Putting it in perspective, the site writes, "He has done everything from cover band projects with Paul Gilbert doing Beatles, Rush, Who and Zeppelin songs and maximum prog rock with Transatlantic, to playing thrash music with Hail!" And that's leaving out his duties as Dream Theater band leader and current Avenged Sevenfold session and touring drummer, both of which he talks at length to Ultimate Guitar about. Check out an excerpt of the chat below, and go right here for the full feature.
Catch Portnoy on tour for the duration of the summer on the Rockstar Energy Drink UPROAR Festival.
As a drummer were you picking up on what John Bonham, Ginger Baker and Keith Moon were playing?
My early classic rock heroes, the big three, were Keith Moon, John Bonham, and Ringo Starr; those were the big three. But then there was also Ginger Baker, Mitch Mitchell, and John Densmore and all of that late ‘60s, early ‘70s stuff was a huge, huge part of me developing as a musician. And then later on in the mid-70s came progressive rock and then in the ‘80s came more metal but it all began for me in the classic rock world of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
"I would say when we formed the band it was kind of like we wanted to be a cross between Iron Maiden and Rush."
Ringo is the guy. I mean the Beatles are literally my favorite band of all time. They were from the minute I was born until here at the age of 43. The Who and Zeppelin were also up there but really at the end of the day the Beatles are it for me. Number one.
Have you had a chance to meet any of your drummer heroes? A lot of them are gone now – Keith Moon, John Bonham, Mitch Mitchell and some others – but what about the guys who are still around? Ringo?
Those are the heroes that really intimidate me. Through our career I’ve gotten to meet almost anybody I’ve ever wanted to meet and the people that are in the Maidens and the Priests and the Sabbaths and the Metallicas of the world, they’re kind of like more my generations. But once you get to that ‘60s era – the Stones, Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Who, Pink Floyd – those are the upper echelon of heroes that are on a whole other level. The only ones that I’ve met from that group, I have met Ringo. We did several shows with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant back in the ‘90s and I’ve met Jimmy Page many times since then. And then also Roger Waters and Nick Mason; I’m also a huge Pink Floyd fan. They were a big one for me as well.
When you’re playing with Dream Theater or the new music with Avenged Sevenfold, are there ever moments when you might remember a John Bonham fill or something the Who did and it will trigger something specific in your playing? Do you do that at all?
It never doesn’t do that; I mean every moment of my life [laughs.] Anytime I’m behind the kit, I’m feeling the sum of all the parts of who make me who I am. And no matter who I’m playing with, it triggers memories of music and other drummers to me. I am the biggest music fan you’ll ever meet and everything I do resonates with the music I grew up with. Yesterday I flew out on our day off to fly to Kansas City to see Rush and I spent the day hanging out with Neil Peart. It doesn’t matter how old I am or how much I’ve done with my career, I’m still that 15-year old kid that loves music. That’s never gonna change. And yesterday I was sitting in the fourth row playing air drums to Neil Peart just like everybody in the audience. I happened to be signing autographs and taking pictures during the intermission but other than that I’m a fan like anybody else. And that doesn’t change and anytime I’m playing drums, I always feel the ghost of Keith Moon and John Bonham in everything I do.
You talk about channeling the ghosts of Moon and Bonham. When you started working on the new Avenged Sevenfold album, Nightmare, were you thinking about The Rev and what he might have played on these tracks? Did you approach these songs as, “What would the Rev have played?” Or was it, “This is what the Rev would want me to play.”
Luckily the Rev left behind demos of every song. They were demos of him playing on an electronic kit. So they weren’t proper drum tracks but they were blueprints of every song with electronic drums. Luckily I had the ultimate roadmap left by the Rev himself. My purpose for doing this record with those guys was to bring his drum parts to life and finish what he had started with this record. When I’ve done other sessions and other projects, I’m usually hired to do my thing but that was not at all my mission with this record. My mission with this record was to do exactly what the Rev wanted to do and just wasn’t able to do for himself at this point.