It's a long way from South Central Los Angeles to the stage of The Lion King. And when you consider that Eric McKain, who ran that gauntlet, is the only African-American percussionist engaged full time by the acclaimed theater company, the journey gains even greater significance.
To be sure, when Eric McKain looks back over his twenty-nine years as a percussionist, it's to humble roots in inner-city Los Angeles. Always a musician at heart, he took full advantage of school programs, joining a drum & bugle corps and then the high school jazz band. In college, he furthered his jazz studies. Eric recalls that he was deeply influenced by Mongo Santamaria, Poncho Sanchez and, especially, Willie Bobo. From each he borrowed attributes that would endear him to crowds nightly on stage at Los Angeles showings of The Lion King.
Eric holds the rare ability to play well any musical part and to communicate it to audiences. Accordingly, when people talk about his performances, they speak in terms of a natural grace that dignifies his interpretations of percussive traditions that range from old world to new, from Africa to New Orleans.
Although The Lion King, a much coveted percussion gig, is Eric's bread and butter, he can also cite well over a decade of touring and recording with top name acts including Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Barry White, Aretha Franklin, Oxygen, and Patrice Rushen. In such diverse circumstances, Eric employs a wide variety of LP instruments: congas, bongos, bells, timbales, cabasas, and caxixis. To put it simply, if it's an instrument to be found in the LP catalog, then Eric McKain is probably using it!
A master at combining percussion traditions into a homogeneous, meaningful whole, Eric McKain had deservedly earned his first-call status. When not with The Lion King, odds are that Eric is touring the globe performing-and researching percussion traditions.