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Jason Gerken shines again, revived and repaired behind the drums

For several years, Jason Gerken stored his drums in their cases in the corner of his bedroom, resigned to a life without them.

He had been playing drums since boyhood and later with some of the biggest bands in Kansas City, including Shiner.

But in 2005, about 18 months after he’d moved to Los Angeles, Gerken badly injured a shoulder in an automobile crash that involved two other cars and a semitrailer.

“My shoulder was messed up really bad,” he said. “I couldn’t even brush my teeth. The only motion I had was a curl motion — in my right shoulder, my dominant shoulder. I couldn’t raise my arm. For about six months I had really limited mobility. I couldn’t work or do anything. It was kind of scary.”

After months of physical therapy, his shoulder was on the mend, but he still couldn’t play drums the way he used to.

“I couldn’t be as animated as I was,” he said. “I turned into a more finesse player. I played smaller, not like I did with Shiner, when I used big, sweeping motions.”

So he packed up his drums and moved on.

“It took about two years for it to sink in: I’m not going to play drums anymore,” he said. “I got used to it, but at first it was heartbreaking.”

His heart has since mended, and Shiner was the catalyst.

In 2012, the band reunited, nearly 10 years after its farewell show in Kansas City. Gerken couldn’t resist a chance to play with his old bandmates again.

“I love that band,” he said. “I love all those songs. I really missed playing with them a lot.”

It was all the incentive he needed to haul his drums out of storage and start training himself to play the way he used to. His rehabilitation has been grueling at times, but it has paid off. That drum kit is busy these days.

Gerken is back in Kansas City and is now a member of four bands: Shiner; Hum, the Illinois band he joined last month after its drummer quit unexpectedly; the Birth Defects, a “midlife crisis punk band” he joined in 2014 while still living in Los Angeles; and Sie Lieben Maschinen, a Kansas City band that includes some of his current and former bandmates.

Friday night, Shiner performs at RecordBar, the second show of a minitour that will take the band to Austin, Texas; Minneapolis and Chicago. From Chicago, Gerken will go to Champaign, Ill., to practice with Hum, which starts an eight-show tour opening for Failure on Aug. 7 in Nashville, Tenn. Hum will also embark on a headlining tour of the West Coast in September.

All that work means Gerken must work on his shoulder regularly. At first, progress was slow and painful.

“When I started getting ready for that first Shiner show (in 2012), I could only play 15 or 20 minutes before I’d get exhausted,” he said. “I was doing massage therapy, seeing a chiropractor. I got an inversion table. It was nonstop taking care of it. It took almost seven months before I could play for an hour and 15 minutes without really hurting.”

He still finds he has limits, as he did at a show with the Birth Defects last year.

“Their sets are only 20 to 25 minutes long, but their songs are superintense and superdemanding,” he said. “Really fast and really percussive. It was painful. I ended up dry-heaving after the set.”

Gerken is known as a manic, superintense drummer. (“I wanted to be John Bonham,” he said.)

Allen Epley, who founded Shiner in 1992, said Gerken’s style is a mix of power and precision.

“He’s a rager and an absolute beast … but he doesn’t bludgeon the drum or choke the tone by beating too hard,” he said. “He uses that strength for dynamics and precision at the end of the set when he needs to rage.

“He’s a show-off and can back it up in surgical fills and beats that match the vocal line or guitar part instead of, ‘Hey, let me make my part stand out even if it doesn’t fit the song’ kind of thing that so many other drummers are guilty of.”

Steve Tulipana played with Gerken in Season to Risk and is his current bandmate in Sie Lieben Maschinen (“You Love Machines”).

“Gerken is a machine,” he said. “A tempo machine, memory machine, chops machine.”

Gerken is back home in more ways than one, back in his hometown, back behind the drum kit.

After that automobile accident disrupted his music career, Gerken stayed in Los Angeles, working the bar industry and trying to stay afloat financially.

In December, fed up with the high cost of living in Los Angeles, he moved back to Kansas City and his music career is again flourishing. But now he has the perspective of someone who almost lost what he most loves.

“After a while, I got used to the idea of not playing,” he said. “I was just going to do the bar thing, be a bar guy. But that burned me out pretty bad. And I’d see those drums in the corner and it was like I had to reinvent myself. I didn’t know what I was. (A drummer) was what I’d been for such a long time. I really missed it.”

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to tfinn@kcstar.com. Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.

Friday

Shiner performs Friday night at RecordBar, 1020 Westport Road. String & Return opens at 9:30 p.m. Admission to the 18-and-older show is $20. Tickets are available on therecordbar.com.

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