So, what's he feeding his trophy-magnet children? "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you," joked 59-year-old Ronald Sr., a drummer.
"When they were infants they all had a propensity for music," he said. "My wife [a flautist] said that when she was carrying Ronald Jr., he would pound to the beat in her stomach whenever music came on. I have a picture of him in Pampers -- he has my sticks and we're playing air-drums together. In another picture he's sitting on a little box and has a tom-tom in front of him and a little cymbal. And Stephen, who is 2 years younger, is sitting at a little toy piano in his Pampers."
Ronald Sr. is a veteran musician who played drums with the Temptations, Gladys Knight, the Supremes and jazzer Gary Bartz. He also had his own band, Chameleon, a "disco fusion" group who in 1979 dropped an album on Elektra Records that was produced by longtime James Brown trombonist Fred Wesley. Soon after, however, the percussion patriarch gave it all up -- including a lifestyle that he said made him a "cokehead" -- after he had a religious epiphany that led him to a more modest life with his family. The sons would often see their parents performing at their church, the Crenshaw Christian Center. "I was never one of those parents who was like, 'You're gonna follow in my footsteps you're gonna do it my way,'" Ron Sr. said. "I always trained my kids to be free thinkers."
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Over the years, that meant lessons at the Yamaha Music School, Guitar Center drum-off competitions for Ronald Jr. (he was nearly a national champion), high school award ceremonies with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, hooking up with fellow local musicians like Kamasi Washington (whose father was in a church band with Ron Sr.) and, later, getting involved in local scenes. These included Miles Mosley's West Coast Get Down at the Piano Bar (which later became Kamasi's The Next Stop and the Epic) and Flying Lotus’ Low End Theory nights (Thundercat's excellent Them Changes EP came out on FlyLo's Brainfeeder label last year). So musically omnivorous are the Bruners that two of the sons had long stints playing with SoCal punk vets Suicidal Tendencies -- Ronald on drums for 4 years and Stephen for 10.
While Ronald Jr. didn’t get to bring a guest to the Grammys when the Stanley Clake Band won in 2011, this year's ceremony will be a family affair. Thundercat is giving his ticket to his mother, while Ronald Sr. is going with Jameel.
"Of course I'm humbled, of course I'm proud,” Ronald Sr. said. “But it's like looking at a phenomenon. I don't take credit as far as being somebody that actually planned it or mapped it out for my kids. It was just, ‘Let's just enjoy music and be good.’ I took them to their gigs, we talked about it, but they've been very instrumental in re-educating me."
"The other side of it," he added, "is now I'm famous! Not for being a musician, but for being their dad."