Jon Plett started drumming when he was just 15 years old and since then, he and his skills behind the kit have been on a wild ride.
Growing up in Winkler, Plett recalls his first drum set and says he wasn't too fond of it all.
"I got my first set of drums when I didn't even care to even play drums. My brother played bass and I think he convinced my parents to get me a set so we could play together. It ended up just sitting at home, I'd probably touch on it every once and a while, but not much."
In 1991, things changed.
"When Nirvana released the album Nevermind, it was Dave Grohl's drumming that really got me going. That got me excited about playing," Plett explains. "I'd sit behind the drums and play along to Nirvana albums."
It wasn't just an influential album and Plett credits a person who really invested time into him.
"Mike Hiebert, he really took things to the next level for me. He's a drum teacher out in Winkler, he poured so much into me. He's so passionate about the instrument and about music. That really just spilled out of him and onto me and that was the catalyst for it all, it's really because of Mike."
"I got into music late in life. My family isn't very musical. We didn't listen to a lot of music at home so it wasn't really a big part of my life" Plett recalls. "I started to take it more seriously in high school. I tried out for jazz band in school but I didn't make it. So, I didn't play in any band in school. At 17, I got really excited about trying to pursue it and doing it more, so during the summer holidays I flew to New York to study with Jim Payne, a funk drummer. At 18, I started working towards going to college. By 19, I had moved to Los Angeles and got into music college there."
Plett says going from Manitoba to L.A. was quite the adjustment.
"Oh, you could say it's a little different," Plett admits with a chuckle. "It was okay. It was interesting leaving home alone at 19 and trying to sort it all out. Finding an apartment, getting to school, and just doing all that stuff. It was pretty cool."
Coming from a background of little musical exposure and implanting himself in a world where it's a deeply rooted lifestyle was a bigger adjustment for Plett than moving from Canada to the States.
"It was intimidating for sure. You start to find out how little you know. These guys eat and breathe music all the time. When a song comes on, they could tell you who it's by, what year it's recorded, and even what session musicians are on it. I felt very small and very far behind when I was in those circles."
After taking a couple of semesters at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California, Plett returned home for a bit before going back to California on a scholarship. It was when he was attending the Los Angeles Music Academy that Plett would face a decision.
"I did two semesters but I did a record and ended up getting on a tour. I left school to go and play music. I didn't graduate. It was a hard decision, one that I toss back and forth if it was the right one. I talked to a teacher there when I was wondering what I wanted to do, they said the school would always be there and I didn't go to school to turn down work. So, I went."
Before the touring life, Plett says he got his start in the studio.
"Before everything, I was doing movie soundtracks so I was doing a lot of studio work, doing the soundtracks and just playing around the L.A scene. I hooked up with a band out of Steinbach actually, Rejean Labelle, and a band called HundredFold. I did their record during one of my breaks from school. I toured with them, I think three Canadian tours. That's where I hit the road. I'd like to go back, it's on my bucket list but I don't know when that'll be possible."
Plett looks back fondly at the early days of his touring life and shares some wisdom when it comes to eating cheap.
"Going back even before the HundredFold days, I toured with hardcore bands. Grunge and metal. Those days are rough (he says with a laugh). You're in a van that you borrowed from your parents. I think the first tour was in Alberta for a hardcore festival during summer holidays when I was sixteen. I remember packing three loaves of bread, peanut butter, and jam. We also had raw potatoes. One of my best tour secrets for eating cheap was when you go to a gas station, you get a coffee cup of hot water. You throw some ketchup packs into it, add salt and pepper, and there ya go. Free tomato soup."
After spending time in the grunge scene, Plett transitioned into the country world really by accident.
"I just stumbled into it all. I was playing with another band and Tyson Unrau, the drummer from The Color, was playing for a country band and he needed a sub. So, he subbed me out this country gig and it was the first time I ever played country. I had never played it before in my life. It was great though. So, I subbed and didn't think anything of it. Tyson got more and more busy with The Color so I got more and more calls to do these country shows. That's how it all started. Everything is word of mouth, people see you play and then they ask you to play for them. It was all by accident and it's been amazing."
Who was the artist that he subbed for and ended up getting him into the country music world?
"The one and only Jason Kirkness," Plett says with a smile.
Plett says being a drummer comes with challenges and there are even more added in when you start playing for different people or groups.
"The hardest thing is you're always learning someone else's material. It's often a record you didn't record on for an artist you may have never even met yet. I've done fly-dates, just flying into a certain city to do the gig and then leave. It's one of the hardest parts, you're constantly learning new material. I feel jealous of singer-songwriters, they have their material and know it. If they get hungry one day, they can go to a bar or cafe and ask to play for a couple of bucks. As a drummer, it's different because no one wants to hear a drum solo in a cafe for an hour and a half. You have to hope and wait for someone else to get a gig and then call you to fill in. It's a different life being a session or side guy."
Even though he's playing what he calls someone else's work, Plett says he's been lucky to put his own heart and sound into certain songs.
"Most artists I've worked with they let you do your own thing. Fills, they're cool with doing your own stuff. You stay within the song but most people are cool with letting you add your own flavor. That's often why you're getting called. Most people have their own things and that's why they want you. They're not going to hire you and then tell you not to be you. They're mostly pretty cool about it all."
During the pandemic, Plett used the time to become more familiar with recording and producing music.
"I loved honing other skills. I got to learn about mixing and recording engineering. I dove into it super heavy. Working with Steinbach boy Jon Paul Peters, I learned so much. I have more skills now. I get work doing mixing and producing. The pandemic was tough but things are starting to ramp up."
With more work comes the call for more bodies and Plett says there's a shortage all around music.
"There's just not enough people. So many left the industry altogether. Not just musicians but stage hands and live audio engineers. I've talked to people in that world and so many people are working three or four times as much because of the need."
"Musicians are feeling it, too. Artists are piecing different bands together every night. It's hard to find players to do gigs." Plett says before getting into his recent workload and schedule. "Last weekend, I played with seven different bands over two days. I flew from Edmonton, played in Steinbach, and played in Barrie, Ontario. I'm just flying around playing music. There is not enough people to do all the work. It's been a little bit nuts."
In the world of music now, it's more session players than bands and something Plett really misses is a good old CD release party.
"There's a pride in showing your friends, family, and fans something you've worked so hard on. Making a record is not an easy thing. It takes a lot of time, money, and heartache. You'd go through it all and you'd have that party, you could sit back and look at what we've accomplished and celebrate it. As a session guy, we don't have that. If I play on a record, there may be another guy who plays the CD release party. It's a lot of, okay, I did it, now onto the next thing. It can be hard to reflect on the things you've accomplished. You're always moving to the next thing. You're not part of the group who made the record and then going on tour. It's always bang, bang, bang and onto the next thing."
Another strange part of Jon Plett's musical career is how many songs he's got on the radio yet few people, including Jon himself, actually know it's him.
"There's a lot of songs I hear that I remember playing on but there are so many things I forget I've played on, it takes me a few times to clue in. I'm just working so much, always looking for what's next, I don't hyper-focus."
When it comes to younger musicians wanting to make it in the music world, Plett has this advice.
"Everybody you encounter knows something you don't. Always be open to listening and learning. Be flexible. Play as many different types of music as you can. Remember to have fun. Don't force it and remember, it's all for fun."