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Godsmack drummer 'Speaks' the truth about music

Rebecca Ross

Shannon Larkin remembers the first time that drums "called" to him.

"I was 10 or 11 years old, and my older sister was one of those chicks who was into Rush. She played 'Hemispheres' over and over, and that's when the drums first called to me," he said. "Then she brought home Led Zeppelin 'II' and man, that was it. I knew I wanted to be a drummer."

Two years later, at age 13, Larkin was playing nightclubs.

Today, the 39-year-old is playing arenas, as the drummer for Boston-based rock band Godsmack.

The multi-platinum band, now on tour, will make a stop at the Pensacola Civic Center at 7 p.m. Wednesday with special guest Breaking Benjamin.

Larkin, lead singer Sully Erna, bassist Robbie Merrill and guitarist Tony Rombola have spent "weeks and weeks" on the road, touring in support of their 2006 album "IV," which spawned the No. 1 Billboard hit single, "Speak."

Larkin, a former member of Wrathchild America and Ugly Kid Joe, has been in Godsmack for "four years and seven months" (the band formed in 1996). He believes the band owes much of its success to fans and not celebrity-makers such as MTV and Rolling Stone.

"They hate us. Everyone hates us because of our tenacity. We're like a flu virus that won't go away," he said during a recent phone interview. "MTV never showed Godsmack any love, but the fans did. It sounds corny, but we have the best, most open-minded fans in the world. They support us in everything."

And Godsmack seems to have done well enough without a giant publicity machine. They've released a string of hit singles (including "Whatever," "Keep Away,' 'I Stand Alone,' and 'Vampires,' which received a Grammy nomination) and were featured on "The Scorpion King" sound track. And they haven't been ignored entirely by MTV ? the cable music giant used Godsmack's "Voodoo" as the theme song for its ghost hunting show, "MTV Fear."

Larkin, whose mother lives in Gulf Shores, Ala., said he would describe Godsmack as a "blue collar hard rock band." And those constant comparisons to Alice in Chains? He doesn't get it.

"Before I was in Godsmack, I objectively listened to the music, and I didn't hear an Alice in Chains rip-off. I could totally hear Metallica influences, but not Sully channelling (late Alice in Chains singer) Layne Staley," he said.

But Larkin doesn't mind criticism ? when it's constructive.

"Like concert reviews ? I always read those, because it's helpful to know, hey, this was way too over the top, or you lost the crowd with that. It's the record reviews that can hurt, but you're always going to have those few people who don't like your work."

Local fans can look forward to a mix of old hits and new numbers at Wednesday's show, said Larkin. A fan favorite and Godsmack concert staple is a drum duel between Larkin and lead singer Erna, also a drummer.

"We get a little crazy, but it's great," said Larkin. "We want to give our fans the best time they can have."