Gregg Bissonette ('81) knows how to drum up opportunity.
When he was a drummer for the One O'Clock Lab Band, he saw the Maynard Ferguson Band's truck parked at Denton High School and started calling hotels. When he dialed the Holiday Inn where the group was staying, he told a band member he wanted to play with Ferguson someday. Bissonette got onto their guest list at a gig in Dallas that night and hung out with them.
A few years later, he became a member of the band. He now performs with Ringo Starr and has played with David Lee Roth, Santana and Electric Light Orchestra, among dozens of artists.
Bissonette says breaking into the music business is not just about sending in demo tapes.
"It's people skills, it's who you know," he says. "It's how well you know them."
A native of Detroit, Bissonette came from a musical family. His father, who had a bread truck route, was a drummer who learned to play by ear. His mother, a secretary, played vibes. His father took him to gigs, letting Bissonette sit in as he wore a mock tuxedo.
Then in 1964, when Bissonette was 5, The Beatles stormed the U.S.
"Man, this is the coolest," he thought. "The girls are screaming. I want to be in a band."
His father got him lessons from a member of the Detroit Symphony. He played with his dad's band and another band that got him membership in the local union at age 15. His first ensemble was Bissonette and a guitarist playing surf songs like "Wipe Out." Another of his bands, with the very 1970s name of Today's People, included a flutist and his brother Matt, a bassist who now tours with Elton John.
North Texas seemed like a natural choice to further Bissonette's already burgeoning music career.
He registered for classes at the Super Pit with Mark Ford ('83 M.M.), now coordinator of percussion in the College of Music. He lived in West Hall ("We had AC, Bruce Hall didn't"), then in Clark Hall, then in an apartment in Cement City. He joined the Texas State Guard so he could get in-state tuition. He played five nights a week in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and worked his way to the One O'Clock Lab Band, where he learned how to better read music, how to audition and the politics of the music business.
After graduation, Bissonette moved to Los Angeles to work on demos and other gigs when he got the call to play for the Maynard Ferguson Band in 1982. He joined two other alumni who attended North Texas from 1979 to 1981 -- his brother Matt and Ron Pedley, a pianist who has played for Barry Manilow.
Since then, Bissonette has been working non-stop, relying on his people skills as much as his musical talent. At a workshop at the College of Music in March -- one of dozens he gives around the country each year -- he donned a green North Texas alumni cap and a black UNT T-shirt as he delivered anecdotes, gave away drum equipment, and shared his knowledge about the music business with students.
"My job in life is to try to bring light, not darkness," he says. "I am so blessed. I'm fulfilling my dream as a kid -- I get to do it."