SF: How much did the Chess blues records influence you when you were growing up?
CW: I never heard them until I met Keith and Mick. My whole block used to listen to Savoy jazz records as kids. I never used to listen to Elvis Presley or anything. It’s only through meeting Mick and Keith, really, that I got interested in things like that. The only person I suppose I really loved a lot was Fats Domino.
SF: Was it a tough transition to switch from wanting to play jazz to actually playing in a rock band?
CW: No. It’s really the same thing isn’t it? You need better technique than I have to play jazz, but what you have to do is the same thing, isn’t it?
SF: What do you see as the difference between a rock rhythm section and a jazz rhythm section?
CW: None. It’s either very precise or it swings a lot. There is no difference. What is jazz? Originally it was primarily dance music. Good jazz, even though it’s an exercise for an instrumentalist—you can still dance to it in a way.
SF: Even a group like the Coltrane Quartet?
CW: Yeah. When it’s really going, it swings. It’s as loud as a rock and roll band. I don’t see any difference between John Coltrane and Chuck Berry except that one writes lyrics. But, they do the same thing to me. I know the difference; that you need to be an innovator to play like Coltrane. But, Chuck Berry was an innovator as well. So, there’s not a lot of difference except they sound different. Rock and roll is dance music and that’s really what jazz is like.
MW: Did you ever purposely work on drum technique?
CW: Yeah, I practiced rudiments. I’ve always done those but I work harder at it now than I used to when I first started to play. I used to just sit there and think I was Kenny Clarke or something. When I was a kid I never learned to play. I actually got in bands through watching people play and copying them.
MW: Did you listen to records?
CW: Yeah, but it’s not the right way of learning. I think that people like Steve Gadd and Jeff Porcaro—those people have got it all, somehow. I mean, no one person’s got it all, thank goodness, otherwise we’d all be as one! But, guys like that—they can do anything—and I can’t really do anything because I don’t have the natural ability. Half of it is being born with that. Of course, eighty percent is work. But, you have to be born with that little bit that makes you an Earl Palmer. You can’t learn that, really. You can watch them play, but you can’t really learn to ride a cymbal like Billy Higgins. You’re not him! That’s something that I think is just in you.
MW: It’s got to be there to begin with. I constantly watch Buddy Rich and can’t believe the way he plays. Does that stuff blow your mind?
CW: Oh yeah. He’s an incredible man, isn’t he? The history of that guy is amazing. Some of the records he played on are just remarkable; some of the Verve records with Charlie Parker. I mean, some of the introductions he plays are sort of ridiculous, really, and he’s only using two drums! That’s not all he’s got, but he just uses two. The placement of his notes! The timing of it then and there was just staggering. I just listen to Buddy’s music. I can’t copy that. I think you get to a point where you watch something just to enjoy it. I don’t think it’s really done so that you’re supposed to feel, “Oh, he’s the most wonderful drummer.” I think the whole lot is what’s more enjoyable.
MW: Plus the way it moves you.
CW: I saw Al Foster with Miles Davis the other week. It was beautiful. But, the whole thing was, you know? Al Foster played as well as everybody else, but all of them were quite brilliant under Miles Davis’ direction. It’s amazing. When it all works at once—that’s when it’s great.
I suppose “technique” is when you can turn the music a little bit to make it staggering, like what I was saying about Buddy Rich. He just does a little thing and after that he just swings! Then he’ll punctuate a brass line with one hand and it’s all over the place—the music—but he’s playing every note. He’ll carry on with these bits and I go, “Whaa-at?” I’ve seen Buddy Rich play lots of times but I’ve never met him. He goes to England quite a bit.
MW: I think jazz acceptance has always been better in Europe.
SF: Have you ever seen Max Roach play?
CW: I saw him at Carnegie Hall with his band and McCoy Tyner’s band. Max plays nothing like I thought he played. He’s incredible. He started up with this waltz thing which is quite incredible to watch. It was all “time.” It was lovely. Sort of a variation on “The Drum Also Waltzes.” He just starts off playing “boom dit, boom dit.” And he builds that up. Quite brilliant. To watch him play with a band is fantastic. The band with Clifford Brown was amazing.
MW: Do you think it’s easy to do what you do?
CW: I never thought what I do is anything exceptional. It’s basically what you’re playing to, really. Al Jackson was probably ten times simpler than I am—if they call rock simple—but to me it isn’t. To be able to play as slow as Al Jackson is almost impossible. As much as I love Joe Morello—he couldn’t do it. I know he’s not the same person, but with all that Joe’s got, it’s still another thing.
MW: Al Jackson is my favorite. Nobody can play like him.
CW: Another drummer who’s quite brilliant is Jerry Allison. He used to play with Buddy Holly and The Crickets. He’s probably the best “song” player that I know. He doesn’t really play the drums—he plays the songs, and that is really more important within the context of that music. If you’re playing to a songwriter, that’s much more important than having all the technique in the world. But Jerry’s got an awful lot of technique.
MW: You’re right. If you’re using technique to show off in a song, you’ll probably screw it up. Our arrangements are three or four minutes long and the drumset is supportive. You build a structure underneath the song.
CW: I don’t think that’s any different for what Max Roach or Buddy Rich do, really. I suppose with what they call “jazz” there seems to be more room somehow. I don’t know quite where that room is, but there seems to be more room in jazz for using technique.
MW: The songs are really built more around musicians playing rather than for a vocalist.
CW: Yeah. I mean, you can’t just stop and suddenly do an Elvin Jones, or the whole band will wonder what’s going on! But, in jazz you can suddenly play triple time and everybody else moves around that. When the Bill Evans trio with Paul Motian worked, the rhythm would just go around in little circles of no time, sort of. It always did. That, I suppose, is the most extreme example of what I could use against the strictness of a disco tune, for instance.
SF: Don’t you think that time quality had a lot to do with the calibre of the musicians in the Bill Evans Trio?
CW: Yeah, that really is it, but the whole music evolved around that as well. That was part of it, wasn’t it? Or should I say “7s it” because that music still exists. I mean, you don’t really go to see a person’s name; you go to see a person’s playing. 7 do, anyway. It doesn’t matter to me if I go see Benny Goodman—who’s supposed to be swing music—or Frank Zappa’s band, which is supposed to be progressive rock. I go to see them. Obviously there are bands or musicians that you know what they do. If you see Santana you know it’s going to be semi-Latin because that’s what Carlos plays; that’s what Carlos is! But, when I go and see him I don’t really go and see “Latin Music At Its Best.” I go and see Carlos play the guitar and I go see his band because I know they play good.
SF: Do you collect records?
CW: I’ve had a record collection ever since I was a kid. I don’t listen to one thing. Maybe I should’ve done that. I may have been better.
MW: Do you feel you’ve missed anything?
CW: Maybe I should’ve stuck with one thing and just done that. You meet players who play in different styles, all as good as the other.
MW: That’s different. You have a real distinct style. I saw The Stones opening night at The Meadowlands. I noticed you very rarely take your foot off the bass drum pedal. For me that’s hard. I’ve always lifted my foot up, and sort of hit the bass drum real hard. I noticed your real ease.
CW: I didn’t know I did that. People say I play real loud. I don’t, actually. I’m recorded loud and a lot of that is because we have good engineers. Mick knows what a good drum sound is as well, so that’s part of the illusion really. I can’t play loud. You can’t play really loud if you play with a military grip because your hand…
MW: You’ve got to keep it down.
CW: I never really liked matched grip. There was only one guy I knew who used to play like that really well. Phil Seaman in England. He used to play drums in the late Fifties with a tymp style. He developed and could actually use both hands. He was fantastic to watch. He played a regular kit and had, inside of him, a natural thing that was him. But to watch him play matched grip like that—that was the way you should do it.
Ginger Baker—who’s a good friend of Phil’s—could play like that, sort of. Ginger could shuffle as well as Phil with that tymp style, but they used to use their fingers and not their wrists. It’s really hard, but Ginger developed such enormous chops.
MW: He was very loose with it?
CW: Oh yeah. He was one of the best players in England. He still is, actually. He just hasn’t been with people who are as well known as the people he was with before. He still plays great. You never really lose that, do you? You just get “rusty” or whatever. Ginger hasn’t. I’m just saying that getting “rusty” is all that happens. You don’t really lose it. The main thing about a drummer—especially if you’re a player like Ginger, who’s a big guy and strong, like Elvin Jones—physically, drumming is quite exhausting. When you see someone like Kenny Clarke, someone in his sixties like Buddy Rich, who has an enormous amount of energy! Those two guys don’t play in a little club and they don’t starve. They don’t play everything at half tempo. It’s amazing physically. Even if you don’t like what they do—physically it’s quite incredible. To watch Buddy Rich work on that level, and for him to be in that sort of shape physically is quite amazing: especially since he’s done it all his life. It knocks you out, doesn’t it?
MW: I noticed at The Meadowlands that you had to keep pulling your bass drum back because it kept sliding forward.
CW: I always do that. I used to bang in nails in the front with me shoe. We used to play set up flat on the floor in a theater where everybody dances and they don’t have risers or anything. Actually, I prefer to be on the floor, but then equipment starts moving. It depends on what the floor’s made of. Sometimes you’re playing with one foot trying to reach a bass drum that keeps slipping away, and that’s the hardest thing in the world. The one thing I don’t like about drum risers—especially if they get really high like the enormous one Ringo used to play on—when they get that big you can’t see everybody else. I don’t like that.
MW: It’s like being separated.
CW: Yeah, I don’t like that. Another thing is that the risers move!
MW: They bounce!
CW: Yeah. So, you’d be playing and four songs later your set is over here and you’re sitting sideways! You end up playing like Billy Cobham which is totally different to the way I sit, right? But, Billy’s got his stuff set for that position. But, all of the cymbals would start moving because of the vibrations. And the higher the risers get the worse they’d move. I don’t care what they say. They build solid risers. You could cow punch them and they won’t move, but when the band starts playing and your feet start going, actually stomping on the floor—the risers move about.
SF: How much rehearsal goes into a Rolling Stones show? Do you know what the sets are going to be before each tour?
CW: We always work at least a month to six weeks before we go on the road, usually for something like eight to twelve hours a night. It took six weeks to do it this time. We just play virtually everything we know. You’ve got to remember that with our band the way it is now— this is not how it was when we first started. Now we don’t work live sometimes for a year. Recording is different. We don’t work sometimes for a year and a half or two years live. I often play live with another band.
MW: Local bands where you live?
CW: Sort of, but that’s not the same thing anyway. With The Rolling Stones you keep your chops going, really. The rehearsals are to learn songs but it’s also to . . . well, the way I do it is just to get things together to play. I don’t know.
MW: Just to keep playing for two and a half hours. You did a pretty long show the other night.
CW: Yeah we do a long show, I think. I think it’s a bit too long, really.
MW: I saw The Stones in 1975, 1969, and 1965 in Newark, New Jersey, with the Vibrations, Patti LaBelle . . .
CW: Oh, right. They were twenty-minute shots. That was real soul-review sort of stuff. That, to me, is how you should do rock and roll shows, really.
CW: Oh yeah. Lots of bands and two headliners. You just do twenty minutes and off. It’s not because I don’t want to play. But, for us…me…drummers…to have to play two hours when it’s good and emotional…the other nights it’s…
CW: Yeah. And it’s good for us to play two hours to look at. The old half-hour show is one of the strongest…well, you’re doing all your best stuff in a half an hour.
SF: How long did The Stones play in 1965?
CW: About twenty minutes! We used to do like two shows. That was how rock and roll was done in those days. It wasn’t only rock and roll. That was how bands did shows in those days. The only thing wrong with it was that you were there all the time. The Apollo used to have four shows a day. You actually only played twenty minutes, but you had to hang about all day to play less than you do now for one show! But, you had to sit there and wait, or go out for coffee and come back.
MW: It must be amazing for you, having been able to see how things have changed from 1963 to now.
CW: It doesn’t really change, actually. I think The Rolling Stones have gotten a lot better. An awful lot better, I think. A lot of people don’t, but I think they have and to me that’s gratifying. It’s worth it. But apart from that, when you forget all this conversation about what cymbals you use—the weight of your cymbals is only how comfortable you feel. It has nothing to do with drum magazines or drumming, really. Do you know what I’m saying? When you’re onstage drumming, nobody’s saying, “He’s just the best drummer in the world.” There’s about four people in the audience doing that. The other ninety thousand aren’t looking up there. They’re there to clap their hands and have a good time.
MW: That’s right. That takes that kind of pressure off.
CW: It should be a lot of fun, really, shouldn’t it? I think jazz should be a lot of fun as well.
MW: Jazz sometimes gets a little too intellectual.
CW: I don’t mind it. Jazz is a beautiful circle. It’s going around lots of times, banging away, you know. Really. But, that’s because I love it. I love the sound of Clifford Brown. I just love the sound of Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Cole man Hawkins. I just love the sound of those people. They happen to play jazz. Well, I just love the sound they make, and I did when I was a kid. For some reason, at twelve or thirteen, I just heard Gerry Mul ligan and fell in love with that, whatever it was called. To buy a record you had to go through that little bin which was written: “J-A-Z-Z.” In England you couldn’t buy lots of jazz records.
SF: Wasn’t it “Walkin” Shoes” that you heard by Gerry Mulligan?
SF: Chico Hamilton on drums.
CW: He was the first guy I heard that made me play the drums. Him and Earl Bostic, which was when I was even younger. That was the first music that I thought was fantastic. I’d been brought up on Johnny Ray which I thought was great. I’d seen him and people like Billy Eckstine. All that. That was what my parents loved. But then to go into Earl Bostic—that was something. Then I heard Fats Domino and that I loved. Then I missed Elvis and the rock and roll bit. I didn’t deliberately do that. I just heard Gerry Mulligan and then Charlie Parker. I fell in love with the music of jazz.
MW: Because that’s the music you were exposed to.
CW: No! We had to go find it. I just fell in love with the sound of it. I mean, I didn’t know what the hell Charlie Parker was playing . . . I just liked the way he played. Then friends of mine played the records to younger guys who learned to play bass. And I’d play them things. Our block was really full of Duke Ellington and that sort of thing. We used to sit in people’s houses and listen to that music all night, like “Mood Indigo.” We would sort of sit there having a good time, a party, sitting around listening to “Mood Indigo” when we were like fourteen! It was really fantastic. Then we started going to clubs in England and we’d see guys. It was something that I always enjoyed.
MW: Did you know Mick and Keith back then?
CW: This was before I met them. I met Mick and Keith when I was in Alexis Koerner’s band which was…
MW: A blues band, right?
CW: Yeah. We started in London. In those days in London you couldn’t get in clubs unless you were a jazz band. Alexis got in because he used to sing and play with a jazz band. So his band got in on a duff night. Everyone that wanted to play harmonica and steel guitar—that sort of thing—used to come and watch us with Alexis and Cyril Davies. I knew Ginger Baker before then, but I met him through that band.
MW: He played with Alexis, didn’t he?
CW: Yeah. I gave up that chair when he started playing because he was so good. Ginger was amazing at that time. What would that be? Very early Sixties.
SF: Was he playing double bass drums at that time?
CW: No. He had a homemade kit when I first met him.
MW: When The Rolling Stones played The Ed Sullivan Show, could you hear what you were playing?
CW: When I did The Ed Sullivan Show you had to rehearse for about twelve hours and wait all through the show. You had to rehearse the whole show. You were there all day. I couldn’t really hear what we were playing. They used to play with little amps. They never miked the drums. Mitch Mitchell was the first microphoned drummer I ever heard.
MW: You never miked your drums? In all those big concerts you never had mic’s on your drums?
SF: I saw a photo of The Beatles at their last concert in Candlestick Park. Ringo didn’t have any mic’s on his drums.
CW: No, Ringo never had mic’s. We did some concerts with The Beatles like when we’d win polls. Poll winners. We used to do the Albert Hall and a couple of other places. You couldn’t hear anybody really, apart from the fact that everyone was screaming and shouting. I sat in the audience and listened to The Beatles and watched them. We were playing purely acoustic drums. Completely acoustic.
MW: Did you have to hit the drums very hard?
CW: I don’t know. I don’t really remember if it was quite hard or not. I shouldn’t think so. I don’t know quite what the audience heard! The music was never off time, but you couldn’t really hear like you do now. You couldn’t hear the bass drum and the hi-hat and all that.
It’s just that when you went into a Shea Stadium—which The Beatles did—they had the same amps! Jimi Hendrix is the first guy that I heard that had mic’s for Mitchell’s drums, and Jimi used to use a big stack of amplifiers. The Who did that as well, but Jimi was the first one I sat in an audience and heard with big amps and amplified drums. The only thing wrong with that was that it was so new, it used to break down after three numbers. Then they’d fix it.
MW: Your drums sounded good the other night.
CW: I can’t hear if they sound good out front or not.
MW: You don’t know what it sounds like?
CW: No. Nobody can really. I don’t believe that you can actually, not while you’re playing.
MW: Not while you’re playing. No. As long as you can hear the snare drum I don’t care about anything else. I don’t hit anything else!
SF: Who do you listen to onstage, Charlie?
CW: Keith. Keith and Mick.
SF: Keith is amazing.
CW: He’s incredible. Keith is the start and the finish. I have to hear Mick, but I can follow Mick like lipsync almost if the mic’ goes out. It’s not as much fun, but I can do that. But, if I don’t hear Keith, I get completely lost in things.
SF: You don’t lock in with Bill too much?
CW: No, because I’ve found that if you try and get everybody in your monitor…I don’t really need a monitor.
SF: The bass guitar’s not coming through your monitor?
CW: Yeah, I can hear it. But, I don’t need to hear Bill to go through a song. I need to hear Keith to go through a song. I know Bill will be playing what I’m playing any way. I need to hear Keith because it’s all there: the time, the chord changes, and all the licks you have to follow. Usually I can hear the pianos, the saxophone, and usually I can hear Ronnie. But, what you’re asking me is who do I really need to listen to. It’s Keith and Mick. The rest of the band is sort of an embellishment to that.
SF: Are the arrangements such that the band can stretch out if you want to?
CW: Usually, yeah. You memorize the end, but the length is done on cue.
MW: Sometimes we play Bruce’s songs too fast or too slow . . .
CW: Yeah, well that happens with anyone that plays the same songs all the time, I think. You get fed up with it like that, don’t you? Also, people wake up at different tempos than when they went to bed. Sometimes things are too slow and sometimes things are too fast.
MW: Do you prefer playing the newer songs or the older songs?
CW: I don’t mind, really, which it is. It’s all new if you’re playing it now. Sometimes with the old stuff—especially with a repertoire as old as ours—you can’t do the songs exactly like you did it originally, because you don’t even play it like that anymore. If it changes for the better it’s a new song. But, to actually play exactly like that is very difficult and sometimes you can be right or wrong trying to change it.
It’s a bit like when you hear Benny Goodman’s band. For example, his early music is the most amazing sound when it’s going. But, later on, his music got smoothed out a bit. That’s not his fault; that’s just how it developed. To try to play it like it was played with Gene Krupa and Jess Stacy—even if they were still in the band—I don’t think it would be the same because it changes. So, you don’t really hear the record you loved the same as the band plays it, because the musicians are different anyway.
MW: So, you don’t go back and say, “I like that lick. I think I’ll try to…”
CW: Yeah. You try to, but they don’t come out the same, do they? The grooves are different sometime. We play things different—not much—but they are a little bit different to make them totally different. They are totally different to play, but to listen to it, it’s just a little bit different. That’s the thing.
I quite enjoy recording with this band. It’s a lot of fun. I quite enjoy playing with other people though. But, I don’t feel as comfortable, obviously, with other people as I do with this band.
MW: Do you record with other groups?
CW: A little bit. It’s a lot of fun working with other people, isn’t it? But, I suppose I’m most comfortable with this band. I enjoy it more. I did a record with Pete Townshend. I think it was his second solo album. That was an awful lot of fun. Just two days, and it was great. But, I would hate to do what Jim Keltner used to do, although I admire it an awful lot. I admire the facility Jim has, but I’d hate to just sit there and do that, and leave after three hours. When The Rolling Stones go in the studio it can be six hours or six days. You just swap it around as you feel you want it to. But, you don’t have that kind of situation as you would if you showed up, for example, to a Joni Mitchell session. I think she’s very good, but that situation sort of closes this thing on you.
MW: “Do it. Get it right, right now!”
CW: No, I couldn’t do it. Keltner can do that. I admire him an awful lot for that, apart from admiring him personally. He’s a great player. I admire having that sort of facility, but I don’t think I can do that. Mind you, I never had to… luckily!
MW: That’s really the way I feel. I like being in a band, and I like playing with other people, but I don’t like that studio pressure, although the people who do session work have their advantages.
CW: I suppose after a while you get used to that, but it must be an awful thing to live.
MW: Jim was saying to me in Los Angeles, “It’s nice to be in a band. It must be nice to be in a band where you play with the same people for years and years.”
CW: Yes, because I think you become comfortable with people’s greatness and mistakes.
MW: It seems like you get in the studio and it’s…
CW: It’s money, ain’t it? I don’t see anything wrong with that life. I would think if you’re doing it for a living… I admire it an awful lot, the same way I admire technique. It’s an admiration I wouldn’t really want for myself. It’s too much on you.
SF: You feel the pressure must be high?
CW: Maybe it’s only in your head. Maybe it’s because I’ve never done it. I read how Steve Gadd doesn’t even think about it. You often find that a lot of the studio musicians always play with the same guys anyway! There are bands that are stylists, so it’s not like you’re imagining it, really. I imagine turning up and having to do an Aretha Franklin session with a fourteenpiece orchestra! But, really it’s like The Rolling Stones turning up and backing Aretha, as far as the friendship of the studio musicians go. It must be more comfortable than you imagine. But, to be a real outsider in it would scare… oh, God! I couldn’t do that.
MW: I couldn’t either. I don’t have that much confidence in my playing.
CW: Nor do I! I don’t mind creeping into a session occasionally.
MW: Or, if I have a real bad night, it both ers me that maybe I let someone down.
CW: I wonder how you cope with that if you have a bad session?
MW: Well, I listen to the records I’ve made. Some tracks I don’t like the way I play.
CW: But they’ve been released haven’t they? The session doesn’t matter does it? It’s strange.
MW: Is there something you’ve played on that you listen to and don’t like?
CW: There’s songs I don’t like. There are songs that you think are great and songs that you think…
MW: How about drum tracks where maybe you could’ve played better?
CW: Well, I always think that. A lot of our tracks have sounded a lot better than I thought they would because of recording, mixing, and because I probably didn’t hear it that way. I don’t know. I’m not a songwriter.
SF: When you used to visit clubs did you ever speak with Max, Elvin, or any of those great drummers?
CW: Not usually. I met an extremely good drummer, a very underrated guy, Mickey Roker. He’s very good. I sort of met Billy Higgins. One of the biggest thrills of my life was when Tony Williams came up to me. He was playing with The Great Jazz Trio years ago. I hadn’t seen Tony since he came to England when he was like eighteen.
SF: With Miles Davis?
CW: Yeah. As much as I love everybody else, Tony Williams is who I’d love to look like when I play, when he was with Miles. One of the biggest thrills of my life—Tony was playing at the Village Gate last year, and he came up and said hello to me.
MW: Tony really loves rock drummers.
CW: He’s such a great guy. Another guy I’ve met and said hello to is Roy Haynes. He’s a drummer that has never stopped growing in his mind. Shelly Manne’s another. He’s twenty-two, a kid! I don’t mean a kid mentally—he’s just such a young man. He’s fantastic. I got introduced to Shelly through Jim Keltner when Shelly had Shelly’s Manne-Hole. We used to go down a lot when The Stones were working and Jim was sessioning around. Shelly Manne is charming. Did you hear that stuff he used to do with the L.A. 4? Everything he’s done—obviously he’s going to say there are things he likes—but to me, all of that is something else!
Joe Morello is the first guy I saw that was the prettiest player I’d ever seen in my life. I also loved Paul Desmond. I still do. He’s the woman of the saxophone and that’s not being detrimental. That’s the prettiest style of playing, and that’s the way Desmond played.
Joe Morello as a drummer—apart from being quite brilliant—his style was something else to look at. I used to sit and watch him just to see his hands. Tony Williams was the same. He had beautiful hands. I mean, he’s still got them, but to watch Tony work was…
MW: I love to watch drummers’ hands because there are certain ways of holding a drumstick. Buddy has a way of holding a stick…I can’t figure it out; I don’t really want to figure it out, but, it floats! You look at all the great drummers and their sticks float.
CW: Yeah. Louie Bellson used brushes so…
CW: Yeah, but it’s an art that’s lost in drummers. One of the things that rock and roll has ruined is that style. Rock and roll has probably given more than it’s taken, but from purely a drummer’s view, when you sit and see the whole movement of drummers that are playing the drumset, and watch them play that smooth brush playing, and that motion…that was a style of playing as well, which Buddy Rich knows.
I’ve never spoken to Buddy Rich, but when you read interviews and people ask him, “Who are your favorite drummers?” …my favorite dream drummer is someone like Dave Tough. I’d loved to have lived at the time to see that guy. I think he was amazing. As a person he sounds amazing, but as a player! I’d love to have seen Sid Catlett. But, Buddy said that Chick Webb was the one to see. Can you imagine that Buddy thought Chick Webb was great? How good was Chick Webb? Imagine how good he was, man, if Buddy thought he was good!
MW: I know. It’s mind-boggling.
CW: Staggering, isn’t it really? I would love to ask Benny Goodman about Dave Tough, or Woody Herman’s probably the one to ask. I’ve spoken to Ahmet Ertegun who knew Dave Tough. He used to hang out at a lot of places when he was young. He told me a few things about him. Ahmet said that one of the funny things was that Dave Tough was sort of a very well-read skinny little bugger and he used to play so loud! And yet, Big Sid Catlett was a big man—and I don’t mean that Sid Catlett never played loud—but he used to play really quiet compared to Tough. I thought that was amazing because I thought it would be the other way around.
MW: Max Kaminsky has a book where he talks about how Dave Tough was so into tuning his drums.
CW: Yeah, and that was in the days when you used to have calf heads. Did you ever play on those things? I used them when I played with Alexis. It used to get so crowded in that club and hot! You’d tune the drums up and if you forgot to tune them down again—tomorrow they’d be completely ripped apart. They dry out. Sweat used to drip off the walls and ceilings in that club, so the heads would get really sloppy. It was a real art to tune those things. I never really used them much. I used them for about three years. They were lovely for brushes. That’s when you really got that sound that’s simulated now.
MW: Do you spend a lot of time tuning your snare?
CW: Not really. If it’s too tight for me I can’t really play on it.
MW: You like it loose?
CW: A little. That’s why I like big drums. I buy most of my stuff at S.I.R. They have a lot of old stuff around back. You’re losing that as well now. Drum shops generally don’t have old stuff. To me, the second hand stuff is part of the fun of drums. I remember as a kid going in and you’ve got a row of snare drums in a shop. In England it took years to get Ludwig drums because of the exchange. So, you’d have those wrapped up in cellophane and then you’d have old trade-ins. I had one of those little three-inch snare drums. Just all down the row you’d have a variation of drums. Even when I’d come to America you had the same thing. But now you go into a shop and all the drums are new. You’ve got your Tama and Yamaha stuff—it’s all there and it’s all brand new. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s no interest. You don’t have to look at it all because you know. But they’ve gotten much much better than the old drums, really. Especially if you’re on the road. There’s a quality about the older drums that you don’t have. That natural kit that I use—that’s an early Gretsch kit with the round logo on it.
MW: That’s a nice sounding drumset. The bass drum is really punchy. Is that the same set you record with?
CW: Yeah. When Ringo bought his Ludwig kit in England, I got one about the same time. The only other way you could get them was from American drummers that came over on boats and sold their equipment.
SF: You couldn’t buy American kits in England?
CW: Not in 1960. A bit later you could. You couldn’t get them easily, and they were so much better at that time.
SF: Were you playing Premier?
CW: I was playing a mixture of things. Premier’s been going for years and they make good drums. Actually, Keith Moon made Premier better, and Kenny Jones made Premier’s hardware much better. That was what was wrong. It wasn’t the drum itself. The lugs were awful to travel with as well.
MW: I remember Premier stands. They always used to have that screw on the bottom.
CW: Yeah. Terrible! You’d hit the drum too hard and it would tip over. But, Keith and Kenny got them to make the Buck Rogers sort of stuff. I used to have a snare drum stand that would jump about. If you were playing loud you had to hold the drum with your knees!
MW: Rogers had the first Buck Rogers stand with the legs coming up from the side.
CW: I loved those. I still play with a Buck Rogers, and I still use their hi-hat as well. They’re all rusty.
SF: Can you name the drummers that have really influenced you over the years?
CW: There were a few drummers in my life. Buddy Rich’s style is in it’s age, isn’t it really? I mean, he’s got a longer view and a much more perceptive view of the history of drums than I have. But, just from my little keyhole in a door that Buddy Rich will go through; with the little bit I can see there are a few people—not necessarily my favorite players—who have actually turned around and changed drumming. I think Tony Williams is one of those people. He also happens to be one of my favorite players. I think Billy Cobham did that. Although Billy isn’t one of my favorite favorites, he’s a favorite of mine. There really hasn’t been anyone else since Billy, and Tony before him. I don’t know if I’m right, but that’s the way I see it. Just the difference in playing. You didn’t ride cymbals before that the way Tony Williams used to ride.
He came in with that stop time and you just didn’t do that before Tony. He did that much to the drums. Billy Cobham made those fifty-eight drums work. He plays them all. It looks incredible, but he plays every one of them. There are very few guys that actually use half of it.
Tony would play quarter notes or half notes on his ride cymbal. Now, see… Buddy Rich would say, “Yeah, but I saw a guy do that back in…” But, I’ve never seen anyone do that until I saw Tony. Even on In A Silent Way, where he just plays hi-hat. Maybe that was Miles telling him what to do. Miles Davis is one of the greatest bandleaders. Philly Joe Jones was one of the great drummers in the world and Miles Davis had him in his band. Then he was playing in his prime and he just stopped and found Tony Williams—who was seventeen—and played as well as Philly Joe Jones under Miles’ guidance.
Duke Ellington’s another. I think Duke Ellington and Miles Davis were probably the greatest bandleaders in picking musicians ever! So far. Philly Joe on Milestones—one of the classic, great albums—I mean, for brush playing, “Billy Boy” is unbelievable.
SF: Usually when people speak about drummers, the great technicians come to mind. But still, as Max was saying, there’s an art to simplicity. Nothing’s worse than hearing a drummer playing all over the place when he should be laying down a groove. Some drummers don’t know when to shut up. Connie Kay, Dave Tough, and Mel Lewis are masters at that. Morello refers to those kind of drummers as “team players.” They don’t go on the bandstand thinking, “Hey, I’m going to be Buddy Rich tonight.”
CW: But some guys can’t help being that. That’s what I’m trying to say. Some guys are that sort of person that just takes over. Ginger’s like that, and that’s not to his detriment. To me, that’s his strength. He does play with the band—he’s not greedy like that—but he’s that strong a player in whatever he does. He’s got so much in him that it takes over somehow. I love that. Those guys are the exception. They’re not necessarily the greatest but they are the exception to the rule.
Most of the records that I listen to and love to play, don’t involve incredible drum technique. My favorite Buddy Rich records are not Buddy Rich drum solos. He did a fabulous record in the Fifties where he got a big band with Jimmy Rowles and did Basie music. Also the music that Buddy played with Basie. Basie doesn’t need a drummer to play solos. Some of the jam sessions that Buddy Rich played on with Basie are just beautiful drumming. Most of the great jazz records that Buddy Rich played on, to me, aren’t drum solos and they are mostly with Buddy playing brushes and keeping time. He has the enormous ability to keep perfect time. Outside of that, he’s one of those guys that you can suddenly say to: “You take eighteen bars,” and he plays eighteen bars and at the end—after seventeen—would come eighteen. I’d be lost after two! But he’s got a mind that I couldn’t conceive of musically in the same terms.
SF: Would you agree that The Rolling Stone’s strength is as a band?
CW: Yeah, oh sure, I think so. I don’t know with everybody else, but it is to me because I can’t do anything else other than play with a band like that.
SF: But how may bands are together as long as The Stones, or Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, or The Who? So much good music has come out of bands like The Rolling Stones because you were able to stay together for so many years. There’s something special that comes out of that kind of a relationship.
CW: Yeah. It was like that with Duke Ellington. To me Duke Ellington was a “band” playing. He had the head on him, but he chose when there was a saxophone solo and he had probably the finest saxophone players alive then to do that little spot.
Like Sonny Greer is the type of drum mer that I know on records. I’ve never met Earl Palmer, but I know the records I love that he’s played on, and they’re some of the finest. Sonny Greer’s like that to me. But, when you get into a song like “Skin Deep” or something, that is one of the best…
SF: But, “Skin Deep” is a drum feature.
CW: Yeah, and you’re in a band with a bandleader as talented or as much of a genius as Duke Ellington, who could build an orchestra around that and make it more than just a drum solo.
SF: What do you think would happen if Buddy Rich, Joe Morello, or Max Roach sat in with The Rolling Stones?
CW: I have no idea! I’d quite like to see it. I’m not sure. Maybe, with their enormous technical facility they’d be bored just playing stock time. I don’t necessarily think that’s true. I’m just saying, if there’s something that would bore them—maybe that’s what would bore them! I can’t talk for them, really. But, it wouldn’t really bother me.