Published: October 31, 2011

John Kerr, 1929-2011 (funeral details added)

We are sad to report the passing of the renowned pipe band drummer John Kerr on October 1, 2011, aged 82.

Born in Forth, Lanarkshire, Scotland, Kerr learned his snare drumming craft in an area already rich with pipe band drumming talent and tradition. He started at the age of six with initial instruction from his cousin Alex Colville, and within a year was competing with the Kingshill Number Two Colliery Pipe Band. He would go on to be taught by Leading-Drummer Gordon Jelly of the Dalziel Highland Pipe Band.

Following his duties in the military, Kerr joined Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia and played with that band from 1949 to 1953, latterly as Leading-Drummer, and in 1952 won the World Solo Drumming Championship.

In 1953 John Kerr immigrated to Canada, drawn to the Canadian Air Force after being approached by Pipe-Major J.T. MacKenzie. In Canada with the military he served initially in Calgary, but then in 1959 he joined the RCAF Rockcliff Pipe Band, which won the North American Championship in 1960.

While with RCAF Rockcliff Kerr was permitted to play with civilian bands and competed with the Grade 1 General Motors Pipe Band from 1974-’75 and Caber Feidh/City of Toronto from 1976-’79.

In 1981 Kerr joined the Grade 1 McNish Distillery Pipe Band as Leading-Drummer under Pipe-Major Gord Tuck. Kerr moved to Ottawa in 1984 where he was Leading-Drummer with the short-lived Grade 1 Dunvegan Pipe Band with Pipe-Major Scott MacAulay. John Kerr stopped competing in the early-1990s, but continued to commit himself to teaching and occasional adjudicating on the Ontario circuit.

John Kerr was known for his quick wit and inventive drumming style who admitted that he was “liberal” with his ideas, especially in the later part of his competitive career. His impact on drumming in Ontario had an important effect on the growth of pipe bands in the region. Jim Hutton discusses John Kerr briefly in his pipes|drums Interview of February 2000.

We extend our sympathies to John Kerr’s survivors and many friends at this sad time.

In accordance with John Kerr’s wishes, the funeral will be private but a celidh will take place on Friday, October 14th, at 4:30 pm at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 638, 70 Hines Road, Kanata,Ontario.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Hearing John Kerr’s music for the first time changed my life and he is the sole reason why I played in Pipe Bands. From GM and City of Toronto thru to 400 Squadron, his music had a lasting impression on me and so many others. Hearing his MacNish corps play onto the field at Maxville in ’83 is forever burned on my hard-drive. I so wanted to be part of that. I cherished the drumming and chats we had for many years after. The recording of the band in Santa Rosa (I believe that same year) with the Rat” on the toms is music at a higher level. Pure Genius. RIP John

  2. John Kerr had a massive impact on the Canadian prairies. He came for many years to teach at the Fort San summer school in Saskatchewan, where he introduced a modern approach to reading and writing drum scores. His tuition was responsible for many prairie drummers gaining a foothold in grade 1 bands in Ontario and BC, and his novel approaches to scoring, his passion for pipe band music, and his fantastic sense of humour will long be remembered. He was a classic, one-of-a-kind giant in Canadian pipe bands.

  3. Very sorry to hear this. I had the honour of playing in two Grade One bands with John and to teach at summer schools with him. Lots of laughs, and lots of learning from him. A piper’s drummer, and as he was so fond of telling us, ahead of his time”. Greatly missed.”

  4. Sad to hear of John’s passing. I had the honour of playing in two Grade One bands with John, and also to teach at summer schools with him. Lots of laughs, lots of learning from him. A piper’s drummer, and, as he was so fond of telling us, ahead of his time”. Greatly missed.”

  5. I was saddened to hear this news when I turned the computer on this morning. I played with John in McNish and then later with John in Dunvegan. In McNish in the early 80’s Gerry Radford played the tritoms ( only he had 5 toms attached to one another on his shoulder harness) playing rudimental rhythms or “riffs” to what we were playing in our medley selection- years ahead of his time as now we have different “voicing” pitched tenor drums in the various bass sections today. He was a kind man always open to conversation or questions and what is most profound to me were his students who were so incredibly loyal and loved John and his teaching. John was a great musician. Rest in Peace John

  6. I first met John at Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan and shortly after was asked by him to come join the MacNish Distillery band. I played with him for two summers and taught along with him for a number of years at the Saskatchewan School of the Arts. I had some great times drumming with him and enjoyed his very individual style of music. He was a great storyteller too and we had many laughs with him over the years. I will miss you John. R.I.P.

  7. Goodness, John was another great character on the scene. Always interesting and with a level of knowledge and training a good cut above most. My impression was always that many drummers didn’t like his drumming, but I often found when John played I had trouble taking my attention away from the drumming. This could be problematic if I was judging piping! All I wanted to do was listen to the scores. It was like listening to a long, intricate and interesting conversation, and if John caught your eye you would swear he was giving you a cheeky little wink. Sometimes you think some people will just go on forever. Wrong again. Cheers, John. You proudly brought something different to the game.

  8. John was someone who had a tremendous influence (sometimes behind-the-scenes) on the ability and musical literacy of a generation of Canadian pripe band drummers. His opinons and musical arrangements – while sometimes controversial and provocative – were never ignored. His discipline and ideas live on through the work of his students and their students.

  9. I will never forget hearing John and the Dunvegan corps at Barrie in 1988 when I was a pipe band rookie. I was floored. I’ve never heard anything like it since. He thought outside of the box and was so musical. I have one of his first books and am still trying to work my way through it. John was in a class of his own and one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. He always had time for a chat after the contest, and he gave it to you straight. RIP John, you will be missed. Our prayers go out to his family.

  10. Very sad indeed to hear of John’s passing. He was an icon in the pipeband scene here in Canada.He taught many fine drummers and also was a great judge in my opinion, some would disagree because of his score sheet format that he used but if you asked him after the fact he was always willing to tell you….straight!, a fine musician. He was definately a character and will be missed by many, my thoughts go out to his family. You will be in good company John.

  11. In addition to John’s adventurous, ahead of his time musicianship, his love for the music and his great talent, John always had a new thing he was excited about and a twinkle in his eye when he told you about it. I played with John in the GM Band and then in Caber Feidh and I will always remember a side trip we took with John & Nessie and Al & Sandy Ash back to his home town of Forth. John insisted the three of us march into the Forth Legion hall unannounced pipes & drum going full tilt. The result was a great night of Forth hospitality! John will be dearly missed.

  12. I attended a workshop where John was teaching in 1983. Couldn’t believe what he was able to do with hands….especially considering his left hand was almost completely bandaged up from an accident in his garage. I later had the privilege of playing with him in the last year of Dunvegan. He taught me so much about music theory and challenged my skill with his incredibly unique and exciting brand of music. I last saw John at the Montreal beer tent a few years back, and he was still full of energy and enthusiasm. A great mentor, with an incredible passion for music. Rest in Peace, John.

  13. A great man who always had time to talk music with you. Like MacPhee, playing with McNish and getting to listen to his ’83 corp was a thrill. The ’83 El-Rancho Ceildh, where they played his Drum Salute in full dress made the hair stand up on the back of your neck. His tri-tom idea was way ahead of its time. When I talked to him about it a couple of years ago, I said it is the same thing they are trying to do today. He quickly added, but you have to buy 5 kilts their way!” A huge influence and a huge personality. I was lucky to have known him. Stephen (or “Young MacNeil” as he called me)”

  14. Sad news indeed, one of those guys you thought would be around forever. Playing in a band with John Kerr was, to say the least, an adventure. Does anyone remember the Premier drums we were supposed to get on arrival in Manchester back in the 70’s? You’ll be missed old friend.

  15. I have known John and his family since I was 10 years old growing up on Rockliffe Air Force Base in Ottawa. I was married to John’s oldest daughter Rhona for 10 years and John was grandfather to 4 of my children. John took me into his family as a son, he taught me and coached me in soccer and he taught me to play snare drum and introduced me to the wonderful world of international beers! I played with John in the Air Force band, Caber Feidh and Macnish Distillery. Being related to John was an instant membership to meeting the who’s who in the pipe band world, most notably was when I met and got to know Alex Duthart and Drew. I too Brian, remember the trip to The Forth Legion in 1977 – what a party. What sticks out in my mind the most when I think about John was how much he loved drumming and how much he loved his grandchildren. I’ll miss him. Yvan Gagne

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