Atlanta Drummer Yonrico Scott, 1955-2019

Consummate musician Yonrico Scott, a multifaceted talent whose remarkable percussion skills were acknowledged and respected throughout the music industry, died Thursday night, September 19 at 63 years of age.

Born in Detroit, Scott began playing drums at age 7 with local gospel/church groups, studied under professional drummer George Hamilton Jr. as a teen, and majored in percussion at the University of Kentucky. In 1979 he moved to Atlanta upon accepting an Artist in Residency assignment from the city’s Neighborhood Arts Center/Department of Cultural Affairs. Before long he’d hooked up with the likes of jazz pianist Ojeda Penn, multi-instrumentalist Ricky Keller (who owned the Southern Living at Its Finest recording studio) and other respected Atlanta musicians for various assorted projects, and joined the jazz/fusion group Life Force. By the mid-1980s, Rico had established a reputation throughout the city ­– and indeed the nation – as a top-notch, go-to drummer.

Certainly his best-known long-term gigs were with The Derek Trucks Band, which he joined in 1995, and blues-rock “supergroup” Royal Southern Brotherhood alongside Cyril Neville, Devon Allman, Charlie Wooton and Mike Zito. But throughout his career, Scott recorded and/or toured with a staggering array of acts, including but not limited to Earl Klugh, Aretha Franklin, Samantha Fish, Peabo Bryson, Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, Outkast, Ying Yang Twins, The Whispers, Geoff Achison, Jeremiah Johnson, The Three Degrees, After 7 and MC Hammer.

Certainly, his interests and abilities crossed a myriad of genres: jazz, funk, blues, soul, pop, R&B, hip-hop, jam-rock. He toured with stage musicals including The Wiz and Dreamgirls. He sat in with Widespread Panic on numerous occasions. He played with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He can be heard guesting on Gov’t Mule’s 1999 live album With a Little Help From My Friends, recorded at The Roxy when it was in Buckhead. In 2010, Scott won a Grammy as a member of The Derek Trucks Band, whose 2009 album Already Free was named Best Contemporary Blues Album. And he recorded five albums under his own name, four of which (including the most recent, 2016’s Life of a Dreamer) are available through Blue Canoe Records.

Painting was another creative outlet for Scott. In addition to many stand-alone pieces, he was notorious for painting bass drumheads, concert posters, album covers and setlists.

Despite all of that activity, Yonrico would play gigs with assorted local acts at every opportunity, whether it be one of Bruce Hampton’s assemblages, or Diane Durrett, or Delta Moon, or Tinsley Ellis, or the Dan Coy Quartet, or the Tyler Neal Band, or… well, you get the idea. Scott seemingly played in nearly every venue in the metro area at some time or another, where, in performance, his drum solos would sometimes migrate off the stage and involve any object within tapping range. Eager to share his knowledge, skills and experience, he also gave drum lessons to many. A workhorse to the end, his last recording session took place on Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 18, when he played drums on a track for Ike Stubblefield at Stubblefield’s home studio.

Heart problems had dogged Yonrico for many years. He suffered a near-fatal heart attack in 2001, requiring emergency open heart surgery, and had reportedly undergone another operation earlier this year. While an official cause of death has not been given, friends have suggested that it was heart related. Thursday morning, he called 911. An ambulance responded quickly but apparently by the time it arrived Rico was already unconscious. He was rushed to the hospital but that night he passed.

Scott is the second Atlanta alumnus of The Derek Trucks Band to pass away this year. Flautist/keyboardist Kofi Burbridge, who also played with the Aquarium Rescue Unit, Dead & Company, Tedeschi Trucks Band and others, died in February, another victim of serious heart issues.

Incredibly, Yonrico was to play a fundraiser for the Atlanta Musicians Emergency Relief Fund – an organization designed to provide emergency aid to local musicians in the event of several pretexts, including medical/health issues – on Sunday, Sept. 22 at Music on Main Street in Lilburn, along with Sandra Hall, Donna Hopkins and others. The “all-star jam” concert is now going to be a tribute to Yonrico. Doors open at 4 p.m.

Yonrico’s last Facebook post, on Sept. 14, was a photo of him with his granddaughter Kenadi. “She is wonderful,” he wrote, “I’m in heaven.”