There’s a long tradition of great Italian rock drummers, from Dick Boccelli (Bill Haley and the Comets) to Carmine Appice (Rod Stewart) and Terry Bozzio (Frank Zappa). That’s the old guard; make way for the new: Chicago’s Dan Leali has performed with everyone from Grammy-nominated artist Peter Himmelman to jazz-funk group Liquid Soul (with whom he shared a Grammy nomination for the 2000 recording “Here’s the Deal”).
And if you’ve seen Leali play, look out: Here’s a guy who does it all, from sweet finesse timekeeping to powerhouse throb to demolish a brick wall. “My older sister had had a brief flirtation with drumming and had left an old Sears snare drum for dead in our family room,” recalls Leali, 43, who has maternal roots in Lucca (Tuscany) and paternal roots in Brescia (Lombardi). “One day I just started playing it and had to be virtually yanked off. From there on out everything went out the window but music.”
That was 30-plus years ago, and thanks to a slew of Italians — from Count B.J. Massarella, a jazz deejay who helped Leali score his first kit, to his grandfather, owner of Silvio’s blues bar at Lake and Kedzie — Leali got breaks and musical exposure to feed his passions. “All the blues greats played at Silvio’s — Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy,” Leali says. “My parents knew them all. I truly believe some of that feel came into me when I was in my Mom’s belly and she’d visit there.”
What’s more, Leali works hard to master his craft. “I bring a great love for and a grasp of many different styles to the table, as well as a willingness to take direction and really work on a part until it’s right,” he says. “I also try to do my homework as much as possible for any musical situation.” Whether at a jazzy gig, or a more rocking situation, Leali takes lots of notes.
“I’m continually processing all the experiences, whether they’re musically or professionally, good or bad, into an overall positive mental database that I can use in the future, what to do and what not to do, because I hope to do this for a while longer,” he says.
Leali’s here to stay, and having toured the world with various projects, he’s primed to take his career to the next level. There’s no more demanding gig in town than Tributosaurus, a much-loved cover band that transforms itself into a new musical group with each show. Leali’s the go-to drummer for that group, and can also be seen playing for A-list artists from Robbie Fulks to Himmelman, when the L.A.-based artist hits Chicago. “I also play in a Tool cover band with some great players, and that’s the closest I’ve ever come to being in a metal or progressive rock band on any kind of a regular basis.”
Leali’s professionalism, by the way, extends to his demeanor, with a great attitude and personality to match his chops. Want to catch him live? Check out www.danleali.com for Leali’s gigs and touring schedule.