by Patrick Berkery
A band’s fortieth anniversary might find the members in victory-lap, let’s-slow-it-down-a-notch mode. Not so with Blondie. To mark the big four-oh, the group is touring extensively and has released a double-disc package titled Blondie 4(0)-Ever, featuring a collection of new songs called Ghosts of Download along with the album Greatest Hits Deluxe Redux, which comprises new studio recordings of the band’s biggest songs. Drummer Clem Burke isn’t slowing down either, with multiple side projects (the Empty Hearts, the Split Squad, the International Swingers) and a John Varvatos ad campaign to occupy his “downtime.” Here, as an online addition to MD’s September 2014 Influences piece, Blondie’s timekeeper fills us in.
MD: You’ve banded with some new-wave peers for the Empty Hearts. What can you tells us about the band?
Clem: It’s me with Elliot Easton from the Cars, Wally Palmar from the Romantics, and Andy Babiuk [Chesterfield Kings, author of Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four’s Instruments From Stage to Studio]. We made a self-financed record last year with [producer] Ed Stasium, and we’ve signed with a label called 429 Records. It’s out on August 5, and it’s basically what you’d expect from us, if you know what our influences are. It’s a very rowdy record, done live in the studio. People are going to be happy to hear Elliott play some great guitar on this record.
MD: You rerecorded some classic Blondie songs for the Blondie 4(0)-Ever collection. Was that a business move or something you felt you needed to do artistically?
Clem: It has to do with licensing. I was not exactly excited about doing it, to be honest. But being a drummer you have to be a team player. The record company owns the masters, so when we license something to a film or advertisement, they share in the profits. It’s become kind of commonplace as a business model for bands when they have the opportunity to license their songs.
MD: You take a few liberties with the triplets at the end of “Heart of Glass,” but aside from that the parts you play on the new recordings are verbatim, which is pretty impressive.
Clem: Yeah, you can play it the same exact way, but it’s hard to re-create what we did when we were, what…twenty-one?
MD: And you recently got to spend a day playing drums with one of your idols for a John Varvatos ad campaign.
Clem: Yeah, I did a short film for John Varvatos with Ringo. He’s going to be the face of the next John Varvatos campaign. We did this short film called “Drums for Peace.” It’s myself, Jim Keltner, Ringo, Chad Smith, Matt Sorum, and Steven Tyler, with everyone basically freestyling on the drums and passing the sticks on to the next person. That’s the first time I got to hang out with Ringo. We were hanging out and playing drums for six hours. Ringo told me I reminded him of Keith Moon, which I took as a massive compliment, of course.