You sure know how to hit those skins. So when did you start out as a drummer?
I started when I was four years old.
A tender age!
I had a passion for the beat. I grew up in a house where my mother brought music home from all over the world, so I was quite fortunate. And to top it off, my mother’s cousin is Vic Damone, so music ran in our bloodline.
Do you remember your first drum kit?
I remember my first drum, let’s start with that. It was a four foot tall carved out wooden drum with real goatskin from Haiti that my mother brought back. What made the drum unique was that on her quirky visit, one of the so-called witch doctors said this drum is made for your daughter, it’s made for her because she can pick up the beat. I was four years old.
When did you start playing professionally?
I got my very first drum kit when I was eight years old. Each year I progressed to a more professional kit with cymbals of professional quality, such as Ludwig and Zildjian symbols. By the age of 13, I guest appeared with the Mercer Ellington orchestra in South Hampton, Long Island. I played to songs like ‘Satin Doll’, ‘Take The E Train’. Ella Fitzgerald was there, and she got up and sang one time when I played, I was very lucky.
When you play, you really are very intuitive, your performance is very fluid, very liquid, how do you explain this?
It’s like being in touch with God, oftentimes you get into a meditative state, and you are listening to your fellow musicians, each of their intricate parts, and you’re talking the universal language, naturally. Being in the pocket is when you can lock in with the rhythm section, and they pick on your bass foot and snare, because you become the engine of the band. That’s when you know you’re in the zone.
You’ve played with some fabulous artists, tell us more about that.
I was blessed and fortunate enough to come across those opportunities. I was sixteen when I played with Chuck Berry, then later I went on to doing the jingles for David Lucas and McFall in NYC. I played with various different people. Then when I came to London, at one point I was working with five bands. At the same time, living on hope and dreams and determination. All five bands were preparing for showcases to get signed for major labels. The ironic thing was, all the top record companies, such as Warner Bros, EMI, Polydor, Chrysalis, and at the time Columbia, all came down but saw me play with five different bands. I was pulled to the side by Warner Bros and Polydor and the Artist & Representation guys asked me ‘which band are you in?’ I said, ‘In the band that gets signed.’ Later I got a call from Warner Bros. They asked would I be interested in playing drums for their newly signed artist, Mark Rogers of Hollywood Beyond. With that, we did the song, ‘What’s The Colour of Money?’ It reached number four in the UK charts. It was full on after that, doing shows all over London. We had an interesting set up. A woman cellist and a five piece band. We played at places like The London Royal School of Art, The Fridge in Brixton, Heaven in Charing Cross, and then we got involved with Bobby Womack for awhile. From there, I played with Billy Ocean, Style Council, worked with Paul Weller for three years as his drummer an percussionist, doing recordings, television, film and live concerts. Played with Kylie Minogue and others.
Joanne playing with Billy Ocean
And these days?
I’ve just picked up my sticks. It’s like riding a bike, you never forget, and I’m cruising. I like to pop in on my friends, recently played a gig in Richmond, London, with some great guys. I’m available to take bookings for sessions, gigs, tours, TV/theatre and broadcast productions.
Where can we find you?
Ruoccojojo@gmail.com, or call via New London Writers, 07804 900 195. Website to follow! By the way, I’m writing a book about my experiences as a female drummer in the rock world.
Listen to Joanne Ruocco talking about her early days as a drummer here