The Happy Drummer

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Tris Imboden is on the road nine months of the year with Chicago. The band will play with Earth, Wind and Fire on July 18 at The Forum in Los Angeles.

Tris Imboden, drummer for rock band Chicago and longtime local, has the most infectious laugh in all of Malibu. He radiates sunshine in a community that already has sunshine 300 days per year. He is upbeat — which is good for a drummer — and appreciates what he has.

“I am probably one of the luckiest people,” Imboden shared. “I do what I love, make a great living, make people happy, see the world. What can I complain about?”

Imboden would have plenty to complain about if he wanted. He has three failed marriages behind him and, in 2008, he was diagnosed with stage 3A lung cancer. Two-thirds of his right lung was surgically removed. After extensive radiation, Imboden is now cancer free and devotes considerable time and effort as a volunteer for the American Cancer Society. He feels every day is a gift. “In each day, there is something magical,” Imboden explained.

As a cancer survivor, Imboden understands just how fortunate he is, and often performs to raise money for cancer research so that one day, cancer will be a thing of the past.

Imboden gets his positive nature and musical DNA from his mother — an accomplished pianist. He gets his rhythm from his father, whom Imboden calls a “dashboard drummer,” and his maternal uncle, who bought him a small hollow log for one-stick drumming when Imboden was only six years old.

Ever since his father took Imboden to a Fourth of July parade in Huntington Beach when he was a young boy, he has been drawn to drums as if by a magnet.

“I still remember the marching band from Compton,” Imboden recalled. “The drum section was just smoking. I knew at that moment what I was going to have to do.” He has been banging away on drums ever since.

It was obvious from the start that Imboden had ability. He and a group of his high school friends started a band, which opened for Stevie Wonder, who pulled Imboden aside and told him, “Man, you know where it’s at.” Encouraged by those words, Imboden helped start the band Honk, and, since then, his life of touring and album recording has lasted for over 40 years.

Virtually self-taught, Imboden can play trumpet and harmonica, but drums are his love. He played for the Kenny Loggins Band and, since 1990, for Chicago. His studio session work has included the likes of Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Diamond and Kenny Loggins. The more than 30 gold and platinum records that adorn the walls of his home in Paradise Cove attest to his longevity and talent.

During the past few decades, “making money by selling records has gone the way of the dodo bird,” Imboden explained. “You have got to be on the road touring most of the year to make a living.”

Imboden tours with Chicago almost nine months of the year, but it is a far cry from when “we ate salad dressing sandwiches and stayed at Motel 6.” Now, all accommodations on the road are first class.

Imboden never seems to get tired of touring night after night. He feeds off the energy of the audience and enjoys the various venues. He loves performing at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado because of its natural surroundings and enjoys touring Mexico, where the fans are unusually passionate.

One of his most memorable performances was back in 1985 when the Kenny Loggins Band played “Footloose” for the Live Aid benefit in Philadelphia, which was seen by well over one billion people worldwide.

Imboden has always been a Southern California guy and has never lived far from the beach. He chose to live in Malibu 20 years ago and calls the town “paradise with more of a sense of community than all the beach towns I have lived in.”

Of course, the fact that his home is only a short walk from some of the best surfing in the area is no coincidence. Imboden is passionate about everything he does, and surfing is no exception. His inability to surf while touring might be the major downside to his being on the road — that, and being away from his girlfriend Andrina.

The Malibu Times asked the happy drummer if he ever played the drums so hard his hands bled like in the movie “Whiplash.” Imboden gave that hearty laugh of his, “No way, that’s just Hollywood.”

Tickets are on sale to see Imboden with Chicago, as well as Earth, Wind and Fire, July 18 at The Forum during the Heart and Soul Tour. For more information, visit ticketmaster.com.