Dresel Brothers Interview

Bernie & Jonathan Dresel Interview

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Part Two

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By Steve Krugman

At first—and not long ago—Bernie Dresel was surprised to be asked if he was Jonathan’s brother. The question had long been reversed and directed toward the younger of the two Dresels—really, ever since Jonathan chose to follow in his six-years-older brother’s rhythmic footsteps back in Sharon, PA and play drums. Now both established and credentialed drummers in Los Angeles, CA, the question can go either way; and Bernie, for the record, is totally cool with it.

He’s Heavy, He’s My Brother
Most were aware of the older Dresel first; primarily through his breakout work with the guitar-led, rockabilly big band, Brian Setzer Orchestra in the ‘90s—a unique band that demanded an innovative, cross-over approach from its drummer. Bernie delivered with a grace and swagger that upstaged his glorious pompadour. The gig came on the heels of his studies at Eastman School of Music and a stint with Maynard Ferguson; and was followed by work with David Byrne, The Rippingtons, Chaka Khan, Brian Wilson, Andy Summers, BERN—his own twelve-piece band, and a multitude of TV, film, and album sessions.

On network television five nights a week as the solid, grooving house-drummer for Jimmy Kimmel Live, Jonathan, oddly, may be the less-exposed of the drumming brothers. It’s basically a kick ass office job, and aside from the passing camera shot, he’s managed a relatively low profile (besides the hair). A University of Miami graduate, he’s also played with jazz pianist Keiko Matsui, and English rocker John Waite. And yes, Bernie is his brother.

Family Style
Basically, these guys are quintessential L.A. drummers. T.V. Film and record dates. Touring and local gigs. And they both began in the same basement in Sharon. Pretty cool. After a recent BERN show and subsequent Hittin’ review, my curiosity led me a step further. There is a six year difference between my older brother and me as well, and I was not about to play the same instrument as him. Not just because he played banjo. I may have appropriated his Zeppelin records, but when it came to an instrument, I desired musical independence; and there’s arguably no instrument more attractive to the independence-inclined than drums. So, I pondered how one family produces two professional drummers. In some cases (fake sneeze: “Waaackerman!”) more. There is a short but respectable list of prominent drummers born of common basements. I was content at the moment to get one such story, and contacted Bernie with the idea of a duel interview with a focus on the fraternal drummer angle. He was down. Importantly, so was Jonathan.

In preparation for the interview, I constructed an alphanumeric hierarchical outline with four Roman numeral A-headings. Alright, so I did it the night before with a scotch. They were: I. Sharon, PA; II. Transition/College; III. L.A.; and IV. Brotherhood. I simply wanted to trace their path chronologically from the early days to present, and then guide them toward a provocative, revealing and potentially hilarious/contentious discussion of brotherhood in general and theirs in particular. As it turned out, we traveled through Rochester, Miami, and Los Angeles briefly, but really only long enough to get a souvenir snowglobe at the airport giftshop. And although we did naturally cover brotherhood, certainly had some laughs, and enjoyed good-natured rivalry—we didn’t get far beyond Sharon. Somehow we still managed to talk thirty minutes past our allotted hour.

That outline laid before me mostly untouched—would’ve made a fine drink coaster had our cocktail bunny not thoughtfully returned with some. As time came to wrap things up I bemoaned for a brief moment my casual time management, but quickly embraced the result. These guys grew up playing drums together; shared the same single teacher through their early years; played in the same all-ages drum and baton(!) corps together; shed the same songs from the same stereo console in the same basement on the same blue Premier Olympic drumset; and survived regular family vacations to Myrtle Beach. Add memories of Bernie tap dancing and decked out in denim vest and hat, and Jonathan’s horrifying first drum lesson from his big brother, and there was plenty to keep us interested and entertained in their childhood hometown.

Fast Forward
So we didn’t do much to fill-in the perplexing lack of media-presence concerning their current careers. That—ultimately—was not the design. We came for the brother story and we got it. For more on Bernie today—for the locals—check him out live around town. Lucky for us, his killin’ band, BERN, plays regularly. As for Jonathan, turn on the TV any weeknight.

Before Dark
Before Hugh Hefner filled candy dishes with Viagra, delegated seven great-granddaughter-aged blondes as his exclusive harem, created an excruciating spectacle of himself on cable TV, and reigned over an increasingly desperate empire, he was The Good Life incarnate and the cultural template of style, cool, and—yes—class. At the height of the dynasty in the late 60s and early 70s, this ethos was represented gloriously by Hef’s “Playboy After Dark” TV show set in a swank Manhattan penthouse and featuring music, talk and bunnies.

After speaking with April Williams of Upstairs At Vitello’s jazz club about the concept of an afternoon taping at the venue, I was left to brainstorm the details. What would we call it? A few lame stabs at a title later, I recalled “After Dark.” Music, talk, and…bunnies? We’d figure that one out later. This was before dark, after all, and we would—necessarily—exploit the contrast. But for the martinis, I think we succeeded. The format promises to evolve with live music, perhaps an additional Lava Lamp or two, and one less crazed fly in the shot; but we do you hope enjoy the result of our debut “Hollywood Drum Before Dark.”

Bringing It All Back Home
Most importantly, we hope you enjoy discovering the Dresel Brothers’ story with us. I think it’s a good one and am pleased to have the opportunity to present it here. Two great drummers and genuinely good guys. Which way out of a basement in Sharon, PA? Up.

Thank you:
April Williams and Vitello’s for their support in this endeavor.

Bernie Dresel, Jonathan Dresel and their families. Everyone who joined us for the taping.

Featuring Billy Lynch as “Billy” the announcer, Magilee as “Bun E.,” and annoying fly as Himself. Introducing Eileen Dresel as “Cooing Baby #1.”

Camera and editing by Lucas Cheadle and HypeVision Productions. Web mojo by Carl King Creative. Dicki Fliszar, über audio assist. Photography by Alex Kluft.

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