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Drum Masters: The Total Genius Of Vinnie Colaiuta

By Edited Jun 20, 2014 1 4

Crazy Genius

All geniuses have the right to be a little...how can I say... Crazy...Yes? This next drummer featuring in the Drum Masters series, article three, is none other than the man who is most popular for his work with Frank Zappa and Sting...Mr Vinnie Colaiuta.

Vinnie is known as a monster (in musician lingo...that's a good thing) behind the kit, who can sight read his way through any piece of music thrown in front of him. He can't be pigeon holed into any specific category, style or genre of music, playing anything and everything with utmost precision and authority. Sometimes called the chameleon, he can be found playing everything from Rick Astley To Heavy Metal, all with the same concentrated amount of passion....and yes whilst he does seem a little on the crazy side, he is a consummate professional who adds his own personality into his playing, whatever the genre may be.

Early Years

Vinnie Colaiuta was born on February the 5th 1956 in Brownsville Pennsylvania, United States. He attended the famous Berkley College Of Music and got his first break playing and recording with The Christopher Morris Band, but his biggest break into the industry was when he was picked up to play with the legendary Frank Zappa. Zappa known for his extremely complexed drum polyrhythms never posed any problems for Vinnie and it was early on in his career that he used Zappa as a stepping stone, managing to cement himself solidly into the scene as one of the most prominent and in demand live session drummers. It was not till a few years later that he actually broke into the studio session scene though, as he was far more recognised for his live playing, which is quite a different thing to recording. I really wanted to put a Zappa video on here, but couldn't find one that didn't run the risk of offending someone, so have a look at this interesting footage from the long form video made of the making of the hugely successful Sting album Ten Summoner's Tales.

Note :  Ten Summoner's Tales is one of my all time favourite music video's, not only because it has this monster drummer, amazingly talented band of musicians and of course Sting singing all the songs from the whole album...but also it is a look into the music industry, Stings life and some of the most beautiful countryside as scenery all happening in between songs. It's really worth a look.

If I Ever Lose My Faith In You - Sting

Featuring Vinnie Colaiuta On The Drums

Play List

Vinnie Colaiuta 1
Vinnie is an extremely different avenue to wander down compared to the last two drummers in this series, Steve Gadd and Jeff Porcaro. Ever the joker, he can play anything whilst also successfully messing around at the same time. It's really not uncommon to witness Vinnie's unusual stage acts on just about any video you pull up about him. I've also read comical stories about him sight-reading and playing ridiculously difficult pieces of music, whilst eating food at the same time as turning pages, adjusting his spectacles and playing up a storm! If you need any more proof have a look at the next video of a lesser known Sting song, again from Ten Summoner's Tales (because it is one of the best albums of all time). Vinnie has a cameo acting part in the middle of this tune... as non other than the devil. He is certainly not lacking in personality.

"Mr Diversity" has played drums for many artists. I've already mentioned  Zappa and Sting but some other lucky artists and notable mentions to have been graced by his presence are -

Chick Corea, Megadeth, Herbie Hancock, Jeff Beck, The Beach Boys, Chaka Khan, Celine Dion, Back Street Boys, Nik Kershaw, Five Peace Band and Leonard Cohen. Megadeth to Celine Dion...That's pretty impressive. He also released his own self titled album which is a must for any aspiring drummers to cast an ear to.

"Heroes are hard to find. And they're often tougher to pin down. Vinnie Colaiuta, for one, refuses to bend to expectations - and he doesn't think you should either" ~ Modern Drummer Magazine

Vinnie Plays The Devil

Sting - St. Augustine In Hell

The Kit

Vinnie Colaiuta 2
Previously endorsed by Zildjian cymbals, Vinnie in his career so far has played Ludwig, Yamaha and mostly Gretsch drums. Last year, however, saw him head in a new direction taking up an offer to endorse Paiste Cymbals and head back to an endorsement from Ludwig. Personally I think he could be playing a set of trash cans and he could still manage to make it sound amazing. His love has always been Gretsch and it is even believed that at times, he even may of used Gretsch drums in the studio whilst under endorsement from other companies, so it was a shock to everyone when Vinnie recently changed from his two life long associations of Gretsch and Zildjian to Ludwig and Paiste.

Ludwig Kits - Vinnie is currently playing both Legacy and Classic Maple series consisting of -

  • 14x22" kick drum
  • 7x10" and 8x12" toms 
  • 14x14" & 16x16" floor toms 
  • Vinnie has been using 5"x14" Supraphonic and Hammered Brass snare drums.

Paiste Cymbals Artist Since Mar 2012 - Formula 602 Modern Essentials Series

  • 22"  China
  • 8"  Splash
  • 15"  Hi-Hat
  • 20" Crash
  • 10"  Splash
  • 22"  Ride
  • 16"  Crash
  • 18"  Crash

For those of you a little more jazz orientated, here is some footage of Colaiuta playing with "The Buddy Rich Big Band" in Los Angeles at the Buddy Rich memorial concert 1989. If you watch carefully, he carves up his intro so much with his technical skills that the band don't know where to start and he looks pretty angry and aggravated when he has to count them in.


You Gotta Try

Colaiuta Behind The Kit

Elusive Colaiuta

"There's only two kinds of music to me. It's probably been said a million times, but I'm going to say it: There's good music and bad music" ~ Vinnie Colaiuta

It's not exactly an easy task finding any other information about Vinnie. He is absolutely uncandid in everything drumming and you can find hundreds of interviews with him about technical side of playing, equipment, songs and anything music. He is also known by his friends to be an extremely giving person, he is however not one who likes to make his private life public so there's not a whole lot to tell on that front. There is one very interesting fact about him though and that is he and the late Jeff Porcaro (Toto) were best friends and were often heard recommending each other for various projects. Both got the opportunity to drum together on the first Los Lobotomy's album (side project of Toto's guitarist Steve Lukather).

I guess someone with this kind of unique talent and ability does his talking through his playing.  Often described as a mix of Steve Gadd meets John Bonham meets Tony Williams...Vinnie will expand your musical horizons by making you tap in to his huge diverse range of tunes.


Ten Summoner's Tales

Ten Summoner's Tales
Amazon Price: $13.98 $6.76 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 20, 2014)
One of the best all time albums and video's ever produced.


Apr 30, 2013 3:25pm
My husband will love this article, he plays the drums. I will post it on his wall on facebook! Thanks!
Apr 30, 2013 5:41pm
Hey ladybugblue, thank-you very much for that. Really appreciate the read, taking the time to comment and sharing :-) Drummers can always appreciate great players!
Apr 30, 2013 7:46pm
I happen to have quite a few drummers in my family so will send this along to them. Great read!
Apr 30, 2013 10:49pm
Thanks claudslewis :-) You are lucky if you have a FEW drummers in your family...my poor family only got 1 such amazingly upstanding citizen in life...Me ;-) Although my nephew apparently inherited the drumming gene .... I've not really ever heard him play to confirm this. Sending thanks to you by the barrow load...much appreciated :-)
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  1. "Vinnie Colaiuta." Wikipedia. 28/04/2013 <Web >
  2. "Discography." Vinnie Colaiuta.com. 28/04/2013 <Web >
  3. "Vinnie Colaiuta." Drum Chat.com. 28/04/2013 <Web >

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