The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.
Front and Center: Drummer, Cortney DeAugustine
By Gabriella Steffenberg
Cortney DeAugustine from Sacramento, Calif., is a kick-ass drummer constantly on the go.
She’s opened for acts like Def Leppard, was the only female drummer in this year’s renowned Led Zeppelin tribute concert, Bonzo Bash, and is currently the drummer for her band, Razor Queen. She’s also a loving mother of three, and one of the biggest John Bonham fans.
WiMN: How old were you when you got your first drum set?
CD: I had been begging my mom for drums since I could talk. After years of air drumming to my favorite records, I finally got my first drum set for Christmas when I was 12. I’ve been playing drums for about 25 years now and hoping for at least another 50 years of rockin’.
WiMN: Did anyone in your family play music? Did they support your passion for drumming?
CD: Unfortunately I didn’t grow up with my biological father, but it turns out he was also a drummer from the San Francisco Bay Area in the ’60s and ’70s. He had a band called Of An Ugly Nature, and gigged around the Bay Area. Their biggest gig was opening for Jefferson Airplane in San Francisco.
Although my mother is in no way musical [laughs], she always supported me as a musician along with all of my music interests. Thank God she tolerated me playing drums every single day in the garage for hours on end. As soon as it was too late to play drums, I would go up into my bedroom and practice playing guitar and bass. That is pretty much how I spent my entire adolescence and home life until I moved out of the house.
WiMN: You have three kids. How do you balance your life as a mom and a musician?
CD: Haha!! Great Question. My life is basically a crazy existence full of chaos, kids, love, and rock ‘n’ roll. There isn’t much balance for me personally as a woman at this time in my life with all that is constantly going on around my house, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I truly believe in fate and the future and its looking pretty damn good!! Anything that’s really worth doing in life has never been easy in my experience, which makes it that much sweeter when there is success.
WiMN: You cite John Bonham as your biggest influence. What is it about his style that you like?
CD: John Henry Bonham just has this “thing.” Maybe you could even call it magic when he’s behind his drum kit. Whatever it is, it has always mesmerized me as a drummer and a musician. His meter is so amazing; it’s almost like he’s able to naturally groove just behind the beat which translates into a sort of feel that most drummers usually spend significant amounts of time during their careers trying to mimic or figure out. He’s always able to come up with the perfect drum part and crushing grooves for every Led Zeppelin song, not to mention many signature “Bonzo” licks, beats and fills that continue to influence and inspire not just new drummers starting out in their garages, but especially veteran professional drummers of all genres.
That’s pretty much how “Bonzo Bash” was born. Brian Tichy is an amazing drummer, good friend of mine and fellow Bonzo fan. Brian created Bonzo Bash to celebrate the life, music and drumming of John Henry Bonham of Led Zeppelin. Brian has played with Foreigner, Billy Idol, Whitesnake and many other great musicians and bands. He has been a really great friend over the years and was cool enough to offer me a spot on Bonzo Bash in 2014 and 2015 which has been one of the greatest honors in my drumming career. Considering the lineup which consists of many drummers that have influenced me during my career, it was definitely amazing sharing the stage with those guys! Pretty surreal!
WiMN: You were the only female drummer in this year’s Bonzo Bash at NAMM. What was that experience like?
CD: There are a lot of shredding female drummers out there right now, so to be the only female on the show was really special to me. I was also the first drummer to sing my Zeppelin song while I was playing drums, too, which added a whole new level of nerves to my performance!!
I feel like I’m at home every time I’m behind a drum kit; it has sort of become second nature to me at this point. However, I wouldn’t say I’m quite as comfortable with myself as a vocalist, so I definitely spent a lot more time doing my homework before the performance. When I finally got up on the Bonzo drum kit that night to play, I looked out in front of me and saw a sold out room which was overwhelming but so freaking cool, too.
When I looked behind me, all I could see were legendary drummers and rock stars all waiting to see what I was gonna do. I chose to perform “No Quarter” which is definitely an eclectic choice in Zep tunes, but one of my favorites. Once I heard the song begin, my nerves sort of disappeared and I went into my rock ‘n’ roll trance mode and everything turned out better than I could have imagined. I am very blessed.
WiMN: Have there been any challenges being a female drummer in the music field?
CD: I would have to say yes and no. Ironically enough, the only time I didn’t get a gig because I was a woman was actually an all-female band that turned me down. They said because I had kids they didn’t think I would be able to do out-of-town gigs which was a little shocking to me. I have usually found that being a female drummer playing rock and metal usually takes people by surprise, but then they get into it and are usually really really cool and want to talk with me after shows and stuff. I would say being a female drummer has actually been a good thing for the most part. I would say it helps to set me apart.
WiMN: Are there any other ladies you look up to in the industry?
CD: Absolutely. Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart have been blowing my mind since I was a little girl listening to my mom’s classic rock albums on my record player. There is something very mystical and real about their music that people really love and can relate to, which is why they are still killin’ it four decades later in this crazy music industry. That is what I call success!
I think Sheila E. is a major bad-ass, too. When I saw her doing her drum solo in 6″ heels on Letterman, I was totally floored!! I also really dig Bonnie Raitt, Amy Lee, Lzzy Hale, Grace Slick, Nikki Minaj, Annie Lennox, Janis Joplin, Tina Turner, Laura Branigan, Lita Ford, Lady Gaga, Gwen Stefani, Joan Jett, Lana Del Ray, Madonna, Gwen & Lucy Giles of Dog Party, Sass Jordan, and more.
WiMN: You’ve toured with bands over the years. Can you name a few and share what you’ve learned from those experiences?
CD: My first time on tour was in 1998 when I became the drummer for a band called Moon Dog Mane which featured Frank Hannon of Tesla. We were signed to Eureka/Polygram records and had two top-20 singles on rock radio off our album Turn It Up. Our first run was with Judas Priest, then Cinderella. I really learned a lot on that first tours about what it takes to really be a pro drummer and backup singer.
Life on the road isn’t always glamorous when there are 12 people living on a tour bus together. I learned how to adapt to that kind of living because I love rock ‘n’ roll that much. My front of house sound engineer taught me to be courteous during sound checks, and how to tune and mic my drums for live arena rock. I’m glad I paid attention to those details because they came in handy when we landed a tour with Def Leppard in 1999.
When I was playing my opening set for Def Leppard, I would look to my side and see Rick Allen watching me play most nights which totally blew my mind since I was only used to seeing him on MTV. Moon Dog Mane was an amazing experience that I’m very grateful for! I got to perform on a great record, I was signed and riding in a sweet tour bus and playing arenas with Def Leppard for a living. I was really living the dream at age 22.
Since then, I’ve gotten very involved with songwriting and sound engineering, but have also performed and/or recorded with some really great artists including George Lynch, Hootie & The Blowfish, Tesla, Rick Derringer, Pat Travers, Dickey Betts, Dave Meneketti, Gary Hoey, Vic Johnson (Sammy Hagar), and many more. More recently, I’ve also been touring with Michael Lee Firkins and Montrose.
That was another amazing and life-changing experience, but it ended in so much heartache and tragedy when Ronnie Montrose took his life in March of 2012. That really shocked me to the core. When I found out that he was gone, I was never the same. I was so inspired by Ronnie and the time that I had with him, so I decided to name my new band, Razor Queen in honor of a song that Ronnie performed with Gamma called Razor King. I feel like Rock N Roll has taught me a lot about how to be a super solid drummer in just about any situation and how to record and perform live, but it has also taught me a lot about human nature, relationships, love, hate, legends, tragedy and anything and everything else you could possibly imagine in between!! Once you’ve really lived and tasted rock ‘n’ roll life like the stars you see on MTV, it’s really hard to not always crave playing music at that level, but no matter if I’m playing an arena or an old ass club, it’s still like home every time I sit on my drum kit. Once the music starts, it doesn’t matter where I am anymore. I close my eyes, get into my head and become immersed in the music. At that time I’m not thinking about arenas or clubs, I’m just doing what I do. Playing drums and making music.
WiMN: Who are some artists you’d love to share the stage with?
CD: This is an easy one… Ann and Nancy Wilson for sure. I’d really love to play with Dave Grohl, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Paul McCartney and Snoop Dogg.
WiMN: How active are you on social media? Do you find it’s an effective way to connect to fellow musicians and your fans?
CD: I think social media is a really great way to network and reach out to musicians that you would not necessarily have access to without social media, so I think its great in that regard. YouTube is also a great way to be seen which has helped me get gigs a number of times. Facebook and Twitter are other great places to communicate and keep fans posted about shows, CD’s, and stuff like that, too, so yes, I think the internet is a must when playing music in this day and age.
WiMN: What’s in the books for 2015?
CD: I am planning on playing some festivals in the West Coast over the summer with Michael Lee Firkins which is always super fun. I am really focused on getting Razor Queen established, too. I will be releasing some music soon which will be available on iTunes, Amazon, etc.
I think that the sky is the limit for me in music. It’s been an amazing ride, but I still think the best is yet to come in my life! I saw a quote in a drum magazine that Mike Mangini was on when he got the Dream Theater gig that said, “The long road to overnight success.” That really struck a chord with me; I can’t wait for it to be my turn to use that quote!
I’m looking forward to breaking into the rock industry with Razor Queen and working with more of my favorite artists! My dream is to walk the red carpet at the Grammy Awards and to hear my music on the radio!! I want to take care of my family doing what I love most. Making music. I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to do everything on my list in 2015, but trust me, I’ll get it done!