John Von Ohlen: I Couldn’t Get Mel Lewis’s Burning Ride Cymbal Out of My Mind

SKF NOTE: An excerpt from the full transcription of my interview with John Von Ohlen on October 12, 1984. You can listen to this exchange on the YouTube video posted here.

John Von Ohlen: When I first started playing drums I was fanatical, absolutely fanatical. I played all day long. I cut school. I’d tell my mother and dad that I was sick that day. They’d both go off to work. As soon as they left the house I’d hop up on the drums and play them all day until they got home.

I did some good faking back then. For about six months I think I was on the drums all the time.

Scott K Fish: [Earlier], when you played accordion, piano, and trombone — was that by choice?

JVO: Yeah. I always had an affinity for drums, but I never really got turned on to drums until I saw Stan Kenton’s band in person back in about ‘55.

Of course, Mel Lewis was the drummer at that time. The first thing that really hit me — right between the eyes — was the cymbal, that ride cymbal. That was the first thing I heard in the parking lot when we got out of the car. And I kept hearing that burning ride cymbal. That just lit me up so much. I just couldn’t get it out of my mind.

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