Gary James' Interview With Johnny Rabb Of
Collective Soul

It was 1993 and Grunge was in full swing. That was also the year that a group from Stockbridge, Georgia gained world-wide fame with their song "Shine". Other hits followed, including "December", "Where The River Flows", "The World I Know", "Gel" and "Smashing Young Man". They performed at Woodstock 1994 and toured with Aerosmith. In 2001, Dolly Parton won a Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance with her cover version of "Shine". In September of 2009 they were inducted into The Georgia Music Hall Of Fame. The group we are talking about is Collective Soul. Drummer Johnny Rabb spoke with us about the group.

Q - So, Johnny, I just heard that Best Buy will no longer be selling CDs, but will still sell vinyl of all things. I don't know how many people have records players, but how does a decision like Best Buy's impact Collective Soul's ability to put their new music in front of people?

A - Well, I think in the modern day of technology everybody's streaming or downloading. In fact, I had a friend the other day give me, I asked for it, his solo CD or album because I wanted a physical copy. I'll tell you that all the guys in the band, Ed, me, Will, Jesse and Dean are fans of vinyl. We all have record players. So, that's why you saw our "See What You Started By Continuing" album out on vinyl and even our last "Collective Soul" album out on vinyl. I don't want to name names, but it's not any store's fault that they're not going to carry it, but I think they're recognizing the obvious new trend of streaming music. I must admit, it's rare that I get out a CD. I'll put vinyl on. I never thought I'd say that. My first CD, I couldn't believe you could press a button and it would go to the next track number. I couldn't believe it. The days of cassettes and LPs you'd go to the line on the record or you'd be hopeful that some of those cassette player decks had an Auto Stop between tracks. I'm sure you'd agree that who that are streaming, who would've thought there's be things like MP3 players, iPods and now your phone is the main thing? When the iPod came out, ingenious, and it is, but everything is on my phone. Everything. So, I think the band is how it affects us. If we don't move with it, it's kind of a shame on us. Obviously people like Ed are smart enough to change with the times, but I love that we're still releasing vinyl. We still press some CDs, but we really do care about all of it. We care about the retail outlets, but we also understand times are changing, so we don't... I don't think anyone would blame the retail outlets for making those decisions since the world is kind of making those decisions as well.

Q - How hard is it for Collective Soul to get new music out in front of people?

A - I don't mean this at all arrogantly, but we love it and it's not hard. It's hard in the sense that we must hit the road. I'm in my seventh year with the band. I'll tell you, the guys have been hitting it, coming up on twenty-five years now and the loyal fan base is much appreciated by everybody and also gaining new fans along the way. So, the key for us is keeping to create new music and then going out and touring on that and letting people know we have new material, new records. The 'live' shows are such a great way for us to get the music in front of people, so we will continue to do that. So, that's key for us and also the key of releasing music and not just sitting around. We're busy, busy. Ed's writing all the time. We're in the studio all the time. We're lovin' it. It's kind of our goal.

Q - Does Collective Soul still have their own label, El Music Group?

A - Oh, I know what you're speaking of and I know the answer is yes. We have definitely released a couple of albums. One is on Vangard and one is on Suretone, the latest 'live' album, but I know that Ed has his label and the band has their label and music group for sure.

Q - Ed Roland refers to Collective Soul as the "Southern Gentlemen Of Rock And Roll." Are you from the South?

A - Well, originally I'm not, but I think I'm an honorary Georgian at this point. (laughs) I lived in California growing up through high school and then Nashville for the first part of my professional drumming career. I'd go back and forth to Georgia. So, the culture and family type thing is absolutely there, especially those guys. They're all Georgia boys, based in Atlanta now. I live in Indianapolis. Dean lives in Venice, California but our home hub is Atlanta, Georgia. Ed and Will are still there. Jesse lives in Nashville.

Q - Rehearsals must be tough. You just can't get in the car and drive a few blocks.

A - No. You're totally right. We definitely play enough that we've got our act pretty much together. It's really, I'm proud to say, a tight group. We have a lot of fun.

Q - You joined Collective Soul in 2012, correct?

A - Yes sir, yeah.

Q - That was for the Dosage tour?

A - That's right. That's the tour where we did the "Dosage" record from start to finish as almost a 'live' performance off the recorded record. Then we did an hour or so of all of the rest of the hits. So that show was a fun one. That was close to a two hour show on that one. I enjoyed that as a way to get my feet wet with the guys. I'm happy to say not so much as how time is going, but happy to say how great the dudes are. We've had a blast hanging out and playing together.

Q - What were you doing before you joined Collective Soul?

A - I was doing many things. I was still touring out of Nashville for everything you can imagine. I played with Maynard Ferguson's Big Band before he passed away. I played with Tanya Tucker for years. Some up and coming Country artists at the time. She Daisy was big. I also had a drum stick manufacturing company.

Q - Wow! You were a very busy guy!

A - Yeah. I was very busy with the drum industry if you will. I did like two drum instructional books. So I did a lot of clinic tours which you can imagine was kind of like what we're doing now, but solo. I'd go into music stores, whether it's chain stores, and that's what I would do for a living. I also worked for the Roland Corporation, which took me all over Asia, Australia, everything you can imagine, doing clinics on the electronic drums.

Q - Where then did Collective Soul hear about you? Did they put out an open audition? Was it by referral? How'd you get the gig with this group?

A - I would say it was almost an in-person referral by our good friend, percussionist/songwriter Jen Lowe at a trade show. Who would've thought that when I was doing the Roland V Drums, perfect segue? Me and Will were at Jen's birthday party. We were both mutual friends. I didn't know Will at the time. I knew who he was. We started talking nonchalantly. Nest thing I know, "Hey, man." He's like, "Yeah, we are looking for a drummer." That's usually not how things go, so I didn't really hold much weight in my mind that, "Oh cool, we're gonna start gigging together. I'm gonna work with him." But then, next thing I know they came by the trade show exhibit which Roland has a huge one each year. I was doing my demonstration and right after that, Ed had me fly down to his house studio. I went in. We jammed and no joke, 2002, the Dosage tour was right around the corner and about a month later I stared doing that I thankfully have been with them ever since.

Q - Johnny, sounds like your story involves fate, which included being in the right place at the right time, and knowing the right people to get involved in a group like Collective Soul.

A - You just summed up the three points. Somebody I know, Jan Lowe, the fate of being at her party the same time Will was, right?

Q - Yeah.

A - And right place, right time once again at that party. But, let's say I didn't know what I was doing. That'd be a problem. You know what I mean? It's right time, right place, fate. But what if you don't know how to play drums or you get the opportunity and you're not the right guy? So I'm very glad they gave me the opportunity to show that I was a good fit with them. They're great. They're like brothers to me.

Q - Sounds like you guys are doing great.

A - We are. We did a lot of dates this year already in 2018. We just kicked off the Rock 'n' Roll Express tour with Three Doors Down and Soul Asylum in our hometown of Atlanta. We did a show in Myrtle Beach House Of Blues that was kind of our own show. So, we're touring through October 1st (2018) for sure. And that's touring. We'll have other dates the rest of this year, but we are literally hanging out in our bus, enjoying the company of each other, cracking jokes and rockin' it pretty much nightly. So, we're excited to be out here. We do tour a lot. Next year (2019) is the 25th Anniversary, so I can tell you to be ready for lots more 'live' touring and shows. And music.

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