John Walker – Filmmaker | Director | Drummer

In 1969, when I was sixteen, my Montreal band was invited by Frank Zappa to open his concert in Haight Ashbury, California – the centre of the universe as far as I was concerned.  The thing is, a few days later I was offered a summer job in a film studio.

I had been carrying a camera around my neck since I was eight so this was a tough choice. My wise twenty-two year old band leader said “we’ll consult the I Ching”.  We threw the coins and the great Chinese oracle revealed that I was faced with two roads and whatever choice I made would be for life.

I chose the studio – gave away my drums and never touched a pair of sticks again.

It was a painful choice and it resonated for years – every time I watched a band play I would only see the drummer.

Almost forty years later when I heard my friend Nasyr was putting together a camp with some of the best drummers in the world;  I knew I had to go – with my cameras rolling.

When I arrived at the camp and saw Mike Mangini’s  shining silver drum set, with the golden cymbals, I was taken right back in time. When no one was looking I sat on the seat, picked up the sticks and gently tapped each drum to hear the tone, then put the sticks down. It was like sitting in a Ferrari, touching the wheel and not turning on the keys.

All week watching these masters play I was thinking of the choice I had made to give up the drums. I didn’t tell anyone at the camp that I used to be a drummer. I kept telling the students when they tried to get me to play – I’m not a drummer, I’m a filmmaker. Finally on the last day at a jam session the students picked their moment and handed me the sticks. I couldn’t refuse this time. As I sat at the drums I was intimidated beyond belief – this was a language I had abandoned so many years ago. I was surprised how easily I slid back into the zone – the joy of playing brought me right back and I realized – once a drummer, always a drummer.