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Ten Minutes With Carter McLean

The drummer for broadway’s the Lion King



Carter McLean plays percussions for The Lion King on Broadway. He grew up in New Canaan, where he picked up drums at age eight, moved to New York after UC Boulder, eventually meeting wife Sabbath and moving to Ridgefield four years ago. I talked with McLean just after he returned from playing in Montana with his brother Jamie, who tours with his own Southern-rock band.

Did you just start out banging on drums like other kids?
Yeah. The curve from hitting things to actually playing was pretty quick. When I was eight or nine, it just clicked. I was tapping the floor to Bruce Springsteen and immediately understood the rock beat. I bugged my mom for a drum set, then started playing three or four hours a day to Zeppelin and the Stones. When I was 12, I went straight to jazz—which is crazy being that young. 

Is there one teacher who really sticks out in your life?
Phil Banette, who still teaches here in Ridgefield. He saw that I was already pretty good. He said: “You’ve got to learn to read music.” I’m so grateful for that because for what I am doing now, you have to read that music perfectly. He was great. 

What makes a good drummer better than an okay drummer?
The feel, 100 percent. It sets the tone for what falls on top of it. 

Your wife is named Sabbath and practices acupuncture. Tell me about that.
We met in Brooklyn in 2008 on a blind date. She treats some pretty serious people—I can’t say who. It’s cool to see her interact with them. She practices in New York and opened Silver Spring Acupuncture here.

How did you end up on Lion King?
I was a junior in high school and got asked to do demos at NAMM—a music trade show. Someone spotted me and put me in touch with Tommy Igoe, who had the Lion King gig. A few years later, we got in touch and Tommy asked me to sub for him.

How was that?
I was hoping to play with Sting or Paul Simon and had never thought of Broadway. How hard could it be? I thought. It’s Disney. It’s serious. It covers a ton of styles. There are really serious drummers who look at my setup and say, “No way could I do that.” Tommy left, and I was asked to take over.

Do you like it?
 
It’s like I won the Lotto. It’s one of the best gigs you can get. I have friends who play with Katy Perry and Taylor Swift who say they would love to have my gig.

Do you get tired of it night after night?  
I’m a huge Peter Gabriel fan and I look at my job like I’m playing a Peter Gabri-el show every night for 1,700 people.

What other instruments do you play?
Guitar and sing. Piano and bass. If you don’t have that perspective of playing other instruments, you don’t know what the drums are supposed to fit into.

What do you guys do in Ridgefield?
 play golf at the course up north. I teach out of the house, and I’d like to do more. We like the new movie theater. We go to Luc’s. We hike Pine Mountain. The first time we saw Halloween on Main Street—we could not believe it. 

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