by Steve Melone
Modern Drummer recently chatted with longtime Jethro Tull drummer Doane Perry while doing research for an article on drummer Dean Zimmer. Perry spoke at length about his relationship with Zimmer as well as his great friendship with the late, great Mark Craney, who, in addition to preceding Perry in Tull, turned heads with fusion violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and sophisticated pop vocalist Gino Vannelli. Next year marks a decade since Craney’s death, so this was the perfect opportunity to reflect on his exceptional talent.
Doane: Mark Craney was really the man. He was one of my best friends. We had this thing called the Woodland Hills Drum Club, which Mark started in his garage. Of course any drummer who’s a friend of ours is in the club. It’s not something to do with a zip code—it’s a drummer’s fraternity. It’s just that we happened to live in Woodland Hills—to put to rest the notion that it was some exclusive group, like the Rotary Club or something. [laughs] It was just us and our drummer friends. We would get together and play and hang out.
MD: How did you meet Mark?
Doane: It goes back to the mid-’70s. I had auditioned for Jean-Luc Ponty, and it went well and the manager told me I had gotten the gig, but the tour got pushed back a month. About two weeks later, the manager called me in New York and said, “Oh, Doane, I’ve got some bad news for you: Jean-Luc found somebody he wants to use that he likes better.” I said, “Who is it”? He said, “Oh, you won’t know him. He’s from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. His name is Mark Craney.” They were going to play at the Bottom Line, and I remember thinking, Sioux Falls, South Dakota? I’ve got to go hear this guy!
At that point I was probably in my more esoteric, Weather Report phase. And I wasn’t playing double bass back then. When I heard Mark, he had this acrylic double bass Fibes kit, and he was a rock drummer. He had fantastic chops, great ability, and when I heard him with Jean-Luc, I could totally see why he got the gig. He really played that music with an aggressive attitude, but with a lot of finesse and chops. He was playing double bass, and I was probably approaching it in a much jazzier way. Like any bandleader, Jean-Luc wanted to hire somebody who naturally went in the direction he wanted to go in, and Mark had a great feel for the music.
After the show I went up to him and introduced myself and said, “I was in the running for the gig.” And he goes, “Oh, yeah, I heard about you.” I said, “Yeah, I bet you did!” [laughs] He was really nice, and we hit it off right away. The next time I ran into him, he was playing on the Gino Vannelli Brother to Brother tour, and I was playing with Phyllis Hyman, who was an R&B/jazz singer out of New York. We were the opening act on the Brother to Brother tour, so I would watch him play every night and he would watch me every night. We became good friends on that tour, but when I moved to California we began to hang out much more. This was around 1979.
We really loved each other’s playing, though we would have been great friends even if he didn’t play the drums. When he got the gig with Jethro Tull in 1980, initially I was more excited for him, because I was a big Tull fan, and he was phenomenal. He did the A album and tour with Tull, and he was great, both on the album and live. And we would always trade gigs—you do that with drummer friends.
MD: The Woodland Hills Drum Club put on benefits for various musicians, particularly drummers, including Dean Zimmer.
Doane: We would have benefits at this place called Mancini’s in the San Fernando Valley for people dealing with different issues. Very often they were drummers, and one time we had one for Dean to raise some money for some things. There were three or four drumsets on stage. Mark Craney was set up in the middle—he was sort of the ringmaster. There was another kit to Mark’s right that anybody could play, and to Mark’s left was Dean’s kit. There was a percussion setup as well. And we would all rotate. Every great drummer within 500 miles turned out for this thing.
Mark and Dean grew up in Sioux Falls, and I remember when Mark introduced me to Dean. He also started coming around with Gregg Bissonette and Myron Grombacher, and later Terry Bozzio. Dean just had such a great vibe to be around, and we have to thank Mark Craney a lot for introducing us to him.
Recently we did a show at the Drum Channel. They’d set up a kit for Dean in the studio, and I really saw Mark’s influence on him—I really heard it, I should say. Mark had this completely unique style, the way he would play fills and breaks—these beautiful kind of angular phrases. Mark was a serious player, very developed, not only technically but conceptually. And more than any one else, I could see Mark’s influence on Dean’s sense of phrasing.
For more on Dean Zimmer, click here.