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The Man With The Platinum Touch.

His resume is one of the most impressive in rock. He brought the world Green Day and gave the word “Dookie” new meaning. His records have sold nearly 200 million copies and Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, My Chemical Romance, Kid Rock, Avril Lavigne, Fleetwood Mac, The Goo Goo Dolls, David Cook, Paramore, Hot Hot Heat, [...]

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Ramon Sampson

For over two decades, Guitar Center's Drum-Off has given thousands of drummers across the nation the opportunity to compete for the title of best undiscovered drummer. A title worth attaining, with an extensive list of previous winners becoming notable names in the drum world, including Tony Royster Jr. (Jay Z), Eric Moore (Suicidal Tendencies), Cora Coleman-Dunham (Prince) and Thomas Pridgen (Mars Volta).

Drum-Off 2009 featured more competitors from coast to coast than ever before. A massive event, starting at the individual store level with roughly 4,000 hopefuls vying for the title, Drum-Off culminated in a highly competitive, sold-out Grand Final held at the Wiltern in Los Angeles on January 8, 2010.

The Grand Finals boasted an artist roster featuring more than a dozen of today's most influential drummers, whose once-in-a-lifetime performances and collaborations made this Drum-Off the most spectacular in the event's 21-year history.

Stephen Perkins, the high-energy beatmaker behind Jane's Addiction, hosted the Grand Finals for the fourth year in a row. The event kicked off with a progressive rock collaboration featuring performances by Danny Carey of the Grammy Award-winning band, Tool, and Brann Dailor of Mastadon.

Just as the smoke cleared from the first act, the Wiltern began to roar as Perkins called for the epic conclusion to the Drum-Off competition. The top five undiscovered drummers in the nation were introduced: Troy Molsberry (Carlsbad, Calif.), Eugine McBride (Flint, Mich.), Stanley Jamal Hampton (Smithtown, NY), Ramon Sampson (Cordova, Tenn.) and Michael McGrath (Henderson, Nev.).

Following the contestants' skillful, creative and heart-pounding performances, the judges—who included Peter Erskine, John Tempesta, Kenny Aronoff, Thomas Lang, Taylor Hawkins and Nisan Stewart—gathered to tally the scores. Points were assigned based on originality, technique, style, stage presence and overall performance. As the score sheets were tabulated, a winner clearly emerged: Memphis-based, 19-year-old South Africa native Ramon Sampson, who finished first with nearly every judge on the panel.

"It's so unreal," Sampson says of his win, "but this is something I've worked so hard for. When they announced I'd won, it went beyond Drum-Off, it was making my family proud. And it went beyond my family, it was making my nation proud back in South Africa, being the first South African to do this and accomplish this. It went back to the days that I played on broken drums and still had a passion for what I was doing. And to see my dad there, I just instantly started crying afterwards because it was so emotional for me."

Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, Sampson got his start in church at 8 years old. By 12, Sampson cut his first studio session. He then won a South African national talent competition at 14. Three years ago, Sampson and his family moved to the U.S., leaving his drums behind. That's when he discovered Guitar Center and Drum-Off.

"When we moved here, I would go back and forth to Guitar Center just because it's a great place to go and practice a bit on some proper drums and proper equipment and because I didn't come here with anything—I came here with nothing but a stick bag, some clothing and a snare I had received at the age of 8," Sampson recalls. "I just messed around on the drums and one of the guys was like, ‘We have a competition called Drum-Off.' They explained to me that you have an opportunity to make your dreams come true and win some money along the way."

Sampson first competed in 2007, but didn't make it past store finals. The following year, he made it to the Finals. Although he did not win, he was not discouraged. "Everything has its time and place and when you prepare more and you work hard for something and you go back and do your homework, a lot more can be accomplished," he says. "It was my final year of high school and I had graduated that year, so now that I had some free time, it was time for me to really prepare for Drum-Off. So, I went back and did a lot more digging and really made myself more determined and passionate about it. And this year I was victorious."

Some of Sampson's many tricks for victory included the use of a splash cymbal placed on the drums to create sounds not typically found on the standard kit. (Sampson thanks drummer Johnny Rabb for the idea.) He's also quick to credit 2008 Drum-Off champion Jerome Flood, as Sampson studied the video footage of Flood's winning solo. "He has a little technique where he took his left foot and put it by the bass drum," Sampson says. "To show my versatility between left and right, I took the ride cymbal and put it on the left hand side. And then I switched it to indicate that I'm not just a left-handed drummer, but a right-handed drummer."

Sampson's solo also included the "running man" visual, a performance on the drums' hoops and stands, plus a special tribute to Michael Jackson in which he placed a white glove on his hand mid-solo while performing the drum beat to "Smooth Criminal." "That was probably the highlight of my solo," he says.

At one point during his performance, Sampson even picked up the snare drum and played the strainer wire on the reverse side with his hands. "I've been watching a bunch of other drummers, and I realized that there's simple stuff that's there on the drum kit that you could use to make cool sounds," he says. "That's why I picked up the snare. I realized the bottom of the snares make it look like it's a guitar or something. What sounds would you get if you just strummed it? So, I picked up the snare and played the bottom of it. I definitely went back to my book of creativity and picked out a bunch of tricks."

After the Drum-Off competition, Jason Bonham took to the stage to pay tribute to his father, legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. As part of this emotional and powerful tribute, Jason played alongside footage of his father's performance from the film "The Song Remains The Same." John Bonham was later inducted into Guitar Center's Drum Legends hall of fame, with Jason accepting on his behalf.

A special unannounced performance caught all in attendance by complete surprise. Billy Cobham, who was originally only slated to receive his well-deserved Drum Legends award, gave a truly monumental performance behind the kit. The entire audience was captivated by Cobham's amazing solo, which included his innovative use of four sticks.

Headlining the event was Tommy Lee and Street Drum Corps' Frank Zummo with a multi-faceted collection of famous drummers dubbed "Bezerk." Featuring a variety of genres that influenced Lee's musical background, the segment launched with Max Weinberg and his son Jay, representing the big band jazz genre, as the duo performed solos over the swing hit, "Sing, Sing, Sing."

Next up was the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Chad Smith, donning a massive, white 'fro and seated behind his custom MOLECULES kit, performing his own band's hits, plus songs from James Brown and other funk greats. Incubus drummer José Pasillas covered Latin rock and reggae genres, as he laid his tasteful grooves behind songs like Santana's "Oye Como Va," Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff," The Police's "Roxanne" and Incubus' "Pardon Me," which also featured Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger.

Godsmack's Sully Erna, surrounded by congas and bongos, showed his diversity and delivered a killer percussion set of intricate rhythms and complex patterns. Seated behind a kit with a massive bass drum was Tommy Lee, who along with Street Drum Corps' Frank Zummo, played along to a diverse assortment of rock, hip-hop and dance tracks mixed in by DJ Aero.

Deftones' drummer Abe Cunningham pumped a punk set, blasting off with the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" with Sum 41 guitarist Deryck Whibley, and also performed Sum 41's "Fat Lip." Deftones guitarist/vocalist Chino Moreno joined Cunningham for their band's own hit, "Change."

Lee and Zummo returned to the stage for another round, this time accompanied by Erna and Street Drum Corps, before handing it over to Velvet Revolver's Matt Sorum, who covered the hard rock genre with performances of songs from Guns N' Roses and Velvet Revolver, plus Def Leppard, AC/DC and Metallica. The segment closed with Jason Bonham's return, this time laying the groove behind cuts from Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Black Sabbath and Kings of Leon, before breaking into his own drum solo backed by a remix of "Bonzo's Montreux."

For over two decades, Guitar Center has been dedicated to providing undiscovered musicians the opportunity to be seen and heard. The opportunity to achieve greatness. Now's the time to dedicate yourself like never before. Your chance is coming. Look for signups at your local Guitar Center coming in late summer.

To see performances from Guitar Center's Drum-Off Grand Finals, visit guitarcenter.com

 
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