Lucky Lehrer – The Best Punk Rock Drummer Of All Time

The Hollywood Press Corps got a chance to interview Lucky Lehrer from the iconic punk band the Circle Jerks. Lucky also has a popular YouTube show called “HARDCORD DRUM SESSIONS.” You can see Lucky playing around Los Angeles at the legendary Whisky A Go Go for Ultimate Jam Night, Soundcheck Live and in the San Fernando Valley at Palladino’s for the show that features Lucky with Kris Olsen and the Elevators.

The incredible Lucky Lehrer. Photo by
Photo by Brooks Ayola

Hollywood Press Corps [HPC]: Could you tell us about your title from Flipside Magazine as being the best punk rock drummer of all time? Were you a fan of Flipside back in the days before smartphones?

[Lucky]: As far as my musical past goes, this year marks 50 years of playing drums. I still take drum lessons and I still give drum lessons. It’s something I’m passionate about, an instrument where the learning and technical improvement never stop. I practice the basics, I work on the intricate and spend half my time with a metronome. It’s rarely drudgery when you’re doing something you love. But I’m not a huge fan of solo drummers, it’s fun to play with other musicians. I don’t know if you can say I’m “affiliated” with Chuck Wright (Quiet Riot) or Steve Ferlazzo (Avil Lavigne) but I am sure to thank them for each opportunity they afford me to perform all kinds of music with a cast of amazing people on their stages.

Lucky with an Ahead Lucky Lehrer Signature Speed Drum Stick. Photo by Alex Kluft
Lucky with an Ahead Lucky Lehrer Signature Speed Drum Stick. Photo by Alex Kluft

[HPC]: I’ve seen you play at Lucky Strike Live and Ultimate Jam Night. I was just blown away by your energy and playing. How do you pick a new project to work on?

[Lucky]: Ultimate Jam Night is hosted by Chuck (Wright) Tuesday nights at the Whisky A Go-Go on the Sunset Strip. Steve puts on Wednesday nights’ Soundcheck Live at Hollywood and Highland. If you get s chance to attended some of these live shows, they are some of the most exciting things happening musically in L.A. I’ve gotten to play with all kinds of bad ass muscians including Mitch Perry (who played guitar with Edgar Winter) and hung out with some of my favorite drummers including Matt Starr, Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffit (Michael Jackson’s drummer), Glen Sobel (Alice Cooper), Brian Tichy (Whitesnake), Mark Schulman (Pink). I’ve seen one-of-a-kind performances by some of the best musicians in the industry, all for free…..what’s not to love?

Lucky playing drums at the BONZO BASH. Photo by Karen Sotolo Feeney
Lucky playing drums at the BONZO BASH. Photo by Karen Sotolo Feeney

[Editor’s Note: Here’s a message from DAVE LOMBARDO from the band Slayer]:

Hi Lucky,
Your recordings we’re my touchstone, it fueled my youth and created who I am today. Are you still playing? I’m out of the loop.. been working on my own music and can’t seem to catch up on some pleasure listening…
[HPC]: Who was your drum teacher?

[Lucky]: Before my folks split up in the early 70’s they used to hang at a nightclub next door to the Whisky called Sneaky Pete’s. I wish there here hip lounges with dark lights, groovy beats and good fettuccini like that nowadays. They got friendly with drummer, Dennis LaPron, I took lessons and Dennis taught me the most. He introduced me to the fundamentals of Latin beats like the Mambo, Samba, Cha Cha, Rumba and Clave. That’s what he was playing at the night club and some of those early beats made their way into Circle Jerks’ songs like BACK AGAINST THE WALL. Dennis also hipped me at a young age to big swing and the lighting fast drumming of Buddy Rich. I still hear Buddy’s one of a kind drumming in my head. I was in the elementary school orchestra and the stage band in Middle School (where the music teacher was a hot babe) but where most people were grooving on the Carpenters, I was all into Buddy Rich. By 9 or 10, I had met Marty Fera (who loved Louis Bellson) and we became good friends. It was no surprise years later when I saw Marty touring with Glenn Frey. Through Marty, I met Kirkee B. (Sarah McLachlan’s drummer) and Kirkee B. brought me into the DW fold, but that’s another story [Lucky is endorsed by DW Drums, Sabian Cymbals, Toca Latin Percussion, Remo Drum Heads, and Lewitt Audio microphones and has his own signature Speed Stick by Ahead].

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Photo courtesy Keith Munyan

[HPC]: What was it like to be involved with the LA punk scene?

[Lucky]: Going back to the height of the L.A. punk scene, the then-popular Flipside Magazine conducted a poll. I was humbled being named everyone’s favorite punk drummer. I think Greg Ginn (Black Flag) won for best guitarist, Darby Crash (Germs) for vocals and Diane Chi (Alleycats) for bass. Honestly, I’m not a fan of polls or contests, or even drum offs. Everyone has their own style and, if they’re serious about their craft, they have something to contribute. Everyone likes to be recognized and I’ve been especially fortunate to see my drums, behind glass, at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas next to drum sets of The Doors, Jimmy Hendrix, Van Halen and Avenge Sevenfold. Recently, they put my snare drum up at the Rainbow Bar which was especially touching since I associate the Rainbow with a lot of great L.A. bands. The Rainbow was also the Lemmy’s (Motorhead’s) favorite watering hole in his later years. I was honored to have been invited to Lemmy’s funeral, his music, especially the song ACE OF SPADES, mean a lot to me.

[HPC]: What was it like to be the drummer for the Circle Jerks? Do you have good memories of recording albums like “Group Sex”?

[Lucky]: Looking back, recording the album GROUP SEX will always be memorable because of the two hot babes I dragged into the studio. [Editor’s Note: GROUP SEX is considered one of the definitive recordings of hardcore L.A. music, 16 songs in 16 minutes]. I was already in good spirits from my adventures with them the night before. When the other 3 guys saw the female audience on the other side of the studio glass, it brought out the best in all of us. These chicks claimed they were sisters the way some enticing 17 year olds claim to. These were little punk wet dreams, and we wrote the song GROUP SEX right on the spot, invented out of thin air, just from looking at them. We played it back and decided to have them sing the chorus of the song. All this spontaneous improv, the heat of the moment. A great album recorded in 6 hours, mixed in another 6 hours, the studio time exchanged for one pound of cheap Mexican dirt weed.

[HPC]: Wow that’s crazy! Do you have any stories of being on the road?

[Lucky]: It’s sort of surreal, right? I have plenty of road stories but the key thing is that everything seemed so normal back then. Sleeping on people’s floors, dealing with the cops, backstage with underage chicks whose boyfriends are stuck in the audience, fancy hotel rooms with nutty women twice our age living out their groupie fantasies. Stolen amps, rented vans, busted guitars, lost keys….venues in the South that were strip clubs by day and rock venues at night, free clinics for penicillin shots, overdose wards on Christmas, opening bands that were fascist impersonators, Sex Pistols imitators, jail cells in New Orleans, homicide busts in San Francisco (we eventually got off but we saw it all!)

I met Darby Crash and Pat Smear (Foo Fighters) in high school but we were anything but friends. I was sort of a DB to them. I got thrown out of the high school jazz band for sticking my hand too deep in this chick’s saxophone, but I learned a ton from my high school teacher, John McGruder. He would let us come to his house on Wednesday nights to watch his own big band perform. That’s where I leaned ideas like “trading fours,” which is exactly what you hear on the Circle Jerks’ song, RED TAPE. So it was sort of ironic playing with Darby and Pat a few years later in the Darby Crash Band. I guess it showed a willingness to put high school pettiness and different musical tastes aside. They were seriously into Bowie to say the least. Again, I admit I was on the wrong side of some dumb stuff.

[HPC]: What makes a good drummer?

[Lucky]: The word “influential” has been associated with my name by drummers I look up to like Dave Lombardo (Slayer) and Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) and I’m honored. One of my most famous drum students is Bobby Schayer, who went on to play in Bad Religion, as did I. Today, the drummers I learn from includes Joey Heredia, Brian Tichy, Matt Starr, Mark Schulman and Bruce Becker. I just watched a Glen Sobel clinic at DW. Glen is the only drummer I know that makes me want to quit in disgust because he’s so good. Fortunately, Glen is a friend and eventually I manage to muster a smile; I admire the prowess he’s worked so hard to achieve. When it comes to teaching, there’s so much stuff on YouTube teaching people how to be better drummers. I’ve seen a lot of it and it’s mostly all okay. I wanted to do something different with HARDCORE DRUM SESSIONS, a lighthearted intersection where instruction meets entertainment and comedy. My plan is to do more of these over the summer. I was contacted by one of the funniest comedians in L.A. who happens to be an aspiring drummer. I’m not going to tell too much except to tell drummers get ready to laugh and learn.
[Editor’s Note: Here’s a quote from DAVE GROHL from Nirvana and Foo Fighters]
“Now just watch this guy!” as Lucky tears into a live version of the Circle Jerks’ Red Tape in the DVD version of The Decline of Western Civilization.

Lucky Lehrer - drummer. Photo by Brooks Ayola
Lucky Lehrer – drummer. Photo by Brooks Ayola

[Lucky]: My own personal list of inspired drummers is a lot the same as my friends: Buddy Rich and John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, duh, nothing original there. I also want to say Keith Moon, because he was the first I remember who played rock in a way that demanded attention. The drummer sits normally in back but the way he plays, it’s the first thing you hear and I think the CIRCLE JERKS songs are like that . On the other hand, a good player has to serve the song and serve the music. I like the phrase “give hard, take hard.” So when I’m soloing or playing a big fill, I play it like it’s important. If the spotlight is on somebody else, my ego should go bye-bye and I do my best to support them.

[HPC]: What does “punk rock” and “hardcore” mean to you?

[Lucky]: Punk is an attitude because I got into the L.A. scene early enough to remember pogo dancing and art students who acted in ways that are today called LGBT. Nobody cared early on, it was “be whoever you want to be” and that was fine. Punk arose from the ashes of glam, was the antithesis of the disco scene and complex electronic music that was going down. As the punk snowball got bigger my early appreciation for the fast playing Buddy Rich and the quick tempo of bands like The Dickies inspired me to push the music faster. Eventually, not just because of me but definitely with my help, a new punk sound emerged that’s referred to “hardcore.” Looking back, it was a mixed bag of nuts. Our music was the soundtrack for kids inventing the most amazing skateboard tricks in empty swimming pools. The birth of extreme music meeting extreme sports. Mostly it was cool people, alternative athletes who preferred blue Mohawks and skate parks to tennis and the football squad. But there were a few Neanderthals on Jack Daniels who got wound up on the music and caused mayhem.

Lucky's iconic drum set from the Circle Jerks
Lucky’s iconic drum set from the Circle Jerks on display at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV

[HPC]: How did you connect with Kris Olsen and the Elevators? Could you tell us about your most recent music project with them?

[Lucky]: Drums have allowed me to play everywhere, and that’s a dream. With one of my bands I’m now in, Kris Olsen & the Elevators, I’m in the opposite direction. Instead of arenas around the world, we’re starting from scratch and playing the most entry level places. We’re taking hole in the walls with no guest list. I have to pay just to get my drum tech in. I met Kris through Dave Henzsey, one of L.A.’s best sound men who learned from Andy Johns of Zeppelin fame how to mic a drum kit. I liked Kris’ voice and his music immediately. We have a situation we could called mutual admiration and Kris has brought along a rock solid bass player named Damian Valentine and a keyboard guy named Chuck. So we’re recording music, playing live and having fun.

[HPC]: What is your favorite band of all time?

[Lucky]: My list of favorite bands is too numerous and I’ve named some of my top favorites. On the punk side, the drum solo at the end of the song SEE HER TONIGHT by the Damned meant a lot and bands like DOA and the Weirdo’s informed me.

[HPC]: What is something that would surprise our readers to know about you?

[Lucky]: A lot of people don’t know it but my favorite students are “the little drum heads” that are just getting started and have all the enthusiasm I had when I was a kid. Check out a 9 year old named Alex Shumaker on YouTube to see what I mean. When these kids look up to me, I surprise them with things they definitely don’t expect to hear from someone their parents refer to as a “punk icon.” I say stay in school, don’t go too crazy with the partying, and if they read online about me I tell them to “use a condom.” They all want to know how to play drums at warp speed so it’s not the advice they expect. But just like Buddy Rich’s old roommate, legendary drum teacher Freddy Gruber used to say, “I just don’t want you kids getting hurt out there.”

[HPC]: What an incredible story! Thanks so much for your time Lucky! I can’t wait to see Lucky Lehrer at the next Soundcheck Live or Ultimate Jam Night.  Check out his YouTube show called “HARDCORE DRUM SESSIONS” here;

[HPC]: Here’s a quote from DON LOMBARDI. Don is the Founder & President of DW Drums. “Lucky’s achieved legendary status for his lighting fast maneuvers, powerful stage persona and inventive approach to songs.”

For more information visit;

http://www.luckylehrer.com

Facebook;

https://www.facebook.com/LuckyLehrer/

Twitter;

@LuckyLehrer

Dustin Brown

Dustin Brown

I am the Senior Editor at HollywoodPressCorps.com.

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