O.Reilly may have one of the coolest jobs in rock.
Drummer John O.Reilly may have one of the coolest jobs in rock. He's spent the past dozen years touring each November through early January with one of two traveling versions of the holiday rock-opera extravaganza Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and he's gigged with everyone from Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow and Blue Oyster Cult to Yoko Ono and the late Richie Havens.
O.Reilly will be in Madison with TSO for two performances at the Alliant Energy Center on Jan. 3. Following the tour's two final shows the next day in Moline, Ill., he plans to "sleep for about a month then get to work on other businesses I run from home," O.Reilly tells Isthmus.
The 62-year-old from Milford, Pa., has toured with TSO since 2002 and played on 2004's The Lost Christmas Eve and 2009's Night Castle, which together have sold almost three million copies. All told, TSO's symphonic progressive-rock collective has released five albums dating back to 1996. O.Reilly's lineup includes almost 20 musicians and vocalists performing 1998's The Christmas Attic -- TSO's only Christmas album that has yet to be played live in its entirety.
Given the drummer's level of success and pedigree as a studio musician, it might come as a surprise that O.Reilly also regularly records with a New York City-based DIY project called My Son the Bum. (Old comedy albums by Allan Sherman inspired the name.)
"I'm very honored that he is part of my band," says Brian Kroll, the guitarist and songwriter who started My Son the Bum in 2007 and has released six albums, including the recent Follow Me, Like Me -- 31 minutes of quirky, catchy pop-rock musings on topics that strike Kroll as "ironic, sardonic, satirical or absurd."
With songs like the title track and "Death By Texting," Follow Me, Like Me takes aim at Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and smartphones. "Flight Deck (for Christmas)" explores the darker, dysfunctional side of the holiday season. Its perverse puppet-animation video features grotesque characters and crude imagery.
That kind of musical unpredictability draws O.Reilly to My Son the Bum. "I met Brian when a former bandmate, who owned a recording studio, called me for a session back in the early '80s," the drummer says. "We've been working with each other ever since. Brian's music is always interesting, so it keeps me on my toes. He has a wicked sense of humor, and it's fun to play."
While My Son the Bum has never performed live and truly defines the term "independent music," TSO exemplifies the extreme opposite with elaborate shows that include Pink Floyd-inspired lights, KISS-worthy explosives and a string section.
"It's always a huge thrill every time I take the stage," O.Reilly says about playing with TSO. "I'm very fortunate to do what has been a childhood dream come true. I am honored to be able to play with this band for as long as I have."