Updated: Sep 11, 2019
On any given night, Nashville drummer Bobby Mertz can be found backing an aspiring artist at a local showcase, recording tracks in his home studio for a song demo, or touring the country as part of jazz superstar Kenny G’s entourage. But there was a time when Bobby marched to the beat of a different drum.
Right after high school, the Pennsylvania native joined the US Marine Corps just prior to Operation Desert Shield/Storm. For four years, Bobby flew all over the world in a private jet as part of the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon, and picked up tips on drumming technique from members of the Drum and Bugle Corps that traveled with them. When his enlistment was up, he joined the Pennsylvania State Troopers. “I went with the sure thing, the sure paycheck.” Although he had been playing drums throughout his school years, he never thought it was something he could do for a living.
Bobby continued to play in bands on the side, and felt like “the oddball” with the state police. “I had the earrings, the freaky hair.” After taking an early retirement, he traveled back and forth to Nashville playing drums for two Christian artists, who, along with his wife, encouraged him to take the gamble and move to Nashville. After a six-month trial run with his wife Laurie holding down the fort back home, they moved to Music City in 2013.
For much of the past five years, Bobby toured the U.S. as a drummer for country singer Alyssa Micaela; The Voice alumni Megan Ruger; and teen country artist Savannah Lynne, among others. The performers he backed have opened shows for the likes of Luke Bryan, Brett Eldredge, Kelli Picker, Billy Currington, Willie Nelson, Eli Young Band, and Dwight Yoakam.
Bobby’s main gig these days is as Kenny G’s backline tech, a job which has taken him across the country and to resort destinations like Honolulu and Cancun. Touring is somewhat seasonal, with the busiest times in the fall and winter. Bobby likes the routine of life on the road with nine other guys in a tour bus. “It’s the same every day. You know what you’re gonna do, and you get quicker at it.”
A typical day starts around 8 AM. From the bus, they head to the venue and have breakfast. Working alongside stagehands, he sets up the piano, drum kit, percussion rig, bass rig, guitar amps, and other instruments and equipment – a process that takes until mid-afternoon (with a break for lunch) when they do the first sound check with the band. Next comes Kenny G’s sound check (with three different horns), followed by a final sound check that includes the band and Kenny. By the time the show starts around 8 PM (or earlier when they open for George Benson), Bobby has already put in a 12-hour day. After the show, they pack up and head to the next city to do it all again the next day.
One of the perks of touring with a successful artist is the catering. “The food is amazing; I come home ten pounds heavier in a month.” Bobby tries to stay healthy by consuming lots of salads and water, and taking his Flintstones vitamins. “But then they put out the desserts and that’s when I get ruined.”
What’s the first thing he wants to do when he gets back home from a tour? “Drive! After being on a bus for a month, I just want to get behind the wheel of a car and drive myself somewhere - even if it’s just to drive-through for something to eat.” He also enjoys hanging out with friends. Since many of them are just getting back from the road themselves, Bobby says, “they’re good with just sitting around; we don’t want a big party, we just want to relax and fall asleep watching a movie!”
Recently when he returned from a show in LA, his wife Laurie met him at the airport with a surprise - a yellow lab puppy. Together they are enjoying Sarge’s companionship, and learning the ins and outs of disciplining a puppy that wants to chew everything in sight and wake up to play at 2 AM. “You can’t punish them and put them in the crate; it has to be a happy place.”
When he’s back in Nashville, Bobby enjoys working in his home studio (which was also designed to be a “safe room” in case of a tornado). To prepare for an upcoming gig with the Country Americana band Lockwood Barr (with no time for a rehearsal), he wrote out charts and practiced playing to mp3s that the band sent him for their showcase at the Wednesday night Bus Call at Tin Roof. He frequently works with producers who need drum tracks for demos. When his schedule isn’t full, Bobby plays drums with the worship teams at Cross Point Church’s various campuses in the Nashville area.
One of his favorite pastimes during his downtime in Nashville is getting tattoos with his wife. “We’ll go ‘hey wouldn’t that be a good idea; call the guy up.’” Bobby’s latest tattoos are an expression of the two most important things in his life – his wife and his relationship with Jesus. The sleeve on his forearm includes a striking image of Laurie’s blue eyes on one side and a depiction of the biblical rapture on the other.
Bobby says his faith “is everything,” and he sees God’s hand guiding the course of his life. “In the moment, you don’t always see things that could have gone bad.” From steering him away from bands that were bad news, to sustaining him during slow times in the music industry, he trusts that God is in control. “One thing for sure that I’ve learned is that God always shows up. Always shows up. It might not be when I want Him to, but He has never let me down once.”
Bobby is grateful for the career and friends he has in Nashville. “If I never play again, I’ve done a lot of things that many people just wish they could do. I’m extremely blessed.” And, he added, “I’ve got Kenny G on my speed dial.” Not many people can say that.
Bobby is currently available for touring, session work, and local shows. For more information or to contact him, go to www.bobbymertz.com
Fun Facts & Trivia
Favorite genres to play: Southern Rock, Country Rock
Dream band to drum with: Motley Crue
Favorite movie soundtracks: Top Gun, Pretty Woman
Best drummers of all time: Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa
Best contemporary drummers: Thomas Lang, Ray Luzier (Korn)
Best fries in Nashville: The Tavern
Photo credit (left): Billy Vaughan Photography
Watch the video below to hear Bobby on drums with the country Americana band Lockwood Barr at Tin Roof Demonbreun.
Written by Laurel Moore for Live Laugh Love Nashville