Rick and Jerry Marotta shared bunk beds when they were growing up, played drums in the attic of their parents’ house in Harrison, N.Y., when they were teenagers, and wound up playing with some of the biggest names in the music business: Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, Sarah McLachlan, the Indigo Girls, Bonnie Raitt, Cher, Robbie Robertson, Stevie Nicks, Elvis Costello — a list too long to complete. These days Rick, a self-described slacker, and Jerry, the one who ignites the spark, are playing with Island musicians Jon Zeeman and his daughter Zoe, Joanne Cassidy, and Wes Nagy on Wednesday nights at 9 at Lola’s in Oak Bluffs. It was Jerry’s idea.
“I didn’t wanna do it,” Rick told The Times last week at his house in Oak Bluffs. “I just did it because he ropes me into this stuff. I come here to relax, eat striped bass, and play golf. I’m a pretty solitary person, but I have friends that come and go.” Now that a few Wednesdays have come and gone, Rick admitted he’s having a good time.
“It’s really starting to go well, and maybe more people will show up,” Rick said. “To be able to do a gig where [it’s so crowded] people can’t get in, that’s my personal agenda, that’s what I would like.”
While they hung out at Rick’s house last Thursday after their Wednesday-night gig, the brothers bounced sarcasm off each other like their bunk beds days weren’t all that long ago, even though Jerry admits he’s 61. Rick wasn’t quite ready to give away his age, only half admitting that he’s older.
Rick said he began playing drums after a friend who was heading off to Vietnam left his drums behind for him. They eventually landed in the family attic, and after their father told Rick he wasn’t going back to Alabama for college in the fall, the 19-year-old taught himself how to play the drums.
“I left college and right away started to get gigs,” Rick said. “The curve for moving up was pretty quick if you were emerging as someone different, and I wasn’t trained, so I didn’t play like other guys. That’s all I’ve ever done.”
“He went to college in Alabama when George Wallace was governor,” Jerry chimed in, throwing out a reminder about Rick’s age.
Discovering that being in a band meant relying on other people, Rick began working as a studio musician after a friend of his brought him along when he was working on an album, “and that set up my career,” Rick said.
Jerry said he started copying his brother after he brought the drums into the house. “I was 10, he was older,” Jerry laughed. Jerry remembered a time when he was playing, and one of Rick’s friends thought it was the older brother banging on the drums in the attic. “I was playing the drums, and I hear, ‘Rick … Ricky … Ricky’; he gets up the stairs and says, ‘Oh, it’s you,’” Jerry remembered. “I thought I must be getting somewhere if he thought it was Rick playing. That was a good moment for me.”
“That’s how sad our childhood was,” Rick joked.
Rick, who didn’t like touring, suggested Jerry take his place on the road when he was a junior in high school.
“He did a record with a group and they wanted him to go on tour, and he said, I’m not going on the road, but my little brother is a great drummer, and so I played with these guys,” Jerry said. “This was the summer of 11th grade; I remember I was going to summer school to graduate early. I asked my teachers, and they both said, Here’s the final exam, take it on the road with you. I look at 16-year-olds now, and I think what the hell? That was me, and I was going on tour with a band.”
Jerry ended up playing with Orleans, Peter Gabriel, Hall and Oates, and many other bands. Both brothers have recorded extensively, and talked about how much the methods have changed since technology has advanced. Jerry said he misses the old days; Rick says he likes recording in the digital age. He’s got a studio in his basement, and works a lot on scores for movies, documentaries, and television. He was the composer for the television show “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Jerry runs a residential recording studio called Dreamland back home in Woodstock, N.Y., where he lives near Levon Helm’s farm, home of the Midnight Rambles. Both brothers have recorded albums with some of the top names in the industry, including Carly Simon and James Taylor, which led them to the Vineyard.
They’d still like to fill a venue on the Island, maybe the Performing Arts Center sometime, bringing their music to a wider Vineyard audience.
“Our band here … The whole band is pretty good,” Rick said. “For me, I was reluctant to do this. I’m loath to do anything that takes effort, but I’m getting more into it. I’ll call Jerry and have ideas, songs to do. Jerry makes the set list. I say, ‘Jerry, make the set list,’ and he does it.”
“I play a lot,” Jerry said. “I’m a drummer and I play the drums.”
“I relax a lot,” Rick added.
They said they’re happy to be part of this latest band made up of Island members, saying that it’s an honor to play with them.
“Joanne Cassidy is certainly one of the best singers I’ve ever worked with,” Jerry said in a follow-up email to the Times. “Special thanks to Jon Zeeman for helping Rick and I put this together, and also for his incredible musicianship.” Jerry added that he loves that the band has a father/daughter combination in Jon and Zoe.
“I can’t imagine what it must be like for Zoe to stand between Rick and me. My drums in her left ear and Rick’s drums in her right,” Jerry wrote. “Wes Nagy is a driving force who brings his A game week in and week out. We wanted the band to be special, and I believe we’ve achieved that.”