John Douglas, Rock and Roll Drummer and Artist – Interview
Recently musician and artist John Douglas brought his art work to the Michael Murphy Gallery in Tampa. As many of my readers and friends are aware, I am a diehard Aerosmith fan. As soon as I found out he was showing Aero portraits I made way to Tampa! He painted the famous Joe Perry “Billie” guitar which I have photographed many times. I couldn’t wait to hear John’s stories! When I arrived, I found much more than Aerosmith. John’s work includes Jon Bon Jovi, Billy Gibbons, Ozzy, The Stones, Dave Grohl, Freddie Mercury, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Nicks and some Hollywood icons like Clint Eastwood and John Travolta’s character from “Pulp Fiction”
I talked with John and his rep Allison who were welcoming and cool as a breeze. I asked him if he would have time to answer a few questions later on and he was gracious to do so. The gallery was busy with music fans checking out the works of art. I learned some interesting things about John and his rock & roll history. I must say I am a bit jelly that he gets to hang with my favorite band!
1. When did you start playing drums and what bands were you in? Where did you grow up and play in your early days?
John Douglas: According to my parents, I started playing drums before I could walk. I was beating on my mom’s pot & pans using any kitchen utensil I could hold. I was raised in Houston, Texas and began playing in bands around 8th grade. I played with guys much older than me. When I was a freshman in high school I was playing in bands with seniors. After I graduated, I played with a string of bands including Destiny, Rage , Blue Blazes and X.O.X.. Then I played with Kik Tracee, having recorded and released a couple records on RCA in the early 90’s just as the bottom dropped out of the LA rock scene.
2. How did you get involved with designing for national acts such as Van Halen and ZZ Top?
John Douglas: I was playing drums with Houston band X.O.X. at the time. I had been painting my drums for sometime.I just wanted my drums to look cool & unique. Frank Beard (ZZ Top drummer) came to the club to see my band play, we met and asked about my drums. Soon I was painting drums for him. Then as ZZ Top would tour other drummers would see his kit and ask who painted it. And that’s how my drum painting and customizing reputation grew. I have painted more than 20 drum kits for ZZ Top (as well as many guitars) as well as for Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pantera, DamagePlan, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kid Rock, Bon Jovi, Slash, Guns & Roses, Van Halen, Maná, Iron Maiden, Aerosmith, Brooks & Dunn, SevenDust, Creed, AlterBridge, and more….
3. How did your relationship with Aerosmith start? How did you get the gig to replace Joey when he was injured for the Vegas “Deuces are Wild” residency? Had you ever played with Aero before? Your iconic painting of Billie Perry on Joe Perry’s guitar is famous. Every Blue Army fan knows that guitar!
John Douglas: My relationship with Aerosmith began about 21 years ago when I got a call to paint a guitar for Joe Perry, that ended up being his “Billie” guitar. …I got the raw guitar from Gibson, painted it white and a portrait of his wife on front and back. A few years later I started painting drums for Joey Kramer which ultimately led to me working for the band in 2014. So, I was in Las Vegas with them in 2019 when I got a call in the afternoon of a show day telling me that Joey was injured and could not play the show and could I step in and do it. Of course, I said “Yes” …So without the benefit of rehearsal or even a soundcheck with the band…I played my first show that night in front of a sold-out audience in Las Vegas. And no…I had never played with Aerosmith before that night. I ended up playing some 35 shows with them, including the Grammys. It was an honor and a thrill!!!
4. Tell us a bit about your technique in painting these amazing rock star portraits? What was the first one you painted? Do you have a favorite?
John Douglas: I have always done music and art. For me, the two go hand in hand. It was a natural culmination of the two when I began painting guitar and drums. It was also when I began painting portraits on canvas. Drawing people was my favorite thing to do growing up. Later I made the leap to painting on canvas. To pass the time on tour I paint. I carry a canvas rolled up, black paint, white paint and a few brushes. Most of the paintings you see were done in hotel rooms all over the world. I get commissions to paint and that’s great. But when I just paint for me…I paint portraits of my favorite rockers. Again, combining my love of music with my love of creating art. I do not really a favorite,….because they all mean something to me. They’re my babies. Really….my favorite is the next one I paint!
5. John, your art exhibit in Tampa at the Michael Murphy Gallery was awesome to see in person. Do you plan on traveling with the exhibit in the future?
John Douglas: Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed my show. It was a treat for me to see all my work hanging in one location. Many of these paintings I haven’t seen since I finished it. Seeing them again, all hanging together, reminds me of when and where I was when I painted them. I can remember the hotels rooms, the cities, etc. And it reminds me how much I miss live music!!!
Yes, I plan on more art exhibitions in the future, as the country and the world open back up. And it can’t happen soon enough for me!!!
You can check out John’s work on his website.
Photos by Vicky Sullivan