PICTURED: The Tin Drum Family Band, from left: Mary Harris, granddaughter Margot, son Micky, daughter-in-law Chanda, granddaughter Kira, daughter Sierra and Burleigh Drummond. Photo courtesy Tin Drum Music
by Mike Nelson
How is it that a musician can have dozens of tour dates canceled in a year, and still be as busy, if not busier, than ever?
“It’s funny how that’s worked out,” smiles Burleigh Drummond, drummer and co-founding member of the rock group Ambrosia, which had 85 concerts scheduled in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic caused their cancellation.
Drumming up business
It’s worked out because Drummond is also the leader, with wife Mary Harris, of the Tin Drum Family Music Band, which will perform its fifth livestream concert of 2020 on Dec. 17. He’s also recorded drum tracks for a number of friends and colleagues, of which he’s acquired many over the half century since Ambrosia’s beginnings in 1970.
And for two decades he has operated Tin Drum Music, both a band and promotional vehicle through which he promotes (and sometimes records with) a host of popular musical groups, including Ambrosia, ValLimar Jansen with Grits & Bourbon, and Bill Champlin’s Wunderground.
Given that he can promote, record and perform from his Thousand Oaks home, Drummond, a confirmed family man, has no complaints.
“I’m not spending 15 or 20 hours a week sitting on airplanes, or endless hours sitting around in airports,” says the tall, bespectacled drummer. “That means I can spend more time working on projects from home, and being with my family. And that’s a big deal for me.”
All in the family
Drummond and Harris — known also for her vocal and keyboard skills with Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band — celebrated their 37th anniversary last August, a milestone few musical couples achieve. Both perform with the 21st century version of Ambrosia and lead the Tin Drum Family Band that includes son Micky (a.k.a Burleigh the Younger), daughter Sierra and grandchildren Kira and Margot, plus guitarists Marc Bonilla and John Davis.
“We each play different instruments throughout the show — keyboards, guitars, percussion,” grins Burleigh the Elder, though he admits that his keyboard skills, despite instruction from his wife, don’t quite measure up to his drumwork. “So there’s a lot of moving parts, but we have a good time. And my granddaughter Kira, who’s 5 years old, usually steals the show.”
Family is especially important to Drummond given that he grew up an only child, son of Army parents who moved frequently until settling in Pomona when Drummond was in fifth grade. Having become enamored with the “percussive arts” when his parents were stationed in Ankara, Turkey, Drummond was drawn to ethnomusicology at UCLA where he studied with, among others, famed jazz drummer Freddie Gruber.
It was also at UCLA where he met fellow musicians David Pack and Joe Puerta. Together with keyboardist Christopher North, the rockers formed what would become Ambrosia, which scored five top-15 singles (including “How Much I Feel” and “You’re the Only Woman”) and five Grammy nominations in the mid 1970s and early ’80s.
But it wasn’t until 1982 when he met Harris, and married her a year later, that “my life really started,” he says. “Mary was from a big family, and at first it took a while to feel comfortable surrounded by family all the time. But now I’m so thankful because it’s filled a part of my life I never knew was missing.”
That became more evident after their son was born. The couple often were touring in separate groups at separate times in separate cities.
“We found ourselves handing our son off to each other at the airport,” sighs Drummond. “We realized that if we wanted to spend time together, we needed to work together. So Tin Drum was born, and that’s the entity that’s become closest to my heart.”
Ambrosia will perform concerts again “when it’s safe,” says Drummond, noting that the tour dates on the calendar from January through April are subject to rescheduling, depending on the status of the pandemic.
So he is focused primarily on Tin Drum, and on family. He is delighted that son Micky (a former pre-med student, who also plays drums with The Everly Brothers Experience) and daughter Sierra (a former Peace Corps volunteer) have been drawn into music.
“I guess it was inevitable,” he says, chuckling, “given that we had music on in the house all the time as they grew up.”
The Dec. 17 livestream show, available through alerttheglobe.com, will carry a holiday theme with original music and air from Drummond’s home studio (aka “our garage”).
“It brings our family together,” says Drummond.
That’s a pretty good Christmas present for anyone.