Ken Mary’s long standing music career has placed him center stage in a wide spectrum of genres that have required an equally wide ranging and demanding set of skills. He is not only a drummer, but also an engineer, writer, vocalist, and an award winning producer. Combined, his body of work has sold over 5 million albums worldwide, and includes an extremely diverse, eclectic, and influential group of artists. His drumming can be heard on recordings from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Alice Cooper, Jordan Rudess, Northern Light Orchestra, Kip Winger, House of Lords, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees The Beach Boys, Impelliterri, Don Dokken, Fifth Angel, Bonfire, F5, and Soul Shock Remedy just to name a few.
Ken’s drumming influences include players such as Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, Neil Peart, John Bonham, Steve Gadd, and Tommy Aldridge. He studied with Seattle area jazz and fusion drum instructor Dick Stensland , who was so impressed with Ken’s natural skills that he taught him lessons for free when Ken was no longer able to afford the lessons. Ken began playing drums with traditional grip, but plays just as easily with matched grip. His style can range from the very technical, to laying down a very solid groove and feel, to playing an almost “floating” jazz interlude. He is considered one of the early forerunners of very fast double bass drum fills that incorporate use of interwoven hands and feet, as evidenced by his early session work with House of Lords, Alice Cooper, and Bonfire. Mega-platinum Producer Michael Wagener (Metallica, Alice Cooper, Janet Jackson) states,"Ken Mary is a brilliant session and live player. Whether it is blazing fast and precise technical playing or just a great sense of groove, he's your guy. One of the best."
Ken’s professional drumming career began with his high school rock band Fifth Angel, (born out of the Seattle music scene), which was signed to Epic Records in 1986, the same year Ken landed the gig with Alice Cooper. He moved to LA and was instantly launched on tour playing sold out coliseums for the next three years on Alice’s “The Nightmare Returns” and “Raise Your Fist and Yell” world tours and recordings.
After the tours ended, Ken joined House of Lords and worked closely with Gene Simmons of Kiss, who spearheaded the assembly of this “supergroup.” Combined, the musicians in House of Lords had sold over 30 million albums worldwide at the time of formation, and included former members of Angel, Quiet Riot, and Alice Cooper.
A review of the first House of Lords self titled album in Modern Drummer in 1988 garnered this glowing review of Ken’s playing, ”A major reason for their (House of Lords) originality, if not the major reason, is Ken Mary’s drumming. Unquestionably, he is the best hard rock drummer in America today. Nobody plays like Ken Mary” and further, “Want to learn something? See these guys live, buy this album and pay attention to Mr. Mary.”
Ken performed on two albums and three world tours with House of Lords, and had the opportunity to work alongside famed producer Andy Johns. Andy, who engineered classic albums by Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, and who was famous for firing many well known drummers on his productions, loved Ken’s playing. Bassist Chuck Wright recalls, “At the end of Ken recording a very Bonham inspired drum track for “Can’t Find My Way Home,” Andy grabbed Ken, put him in a headlock (Andy was a very large man at 6”3”) and said to him repeatedly, “You and Bonham, man, you and Bonham.” Ken adds, “Since Bonham was an inspiration to my playing, and Andy had recorded him so many times, this was one of the biggest compliments of my life. That and the fact that he didn’t fire me! Lol.”
In 1989, Ken also toured with Accept, filling in for drummer Stephan Koffman who was suffering from lower back problems. Ken made lifelong friends with bassist Peter Baltes and Wolf Hoffman, and Ken would work with Peter later on in Don Dokken’s band. (On the Don Dokken record “Up From the Ashes”, he performs on “The Hunger”, “Crash n’ Burn”, and “1000 Miles Away.”)
Ken’s drumming career was on the fast track, or so it seemed. But in 1992 after Ken departed House of Lords, he, like so many other drummers, began to experience lower back problems.
Ken says, “Playing as hard as I used to play was probably the equivalent of getting in a minor car wreck every night. After 6 years of touring, my back was having some pretty severe issues. There were times I would get up from the kit and have a difficult time walking because of the pain shooting down my left leg.” When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Ken began working on his solo project, Soul Shock Remedy, for which he was the lead singer, writer, producer, and engineer. Producer Michael Wagener mixed the album, and it received a coveted and rare 5k award in Kerrang! Magazine in 1995. ”At the end of that record I was tired from doing pretty much everything,” adds Ken. “I was the manager, the producer, the babysitter and band psychologist; the guy keeping it all together. After a couple of members left to join another band, I vowed I wouldn’t ever do that again. And I didn’t”, he laughs.
Ken threw himself into music production and doing session work. His long list of music, TV and film credits can be seen at www.sonicphish.com or allmusic.com, and he has had a very successful career in both production and session work.
But in the last several years, Ken has found ways to overcome the back issues that had plagued him. Ken says, “I bought a Roc-n-Soc motion throne, and went through physical therapy for my back. The exercises and new equipment allow me to play pain free now, and I’ve rediscovered my first love; drumming. I didn’t realize it, but I had really missed playing consistently.”
“Lately I have been going back to my roots and studying the jazz greats again. I see some of the best and most inspired drumming in that category, even by today’s standards. Two years ago I watched a YouTube video of Buddy Rich just killing it at age 65, and truth be told was very inspired by him. I figured if he could play like that at that age, we all have no excuses! What I am trying to do now is take up where some of these amazing players left off and incorporate some of the new ideas from different styles that perhaps they would have gotten to eventually.”
Ken sums it up, “Sometimes your life goes on a different path than you were planning, and overall I’ve really enjoyed my career. I do hope, though, that I have something more to contribute to the drumming community!”