Jon ‘Bermuda’ Schwartz has been the drummer with “Weird Al” Yankovic since 1980, and is seen and heard on all of Weird Al’s albums, videos, and concert and television performances.
Born in Chicago in 1956, drums came into Jon’s family from Wm. Ludwig Jr. as a gift to Jon’s older brother in return for some advertising work their father did for the drum company. After a family move to Phoenix, Arizona, Jon inherited the kit and began taking formal lessons in 1965. He also listened and played along to the radio hits of the day, as well as albums including everything from Gene Krupa to Elvis, Latin orchestras, and especially the Beatles.
Another family move took the Schwartzes to Los Angeles in 1968, and it was then that Jon decided to be a professional drummer. He continued to take lessons, joined his school’s advanced band class and a local junior marching band, and later drummed in a precision marching band where he brushed up on his rudiments. In high school, Jon was in the theater arts band playing for school productions of the Music Man, Hello Dolly, My Fair Lady and The Sound Of Music, and had even managed to join another high school’s stage band for a semester.
Other early accomplishments include Jon’s first recording session (at age 13) with studio guitarist Al Casey, playing with youth orchestras, performing at California state and national junior band competition finals, teaching beginning and intermediate students, and his first group (formed in 1971) winning the 1974 L.A. County Battle of the Bands at the Hollywood Bowl. And some of the home recordings made by Jon and fellow school band members received airplay on the Dr. Demento show, which would later lead to a turning point in Jon’s career.
By his late teens, Jon already had a good feel for working with other musicians in a variety of situations and musical styles. 1975-76 were quiet drumming-wise, and Jon attended a local college, left home, and landed in retail management for about a year until he joined his first top-40 band in 1977. Jon was beginning to live his dream and make a living playing drums. The band had a steady 6-night a week gig and worked together for over a year, and Jon started to pursue other groups and session work.
“One of the groups was Nipper, a typical New Wave band looking for one of those record deals that seemed to come to whoever asked for it back then. These were players I’d done some recording with, and I felt the band had promise. We played the L.A. club circuit including classic venues like The Valley West Supper Club, The Londoner, Sweetwater, Relic House, The Arena, Club 88 and of course Madame Wong’s West and Chinatown locations. By mid-1981, I was losing interest in the group, and getting distracted.”
One such distraction began on September 14, 1980, when Jon was invited by Dr. Demento to be interviewed on his live radio show to talk about the songs he’d submitted years earlier; Jon and his friends were among the first people to have home-made music played on the Dr.’s show at the time. It was there that Jon met “Weird Al” Yankovic, who happened to be answering request lines that night. Already a staple of the Dr. Demento show, the 20-year-old Yankovic played accordion and had been sending his homemade parody tapes to Demento on a regular basis. That night, he would debut his newest parody, Another One Rides The Bus, live on the air. Al asked Jon if he’d mind pounding out a straight beat… on the accordion case! Jon cheerfully agreed, and evidently had a great time:
“Afterwards, I told Al ‘you should have a band, I’ll be your drummer,’ to which he agreed. Dr. Demento’s show was syndicated nationally, and within a few weeks, Bus was being played on ‘morning drive’ radio for millions of listeners and a new audience beyond the devotees of Dementia. Soon we began to record more sophisticated tapes for the show and played a few gigs around L.A. In early 1981, Al dubbed me ‘Bermuda’.”
It wasn’t long before permanent bass and guitar players were recruited, and Al’s first album was released in May, 1983. Guitar legend Rick Derringer produced Al’s first six albums through 1989’s UHF Soundtrack, and Al himself took over the production duties starting with 1992’s Off The Deep End. To date, Al and the band have recorded eleven albums (most of them reaching Gold and Platinum status, with a few Grammy Awards thrown in for good measure,) toured extensively, made videos, and appeared on TV. In June, 2005, they began work on their 12th album. Jon has also assembled an unmatched collection of Weird Al’s music and appearances on retail and promo audio and video products from around the World.
But Yankovic’s touring and recording schedule was not the only thing to occupy Jon’s life since their meeting in 1980. Jon continued to perform locally with several groups and work on various recording projects, attended the winter NAMM show each year, got married in 1991, and juggled it all while holding a middle-management position at Westwood One Radio Networks.
“They were very indulgent and tolerant of my musical passion, and apparently liked my performance at the company – I left to tour with Al and returned multiple times during the 14 years I worked there. Besides the regular paycheck, I also enjoyed respect from other musicians for being able to successfully balance careers. Players who claim that having a day-job will interfere with their music could learn from my example.”
In 1996 Jon left Westwood One, and his fascination with the Internet since 1993 soon led to another pursuit: designing web sites. He’d already developed a site for Weird Al in 1995, and within a few years, business license in hand, Jon sought additional clients, and continues to keep busy on the computer both at home and on the road. There are still gigs and recordings with various local players, but none quite as notorious as Jon’s perennial association with Al, which he regards with great pride:
“I get to be a dozen different drummers on every album… I don’t know of another drummer who has a gig like that. It’s always fun and often a genuine challenge. Al’s made me play parts I didn’t know how to play. I need to thank him for that.”
Bermuda Schwartz clinic, Chicago Drum Show 2009