About James Morton
I was born in Deer Park, Texas, a small town adjoining the big city of Houston. Early memories include looking for crawfish in ditches, the infrequent hurricanes and being afraid of snakes in our back yard. The earliest musical memories I have are listening to show tunes and light classical pieces on my parents’ record player (“Oklahoma” and Strauss waltzes come to mind), and listening to rock ‘n’ roll on a small radio. It was during these early years that music struck me as having to do with patterns. I remember how my father showed me how to make a major chord from any starting point on the piano, using a pattern of steps. I also remember focusing on the bass line in Bobby Lewis’ “Tossing And Turning,” in which I heard the same 1-3-5 chord steps then played on a different pitch (it was a IV chord). It is interesting that my first musical impressions were not drumming orientated, but rather the whole picture.
As I entered middle school, I started learning three instruments simultaneously: piano, guitar, and drums. I believe it was a natural musical curiosity that spurred these sessions. No lessons, just an interest. Soon, I received my first drumset, a cheap red sparkle three piece from a Sears catalog I had purchased with money from a paper route. What fun that first set was. I think everyone’s first set is special, even if it is basically junk, like mine was.
From set to bands, almost immediately. First groups were with kids my own age who had their first guitars. I also started playing with older country music musicians who must have really had a drummer deficit going on, to tolerate a 13 year old. Anyway, my dad would drive me to these beer joints, and the musicians would drive me home. Believe it or not, that was a great training ground. Dealing with people, keeping time, and perceiving song forms started to gel at this point.
The Beatles came, the Sears kit got sold, and a Ludwig blue oyster pearl kit took its place. More rock bands, high school band, and more experience. My high school mates at Lee High School in Houston included Billy Gibbons of Z Z Top and jazz saxophonist Ronnie Laws. Both musicians were hot back then.
My family had moved away by then, and I stayed in Houston by mutual consent. Relatives and musicians offered a place to stay, and one particular family made a strong impression on me: the Robinson family, two parents (both in the Houston Symphony, five kids, all musicians). The idea of a musically disciplined life was presented to me. All the Robinson kids are successful and accomplished musicians today. Memories of symphony concerts and rehearsals with Andre Previn are part of this mix.
Somewhere in my senior year the group I was in lucked out a bit and got signed to Decca records. Tours resulted in traveling and opening up for the Who and Paul Revere & the Raiders. Both bands were fun, and in both groups it was the drummer (Keith Moon and Joe Correrro, Jr.) that was the lively and friendly one of each band. I guess that tells you something about drummers.
Other artists I played or shared the stage with over the years: Andy Williams, saxophinst Ronnie Laws, Sly & The Family Stone, bassist Hal Robinson, pianist Cecil Lytle, jazz guitarist Mundell Lowe, and saxophonist Eric Marienthal. Two guitar players whose playing always inspired me were Fred Benedetti and Mike Keneally. My drum sets got smaller and smaller.
Travels over the years. Different artists, different places, and many lessons learned. Eventually settled in San Diego, CA, where I kept playing, teaching, and eventually writing. My first book with Mel Bay Publications, Killer Fillers, was written mainly in a coffee shop after gigs. From then on I’ve enjoyed a great relationship with that company. I’m so grateful they took on that first book.
I have always enjoyed transcribing drum parts, and one outlet for that was a column I started for Modern Drummer magazine. That continued for about ten years. If you are reading this biography on ClassicRockDrumCharts.com, well, you know where this interest and hobby ended up.
Today I still live in the San Diego area, and teach music at Grossmont College. Still playing, still teaching, and still writing drum charts, now for this site and my students. I appreciate your interest, and sincerely hope that you have success in whatever you choose to pursue.