Ralph rolle

The Chic star and cookie-com­pany owner on lay­ing down sweet grooves with Nile Rodgers


“We played for about three min­utes, Nile stopped, packed up and left. I was like, ‘Man, I must have sounded like crap.’ But as he walked out the door he said, ‘That sounded great, I’ll see you in Switzer­land’”

When Rhythm chats with Ralph Rolle, we get an im­me­di­ate glimpse into the al­most baf­flingly busy world that the New York-na­tive finds him­self in.

That much is ev­i­dent when our chat with the Chic drum­mer is de­layed by a minute or two while he fields calls from a well-known su­per­mar­ket re­gard­ing Rolle’s side project – his own cookie busi­ness.

“Things are quite busy,” he says with a calm sense of un­der­state­ment. “I have a bunch of gigs with Chic, I have a man­ager that has got me a bunch of clin­ics across Europe and my other busi­ness is grow­ing like wild­fire. I am the owner of a cookie com­pany and I’m on TV with that and do­ing in­ter­views and we just worked out two deals with ma­jor com­pa­nies in Ire­land.”

As well as this, he also some­how finds time to teach drums. It’s a pun­ish­ing work sched­ule, but one clearly de­vel­oped out of Rolle’s deep love for all things drum­ming. He re­veals to us that this pas­sion for per­cus­sion was first sparked by his big brother, way back in the day.

“I grew up in the Bronx River Projects,” he says, of his child­hood. “Me and my brother shared a bed­room. One day I came home and there was drum­set in be­tween our beds! I loved my brother so much andI wanted to do ev­ery­thing he did, soI started play­ing. One of the first things I played, I acted like I was Ringo Starr do­ing the whole stick swing thing.”

It turns out thatRolle had more in com­mon with Ringo than he first thought. Both are left-handed play­ers who grew up play­ing right-handed set-ups – and again, it was Rolle’s elder brother who was at the heart of this key de­vel­op­ment point.

“My brother is right handed and I am left handed and my brother would say I could al­ways play but I couldn’t switch the drums around. I would play and the neigh­bour across from me would al­ways watch and they would be my au­di­ence. Then all of a sud­den, the drums were gone. I found out later on that my brother had got his girl­friend preg­nant, they were both teenagers and my mother was very strict. She told them they had to go get some money. So, he sold the drums to take care of his kid.The beauty of that story is that they have been to­gether now for al­most 50 years with four beau­ti­ful daugh­ters.”

The con­tin­u­ing in­flu­ence of his big brother al­most led Rolle into a ca­reer as an en­gi­neer, but, thank­fully, a last-minute change of heart saw him fol­low his heart into drum­ming.

“I was go­ing to fol­low my brother into en­gi­neer­ing and I was all set to, then I re­alised I could not see my­self as an en­gi­neer for the rest of my life. It was too bor­ing to me. When I told my mother that I wanted to be a mu­si­cian, she looked at me likeI was crazy. I never had it in my head to be a drum­mer as well as do­ing some­thing else. It never oc­curred to me thatI could go work at the post of­fice and be a drum­mer on the side.I was go­ing to be a drum­mer or die try­ing.”

And so Rolle set off on his jour­ney to be­come a pro­fes­sional mu­si­cian. For­tu­nately for him, he didn’t have to look too far to find col­lab­o­ra­tors.

“Some­thing I talk about is the im­por­tance of get­ting out and play­ing and hav­ing peo­ple see you. It just so hap­pened that there were a lot of tal­ented peo­ple in the build­ing that I grew up in. Afrika Bam­baataa lived in the same build­ing as me, so did a singer/drum­mer named Wade Tay­lor who we used to cal­lPuggy. Puggy would hear me play­ing and I would hear him play­ing as well. He said I was sound­ing kinda good and it just so hap­pened that he was play­ing in an­other group called Musique who had a hit song called ‘Push Push In The

Bush’. That song was hot right around the time Nile Rodgers and Chic were get­ting hot. Puggy asked me to come and au­di­tion as his drum­mer was mov­ing onto an­other project. I said, ‘Sure, but you’ve got to come ask my mother!’ My mother said if I was go­ing with Puggy then I could go to the au­di­tion. I re­mem­ber go­ing and be­ing scared to death. I played and I got the gig. That was 1979 and I had to go get a pass­port to on tour. I turned 20 while I was out on the road and that got it all started.”

Once he did get started, the in­flu­ence of his ever-re­li­able big brother re­turned. You see, it turns out that all of those hours play­ing on a right-handed set-up taught left-handed Ralph a few neat tricks.

“When I first started play­ing, I was just play­ing. My left hand was on the hi-hat, my right hand on the snare. It wasn’t un­til I was in a lo­cal band called Indigo and I was cov­er­ing other songs, when I was do­ing two and four with my right hand, my left hand was free to do per­cus­sion stuff on the left-hand side. I started work­ing with a cow­bell and dif­fer­ent things like that. I re­alised that there was so much that I could do.”

That revelation was rammed home when Ralph played a show on the same bill as a drum­mer he knew only by the nick­name Den Den.

“It turned out that was Den­nis Cham­bers,” he laughs. “I watched Den­nis Cham­bers play­ing and I was way back in the au­di­ence. I heard per­cus­sion and I thought, ‘I don’t know who this per­cus­sion­ist is, but they are killing it with the drum­mer.’ They sounded so tight to­gether. I went back­stage and looked and it was Den­nis play­ing per­cus­sion and drums. At that mo­ment I felt like I was not wor­thy. That was like an epiphany. My whole life changed at that point and I started to in­cor­po­rate more stuff with my left hand.”

These skills have en­abled Rolle to en­joy a long and il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer, which has seen him per­form with the likes of Sting, Ste­vie Won­der and Paul Si­mon. But to­day, his pri­mary gig is one that he has held of r more than a decade, as the drum­mer for the Nile Rodger­sled Chic.

“The first time I worked with Nile was at a char­ity event, he was co-mu­sic di­rect­ing this event and it was the first time he had heard me play,” Rolle ex­plains of his ori­gins on the Chic drum­stool. “Later, I got a call ask­ing me to do the Chic gig. I didn’t care what else I was do­ing, I was go­ing to do this. I went down to the re­hearsal, Nile came in and set up and it was my­self and at that time Barry John­son and we started play­ing. We played for about three min­utes, Nile stopped, packed up and left. I was like, ‘Man, I must have sounded like crap.’ But as he walked out the door he said, That‘ sounded great, I’ll see you in Switzer­land.’”

The sur­real mo­ments kept on com­ing for Rolle and his de­but with Chic was hardly your run-of-the-mill, ev­ery­day gig…

“My first gig was a bil­lion­aire’s club. We did the show and the singer at the time came over to me and said, ‘You’re the first per­son to play this gig with no re­hearsal and not make a sin­gle mis­take, so Nile wants you to stay in the band.’ I thought, ‘Are you kid­ding me?!’ That was just over 10 years ago. It has been a great time.”

Ten years on, and the band continues to go from strength to strength, as their in-de­mand sta­tus as a tour­ing act proves. Rolle rounds off our chat by pon­der­ing why it is that as we thun­der through 2018, Chic con­tinue to be such a draw.

“I think peo­ple are so into this be­cause we are play­ing songs that peo­ple re­mem­ber and we also have a ridicu­lously-tal­ented lead singer called Kim­berly Davis. Hon­estly, she is so good, I ac­tu­ally think she’s se­cretly one of the X-Men. Nile, as well, is ex­tremely free-form. He al­lows you to com­pletely ex­press your­self. But at the same time, if some­thing is not gelling the way he wants, he will tell you. Trust me though, he’s not a taskmas­ter. He doesn’t come in and say it has to be like this or like that.

“He is al­ways open to try­ing things. An ex­am­ple of this, I was on tour in Ja­pan and I was read­ing Nile’s book. I don’t know how in the world I missed this, but I had no idea that he pro­duced ‘Let’s Dance’. I called him up and asked him about it right then from Ja­pan. I said, ‘Dude, you did ‘Let’s Dance’. And he did this, he went, ‘Ah, ah, ah.’ It was this laugh that kind of said, Yes‘ I did it and I can’t be­lieve that you didn’t know.’ I told him we had to put the song into the show and he said we could do it. That’s Nile; he didn’t say, ‘Nah, the show is fine as it is.’ Nile has brought me to an­other level as a mu­si­cian. That would have never hap­pened with­out him and I am so grateful for that.”

Rolle up, Rolle up: meet the drum­mer, ed­u­ca­tor and cookie maker!

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.