Jason Hartless: “Hired Gun” drummer for Ted Nugent, Joe Lynn Turner and more!
Meet Jason Hartless, drummer extraordinaire, who has been making quite a name for himself working with the likes of Ted Nugent, Joe Lynn Turner, Mitch Ryder, and more! The 24-year-old “hired gun” drummer is already a veteran on the worldwide music scene, which includes a stint touring in a band supporting none other than Motley Crue on Crue Fest 2 when he was all of 14! Highwire Daze Online recently caught up with Jason Hartless for an all-encompassing interview. Topics include touring with Ted Nugent and working on the legendary performer’s new album The Music Made Me Do It, as well as stints with other top performers, drummer equipment inventory, and even more raging topics of intrigue. Read on…
How did you wind up as the drummer for the Ted Nugent band?
I was touring with an artist called Pistol Day Parade from 2012-2015; in 2014, we toured for 2 months opening for Ted on his “Shut Up and Jam” tour. I built a really good relationship with some of his crew and connected with his manager. The band ended up breaking up shortly after the tour. At End of 2015, I sent some emails to various people in the industry stating that I was available for touring for 2016; I got a response from Ted’s manager asking if I could handle a Nugent set and I would be hearing from Ted soon. Few days later, Ted called me; we talked for a long time about Detroit music, my style and bunch of other things. I flew to Texas a few weeks later to jam with Ted and bassist Greg Smith and I’ve been in the band ever since.
Describe your first ever show what Ted Nugent, where was it, and what was going through your mind at the time?
First show was in June of 2016 at Laconia Bike Week in Laconia, New Hampshire. Honestly, I didn’t really think much of it other than it was just another gig. I think the weirdest part of the gig was it was the first time I ever sang on stage and it was in front of about 7,000 people.
What was the experience like recording The Music Made Me Do It with Ted Nugent?
After being on the road with Ted for the past 3 years, this was my first time working with Ted in a studio situation. We spent a total of 2 weeks in Waco, Texas rehearsing and recording the new tunes and I am super happy with the result of the final product. Coming into this session, Ted and our bass player, Greg Smith didn’t really know how I would work in the studio because they have only played with me live on stage. When I play live, I play the role of a bashing, heavy rock drummer; but how I treat my playing in the studio is very different. I spend my time off the road working as a studio musician in Detroit, so I am able to approach my instrument very differently than I would on stage; I think that surprised Ted and Greg a little bit (hahaha). The funny thing about this record was even though we were in Waco for 2 weeks, we recorded the drums, bass and basic rhythm guitar tracks live, and finished the whole record in about 5 hours. We spent the rest of the session adding percussion, gang vocals and the rest of Ted’s parts; but what it did was, we were now not under pressure, so we were able to sit back and absorbed the tracks much more and add or change things that we might not have thought of during a high-pressure session. I am really excited to hear the reaction of the record from Nugent fans and classic rock fans in general, because this record was recorded very old school and I think we really captured some great vintage Detroit-style rock music.
What is your favorite song on The Music Made Me Do It and why?
All of them! After the hundreds of songs I have played on over the years, these songs were so fun to record and I am happy with my performance on every tune.
All-time favorite Ted Nugent song and why?
You gotta go with a classic like “Stranglehold”, but “Need You Bad” is great, “Thousand Knives” is killer. I really love the early Amboy Duke stuff! Detroit Garage R&B at its finest.
Much of America sees Ted Nugent as a controversial figure as well as a rock and roll legend. How do you see Ted Nugent?
Ted is one of the most generous and down to earth human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and being able to work with. He is a great boss to have!
What was the experience like touring with Joe Lynn Turner and how many of the songs did you have to learn and how many did you already know?
I have done 2 short stints of gigs with Joe in the Midwest over the last 2 years. Just like Ted, Joe is one of the most down to earth people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. We played tunes that covered his whole career with Rainbow, Deep Purple, Yngwie and solo work. I knew all of the Rainbow and Deep Purple material but had to dig and learn the Yngwie and solo tunes.
You recently performed with another legend Mitch Ryder. How did that come about and how did the shows go?
I have played a handful of gigs with Mitch Ryder last couple years as well. Those gigs are kind of weird because I am hired by a 3rd party promoter that books Mitch and then hires the band to play with him. It’s odd because I know all of Mitch’s actual band because they are all from Detroit, but when I play with Mitch, I play with a different group of guys. It’s always fun playing with another Detroit legend like Mitch, and Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels is one of Ted Nugent’s all-time favorites, so I get some bonus points with the boss hahaha.
What was the experience like performing at Crue Fest 2 and did you get to meet or hang out with any of the members of Motley Crue at all?
That tour was really fun and was my first major US tour playing amphitheaters. I was 14 years old at the time and was playing with a band called SHRAM. We were out for about 3 months straight and was the summer before my Freshman year in High School; I couldn’t do Marching Band that year because of it hahahaha. But all of the guys in Motley were cool and treated me really well!
When on tour, what is your equipment of choice and why?
I proudly sponsor and am endorsed by Pearl Drums, Sabian Cymbals, Vater Drumsticks, Remo Drumheads, 64 Audio, Latin Percussion and My Star Sound. Throughout my whole career, I have always been very picky about the gear that I use and I over the years have found the perfect combination that I will use for the rest of my life.
Below is my current setup that I used on the 2018 Ted Nugent tour:
– Pearl Drums Music City Custom Reference Pure in Vintage Blue Sparkle: 24×14 Kick, 12×9 Rack Tom, 14×14 Floor Tom, 16×16 Floor Tom, 14×5 Sensitone Beaded Steel Snare
– SABIAN Cymbals: 14″ HHX Stage Hats, 19″ AAX Xplosion Crash, 20″ HHX Stage Crash, 22″ Paragon Ride, 19″ Paragon China
– Vater Drumsticks: H-220 model w/ Jason Hartless Signature
– Remo Drumheads
– 64 Audio In-Ears: A6 Model w/ NHL logos
– Latin Percussion
– MyStarSound Custom Drum Loom
The first time I had covered any band you were involved with, it was Pistol Day Parade. Are you still involved with that band and if not, are they still around?
No, after the 2014 Ted Nugent tour we supported, the band broke up due to band member disputes and a couple members decided they did not want to tour anymore. It’s a shame because at that time we had a song in the top 20 on Active Rock charts and was projected to be #1 by years end. Our debut record has since become an underground record because so many people loved it so much.
Are you currently involved with any other bands or projects outside of being the drummer for Ted Nugent?
I am a “hired gun” musician, so I play with whatever artist or band calls me to play on their record or tour with their band. I love that about my career because it always stays fresh because I play with many different artists in many different genres.
What advice would you give a talented young drummer just starting out who would like to perform with legends such as Ted Nugent and Joe Lynn Turner?
Listen to as much music as possible and learn as many styles of music as possible.
What’s up next for you?
I am one that loves to work 24/7/365, so I am always looking for that next tour or session. While I am not on the road, I am a very active studio musician in Detroit tracking songs for various artists, publishing material and even commercial jingles. I am also very excited for the new Ted Nugent record titled “The Music Made Me Do It” that will be coming very soon. I have been told that the new record will also include a live DVD from our 2017 tour.
(Interview by Ken Morton – Photo by Jack Lue)