Gear Factor | Featuring Mike Portnoy of Sons of Apollo


Master of Metal

“I put way more emphasis on a drummer’s personality than technique.” Somewhat of a surprising statement, coming from Mike Portnoy. Mike is one of the most admired drummers in heavy music and has been for the past thirty years. Known for technically dizzying playing, Portnoy has a trophy case full of awards he has amassed over the years.

Recently, in an interview with Loudwire’s Gear Editor Squiggy, he explained that it’s about more than skill. “There are so many amazing drummers out there that have incredible technique. It’s impressive, but it bores the shit out of me. I would much rather watch someone like Keith Moon or Lars Ulrich because they’re fun to watch. That’s gonna catch my ears and eyes more than technique.”

Early Heroes and Influences

“My first drum heroes were Keith Moon, John Bonham, and Ringo Starr,” he continues. “Keith Moon is the guy who made me want to be the drummer I am. When I saw him playing drums and standing up and bouncing his sticks and twirling I was like, ‘That’s what I want to be.’ He didn’t have great technique, but he was awesome to watch.”

Before a Sons of Apollo soundcheck, while backstage, Squiggy asked Portnoy about his earliest drumming inspirations and influences. The burning question was What was the song that made him want to get behind the kit? “[Led Zeppelin’s] ‘When the Levee Breaks’ is probably it. It’s the fattest drum intro ever.”

But the first Portnoy says he mastered was from a different band on Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label: “The first drum beat that I ever played, and this is weird because I’m not the biggest fan, is ‘Can’t Get Enough’ by Bad Company.”

He goes on, “The only metal when I was growing up was Black Sabbath, I guess Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin were kinds of prototypes for metal. And then came KISS and AC/DC and Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. I think the benchmark for metal drumming for me, early double bass drumming, was ‘Fast as a Shark’ by Accept, ‘Overkill’ by Motorhead, and ‘Red Hot’ by Motley Crue. they were the benchmarks for double bass drumming before thrash metal came around. Those were the songs that taught me to play double bass [drums].”

Wrap Up

Just as it would be for any musician, Portnoy’s favorite drummers made a big impact on him. They influenced not only how he played, but also what he played. “I chose my instruments as a kid based on what my favorite drummers were playing. All my favorite drummers played Tama: Neil Peart, Bill Bruford, Simon Phillips.” And indeed, he plays Tama drums as well. “I know how much that influences young drummers. Nowadays it’s not just about the gear, it’s about the relationship, I have great relationships with Tama and Sabian [cymbals]. These companies that I’ve been with all these years because they’ve been supportive of me for all these years. I have Tama and Sabian tattooed on me for life, I’m as committed to them as they are to me. I’ve been with them for thirty years, and they’ll be with me forever.”













Portnoy is currently on tour with Sons of Apollo: get their tour dates here.

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