Lawrence resident Rich Scannella plays drums for Bon Jovi during the “Because We Can” tour
As Rich Scannella prepared to walk on stage, where his drum set was waiting, one of the producers commented about the screaming crowd.
“[He] said, ‘Don’t worry about the 80,000 people in the audience, worry about the 1 million people watching on TV or streaming live,” Scannella said.
A phone call Sept. 10 was what put the once in a lifetime experience in motion for the Lawrence resident.
Scannella had picked up the phone that day to hear the voice of Jon Bon Jovi, asking Scannella to fill in on the “Because We Can” tour for the band’s regular drummer, Tico Torres. Torres had undergone an emergency appendectomy right before a show in Mexico City, and was rushed to the hospital again Sept. 20 for emergency gall bladder surgery.
From the time Scannella got the call, he had one week to learn about 26 new songs, rehearse with the band and get the necessary visas and travel documents before he set off Sept. 18 for Rio de Janeiro.
On Sept. 20, Scannella debuted at “Rock in Rio” in front of an 80,000-person crowd.
Scannella spent the next month touring with the band through Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Canada, and the western U.S., playing his final show with Bon Jovi Oct. 6 at Spokane Arena in Washington state before packing up and heading back home Oct. 13.
The 44-year-old drummer said the tour was the biggest accomplishment of his musical career.
“This is amazing,” Scannella said about playing on the tour. “This is really the top of the heap, I would say. It doesn’t get any bigger than this, really, playing Rock in Rio, playing soccer stadiums down in Brazil and Chile and Argentina.”
Assimilating into any new band can be challenging, Scannella said, especially when it comes to a group that’s been together as long as Bon Jovi, because each group has a certain rapport, both musically and personality-wise.
“It definitely is a lot to tackle,” Scannella said. “I was trying to do a week or two of shows of what Tico’s been doing for 30 years. He owns this stuff, so I was really just trying to copy what he did and make it feel comfortable for the rest of the band.”
Bob Bandiera, a New Jersey native and guitarist on the tour with Bon Jovi, said Scannella lived up to that challenge and fit right in with the group.
“It worked, was the main thing,” Bandeira said. “Was it perfect, was it Tico sitting back there? No. But it was really good.”
Scannella is no stranger to working with well known musicians, either. He’s played, recorded and produced with big name artists like Lady Gaga and Bruce Springsteen.
In fact, Scannella was considered as a backup drummer for the tour because of his previous work with Jon Bon Jovi, playing a handful of times since 2011 with his solo band, Jon Bon Jovi & the Kings of Suburbia, at a range of smaller events. It helped him, Scannella said, to have played with Jon Bon Jovi before — he was already familiar with many of his cues.
Still, Scannella prepared for the tour in much the same way he prepares for any gig: practice, practice, practice.
“That really becomes muscle memory,” he said. “You don’t want to get out there and be second guessing. You can’t do that, especially as a drummer. The drums are really a foundation of the band, drums have to drive the band, so my role has got to be spot on.”
The chance to tour with Bon Jovi came for Scannella after years of immersing himself in the music industry. His love of music began right in his own family, where he descends from a line of talented musicians.
It began with his grandfather, Pasquale, who played the bass and guitar.
Then there was Scannella’s father, Joe, who was an orchestra player and band leader, had his own jazz band, and had played with big name artists like Diana Ross. A graduate of Juilliard, he also taught middle school music classes for 25 years.
Scannella discovered his passion for the drums at age 9, when he had stumbled across the set his father was using to teach his students. Joe then took Scannella to Buddy Rich, a famous drummer, for his first formal lesson.
“I remember walking out of there and a light bulb went off, and I said, that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life … It was like a polarizing moment,” Scannella said.
Growing up in Ewing, he said, he was close enough to the Philadelphia music scene that he was able to attend regular live shows in the area. The first show he ever saw was KISS at the old Spectrum in Philadelphia in 1977. He was immediately drawn into the sound of classic rock groups like the Rolling Stones, The Doors, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix.
Scannella continued taking drum lessons after that, and at age 16 joined Trenton’s Musicians Union Local No. 62, where he began playing professionally.
He also continued learning important basics of reading music from his father and as well as other tidbits of advice.
“I just told him, work hard, be honest with people, and then just do the right thing,” Joe said.
While Scannella was performing, he also began giving drum lessons when he was still a teen himself, and still continues teaching today.
Part of what he enjoys about teaching is helping kids experience the same passion for making music and sharing the knowledge he has, especially as ways of accessing music continue to change because of technology.
“It’s really important because music has changed so much, especially with downloading and stuff, you don’t get music the way we did 10 or 20 or 30 years ago,” Scannella said. “So it’s so important that kids still see live music and live bands.”
Scannella offered a bit of his own advice, too, on why he was able to continue his music career even if, at times, success didn’t seem promising.
“If you’re gonna do it, do it for the love of it, because that will really carry you,” Scannella said. “If you do it for the wrong reasons, being money or anything else, I think your experience is not gonna be as fulfilling.”
On the Web: richscannella.com.