By Janeen Rodgers
The scene in Rio de Janeiro was loud and exciting at the 2013 Rock in Rio festival. Facing a stadium filled with 90,000 screaming fans were Jon Bon Jovi and guitarist Bobby Bandiera, on the left, and keyboardist David Bryan and bassist Hugh McDonald, on the right. But behind them, on drums, Tico Torres was missing. Instead, there was a dark-haired fill-in.
Rider University’s Lawrenceville campus now has its own celebrity musician walking among its students. Some may call him the “Bon Jovi fill-in” or the “drummer who worked with Lady Gaga,” but students at Rider will call him Professor Richard Scannella, adjunct instructor in fine arts.
“I love to say that your reputation should always precede you, which is how I got the gig with Bon Jovi,” said Scannella, who filled in for Tico Torres for a month. “Rhythm guitarist player for the band, Bob [Bandiera] heard me playing when he mentioned, ‘You play really soft.’ He liked how I played. Bob was friends with a bass player that I’d played with before, so he called and asked [the bassist] for a reference [for me].
“Any band or artist you play with, you should just be cool,” Scannella said. “It’s all about professionalism.”
Scannella’s drumming career started very young and stemmed from his upbringing.
His parents were “very liberal” — a great characteristic when your 6-year-old is making a racket on a set of drums. Even the “glasses rattling off the shelves” couldn’t upset them, he said.
Scannella’s father, who was a Juilliard graduate and the president of Local 62, a union of the arts, purchased a drum set to enhance his skill level to teach his students.
“Sure enough, I discovered that drum set,” said Scannella.
The awful banging from a young Scannella only forced his father to enroll him in drum lessons. With the help of a music-store owner and family friend, he was well on his way to playing with some of the greatest artists of all time.
Scannella first encountered Lady Gaga in his mid-twenties, before her eccentric meat outfit debut. She was wearing an 80s-styled cut-off top and a pair of tight jeans — this was Lady Gaga before she gained her large following. When his buddy called him to request that he run some drum tracks with an upcoming artist, he’d referred to the pop icon Lady Gaga as Stefani.
After agreeing to the gig, the two spent a day laying down tracks. At the end, Stefani said, “You got some funk in you.”
“Yeah, this is kind of funky,” Scannella responded, little knowing that the woman complimenting him would soon be a famous pop star under a different name.
Shortly thereafter, another connection gave Scannella the opportunity to work with a legend.
“Bruce [Springsteen] was doing a benefit for his kids’ school at The Stone Pony, where, by the way, many people believe he got his start. He did not, he just played there a lot,” Scannella said. “Again, what I say about your reputation preceding you, a friend gave me a call, because they knew about the work I did, and asked if I could do a three-hour show. I had never done a three-hour show.”
To Scannella, agreeing to perform this gig was a no-brainer.
When the two first met, Springsteen just walked in and they immediately jumped into playing songs. “He was just so laid back,” said Scannella. Meeting the “Born To Run” artist continues to be a “surreal” moment in the drummer’s life.
Now, while these magnificent moments still loom in Scannella’s recent memory, his current lifestyle is what most would call ordinary. As a former College of Continuing Studies student at Rider, Scannella came back to teach a whole new set of musicians in the MUS 127: Arts Administration Ensemble as well as in MUS 167B: Applied Percussion.
With history being one of the professor’s favorite topics, Scannella’s lesson plans include suggesting that, to learn about current artists, students should go back a few decades.
“I want to teach my students, if you like this band then you should know the bands before them, and then, go back 10 more years to have a reference point,” he said. “All musicians have influences. They all come from somewhere.”
Scannella’s success level doesn’t stop at touring with great talent and teaching music lessons. He’s also looking into completing a degree program at Rider. His concentration, he hopes, will be cultural music or pop history.
Dr. Jonathan Millen, associate dean of liberal arts & sciences, who is enrolled in Scannella’s Applied Percussion course, recognizes the drive and talent that Scanella possesses.
“He’s enthusiastic and passionate about what he does,” Millen said. “His skills are unbelievable, and I think we’re going to have a great semester.”
Scannella believes that “good art makes you think about the art, but great art makes you think about yourself.”
“I want to do something on that level,” he said.
Printed in the 9/24/14 edition.