Jeff Schaller - Performer
BMHOF Class of 2016
“I got my first drum kit almost 30 years ago to the day of the induction ceremony, October 6, 2016, actually,” said Jeff Schaller. “The ceremony was on a Thursday and it was that weekend when my Dad gave it to me. Prior to that all I had was his old Kent snare drum from when he was a kid, which I still have.”
Remembering not only the exact date someone gave a musician their first instrument, but remembering the exact day of the week they got it? Now that’s pretty impressive. It also shows how much this musician loves what he does.
And Schaller isn’t a musician who likes to sit still; he’s recorded or played live with over 50 bands since he started playing that drum set in a wide variety of styles: rock, funk, zydeco, power pop, rockabilly, Celtic and country.
In 1986, after taking private lessons from fellow Kenmore West student Sam Lazzarra, he immediately started his first band, called P.D.A. Their first gig was during the lunch hour at the all-girls private school Buffalo Seminary.
“Public Display of Affection,” says Schaller, laughing. “Wow, isn’t that a terrible band name? But seeing a bunch of school girls dancing to your songs, you’re just hooked immediately. I think we had 30 minutes of material and had to play for an hour, so we played the same set twice. A mix of originals and REM, Love & Rockets and U2 covers.”
The band name may have been terrible, but the feeling of being on stage wasn’t. At 16, Schaller started playing the club scene while still in high school.
“The first club gig we ever played (at the old Skyroom), the owner made us sit at designated table afterwards because we were way under age,” Schaller said. “He made us promise not to go anywhere near the bar. Ha!”
Prior to leaving town to attend art school in the summer of ‘89 Schaller put together the rock band Gypsy Rose; the band eventually went on to win the Rock War Star Search first prize of $2,000 later that year.
After Schaller graduated from art school, he returned to Buffalo in 1991 and started Jive Injection. They gigged all over the east coast, Canada and even Puerto Rico and would win the Best Original Hard Rock Band award three years in a row (’94, ’95, ’96) in the Buffalo Music Awards. During those years he also started to write articles for the View! and penned a monthly column called “Buffalo Underground” for Late-At-Night magazine, in which he gave much needed press to hundreds of local bands.
He gigged extensively in the years after Jive Injection with various bands and in late 1999 was asked to join the band Blue Bullet Skater, a budding new original indie rock band fronted by Erin Roberts. The band recorded two albums in its short time together and traveled often, playing iconic rooms like the El Mocambo in Toronto and NYC’s Luna Lounge.
In 2001 the band played its final show opening up for Pat Benatar, which proved to be the largest attended Thursday In The Square in its history with 45,000 in attendance.
By the time Blue Bullet Skater wound down, Schaller and guitarist Dave Julian had put in motion their next project, Grand National. After just a handful of gigs Grand National decided to fly out to LA to cut its debut record with Wilco producer Dave Trumfio and eventually had it mixed with Alanis Morrisette’s engineer, Brad Nelson.
“We were doing something a lot of bands weren’t doing. We went out to LA and recorded an album by a well-known producer. We made this amazing little record and we mixed it up in Toronto and it got us a lot of attention,” said Schaller.
The CD was “Kingsize,” named after the studio where they recorded it. It was named Best Recording later that year in the Buffalo Music Awards.
The album’s success landed Schaller in Drum Magazine with a review about the album that said,
“Jeff Schaller is a big factor in the band’s no-nonsense attack. He never let’s up. Definitely worth a listen for great songwriting and drumming.”
The following year Schaller started writing for national drumming magazine Modern Drummer, read in 67 countries. “If you told the 14-year-old me that Modern Drummer would be publishing my thoughts on drumming, my head might have exploded off my body,” Schaller said, laughing.
After Grand National, Schaller put together Last Days of Radio, where he started to produce from behind the drummer’s seat on their third and final album, “In Audio Magic” (named after the Buffalo recording studio where it was tracked live). The band received various WBNY awards such as Best Drummer, Best Bassist and Best Rock Group and performed with nationals like Johnny Marr, the Clarks and Vince Neil.
Schaller was asked to play in the studio band for recently transplanted New York City songwriter Todd Lesmeister. The group was given the name Here Come the Comets and the album “Falling Anvils: Love Songs for The Doomed and Secretly Happy” was a nod to the ‘70s LPs the band’s members loved.
The album caught the ear of Doug Dombrowski of famed local radio promotions company Could Be Wild. They were named the “Best Rock Band” and given the “Best Rock Album” in the Buffalo Spree Best of Buffalo Awards. Schaller produced and engineered the band’s second record and the group’s next recording project, “Disaster Films.”
In 2009, Schaller was hired to go on tour with Jimmie Van Zant, cousin of the late Ronnie Van Zant from Lynyrd Skynyrd. He toured with that band all over the United States on an old tour bus previously owned by Willie Nelson and Stevie Nicks.
“That was wild. We toured well over half the states in the U.S. in less than nine months that year,” Schaller said. “Crisscrossing the country from the east coast all the way through the midwest up to Seattle and back.”
Since returning from the road in 2010 Schaller has gone on to play with a wide range of bands
“I love the variety, the opportunity to play so many different styles is such a thrill and it makes playing more fun than ever,” he said.
He has also utilized that art degree to design numerous album covers over the years for regional and national bands. Some of the bands he’s played live with in recent years include Black Rock Zydeco, Soul Patch, Leroy Townes, Chris Barron of the Spin Doctors (NYC), Stoneflower, Tiger Chung Lee, Chris Nathan Band (Nashville), McCarthyizm, Leslie Stanwyck of Universal Honey (Toronto), Scott Celani Band, The Ifs, Mohawk Street Saints, the Black Rock Beatles, Healing Committee, Blue Rootz, Leon & The Forklifts, The Billievers, Humphrey, ManBearPig, and the Million Dollar Trio.
“I’m a drummer, a sideman, we’re used to being in the background and helping others shine in the front,” said Schaller, smiling. “I wouldn’t want it any other way. Over 30 years later and I’m busier than ever.
“So I’m really blessed and thankful for that. I’ll never ever take it for granted.”
By Lucy Bell