Matt Sorum is perhaps best known as the drummer for such bands as the Cult, Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver.
But in addition to his musical success stories (that now include Kings of Chaos), the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame inductee also is an advocate for the arts.
His Adopt the Arts Foundation brings together well-known artists, public figures and the public to save the arts in America’s public schools.
On January 12, Sorum hosted an annual fundraising event for Adopt The Arts that honored Billy Gibbons and Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks. The event will also featured performances by a plethora of other guitar greats, including Slash, Edgar Winter, Richie Sambora and Orianthi.
I recently spoke with Sorum and asked him about Adopt the Arts, the importance of music in public schools and much more.
GUITAR WORLD: How did Adopt the Arts get started?
As I’ve gotten more time and a little bit older, I started wanting to do some things to give back. I originally had gotten the idea to do a charity that was based around giving away guitars. I’ve always looked at the guitar as being an instrument that was a no-brainer for people to understand. It’s a common thread of musicians and a universal instrument.
My plan was to travel around while on tour and stop at places like orphanages, shelters and hospitals and bring along a few guitars to give them. It was called Music for Healing and would give people an opportunity to pick up an instrument and get that same feeling we get when we play. It’s very therapeutic. I had gotten an endorsement deal with a few companies and was going to go to Haiti but had issues with getting the guitars into the country. So I wound up having all of these guitars lying around my house.
Then one day I was telling my neighbor about the guitars and she asked me if I could help her. She was a booster at school and said there was no music program. She told me they had a crappy drum set and broken-down piano. The kids had nothing, so I decided to help out. In addition to carpeting and painting the room, I got a deal with Casio, Fender, Line 6 and JBL and furnished the entire classroom. The idea was to start building the future of musicians. That’s when I came up with the idea of getting different celebrities I knew to bring attention to the cause and “adopt” a school. I called it Adopt the Arts.
What can you tell me about your annual fundraiser?
I’ve been so blessed to have friends who have been so helpful that instead of just doing a concert, I decided to honor some of my favorite musicians. I had just been on tour with Billy Gibbons with Kings of Chaos, so I called him and told him I wanted to honor him. Billy’s a legend and one of the pinnacle blues/rock guitarists in the world.
Then I called Butch Trucks, the drummer from the Allman Brothers Band, and he was over the moon about it. Then I started thinking about guests and the first ones I reached out to were Slash and Duff and they immediately said yes. Then I reached out to Steve Lukather, who is such a great guy and an amazing musician. Then there’s Jimmy Vivino and Edgar Winter. It just kept growing. Just the other day, Richie Sambora and Orianthi called and said they would be there too. It’s an eclectic group of people. Then, of course, we’ve got Billy Gibbons!
What are your thoughts on the importance of music in public schools?
People don’t seem to understand just how important music is. Where else can kids have the opportunity to have communion with other kids? It’s called “harmony." In almost every other aspect in school, you’re competing. Whether it’s trying to get a better test score or on a sports team having to win and try to be better than the other players. It’s always competitive where as music is a team.
And music is not just an extra-curricular activity. Kids learn about history (where the music came from) and rhythm (which teaches them mathematics) as well as art. Music today is not just the old orchestra teacher walking into class and telling the kids what to play.
When I was coming up the Seventies, they still had music in school. Today, the cuts have gotten deeper and deeper and one of the first things to go is music. Here in California, we’re really struggling with that. But if we can stand up and push back, we can make a difference. That’s why being there making a statement is so important. If you show up, things will get done.
What originally got you involved in music?
I would have to say it was Ringo Starr. When I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan's show, he became a metaphor for what I wanted to do. I just gravitated toward it like a kid to a fire truck!
What was the music scene in LA like when you were coming up?
In those days, the Seventies, it was so cool. The Strip was on fire because there was so much action going on. I remember playing this club where Van Halen started. The club had four stages and there would be four bands playing with Van Halen as the headliner. I remember going on stage and then watching them afterwards and just going, “Holy shit! They’re going to be huge!”
Can you tell me how you landed the gig with the Cult?
I was working in LA playing in bands and dabbling in the studio. I had a few records out on labels at the time and had started making a name for myself. Pat Torpey was originally asked to be in the band, but he told them he couldn’t do it because he was putting together his own band [Mr. Big]. But he said, “Why don’t you try Matt Sorum?” So I went down to the audition and wound up getting the gig, and within four days, I was opening for Metallica! I literally got the gig, rehearsed and went right on tour.
What were the early years like for you in Guns N’ Roses?
That was a good period of time. We were all getting along great in those days. Everyone was having fun and got a little crazy at times, but in general it was awesome. Then as we got on the road, that’s when things started falling apart. There was a lot of pressure but it was a good time, right up until the very end.
Can you give me an update on some of your other projects?
In addition to my band, Kings of Chaos, just getting back from Africa, I put out a solo album last year called Matt Sorum’s Fierce Joy. I’m also working on a new project right now that I can’t say the name of—yet.
Have you ever given thought to writing a book about your life and career?
I would love to do one at some point, but if I’m going to do it I want to do it right. Even though it might be a little bit painful for certain people to read [laughs]. I wouldn’t want to write a book if I had to hold back. I would rather just say exactly how I felt from the downbeat. You’ve got to be honest.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.