The two questions I get asked the most are: How did you discover your beatboxing talent? And were you always making sounds as a kid? The fact of the matter is that I was a very quiet kid, and I ending up “drawing the short straw” and learning how to beatbox.
When Home Free started, we were all singers, and we mostly covered beat-free a cappella songs from groups like Glad. We eventually stumbled onto the group Rockapella who had a full-time vocal percussionist named Jeff Thacher. We were blown away and knew that we wanted to sound more like them. So, one of us had to “learn how to make the drum noises.” I was nominated.
Beatboxing as an art-form was still very much in its infancy, and social media was almost nonexistent. These days, one can search YouTube for beatboxing and instantly find thousands of results even including instructional videos. But back then, I had to get my hands on a Rockapella CD!
My first two years of college, I lived in a dorm room without a roommate, so I played Rockapella: In Concert on repeat. I spent hours on end analyzing the vocal percussion and obsessing over the nuances of each sound. I realized that I had a head start mechanically and muscularly as I was a trumpet major. After two years, I was beginning to be able to percuss along with Jeff.
My brother/bandmate, Chris, was researching more resources, and he discovered an instructional series called Mouth Drumming by Wes Carroll, the vocal percussionist for the group The House Jacks. I promptly ordered Volume I and II…on VHS! Kids, you’ll have to ask your parents what a VHS is.
After living and breathing Jeff and Wes’s material, I happened upon Rahzel, a solo beatbox artist. This was a turning point for me. I realized that there was a distinction between beatboxing and vocal percussion. Jeff and Wes are very technical and, for the most part, emulate traditional drums. Rahzel was much more raw and contemporary, recreating DJ record-scratching and making robotic, techno sounds.
This was at the advent of the now taboo file-sharing. I scoured the far reaches of cyberspace for every MP3 of Rahzel. As I had once done with Rockapella, I was now playing Rahzel on repeat and trying to match him sound for sound.
I developed an insatiable appetite for beatboxing and began a quest for knowledge, understanding, and ability that I am still on today. I discovered the website www.humanbeatbox.com which forever changed me. I went from thinking a few guys were pioneering a niche to realizing that there were dozens of professional beatboxers and vocal percussionists, hundreds of up-and-comers, and thousands of enthusiasts in an ever-widening subcultural community.
I realized that there is virtually no limit to the human voice, and I embraced an unending learning process.
Over a decade later, I make my living as a full-time beatboxer/vocal percussionist, and every day I further hone my craft. In my next blog, I will cover some of the artists who continue to amaze and inspire me, but for now, I have more practicing to do!