In Palm Springs, the beat goes on with new community of transplanted rockers

With the launch of a new studio, Matt Sorum is ready to take his place in the Palm Springs drumming pantheon. But he’s also ready to give back. An April 1 drum circle event gives him the chance to do just that.
Alvin Taylor (left) and Matt Sorum look over the art and memorabilia in Sorum’s new recording studio on North Palm Canyon Drive, GoodNoise. The Raven Drum Foundation will hold a benefit drum circle there on April 1. (Photo: Bruce Fessier)

If there was a “Jeopardy” category for Palm Springs celebrities, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin would be part of “Mid-century modern singers for $100.”

Famous Palm Springs drummers? That would be a Final Jeopardy topic.

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But, pore through the star-filled pages of old Palm Springs telephone books, and you’ll find the names (and addresses) of drumming legends such as Buddy Rich, arguably the greatest of all time; Hal Blaine, a gold record-generating magnet with the ’60s studio group, the Wrecking Crew; and Phil Harris, the prototypical musical sidekick who led Jack Benny’s big band on radio’s most popular sit-com.

Palm Springs-based drummers Ben Pollack and Lud Gluskin go even farther back. Pollack led a 1926 big band featuring “King of Swing” Benny Goodman and “In the Mood” icon Glenn Miller. Gluskin, who began playing with Jimmy Durante before World War I, was Europe’s most popular big band leader of the 1920s and music director of CBS radio and TV.

Flashing forward to the “still-alive” era, Alvin Taylor became the first desert native to “make it” in popular music when he started drumming for Little Richard while attending Palm Springs High School in the late 1960s. He went on to drum for George Harrison, Eric Burdon of the Animals and Elton John after becoming the first drummer to guest on “Saturday Night Live” with the Billy Preston band.

Now he’s working with another new drumslinger in town. Matt Sorum, a recording artist, producer and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer as Guns N’ Roses’ man at the traps from 1990 to ’97, has launched the sleek, sophisticated GoodNoise Studios and is ready to take his place in the Palm Springs drumming pantheon.

Sorum can recite the family tree of Palm Springs stars like someone who has studied the maps of celebrity homes, which, apparently, he has.

When music mogul Clive Davis rented Leonardo DiCaprio’s Las Palmas-area house during the pandemic, Sorum, 62, became his neighborly tour guide.

Matt Sorum, a former drummer for Guns N’ Roses, poses in front of his guitar collection at his GoodNoise Studios. (Photo: Ming C. Lowe)

“He signed me to RCA Records,” Sorum said, sitting next to Taylor at GoodNoise. “I said, ‘Clive, I want to take you on a celebrity house tour. So, I get Clive Davis in my 1962 Galaxy and we drive around. I’m showing him like Jack Benny’s house and Raymond Loewe’s, the guy who did the Coca Cola bottle and the Avanti (sports car).

“There was that era of Frank and Dean and Sammy (Davis Jr.),” he said, pacing his words as if building to a crescendo. “And the movie stars – Elizabeth Taylor, Kirk Douglas, that whole ilk. Then there was this ‘80s thing, Sonny Bono, and it got crazy. It got kids running amuck. Then it became, ‘Oh, Palm Springs is a bunch of old people, retirees. That is what everyone thought of Palm Springs. ‘Oh, you go out there and retire and play golf and tennis,’ right?

“But now, I feel a shift. It was pre-pandemic, but the pandemic kicked it even more because people escape the city. I already had escaped. I already had experienced it. So, I’m telling only cool people. I’m not telling everybody. I’m like, ‘You don’t understand. This is happening. It’s percolating!’”

Taylor, who grew up on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation known as Section 14 during the turbulent ’60s, is pleased Sorum is planning great things for his community. But he’s quick to note that Palm Springs’ history isn’t all the stuff of legends.

Alvin Taylor, a former drummer for George Harrison and Little Richard, will be among more than a half-dozen professional drummers participating in “An Afternoon of Storytelling, Drumming & Music” at the GoodNoise studio. (Photo: Ming C. Lowe)

“There’s a lot of great, powerful, and amazing things that happen in Palm Springs,” said Taylor, stretching out like a balladeer embarking on a journey. “But here’s another part: You can’t leave out the terrible, horrific, awful things that occurred in Palm Springs. I’m a Section 14 survivor. I lived right in the middle of downtown and I was kicked out of the town. The idea wasn’t just to find another community for people of color, like me and the Latinos who were poor and couldn’t afford to do fancy studios or fancy restaurants or a nice house in Las Palmas.

“Their idea was expropriation. They wanted us completely out of town for the more rich-and-famous, for the people who seemed to be more qualified to live here. Race and policy is what it was all about. The people making the laws were basically the city council and they made laws that didn’t favor the poor people. The city favored aesthetics over human lives.”

But Taylor and Sorum are envisioning a bridge to a more egalitarian utopia.

“That’s something else that’s going to be a big part of GoodNoise,” said Sorum. “We’re going to do a lot of philanthropic work. Public schools out here and in California are suffering. I have a charity called Adopt the Arts and I’m bringing it to the Coachella Valley. I have 600 kids in L.A. and I’m going to have 600 here — because I can. I have the wheelhouse to be able to do it and I have the network of people. That’s the beauty of the life I’ve been given – I’m able to pick up the phone and make some shit happen.”

He was recently asked by the co-founders of the Manhattan Beach-based Raven Drum Foundation to pick up the phone and make a drum circle happen at his new studio. Rick Allen of the metal band, Def Leppard, and his musician wife Lauren Monroe have been staging drum circles to benefit veterans, first responders and trauma victims since 2001.

On April 1, they’ll produce “An Afternoon of Storytelling, Drumming & Music” at GoodNoise to let donors explore surreal rhythmic spaces with more than a half-dozen notable drummers, including Denny Seiwell of Paul McCartney & Wings, Duane Trucks of Widespread Panic, John Lum from the Allman Betts Band, and Fred Armisen from “Saturday Night Live” and the new hit sit-com, “Wednesday.”

Allen is planning to attend the drum circle, but his participation in it was in question Monday evening after he was attacked in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last weekend. The Daily Mail, from Def Leppard’s native England, first reported that a young man knocked Allen to the ground while the drummer was smoking a cigarette outside of a Four Seasons Hotel, causing an injury to his head. A publicist for Allen’s Raven Drum Foundation said the organization will know “a little closer” to the fundraising event if he’ll be able to drum.

Sorum attended his first drum circle at a Raven Drum event with Taylor last summer in Newport Beach, and Sorum said, “I remember leaving going, ‘I want to do that again.'”

Rick Allen of Def Leppard and his wife, musician Lauren Monroe, hosted a Raven Drum Foundation drum circle last summer in Newport Beach. Alvin Taylor can be seen at far right and Matt Sorum is fourth from right. Monroe is sixth from right and Allen is next to her, at center, with his modified drum kit. (Photo: B Keene Photography)

“You don’t have to have any experience at all with playing drums,” added Taylor. “But you come and sit next to this guy while he’s playing in a drum circle, and it’s going to be something you will hear or feel or see as, ‘Whoa, I’m in.’ We’re working together to create energy. I call it a healing balm. I’m telling you, you could walk into a drum circle sick and walk out healed because of the power that’s generated and the energy that comes together from harmony and unity. I’s like unity in the community.”

The Raven Drum Foundation was founded in response to a life-changing car accident Allen suffered on New Year’s Eve, 1984 — six years after joining Def Leppard on his 15th birthday. Allen’s left arm was severed, then re-attached by doctors and then amputated when it became infected. Allen found a way to continue playing drums at a high level by creating a unique electronic drum kit featuring four pedals that can trigger the drum parts his left arm once played.

Def Leppard had its biggest album after Allen’s return. “Hysteria” featured the 1987 hits “Love Bites” and “Pour Some Sugar On It.” But success couldn’t heal the post-traumatic stress he experienced.

“Nobody asked him after this traumatic experience, how was his head?” Sorum said. “They only asked physically how he was doing. Then he met his wife, Lauren Monroe, who has been in therapeutic drum healing and music healing for a long time. They created the idea of drum circles as therapy for post-traumatic stress.”

Taylor and Sorum understand how success can mask trauma. Taylor returned to Palm Springs in 2012 after years of living the high life with colleagues like Preston, Gil-Scott Heron and Sly Stone.

“I had just been beaten up with drugs and rock and roll,” he said, “all this stuff that had nothing to do with learning how to live and being a decent human being.”

He married his childhood sweetheart from Section 14, Delia Ruiz, and immersed himself in the local community.

“My friend Joey Covington, who was a drummer with Jefferson Airplane, got killed here (in a car accident),” he said. “I said, ‘I’m going to do a tribute concert,’ and I did. I got my friend David Ross to find a place. He got The Hood (in Palm Desert) and I put all the people together.”

Sorum experienced some extreme highs himself with one of the hardest-living rock bands of all time. His first show with Guns N’ Roses, as guitarist Slash recalled in his self-titled memoir, was playing before 180,000 people at Rock in Rio in Brazil with fans jumping off the stadium’s upper tier as the band played “Paradise City.” Sorum was fired from GNR after criticizing Axl Rose’s decision to hire keyboard player Paul Tobias. Sorum called Tobias “the Yoko Ono of Guns N’ Roses.” Rose told Sorum “adios.” Sorum actually diversified his career after GNR, but navigating Hollywood was like wandering in a wasteland.

“I came to the desert from Hollywood – from 40 years of the music business,” Sorum said. “What was Hunter S. Thompson’s famous line about the music business? It’s the dregs of the Earth. I had that experience in Hollywood.

“Fast forward to, I start coming to the desert. I marry this beautiful woman. We pull off the 10 Freeway, down the 111, and we hear the sound of, ‘Ahhhh.’ I go, ‘What is this?’ We get married at Colony Palms (Hotel). We’re riding bikes toward the San Jacinto Mountains and I look over at my wife and go, ‘Oh my God. I love this.’ So we settle here. We have the house. We have the baby. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve never been happier in my life.”

Matt Sorum and Alvin Taylor pose at the entrance of the GoodNoise Studios with books about Sorum’s locally-based friend, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. (Photo: Ming C. Lowe)

Like Taylor, Sorum found community in the desert. Billy Gibbons, leader of ZZ Top, had been escaping to the desert since the 1970s. His one-time neighbor, “Star Dust” composer Hoagy Carmichael, once told Gibbons he kept a tailored suit hanging in his garage so visitors would think, “I’m a sharp-dressed man.” Sorum said that inspired his ZZ Top hit.

Sorum shot a music video in Pioneertown for Gibbons’ single, “Missin’ Yo Kissin’” with the sons of Greg McDonald, a protégé of Col. Tom Parker who once owned the Palm Springs house of Parker’s client, Elvis Presley. Sorum said they toyed with the idea of buying that house on Chino Canyon Road. They didn’t, but their relationship resulted in Sorum producing Gibbons’ 2020 TV special, “Live at the Roxy,” ” and co-producing Gibbons’ solo record Hardware.

Last October, two other pre-pandemic newcomers to Palm Springs, Spike Edney, the touring music director of Queen, and Brian Ray, a guitarist for Paul McCartney, asked Sorum to play a local benefit to restore the Plaza Theatre. The headliners were Alice Cooper, Palm Desert native Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, and another pre-pandemic Palm Springs transplant, Paul Rodgers of Bad Company and Free. The Rock the Plaza band rehearsed at Sorum’s GoodNoise Studios.

Since the pandemic, Sorum said another drummer, Josh Freese from bands ranging from Devo to Guns N’ Roses and Sting, and bassist Chris Chaney from Jane’s Addiction and Sorum’s own Kings of Chaos band also have moved to Palm Springs. And more rockers are coming, Sorum says.

“When I created this studio with my partner Jason Mendelson, who’s out of Boulder Colorado and comes from the venture capital and tech world, I said, ‘Let’s do this together’. Jason is also a musician and cares about uplifting the community as well. Build it and they will come. The idea is, ‘Let’s bring what we can facilitate, culturally, musically and artistically to our little hub. That’s what we can offer.”

Taylor is enthused by Sorum’s passion for his hometown.

“When I first met Matt, I knew there was something very powerful coming,” he said. “I met him at the Palm Canyon Roadhouse the night I had my star on Palm Canyon installed. Matt was there and the owner said, ‘I want to get you and Matt and another drummer, Steve Ferrone from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. In my own mind, it was, ‘Who the hell is Matt?’ Then I looked at him and saw him and thought, ‘Oh, this guy is somebody.’ I didn’t know he was the drummer with Guns N’ Roses. But I knew when I saw him something powerful was getting ready to happen here.”

If you go: “An Afternoon of Storytelling, Drumming & Music” is planned for April 1 at GoodNoise Studios, 2100 North Palm Canyon Dr. starting at 2 p.m. with a VIP reception. Participation starts at $750. Complete details can be found here, and registration can be done here.


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