DRUMMER, MEET ROAD – Daily Mountain Eagle
When the Friday night lights would go on, a few years back, a junior named Braden Griffith was an avid drummer with the Walker High Vikings marching band. But Griffith was more avid than most.
Waiting for him at home was his own drum set, which he’d gotten for his sixth birthday. He practiced daily by playing along to country CDs and dreamed of playing arenas with a band. Then everything changed. And fast, even before graduation. This past Thursday morning, Griffith was boarding a four a.m. flight to Nevada to play an arena with a country band named Locash. You might have caught them recently on The Today Show. The band’s summer tour is a busy one, and his drumming star looks to keep rising. In his “spare time,” he’s also the group’s tour manager.
But, back to the beginning: A 7-year-old Griffith’s parents took him to an Oak Mountain Amphitheater concert to hear his favorite group, Rascal Flatts. “For some reason I just locked my attention on the drummer, a guy named Jim Riley,” he says now from his cell phone, “instead of the other members. Through the whole show, I watched every move he made. And I told my parents, ‘I really want to meet that guy.’ Little did I know…”
So how did he come to meet Riley? In a nutshell, “I was never a shy kid,” Griffith says now with a laugh. “I wasn’t afraid to walk up and just start talking to people.” His family was at the Ryman Auditorium a few years later when he walked up and introduced himself to the auditorium’s lighting director. “He said, ‘Why don’t you sit here by me?’ I thought it was the coolest thing. He even let me push a few buttons.”
Turns out, the lighting director was a friend of Jim Riley and later introduced the two. Riley, knowing talent when he saw it, was soon giving Griffith lessons. He still is.
With Griffith’s senior year approaching, he had a decision to make. He could finish school or take a job offer as drum technician for the Eli Young Band, which would mean moving to Nashville and going on the road, where he’d get his GED via distance learning on his laptop. He chose the latter.
His parents’ feelings on the matter? “They’ve been amazingly supportive, the whole way,” he says, “even as a little kid. Most parents would have wanted some peace and quiet, but I don’t remember them ever complaining about the noise. They were always a hundred percent behind me. ”When I moved to Nashville I was focused on the tech job, rather than my own drumming, and reality didn’t totally kick in until I started trying to make it in town. I loved being out there with the Eli Young Band, but it hurt me to sit there and watch somebody else play those drums, because I wanted to do it so bad. So I stepped down from that, and they were really supportive. They’re still like family to me. We talk all the time.”
With the freedom to start drumming downtown, he looked for opportunities to get heard and “to get my name in some hats. When I’d go two or three months without a gig, I had the thought almost daily, ‘Why am I not making this happen? Should I move back home?’”
Then, things started to happen. When a drummer friend with recording artist Brett Young had to miss about three months of shows, Young drafted Griffith for the job. This was just as Young was hitting a career peak with his first number one song. Soon after the regular drummer returned, Griffith got a call from a new group called Locash and before long he had a steady job again.
“They wanted me to play drums with them and be tour manager, too,” he says. “It was awesome. We do about 200 shows a year, which keeps me on my feet, and this winter we’ll be touring with Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.
“I have a whole new respect for anybody who’s a tour manager. Just yesterday, I got 74 phone calls, all of them legit. I think about how funny it is, because of those months when nobody would call me and now everybody wants to call me.”
At some point, he plans to get his online degree in music management from the Berklee College of Music. “That’s my backup plan just in case this drumming career subsides. Which I hope doesn’t happen anytime soon.”
Along the way, Griffith’s memory is still a scrapbook of Jasper scenes: His father and uncle both played in local bands. His first drum teacher was Jasper’s David Keith. When Griffith was in high school, he and three friends — Donnie Glenn, David Townes and Nick Ballenger — formed a band named Piper Road, which played at the second Path to the Foothills concert. “We loved playing around the county,” he says. “I still talk to those guys all the time. We’re looking to do a reunion concert at some point.
“And playing in the Walker band made me the musician I am today. I couldn’t even play to a metronome before that. Playing with that many people is so different than playing with just a few others. It changed my focus to realize I had to be in sync with all of them, and with what was going on around me. The whole point was to make the best music possible and the best show possible.”
Perhaps his favorite Jasper memory, though, is a concert in April when Locash played the Gulf Coast Jam in Panama City with an audience of some 25,000 people, and his parents and a number of local friends came down for the occasion. “It was the first time that my mom and dad got to see me in a big atmosphere. And the reality kicked in for me, that I get to travel and play drums for a living. That was a really, really special day.”
On the rare occasions he makes it home for a visit, he says, “I take 30 minutes to just sit in my room with nothing going on. I turn my phone off and sit there and close my eyes. It’s almost like a meditation.”
Before long, though, it’s time to hit the road again. ”But I can’t say enough about how my parents encouraged me,” he says. “They always told me not to give up on this dream, and to just keep working my butt off. And I did, and here I am.”
Dale Short’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org