Scott Devours' friends nearly dashed his dreams. Long Beach's 46-year-old drummer extraordinaire got a call Feb. 5 from the Who—yes, that Who!—to ask if he could fill in THAT night for their drummer, Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey, who had pulled a tendon. Devours' buddies surrounding him at home advised him in no uncertain terms to politely decline.
They're not saboteurs. On the contrary, Devours' friends, fellow musicians, were terrified for him and adamantly said he should refuse because the Who—obviously one of the most famous rock bands ever—were going to hit the stage at San Diego's Valley View Casino Center in front of more than 10,000 people in merely four hours. Impossible.
Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and crew were to play the full version of the band's challenging, 17-song, rock opera Quadrophenia. And Devours, until that day, had only played one song from Quadrophenia live, ever. He said yes.
"For all practical purposes, it could have been the worst moment of my career," Devours admitted days after his heroic performance. "Instead, it was the greatest thrill ever."
The next morning, nearly every concert review led with the substitute's miraculous feat. In hindsight, Devours' friends did him a huge favor. "It made me fight them," he said, instead of caving to self-doubt.
Townshend introduced Devours to the crowd fittingly, rehashing the legendary Cow Palace night in 1973 when infinitely inebriated drummer Keith Moon famously passed out on his kit. They plucked a young drummer from the audience and obscurity to save that show.
"His name was Scott," Townshend told the audience. "As in the man who came in like the fuckin' cavalry and saved us [tonight]!" The crowd went wild.
Reliving the phone call, Devours rehashed what made him agree to the show despite his friends' discouragement. "What became crystal clear at that second was that they were right," said Devours, who grew up idolizing Moon's bombastic chops. He also knew he couldn't refuse. "That is the call I've wanted my whole life."
It's a drummer's evolution that started in the small Maryland town of Middletown. To hear his mother, Joyce, tell it, Devours started pounding skins early—his chest, actually—to the family stereo while in diapers. He obliterated Snoopy and Ringo Starr drum kits soon after.
In fifth grade, his school's music teacher asked if anyone played an instrument. Devours bored classmates playing an obscure, complex song. Then at the teacher's gentle urging, he played by ear a Bee Gees' song he heard in his mom's car that morning.
"It was a silly disco song," Devours said, laughing. "But all the girls in the class stood up and screamed. I remember thinking, 'I know what I'm going to do with my life.'"
Feb. 5 was not Devours' first ballsy move. At 25, with a 9-to-5 and a mortgage, he left the keys and deed on his kitchen table and drove to LA to live in squalor as a struggling musician.
Nearly 30 studio recordings later with bands such as Speaker, Oleander, Ima Robot, Rocco Deluca and more, in 2011, Devours got the call that paved the way to Whoville. Devours landed the drummer gig on Roger Daltrey's solo tour, which included hammering out material such as Tommy. His bragging rights already included sharing the stage at benefits with the likes of Robert Plant and Dave Grohl, as well as touring with Eric Clapton.
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Still, Devours didn't know Quadrophenia, not the way he needed to know it to play in front of dedicated Who fans. As his friend and fellow drummer Chris Caldwell sped toward San Diego, Devours rode shotgun, scribbling notes while listening to a recent recording of Starkey drumming Quadrophenia. The disheveled Devours wondered whether he was completely nuts or the biggest egomaniac alive.
That night, Devours' standing ovation shattered the place making his clan proud. There was one family member Devours especially wanted to impress, but it was three weeks too late. His father, Hurshel, passed away Jan. 11 from lung cancer.
"Taking that bow onstage that night compared to the depression and how low things felt earlier that morning," Devours said, fighting through tears in reflection, "and then all the frantic pace, all the cramming of the material, all the self-doubt and all the nervousness—then I am at the highest point of my life. How did that tidal wave come in and sweep me clean?" He's still riding high.
As of press time, Devours told the Weekly that Starkey has healed and will resume his post to finish out the last date on the Who's tour on Feb. 28. Even though the drummer's speedy recovery stamped Devours' ticket home, that brief ride will likely live on as the stuff of legend in his household. "I'm still flying," he said. "I can without a doubt say that nothing even comes close to being the highlight of my life like that experience."