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Jim Bonfanti: Classic Drummer Hall of Fame!

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Jim Bonfanti
Bruce Hicks

A Raspberries Reality

"I Know that everyone doesn't have the luxury of being able to play (the drums), but I can and I really appreciate the chances to play because it's really still fun, just like it was at the beginning."

Jim Bonfanti is best known as the original drummer and co-founding member or Raspberries, a powerful rock group that found significant success in the early '70s. The group, led by Eric Carmen, released four albums and eight singles, including a Gold Record Hit, "Go All the Way." Jim started the group with Eric in 1970. He met Eric while they both were active in Cleveland's late 60s music scene becoming familiar with each other from the practice of musicians seeing each others' bands. Eric saw Jim in "The Mods" (which became "The Choir").

Eric approached Jim after his last Choir show in Dec. of '69 about getting a band together. Jim was tired of bands and broke off for regular job as an accounts manager for about four months. He quickly realized that he has a huge passion for music and he contacted Eric to form Raspberries.

When talking about the band name, they were somehow influenced by the fact that Eric had a publishing company called Magic Raspberries and, after getting frustrated over the topic, they just decided to use a shortened version of it and call the band Raspberries.

"It's the band that makes the name, not the name that makes the band. You loved the Beatles music, so you loved the name". As it turned out, he and his bandmates created music that gave many people a reason to love Raspberries. Jim, the self-taught drummer who liked to play "just what a song needs", has been happy with the twists and turns of his musical life.

HOF Nomination

Jim's long-time manager, A1 Kaston, broke the news and Jim was genuinely surprised at his inclusion in Classic Drummer's 2013 Hall of Fame vote. The veteran musician was humbled to be among a nominee list of truly accomplished drummers. "Getting on the list was one thing, but to get enough votes to also get honorable mention was really quite flattering. I didn't think I had done enough to really be bothered with. That's why when it happened, it was, well, WOW! I was happily shocked!"

"Well, I'm a lefty! I do things differently. It's not like I planned it out."

Editor's note: Congratulations Jim on being inducted into the Classic Drummer Hall of Fame 2015. You obviously have lots of fans that love your drumming and the music you have been a part of Thanks for your contribution to classic rock and welcome to the Classic Drummer family.

Jim believes what garnered recognition from fans over the years was, primarily, his playing style. "Well, I'm a lefty! I do things differently. It's not like I planned it out. I first started drumming as a kid and I didn't know that was a left- or a right-handed drum set-up ….I just played.” He saw drums set up in the conventional right-handed format and he played them in a way that felt right to him. “I didn’t play cross stick so I played totally opposite the way of a right-handed drummer (though he still used his right foot for the bass drum). “But it affected the way I played and sounded”. In fact it wasn’t until many years later, after being questioned by a friend about his style, his eyes were opened. “I realized that it was something that helped me create the patterns, styles and sounds of the fills that I do.”

Jim feels his “left-hander in a right-handed drummer’s world” is what most people notice when they talk about how he plays and which generates compliments about his playing.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the fact that Raspberries have not been inducted, is a topic that Jim has considered both frequently and recently. His take?

“It seems to me that lots of people in the hall, and I don’t mean any disrespect, are those that have sold a lot of records, way more records than we (Raspberries) did. But I don’t see where…on the timeline of music, (who) moved it. Who gave it a bump? Who made an impact? Do you hear some young man who says that this or that band influenced me? My thing is I think that the people in the hall should be ones that had an impact…that impressed people to model themselves after them.”

Jim clarified his position by claiming how Raspberries, being recognized for driving the Power Pop Genre, were a group that influenced musicians. He believes that stronger consideration should be given to bands that helped shape Rock and Roll. Jim pointed out that wellknown musicians have, over the years, mentioned Raspberries as an influence. That, along with Raspberries’ solid record sales, should be factors on getting entry into the hall. “Kiss had a definite sound and look how long it took them to get into the Hall of Fame. They… definitely moved that line. I scratch my head trying to figure out what was the thought process that put this person in there. What was the criterion that makes one eligible?”

Raspberries Tour

The Raspberries Reunion Tour is among the most memorable events in Jim’s life and a number of factors had to fall into place to make it happen.

“It was about a decade ago, in ’04. I got a phone call from the talent buyer of Cleveland’s House of Blues. He shared his plan of opening that venue and he wanted Raspberries to be part of it. I really didn’t think there was a snowball’s chance of our getting back together. But then I told him, I’d see if there was any remote possibility to make that happen.”

Jim initiated phone contact with the rest of Raspberries, starting with Eric Carmen. Jim admitted he started with Eric because “…obviously, without Eric, there’d be no purpose….he was our singer.” The House of Blues opener was the biggest factor in getting everyone back together. Eric was quite particular about their sound and their shows and the House of Blues happened to have a great sound system, stage and atmosphere. It was a truly attractive opportunity. The tour turned out to be an easy sell once Eric was onboard. The group practiced for a couple of months straight before their first tour. As it was in the beginning, Eric acted as their musical director. They worked on a show that best presented the intent of the music they created.

“Overall, it was great fun. It’s no secret that we had issues but, for that time, they weren’t there. Nothing, could replace the feeling of the first show…that moment right there where we thought, here we are! It was about my kids being there. They knew about Raspberries, but for them to be in the room, see the excitement and the whole thing!”

Between ’04 and ’05 they performed ten shows in seven cities. During the first tour one performance was recorded. It became “Raspberries, Live on Sunset Strip” CD/Video package. Their shows from ’07 were in order to promote that package.

Raspberries’ last reunion show occurred in ’09. Again, it was serendipitous. Al Kaston, Raspberries’ manager, contacted the group because, in that year, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fames induction ceremony was, for the first time, being held in Cleveland. Prior to the actual inductions, they threw a private, VIP party and Raspberries were the featured entertainment.

Cleveland Music Scene

Jim has a great fondness for Cleveland's music scene. "You years prior to Raspberries, it was just a Mecca for bands. I can't imagine that all cities had what we had here...there was British Invasion and Motown and Rock and all of these places to play. I remember the Cleveland Plain Dealer (newspaper) had an Action Tab that listed ... columns and columns of events and that's how it was for us when we started playing. We were focused. We wanted to write our songs and make records. We couldn't wear ourselves out playing at all these places, so we made a nice living, supporting ourselves by staying out of bars and playing at high schools.

On Thursdays we played at a local club that had a great audience and vibe. On Fridays and Saturdays we did high school dances. They started and ended earlier and paid better than most bars. On Sundays, we became regulars at Cleveland's Ago-ra and that was one of the best things that happened to Us. We played for 50% of the door. There weren't a lot of places to play on Sundays. We kept our gear up there, practiced all night on Mondays and Tuesdays, took Wednesdays off and then things started all over."

At that time, the group lived together in a rented house where they honed their sound and worked on songs. "There just couldn't have Been a better place for us."

"Nothing, could replace the feeling of the first show…that moment right there where we thought, here we are!

Still Relevant

Part of Jims pride in Raspberries is that it has maintained its relevance and was recently proven by a current movie! One of 2014 s movie hits was "Guardians of the Galaxy". The movies writer and director, James Gunn, is a huge fan of the group. Jim was told that selecting the music for the soundtrack was rigorous. According to what was told to Jim, Mr. Gunn decided to choose music from the 70s. The original song list was well over a thousand tunes which, in steps, were winnowed down to more than a hundred and then to a dozen songs. Raspberries' "Go All The Way" was among the songs making the final cut. "Okay," said Jim "here's a band from more than 40 years ago making this list! There was even a poll conducted by MTV in late August and early September 2014 to find "The Movie Song Of The Summer" from all the movies released in 2014 and our song had the most votes!" Further, the movie's soundtrack has sold more than one million copies in the US and over two million worldwide, earning Raspberries a plati-num album for their Part. "It's exciting That we are on it."

"When we put this band together, before we even had a name, we talked about how we were going to sound, and how we were going to look and how we were going to dress. When we got together, we were just a band. We had.. .ideas but none of us ever thought that, some 40 years later we would be relevant!"

Bonfanti Today

Today, things are precisely how Jim likes it. Like Raspberries, he is relevant and in touch with drums and music. Recently, again due to the efforts of manager A1 Kaston, Jim was introduced to Brian Baron. Brian sought out Jim's expertise to help with Brian's company, "Cold Mountain Drums". The company is located in Cleveland and, besides the drums; the entire drum making equipment was also made in that city. Jim is excited about the boutique drum shop and he is heavily involved in selecting among different woods for a "Jim Bonfanti Limited" snare drum. He gushes that "All the drums, all the parts, everything's from Cleveland. I love the snare it's just, the best sounding snare I've heard. It has a real crack to it. I told Brian that, I wasn't all that into all the technical stuff I just know what I like my snare and toms to sound like. This is what I want my kick to sound like. He is going to market the snare when it's done and he's going to let me test the samples. I think it's pretty cool to have a Cleveland based maker. Brian's so passionate about his work and I'm glad to be a part of it."

"... before we even had a name, we talked about how we were going to sound, and how we were going to look and how we were going to dress.. "

Band wise, until 2015 Jim played regularly in The Jeff Soukup Band, and created and played all the drum tracks on Jeff's 2013 original release, "The Ride Music Project". Currently Jim is enjoying life as the drummer in "Abbey Rodeo", a long time group of local veteran musicians who all share a love and passion for the British Invasion. With a repertoire of over 100 British Invasion classics, they play with the same focus, passion and attention to quality that Jim brought to Raspberries.

Besides drums and music, Jim began running in 2010. Though he had a setback after a heart attack, he recovered and resumed running. He recently ran in two half-marathons and now runs about 70 miles a month.

Jim feels good about how things have turned out. He loves having been with Raspberries, enjoys being involved with local drum making and the fact that he's able to get out and still play music. "It's nice to get out, play some music, enjoy ourselves... .there's music, no drama." And he continues to evolve. "I even play around with Roland Electric Drums...it controls my sound and it's only five minutes to set-up."

"Yeah, I like things and like what I'm playing....back to where my roots are."

Classic Drummer, January 6, 2016

__________

For over 15 years Classic Drummer has been chronicling the important contributions of music's great drummers. Each year a new list of nominees is announced and a new class of inductees is honored. Classic Drummer invites their readers, artists and industry colleagues to cast votes. Each inductee receives a permanent place in the Hall of Fame archives and museum for their artifacts and works, along with the respect and appreciation of music lovers everywhere.

Among this year's inductees is Raspberries drummer Jim Bonfanti!

Jim joins this year's inductees Terry Bozzio, Bun E Carlos, Dave Clark, Dino Danelli, Dave Grohl, Elvin Jones, Russ Kunkel, Simon Philips, Cozy Powell, Floyd Sneed and Alan White!

Congratulations, Jim! You're in really good company.

Bernie

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Kirk   

I was pleasantly surprised this morning to get that free issue of Classic Drummer Magazine in my email!  A well-deserved honor for Jim!!

Bernie, you're killing me with the video teases from the 2004 Cleveland HOB show...when is this project going to be ready for distribution?  Great stuff!

It is very cool to see Raspberries legacy continuing to get exposure :)

 

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AnneNR   

Wonderful piece, Mr. Hogya!  I paid attention to what Mr. Bonfanti was telling about, and found it very interesting to parallel Mr. Bonfanti speaking about being a left-handed drummer and how he just "does it" without trying to think too much about it, and having heard Ringo Starr speak about being a lefty with a unique way of doing what he does on the drums.  These two guys are definitely out-of-the-box in their expression of talent being left-handed on a set of drums.

What an insight!  What I got from this interview and the one I heard from Ringo Starr is that these two men are instinctual using their gift of music abilities.  I love hearing back-stories. ^_^

AnneNR

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