Songwriter, singer, world-renowned drummer and former member of Tower of Power, Ron E. Beck has performed and recorded with the likes of Herbie Hancock, The Temptations, Bobby Womack, Bill Withers, Bob Marley, Etta James, Rick James, Sista Monica, Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Taj Mahal, John Lee Hooker, Clifford Coulter and Carlos Santana.
Beck has been leading his own bands, and singing with others, on a myriad of North American and European stages, including the Umbria Winter and Summer Jazz Festivals (Perugia, Italy), Bill Graham Auditorium (San Francisco), Joslyn Art Museum’s Jazz on The Green, (Omaha), Hot August Nights (Reno, NV), UK Bank Holiday (Manchester, England), Mt. View Art & Wine Festival, Monterey Blues Festival, San Jose Jazz Festival, Montreal Jazz Festival, Blues Estefette (Utrecht, Holland), San Francisco Jazz Festival, Chicago Blues Festival, and the Lucerne Blues Festival (Switzerland).
Ron E. Beck has spent the last forty years realizing his dreams in bands such as Tower of Power, and with other musicians with whom he has shared his time and space: Bell and James, Bobby Womack, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr., 5th Dimension, Danny Hull Quintet (Spang-a-Lang), Sista Monica, Chris Cain, Steve Cropper, Herbie Hancock, among others.
Beck came from a musical family. His mother, Jeanne Rogers, was a classically trained pianist and jazz singer. Her parents had moved to Omaha from Houston in the 1940s. Born in Omaha in 1951 as a twin to a 16-year old single mother, he was the oldest of five children – all musicians in their own right. His mother continued her schooling, became a music teacher and eventually became a principal of a public school. As he was growing up, she had her own bands practicing at home while she worked on her teaching career.
“Our house was like an incubator project for the local Omaha music scene. My mother had a band, and my brother and I had various bands. Everyone was coming by to practice at our house.” He picked up the drums as a 14-year old. He used to race home from school to practice. “I couldn’t throw or catch a softball too well. I could play a little basketball, but drums became my love.”
Beck prefers the term SOUL Music to the term Rhythm & Blues Music. Says Beck: “My goal in this industry is to keep alive the time tested formula for making music. First of all, you have to be proficient on your instrument and understand your function in the band. The primary goal was and is always feel! It has to feel good not only to you but the rest of the musicians and singers involved and the listening audience. You also had to have a good song; one with melody and lyrics that told a story or at least referenced something you’re familiar with.”
This is what Emilio Castillo, Bandleader Tower of Power had to say about Beck’s last recording “Baby Boomer”
“Ron E. Beck’s CD Baby Boomer . . . like back in the day! A really soulful endeavor by a guy that truly knows what soul is. One of the premier drummers of the Bay Area for decades, he now has acquired a seasoning to his voice that is really quite remarkable; somewhere between Johnny Taylor and Philippe Wynne of the Spinners with a “low down” quality akin to Johnny “Guitar” Watson. The song writing and production on this recording is top notch.”
Emilio Castillo – Bandleader Tower of Power
By the time he was 17, he was playing professionally in Omaha. “I was accepted to a college program with tuition covered, but professional music was calling. I had a taste of professional playing, and I was impatient to get more into it as is typical of young people.”
I’ve heard about Ron E. Beck for years. When speaking with him this weekend regarding this piece, he asked “How’d you hear of me”? I said “Well, you’re a legend around these parts”. We compared notes of familiar names from Omaha, having many people in common. It’s an honor to learn more about him, and to listen to his soulful sounds. Check out his extensive discography,
and also what he’s doing right now, with his young band, Ron E. Beck Soul Revue. This is a man with a wonderful, full past, who is looking forward to a very bright future!
Ron answered FIVE QUESTIONS (plus) via email.
1) You are such a soulful singer and drummer. Who were your earliest influences?
REB – My influences are first and foremost: Otis Redding, Bobby Womack, James Brown, Brook Benton, Frank Sinatra, Johnnie Taylor and many more . . .
How did you learn to play the drums?
REB – I learned to play drums from my twin brother, Donnie and watching my Moms band rehearse at our home when we were kids.
What was your first set of drums?
REB – My first kit was a Japanese Stewart drum set circa 1965. i have 3 kits now. My old Ludwig vistalite kit from the TOP days, a custom Gretsch kit and a brand new DW kit.
How old were you when you really became super funky?
REB – I was maybe 20 years old when I first began to understand the funk under the tutelage of Mr. John Turk!
Did you have any teachers?
REB – My only drum teacher was Luigi Waites when I was 8 years old. Unfortunately, I quit taking lessons after only a few months. I did learn a lot from my cousin, Edward Milton. He helped me learn my rudiments.
When did you begin to sing?
REB – I began singing at 16 years old, I sucked. Through negative reinforcement and criticism from my friends, I REALLY wanted to sing! They all take it back now.
2) How did you originally get hooked up with TOP? What year was that and who was in the band at the same time?
REB – In 1975, Bruce Conte, the guitarist for the band invited me to audition for the gig. I did and got it. All the original guys were there when I was in the band although there were a few different vocalists. During my tenure, there was Hubert Tubbs, Eddie McGee and finally Michael Jeffries.
What were some of the bigger, more memorable shows and recordings you made with them?
REB – One of my greatest memories was at Bill Grahams Day on the Green at the Oakland Coliseum. I had dreamed of performing there and I finally made it. The old Circle Star Theater was also among my dream gigs.
I am on 3 or 4 TOP albums depending on the latest reissue. I’m singing on In the Slot, and performing and co-producing on Ain’t Nothing Stopping Us Now and We Came to Play.
Are you still in touch with any of the members?
REB – I see all the current lineup of guys every year when they’re in town. Chester Thompson and I have remained in close contact over the years.
3) You’re concentrating on singing right now.
REB – I have always sang in pretty much any band I’ve played with when they would let me. Some band leaders still think a singing drummer is an anomaly. Emilio Castillo was one of those. I had to fight to get get to sing with TOP with fantastic results 🙂
What made you come from behind the drums and get out front?
REB – You know, as a drummer, you’re always in the back. Well, I wanted to see what the audience looked like from the front of the stage. I must admit however that there is a large area of responsibility that comes with being a front man. I have high regard for all good front people!
As a blues and soul singer, what draws you to a song?
REB – First of all, I am not a blues singer. I have the utmost respect for good blues singers. Blues, in my opinion is the hardest style of singing to master and not that many have done so successfully! I do however consider myself a soul singer.
How does it feel to be the focal point of the band? Who is your biggest inspiration vocally?
REB – It feels great being out front from time to time. I carry another drummer but I still play too. I have more musical control when I’m playing and singing. I guess you can say I get the best of both worlds.
4) What are some of your career highlights that stand to you?
REB – I’d have to say performing, recording and producing with TOP has been the best. I learned a lot from that experience and I’m still learning.
REB – What artists really made an impression on you and influenced your playing the most?
I’d have to say David Garibaldi had a big influence on my play. Heck, I had to learn all his shit! James Gadson is a big influence for me too. He played on a lot of hit records! I like Steve Gadd too among many . . .
How have you maintained your fire and artistry throughout the decades?
REB – I’m still hungry because I’m not where I want to be in the music business yet. Still got a few roads to travel so to speak and I’m still at it because of that. I want to continue to explore, write and create new music. That’s why I love hanging with the young lions. There is a mutual exchange when I collaborate with the young cats.
5) Looking into your future, short-term and long-term, what do you see? What are you most looking forward to? What can we, as your fans expect from you?
REB – At present, I’m working on my 4th CD which will be self titled. I was afraid of a self titled CD but my partners have convinced me otherwise. I am excited as well. My guys and I are all contributing and bringing our A-game for this one. There’s funk, jazz, soul and every style of music that I have embraced over the years. As the guys would say, “That shit is DOPE”
We also plan to tour Europe, Asia and anywhere else that will have us here in the States. Spread the word baby! Hit me on my site: ronebeck.com for booking and more info . . . Oh and fb and Instagram