Mark Hudson has the coolest job in the world right now, because he gets to be in a band with a Beatle. The reason Mark became a musician [he started on drums] was because he wanted to be like his hero, Ringo Starr.
By Billy Amendola
Not only is Mark a member of The Roundheads, Ringo’s band of the last few years, he’s co-producer, co-songwriter, vocalist, and musician on the last three Ringo solo recordings, Vertical Man, RingoRama, and the recently released Choose Love. Besides Ringo, Mark’s r’sum’ as a songwriter, vocalist, and producer reads like a music-biz who’s who list.
Starting as part of the family trio The Hudson Brothers back in the early ’70s, Mark went on to become a music and TV star. In 1985 he appeared as actress Geena Davis’s neighbor in the NBC sitcom Sara, and from ’86 to ’87 he served as musical director for The Late Show With Joan Rivers. In 1994, Mark was a Grammy nominee for co-writing Aerosmith’s song “Livin’ On The Edge.” In 2000, he teamed with Aerosmith again to co-produce their CD Just Push Play.
Mark’s also worked with Hanson, Celine Dion, Toto, Cher, Carole King, Timothy B. Schmit, Jars Of Clay, Bon Jovi, Colony, Ozzy Osbourne, and the Baha Men, to name just a few.
MD Online caught up with Mark to talk about Choose Love.
MD: The last three Ringo records have really maintained a Beatlesque sound.
Mark: I think that’s partially him. It’s like he said, The Beatles were all about love, and when we write the songs we try to keep it that way. But his backbeat is so much its own thing – it’s the same backbeat that you heard in The Beatles. And it was much more of an integral thing than anyone ever gives him credit for.
MD: When you think about it, he was the ultimate studio musician.
Mark: No question about it. He actually played everything great. That’s the lesson of what Ringo Starr meant to the band. You know what was weird? On this record, we walk into the studio and there’s a drumkit in there and he goes, “You know what that’s from, don’t you?” And I went, “Yeah!” It was the kit from Abbey Road.
MD: The wood grain Ludwig kit?
MD: Is that the kit he used on Choose Love?
Mark: Yep. So he said to me, “Go ahead, play and get it over with.” So I went behind the kit and I went [boom, boom, boom – imitates the drum solo from Abbey Road]. I get halfway through and he goes, “Get off!” [laughs] At least he let me do it. And by the way, it had the calfskin heads on it too.
MD: What about the tea towels on the toms?
Mark: No tea towels, and the snare skin was recently changed, because he told me Paul put a drumstick through it by accident. But all the heads were calfskin, and that’s why, if you listen to the sound of the drums on this record, it’s really warm and round and its own thing. It was an honor to play that kit.
MD: Let’s talk about some of the tracks on the new record.
Mark: On the song “Give Me Back The Beat,” Ringo played two kits.
MD: Can you explain?
Mark: In other words, it wasn’t like on “Lady Madonna,” where he did snare overdubs, like the brush snare. This was an entire kit recorded twice, with two complete drumsets. On one kit he did the two-step “Give me back the beat,” and then on the other kit he went half time. It was great. It was the first time he’d ever done two tracks of full-on drumkit – as opposed to just doing the toms separate or cymbals or a snare.
MD: On the title track, there’s one part in the middle that sounds like he may be using a double bass drum pedal.
Mark: Yeah! He did that on the floor tom.
MD: I’ve seen him play live and I noticed he does that right-hand fill with his floor tom.
Mark: He might have the best right hand of any drummer I’ve ever worked with. He can ride a cymbal and do a fast bell pattern – he’s got a right hand that’s killing.
MD: Talk about “Fading In And Out.”
Mark: The cool thing with that one is, it started out as the demo, but he played so great on it that I didn’t want to re-cut it.
MD: So you kept the demo drum tracks?
Mark: We kept the drums and we replaced us, because he was just rocking, right on the money. That’s usually the case. He does those great Ringo drum fills on that one, like right before [sings] “That’s alright” those little [drum sounds], almost like a swing thing on the tom-tom.
MD: Do you record the tracks live?
Mark: We always do. And the best part is, we usually write the songs and then cut them right away. This way, the emotion, the fun, and as Ringo says – the fear, is right at the center of it – which is great. Usually when you just write a song, you’re so excited about how good it is, if you get a chance to record it right away, that sort of translates into it. And that was the vibe in the whole making of this album.
MD: “Oh My Lord.”
Mark: “Oh My Lord” started off with Ringo in Monte Carlo on a Wurlitzer and a little drum machine. And the laugh we have about that is, if you hear the drum beat on that one, it starts with two beats on the kick drum. Then one beat on the kick drum, as opposed to boom, bop, boom, boom bop, which it should be – this goes boom, boom, bop, boom. The kick drums are turned around, but that becomes the charm of it. So we heard his demo, and the very beginning of it was so great, I just said, “We’ve got to use this as the record,” and then we’ll just kick in as the band. And that one was a joy to play because he was so into it and so happy that we used his original part, and he just plays great. The snare sound on that one we didn’t have to touch. And his dynamics – once again, I always go back as a producer, he so knows where a verse is, and he holds it back and sits on it a little bit. And then the chorus comes and he takes it up to the next step in volume and even in speed. We don’t do anything to a click track. We just play the song, because that’s what he knows. And because of that, his records have a lot of breathing room. And they can crescendo more and lay back in different spots – that’s what the joy of it is.
MD: He’s a perfect timekeeper. He’s always rock solid.
Mark: Always – it’s never a worry with him.
MD: “Free Drinks.”
Mark: That was a strange one. Ringo will get on the treadmill, and once his endorphins kick in, it’s like dropping acid and he starts coming up with this stuff [sings]. I don’t have a clue what he’s talking about. He actually had the original beat on a boombox. I said, “I’m not sure you want to do a disco beat,” and he said, “Oh, come on, let’s have some fun. But let’s do it as a band.” And that’s when I had the idea of making it still sound like our group. So we went and played over his boombox beat.
MD: So, he played on top of the loop?
Mark: Yes. It’s a loop that he had – he played keyboard and did the changes of the song. We then took the loop and cut it up so that the song made more sense, and then wrote the song to it and went out as a band and played over the loop. So he played drums against that loop, which he had never done before. Which also goes to show that if he wanted to, he could play to a click as well as anyone. He just nailed it.
MD: “don’t Hang Up.”
Mark: That track was actually just cut by Ringo, myself, and Gary Burr. We went through a phase on a couple of the songs where it was sort of like the White Album approach. All of The Roundheads weren’t around, so it was just three of us. I love the drumming on that one. When it comes to him holding down the fort – he’s also the king of crossing over the bar. Most drummers will go like 1, 2, 3, 4 – 2, 2, play the fill and back. He’ll play the fill that will cross over to the 1, and he’ll start playing the beat again on the 3. And it’s natural. And when I hear him do that I go, “Oh God!” and I hope we don’t screw up the take.
So many times he’ll do some great stuff and I’ll panic, thinking, Please don’t let anyone else screw up. Same thing could have happened on “The Turnaround.” That was a jam. We came back from lunch and sat down, and Steve plugged his guitar in and got that real weird, sort of Neil Young sound. Ringo said, “I quite like that,” and sat down and played the drums. I went for a very simple bass line, and we wrote the song. So that was a jam that became a song.
On this record, I wanted him to play all the percussion parts. In the past, I would play some, but this time I thought, Let’s make this entire record with him on percussion. You’ve got to watch him play tambourine to really appreciate it. We’re so concerned with being in time that we put our hand to the wood so that it’s right on 2 & 4. He brings the tambourine to the hand so that the jingle and the jangle precede the hit.
MD: “Satisfied.” That’s the song on which he brought out some special guitars.
Mark: That was very cool. Ringo and I had actually written that song for Ringorama. We held on to it because we loved it. He knew what he wanted the track to be, and that’s when he brought up Rubber Soul to play electric guitars like he would play acoustic guitars, and not have any finesse, just strum them freely. He takes me to his house and says, “I want to show you something.” There are three guitar cases, and he opens up one and it’s Mark Bolan’s [T-Rex] black Les Paul. Opens up another one, its John Lennon’s cherry burst Rickenbacker. Opens up another one and its George Harrison’s Country Gentleman Gretsch. I couldn’t believe it! He goes, “Yeah, let’s take them in and play them.” And because we have three guitar players among us – Steve Dudas, Gary Burr, and me – we took turns. I had John’s guitar first because I just had to. We’d do a verse and then pass them around, so the song has all three guitars played by all three of us. Steve Dudas played the slide solo on George’s guitar. That was a moment for Ringo because he just – when you hear that solo you just go, “Whoa – there’s something else going on here,” because it has that tone, that feeling. It was a great moment.
MD: “Hard To Be True.”
Mark: On “Hard To Be True” Ringo doesn’t come in until the middle eight. And again, we did that with no click, he was just keeping time with the hi-hat. And then when it gets to that middle eight, he hits a kick drum first and then builds it up. We love the fact that he went ‘boom’ and then does the drum fill. There’s an instrument he has in his house made out of clay called an Udu, this huge thing, and it took three of us to play it. So Gary Burr held it, Ringo played the right hand, which would be like the snare, and I played the tom part with my left hand. Anyway, he did the groove, we played it to his hi-hat, and then when he kicks in with the drumkit we’re off to the races. I love that song.
MD: “Some People.”
Mark: Originally Ringo said, “I kind of want to do a crunchy Rubber Soul type of song,” sort of the vibe of Rubber Soul with acoustic guitars and the drums sounding a certain way, with heavy percussion – electric guitars playing what acoustic guitars should play, which I thought was interesting. I said to Gary, wouldn’t it be great to do something like [sings the chorus from the Beatles song “You Won’t See Me] and we started playing that song. That was rare because Ringo rarely plays Beatles songs. But he got behind the drums and played that song with us. All of a sudden he realizes what he’s doing and goes, “Ah, stop it,” and he makes us stop. But then we said, wouldn’t it be great to write a song like that, around that groove” And that’s when we wrote “Some People.” If you compare the two, it’s right in that pocket.
MD: The single “Choose Love” sounds to me like a combo of “Taxman” and “Drive My Car.”
Mark: Yes, it is. And I actually got away with playing that bass riff without him yelling at me. [laughs]
MD: How did that song come about?
Mark: That one was actually based on Steve Dudas having that groove, and that cool opening. And Ringo just sat behind the drums and started playing that beat. And as soon as he did, I went, “Oh yeah,” grabbed the bass, and went into “Taxman” meets “Drive My Car.” I’m not really a bass player. I’m a great McCartney impersonator. [laughs] On the records I try to let every guy in the band play bass.
MD: What is your main instrument?
Mark: Drums – and every now and then I come out of retirement. [laughs] But I don’t really keep my chops up anymore.
MD: Did you play on The Hudson Brothers records?
Mark: Oh yeah, I was the drummer. That was my gig. It’s so weird because my first set was Ringo’s Ludwig model. I said to Ringo one time, “I can only pretend to play like you. That’s all I know. You were my inspiration.” And it’s just so weird now to be sitting there with your inspiration and producing him.
MD: And you’re getting the ultimate drum lessons.
Mark: And I’m getting them from the master. He’ll sit down and teach me stuff, and he’ll tell me stuff, and I’m thinking – I’ve died and gone to heaven. And a thing that Ringo does – which I’ve never been able to learn – is that he can do a shuffle against a 4/4. He showed that to Gregg Bissonette, and Gregg imploded for half an hour until he learned it. He had to go away and really study – and Gregg can play anything. Ringo said he got that from listening to the early Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Charles and Elvis records. The drummers were playing almost big band swing but there was a 4/4 underneath it. And Ringo can really lay that down. I watch him play these drum fills, and because he’s left-handed, he leads with the left. Not many people know that. And that made some of his drum fills sound like nobody else.
For more with Mark and Ringo, check out the November ’05 issue of Modern Drummer.