Those of us drummers who were raised during the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s and who came up locally playing in multiple bands at a time were dubbed “journeymen.” We’d play with rock, funk, and blues bands, country singers, jazz players—and we had to have chops relative to each of those genres; otherwise we wouldn’t work. Because of its diverse programming, both AM and FM radio at the time played a major role in developing a broad spectrum of music. It was a time when the DJs, not faceless consultants, had control over content.
Bill Lordan is one such journeyman who came up during this era but never abandoned his respect for his local roots. With a positive attitude fueled by his Midwestern grit, the native Minnesotan learned early the various complexities of the music biz and those who comprise it. He’s blessed with great chops, but at the same time remains humble about his accomplishments.
When Lordan got the call to play in Sly & the Family Stone’s last configuration in 1973 and 1974, he was, thanks to his roots in marching band, more than prepared—and poised to flourish for the next thirteen years with guitar god Robin Trower. During that time, he not only traveled the world several times over but also got to record with Cream bassist Jack Bruce. Stylistically fearless, Lordan was equally at home in funk, blues, or the power-rock format for which he is best known. His new e-memoir, From the Basement to the Coliseum, paints an entertaining picture of a musician aspiring to fame, immersed in it, caught in a slow fade from it, and rebuilding his life on the other side of it.
MD: Your career has been at times rewarding and difficult. Throughout From the Basement to the Coliseum, you remain a pillar of strength and positivity. What do you attribute that to?
Bill: I attribute it to my Irish work ethic and my strong spiritual faith.
MD: You share Minnesota roots with Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine, and Prince, all of whom have exhibited a certain stick-to-itiveness in their careers. Is it the terrain, the weather, or something else that lures you in for the long haul?
Bill: It was my love of music and my drive to be successful that kept me going.
MD: A great rhythm section is the key to any successful band. Was the legendary Larry Graham still on bass when you were with Sly? And Robin Trower bassist James Dewar was not only adept on bass, but also seemed to be your closest confidant during your Trower years, true?
Bill: Larry Graham had left Sly & the Family Stone when I joined the band. Rustee Allen was the bass player who played the live shows, but Sly played all the bass parts on the recordings. Robin Trower bassist and vocalist James Dewar was a very close friend of mine. He was the best man at my wedding, and when I was in England I stayed with Jimmy and his family at his house in Croydon.
MD: Illustrated in your book is the fact that you saved every ticket stub, poster, flyer, and photograph from every gig you ever played.
Bill: I kept a scrapbook through my entire career, with memorabilia from all my travels and concerts. Over the years fans also sent me many photos and ticket stubs that I kept in files.
MD: Looking back now, do you have any unresolved feelings about how in 1987, after thirteen great years of superlative music and traveling the world, Robin Trower dismissed you?
Bill: I have no unresolved feelings about leaving the band after thirteen years. It gave me the opportunity to do my solo Bill Lordan Experiment CDs and to play with other great musicians.
MD: Your hands were like lightning. In your famous “Alethea” solo with Trower, one can hear your marching band influences in the way you utilize single and double strokes. You can also hear a little Buddy Rich—were you influenced by any notable jazz drummers during that period?
Bill: The marching band influence that you hear in “Alethea” comes from my early days in Minneapolis marching in an all African-American drum and bugle corps, the Elks from Ames Lodge. The jazz drummer that I was most influenced by was Art Blakey. And what drummer wasn’t influenced by the great Buddy Rich?
MD: Your book leaves one with the impression that your journey, from local bands to the big leagues, hasn’t been as much about the money as it has been about the music.
Bill: It was never about the money with me relating to music. It was always about the music itself and feeling the love coming from the crowd. During our stadium tour with Jethro Tull, at Tampa Stadium in Florida during one of Robin Trower’s most popular songs, “Daydream,” the crowd swayed back and forth, holding lit matches. It felt like the mothership had landed, and the crowd hung on every note Robin played.
MD: From Robin Trower’s band to BLT [Bruce, Lordan, and Trower] to the Bill Lordan Experiment, the power-rock trio format seems to be your forte.
Tools of the time
• 4.5×14 Powertone snare
• 9×13 tom
• 10×14 tom
• 16×16 floor tom
• 18×18 floor tom
• 14×24 bass drum
Sticks: Regal Tip 2B wood- and nylon-tip
• 14″ Quick Beat hi-hats
• 18″ medium crash
• 20″ crash-ride
• 22″ ping ride
• 18″ medium thin crash
• 18″ medium crash
• 20″ pang (2)
• 22″ Mel Lewis swish without rivets (2)
Bill: The power-rock trio allows the drummer to fill in the empty spaces. I used my Zildjian pang and China cymbals for this. When I was in the Robin Trower band, that was when I played with the most power. The combination of Robin’s guitar playing and James Dewar’s singing was unique and dynamic, and we played at large auditoriums and stadiums. Although my career covered many different types of music, that was my favorite era.
MD: You did a number of world tours. What was traveling like back in the ’70s, and do you ever miss the road?
Bill: In the ’70s we traveled in cars, then in buses, planes, and limousines. Some bands still travel in cars and buses. I don’t miss being on the road after forty-five years of traveling the world. I definitely had a go, and I have [nothing but] fond memories of playing music.
MD: Who or what sparked the idea of penning your memoirs?
Bill: I met my partner, Diana Olson, who was an entertainment writer, in 2005, and we started to write down my memories. We moved to Arizona in 2013, and in 2019 I was awakened one morning by a vision of the book cover, the title, and the person who could help us put it together. We bought Word for our computer, and when we opened our email, there were all the old Word files of the stories we started to write in 2005. With a newfound enthusiasm to get it done, we dove in and worked for several months. We had someone help proofread and edit it, we selected over a hundred photos, and we self-published it.
MD: Who would you say was the most influential person in your career?
Bill: My mother, because she was the one who encouraged my music from the start and continued to encourage me throughout my career.
MD: What are your current projects?
Bill: My current projects are selling my rare recordings from my personal collection of CDs and DVDs on my Facebook page. I’m also promoting and selling my book.
By Bob Girouard