The Continuing Experience of Mitch Mitchell
I didn’t expect to find such a dapper-looking young gentleman. He was wearing a two-piece worsted suit and an expensive looking three-quarter length black sheepskin coat (he told me it was house-trained). This was Mitch Mitchell, and I had good reason to be surprised. The last time I had seen him had been in 1968, when he was 21 and playing with Jimi Hendrix. Though not quite as flamboyant as the “Seattle Starburst” himself, Mitchell land bassist Noel Redding) had naturally adopted the band look— basically, Afro hair and clothes of bright velvet or garish floral-print satin. In those days, Mitchell often sported a pair of huge, owlish, tinted glasses and his playing was as unrestrained as his looks.
After Hendrix’s death, Mitchell disappeared— at least, from my view—until reemerging a few months hack in the drummer’s seat of Hinckley’s Heroes—a scratch-band with a shifting personnel comprised of some of the best British rockers. Regrettably, I haven’t yet seen the Heroes, so I had nothing to go on when it came to meeting Mitch Mitchell except the unbelievably complex process by which the meeting was set up. There were phone calls to Chas Chandler, Mr. Mitchell senior, the London pub frequented by Mitch, and several more to a telephone answering machine which at various times informed me that Mitch and his friends might be out drinking (at nine o’clock in the morning) or Christmas shopping (in February). Even after speaking with the man himself, we managed to miss each other twice. Knowing what everyone knows about rock musicians in general and Hendrix in particular, I would not have been shocked to discover that Mitch Mitchell was irreparably freaked-out (as they used to say in the sixties). Well, you can judge that for yourselves from what he told us.
As a matter of fact, Mitchell says he never gives interviews these days but, since Modern Drummer is a magazine he respects as a professional, he made an exception. We started talking about the house he has just bought, the problems of living in two places (London, his hometown, and New York) at a time, and one or two more personal matters. Then, brandy and soda in his hand, we found a quietish corner in a noisy pub and began to talk about music:
GH: How did you get started with music?
MM: I was going to a kindergarten; a playschool. I heard some noise going on upstairs above the kindergarten. I went upstairs and saw these kids doing shuffle- box steps and other dance steps and some tap-dancing. I was about three or four, something like that, and I thought, “Yeah. I’ll have a bit of that.” I was much the same as any other kid; I used to bang around on tin cans and biscuit tins, anything you could lay your hands on. I just went to school the same as any other kid, although I was going to a theatrical school.
GH: That was the Corona School?
MM: I went to another theatrical school before that. I worked with all these precocious brat kid actors, and through that I was doing jingles, singing boy soprano, and I met all the studio players through that. I was around a lot of drummers. Luckily, being pro drummers, they didn’t mind you having a go at their kits. Whereas if you go to a wedding reception, for example, and you get a semi-pro guy I mean, no offense meant, it’s like. “Don’t touch that sonny, it’s expensive, it’ll fall apart.” Through doing the jingles I was able to buy some kind of drum kit eventually.
GH: Why drums?
MM: I always wanted to play drums, it’s as straightforward as that. I remember seeing Fred Astaire playing drums in a film. I was about eight or nine and I was tap-dancing and I thought, “Wait a minute!” and really, that was a pleasant surprise. I mean it took me years to find out that Buddy Rich was a hoofer as well. I’m not really that keen on drummers.
GH: You’re not?
MM: Not particularly, no. I mean there’s been a few that have definitely altered my way of thinking, and I’ve gone, “Whoops, that guy’s got something.” but it’s bass players really. I mean, whatever your instrument, to me you only play as well as the people you’re working with. I’ve been working in a two-drummer situation recently, well I’ve done it a few times with two drummers, and it’s either seek and destroy—you either get an incredible ego thing, or the other person does—or it’s, “We’ll show them what we can do.” And that doesn’t lead you on to new forms of music, unfortunately.
GH: Who are those drummers who have changed your life?
MM: Well, Elvin Jones, obviously, and Tony Williams. There’s a lot of drummers I can go, “Hey, they’re fine players” to. It’s only recently I’ve become aware of somebody like Sid Catlett and Philly Joe Jones, and especially old Jo Jones for the brush thing, because brushes is like a dying art, it seems, with the younger players. Unfortunately, it’s been mainly American players. There’ve been a few English players who’ve been of great hope, like Ray Verral when he played with the Ted Heath band. He was one of the first English drummers who American musicians liked. Kenny Clare’s a fine drummer also.
GH: Do you notice that difference between American drumming and English drumming?
MM: Well. I think it’s a question of upbringing, apart from the fact that I’m very bitter that the opportunities for kids to learn an instrument in this country leave an awful lot to be desired. I’m not knocking this country by any means: I’m no patriotic flag-waver, but if you go to school in America there’s a marching band. You’ve got a chance to study the rudiments. But over here, if you want to learn an instrument, if you want to play drums, what do you do? You go and join the Baptist church and go and play bugle or play drums. If you really want to get down and study outside the school environment there’s not all that much. There’s the Guildhall School of Music. The Royal Academy, it’s of a very limited scope. I know there’s Bill Ashton doing the Youth Orchestra thing, which a lot of fine players have come out of. but I know they’re cutting back on Arts Council grants and I don’t think young kids have ever had a great opportunity in this country. I think it’s really sad.
GH: Did you ever train at all?
MM: No, not officially. When I was younger, Jim Marshall (who made the amps), had a drum school which quite a few people went to. I worked in his shop on Saturdays. I was a school boy, and all the groups came from the area that I was brought up in. like The Who or whoever. Everyone went into that particular shop.
GH: In West London?
MM: Yeah, but I wouldn’t go to the drum school that Jim had. I wouldn’t go to the school, which was kind of embarrassing, because I worked with his son who was a tenor player, so I got delegated to work in the guitar shop over the road. In fairness to Jim, he was a good teacher apparently. I went to one lesson with one of his students who could do all the Joe Morello things in parrot fashion. I must admit my reading leaves an awful lot to be desired, and that makes a real difference. I mean when you see people who’ve been trained in America, that’s when it really hits home. It does help to start at a really early age because you learn the rudiments and it’s there. You’re going to use them even if you’re not aware of what you’re doing. But then I must admit, I don’t want to play something and dissect it and go, “Okay, there’s a bar of 2/4 there and whatever.”
GH: Do you do a lot of sessions?
MM: I do as much as I can. I had a while when I stopped playing because some people didn’t think that I wanted to work. I was watching people dropping round me like flies, and I thought. “Well, take it easy for a bit.” I’d been on the road for a few years.
GH: Let’s go back to the beginning for a bit. Can you tell us about the Riot Squad? Was that your first band?
MM: No. I just did the same as any other kid. Through working at Marshall’s Music Shop, I did the dep [substitute] gigs that came in for, like, Screaming Lord Sutch, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, you know.
GH: You must have been pretty young then.
MM: About thirteen or fourteen. I was in various semi-pro bands and that led to being smuggled on band buses to Hamburg and Frankfurt when I was on school holidays. When I was about fifteen, I was playing with a band who Jim Marshall’s son was playing sax with, and we used to play upstairs at the Whisky-A-Go-Go, above the old Flamingo on Wardour Street. One night I heard something going on. so I went downstairs and that was when the all-nighter sessions had started and I saw Georgie Fame. He was playing piano. That was before the Hammond organ time, and I thought. “Oh yeah!” and that was my first exposure to Mose Allison and things like that. Apart from your actual Chuck Berrys and your rock and roll syndromes, I was aware of semi-cool jazz. I wasn’t particularly aware of anything else, but when I heard Clive (Powell. which is Georgie Fame’s real name)—Georgie Fame’s band—I was really interested and I thought, “Yeah, I really want to play with that band.” Well, years passed and I eventually did.
GH: That was the Blue Flames?
MM: Yeah. But the Riot Squad—that was when I was still doing tap-dancing. I was still at drama school and it was some other students and I thought I’d really rather be playing drums with them than doing what I was. It was weird actually. I suddenly went up to Denmark Street you know, went up Tin Pan Alley, because I knew a guitarist who was working up there, so I started to get some sessions through that. I was really lucky. 1 fell in with a guy called Bobby Graham, who used to do a lot of sessions. At that time, it was all BBC guys. It was when the BBC folded up whole orchestras, so to speak, and they were all eighty year old violinists, and the only young ones were Jimmy Page, Johnny Baldwin (that’s John Paul Jones, the bass player), and there was Bobby Graham, who was Joe Brown’s old drummer. And suddenly he knocked it on the head or whatever and I was fortunate enough to get roped in at that time. A guy called Les Reed gave me a fair amount of work, sessions and things, and one day I was doing a session for a guy called Denny Cordell who’d just started producing Georgie Fame. He hobbled in one day with a broken ankle or something and he said. “Ah, do you fancy coming along and playing on a gig tomorrow night?” He had a drummer at that time, and he’d had his first hit single. It was weird, because I was about eighteen. I had done a couple of years of sessions, and Riot Squad type of things. The Riot Squad was the first pro band, until it got very silly and I decided to do some sessions because it was quite lucrative, but then it got very boring. One day I got a phone call from the Pretty Things, of all people. They said. “Hey listen, our drummer’s gone on, like, sit-down strike. We need someone for three days.” So I got the train on up to Wolverhampton, and after three days on the road with them I went. “Ah! Right, frig the sessions. Let’s get back on the road.” I remember, I got back from the three days on the road on Sunday at four or five in the morning. I was still living at home, and I remember my mother waking me up and saying, “Don’t forget dear, you’re at Pye at nine in the morning,” and I said. “What? Who was stupid enough to book that?” and she said, “You took it.” It was a Petula Clark and Tony Hatch session—it wasn’t “Downtown” but it was one of those—and I went “Ha, ha, that’s enough of that.” So I got out of that one and knocked the sessions, in England anyway, and luckily the Blue Flames gig came along around that time.
GH: Did you leave the Blue Flames, or were you thrown out?
MM: Well, it was a weird situation. I never really joined. I mean, I was doing this session with Denny Cordell and Clive said, “Hey, do you fancy coming down to Brighton tomorrow?” So I say, “Right,” and get down there and Bill Eyden is playing with them. So he did the first half of the set. I did the second half of the set, and they said, “We’ll be at Manor House tomorrow, so bring your drums, alright?” So I had a session in the afternoon and then I go to Manor House, and there’s no one there. I mean, the roadies have set up the equipment, so I put up my drums and I leave a space because there’s no one else’s drums there. It gets to be ten-to-eight, and suddenly the band appears. I say. “What’s going on here?” and it’s sort of. “OK. well here we go. son. One. two. three, four . . . ,” and I’m playing the drums. I worked with the band for eighteen months and no one ever told me I had the gig. It was a very strange band at that time, to put it mildly, especially as I was the youngest member. It was always. “Well boy, we’ll sort it out.” It was a pretty strange experience.
GH: So you were just thrown in?
MM: Yeah. I was just thrown in at the complete deep end. And that lasted eighteen months and no one ever said. “You’re in the band.” I later learned it was the same with everyone in the band at that time There were some great players in that band. And then one day I got a call to come to the office, and Clive decided he’d had enough of the Blue Flames. That was on a Monday. On Tuesday I got a call from Chas Chandler who’d brought over Hendrix. It surprised me. Apparently, they’d been around auditioning a lot of drummers, which I wasn’t aware of. Usually one does get to hear of people in town who are looking for drummers So we had a play on the Wednesday, and initially, it was just a week’s work. They had a few gigs in Paris on the Johnny Halliday tour and so I said. “OK.” It was a week or two weeks and I thought it’d make a change at the least. I never work with people on a buddy-buddy type of situation. You know. “Hey. you’re a nice guy, “cos we went to school together ” If somebody gets off on my playing and I get off on theirs, fine. Then we become friends.
GH: It’s been said that one of the reasons Hendrix used you was because you had a double kit at that time. Was that true?
MM: I’ve had a double kit at certain times, but I didn’t at that time. When I first played with him it was in the studio and I use a very small kit for studio work. I always have.
GH: Another reason they say Hendrix selected you is because you had that particular kind of improvisatory playing that he was looking for.
MM: Well, I wonder who “they” are?
GH: The critics; rock historians.
MM: Well, one thing is that I was never actually employed by Hendrix any more than he was employed by me. I mean it was the longest period of time I’ve ever worked with any one single musician in my life, but we had breaks. If he was alive now, he’d be working with other drummers. I would imagine that at certain times of the year we’d still get together to do particular gigs or whatever. It’s a question of rapport and it’s really no different from the situation I have now with certain musicians.
GH: When I was setting up this interview, I phoned up Chas Chandler to try and get hold of you. and he said something to me which was interesting, which was that he never got on with you. How true was that?
MM: Yeah, that was true. The thing about Chas is that I have a respect for him; if he believes in something he fights for it. He’s a very good manager. However he has certain ideas. His idea was to have a back-up band for Jimi. with patent- leather shoes, white jackets, and so on. Jimi had another idea which was where his mind was at anyway. It wasn’t due to be a three-piece band in Chas’s eyes. Chas saw the potential in Jimi Hendrix—which was pointed out to him by somebody else—but Chas and I don’t get on together because I wouldn’t take a wage. I’m not an employee of him or anybody else, and consequently, there’s litigation to sort it all out.
GH: How did the Hendrix idea, the band as it was. come into being?
MM: Well, when we first started playing. I mean to give credit where it’s due. Chas went out and he got a couple of amplifiers. He brought in these little Burns 20 Watt amplifiers, and at the second rehearsal we tried to break the bloody things by throwing them down flights of stairs, and they didn’t break! But we knew what we wanted, which was big clout, you know, big amplifiers, and make it as dramatic as possible. I was using a real small kit at that time. The point being really that Chas worked very hard and did the first two albums. Then he didn’t do any other albums after that, so there’s got to be reasons for that. Someone wasn’t satisfied somewhere along the line.
GH: Can we go over that bit about the three-piece? You say the three-piece wasn’t the original idea. Was it you. Noel and Jimi who decided that the band wasn’t going to get any bigger?
MM: In essence, yeah. Noel came up as a guitarist and only picked the bass up later. I don’t know, you sit down and you play with someone and you know what works and what doesn’t. In some cases I go, “Sure. yeah, add horns, add whatever,” and I’m sure that if Jimi had heard another instrument, another voicing, he would have added that. I would have as well, or at least he would have suggested it. I mean. I’d just come out of one band which had quite a good brass section.
GH: At one point during the career of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, you had the idea for a sort of floating band with Eddy Thornton. Derek Wadsworth and Graham Bond. What happened to that?
MM: Oh, I dunno. I worked with Graham at certain times as everyone else did. Eddy Thornton, though doesn’t come into it. Eddy is a mate from years ago but I played with lots of people in and out of the Experience. At one point, when Jimi had decided to concentrate on writing (I think he was a bit tired of being on the road), we were trying to conscript Stevie Winwood into the band. There are lots of people I’d like to work with; people I hear on record whose music gets me off. I think bass players are very important. You have to have that solid rhythm behind you that lets you work on something, build on something and American bass players are the best. I wanted to work with one. I think his name was Lee Miles, he used to work with Ike and Tina Turner and Terry Reid. I’m still trying to find him, as a matter of fact.
GH: You said Jimi was a bit tired of touring?
MM: Yeah, well the problem with Jimi, before he’d made it in America, he’d signed all sorts of contracts with all sorts of people. When we went over there the first time, we were suddenly a big name; the latest thing. All these people came out of the woodwork, starting to release all these albums. There was this mad rush for gold albums. It was very discouraging.
GH: That was the time you first went to the United States, when you toured with the Monkees. What was the truth about that?
MM: Well, it was great fun.
GH: But there were problems with that tour weren’t there? Some people said Mike Jeffreys organized it against Chas Chandler’s advice and others said it was Chas’s idea in the first place. But you left the tour half way through in any case. Seems like it was a bad idea?
MM: I think it was a great idea, quite honestly. It was all good publicity. There were one or two people who complained, you know, which got blown out of some proportion. It was great exposure, whoever’s idea it was. I think it was excellent, but with that kind of audience, I mean you’re dealing with eight to ten year old kids. Their parents are taking them to the show and sure, it outraged certain elements of the society at that time. But it was fun.
GH: So what happened? Why did you pull out? Because of the complaints?
MM: No, because it was exposure. When we first went to the States, all we had was the bloody Monterey Pop Festival. It was as poor as that. The band was formed in September ’66 and we toured Europe. And in June ’67 we went over to the States, and all we had was three dates, from the Monterey thing. Then Bill Graham checked us in for the week following the Monterey Festival at the Fillmore. That gave us another week. So one thing led to another. The Monkees tour fits in between. It was really a question of waking up the mid-West audiences, which is really important for record sales. It’s a marketing procedure. At the time that was going on we were being manipulated into that and we were playing a lot of theatres, like two shows a night. It was very much like the Hamburg days, sort of slave labor what with the hours you’re working and the distances you’re travelling. We worked damn hard. Like, at that time, Andy Warhol was getting the can of Campbell’s soup. He was interested in getting to middle America and getting every kid in America to have that poster. It was just what it was like for us. I mean, it was a breaking point—being in the right place at the right time.
GH: After Hendrix died, what did you do personally?
MM: I did an album in Florida. There was some politics involved—I don’t really want to talk about it. I sort of hibernated for awhile. It took me quite awhile to even own up to the fact that it was a guy you knew and it was a tragic loss. It took me quite a few years to realize how much it actually affected me.
GH: You said before that you saw people dropping around you like flies and you decided to take it easy . . .
MM: Yes, I saw that happening for many years, even through working as a kid. I’d been exposed to various environments of life and it was, you know, “There but for the grace of God go I,” so to speak. I must admit that in the seventies there hasn’t been all that much music that I’ve really got my rocks off on.
There are still reference points, like I think Weather Report are superb, but I still go and refer to an old Wayne Shorter album called Night Dreamer. As regards drums, obviously I’m interested in finding out what is changing; the technology. One of the musicians I work with is this man Poli Palmer, who plays vibes, and he’s one of the first people I ever knew who had a synthesizer. I’d always thought, “Well synthesizers, hey, not going to frustrate myself to death because it doesn’t apply to my particular instrument.” However, it’s getting that way now with drums.
GH: How do you cope with that as a drummer?
MM: I have limited access to a Fairlight CMI computer. It’s a microprocessor device developed by an Australian gentleman, or at least the language is, for the computer. There are a few bands who’ve tried to use it; Yes has got one, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, there are very few in the world. You can program it to put anything you want into it, any musician, and it frightens a lot of people to death. Actually you can work it by keyboards. If you put your drums into it, and you do a run on the keyboard, you can get round a kit, like, three times faster than is humanly possible, which can be interesting.
I remember seeing Billy Cobham when he must have been about seventeen, and he first came over with Horace Silver. He was a left-handed player; he had a small kit: but he was really impressive. I’m really anti drum solos, because it’s like Romans and gladiators, you know, there’s an audience going, “Look at that guy, he’s really knackering himself. He’s going to have a heart attack any minute there!” And actually it’s a kind of masochistic thing for the drummers. To me, the impressive thing is seeing, say, Elvin or Tony and saying, “How the hell are they getting that much sound and tone, (tone being the one for me) from such small drums, and so few drums?” You know, when you start surrounding yourself with eighteen hundred drums, I think you start to disappear up your own backside quite honestly. I think from an audience’s point of view, too, I mean it’s a lot more impressive. I remember seeing Billy Cobham, early on, and saying, “Wait a minute! He’s playing a right-handed kit and he’s playing his hi-hat with his left hand and he’s got four little drums.” To me that was impressive. I mean, I knew the guy could play then. For the question of taste and for recording, the bottom line is, there are some players who are excellent on stage and some are excellent in the studios. There are very few who can cut both.
GH: So how would you sum up your philosophy and whole approach to drumming?
MM: Well I’m going to go out and do my first . . . I’ve never signed with a record company ever, which has created certain problems in my life. However, I’ve been working on some tracks with some people and an album will be coming out before the end of this year.
GH: Who are you working with?
MM: Well, it really varies. At the moment, I’m just trying to put down as many tracks as possible with as varied a group of people as possible.
GH: Your own material?
GH: Are you writing then?
MM: Well, you could call it that. No. we put down some things, there’s a lyricist, Pete Sinfield, he’s done a few lyrics on things between myself and Poli Palmer and Tim Hinckley. It’s just a question of swapping ideas around. There’s a few players in the States I’m creating with and I’d see myself working with.
GH: Like whom?
MM: Ah, well I think at this present time I’d want to be a bit evasive on that one, okay?
GH: Do you have any particular advice for drummers?
MM: Yeah, well, I just saw one of the articles in your magazine about weightlifting and playing drums. That’s it really— my advice is to keep fit.
GH: You’ve always kept fit haven’t you, even during the hectic days with Hendrix?
MM: I’m working on it. I think it’s damn well worth working on. But the only decent piece of advice anybody gave me came from Eric Delaney. I remember being quite over-awed, I was about twelve at the time and I said to him very eagerly, “What do I do, what do I do. Mr. Delaney?” He said, “Are you right-handed?” and I said, “Yeah,” and he said, “Right, clean your teeth with your left hand, change your knife and fork around.” And I must admit that to at least work towards being ambidextrous— I’m sure that’s a help. Like I’ve got so many bad habits through lack of knowledge and no training. There’s a certain part of me that goes, “Yeah, I really wish I would sit down and study another instrument,” which I just might do. I’ve been thinking about taking up the double bass. It’s a lovely, warm instrument to come home to at night and the neighbors don’t complain so much. Yeah, to approach another instrument for technique’s sake you know, to keep your chops together. That’s why I like New York, I go up to Mikell’s and see all these people who work in the studios who just play for the crack of it. You play for the sheer fun of it in New York.
GH: You do a lot of work on television advertising jingles, don’t you? Especially in America.
MM: Yeah, a fair amount.
GH: Could you tell us about any of your work?
MM: Let’s put it this way, due to certain politics, they don’t put your name to anything like that.
GH: It’s all very complicated isn’t it?
MM: They never said life was going to be easy. But I don’t know, I’ll go out on the road for awhile this year.
GH: What, with Hinckley’s Heroes?
MM: No, with my own band. We’ve been offered a few things with the Hinckley thing but, well, we’ll see how that goes. I’m not going to get into anything so that I owe the record company for the rest of my life. You’ve got to go out and have a hit, I mean going out on tour these days is not a very lucrative thing to do unless you’ve got a hit, what with PA’s and lights. But there are certain gigs I would like to go out and play.
GH: Have you found that your style has changed noticeably over the years?
MM: It’s according to the people you’re working with. I think it’s just a question of taste, be it good or bad taste. You know, as you get older there are certain things you tend to leave out. I mean, obviously the reason the people know me as a drummer is basically because of the Hendrix thing, although I’d been playing for quite a long time before that. I’ve always tried to just be a working drummer, as straightforward as that. In a three-piece situation, if the bass player is not playing the accents that you’re hearing then you’re going to try and put it there or to suggest it. Personally, I’d rather that the bass player did that. That’s why I listen to all the old Motown things, because the bass player’s playing all the shit and the drummer doesn’t have to do anything other than lay down what’s required. And if it means putting down a straight four, they do it. It’s a question of having enough taste to go, “Ooh, ooh! Don’t over-play.”
GH: But you don’t seem to be a particular fan of rock drummers on the whole?
MM: Well, maybe Louis Armstrong had it right: there’s only two kinds of music, good and bad.
GH: I’m just wondering what your opinion of current rock music is and drummers in particular?
MM: I’d be interested to see in the next few years, the ones that have come up through the new wave situation or whatever you want to call it. I know a couple of young drummers who are really good. There’s a young kid, Martin something, I can’t remember his name, plays with a band called Resistance, an English band. A fine young drummer. He’s about seventeen now, I suppose, and I’d like to think that in ten years time he’ll still be playing. Some of them will be—some of them won’t be. It’s always been that way.
GH: If you’ll pardon the pun, you seem to be saying that there’s nothing to beat experience.
MM: That’s one point, actually, I feel a bit sad for some of the kids in bands now, apart from the prohibitive cost of getting lights and PA systems and the rest of it. There are no Star Clubs, Hamburg, any longer and you’ve got to cut your eye teeth somewhere. For bands going out and starting now—what are you going to do for gigs? There’s a pub circuit, but some of those kids are too young to be able to do that. There aren’t some of the opportunities that existed when I started out playing and unfortunately, academically, I don’t see that changing in Britain at the moment. You’ve got to cut your teeth somewhere, you’ve got to do your graft and get your chops down somewhere because the more you play the better you get. I don’t pick up a pair of sticks every day and do fifteen minutes of paradiddles, but some days you think, “Yeah, I feel like it.” But you need practice and you’re practicing when you’re playing and I will always play a lot—as long as I love it, and I do. I’m very interested in drums and the technology behind them, I mean I still use calf heads for certain things, because I just love the warmth of them.
GH: Yes, you describe yourself as a percussionist as well don’t you?
MM: An apprentice. It’s always going to be that way.
GH: So, what kinds of things do you use in your kit?
MM: I don’t endorse any products. I stay well clear of that sort of thing. But I must admit I do collect old equipment, very very old snare drums and cymbals. Actually, I had a weird experience a few years ago in the States. It was the band Stuff, Richard Tee the keyboard player and some session people in New York, and I was listening to them. Chris Parker was playing the drums and I thought, “Bloody great band” and I think, “Christ, that cymbal that the guy’s got sounds really great,” and I don’t know the drummer so I talked to him at the end of the set and I said, “Very nice, eh, great cymbal, where did you get that?” He said, “You should know, it’s one of your old ones that you sold.” I said, “What?” because that’s one thing I never do, I never sell cymbals. And I’ve been very lucky so far, but anyway I’d had one lot of cymbals ripped off about two years before and this was one of them, and I kind of recognized it—I mean I went, “Ah ah, sounds like a good cymbal.” Well, luckily it was being played by a very good player so I didn’t really mind. I still go out and look around second-hand shops and things like that and see what I can find.
GH: You seem to be very attached to your individual instruments. Do you carry them around with you from session to session, or select particular ones for particular occasions?
MM: It’s very difficult with sessions, depending who it’s for and the section and also the room. Carrying cymbals around can get very awkward, but I try to do it and I try to carry my own mic’s around as well, but that’s a personal thing. I also carry my own headphones around in a little Samsonite case because I find I’m allergic to some studio headphones. Yeah, there are certains things that are particular to me. I think miking is a very personal thing for drummers, that’s what really gives you your sound, regardless of the room. Especially in America, where there’s a studio kit, say a house kit, and the drumstool might still be warm from Bernard Purdie and, my God, he does sweat. Well, I leave the tuning the same but I think it’s down to you to choose your mic placement and your cymbals. I mean, no one’s looking for great compliments, but the biggest compliment that anyone’s looking for really whatever kind of musician you are, is for somebody to be listening to a record and say, “That’s so-and-so playing on that,” or, “That might be so-and-so playing on that,” or, “It’s someone copying so-and-so.” It’s having an identity stamp which I must admit I’d like to think I had. I mean, when I hear Steely Dan I go, “Hmm, yeah, a lot of thought went into that.” I mean I think it’s great, there’s Victor Feldman doing a lot of their stuff and he’s quite an elderly man now. God, I wish I’d seen the bottom half of what he knows.