By Dave Peckett for New Gandy Dancer
How did you first begin playing drums all those years ago?
Two things happened close to the same time period for me. First, I saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Yeah, I know that’s a common story. But it was an important moment, in many ways. The second event for me was seeing “The Gene Krupa Story” with Sal Mineo. That was very inspiring for me. I started playing along with records with chop sticks on my school books. I then got a Sears snare drum and 10” cymbal and built my first set a little at a time from that. My first performance was a year later, for a talent show. There I was with a snare, 10” cymbal, and I think I had added a high hat at that point. And a 2nd snare, which I turned into a tom tom. The lead guitarist was playing through his record player. The bass player didn’t have a bass so he tuned a regular guitar down. We didn’t decide which song to play till the last minute. As we were getting on stage, the lead guitarist said, “’I’m a Man’ by The Yardbirds”. The rhythm guitarist only heard “Byrds” so he was playing “Turn Turn Turn” while we were playing “I’m a Man”. To make matters worse, the band before us (who had a member in it who I’m still close friends with, Jeff Peters. He mixed “Restless In L.A.”) Anyway… they were a surf instro band. Very good, actually. The guy running the P.A. thought we were an instro band too. So he turned off the vocal mic while we played this mess!!! I’ll never understand why I continued playing after that!!!
Did you do the rudimentary lessons -
paradiddles / ratamacues thing?
I took one semester of orchestra shortly after I started playing. I wanted to play a drumset and was totally uninterested in learning orchestral drumming with just the snare drum. I got a D grade. I barely passed the class. Right from that point, I developed a theory that if I took any kind of lessons I’d end up sounding like my teacher. I decided I was more interested in developing my own style and was worried that lessons might interfere with that. So I decided to be totally self taught and have stuck with that ever since. I think, at this point, taking some lessons and improving my technique would probably be safe and not a bad idea. But I still never bothered taking any lessons. I was in an instro prog-rock band in the early 70’s called Graced Lightning, in Chicago. I remember a drummer was complimenting me on my paradiddles after one of our shows. I had to ask him what a paradiddle was. That’s how I found out.
Are you conscious that rudiments play
a part in rock styles?
It’s hard to answer that, since I never learned the rudiments. I don’t really know. I just never wanted to learn the same patterns everyone was learning from their drum teachers.
Did you come from a musical family?
No. My dad bought me a record player and some classical records when I was five. I was glued to it and didn’t want to do anything else. Shortly after that, I discovered the radio and rock music and became obsessed. On my first day at school at 6 years old, I freaked out. I wouldn’t calm down till they put me in a room away from the kids with a radio tuned to a rock station.
A distant relative played harpsichord. Classical music. She was considered to be a real authority on it. Blanche Winogron, without a “d” at the end. But I hardly knew her.
How did your first drum kit come about?
As mentioned earlier, I started with the Sears stuff and pieced it together. The next piece I got was a Ludwig snare drum, even though I already had the Sears snare drum. For some stupid reason, I turned the perfectly good Ludwig snare drum (instead of the Sears snare) into a tom tom. I then added a high hat, some more cymbals and a 36” marching bass drum that was literally so loud that it knocked the pictures off the wall of our neighbors hall.
Did you practice much and did you have
a drum hero?
I practiced around 3 hours a day for around seven years. When I moved out, after high school, I no longer had a regular place to practice. This has continued to be the case ever since. I don’t practice. Even with most band practices over the last decade… for most of them I just play on drum pads. That way, we can practice quietly in a living room and be able to talk over the music. For me, band practice is mostly just for getting the song structure and arrangement together.
As for drum heroes, I can just tell you drummers I’ve liked over the years. They’ve been Keith Moon, Mitch Mitchell, Ginger Baker, B.J. Wilson, Guy Evans, Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Robert Wyatt, Ringo, Mickey Hart, John Densmore, Pete Thomas, Mo Tucker, Clive Bunker, Spencer Dryden, Dannie Richmond, John Bonham, Nick Mason, Gene Krupa, Chris Cutler, Michael Giles, Joe Morello, Sandy Nelson, Prince, Ronnie Bond, Chico Hamilton, Paul Whaley, Budgie, Thom Mooney, Tony Williams, Dino Danelli and Jody Stephens. I guess my hero is Elvin Jones. I’ve seen seven of his shows, including more than one per night. He’s my hero because he defies age. He’s still amazing and he’s 75. I have more Elvin Jones disks than anyone else in my collection. But the other drummers I named were all very influential too.
What is your favourite Arrows' tune?
I can’t name just one. There’s too many, but I’ll try to name some. I’d have to say, in no special order, “Demente”, “Energized”, “The Toxic Terror”, “Kickback”, “Restless in L.A.” (both versions), “Stick It!”, “Fast and Loose”. “Chopper” and “Open Throttle” but not the alternative mixes. “James Bond Theme/Goldfinger”, “Six-String Highway”. “Encounter” (The two different studio versions. One is from “Arrow Dynamic Sounds of” and the other is a Gearhead Magazine single). “Theme From The Unknown” (both versions), “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)”. The live version of “Shape of Things To Come”, “On The Surface”, and both versions of “Missing Link”.
When did you join Davie Allan as an Arrow?
I did Missing Link December 23, 1987 but that was just a session. Years later, Chris Ashford decided to put "Loud Loose and Savage" together, which was a collection of what he had recorded of Davie up to that point, with various people backing Davie up. I'm just on Missing Link on that album. That's when Davie decided to start a new Arrows again to coincide with the release. The last official Arrows went back to 1967. I got the call in August 1994, asking me to join. I've been an Arrow longer than any other Arrow.
Do you have any specific way of tuning
I try lots of approaches and am actually fanatical about drum tuning. I do have basic approaches but it’d probably be too boring to get into here. Let’s just say… I have to have bottom heads on the toms and the kick drum has to have a front head with no hole cut in it. I like a lot of boom and resonance. I have slight dampening on the kick drum and no dampening on anything else. I like drums to sound like drums.
Do you have any favourite memories of
Touring with The Knoxville Girls was cool. We liked them both musically and personally.
What are your memories of the European
tour of four years back?
I remember it was seven years ago. Way too long!!! One favorite memory was the driver telling us that Fergal Sharkey was in the audience, dancing, during our London gig. I was a big Undertones fan!!! Davie and I especially loved Amsterdam.
Do you have any other drummers coming
through in your family?
What is the specification of your current
kit including cymbals?
Pieced together, like most of my sets. I have a huge Zildjian cymbal with a beautiful sounding bell.
Have you ever had a bad drum kit?
Most of them. I’ve never had a great drum set.
Is there truly a difference between kits
like Premier or Pearl for
£1500 or so and Drum Workshop for up to £6000!
I’m the wrong person to ask. I’m not really into equipment. I’ve played on Drum Workshop drumsets and they sound amazing!!! I also like their initials.
So what is your favourite memory from
your career so far?
One thing that comes to mind is the first time I met Davie. Chris Ashford, our old producer, called me one day and told me to meet him at the E.M.I. Studio to record a track with him. I asked if we were going to meet or rehearse first. He said, “No. It’s just a jam. Just go there and do your thing”. Unfortunately, I had just gotten back from a To Damascus tour with a bad case of Bronchitis. I don’t remember why but, for some reason, we didn’t reschedule the session. I went even though I was really sick. I’m also allergic to cats. It triggers my asthma. It turned out there were cats in the studio. Great! On top of the Bronchitis!!! So I met Davie and set up my drums. He showed me the few changes but most of it was to be improvised. We went through one take. I thought it was fine but Chris thought Davie hadn’t warmed up yet. I then had the bright idea to suggest that the bass player, Charley Appleton, improvise more. Bad idea! With Davie and I out in outer space, there was no anchor. So we tossed that idea and tried it again. When we finished, I said that had to be the final take because my asthma was too much for me to play anymore. That track was “Missing Link”, which ended up on the “Loud, Loose and Savage” album. In spite of all the problems, that was still a great memory just because it was the beginning of Davie and I working together.
Also, Bruce and I had another band called SS-20 and were considered to be part of the Los Angeles Paisley Underground in the early 80’s. We had an album out on Greg Shaw’s Vox label. I’ve also played with Sylvia Juncosa in To Damascus. Sylvia and Tyra and I were a great combination and we worked really well together. We made two albums. “Come To Your Senses” was our best but it’s very difficult to find. Anyway… those were all cool memories.
Can you tell us the background to the
In LA CD?
It happened the way most of our albums do. Davie makes these home demos where he plays all the parts. Amazing demos, actually. They’d make for a real interesting release someday. The drums are very simple drum machine. The bass is keyboard bass. Drums and bass parts are simple and open to any changes. A lot of the preparation is done individually, at home, just studying the demos. We’ll do a few living room rehearsals where I play on drum pads, just to figure out the song structure and go over arrangement ideas. Then we’ll have a couple of rehearsals where we crank up the volume and I play a drumset. Then we go in the studio and record. We tend to not dwell on things. Getting things overly refined can kill the feel. We’re amazingly efficient. But it takes a lot of individual preparation. Everyone already has a good idea of the structure and how they want to approach it before we even go over it as a band for the first time. Rehearsals for us are more like fine-tuning and dress rehearsal. For me, the preparation and rehearsals are like creating the lines in a coloring book. I figure once that’s worked out, I can go in the studio and wing it and color it any way I want… as long as I stay in the lines. Chris Ashford, our old producer, always used to complain that I never played the same part twice. That actually isn’t true. There’s a fair amount that is worked out. But there’s a lot that isn’t.
Any funny stories about the recording
When Bruce was doing his trumpet overdub in Demente. He came in the control room to listen to the playback. When he went back into the studio to try another take, he said with a totally straight face, “Maybe I should try playing more right notes”. Davie and I fell off our chairs in hysterics!!!
What's for the future for you?
As for Davie Allan and The Arrows, we’ve already made a lot of progress on our next album.
There’s also some side projects. Chris Ashford, Davie’s ex-producer and an old friend of mine… I’ve known him since 1975. He wants to produce a solo album of me. It’s just in the talking stage but he’s totally serious. He wants it to be a jazz album and I’m fine with that. I know that will put a lot of people off but the kind of jazz I love and want to do is the mind bending stuff that came out between roughly 1957 and 1968. The weird or noisy stuff, or the stuff that sounded like psychedelic chamber music. Actually, jazz was psychedelic long before rock was. Anyway… the tough part is going to be to find the right sax player for what I want to do. No luck so far. I’d call Eric Dolphy but he’s been dead for years. David Jackson! If you’re out there! I’d love to make an album with you!!! He was the sax player in Van Der Graaf Generator.
Another thing in the future, besides Davie, of course… is I’m in another band called Skooshny and helped start it in 1975. Bruce is also a member, and has been all these years as well. We’re two thirds of both bands. Skooshny is a vocal/song band. Sort of a quirky version of The Kinks meet The Byrds, I guess. The main singer/song writer is Mark Breyer. It’s strictly a studio project. We’ve only done one gig which was two songs at an Arthur Lee benefit show. Davie got us that show. Both bands were on that bill, along with a lot of other really good bands. Anyway… Skooshny has three albums out but they’re very difficult to find. We’re planning on releasing a compilation album on Vibro-Phonic’s new Re-Vibe label early 2004. We hope to have decent distribution for it. It’ll have three new songs, though it’ll all be new for most people. It’ll also feature our version of a Davie Allan vocal song called “Angel With a Devil’s Heart”. It was supposed to be his follow-up to “Blues’ Theme”, but it was never released. Great song!!! It’s ridiculous that it was never released!!! Skooshny’s version of that song will also come out on an album called "King Fuzz - A Tribute To Davie Allan”, due out sometime in 2004. Bruce and I also did another cut, “Mind Transferal”, for the tribute album. It’s just the two of us and Drew Bennett’s brief backwards voice. We called ourselves The Arrows for that track. I’ve heard some of the songs that have been submitted for the Davie Tribute album. Some great stuff!!! It should end up being a very cool collection!!!
Also… last but most… I hope Davie Allan and The Arrows get back on the road with some decent touring. It’s been much too long!!!
Anyway… great questions!!! Most people don’t pay that much attention to the drummer, so it’s nice to be noticed. Thank you very much!!!
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Photography: Justice Howard