JASON HARTLESS has been professionally performing since the age of 5 years old. After recording his debut record with Corky Laing (Mountain), Hartless’ career and life path was set. Years of hard work, dedication and smart life choices for Hartless to propel himself into becoming the nationally recognized and respected drummer that he has become. Over the past couple years, he has earned the drummer’s seat for rock icons such as Joe Lynn Turner (Deep Purple/Rainbow)and currently guitar legend Ted Nugent.
When not touring or in recording sessions, Jason is a music business management student at the Berklee Collage of Music in Boston, MA. Hartless is also the Managing Partner of the Prudential Music Group, which is a music conglomerate based out of Detroit. The labels and affiliates include: Prudential Records, Rouge Records and Prudential Publishing. Prudential Music Group and its affiliates are distributed though Sony Orchard Distribution.
Music Madness caught up with Jason while on tour with Ted Nugent to discuss his love of music and hockey.
Music Madness: How is it going touring with Ted Nugent? Does Ted still bring out the big crowds?
Jason: Oh, great. You know, this is my third tour with Ted, and every year just keeps getting better and better. We are playing just outside of Dayton tomorrow. Oh, absolutely. This whole tour pretty much has been sold out. We played a county fair with Kid Rock two or three nights ago, and we pulled about 35,000.
Music Madness: Nothing wrong with that man, being in your early 20’s and just having a blast playing in front of all those people has gotta be an adrenaline rush in itself I’m sure.
Jason: Oh, absolutely.
Music Madness: Well you started playing at such an early age, are you even fazed by the big crowds anymore.
Jason: Yeah, I got lucky that I got started young, so it has kind of become second nature for me now, you know. I mean, I did my first tour when I was 12. Then, I was lucky to do, at the age of 14, a tour with an artist that was opening for Motley Crüe for three months. So I got to really get to learn the business both on the touring side of things and the industry side of things pretty early.
Music Madness: Touring with bands like Motley Crüe were you able to pick up some of the do’s and don’ts of the music industry.
Jason: Oh, absolutely. And honestly, the biggest thing that I was lucky, my father was in the music industry as a player for many years around the Detroit area. He was a natural sales man and learned the business early on in his life. So he was able to pass down the do’s and don’ts for my career, and kind of opened the doors to a lot of the connections that I had early on. He allowed me to kind of run with those connections and then branch out, and get playing in front of more industry people and get my name out there as much as possible.
Music Madness: As a drummer, you have played with some amazing musicians/bands so is the goal to be a hired gun or someday have your own band and settle down and do your own thing with side projects.
Jason: Well you know, I’ve always kind of tailored myself as a session player, even when I was younger. Because I did my first session as a hired situation when I was 10 years old and it was actually playing on my Godfather, Richie Scarlet’s record, he has played for Ace Frehley for 25 years, and played for Mountain for a long time.
And, being exposed to that, Lister and a session guy on Fig was on that same gig. He was tracking two tracks, the same day I was. So, I got to hang with Anton, and Anton actually showed me how to chart music during that session. That’s kind of where I found the love of, you know I like the mentality of being the hired guy. I always try to tailor myself after like a Jeff Porcaro. You know, being the guy that can say yes. You need a Samba. Sure, I can do that. You need Def Metal shit; sure, I can do that.
Music Madness: There is nothing wrong with that. I know you used to spend a lot of time with Corky Laing of Mountain how did that all come about?
Jason: Well it kind of stemmed back form my Godfather playing bass for Mountain. I started playing with an all-adult band, just from friends of my dad’s, doing covers when I was about five and we used to cover Nantucket Sleighride.
Music Madness: Oh, right on.
Jason: A video of me playing it got to Richie, he ended up showing Corky, who called my dad up and was like, “Look I want to work with this kid.” So, by the time I was about eight, Corky and I started working together, and he would drive down to Toronto, and I would come up to Toronto from Detroit, and we would kind of work on really how to become a professional player. How to find your inner groove, and what it is like to really, really work in the studio, and really work in a live situation.
It’s funny, because I always call Corky the Forest Gump of rock, because he was always in the right place at the right time, jammed with everybody, and knew everybody back in the day. So, his stories go on forever.
Music Madness: They do, and I was so amazed, just to be able to talk to someone that was around with Hendrix, and knew the guys that played with Hendrix and the Lennon’s of the world. So that is very cool.
Jason: Yeah, exactly. It’s great because in recent times, I study music business at Berklee College of Music and I’ve started to build my career in the industry side of things, to try to give myself job security, when my phone stops ringing as a player.
My company just put a super-group record that Corky did back in the late 70’s with a whole heap of guys like Eric Clapton, Leslie, and Ian Hunter, and a ton of other people. So, it’s really funny to come full circle that now me and Corky are working on a project, almost 15-20 years after we started working together when I was a little kid.
Music Madness: Corky and I were talking about that project and how Jack White reopened a vinyl press out in Detroit.
Jason: Well, actually the project that you talked to Corky about was the project that I spearheaded.
Music Madness: Oh, right on.
Jason: Because my company, I’m partners in Prudential Music Group, which we have a label that specializes in vinyl reissues. And when Jack opened up his facility in Detroit, it was a no-brainer for us to kind of partner up with them and get all of our product manufactured right in the heart of downtown.
On top of being able to associate my business with Jack White’s business is a big selling point, but it’s really, really great because I’ve been a vinyl lover and collector for years before it even became the hot commodity in the industry.
I was actually having a conversation with someone today about that, and the first quarter this year, it was up 19%, and it seems to be the only viable way that a lot of artists can make money on physical product other than streaming. And it’s great to see it has become more of an art piece, as opposed to a listening device. Anybody can listen to a song on their phone, or computer or whatever, but owning a piece of vinyl, you are really getting it for the collector’s aspect, whether it be colored or cool packaging.
Music Madness: Yeah, and I agree completely, I’ve caught myself over the last handful of years buying more vinyl but some of them look so cool that I don’t want to open them.
Jason: Yeah, exactly.
Music Madness: So, are you going to school in Boston?
Jason: Well, due to my touring schedule, I kind of had two options to pick from. It was, quit my touring career for four years and move to Boston, or utilize Berklee’s online music business program.
So I’m doing that. When I’m on the road, in my hotel room during the day before playing a show, I’m sitting on my laptop doing homework, everybody always makes fun of me, and they always ask me, “Did you do your homework?”
Music Madness: The more you learn, and the more you figure it out now, the better you are off down the road, and the more options you have for yourself too.
Jason: Absolutely, and the thing is, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs, never have. And so it’s like, when I’m on the road, it’s a 100% business. At night, I’m playing in front of 2-3,000 people, and then during the day, I’m in my hotel room doing homework, or making phone calls to run my business. So it’s definitely hard work out here, but it’s for sure paying off.
Music Madness: Oh, absolutely and you are getting to see the country. You have the best of both worlds. You are doing something you love and getting to seeing good ole Americana, it is an experience of a lifetime, so that is very cool.
I had a call with David Ellefson from Megadeth, he is so diverse, and I am starting to see how critical it is for these artists to be able to do more than just one thing, and to maximize their opportunities.
Jason: It’s funny that you mention that, because my drum tech, Randy Walker, is David’s partner in his music licensing company. And they live like a couple blocks from each other.
Music Madness: It is a small world man.
Jason: Absolutely. This industry is extremely small.
Music Madness: The mentality of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll still exists but you do not want to keep losing these amazing artists before or in their prime. The rock community needs to remember these musicians and teach them how to maximize their opportunities.
Jason: Absolutely. You look at a lot of these iconic artists, whether they were musicians or solo artists, and I look at a guy like Jeff Porcaro a lot to how I can tailor my career after, or at least attempt to as much as I can, and he died in 1991. I was born in ’94.
I was never alive at any point that he was alive, so it very much looks like a folk lore type thing. You look at artists, like Keith Moon, because The Who is my favorite band of all time. These guys left such a massive, massive mark, not only on the music industry, but also pop culture of the world.
And it’s something that, I feel like it’s my duty as a young, up and coming person in the industry, whether I’m a player or a business executive, that I have to try to keep their legacy and honor their legacy and talk about their legacy as much as possible.
You know, I hate to say that rock music is dying, but it’s trying to keep that spark alive is kind of what I try to tailor my whole thinking around.
Music Madness: Yeah, it is funny, because I have this conversation with people about athletes. Aren’t you a big hockey fan?
Jason: Massive hockey fan.
Music Madness: It make me crazy when these young kids are called up to the big leagues and they do not know a thing about the history of their sport or team. Who do you emulate when you don’t even know who are the people that paved the way in your sport? How can you be an ambassador for your sport and not know anything about it.
Jason: Well, you know, it’s like the Stanley Cup this year removed one of its rings, because after a certain amount of time, they gotta make room for another ring on the cup itself. And this year, they had to remove Gordy Howe and Rocket Richard from the Stanley Cup, and they’ll never be on there every again. Those two were the godfathers of the modern landscape of the sport. And now it’s just trying to be able to keep those guys’ legacy for the young up and coming hockey players, and it’s the exact same thing with the music industry.
Music Madness: Absolutely.
Jason: Being able to keep these guys that just made such an insane mark on the industry, is key.
Music Madness: Oh, I agree. By the way, the town I grew up in, Glastonbury, Connecticut, we lived around the corner from Gordy Howe, like when he finished his career for the Hartford Whalers.
Jason: Hell yeah, man. That’s awesome.
Music Madness: So touring is wrapping up. What do you have going on for the remainder of 2018?
Jason: Well, I know a lot of guys in Nashville, so I’m probably gonna be doing some session work down there for some publishing houses. I’m trying to break into that whole market. And it’s tough, because Nashville is really the Los Angeles of the 1980’s. Everybody and their brother is moving down there, and really, there’s a reason why I’ve stayed in Detroit. Because luckily, I have been able to stay active as a session musician when I’m not on the road, as much as possible.
Music Madness: Very cool man. Well, I appreciate you actually taking a little bit of time to chat with us. Hopefully, we get to catch you next time you are on tour down here in Florida. It is a little warmer than in Detroit.
Jason: You know this was probably the shortest tour Ted’s ever done. We were only out for six weeks and unfortunately, we missed Florida and Texas. So, hopefully we’ll be coming back out there next summer.
Music Madness: Absolutely. And sorry man, I know, you are a Red Wings fan, but I am gonna say thank you for Stevie Y, we love him down here in Tampa, you might have to convert to a Lightning fan.
Jason: Well, there is a reason why he still lives in Detroit, even though he works for Tampa.
Music Madness: Very true. All right man, good luck and thank you.
Jason: Thanks so much, I appreciate it.
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