Episode 4 – Johnny Vidacovich: “Listen and React”


There are few musicians who, although strongly associated with a particular instrument, transcend that instrument to exhibit an overall musicality. It’s not about technique, proficiency or virtuosity — It’s about serving the song as the music pours out of every pore of his or her body.  Jaco Pastorious was such a musician – the man who changed the role of the bass and the way it’s played.

Johnny Vidacovich, our special honored guest for this episode, is that same kind of musician. An incredible drummer like fellow New Orleans hitters Zigaboo and Herlin Riley, Johnny goes beyond the drums to infuse every set and song he plays with a rare musicality that touches those he plays with and those he plays for.

In this interview, Johnny credits growing up in New Orleans and hearing the sounds and beats of the bands that passed his modest childhood home. It began, he says, during his infancy, before he could walk or read. It’s part of his DNA – part of his very soul.

You’d think someone as gifted and talented as Johnny Vidacovich had set out his whole life to be a working musician, but he was working as a drummer without really thinking about it as a career – that was until his daughter was born when he was 31. The truth of the matter is Johnny has worked very hard for his legendary reputation. Taking lessons with New Orleans drummer Charlie Suchor after getting his first drum kit when he was twelve eventually led him to a life changing scholarship offer from a private school that his mother could not otherwise have afforded.

Johnny reveals how he’s gone beyond the “drum-istic” aspect of the kit to learn to listen, react, and, most importantly, think musically.  To think in terms of phrases.  To see the drums as an orchestra.  Embracing his strengths, he became a great drummer who is a phenomenal musician. It was on that strength that he came to play with greats like Mose Allison and Professor Longhair, as well as his own, lauded and famed Astral Project.

Today Johnny is as vital and as active a player as ever, with an incredibly full schedule of playing, including weekly gigs at the Maple Leaf in New Orleans, as well as appearances all over the world.  He is a sought after master who has the respect of his audiences and his peers.  A drummer’s drummer who has gained legendary status to become a national treasure, yet he remains a humble, appreciative family man, a person who, through the work of his wife and best friend Deborah, shares his learning and lessons with the children of New Orleans through the Vidacovich Music Workshop. Just as with his music, Johnny is a giver.  In addition to teaching in colleges, he offers private lessons as well as Skype lessons via his Facebook page.

To learn more about Johnny and keep up to date with his appearances as well as get the chance to see some incredible Facebook live posts of the master at work, like and follow  his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/neworleansdrummer/

To learn about Deborah Vidacovich’s work providing music lessons for the children of New Orleans, visit the Vidacovich Music Workshop.

To hear one of my favorite recorded examples of Johnny’s Second Line 3-2 clave, check out the YouTube track “Big Brother” from the Mose Allison album “My Backyard.”  Johnny plays drums throughout the album and I highly recommend you find and buy yourself a vinyl, CD or streaming copy.

Johnny’s work with the cutting edge Astral Project, which has been together over forty years now, viewed at astral project.com. A simple YouTube search of “Johnny Vidacovich,” by the way, will reveal hours of wonderful examples of his playing, and, more importantly, other interviews, appearances and clinics that have taken place over the years.  Enjoy!