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Mike Portnoy

Background information
Birth name Michael Stephen Portnoy
Also known as Mike Portnoy
Born April 20, 1967 (1967-04-20) (age 42)
Long Beach, New York, US
Genres Progressive metal, progressive rock
Instruments Drums, vocals, bass
Years active 1985 - present
Labels Roadrunner
Associated acts Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment, Liquid Trio Experiment, Neal Morse, Transatlantic, Yellow Matter Custard, OSI, John Arch, Avenged Sevenfold
Website Mike

Michael Stephen Portnoy (born April 20, 1967) is an American drummer primarily known as the drummer and backing vocalist for the progressive metal band Dream Theater. Known for his drumming prowess and technical skill, Portnoy has won 23 awards from the Modern Drummer magazine. He has co-produced the last five Dream Theater albums with guitarist John Petrucci, starting from Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory. From A Change of Seasons onwards, Portnoy has been writing a substantial amount of Dream Theater's lyrics, filling the void left by Kevin Moore, who left the band after the band's release of Awake. He is the second youngest person (after Neil Peart) to be inducted into the Modern Drummer's Hall of Fame (at 37 years of age).


Pre-Dream Theater history

Mike Portnoy was born April 20, 1967 and raised on Long Island in Long Beach, New York.[1] According to a post made by Jordan Rudess on his forum, Mike is ethnically Jewish but does not practice Judaism religiously. His father worked as a DJ at a local radio station, helping Portnoy gain an appreciation for music at an early age particularly, as Portnoy has pointed out, because he had access to his father's collection of LPs. He developed a preference for bands including Rush, Queen, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Iron Maiden, and The Beatles, among many others. Although Portnoy claims to be self-taught as a drummer, he did take music theory classes in high school. During that period he began playing in local bands, two of which (Rising Power and Inner Sanctum) recorded and released an independent album. He left Inner Sanctum (the last high school band) after being awarded a scholarship to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston; however, he left Berklee soon afterward. There, he met John Petrucci and John Myung. They formed a band, initially taking name "Majesty" before changing the name to Dream Theater.



Portnoy names his biggest influences on the drums on his DVD: Chaos in Motion as including: Neil Peart, John Bonham, Terry Bozzio, Bill Bruford, Phil Collins, Vinnie Colaiuta, Peter Criss, Nick Mason, Keith Moon, Carl Palmer, Vinnie Paul, Simon Phillips, and Ringo Starr.

Influential bands

Bands who have influenced Portnoy include Jane's Addiction, The Beatles, Between the Buried and Me, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Jellyfish, King Crimson, KISS, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Muse (band), Umphrey's McGee, Megadeth, Meshuggah, Opeth, Pantera, Phish, Deep Purple, Radiohead, Rush, Queen, Tool, The Who, U2, Yes, and composer/guitarist Frank Zappa.

Awards and recognition

Portnoy has won 23 awards from Modern Drummer magazine, including "Best Up & Coming Talent" (once) "Best Clinician" (two times), "Best Educational Video/DVD" (two times), "Best recorded performance" (6 times) and "Best Progressive Rock Drummer" (for 12 consecutive years), and is also the second youngest person (at 37 years of age) to be inducted into the Rock Drummer Hall of Fame since Neil Peart was inducted in 1983 (at 31 years of age). And has most recently won The Spirit of Prog award from the 2009 Classic Rock awards with his band Dream Theater, where they were also nominated for Album of the Year for their release, Black Clouds and Silver Linings.

He has also been the catalyst for founding several other progressive rock groups and projects: Transatlantic, Liquid Tension Experiment, and O.S.I. (with former Dream Theater keyboardist Kevin Moore), touring as well with Mexican drummer "Chucho" Dávila giving free clinic sessions to local Music Stores in Texas in 2005.

He has released three instructional videos, "Progressive Drum Concepts", "Liquid Drum Theater", which has won awards from Modern Drummer Magazine, and his latest "In Constant Motion". He has also released many "Official Bootlegs" on his website, including footage of the studio sessions for the Dream Theater albums Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, Train of Thought, Octavarium and the Transatlantic release Bridge Across Forever. He has also released bootlegs of his tribute bands Hammer of the Gods (a Led Zeppelin tribute), Yellow Matter Custard (The Beatles), Cygnus and the Sea Monsters (Rush), and Amazing Journey (The Who).

On September 18, 2006 within his website's Forum Portnoy cagily stated that he had finally met one of his drummer heroes from youth from the band Rush; drummer Neil Peart (one of the few heroes from his youth Portnoy had never met, owing to Peart's legendary privacy), that "Neil and I have finally met and we spent some time together this week and had a great time..." [1], and that a possible collaboration was underway/had been discussed with the teasing statement of "Patience everybody... all will soon be revealed!" It has now been revealed that this meeting was for an interview Portnoy did for his stint as guest editor of Rhythm Magazine.[2] Portnoy had previously written the liner notes for the Japanese pressing of Rush's 2002 release Vapor Trails [3], but also publicly denounced Peart in 2000 after Peart called the people involved in the Rush tribute "bar bands" [2] It was later determined that it was a misunderstanding; Portnoy was not a part of the tribute band in question.

In the October 2009 issue of Rhythm Magazine, Portnoy was listed as #5 in their list of the Top 50 Drummers of All Time. [4]

He was also featured on VH1's Metal Mania. He drummed for the show's cover of Motorhead's Overkill.

On February 17, 2010, Avenged Sevenfold announced that Portnoy will be filling in for their former drummer Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan, who passed away in December. Portnoy was known to be Sullivan's all time favorite drummer, and has been quoted saying, "It would be an honor and, without question, that’s what Jim would have wanted." Portnoy will join Avenged Sevenfold in the studio over the next few months in order to record their upcoming album, which will be in Sullivan's memory.

Drum kits and percussive equipment

  • When Dream and Day Unite/Images & Words Kit - This Tama Imperialstar (the previous model of the Imperialstar, unlike the 2007 Imperialstar, which is an entry level kit) kit and Zildjian cymbals which was bought originally by Portnoy himself through working three jobs. It was used until the end of the Images and Words tour when Mike Portnoy got signed by Sabian and Mapex. Also, this was tages and Words was recorded with an electronically triggered snare drum at producer David Prater's insistence.
  • Awake/A Change Of Seasons kit - This Mapex USA Maple kit was used on the world tour supporting the album Awake. It had two bass drums, one snare, six toms, two small timbales, a section of various percussion instruments, and four Octoban-sized drums in a 2x2 formation. This marked Portnoy's first use of Octobans on a record, which were custom-made by Mapex using maple as opposed to Tama's more traditional acrylic, giving them a slightly different, more "natural" tone.
  • The Purple/Green/Red Monsters - These were Tama Starclassic kits which marked Portnoy's signing with Tama in the late '90s after his endorsement deal with Mapex fell through (they took the kit he was using off the market, meaning that he was endorsing a product the public could not buy.) Used for the recording of Falling Into Infinity" and "Scenes from a Memory and the North, South American, and Asian tours for said albums, they are so named because of their striking color/white/color fade finishes. The reason for three identical drum kits were for two copies held in storage in different parts of the world to avoid the shipping costs one extremely large kit around the world; the "Green Monster" in use for European tours and a "Red Monster" for Asian-market touring. It is similar to the "Awake" kit but features many more cymbals, the left-side octobans in a four-inline configuration (as opposed to his last kit which held them in a 2x2 pattern) and two more "low"-tuned octobans on the right side of the kit held overhead of the floor toms. This kit also featured a snare drum with a foot-operated snare strainer mechanism which allowed for different snare drum sounds without having to use his hands to adjust it. On the Purple Monster Portnoy used DW 5000 Pedals, instead of the Iron Cobra Pedals. He also uses this kit in his 1999 Instructional DVD "Liquid Drum Theater".
  • Liquid Tension Experiment kit - A comparatively modest kit used in his supergroup project Liquid Tension Experiment. The bass drum and toms of this kit (not the snare, timbales, and cymbals) were the first Portnoy ever purchased used according to an interview where he gave a tour of his basement and this kit showed up. This kit was also unique in that it used a pair of small timbales where the two smallest toms would normally be. It was otherwise a normal "seven piece" rock kit with three toms (five if you count the timbales), and a single bass drum with a double kick pedal. It marks the first time Portnoy uses a floor tom on either side of the kit for a recording (during footage from their Fan Club Show in 1998 featured on 5 Years in a LIVEtime, Portnoy's "Unplugged" kit contained a left-hand floor tom used heavily during that performance) with a 14" floor tom on the left and an 18" floor tom on the right. It is also the first time Portnoy used his MaxStax cymbal line in the studio. Portnoy notes in his Liquid Drum Theater instructional video that the reason behind the smaller kit is that when Liquid Tension Experiment went into the studio to record the first album, The Purple Monster kit was still being shipped back from some shows they had played immediately prior in Brazil.
  • Transatlantic kit - The kit used to record and tour behind the first Transatlantic album was the same as the Liquid Tension Experiment kit, but with five regular toms. When recording and touring behind the second Transatlantic album, Portnoy added his new Melody Master snare drums for the first time and some different cymbals including a set of custom made 15" hi-hats. The smaller Melody Master displaced the 14" floor tom, which was moved back to the right of the kit for the Transatlantic recordings. For the filming of Portnoy's 2007 "In Constant Motion" instructional DVD set, the Transatlantic kit was reproduced in Tama drums' new line of acrylic shells named Starclassic Mirage in the "Black Ice" finish. However, the original recording was done with more traditional Starclassic wood drums.
  • The OSI kit - Portnoy used the small (right) side of his Red Siamese Monster kit for the recording of the first Office of Strategic Influence album. For the second he downsized even more to a four-piece consisting of his signature snare, one timbale as a tom as previously used on his Liquid Tension Experiment kit, one floor tom, and a single 18" kick drum with a double pedal. However, he still insisted on using a large amount of cymbals including crashes, splashes, Max Stax and Max Splashes.
  • Yellow Matter Custard kit - A specially designed set for use in Mike's Beatles tribute band, Yellow Matter Custard. It is modelled on Ringo Starr's kit, and is quite simple compared with his Dream Theater kits. Its in the sizes: 12"x8", 14"x14" & 20"x14". The cymbals are an 14" AA HiHat, an AA Crash on the left and a HH Crash/Ride on the right.
  • Hammer Of The Gods kit - A John Bonham-replica kit that was used in Mike's Led Zeppelin tribute band. Custom-made acrylic shells were used (transparent amber), and the kit is always played while wearing the obligatory bowler hat.
  • The Albino Monster - The previous kit used by Portnoy is similar to the Siamese Monster. Aesthetically, it is white with silver sparkle Majesty logos instead of the black/colored logos of the Siamese Monster. In layout it is almost exactly the same, the only differences being the right side of the kit mimics his earlier Hammer of the Gods kit; two of the timbales were removed, the 10" tymp-tom was changed to a 14", and the gong bass drum was replaced with a floor tom. He kept some of the cymbals from the right side of the Siamese Monster, including the 13" HHX Groove Hats, and the 19" Hand Hammered Fierce Crash, so there's more distance between the two sides in the Albino Monster, than there were in the Siamese Monster. So far it has been used for the Gigantour (a tour that Dream Theater participated in alongside Megadeth, Symphony X and several other bands) and throughout the Octavarium 2005-06 World Tour. The modification to the right side stemmed from sessions for Dream Theater's Octavarium album, where what began as an experiment became the inspiration behind most of Octavarium. When recording of Octavarium began, Mike brought along the Hammer of the Gods kit, resulting in the kit being used for part of the album: he ended up using it on five of the album's eight tracks. The kit utilizes larger "Rock" sizes, with a 14" rack tom, a 16" floor tom, an 18" floor tom, and a meaty 6.5" x 14" snare drum, much reminding of the drum sizes used by John Bonham of Led Zeppelin. Additionally, Portnoy only used a few crash cymbals, and used a splash and china sparingly. When touring began, Tama had the shells changed to traditional Starclassic Maple shells, because they didn't want Mike touring with a kit featuring shells that Tama didn't mass-produce for public acquisition. The touring kit includes two new limited-edition Mike Portnoy signature snare drums with the same matching finish used on the rest of the kit. On Tama's official website, Portnoy released details about changes to the kit for his upcoming tours, beginning with G3 in March. He says the left side will stay the same, but the right side will change. The sizes will change to more conventional sizes-22" kick etc. and will have three rack toms as opposed to the 'Bonham'-size, one rack tom kit of before. Also, the shells would be Starclassic Mirage acrylic shells instead of the Starclassic Maple he has always used. He also used this kit in his DVD In Constant Motion.
  • The Mirage Monster- Revealed at Gods Of Metal 2007, this kit is made up of two kits once again, except built out of Tama's new Tama Starclassic Mirage acrylic drums in clear "Crystal Ice" finish. The left side is virtually identical to his previous kit, except made with clear acrylic shells. The new configuration of the right side of his kit has replaced the "Bonzo Kit" of "The Albino Monster." His new right side of the kit includes: a 22" kick and 3 rack toms (8", 10", and 12") "so it's going to be a little more of a conventional, small kit." (Click on "Interview" link button) The snares used are his Signature Melody Master snares. He uses 2 12x5" steel snares (one on the right side of the kit as a main snare and one on the left as a side snare) and uses one 14x5.5" maple shell snare. These snares are the same snares used in the last 2 kits (Albino Monster and Siamese Monster) and they are in the original black color. This kit has been scaled down to a relatively small double-bass kit for several shows taking place in smaller venues.
  • Black & Silver Monster[5]- Similar to the Mirage Monster, this kit is made up of two different kits, this time with the new Bubinga wood drums with a black and silver finish.

Several of Portnoy's drum kits also make use of Roland electronic drum pads. Mike uses these as what he calls the "secret cowbell", to count off the songs in a way that only his fellow band members and the technicians can hear it. An example of this can be seen on the Score DVD, where it can be seen in the background that Mike counts off the song "Under A Glass Moon" on the pad. Mike explains the use of these pads in the commentary track of the "Drum Cam Only" version of the Live At Budokan DVD, as well as the "Mike's Stage Tour" featurette on the Chaos in Motion 2007–2008 DVD.

Tama has marketed two different sized Mike Portnoy signature snare drums, known as "Melody Masters" (named after Melody, his daughter), since the late 1990s. The smaller of the two has a 12x5" steel shell and the larger has a 14x5.5" maple shell. Both snare models have a unique three way snare strainer mechanism.[6]. Portnoy and Tama have custom-made versions in various colors to match the color schemes of the kit he was using at the time (i.e. The "Purple/Red/Green Monsters", "Siamese Monster" "Albino Monster", etc.). For 2006, in recognition of his 'Albino Monster' kit, he released only 250 of these snares worldwide in a white, gloss finish. The older colour (black) is not limited edition.

Sabian has marketed three different sized signature cymbal stacks, known as "Max Stax" (named after his son, Max). They consist of a hand hammered china kang-style cymbal on top of a splash (or crash) cymbal that can be played much more like a drum than a cymbal, used much more in traditional drum fills than most quickly decaying cymbal tones. Their sizes are 8/8", 10/10" and 12/14". Sabian has also marketed odd-sized 7, 9, and 11" "Max Splash" cymbals which also have a fast decay and can be used in fills and drum patterns that have the same namesake.[7]

Mike Portnoy has endorsed Promark sticks since the early 1990s. His signature stick is the TX420N[8]. It is made of hickory 5A sized stick, with a white nylon 747 sized taper and has purple print to match the Purple Monster's motif. The "420" in the model number, which is also printed on the sticks, is a reference to his birthday (and not a marijuana reference, as has been suggested). He is known for gripping his left stick on the reverse side to attain a different sound on the snare drum. It should also be noted that he has a rather rare grip on his right stick, with it being held solely between the thumb and the index finger.

Present work

Mike Portnoy will be recording with Avenged Sevenfold on their new upcoming album, to stand in for the late Jimmy Sullivan. Mike stated that it would be an "honor". [3]

Personal life

Mike and his wife Marlene are currently living in suburban Philadelphia (possibly in Chester County) with their children, Melody Ruthandrea and Max John.


With Dream Theater

With Avenged Sevenfold

  • 2010 - Untitled Album

With Liquid Tension Experiment

With Transatlantic

With Neal Morse

With OSI

With John Arch

Tribute Shows (CD and DVD)

(available at only)

  • One Night in New York City - Yellow Matter Custard (2003) (The Beatles) with Paul Gilbert, Neal Morse and Matt Bissonette
  • Two Nights In North America - Hammer of the Gods (2006) (Led Zeppelin) with Paul Gilbert, Daniel Gildenlöw, and Dave LaRue
  • One Night in Chicago - Cygnus and the Sea Monsters (2006) (Rush) with Paul Gilbert, Sean Malone, and Jason McMaster
  • One Night in New York City - Amazing Journey (2007) (The Who) with Paul Gilbert, Billy Sheehan and Gary Cherone

With selected musicians

  • 1984 - Rising Power: Power For The People (out of print)
  • 1986 - Inner Sanctum: 12 A.M. (out of print)

Instructional DVD Releases

Mike Portnoy has released several instructional drumming videos/DVDs. These include:

  • "Progressive Drum Concepts" (Rittor Music 1995 1 VHS/DVD)
  • "Liquid Drum Theater" (Hudson Music 2000 2 DVDs)
  • "In Constant Motion" (Hudson Music 2007, 3 DVDs)

Portnoy's self filmed performances

Mike has also self-released "drum-cam" DVDs of the last several Dream Theater and side project recording sessions through his own "MP4" production company. These are "in-studio" recordings typically consisting of Full Band, Isolated Drums tracks, and an Audio Commentary. These releases are only available for sale on Portrom the store.

  • "Asian Clinic Tour" (MP4 Productions 2001, 1 DVD) (out of print)
  • "Ten Degrees of Turbulent Drumming" (MP4 Productions 2002, 1 DVD)
  • "Drums Across Forever" (MP4 Productions 2002, 1 DVD)
  • "Drums of Thought" (MP4 Productions 2004, 1 DVD)
  • "Live at Budokan" (MP4 Production 2005, 1 DVD)
  • "Mike Portnoy - Drumavarium" (MP4 Productions 2005, 1 DVD)
  • "sysDRUMatic chaos" (MP4 Productions 2007, 1 DVD)
  • "SCORE" (MP4 Productions 2008, 1 DVD)
  • "Black Clouds & Silver Drumming" (MP4 Productions 2009, 1 DVD)


External links

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