Tom Leigh Knight
Occupation: Professional Drummer / Voice Actor / Marketing Director
Emmy Award Winner for Voiceover
1. What Drew You Towards the Art of Drumming?
When I was just a little boy, my folks were very much into 70’s psychedelic music, complete with black lights and fluorescent posters lining our hallways. Iron Butterfly was one of the many albums in regular rotation on our turntable, and whenever In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida played, I would stop whatever I was doing and study Ron Bushy’s drum solo. Soon, I was mimicking his rhythms on couch pillows. In an effort to spare our furniture, my folks bought me one of those little toy drum sets from Toys R Us. I was in the first grade, and I suddenly knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Not a single piece of that toy kit lasted even until the following year; however, the desire to play drums certainly did—and would remain forever. Five years later, I got the chance to join the 6th-grade band as a snare drummer, so my mom and dad ran down to the local music store and rented a Ludwig 5x14 10-lug metal snare drum, and that was it. Game on. I still have that snare drum today—39 years later.
Fortunately, I had grandparents who were willing to pay for private lessons right away, and so I began taking lessons from the great Sherwood Mobley. He was amazing. He devoted half the lesson to rudimental skills and the other half to drum set. We read from a variety of sheet music for the snare drum, but when it came to the kit, he hand-wrote everything. At the time, I had no idea just how funky his ideas were. I still have every page of his customized lesson material, and any time I flip through those pages, I realize how fortunate I was to have him as my first teacher. The pages from that old manuscript book are worn yellow, and the pencil marks have faded a bit, but it’s all still legible—and all still amazing. Talk about cherished memories. He died a few years ago. I still miss him. He will always hold a special place in my heart.
2. What Three Traits Define You?
This is one of those questions that might be better answered by someone else who knows me well enough to chime in. However, since it is upon me to narrow it down to three traits (and I’ll do my best not to inject any bias) I will say: (1) I am obsessively driven, (2) I have perfectionistic tendencies, and (3) I exhibit a complete and utter lack of patience. Not a good look.
Let’s dive into this little sharing session, shall we?
Obsessively driven. These days, they call it OCD. And if that’s what I have, then I’m proud of it. Its manifestations took me around the world. I got paid to play on my dream gig— undoubtedly the most rewarding career experience I ever had. But I’m confident that it would’ve never happened had I not felt that eternal compulsion to really zero in on my problems and keep on pushing and pushing and pushing until things were…well—that’s a nice segue to trait number two:
Perfect. I have a really hard time if the thing I’m doing isn’t right(meaning correct). And most of what I’m doing at any point in my life is not quite right, so it’s easy to see how this is a constant issue for me. What’s worse is that whatever it is that’s not quite right could be anything at all. It might be as simple as some random math problem I’m struggling to solve. This actually happened just last month. I’m currently enrolled in college finishing a degree I started 31 years ago, and in a recent Quantitative Reasoning class, there was a web-based test with a Standard Deviation problem that, no matter how many times I tried or how careful I was, I couldn’t correctly solve.
Finally, I ended up screen-recording all my calculations and sending the video to my teacher, pleading for an explanation. To my delight, he discovered that the test’s answer was actually wrong and that my answer had been correct all along. But if I hadn’t been such a perfectionist about it, I’d have ‘missed’ that question, as would’ve everyone else in the class. Others might view my efforts as statistically irrelevant (why waste so much time on something so small?) I get it. But despite representing a tiny fraction of my grade, that ‘impossible’ problem was supremely important, in my view. I really wanted to know how to get it right—or more to the point, why I kept getting it wrong. These things matter to me. And the feeling of relief upon learning that my calculations were correct made it all worthwhile.
From a logical perspective, I fully understand how perfectionism can lead to stagnation, as that has been an issue for me from time to time, but I know how to pull the plug on it when there’s a hard deadline. The thing I encourage others to realize about us is that what looks futile from the outside matters a great deal to us on the inside. Here again, I’m not ashamed of this particular character trait. It has served me very well.
Impatience. Finally something I wish I could change (as do those around me, I’m sure, whenever it rears its ugly head). While I can’t necessarily control the feeling of irritability when it arises, I can control whether or not to express it. So, I try to keep things to myself when it happens. I’m not always successful though.
3. How Do You Define Success?
I have a rather spartan definition of success: outer manifestations mirroring my inner intentions. It’s almost too simple, but that’s exactly how I see it.
When I was younger, I thought success meant achieving the bigger things in life: meeting the perfect mate, getting the big gig, or buying my dream home, but now I feel differently. Successes needn’t be grandiose or defined solely by an end result. Quite the opposite. Forward movement along the desired trajectory is a success. Or, in other situations where the forward movement has stalled, simply not quitting is a success. Indeed, I consider even a single step is taken toward my utopia, yet still miles away, a success. I’m moving. Growing. In short, the moment that what I have begins to resemble even slightly what I want, I’m succeeding.
These days, I keep track of lots of details about whatever it is I’m doing, and as a result, I’m better primed to recognize little successes here and there bubbling up that would otherwise go unnoticed. But it took me a long time to get into this habit (and to be honest, I really should be doing it much more in other areas of my life). At some point in my adulthood, I realized that all these tiny little ‘wins’ here and there add up over time, eventually snowballing into an avalanche that can sometimes feel like a sudden fortune.
I always say love isn’t a feeling, it’s a decision. I think success is just the same.
4. How Does Health Play A Role In Your Success?
In the ironic words of Count Rugen from The Princess Bride, “If you haven’t got your health, you…haven’t got anything.” LOL! But seriously, this quote perfectly encapsulates how I feel.
I’m one of those people who worry about health a lot, so I’m always trying something stave off the negative effects of aging, whether it be dieting, exercising, meditating, among other things. Striving for success is hard enough without the distraction of illnesses, so I do whatever I can to maintain good health and build upon it.
For a long time, I’ve been fascinated by fitness and always seemed to naturally gravitate toward it to the extent that I experience guilt anytime I ignore it. But I’m not entirely sure when this affinity began, as I was decidedly not athletic in my younger years. Honestly, I’m a little surprised that drumming worked out for me as well as it did. The words “Tom Knight” and “coordination” were never used in the same sentence back then (unless conjoined by the word “lacks”).
Right around the time I picked up the drums, my parents enrolled me in Tae Kwon Do, and apparently, I began to show significant improvement in proprioception (spatial body awareness). Several years later I got a black belt. I also took weightlifting classes in college, hilariously. I was a bona fide hard gainer, weighing all of 130 pounds. No matter how hard I hit the weights or how many calories I crammed down my throat, my young metabolism simply shrugged it off. Anyway, for whatever reason, I’m just one of those weirdoes who love physical challenges. For this, I’m eternally grateful. Working out is hard. It helps immensely if you love doing it.
Side note: I’m often asked if my extreme fitness regimens (particularly gymnastics) have any effect on my drumming, and my answer is always the same—not one bit. My experience has taught me that whenever I want to improve a particular technique, I have only to work on that technique. What I’m about to write often draws ire from readers, but it’s my personal conviction—and that is this: no other auxiliary exercises ever did the trick nearly as fast as just getting on with the task itself.
So, for example, if I wanted to improve my snare drum singles and doubles, I didn’t take to weighted sticks, practicing on pillows, or any other cumbersome task—I simply worked on singles and doubles using the very same sticks on the very same drum upon which I ultimately wished to perform. For me, doing any of those other things merely had the effect of making me better at those things. But I don’t want to be better at playing with weighted sticks or performing on a pillow. To bring this concept full circle, hurling my body up, over, and around a high bar, swinging on gymnastic rings, or doing handstands has not one effect (positive or negative) on my drumming. These are two entirely different activities forging entirely different neural pathways in the brain. (Cue the dissenting opinions, lol—but it’s perfectly fine, do whatever works for you, I always say! :)
5. What Do You Want To Be Remembered For?
I hope to be remembered as a loving father, as a doting husband, and as someone who inspired others to chase after their dreams with all their might.
6. If You Had One Message To Give To Others, What Would It Be?
Simple. Don’t quit.
For the longest time, I’ve had the following Calvin Coolidge quote hanging on my wall. I believe in it.
Nothing in the world can take place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
Sample of Tom's Voiceover work