Mention the Tubes and most likely people will conjure up an image of a TV bred generation run amok: giant back projections and video screens onstage surrounded by a nonstop array of dancers moving in and out of insanely imaginative production numbers on the scale of Busby Berkly—a sort of hi-tech vaudeville.
But the Tubes are more than that. They are not just an extended electrical/ theatrical gag but are also a hand that plays rock that can peel paint off the back wall of the concert hall. And keeping it all together is the quiet giant in the back, Prairie Prince.
Anyone who has ever seen the Tubes perform can attest to his power, technique and stamina. He is unshakable too, and he has to be with all that semichaos going on all around him. It’s one thing to simply drum your way through a couple of hours worth of music every night, but it’s quite another to be the glue that holds an audio/visual extravaganza like the Tubes together. Not only does Prairie keep the seven-piece band together, he also has to cue entrances and exits of dancers, provide musical accents and cues for visual effects, do a little dancing himself and have enough left over to pump out a solo at the end of the night! And, as if that weren’t enough, he designs the Tubes’ sets and graphics along with keyboardist Mike Cotten.
Prairie’s percussive prowess has also been recognized and utilized by such diverse artists as legendary pianist Nicky Hopkins, the late Tommy Bolin, and Brian Eno. As he freely admits, Prairie is not one for talking, preferring instead to let his drumming and graphic designs do his talking for him. This reticence is to blame for the low profile he generally keeps, but his drumming can hardly go unnoticed. He took some time during the Tubes’ touring schedule to break his silence.
SH: When and how did you start drumming?
PP: I started drumming when I was a wee lad in Phoenix, Arizona. My mother kept a development book and it says in there when I was six months old that she noticed I had a good sense of rhythm. I was popping on the old rattle. The first thing I remember was the sound of the washing machine. The metal sides had a good, round tone. Then my uncle brought me a pair of bongos back from Mexico. They were the first drums I ever had. Then my mother bought me a snare drum, a Rogers skinny blue-metalflake snare drum—really incredible. I wish I still had it. I just loved that thing. But that wasn’t enough so I mowed yards, got a paper route and saved enough money to buy a Slingerland set. I was about eleven at the time.
SH: Were you taking lessons?
PP: Well, in the sixth and seventh grades, I took lessons from the school band teacher. He taught all the instruments in the band. Those were the only lessons I ever took. They were mainly snare drum lessons, rudiments and things like that.
SH: Did he teach you traditional or matched grip?
PP: He taught me traditional grip, but I soon switched to matched because I couldn’t keep the power up. I was in a surf band called the Regents with two girls who both played Fender Mustangs. I was the envy of the school because I was a freshman and I was playing with these two beautiful senior girls. We played a couple of dances and then they lost their interest.
After the surf band broke up, I met Roger Steen, who I’m still playing with in the Tubes. He was in a band, and they lost their drummer. We got together and I’ve been with Roger ever since.
SH: How long did that particular band last?
PP: That band just evolved; started as a high-school band and eventually wound up as the Tubes. Roger and I have been in it from the beginning with other people coming in here and there.
SH: Who was the next permanent member?
PP: Fee Waybill was our equipment manager. We met him on a ranch in Arizona in ’68 after we’d all finished high school and were thinking about what to do next. We lived in Tucson and the band was called the Red, White & Blues Band—just Roger, myself and a bass player. We did a lot of Hendrix and Cream, lots of power-trio stuff.
SH: Were you using two bass drums at the time?
PP: Yeah, I started it when the original drummer for Alice Cooper, John Spear, became our manager. He was playing a set of Flapjacks. He gave me his set and I had this set of Rogers, so I combined the two. It was the weirdest-looking set ever—half this zebra-striped Rogers and half these Flapjacks which looked like giant practice pads.
SH: Could you get any volume out of those things?
PP: Oh yeah, they were incredibly loud!
SH: Whatever happened to those things? They just disappeared off the market around ’69 or “70.
PP: I have no idea. I saw maybe two other sets in drum shops, but I’ve never seen them since. John took his back. They were single-headed, just like a thin timbale. They all packed together into one nice little neat case the size of a large cymbal case. They were definitely a conversation piece. The problem was, the bass drum legs came out at a weird angle, and the bass had to be held with a chain around the throne and the legs of the bass, because if the bass slid, the whole thing slid away from you.
John lent me those, and I used them until he quit, at which time I got another Rogers bass drum to go with that kit, a 22″. After that I got the Zickos set.
SH: All this happened while you were the Red, White & Blues Band?
PP: Well, we changed our name in ’69. We were tired of Arizona, and at that time where else could we go but San Francisco? So we changed our name to Arizona because Chicago was big then and we were representing our home state, geographical names being big that year.
I was going to go to art school in San Francisco, so they all decided to come along. I was going to the San Francisco Art Institute during the day and would come home and practice after classes. We’d scrape up a gig here and there.
SH: Were you able to live off of your playing?
PP: No. I was being supported by my uncle and the other guys were living off of food stamps and welfare.
SH: So you spent four years in art school?
PP: Yes, spent four years in art school that were broken up in 1970 when we went to Japan. The same guy, John Spear, finagled a deal with the American President Lines and the San Francisco Pavillion. Somehow they were connected through an ambassador. He heard that they needed a rock band for the San Francisco Pavillion to play at Expo ’70. We got the job, but our name was still Arizona. That posed a problem because we were representing San Francisco. We had to change the name to Arizon, a sort of Japanese version of Arizona.
We played on the liner for our passage over and back; we played for the firstclass party kids. It was a great trip. In Japan we played four hours a day, every other hour on the hour. We played outdoors every day for all the masses coming by to see the freak band from San Francisco. It was totally amazing. It was my first experience in Japan, and I just loved it.
We were there a month plus two weeks over on the ship and two weeks back. When we got back we broke up— the bass player left. We had known this other band from Arizona called the Beans. They had Bill (Spooner), Vince (Welnick), Rick (Anderson) and their other drummer. So we all formed together. Roger, Fee and I joined them and called ourselves the Radarmen From Uranus And The Beans. We did a lot of Fillmore West audition nights and things like that.
SH: Were you doing visual things too?
PP: Yeah, we would spray-paint our bodies with body paint and make these outrageous space outfits, and we played a lot of clubs in Berkeley trying to do this ridiculous show. We even played a Catholic girls’ school. It was exciting for me because we had two drummers.
SH: Who was the other drummer?
PP: Bob Mclntosh was the original drummer with the Beans. It was so wonderful playing with two drummers because he was a real John Bonham-type drummer; real solid, heavy kind of guy. He played a Slingerland double kit, and I had this wacked-out set of the Flapjacks and the zebra Rogers. I would do all the accents while he held the beat down. We played together well. He had the heavy bottom thing, and I’d flam out.
SH: How long did that last?
PP: That went on until Bob died of cancer around ’72 or ’73. He died while I was doing the Crater Festival with Journey.
SH: How did you happen to play with Journey?
PP: That all happened because their manager was Herbie Herbert, who was also managing the Tubes at the time. Herbie had worked with Santana and Neal Schon. He was trying to put together a group of session guys just to do a record. He was going to call them the Golden Gate Bridge or the Golden Gate Rhythm Section. That was the original Journey name.
SH: And that was strictly to be an album project?
PP: That’s what I was told, but I think all along they had a permanent band in mind. Neal, Greg Rollie, Ross, a guy named George Tickner and myself got together, went into S.I.R. (Studio Instrument Rental) in San Francisco, started jamming and just freaked out. We had a great time.
SH: And this was as an aside to the Tubes?
PP: Yeah, I just did it because I wanted to do an album with them. But then they started getting real serious on me. I still had a great love for the Tubes and didn’t want to join another band, even though I was falling in love with Neal’s guitar playing and Ross’ bass playing especially.
So we went in and did the whole album, or what we thought was an album (it turned out to be just a demo). They tried to get me for a year and a half. They didn’t have anything together for a year and a half. They auditioned drummers and drummers and I kept saying, “No, can’t do it.”
I did two shows with them. I did the Winterland show with Santana on New Year’s Eve and then the Crater Festival the next day in Hawaii. They tried to get me for years, but I just never went for it. I was always more interested in the Tubes. It seemed like a more inventive thing to me. But Journey, they really do got the rock, boy!
SH: You also did some playing on Tommy Bolin’s first solo album. What’s the story there?
PP: That was much later. Actually, when I was in the Red, White & Blues Band, he was in a band called Zephyr, from Colorado. They came through town and we opened for them; we were the local opening act. So, we met him.
We used to rent a generator and go out into the desert and jam. Tommy came out there one time, and we’d jam “Voodoo Child” for three hours and not bother anybody but the iguanas. He had partied all night and came out and jammed with us.
After that I never heard from him for years. I kept up on his history with other groups: James Gang, Deep Purple and all that. And Cobham’s Spectrum album. I heard that and just freaked. I thought that was the greatest guitar playing I’d ever heard.
Lee Keefer, the guy who was engineering our first album with Al Kooper, was also doing Tommy’s solo album at the Record Plant in L.A. He called me up because I had just worked with him. I guess Tommy didn’t really remember me until I got there and he went, “Hey, great, I know you!” and then we just had a wonderful time. We played all night long, and they just used two of the tracks, although I played five or six different songs.
But there’s another period I left out, when I played with Nicky Hopkins, the piano player. This was right after he did Exile on Main Street with the Stones. It was ’73 and he lived in Mill Valley. His wife was a friend of ours, that’s how we met.
When he was doing a solo album for Columbia, he asked me to do the drumming. In fact, he bought me my Zickos drums. He said, “Do you need a new set of drums to do this album?” and I said, “Yes, definitely, and these are the ones I want.” So he went over and bought them for me. The name of the album is The Tin Man Was A Dreamer. It was totally amazing because we did it at Apple Studios in London.
In order to pack the Zickos drums to get them to England I had to take all the lugs out of the drums to get them into their cases. I can’t exactly remember why now, but I had to take all the lugs apart and off of the drums.
Now, I get to Apple Studios and everybody’s rushing around. Mick Jagger’s there trying to produce this record, and Nicky doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. So I’m panicking, completely starstruck, trying to screw this set of drums together, not knowing what they’re going to sound like in a recording session. I’ve never even played them before in my life!
Mick Jagger’s uptight and I’m nervous, it was ridicuous! So, we finally get the drums set up and get a drum sound, and Mick’s getting kind of impatient. We’d run down one song one time and he’d say, “Ah, that drumming’s terrible. Can’t you play maracas or something?” and Nicky freaked out and ordered him out of the room, and that was the last I saw of Mick Jagger.
A lot of people played on that album, guitarists especially. Ray Cooper was the percussionist; playing with him was neat. Klaus Voorman played bass; George Harrison did some guitar. I could barely play I was so awestruck! Lots of guitar players: Chris Spedding on guitar; Jimmy McCullough on guitar; Mick Taylor and Ron Wood played too.
They all came in to do a couple of tracks. None of them could stay long. I did the whole album because they were paying my way and I didn’t have anyplace else to go! Everybody else was coming in, trying to do Nicky a favor because he’s such a wonderful, wonderful man and a brilliant pianist. It was definitely a great experience.
SH: So, you did his album but the Tubes were still going on?
PP: Yep, still going and they still had the other drummer at this point too. But he died after I got back from England. The band was still going, but without a record contract. We didn’t get a record deal until 1975. Then we got one with A & M.
SH: Herb Alpert liked the way you guys played?
PP: I guess so. We even did a wack-o version of “The Lonely Bull” somewhere on our first album. Herb really liked us, and we were Jerry Moss’ pet band; we could do no wrong. They spent a million dollars on us over the five years we were with A & M. We got into a pretty big debt to them. But now we’re out of that debt, and we’re on a new label, Capitol Records, and they seem to be doing well for us and the current album, Completion Backwards Principle. I really like the record a lot.
SH: The production on this one seems to be much better than your other albums. The drums seem to snap a lot; there seems to be a lot of air in the recording which makes for a much bigger sound, especially drum-wise. It’s probably the best bass/drums sound you’ve had since the Young and Rich album.
PP: Well, it’s basically down to the engineers. Those were the two best engineers we worked with. Ken Scott did Young and Rich, and spent four days on just the drum sound alone. He and I were there before the rest of the band ever showed up. It was definitely your layered album. We did the drums and bass and then added everything else onto that. Of course, that’s the way it is with most of our records; that’s the way it was on this last one too.
In fact, they had to overdub the bass on most of the songs. Basically it was me playing all the songs by myself, either that or to a click track or with Michael Cotten’s sequencer. It’s a hard way to make music, but it was the only way to satisfy the producer!
SH: It’s not possible to run it down with a scratch guitar, piano or vocal track and then just actually record the drums?
PP: We’d play the song with everybody. Everybody would learn their parts; then they’d start cancelling people out. First it would be, “Okay, we don’t need two guitar parts.” Then it’s, “Okay, now we don’t need any guitar parts, they’re confusing the thing, confusing the rhythm.” Now, “Okay, we’ll just have piano, bass and drums. Okay, piano player, you’re confusing the bass player.” And it would get kind of funny. Actually, it didn’t go like that on all the tracks, but it did happen a lot.
SH: If that’s confusing, how do you manage to deal with the live shows where you’ve got all this mass hysteria onstage with the entire band cranking out and all these extra people running around stage dancing, screaming, summersalting, leaping and generally carrying on?
PP: It’s a matter of total instinct now. It’s very much like being a traffic cop sometimes. The drum accents direct much of the physical action onstage: go here; go there; stop; jump; flip! It gets crazy!
SH: When you do have time, what do you listen to?
PP: As much funk as I can. Earth, Wind & Fire is my favorite band. I love the multiple percussion thing; playing with Mingo Lewis got me into that.
SH: How did you hook up with Mingo?
PP: Mingo was with Santana for years, and their manager, Herbie Herbert, introduced us and said that we should play together sometime. We played together at another rehearsal studio thing and Mingo was just burning up!
We were playing at a club in San Francisco called Bimbo’s, and he came down and jammed with us. Everybody loved it so much that he just started hanging out with us and coming over to jam a lot. Everybody really got into his free, natural energy. He plays great keyboards too, and he writes wonderful music as well. He had a solo album out called Flight Never Ending, which unfortunately didn’t do him much justice.
SH: What was Mingo using with the Tubes?
PP: He was playing some second kit, but not much. He also had a pair of North drums, timbales and a set of congas. His main axe was the congas. Boy, did he play them! He played them all through everything! And the timbales and the cowbells and the splash cymbals! I enjoyed it, really loved it.
And in that situation our roles got switched. With Bob Mclntosh, I was doing all the accents. With Mingo, I was holding down the beat. A lot of people asked me if I felt limited, but I never did because he was such an inspiration. He would play the most “out” beats and just get what I was doing at the same time. The interaction was amazing most of the time, but all that action got to be too much for the rest of the band. There was too much happening for them.
SH: In a band like the Tubes, your drumming is really the glue that holds it all together. On this tour there are so many entrances and exits and special cues for dancers, punch lines and lighting effects, not to mention keeping the music itself cooking, that your playing has to be very clean, precise and exact.
PP: It’s like being a show drummer. It’s like working the Johnny Carson Show or doing the modern equivalent of vaudeville. I do a lot of sound effects and Spike Jones-type things too.
Sometimes I step on Mike (Cotten, synthezist) because that’s what he does too. He does a lot of rhythm, and he does a lot of sound effects. Occasionally we get it together and pop at the same time.
SH: Essentially, you and Roger started out together and added people as you went along, going from one phase to the next. Have your listening habits changed too?
PP: We’ve been through all the phases; your Hendrix, your Cream. As a matter of fact, Mitch Mitchell was my total inspiration. I loved Mitch Mitchell. In fact, I knew all his licks because we did every Hendrix song there was. I just loved those fast little jazzy rolls combined with the rock.
And then, after that who came out but Billy Cobham with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and we were all into that. We tried to play as many beats as possible in every bar. At the same time we were always into Frank Zappa. His music was excellent, and he always had amazing drummers; all of them were great. We played with Zappa at Knebworth in England once. That was the only time I got to see Terry Bozzio play. I really, really enjoyed his playing.
And before all that was Ginger Baker. His playing really started me into using two bass drums. He had the sound that everybody wanted so bad. I enjoyed him very much. But of all the people using double bass drums now, Simon Phillips is the only person who impresses me.
SH: What about someone like Cozy Powell?
PP: I know Cozy. He’s great and I like his footwork, but something about Simon Phillips just kills me. He’s just got that touch that I like. I love his drumming completely; you could say he’s one of my favorite drummers.
SH: Anyone else?
PP: I saw James Brown’s drummers a couple of weeks ago, and those guys were pretty amazing. And I always loved Lenny White, although I don’t know what he’s been doing lately. And Mingo Lewis is one of my favorite drummers.
SH: What’s he doing now that he’s not with the Tubes?
PP: Mingo’s got a band called the Tong, and he’s playing traps; no Latin percussion. They’re in San Francisco trying to get a record deal. They have a kind of Police sound, a kind of reggae/Third World-type sound. There’s a bass player, Mingo on drums and a guitar player who plays a lot of those open chords and chunka-chunka stuff. They’re really great.
I like that Third World sound, and I like Brian Eno’s stuff a lot too. I even got to record with him and David Byrne from the Talking Heads.
SH: How did that happen?
PP: I met Eno about a year and a half ago. We were in L.A. playing the Roxy. It was right before we did an album we called The Black Album, which never got released. Eno was staying in L.A. and had done some of the basic sessions for My Life In The Bush of Ghosts with David Byrne. He had done some tracks in New York with Fripp, Busta Jones and the drummer for Talking Heads, Chris Frantz. He’s a simple but great drummer.
Eno was trying to decide what to do with this record. He was kind of at a loss, so he said. So he played us these basic tracks, and we just freaked out, Michael, Vincent and myself. We almost gave him the inspiration to keep going because he didn’t think this was the right direction to take, but we told him to go for it.
So about a month later, he called up and asked me if I’d like to come down and work with him and David on the record. He told me not to bring any drums because they had drums at the studio.
I arrived there, and they had this set of drums that looked like they belonged to a garbage man. They belonged to a group called the Screamers who were friends of his, and he just borrowed them. They were completely spray-painted with gray primer; the heads, the lugs, the shells and everything. You couldn’t even tell what brand they were; it was like a conceptual art piece.
I tried to do the best I could with them. I set them up and tried to get a sound. They were horrible! We worked on a drum sound and couldn’t get anything happening, so they decided to experiment. They said, “Well, what are we all about here? Let’s experiment and see what we come up with.”
So they grabbed these plastic garbage cans that were in the studio. Then we put them on a snare stand and taped them all up with gaffer’s tape and then played on them.
With Eno doctoring them, he calls it “treatments,” those garbage cans got the most incredible sounds! Basically that was the drum sound. They just told me to play. I played by myself for maybe two hours; just playing anything I could, all kinds of beats. What I was hearing in the headphones was Eno’s treatments, and it sounded like ten or twenty drummers playing when I was doing a simple roll on these garbage cans.
SH: Did you use a regular bass drum or did you use a trash can for that too?
PP: I used part of that battleship drum set. I used the bass drum, the snare and the hi-hat along with the garbage cans. I had to take a picture of it—nobody’d believe me otherwise!
And that was just the first thing. I was there for three days, and he had me doing some of the weirdest things. They’d get road cases and put mic’s on them. Their whole philosophy was to play anything for three or four minutes; the same thing over and over, to get a groove going.
We would mike certain areas of the carpet. Eno would play drumsticks on the piano. He would stick coins and screws inside it and play prepared piano. All three of us would sit at the piano. Eno would play the bass line, David would play the middle and I’d play the top, sort of a timbale piano thing, just working on different rhythms. I have never been so inspired in my whole life! And the record is out, and it’s huge—just goes to show ya!
I’m on two cuts, and Mingo is on there too. The garbage cans are on there, but you wouldn’t be able to tell what it is. It’s hard to pick it out because there’s so much rhythm going on. They put layer and layer of weird percussion on it.
This was essentially a research project for the Talking Heads album, Remain In Light. They got so excited about what came out of these sessions that they decided to use that as a basis for the Talking Heads album. That album did well, so they came back to these sessions and released them as well, and they’re both doing really well.
The credits on that album are weird too. On one cut, “The Carrier,” I’m credited with bass drum. I actually played the whole set. They only gave me credit for bass drum because they filtered out all the drums except for the bass drum which was the main pattern. And I’m credited for “cans” on “Jezebel Spirit,” the one I played the garbage cans on.
I’ve listened to that song a hundred times, and I can’t tell that’s me playing. It all seems like a dream to me. I even played bass on the album, and I don’t play bass! That’s Eno’s approach—go in exactly the opposite direction of what you might expect, and you’ll come up with something. And Eno’s totally into rhythm. That’s his thing.
SH: Let’s get the story on your equipment, other than the occasional garbage cans.
PP: Originally I had a Slingerland set which I replaced with the Rogers set. I augmented the Rogers with the Flapjacks for a while. Next was the Zickos. They were the first plastic drums I had ever seen—this was before I saw Cobham with Mahavishnu. I happened to see them in Leo’s Music Store in Oakland; they were unbelievable. I thought they looked great and wondered how they’d sound. I set them up in the store and played them, and they were great.
I used the Zickos for the Nicky Hopkins thing and for about three years after that. Then we had a bad truck wreck, and three of them got cracked real bad. I had them glued, but they were definitely in sad shape after 3 1/2 years. I still have them.
But then a guy who was a roadie for Santana and also worked for us, came by and brought the Yamaha drum salesman to our rehearsal studio and said, “Check this drummer out.” They did and showed me the brochures and stack of photographs of the Yamaha drum line; they didn’t even have a catalog. I guess not many people were endorsing Yamaha at the time.
Ndugu, who was with Santana then, had just gotten a set of Yamahas. I had seen those at the studios, and they looked pretty good. The next thing I knew, there was a set of drums in the mail! I hadn’t ordered any color, any amount or any sizes. The salesman had just sent me what he had seen me using. With the Zickos I had two bass drums, two rack toms, two floor toms and four concert toms. So, he sent me the same configuration in natural wood. Of course I was floored!
I signed a contract saying that if I ever decided not to use Yamaha drums, I would keep the drums in good condition and send them back. I kept them in good condition; in fact, I covered them in black cloth for our first European tour. I thought it would look good and help keep the finish on the drums together, and it worked really well.
SH: What sizes were those drums’?
PP: That set had 6″, 8″ and 10″ concert toms, 12″, 13″, 14″, 15″ double-headed rack toms, 16″ and 18″ floor toms and two 24″ bass drums. They sent me two snares in the beginning, a chrome one and a wooden one. They were the ultrasensitive, monster, giant snare-strainer models. Those things were so sensitive and so impractical.
SH: Do you find that kind of snare mechanism necessary?
PP: No, not at all. In fact, now I’m using the real simple one. It’s simpler to operate, and it sounds better to me.
However, because they had sent me the wood drums that I had covered in black cloth, I decided to ask them for a set of black drums. Sure enough, within three weeks I had a black set with the same number and same sizes as before. The only problem was with the snare. The new black snare was the same model as the natural wood snare I had before, but it didn’t sound nearly as good as those two other ones. I kept the natural wood snare for recording and used the chrome snare for live work.
SH: Why the wooden snare for recording and the metal for live?
PP: Because the wooden one had such a nice, round tone. I got real good results with it in the studio. The chrome one I could get much more of a bright, alive sound from. But now I can’t get a sound out of either one of them.
During the rigors of road travel, the snare mechanisms got mangled—they stick out about three inches on either side, and eventually they got trashed. I had them rebuilt by Leo’s in Oakland. It cost me a fortune—I should’ve had Yamaha pay for it! At the time Leo’s was the only place that stocked Yamaha parts. I always go to Leo’s anyway. So I had them rebuilt, but they just never were the same. I could never get a good sound out of them. So with this new purple set, I’ve been using this new 7000 Series wood-shell snare with the simple strainer, and it’s got an incredible sound.
SH: And you recorded the Completion Backward Principle album with this new purple set?
PP: Yes, this is the first time I ever recorded with it. I used this exact set except for the snare.
Humberto Gatica, the engineer on the album, does millions of sessions in L.A. and other places, and he knows this one guy who rents out snare drums. It might be Paul Jameson, I’m not sure. Anyway, he brought down this incredible metal snare drum with the longest lugs I’d ever seen. It’d take you five minutes to unscrew one rod. It didn’t have a brand name on it; I looked everywhere. No one knew anything about it. The guy who delivered it left. I never saw him again, so I never found out what it was.
But according to Humberto, he’d used that snare on a lot of different things, and it was the only snare he liked. I had four snare drums there and he kicked them out! So I used that snare, but I used my purple kit, and he loved the sound of it.
SH: That set has 26″ bass drums. Why?
PP: Well, Mingo had a 26″ bass when we did the European tour. Rather than ship another kit from here to England, Yamaha just provided him with a kit when we got there, and the kit they supplied him with had a 26″ bass. I really liked the sound of it; it was just a much bigger sound. Although now I’m thinking about going back to 24’s again.
SH: Why’s that?
PP: The response is better. The bigger the head, the larger the area that has to vibrate and the slower the response is. I might go back to that quicker response I got from my 24’s. I’ll have to see if I can get a couple of them.
SH: What’re the specs on the rest of this new purple outfit?
PP: I’ve got two concert toms, 6″ and 8″, a 10″ tom which is double-headed (a great little drum); a 16″ concert tom to the left of the hi-hat which I use as a sort of timbale-effect during my solo. The other toms are standard size 12″, 13″, 14″, 15″, 16″ and 18″ drums, with the last two being floor toms. The concert toms have a chrome finish on the inside, and the double-headed toms are finished in natural wood inside. I don’t know if the chrome on the inside of the concert toms makes any difference in the sound, but that’s the way they come.
The concert toms have Ludwig Silver Dot heads. The bass drums have Remo Black Dots with regular Yamaha heads on the front with a hole cut out for the mic’s. The top four rack toms have Remo PinStripes on top and clear Yamahas on the bottom. The 15″, 16″ and 18″ all have white Remo Ambassadors on top and clear Yamahas on the bottom.
I vary the tom-tom batter heads from the white Ambassadors to the Pin Stripes. I kind of like that PinStripe sound, although my soundman likes the white heads better. He claims he can get a better sound out of them live. I like them better in the studio, too. But for me, playing live, I like the PinStripes because you can get a rounder sound, and you can hit them harder and they don’t dent as bad. With the white ones it’s just ridiculous. The way I play, they get pitted in a matter of two days, especially the snare.
I changed heads every day in the studio for this last album. Maybe not every drum, but definitely on the five primary drums that I hit most. A lot of engineers I’ve been working with are real particular; if there’s any little mark on the head, they want it changed. To me, it’s just ridiculous, because sometimes you just get the thing sounding good and they say, “change it.”
SH: Do you like your heads tight or loose?
PP: I like ’em just right! To me, that means as tight as possible, yet thick. With double-headed drums, I usually start with the bottom head, get the tone I want and then get the top skin as close to that as possible. That’s generally the way I do it, unless I’m going for a particular sound or effect. When that’s the case, and I want that “dowwwwwwwnnn” sound, I either loosen the bottom head a little bit or loosen one side of the batter head. Then you have to be careful where you hit it, so you don’t get those horrible overtones.
Sometimes I tape up the drums, but nothing more than a little piece here and there, nothing really consistant. It’s basically a question of getting that perfect sound for each drum. Lately I’ve been a little lax. Because of the touring schedule, you can’t always do it. Some days you have five minutes to get a drum sound, and other times you have two hours that you spend working out every little detail. Last night was one of the short ones. I should’ve changed a couple of the heads last night, but I just didn’t have the time.
SH: You use an external muffler on your snare drum?
PP: Yes, plus there’s a little bit of tape on there as well. The weather has a lot to do with it. Sometimes it doesn’t ring as much, other times you change the head and it rings like crazy. That’s what happened this last time. That’s why there’s tape on it.
Yamaha came out with some great mufflers. Unfortunately, they were plastic, but the muffling material itself was cone-shaped rubber material. It attached to the rim like the Rogers muffler, but there was a screw that screwed this rubber cone into the head, rather than using a flat piece of felt. It really had a great effect on the head.
The rubber cone was inverted, point downward, so you could have just the tip of the cone touching the head for a slight muffling effect, or you could screw it down more to get a more muffled sound. They were great. The only problem was, they were made of plastic, and one accidental hit with a stick and they were busted to bits. I wrote them a letter telling them to redesign them because they were such a good idea.
SH: What type of sticks do you use?
PP: I’ve been using Rogers SuperSouls whenever I can find them. They’re hard to find, and they’re not consistent from stick to stick, so you have to go through them and pick them out by hand. I also use Regal Tips. I use Regal 5B, nylon tip, for certain cymbal work, basically. But just for standard heavy rock, I like the SuperSouls; they’ve got that little extra length. Sometimes I even use one nylon tip and one SuperSoul; the SuperSoul on the snare and the nylon tip on the cymbal.
SH: And your cymbals?
PP: Paistes and Zildjians, all mixed up. Right now I’ve got a 22″ Zildjian ride I’ve had since 1970. It’s the only cymbal that’s lasted me this long. I go through crashes like they’re going out of style. That’s why I’m not that particular about crashes. I’ve got 17″ and 18″ Zildjian heavy crashes. I’ve got an 18″ Paiste crash which I used to like; something happened to it, and I lost the tone. There’s another Paiste, a 20″ China-type, and a couple of playtime cymbals, a 12″ Zildjian and an 8″ Paiste bell cymbal. The hi-hats are Paiste Sound-Edge, and all the Paistes are the 2002 series.
There’s also a cowbell in there somewhere. I still haven’t found a good place for it. I don’t play it that much anyway. Right now it’s a little too far back. Yesterday it was too high, so Alan, my roadie, turned it upside down, but then it was too close to the floor toms, and it lost its tone. Actually, I think I want it right where the 15″ tom is, so I still have to keep searching for another spot to stick it. I had it on the bass drum for a while, but I kept hitting it with my knee. I have big knees; I’m over six feet tall.
SH: Do you sit high or low?
PP: Neither. I sit just right! I like to sit high so I can be seen above this monster drum kit, but then if I sit too high, I don’t have the power in my legs. It would seem different, wouldn’t it? It would seem, the higher you are, the more power you’d have, but it doesn’t work that way. The lower I get, the more power I have in my thighs and in my calves.
I play heel up. In fact, I’m developing a severe case of drummer’s toes from curling my toes down and pressing them into the bass pedal. Not so much on my left foot because I don’t use it as much, but the toes on my right foot are starting to look deformed.
SH: Are your pedals fairly slack?
PP: Yeah, they’re pretty slack. Yamaha pedals, I love ’em! I’ve gone through so many pedals! I used to use Ghost pedals for a long time with my Zickos set, and before that, I used Rogers pedals for a long time. Camcos too.
But what I want to know is, who’s got the ultimate cooling system for the rock drummer? I had two of those little fans that they have in the back of amps to keep them cool. I had them right up next to my head, but they were too small, so I got two regular-size fans. Somebody should invent something that’s just perfect. It’s a very real problem because I lose so much energy.
SH: I noticed you were wearing gloves when you play.
PP: I only just started doing that. I couldn’t hang onto the sticks under all that heat and light to save my neck. I tried everything: I sanded the sticks; put Bandaids on my hands; put Bandaids on the sticks. Actually, the drummer in our opening act, the Producers, showed me something last night. He uses a gauze tape on his sticks. I never thought of that.
Even so, my hands are getting horribly blistered.
I’ve found that racquetball gloves are the good thing. I tried golf gloves, and they’d get soaking wet, and when they dried out they were like a piece of beef jerkey. The palm of the racquetball gloves is a real soft deerskin, and the backs are made of some kind of polyester that breathes. I just got into them last week.
Before that I was using all kinds of gloves: golf glove; tennis glove; squash glove; baseball glove (catcher’s mitt didn’t work too well!). But the racquetball glove is perfect.
SH: Did you design that mobile pod your drums sit in?
PP: No, Michael Cotten did the set design this tour.
SH: He does all the set designs?
PP: He and I work together on most of the stuff, but the pod was his idea. The basic idea behind the mobile pods for the two keyboard units and the drums was so we could change the set in a blackout and everybody could be in a different position. We really didn’t follow that idea up; now we just move them around while the lights are on for visual effect.
It’s fun to have a little travelling unit. It fools a lot of people. A lot of people think it’s remote controlled or on some kind of track or something. Originally, it was supposed to be on a track, but now we’ve gotten down to basic manpower: we get the roadies to crouch down in the back and push it around.
One of my ideas for the mobile drum platform was to have a giant pair of plexiglass wraparound sunglasses to go around the set. The shades would hold the microphones and double as an onstage baffle. I thought I’d put on a couple of huge rearview mirrors and big chrome pipes, sort of make it look like a funny car.
SH: Have you seen Willie Wilcox’s electronic motorcycle/drumset, the one he uses with Utopia?
PP: Yeah. He’s a great drummer. I’ve seen his thing, but his thing is a real motorcycle with little sound pads. It’s a neat invention, but I want my drums to just look like a giant pair of funny car sunglasses.
Also, I get complaints that my drums are too loud onstage. If I’m too loud, everybody else has to turn up. I tell ’em I can’t turn a knob and turn down. I can play softer, but I can’t get the same sound. When you play softer, it affects the tone of the drums. I have to play full out or I’m not happy.
So I thought some kind of baffling system that would also double as an entire “look” would be the answer. We did a design for it, but it’s just one more thing we couldn’t afford on this tour.
If you’ve ever seen wraparound sunglasses, just imagine that covering an entire drumset, so it’s like a wall of clear or smoked plexiglass that would cover the drums. All you’d see would be me and the cymbals, and the plexiglass would have some type of channel at the top that would hold all the drum mic’s and cables. The bass drum heads would serve as the eyes in the sunglasses. Maybe I’ll get around to it next tour!
SH: Your expenses must be high in order to cart around all the stuff you do use, even excluding that.
PP: Yeah, they’re very high. Hopefully, someday we’ll be able to afford what we’re doing!