by Billy Amendola
As an addition to our November Portraits piece, MD continues our conversation with the New York Dolls’ Brian Delaney with a fun question…
MD: So, everybody wants to know: Would you have joined the band if you had to put on the makeup and do the whole glam thing?
Brian: [hearty laugh] People do ask that question: “Do you wear a dress”? I’m like, “Uh…no.” David [Johansen] and Sylvain [Sylvain] had been always cool about not trying to replace the guys they had. This is the new New York Dolls. [laughs]
MD: Were you a fan of the band before you joined?
Brian: To be honest, I didn’t grow up listening to them. I grew up in St. Louis, and the Dolls didn’t have much of a radio thing going on back then. I grew up listening to rock in the late ’70s and ’80s, so I missed the Dolls’ time period.
MD: How did the gig come about?
Brian: I did some gigs with David in ’97, in a band called the Harry Smiths–it was this great old blues/jazz stuff, and at that time Joey Baron was playing drums and Kermit Driscoll was playing upright bass. I knew Kermit from playing the club circuit, and he called me to come in. He told me, “Joey Baron normally does it but can’t make it–and all he usually plays is just hi-hat, snare, and some toys.”
So I started doing it. I had a hard snare case I would use as a bass drum, and I’d bring a cookie sheet and some little trash cymbals. It was a blast. And I would be playing brushes most of the time. We’d do like two two-hour shows on a Saturday night at the Bottom Line, once a month or so.
MD: Was this after Johansen’s Buster Poindexter days?
Brian: It was sort of the tail end of that. So Joey would do it, Keith Carlock did it, and then I did it. And I actually did a couple Buster Poindexter gigs as well. David and I get along really well.
Then, in 2004, when the Dolls were getting back together, David called and said, “Hey, we’re going to do a couple of gigs–do you want to do it? I didn’t have to audition. And at the time they didn’t really know how many gigs there would be or how long it would last. Morrissey, who’s a big fan, had put together the first show, the big reunion gig in London, and didn’t know they had a drummer–the two drummers they’d had over the years passed away. So he got Gary Powell, the drummer from the Libertines, who were a big punk rock band.
I rehearsed with the Dolls here, but when they went over to London to do the show at the Royal Albert Hall, that was the only one I didn’t do. And, of course, that’s the one that’s out on DVD. [laughs] The second gig, two weeks later, was in Manchester, and I did that one–and every show since.
MD: What are some of your favorite songs, starting with the older ones, to play live? And do you stick to the original parts?
Brian: Yeah, basically. I haven’t gone back and listened to the older ones. It would be interesting to go back and listen now and kind of hear how it’s evolved into what I do. I like playing “Jet Boy,” and “Who Are The Mystery Girls” is pretty wild. For the new stuff I definitely like the title track “Cause I Sez So.” It’s like AC/DC straight-ahead rock. “Dance Like A Monkey” is always fun. “My World,” “Nobody Got No Business”…there’s even a four-bar drum break.
MD: Let’s go back to your early days. How old were you when you first started playing?
Brian: I started in sixth grade. I remember seeing some band at the grade school talent show. I was just fascinated by the drummer, and then I just started playing on the kitchen table or whatever, and my mom was like, “You should play drums in band in junior high.”
MD: Which is a great encouragement, because parents usually get scared when their kids say they want to play drums.
Brian: That’s true. Growing up in the Midwest, in St. Louis, we had a house with a basement, so I got a drumset in eighth or ninth grade, and there were times when my mom was like, “Why aren’t you practicing? You’re not bothering me.”
MD: Was that when you started taking private lessons?
Brian: Yes. I guess it was right after I got a set that I started taking lessons at the local music store. I worked out of the Carmine Appice book Realistic Rock.
MD: Great, successful book. A lot of drummers have studied that one.
Brian: I met Carmine a few years ago, when he came out to a Dolls show, and I was like, “Dude, the first book I ever…” [laughs]
MD: What else would you practice?
Brian: Playing along to AC/DC and Rush records. Of course, first it was like, I have a drum lesson tomorrow–I’d better start practicing. It was the lazy kid thing. [laughs]
MD: Was it when you went to college that you got more into jazz?
Brian: I started playing in jazz band, I’d say, in my junior or senior year in high school. Then I started studying with Kevin Gianino in St. Louis. He turned me on to all kinds of stuff.
MD: Did you already know how to read by the time you got to college?
Brian: Oh, yeah. I had a really good high school band director who really emphasized reading. And then I studied with the great Ed Soph at North Texas State.
MD: What did you learn from him?
Brian: Ed would always say, “If you’re doing a lot of one type of gig, maybe try something else when you practice, a different style or something else you want to work on.” So I’d practice jazz or playing with brushes and just try to keep some kind of finesse. There’s not a lot of finesse with the Dolls; you could argue either way, I guess. But when I play folk rock with Tamara Hey and play brushes on a few tunes, I’ve got to keep the ability to play soft.
MD: When you’re used to just playing hard, fast, and loud, playing soft and making it feel good is not so easy.
Brian: Exactly. You don’t want to be that drummer guy that just plays jazz loud. If I’m playing jazz, I want people to think I’m a jazz guy, not a rock guy playing jazz. Or if I’m playing rock and somebody says, “He plays good for a jazz guy.” I want them to think this is all I do.
For more on Delaney, visit www.myspace.com/briandelaneymusic.
Photo credit: verofoto.com