The multi-platinum selling studio legend brings the groove to London
What have you been up to?
“We just did a big Quincy Jones concert two nights ago at the Microsoft Theatre. It was his 85th birthday party, and it was a who’s who of everybody. We had a full horn section, a choir, background singers, major guest stars including Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock... It was just fantastic. We’ve got that movie out on Netflix now, called Quincy; I’m in that, then I’m MDing a concert in Las Vegas in October for him.”
What do you have planned for the London DrumShow?
“First of all, I’m coming over and doing a tour for GEWA, for DW, Paiste and Remo, and I’ll be touring around the UK. I’m going to play in Manchester and at BIMM; I think they’ve got five of them lined up for that week. The London Drum Show happens to be the beginning of this thing. If I had a bunch of dough I would have a full band on stage, because that’s where I shine.
“I’ve got a bunch of hit records that I’m going to play. I’m going to demonstrate different grooves and my time concept, and just be myself, open it up to the people. I’m always well-received when I come to London, so it feels like a second home to me.”
What do people most commonly want to know?
“Certain people will ask a lot of Michael Jackson questions. There’s a younger audience out there, so they’ll get into Daft Punk questions and they’re always confused about flat-footed technique on the bass drum pedal.
“I try to teach fluidity. I see a lot of these young drummers today, they play really loud and very stiff, and it seems as though in the long run that can be physically damaging. As simple as beginning drumming is, it’s incredibly important.”
Do you think perhaps that stiffness is because young drummers try to emulate the programmed beats they hear?
“Well, good luck with that! That’s never going to happen. I was there when drum machines were invented, and I saw some of my compadres lose jobs over drum machines. The reason why I didn’t is because I learned them: I learned how they were laid out and the way the time spreads from them, and I guess I didn’t let that intimidate me at all. Maybe it’s because of how I play grooves and the sound I get: they can’t beat that.”
How does working with Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson compare to recording with Daft Punk on Random Access Memories?
“Basically, it’s the same job. What am I there for? I’m there to keep time and inspire. When we were doing that record, those guys had a list of tempos and grooves. They didn’t have any concrete information. There were no complete songs, that’s the difference. How we lived through the late ’70s and ’80s, somebody had written a song and there were lyrics and then somebody charted the song down.
“With the Daft Punk stuff, they’re going, ‘Hey JR, go out there, this is at 112bpm, play what you think.’ OK! I can play anything at 112bpm, but I’m not stupid: I’m not going to turn it into some backwards polyrhythmical bullsh*t that nobody gives a crap about except 14,000 drummers. So, I’ll play, they’ll go, ‘That’s really great. Can you maybe apply something else to that?’ So that thing grows and they’re recording all that stuff.
“They’re doctors of finiteness: they go through it with a microscope, finding phrases that fit what they’ve done, and they plug us analogue beings into their robotic world. Is there anything wrong with that? Well, it’s more of the future of record-making, and the record industry has been shut down for a long time now. Thank god I built a studio here in my house, which helps a lot.
“OffTheWall, that’s a completely analogue record. There was no digital gear at that time. And it was fantastic. You listen to it and it holds up to this day.”
What advice would you give someone looking to start home recording?
“I would first of all make sure that they understand about tuning, and I would assume that this drummer can tune, because you can put any kind of mic on a drum and if the drum sounds like crap, it’s going to translate that way. Be simple.
“I’m looking at two drum sets right now, fully mic’d. My back one has 16 microphones on; the one in the front is a 1942 20” Leedy with calf skins and it’s mic’d like Glyn Johns mic’d drums, with only four microphones. So if you’re just starting, there is no reason not to do it that way, the Glyn Johns approach. It’s cheaper, you don’t need to mic the toms because they’re coming through the overheads anyway. Then you can build up from there. I think the most important thing is to figure out your sound and how to get it into Pro-Tools.”
What are you going to play in the Keith Moon tribute session?
“I’m playing ‘Baba O’Reilly’. I think that’s on the Saturday, and my clinic is on Sunday at 5pm. I think we’re all playing on the same kit, which will be very interesting. Can I kick the drums off the stage?”
You’ve worked with huge names like Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand, David Lee Roth. How do you deal with big stars and their egos?
“First of all, be yourself. Just because they’re some sort of a superstar on-screen doesn’t make them better or bigger than you. Sure, it makes their bank account bigger, but you try not to look at it that way.
“For example, with Barbara, on stage I always messed with her. She would come out and she’d have a gown on, and she’s trying to get it lit with the right lighting, and I would start playing the stripper beat. She’s turned around, ‘Oh, JR!’ and I go, ‘Come on, baby!’ and that’s how I dealt with her.
“Michael was very shy in the beginning, and we’d talk one on one about stuff and life. He’d always call me: ‘Did you play the fill on the bridge? I really want that fill.’ It was musician to musician. I guess the answer is just be yourself.”