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Virgil Donati

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Virgil Donati
Background information
Born (1958-10-22) 22 October 1958 (age 65)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Instrument(s)Drums, keyboards
Years active1972–present
Formerly of

Virgil Donati (born 22 October 1958) is an Australian drummer, composer and producer. He holds the drum sticks in the traditional style and is also proficient at the keyboard. Donati formed Planet X with Derek Sherinian and was the band's principal composer on all their albums. He also performed in Melbourne with Jack Jones (Irwin Thomas) in a Van Halen tribute band known as Hans Valen before inviting Jones into Donati's own bands The State and Southern Sons. Donati is widely regarded as one of the most technically advanced drummers of all time.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Virgil Donati was born in Melbourne, Victoria of Italian descent.[2] He got his first drumset at age 2.[3] He started playing soon after with his father's showband, and kept on doing these shows until he was around 6 years old. At age 6 he started taking piano lessons.[4] He joined his first major rock band and signed with his first major record label at the age of 15. The band was first called Cloud Nine, but was later renamed Taste, with whom he recorded 3 albums.[3][5] Soon after at age 16, Donati left school focusing mainly on the drums, but also piano. At age 19 Donati travelled to the U.S. to study with Philly Joe Jones, and at Dick Groves School in Los Angeles. He also took lessons from snare drum specialist Murray Spivack and Rob Carson.[6]

Success and bands[edit]

Donati returned to Australia at the age of 21. He then performed jazz with Allan Zavod and Brian Brown, and played with Peter Cupples' band.[7] Before moving to Los Angeles, Donati furthered his success by performing with the likes of Tommy Emmanuel, Tina Arena, Jon Stevens and visiting international acts like Melissa Etheridge, Branford Marsalis, and Tribal Tech. Virgil also recorded and toured with his own bands Southern Sons, Loose Change and On The Virg. From the late 1990s and onwards Donati recorded and toured with acts like Derek Sherinian (with whom he formed the progressive fusion outfit Planet X), Steve Vai, Allan Holdsworth, Michel Polnareff and Soul SirkUS. In 2024, he is touring with Asia.


With his father's choice of records, including Louie Bellson and Buddy Rich albums, Donati quickly became a fan of those great jazz drummers, trying to emulate their solos. The first rock drummer to make a big impact on him was Ian Paice of Deep Purple. Donati said, "I was blown away with his playing, his clarity. Back in the early '70s he seemed to be an articulate drummer with a lot of soul in his playing. I loved his power and strength and the way he articulated his phrasing. I loved his approach."[8] In a Modern Drummer magazine article of June 1999, Donati prefers playing with traditional grip. He says there, "I grew up playing traditional grip and persevered with it even under the physical duress of rock bands. I decided that it's just how I wanted to play. Now it's very natural for me. Besides, I've surmounted all the problems of being able to play with enough power. Traditional grip does not limit me in any way. There are certain movements around the drumset that feel good with traditional, and believe it or not, there're certain things I'll play that feel better in my left hand than in my right. That said, I would not necessarily recommend traditional grip. Frankly, I think the disadvantages involved with traditional grip outweigh the advantages. It is a far more difficult grip to maintain and to develop power with. Any student starting out would be better off focusing on matched. But for some reason, maybe just because it isn't used as much anymore, traditional grip seems to be more hip."[citation needed]


Virgil Donati is widely regarded as one of the most technically advanced drummers of all time.[1] Bassist Bryan Beller, after performing with Donati and Mike Keneally, described him in a blog post with the following words: "Imagine the technical accuracy of Mike Mangini, the off-the-rails phrasing of Vinnie Colaiuta, the beat-displacement of Dave Weckl, and the rock sensibility of Tommy Aldridge, and that's pretty much Virgil Donati—all of it, all at once, all the time. Talk about being taken along for a ride".[9] Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy called Donati "super, super technical" and cited him as a drummer he "can't replicate", saying that "[he] does things that I physically can't do."[10]

Donati's piano playing can be heard on his 2016 album 'The Dawn of Time' as well as in various online videos[11] where he's playing the like of Debussy and Ravel.[12]



  • Stretch (1995, Musos Publications)
  • Just Add Water (1997, Thunder Drum Records)
  • Serious Young Insects (On The Virg band) (1999, Vorcity Music)
  • Made in Australia (Gambale, Donati, Fierabracci) (2007, Wombat Records)
  • In This Life (2013, Self-released)
  • The Dawn of Time: Orchestral Works (2016, Self-released)
  • Ruination (2019, Self-released)[13]

With Planet X[edit]

  • Universe (2000, InsideOut Music)
  • Live from Oz (2002, InsideOut Music)
  • MoonBabies (2002, InsideOut Music)
  • Quantum (2007, InsideOut Music)
  • Anthology (2023, self produced re-mastered collection of the 4 previous albums)

With Ring of Fire[edit]

  • The Oracle (2001, Avalon Records)
  • Burning Live Tokyo (2002, Frontiers, Marquee)
  • Dreamtower (2002, Frontiers)
  • Lapse of Reality (2004, King Records)

Jane Rutter[edit]

Blo (re-released as Titania's Dream with Peter Bowman)

With Southern Sons[edit]

With The State[edit]

  • Elementary (1989)

With Icefish[edit]

  • Human Hardware (2017)




  1. ^ a b "Virgil Donati". All About Jazz. 26 April 2021. Retrieved 18 August 2022.
  2. ^ "Virgil Donati Biography". drumlessons.com. Retrieved 29 May 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Virgildonati.com". Archived from the original on 17 May 2008. Retrieved 18 June 2008.
  4. ^ "Virgil Donati - isyourteacher". www.isyourteacher.com. Retrieved 21 January 2020.
  5. ^ "Encyclopedia entry for 'Taste'". Worldwide Home of Australasian Music and More Online. Archived from the original on 9 August 2004. Retrieved 29 May 2011.
  6. ^ "Virgil Donati". Drummerworld. Retrieved 29 May 2011.
  7. ^ "Southern Sons". passagen.se. Archived from the original on 8 October 2012. Retrieved 29 May 2011.
  8. ^ "» Virgil Donati Biography | Famous Drummers". Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  9. ^ "The Life Of Bryan". www.bryanbeller.com. Retrieved 15 June 2021.
  10. ^ Bosso, Joe (23 June 2010). "Dream Theater's Mike Portnoy answers your questions". MusicRadar. Retrieved 18 August 2022.
  11. ^ Virgil Donati (13 February 2013). Piano Practice. Retrieved 22 May 2024 – via YouTube.
  12. ^ Virgil Donati, archived from the original on 22 December 2021, retrieved 15 June 2021
  13. ^ "Virgil Donati's new album 'Ruination' will be released in the Summer of 2019 | Crucible of Music". June 2019.
  14. ^ "Spotify Friday Review #93: Nathan Frost - Synecron - Prog Metal Zone". Archived from the original on 27 April 2015. Retrieved 12 June 2015.