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If Forrest Gump was right when he said, “Life is a box of chocolates”, the new CD from former Rusted Root drummer, Jim Donovan, is a box with only the good kind, and he’s some kind of Willy Wonka. Each song is unique and yet, a definite part of the same family.


If you’re thinking “Rusted Root Revisited”, think again. This is a recording that stands on it’s own quite well, and offers a little bit of something for all who partake. Certainly spending much of his career in a multi-platinum selling band, with such a distinct sound, would make anyone think they might be getting more of the same. Not so with Sun King Warriors.

As I listened to it-- 3 times in a row-- I just kept thinking, ‘this guy is the Dave Grohl of Rusted Root!’

The list of influences I could hear were a veritable who’s who of the greatest artists in modern music. The Beach Boys to Led Zeppelin. Paul Simon to Peter Gabriel. The Beatles, the Eagles, Nirvana… Sweet melodies, world beats, serious grooves and flat out raunchy rock n roll. It’s all there.

sunking1For Donovan, it was something he felt he had to do. “I kind of picked up where I left off” he says with a laugh. “It was something that was still in my blood.”

Donovan left Rusted Root in 2005. Most people might think he was crazy to walk away from that level of success, but for him, it was an easy choice. “I had a baby, and that just changes everything. You know I just couldn’t do the three months on the road thing anymore. I had to get off the road. I wanted to be with my family. I didn’t want to miss out on that.”

The members of Rusted Root were completely supportive of his decision, which made the parting less painful. “I told them, ‘no one is irreplaceable.’ I knew they would go on just fine without me, and they have.”

Although he left Rusted Root, he continued working in music, hosting his Music and Wellness workshops and in the process, became an Assistant Professor at St. Francis University.

“It’s not religious, but it is very spiritual” he says when I ask about the program. “We use musical techniques for health, both physical and spiritual. Drumming is a great way to do both. I truly love performing, but this was a learning experience for me as well. As much as I love performing, this is even more rewarding.”

Which brings us to the Dave Grohl comparison.

No one really thinks of the drummer in a great band as being a great songwriter, especially when the band is fronted by the likes of Kurt Cobain, or in this instance, Michael Glabicki. Both Nirvana and Rusted Root are bands with very unique sounds. Both have experienced major success. If Nirvana was the soundtrack for a generation of socially frustrated misfits, Rusted Root became the standard bearer for jam bands like the Grateful Dead.

Both bands also had an outstanding drummer who turned out to be an outstanding songwriter in their own right. Who knew?

Donovan is one of the most laid back, genuine, and friendly human beings, one could hope to meet. His spirit is that rare kind that makes you feel like being nice. He’s a very positive guy, without being overbearing, like a flood of wellness memes on Facebook.

Yet, even in his positivism, there is something, call it empathy, that makes one feel this man is aware of the dark side, and feels the pain of the world. He simply chooses to fight that battle with an open mind and heart, and his weapon -- and perhaps his shield as well-- is his music.

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Business is Business

You sell over 3 million records, do multiple world tours, have a song featured in a movie and commercials… You learn a thing or two.

That experience is incredibly evident while listening to Donovan describing the ins and outs of, “The Biz”. He’s both cautious and optimistic-- like I said, he’s a really positive guy--  but more than that, he’s a realist.

“I put my own money into recording the CD” he says with a laugh. “I guess I’m kind of doing it backwards as far as funding is concerned.”

sunking cdDonovan is speaking of his online fund raising campaign. At the time of this writing, it had reached it’s goal, but the money is not for recording, as Jim explains: “I needed to build a team-- publicist, marketing, etc., to handle the business side. That stuff is incredibly important. I don’t think any band that gets signed is prepared for what that’s like, what that entails. I mean, it’s a business. You have to be prepared to treat it that way. Fortunately, and certainly due in part to my success with Rusted Root, the response has been very good.”

Donovan went on to give some important advice for up and coming musicians who aspire to stardom.

“Let’s say you want to go to a University to study music. That’s great, but, MAJOR in business, minor in music. Young bands today have an unprecedented amount of control, but it’s also a lot of work. Learn ‘the Biz’, marketing, promotion, public relations. All of that is every bit as important as the music if you want to succeed.”

Despite having a wait and see attitude towards extensive touring, Donovan does have a vision for Sun King Warriors that embraces more than just the business side. It’s evident this is a passion and something that is certainly more than the sum of it’s parts for him.

“The big goal of this is to connect all the things I do” he says. “The educational stuff, the work with kids with autism, my love of playing and performing, all of that. Right now, we’re playing erratically, so yeah, I have a kind of wait and see attitude about touring. I’m not really interested in doing three month tours like before. Whatever I end up doing, I want to make sure it’s balanced with my family life… Unless we hit the jackpot!”

The New Way

Looking at the landscape of the music industry  today, Donovan sees both positives and negatives. But, like I said, he’s a positive guy…

“Unless they have someone in it (the Biz), then yeah, the landscape probably looks pretty barren” says Donovan, when asked about the decline of the labels and the rise of the internet and it‘s impact on musicians.  “Both things happened” he explains. “You have a lot of stuff that is average, but there is also a lot of stuff you would have never heard back when the labels controlled everything.”

sunking3Donovan agreed when I point out that the record labels had the one redeeming quality of acting as a filter that allowed some truly gifted artists to become famous, but he is understandably cautious when discussing ‘the label effect’, especially on the vast amount of bands that didn’t achieve super stardom. “Honestly, the amount of money the label made off our deal, versus the amount of money we made… we could have gotten a better deal from the Mafia” says Donovan with a laugh.  “The label made 5-6 dollars per CD. We split $1.40 per CD between seven band members. So there’s a lot more control for bands now, but you have to learn the business.”

(Editor’s Note: From my experience in the recording industry, it’s probable the labels made even more than Donovan cites.)

In spite all of this talk of the business, the true test ultimately comes down to the music. All the other elements can be in place-- marketing, promotion, publicity, distribution-- but none of that matters if the music isn’t right. It’s got to be something that people will feel, and Sun King Warriors is most definitely that.

“It’s groove rock, Americana, with two tons of drums! Donovan exclaims, when asked to describe the record. “It was very important to me that it be song oriented. I had some great players making that happen. Rob James on lead guitar and mandolin, Kevin McDonald did some leads as well and he plays with me live. Joe Marini (drums) is an incredibly fast learner. He picks everything up fast and plays with us live. We are looking at doing the double kit thing. That’s always fun. But really, I have to give credit to my Producer, Sean McDonald. He is brilliant. His sense of arrangements is incredible, and I’ve never been able to get the kind of drum sound like Sean gets.”

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Jackpot!

Even being as grounded as he is, Donovan recognizes that there are some opportunities that cannot be passed up, that are so good, it’s good for your family and they’ll deal with it.

In a new Mercedes if it’s real good. I miss Dad, but check out my new set of wheels!

And so he is cautiously optimistic, and despite the glare of fame, ultimately focused on his family and the music he loves.

For Donovan, oddly enough, that love of music and family life just might include three month tours, whether he wants them or not. You see, his 15 year old daughter is an aspiring musician. “Yeah, God help her!” exclaims Donovan with a laugh that is both a father, and an experienced professional musician, having a moment of clarity that will not be denied.

But, like I said, he’s a positive guy, and very supportive of her efforts, which include being opening act at his shows. “She is a singer songwriter‘” he says with fatherly pride. “She does an acoustic thing. She’s actually very good. So yeah, I guess it’s possible she’ll end up taking me on tour.”

You can see Jim Donovan and Sun King Warriors, along with Tupelo Donovan, at their March 12 CD release party at Mr. Smalls.

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Category: Main Stage