JR Robin­son

The multi-plat­inum sell­ing stu­dio leg­end brings the groove to Lon­don

Rhythm - - FEATURE -

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.”

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