What do Chaka Khan, Maynard Ferguson, David
Byrne, Police guitar player Andy Summers and Brian Wilson all have in
common? At one time or another the musical pistons that have driven the
sound of these performers was supplied by the Brian Setzer Orchestra's
own percussive tour de force, Bernie Dresel.
Bernie was driven to a career in music by the same
inspiration as Brian Setzer. Look no further than Liverpool, England.
At the age of two Bernie clearly remembers his Grandmother buying him
the Fab Four's American debut, "Meet The Beatles". Unlike Brian's desire
to play the guitar, the young Bernie was moved by the beat of Ringo's
Ludwig drum kit.
The Dresel family, who lived and still do in
Sharon, PA near the Ohio border, were very supportive of their son and
purchased him a series of paper-head toy kits before realizing that it
would save them money to actually buy him a small pro kit. Those paper
drum heads were no match for this toddler's version of All My Loving. By
the age of 3 Bernie's folks attempted to get him some drum lessons,
"Too young, come back next year" was the response from the local drum
teachers. When he was 4 they were told the same thing. Finally, at 4 1/2
years of age the instructors agreed to give this persistent young boy a
chance with a trial lesson. The response after that trial, "Why didn't
you bring him sooner?".
From that time and up until Bernie was 8 years
old his playing was limited to a drum pad and a snare drum. At that
point, after y enrolled in music school.
During his high school years Bernie supplied the
backbeat to the wildly popular local band, Starbreaker. We can only hope
that footage exists of this outfit so that someday we'll be able to get
a glimpse of them on VH1's "Before They Were Rockstars". Incidentally,
any rumors of a Starbreaker reunion and subsequent Japanese tour were
squelched by Bernie himself.
After high school Bernie headed to Rochester, NY
to the Eastman School of Music where he studied classical percussion.
Upon graduating in the spring of 1983 he did what alot of musicians who
want to earn a living do, he moved to Los Angeles. Bernie recalls that
his first big gig after moving west was a 2 week stint in Las Vegas at
the Alladin Hotel backing up former Dean Martin Gold-Diggers, the
Albaricci Sisters. Upon completion of that job he went on the road for 5
months with the vocal group, The Lettermen. Oddly enough the
Lettermen's leader, a gentleman by the name of Tony Butala also hails
from Sharon, PA. This coincidence however had nothing to do with Bernie
landing the gig.
During the next several years, our man Bernie did
loads of session work and built quite a reputation as a reliable and
brilliant musician. He's played with Maynard Ferguson, Talking Head
David Byrne, The Rippingtons and Chaka Khan, in addition to doing a lot
of session work. You probably didn't know that Bernie lent his
considerable talents to television show scores like Dallas, Knots
Landing, Deep Space Nine, Suddenly Susan as well as many cartoons
including The Simpsons and Pinky and The Brain. The list of movie scores
that Bernie has played on are too numerous to mention here.
One of the highlights of Bernie's burgeoning
career was actually performing with his idol, Ringo Starr when the
Beatle drummer appeared on the English television series, Dame Edna. One
of my favorite Dresel projects is the beautiful work that Bernie did on
the Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks CD, Orange Crate Art from 1995. You can
also see another side of Bernie on the new Andy Summer's CD, a tribute
to Thelonius Monk, entitled Green Chimneys.
The story of the garage jam session that
ultimately became the formation of the Brian Setzer Orchestra is at this
point almost legendary but for the uninitiated, the story goes that a
neighbor of Brian's invited him over to his house where he and various
musician friends were playing some impromptu jazz.. Brian grabbed his
guitar and a small practice amp and amazed the gathered by not only
keeping up with them but actually adding something very relevant to what
they were playing. The rest is history as they say.
So when did Bernie enter the picture? When Brian
began assembling band members to form this unheard of big band with an
electric guitar as the lead instrument, Bernie's phone rang.
Unfortunately, he had prior commitments and at this point had to turn
down the offer to rehearse and do what would become the first two BSO
A short time later though, Bernie's phone rang
again. Apparently, this new musical project was still breathing and did
he have time to rehearse and do a couple of shows? This time Bernie's
schedule allowed him to participate. Not being familiar with Brian's
work outside of his hits with Stray Cats, Bernie prepared himself for
this experience by borrowing a friend's rockabilly music collection. It
was Bernie's impression that perhaps the drummer who played the first
couple of BSO shows took too much of a traditional big band approach and
that maybe what he should do was try to create a new style that fused
what he assumed Brian loved about rockabilly with the more sophisticated
playing of a traditional big band drummer. Well, whatever percussive
stew Bernie cooked up in his head during this point in 1992, certainly
Throughout the last few years with the BSO Bernie
has played with several bass players but not until the addition of Mark
Winchester on a very definite "slap-bass" has the rhythm section of
Brian's experiment totally come together to create that Grammy award
winning sound that you've come to love. Mark's playing style to put it
in Bernie's words was a "Big kick in the butt" that has given Bernie
even more musical freedom to grow in what is without a doubt the only
band of it's kind.
As I wrap up this look into the life of the pride
of Sharon, PA, I want to add that if there is any doubt that Bernie is a
living percusive instrument you should hear the following: After my
conversation with him in his Atlantic City hotel room I took Bernie to
my parent's home to enjoy some hardshell crabs. I'm not sure if anyone
reading this has ever invited a drummer to their home to eat a meal that
requires the diner to crack open crabs with a wooden mallet but if you
find youself in this position, think twice. We are still picking crab
shells out of the wallpaper and ceiling tiles. Bernie, next time we'll