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Blake Fleming

Alton native credits trip to Mars with helping his drumming career

No more bartending to pay the bills — at the age of 34, Alton native Blake Fleming has turned his love of drumming into a successful career.

From his old days with Alton band Dazzling Killmen to helping found progressive rock band The Mars Volta, Fleming, who now lives in New York, has made a name for himself in music.

�This is what I do now. I finally started making a living at it,� Fleming said. �I can pretty much play with anybody at this point. I’m just a drummer.�

These days, Fleming keeps busy professionally by teaching private lessons in New York City, playing live and recording with various artists in the studio.

�I don’t play exclusively with anyone because I really enjoy all the different types of artists,� Fleming said.

This summer, he worked with singer-songwriter Kim Taylor and also recently composed music for video artist Janet Biggs to use in her pieces on exhibit in Miami, Charleston and Barcelona.

Even more recently, Fleming came off a six-week United States tour with a band called The Ropes and now plans on staying in New York for a while to focus on other projects.

Some of those projects include a new group called The Rollo Treadway (http://www.myspace.com/therollotreadway), which recently signed a deal with Aperture Entertainment, specializing in placing music in major films and commercials.

He also is working on an instructional book and DVD to go along with an album of his solo work.

Since the age of 33, Fleming has been the face of drumming for several companies, endorsing products for Truth Drums, Meinl Cymbals, Drum Workshop hardware and pedals and Vic Firth Drumsticks.

Although he wasn’t with them long, Fleming credits The Mars Volta for making his name a success.

In 2001, he joined Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, then of the band At the Drive In, in Los Angeles.

�I knew if I got hooked up with those guys I wouldn’t have to bartend anymore,� he said. �When we started (The Mars Volta) in 2001, I had the strongest progressive rock background in the band because, basically, all the bands I had before The Mars Volta were always quite progressive and always strove toward innovation,� Fleming said. �Innovation may not always be pretty at first, but it’s what keeps something from stagnating and allows it to retain its vitality whether it be music, art, politics, relationships, etc.�

Later that year, Fleming left The Mars Volta to work on his own projects, including a band called Electric Turn To Me, with his then wife.

Then, The Mars Volta got huge.

�They had an audience that was captivated by what they were doing,� he said.

Fleming would eventually play with the band again in the summer of 2006, opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the United States and in Canada from August to September, before quitting again in October.

Today, even without the band, Fleming’s MySpace page, www.myspace.com/vultureamerica, rakes in the fan mail.

�It’s completely flattering. You don’t always realize the reach that your music has,� he said.

Coming of age musically in the River Bend

As a youngster back home in Alton, Fleming was influenced by his parents and his brothers Troy and Tom, who introduced him to oldies, country, classic rock, punk and new age music.

�When I was 7 or 8, Troy used to bring me to his band rehearsals,� he said.

He first heard the band Kiss when he was 5 — �I felt energy I had never felt before,� Fleming said.

Elvin Jones, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, Hal Blaine and more eventually added to his love for music.

Fleming started playing the drums when he was 8.

Tim Jarden, a jazz instructor at Lewis and Clark Community College, served as a musical inspiration to Fleming, as did neighbor Sarah Greer, who got him to join the Alton Colonial Fife and Drum Corps at age 9. An LCCC drum instructor, Mark Waters, was an early inspiration as well.

At 15, Fleming was in his first real band. The Dazzling Killmen, as it was called, started in a third floor loft above Tony’s Restaurant in Alton.

Jeff Tweedy of the band Wilco produced one of the band’s first singles and records, Fleming said.

They toured with bands like Fugazi, The Jesus Lizard, Uncle Tupelo and a lot of bigger alternative bands from the late ’80s/early ’90s before they broke up in 1994. ~

He then joined up with a Japanese band called Zeni Geva, which came to the United States from Tokyo in 1996 to do a tour, and played with them for two months.

In 1996, at age 23, Fleming had saved enough money by giving drum instruction in Alton to move to Brooklyn, NY.

�I always knew since I was a kid that I was going to live there. New York was the place with the most opportunity, the place where a lot of my heroes came from,� he said. �I just loved the energy, it’s really stimulating and I wanted to be around that. There was always something to do.�

In New York, Fleming and some friends from home started a band called Laddio Bolocko, which played all instrumental, a progressive mix of jazz and rock known as �voodoo jazz sex rock.�

�Laddio Bolocko is actually an Alton resident, the name of a man,� Fleming said. �It was spelled differently.�

Balaco was the father of Sam, owner of Sam’s Loan pawn shop, where Fleming held his first job.

The cult band toured the United States and about 15 different countries in Europe.

�It was not so well known, but those people that did know about it were very rabid about it,� he said.

After Laddio Bolocko, Fleming helped found The Mars Volta.

Though he can do just about anything with drumming these days, it’s during his live shows that Fleming said he really comes to life.

�I wanna be known as a great drummer and a great person. I feel like its very possible,� he said. �If you believe in something, stick with it. I’m in touch with reality but I stick to my guns. Be who you are. Period. So many people are caught up in trying to be things that they’re not because of social pressure. At the end of the day, its just you.�

He enjoys coming home to see his parents and said he would like to more often.

�You don’t realize what you have when you grow up around it,� he said. �I have a place for Alton in my heart.�


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