John Solis on Being Prince's Wing Man and Playing in a Santana Tribute Band
John Solis took some time out to talk about all the bands he's in, his first concert experiences, and what he's thankful for this year. Catch him with Hall & Oates tribute band The Rich Girls on Friday at Dada.
Courtesy of Jenna B Photography
What drew you to the drums?
Ever since I had been growing up, I was always hitting on stuff. When I was four or five, my dad bought me a drum set and soon after that, my mom got me a small kids' piano. I was drawn to the drums more than I was to the piano. I went to piano lessons and I was afraid of my piano teacher. She would slap my hand with a ruler and all sorts of things. As a four or five-year-old kid, that's going to freak you out. You're not going to want to go back. I even cried. I've been living in apartments for most of my life and never got a chance to play until I started jamming with my friends in high school. After that, I started loving it more and more. Eventually it became a situation where I was playing clubs at 18, 19 years old. It's fun and it's where I'm at. It's very stress relieving.
Yes! Yes it is! There was a time in my life when I didn't go to therapy; I banged the crap out of my drums.
Then my muscles would be sore the next day and I'd think about doing some stretching exercises.
Little did you know that you would be carrying all of your kit upstairs/downstairs.
Any drummers that you were inspired by?
Man, I wish I could play like them. Vinnie Colaitu. He's played with a lot of bad-ass musicians, including Sting. Really got him when Sting came out . . .
Ten Summoner's Tales?
Ten Summoner's Tales was the one that really got me. Just the musicianship in that vein at that time and just dealing with jazz legends and they were playing in a pop-sensical type of band.
First record that you bought with your own money?
I think I started buying tapes right around the early '80s, elementary school, possibly. First one I got was Purple Rain, Prince. After that I started buying more of his early stuff, like "Let's Pretend We're Married" and "1999." All that is awesome. Prince is another influence in my life, maybe not drums, but as a musician.
Two-fold question: what was the first show you remember seeing and what was the first show you paid your own money to see?
First show I remember seeing: Del Mar, California, probably '84. My dad took me to this thing that was kind of like a fair or something and they happened to have The Commodores playing. It was The Commodores with Lionel Richie in the band. Either he was doing that just for that event or he was still in the band. I think he broke off with the band before '84. They played "Brick House" and they had Simmons electronic drum pads all over the place. It was great. Of course, as a kid, that being my first show, I was pretty impressed with it. Fell in love with it. I still remember it to this day. The one I paid money for was Prince. I saw him the during the Diamonds and Pearls tour.
Like, 1992, give or take?
Yeah, that's about right. My cousin owns a bunch of clubs in Houston, where I'm originally from.
So am I!
Yeah! Clear Lake.
Nice! I moved to Montrose around 21. My cousin, he always does the after-parties. One night, he was like, "Look man, I'm a little understaffed in the VIP area, we closed it off, Prince is coming, I need you to be kind of around there. If he needs something, I need you to help me out." I'm like, "Are you serious? Is this for real?" He's like, "Yeah!" So, first time I met Prince, the guy was in high heels, probably stood up to my neck because he's a pretty small, dainty man. I shook his hand, shaking the whole time. He starts to sit down and he starts ordering drinks. He had this little Maglite and he started shining it down on the dancefloor. He's like, "Anybody you see that I put the light on, I need you to bring them up for me." I was like, "OK." There were all these gorgeous women. He'd flash and I'd go downstairs, grab the girl, and bring her up, he'd get her a drink. He'd start building up the party in the VIP room all by himself with all these women and his crew, which was a big one. It was like, 15, 20 people that were with him. And the VIP area could probably hold like, 50, 75.
So, right now, how many bands do you play in?
How do you have time for all of them?
Well, I don't have a full-time job. I do social media for City Tavern and Dada and some of the booking. I use Dada as my practice space. Josh and Phil are very kind to let me use the space. It's been great. So yeah, it's seven: Madison King, Gallerycat, The Rich Girls, the Vliets, Smile Smile, Conscious Creatures and Low Dark Hills. Monday through Wednesday, it's stacked rehearsals from anywhere from 6:30 or 7:30 to 10. Then from 10 on is the second rehearsal. Unless I have a show, practice is cancelled.
With all those bands, what's the worst thing that's happened to you onstage?
Low Dark Hills at Homegrown [Festival], the backdrop of the stage attacked me. The sandbags that were down on the bottom lifted up and the wind was blowing. I went over, my cymbal stands went over. Luckily, this was between songs, but it was Homegrown, a few thousand people watching.
What about some of your previous bands? Any bad experiences?
I was in this Santana tribute band. We were touring Japan right after 9/11. The naval bases in Japan, everybody went out to sea so they hired us to be the entertainment. We fly over, we drive over to Asaba, that's where we have our first gig. We were done playing and this JAG was like, "God, y'all are so great! Let me take you out!" I'm the band leader and we hadn't exchanged our currency, we had to catch a bus at 6 am to catch a puddle-jumper, I tell him that we probably couldn't make it. He was like, "I got all your drinks!" We party our butts off, hit the bars outside the base, and hit these things called kissing bars - I won't even go any further, but you know what's going on in there - and we had a blast. Well, the next morning, we didn't really have any time to sleep, got into the barracks, got our stuff, got to the bus, got to the plane. I'm hungover as hell, to the point where I just don't feel good. I'm getting the shakes a little bit. We get to Roppongi, we play this gig. Right before we play, I literally puked all over the place. Luckily I made it to the restroom. But as soon as that happened we were onstage. I grabbed a trashcan and put it right next to me.
Since you sing "Sara Smile" with The Rich Girls, can you remember the first time you did it?
First time I sang that song, I just knew it was in my register. I didn't know if I was able to sing it well. It didn't sound bad! As I kept singing it more, I customized my voice to hit the notes I needed to hit. I do it OK. I can't say it's awesome. There's definitely room for improvement, but I'm getting better. With more practice, I'll be good.
Since you guys are playing on Black Friday, have you ever had to work a retail job on a Black Friday?
I know. It sucked. I did it for Dillard's, Macy's, Sunglass Hut and Babbage's Software. Radio Shack was another one that I worked for. I was at Radio Shack for a good two or three years.
I worked at Best Buy.
Dude, Circuit City! I hit retail pretty hard.
I realized working in retail that it's not a career for me.
Yeah! No it's not.
If you want to enjoy your holidays, don't work there.
Do not work retail. No way. I learned my lesson.
What are you thankful for this year?
I'm thankful for being where I'm at, taking a big plunge into music in the sense of doing it full-time. And just having the friends that I have that have helped me through this process because it's been a long time. Also, Homegrown Festival. My family as well. Being in all these bands, I don't know how the fuck I'm in all these bands because I am not a good drummer. I'm not a bad-ass to be in seven bands.
The Rich Girls play Dada on Friday, November 23, with Le Cure.