Gordy Knudtson is the drummer for the Steve Miller Band; Founder and Head of the Percussion Department at McNally Smith College in St. Paul, Minnesota; and President/Owner of GK-Music.com, the first company to market hearing protection headphones for musicians.
He played piano in grade school, clarinet in middle school, then switched to drums at age 15. Within two years of playing his first professional gig at 17, Gordy was doing studio work in Minneapolis’ busy commercial music scene of the 1970’s. He recorded jingles, radio & TV station logos, and industrial film scores during the day, while performing at night with regionally renown Minneapolis bands Passage, The Doug Maynard Band, and The Lamont Cranston Band.
In 1981 Gordy toured the US, Canada, and Australia with guitar legend, Roy Buchanan. The next year he began a six year association with jazz pianist/vocalist Ben Sidran playing clubs and jazz festivals around the world. Gordy can be heard on three of Sidran’s CDs: “Cool Paradise”, “Too Hot To Touch”, and “On the Live Side”.
In 1987 Gordy joined the Steve Miller Band. This iconic classic rock band, known for huge 70’s hits like “Fly Like an Eagle”, “Rockin’ Me”, “Jet Airliner”, and “The Joker”, toured every year until 2001 when Steve decided to take a three year hiatus from performing. Prior to 2001, the band’s TV appearances included: The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Friday Night Videos, and The Arsenio Hall Show; Recordings include: “Born 2B Blue”, “Wide River”, and “The Box Set”.
They resumed regular touring in 2004 and now play 60 to 70 shows a year. They released two CDs, “Bingo” (2010) and “Let Your Hair Down” (2011), both recorded at Skywalker Ranch with legendary engineer Andy Johns. Gordy’s post hiatus TV appearances with Steve Miller include: PBS – Steve Miller Band — Live from Chicago (2008); CMT – Crossroads — Steve Miller & Keney Chesney (2010); BBC – The Jools Holland Show (2010); Austin City Limits (2011); and AVO – Session Basel (2012)
In 2016 Steve Miller was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Steve and the band performed at his induction ceremony which was broadcast by HBO. (Read Questlove’s post about the band’s performance)
When home in Minneapolis, Gordy has always also done a wide variety freelance work. During the 2001-2003 Miller hiatus, he toured and recorded with Cuban piano virtuoso Nachito Herrera who moved to Minneapolis from Havana in the late 90’s. They recorded a CD on the Dakota Live label called “Nachito Herrera Live — 2” released in 2006. In 2007 he was called to fill-in last minute for Anton Fig with Booker T. & the MGs featuring Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn. Fig’s plane was delayed so Gordy covered the first show without rehearsal, receiving kudos from the band, audience, and the press for his performance. The 8/9/07 Minneapolis StarTribune review of the show was headlined Local drummer saves groove for Rock Hall of Famers. In the review Steve Cropper said Gordy was “the best new drummer I’ve ever worked with.” (See Review)
In the mid 80’s, when recording session work began to slow, Gordy began teaching private lessons. In 1989 created GK Music to publish his first book called “Rhythms & Accents for Drummers”. Around this same time, Jack McNally and Doug Smith recruited him to create and manage a drumset based percussion program for their new vocational music school in Minneapolis, called MusicTech. Over the ensuing years the school has moved to St. Paul, changed it’s name to McNally Smith College, and become an accredited four year college with approximately 500 students.
In 2002 Gordy created the first books and instructional video on the Open/Close Technique (aka push/pull, drop/squeeze, drop/snap) It’s an obscure old technique which allows you to play a very fast, continuous stream of notes with one hand. It was seen mostly as a novelty, or trick technique, with limited real world applications. Gordy figured out how to synchronize it in both hands at the same time; developed nomenclature and notation; then created a family of single stroke rolls built from multi-note strokes which parallel double stroke rolls.
Upon seeing Gordy’s work, Ed Shaughnessy declared “You have developed an historically important form of technique that ranks with the Moeller system!” This endorsement generated an invitation from the Percussive Arts Society to be one of three presenters chosen for a special clinic series on hand technique at PASIC 2003, called the “Hand Development Series”. The other two presenters were legendary drum technique gurus – Joe Morello and Jim Chapin (See Percussive Notes promo article). After Gordy’s presentation Joe Morello said “I’m SO glad you did this! Billy Gladstone was messing around with this when I was studying with him, but he never documented it. I think you took it further than he did!”
In 2011, with the publication of “Morphing Doubles with Open/Close Technique”, Gordy showed how the technique could also be used as a new way to understand and practice the mechanics of rudiments. This book introduced another innovation of his, slow motion notation, which allows you to assign precise rhythmic locations and hand movments for all the grace notes commonly found in rudimental patterns.
Like many other musicians, Gordy suffers from tinnitus and noise induced hearing loss. In 1995 his company, GK Music, became the first to make and market hearing protection stereo headphones designed specifically for drummers called DrumPhones (See Review). These headphones provided much more acoustic isolation than regular headphones. They helped to protect a musician’s hearing from loud external sounds and reduced the need for excessive headphone volume levels. The success of DrumPhones spawned competition, but his current model called UltraPhones, is the isolation headphone of choice for top professionals across the country.