. I built my website and asked her if she would write something and she goes, “I’ll write something for you.” And that’s what she wrote. And then she passed…” [Marcus just shakes his head.] I’m still blown away that she wrote that about me. [Go to https://marcuspbashore.com/media to read it,]
Can you talk a little more about some of the folks you currently play behind? From jazz bands, big band swing, and both Chicago and West Coast style blues bands. I just saw you with the Christ Fast Band awhile back.
Well, Chris Fast is pure joy to be with. And the same with Little A (Alex Woodson) and the All Nighters. We just get along. I’ve played in a lot of harmonica bands. I’ll tell you, I went to a Kenny Aronoff drum clinic a while ago. When asked how he prepares for so many shows, he said he prepares for the one coming up next. He said simply, “Be on time, know the songs, bring your tools, nail the gig, and leave everyone happy that you were there.” So that’s become my mantra and leaving everyone happy you were there has to do with not only being a musician but also being a person. Like Chris Fast and Alex Woodson, they’re all great guys and we all get along… Jimmy Woodard, too.
And I hear congratulations are in order. There’s a new Bashore family addition.
New grandbaby! Five months old. Brody Quinn!
Five months? Get that child some drumsticks!
If you want to check out Marcus P. Bashore in person, check out his website for upcoming gigs and events at https://marcuspbashore.com/