Just when you start to think that Andy Newmark has settled into a “bag”, he invariably takes off in another direction. Consider the following: He first came to national attention as the drummer on Carly Simon’s Anticipation album, but before anyone had time to categorize him as a sort of mellow, folk-rock kind of drummer, he joined Sly & The Family Stone. After that, it looked for a while as if Andy was going to become a staple of the English rock scene—he did albums with Ron Wood, George Harrison, Rod Stewart, David Bowie, and Steve Winwood—but then he became a staff drummer for CTI, where he appeared on albums by such artists as George Benson, Esther Phillips, and Bob James. During the past few years Newmark has done albums and/or tours with such notables as Randy Newman, Nils Lofgren, Roxy Music, and he was the drummer on John Lennon ‘s Double Fantasy album. But just when you thought it was safe to refer to Andy as one of the “middle-aged rock veterans,” he turns up on the latest ABC album—a band whose members are all in their early 20 ‘s. And if you were thinking that he only does album projects, guess again; he can occasionally be found contributing his talents to commercial jingles.
So what can we say—that Newmark is versatile? Somehow that misses the point. Sure, he can play in all of these different situations, and if you heard him in any one of them, you might assume that you were hearing him do what he does best—no matter what you happened to catch him playing. Yes, he handles all of these different settings with finesse, but it’s more than that. Some musicians can fit in with different things simply because they don’t have any personality or style of their own, and so they can blend in with anything. Andy, however, does not fade anonymously into the background when he plays. Instead, he injects his personality into whatever he’s involved with. It’s not an aggressive, overpowering kind of thing; it’s more of an energy that flows out and saturates whatever is around it.
Of course, you have to get Andy behind a drumset to see that energy. When not on stage, Andy tends to be reserved. He can be a little intimidating too. Dial his answering machine and, depending on his mood, you ‘II either get a no-nonsense, curt command (“This is Newmark. Leave a message. “), or you ‘II get a lengthy—and very friendly—explanation about how although he’s not in town at the moment, he’s not really all that far away either, so if you want to leave a message, he really does check the machine frequently and he will definitely get back to you soon.
In certain ways, he seems to be full of contradictions. That’s certainly reflected in his music—I doubt if some of the people he works with would be willing to be in the same room with some of the other people he works with, simply because their music is so different. Personality-wise, he can be quiet and reflective, or he can talk your ear off. He takes his career very seriously, and is concerned about his image, yet he is quick to laugh at himself. He can appear to be taking something in stride, and yet he will later confess that he was tingling with excitement.
But don’t let me give the wrong idea. A lot of Andy’s seeming contradictions come from his ability to see both sides of an issue. When confronted with a situation, Andy will dissect and examine it from every possible viewpoint. It might take him a while to make a decision, but when he does, you can bet that it will be the right decision for Andy Newmark. Career-wise, this attitude has helped him earn a great deal of respect in the music business—the projects he becomes associated with always seem to be of high quality. Musically, that attitude is manifest in the way Andy sees the value of simplicity, as well as the advantages of chops and technique. The result is that when he plays, he gives the music a good, simple groove, but there are also these little, subtle, technical things that keep it interesting.
So how does one categorize Andy Newmark? Beats me. All I know is that Newmark the drummer and Newmark the person are both very downto- earth, very likable, and very human.
RM: For many years, I thought you were English.
AN: A lot of people thought the same thing you did. Other people thought that I was from California. Unfortunately, no one in New York thought that this guy Andy Newmark was from New York [laughs] and the phone never rang for work locally. I’d meet people here and they’d say, “California, right?” or “You’re from England, aren’t you?” It’s always been a sore point with me, because in fact, I’ve always lived here and wanted to work more in New York, rather than having to go off on some of these jaunts to work in other places.
The English thing started with Ronnie Wood. That’s also when I met Willie Weeks, a bass player. The Ron Wood album, I’ve Got My Own Album To Do, was the first thing we did together, and that opened up the whole English pop contingent for us. We were there for three months, recording every night. Ronnie had a studio in his basement. It just went on night after night with all of his friends coming by. We were working for a flat fee, per week, regardless of whether we got tracks or whether we worked or didn’t. We were at Ronnie’s house every night from about 11 P.M. until about 7 A.M. to play with whomever, and play whatever. That’s how we met George Harrison; he came down and gave Ronnie a song, “Far East Man.” Bowie came down there; shortly after that we did work on Young Americans. A Stevie Winwood album came about through Ron too. Keith Richards was also on the Ronnie Wood sessions, and Mick Taylor was on the sessions prior to Keith’s arrival. Mick was a regular for the first two or three weeks, and then Keith started hanging out there. You could feel that there was a power play going on, and that Mick Taylor was being squashed. He didn’t play guitar very much after Keith started showing up. Instead, he started playing organ. Finally, Mick Taylor stopped coming to the sessions. Keith Richards then announced, a week or two later, that Taylor had left the Stones and they were focusing on Ronnie. Ronnie was a natural for that band. He looked the part and acted the part. There are a lot of guys who could play circles around him, but Ronnie Wood had that aura, which the Faces all had—a kind of drunken, free spirit, “Let’s have a good time on stage” attitude. So that’s why Keith Richards was hanging around the house, I’m sure. They were zeroing in on Ronnie.
RM: How had you become involved with Ron Wood?
AN: I was in Europe with Sly & The Family Stone, and The Faces were on the same bill in Germany with us. Like most musicians in Europe, they had never gotten to see Sly, so they were all checking him out. The rest of Sly’s band was pretty low-keyed compared to me; energy-wise and visually I was a big part of the show. When we did London, half of the rock community came out. From Pink Floyd to the Rolling Stones, everyone wanted to check out Sly, but unfortunately, I don’t think he lived up to his reputation. So that’s how I met Ron Wood, and he told me, “The Faces are probably going to break up in six months and I want to make a solo record. Can you come to England if I call you?” I said, “Sure.” And I ended up leaving Sly a few months later. That was the beginning of free-lancing for me. With Sly I had some security, but with Ronnie I was leaving the security of any sort of regular paycheck, just putting myself out there and hoping somehow the phone would ring. Before Sly I was with Carly Simon and that, again, was the security of getting a paycheck every week, whether we worked or not. I had done that album with her, Anticipation, which featured the drums in a soft way.
RM: Going from Carly Simon to Sly & The Family Stone was a rather drastic change of style.
AN: Yeah, it was like day and night to go from Carly Simon to Sly. But in fact, it was Carly who was the departure for me, taste-wise. The job with Sly was where I was at. That was natural to me. I was waiting to unleash all of that on someone, and Sly was the recipient. Sly made me feel good. He was a boost to my ego. He really got excited when I played. I was a new toy in his life; someone just to help make record-making a little easier for him, because at that point he had done the Riot album and played everything. So I was his only other tool in the studio really. Most of the recording of Fresh was done with just Sly and me. Everyone remembers me, for the most part, for that Fresh album. That was the most important record of my career; it hit at a time when all the jazz people were tuning into funk. Sly made it palatable to all the jazzers that funk could be a good rhythmic format in which to play all their jazz stuff. Fresh was the bridge between two worlds.
I remember getting a telephone call from David Liebman, the soprano player with Miles. He said, “Andy, Miles came into rehearsal with this Fresh album and he made us listen to ‘In Time’ for half an hour straight. He just kept playing the tape over and over and said, ‘This is where it’s at. This is how I want us to play from now on.’ ” It was very flattering. I even got to meet Miles in Sly’s apartment on Central Park West. All Miles could talk about was that record and how much it turned him on. Even today, “In Time” is what most musicians refer to who meet me for the first time. Maybe Steve Gadd will be remembered for “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.” Even though he’s done lots of other things that were incredible, that’s the one that everyone refers to. “In Time” seems to be the one I’ll be remembered for. The only thing that makes me a little insecure is that nothing has happened since then that seems to have had that much impact. But still, I suppose, a lot of people don’t even get that shot. At least I got to make a little dent for a minute, as opposed to nothing. What’s tragic is that Sly didn’t go on with the genius record-making. That’s a shame. He got a performance out of me that no one else could. He would really get me going.
RM: I understand there’s an interesting story about how you joined Sly.
AN: Right. I was in Los Angeles with Carly Simon playing at the Troubadour, and I knew the saxophone player with Sly, Pat Rizzo. Pat told me that Sly needed a drummer. Gregg Errico, the original drummer, had quit. They had a replacement who had been there for six or eight months, but no one was happy with him. So Pat said, “If you can possibly get up to Sly’s house in Bel Air and get an audience with him, you might be able to conduct some sort of an audition.” In between shows at the Troubadour, I ran up to Sly’s house, and was taken into his bedroom where he was lying on a water bed, pretty much out of his head. There were three or four other people in the room, and it was all very heavy, and sinister, and weird, and dark. Eventually he got himself together enough to speak to me from the bed. He said, “You’re a drummer?” I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Are you funky?” And I said, “Yes.” [laughs] Not even “Yeah,” but “Yes,” deadpan, with no emotion, in my perfect WASP whiteness. Then he said, “Play.” There was a set of Remo practice pads next to his bed with a real hi-hat and a little mashed up cymbal. I knew I’d have about 20 seconds to either make an impression or not, so I just played the funkiest beat I could. All of a sudden Sly came to life. He jumped off the bed and started dancing in the room. And in 30 seconds the whole family was brought in. Sly said, “This is the new drummer”—no name or anything. “Yeah, Freddie, this is the new drummer. Tell the other guy he’s fired. Okay, what’s your name?” “Andy.” “Right. You’ll do the next show or whatever. Welcome.” And that was it. Five minutes later, I was in the car going back to the Troubadour to do Carly’s show.
RM: You turn up on a couple of other Carly Simon albums. Are those tracks just holdovers from the Anticipation sessions?
AN: No. Occasionally she would call me. I went to England with her to do Anticipation. On my 21st birthday, I arrived in London for the first time in my life. It was a dream come true to get to England. I was very much in tune with the British thing ever since the Beatles came out. That’s when I tuned in to music. So going to England with Carly to make that record was a dream come true.
After that, if her producer wanted to use me, I occasionally did a bit of work with her. For instance, she really hit with the follow-up record, No Secrets, which had “You’re So Vain” on it. Richard Perry produced it. I had been brought to England to work on that record, but Richard said, “Look, Carly, your band’s great but I have my guys—Jim Keltner and Jim Gordon.” Right at that time, Richard Perry was at the peak of his five-year hot period, and Keltner and Gordon were on most of his stuff. They were still reigning supreme from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen clique of Carl Radle and Leon Russell and that whole bunch who really dominated for six or seven years. So I was told that Keltner or Gordon would be coming in, but rather than get pissed off, I went to every session they did and asked if I could play percussion or some silly little thing. It didn’t matter—I just wanted to have the headphones on and be near them so I could watch and feel, because I knew they had something I didn’t, and I wanted it. I didn’t want to be just one particular kind of player—which at the time, I felt I was—and they seemed to be able to fit in with a variety of artists and styles. So I would play a conga or something, and just try to tune into what they were doing. Too many people were using Keltner and Gordon not to take notice. That was like going to college for two weeks. I was eating, sleeping, and drinking those sessions to see what they had that made them in such demand.
RM: What was it?
AN: It’s a feeling that makes other musicians, and producers, feel musically comfortable. They’re able to play that real simple stuff with a conviction that makes it work. If you don’t see the beauty in playing simple and get off on it, then when you do it, it won’t come off like the person who loves to do it. When Russ Kunkel, Gordon or Keltner would just play those real simple beats, they got off on it. They liked that; they were into it, so it gave the notes validity. Also, I noticed on the playback that all of the takes—not just the final one—sounded like real records. Whereas often, when I’d hear a playback of something I was doing, a lot of little things would make it feel, to me, like a demo. When I heard them play on something, it always seemed to be so smooth. They had a way of making everything settle and be relaxed. The hardest thing to get a studio drummer to do is make the record feel it’s in the right place. Tempo has a lot to do with good records. Being slightly too fast or too slow might cause the whole song to miss the point. And I think producers rely on drummers to find that magical place, within a very small range of tempo. It’s something that most people might not hear. There isn’t a large difference in those tempos, but it’s that one magical place that makes it feel like everything’s breathing properly. I started picking up on an inner instinct from these guys that they knew where to put the tempo, and believed in it themselves. They weren’t looking for direction—they were the direction; they were the core. Richard Perry left them alone. When I had worked with him, he was monitoring every beat I played, but with them, he let them do their thing. In other words, he was trusting their instincts.
RM: It seems like it took a lot of maturity on your part to accept that and not have the attitude that, “If he had trusted me the way he trusted them, I could have played that simple part.”
AN: I didn’t feel that because, in fact, I couldn’t have played the part they played with the conviction they played it with. I was still playing too busy. I thought, “I wouldn’t have the nerve to just lay back for three-anda- half minutes, like what I’ve just seen.” I knew there would have been eight places in the record where I would have been playing a fill, or been too busy. I knew I didn’t somehow have the maturity or the instincts to do what I was seeing being done in front of me. I guess it was good that I could recognize that. It was like regrooming my mind from what most drummers grow up learning—chops and technique. Not that it isn’t valid, but it has to be rechanneled when you start working in the studio. So, in fact, it wasn’t as frustrating as you might have guessed. I knew my instincts were different than theirs, so I was regrooming my instincts. It took a few years to get to a point where I could say, “Yeah, a Richard Perry could trust my instincts.” At the time, in a lot of departments, I wouldn’t have said I felt equal to them. Now I do. We’re all just artists of different shades now. But back then I was aware that they actually had more cultivated tools than I had. I’m glad I was able to open up to that, because that’s usually where the dividing place is between the drummers who carry on with a certain type of career, and those who step over into the recording world. It just involves refining certain instincts that are different from what you do on stage. That doesn’t mean it’s better. There are a lot of good session players who are not good on stage. It’s a mental thing; it’s not about the chops. The ones who enter another way of perceiving the drums seem to be good at recording. I was listening to the Keltners, Gordons, and Russ Kunkels, and I was aspiring towards that. So I was pleased that I was able to enter another head, whatever it was, that made me understand and appreciate the things that make you successful in that area.
RM: Did you talk to them about it at all or just sit back and observe?
AN: There wasn’t a whole lot to talk about as far as the drums themselves were concerned. I took in with my ears what they were doing musically. In talking with these guys, I didn’t need to talk about the notes or the drums; I wanted to just feel what made them tick. The real core of the matter was, “Who are these guys who emote this feeling? I want to be able to look in their eyes and feel their vibrations.” You understand, all of a sudden, so much about why drummers play the way they do when you meet them personally. That’s what’s happened to me in a lot of instances from being around them, in chatting with them, or just understanding how they react to things. I remember in California, Keltner started tuning in to what I was doing with Sly & The Family Stone. He actually was kind of curious to chat with me at the time, which was flattering, but good because it opened the door. It meant I wasn’t just chasing Jim. I had been listening to him for years, and he had been tuning in to me maybe over the past 12 months. I remember just talking with him, and I got lots of responses from him about music and players. It meant something to me to hear what he thought about such-and-such a drummer, and to know that I maybe had similar reactions about certain things. Hearing about the things he was really getting off on opened up to me why Keltner plays the way he does. So you understand a player’s influences and what gets him off. Then you sit back and think, “Yeah, that makes sense because I hear this in his playing.” You get the whole picture.
RM: Did you ever play with Keltner?
AN: Yes. But prior to us playing together, I had been living in his shadow for a year while I was working with George Harrison, because Jim was George Harrison’s favorite drummer and close friend. Keltner was like the fifth Beatle. Ringo used him on all his records, George swore by him, and John Lennon always used him. So when George asked me to work on his record, that was my first experience of stepping into something where Keltner had always been the man, which was a challenge to me. I was flattered, but I was always thinking, “What would Keltner do?” or “Would they prefer it if Jim were here?” I didn’t want to blow the job, in a basic survival sense. That happens to me with a lot of people I work for, if they’ ve worked with a drummer in their past who is a personality and a well-known figure. So I tend to play the middle—walking a tightrope between my style and the style of the previous drummer. When I worked for George, I always thought about Keltner, and when I was with John Lennon, I always thought about Ringo. I would be thinking, “These are the people who this guy has always liked, so how can I get inside of their brain for a minute?” George was always talking about Jim Keltner. Even when we had great tracks, I was never allowed to forget that he loved Jim’s playing. I just accepted it as a fact of life. I thought, “Yeah, Jim is a monster.” Even I idolized Keltner’s playing, so I could understand this reaction. But, of course, it makes one a little insecure.
Anyhow, then we went on the tour, and it was supposed to be Keltner and I—two drummers, which was fine. I was relieved in a way. And then Jim backed out of the tour at the last minute. George came to the first rehearsal with a Jim Keltner fan club button on. I’ll never forget it. Big pin: “I’m a member of the Jim Keltner fan club.” And he walked in and said, “Andy, guess what! Jim is not going to do the tour!” George was visibly unhappy about it. They really liked each other as people and as musicians. I became very insecure. I felt an additional burden being lowered on me because George didn’t have Jim there with him on the tour; someone who he was very close to as a friend and as a player. We went on the tour and I did it alone, but I never felt that secure about a lot that was going on. I thought to myself, “I wish Keltner were here, because he would put George more at ease.” There is nothing worse for a drummer than to allow this kind of insecurity to eat away at you, because it destroys your playing.
In fact, Keltner did join the tour for the last three weeks. It was a major up to everyone in the band that Jim was there. He was one of the old veterans. People want to see them, feel them, and know that they are on the stage. Maybe I’m entering a period in my life where I fulfill that now, because I’m getting up into the middle-senior bracket of rock ‘n’ roll. At the time I was 25, so there was no way I could. But Jim had that authority and I recognized it. It made things a lot easier just having him there on that tour. So that was a long answer to your question. Yes, I played with Jim.
RM: Were you intimidated at all by actually having Keltner sitting next to you?
AN: Absolutely not! It was a great relief. He understood my position very, very well, and knew what I had been going through.
RM: How did it work musically?
AN: Well, of the two of us, I had the authority and the leadership because I knew all the tunes inside out. He walked in with no rehearsal right in the middle of the tour. He just said, “Do your thing. Make believe I’m not even there. I’ll follow.” And he had an amazing ability to melt into whatever was going on. Jim was like water. He would fit into whatever container you poured him into. He completely didn’t inhibit me, which was a talent in itself. Most people would sit down and have to just start playing the drumkit the normal way. Jim was sort of like a ballet dancer across the drums. He was able to watch me and read my movements before they happened. He knew how to lay back far enough so he could see what was coming and then grab it. It’s an amazing ability to stay invisible, yet be there. He made the drums stereo on stage, which was what was needed for this 12-piece band. And I could never seem to offer that alone. I couldn’t produce enough volume to give everyone across this massive stage the security of feeling the backbeat and the groove. With two drummers, everyone on stage had real drums coming to them, and that seemed to put everyone at ease.
RM: Did your playing have to change any in that situation?
AN: Not really. The learning aspect was trying to make two drummers sound like one. I don’t think I ever sounded as good with Jim as say he and Gordon in Mad Dogs and Englishmen; or Ricky Marotta and Steve Gadd; or Keltner and Ringo. There have been a few combinations of double drummers. Personally, I don’t feel like I’m one of those drummers who fits in with other drummers real well. It’s funny. When you’re playing with another drummer, if you start to think about whether or not your backbeats are landing together or flamming, then you get in trouble. It’s like meter. If you think about whether you’re speeding up or slowing down, you probably will. The more you focus on a problem, the more it becomes a problem. It’s the same with working with another drummer. If you start trying to make it happen right, something is lost.
RM: Do you get off on the idea of playing with another drummer?
AN: Not as much as playing alone.
RM: I’m thinking back to what you said earlier about how, in order to make a simple groove feel good, you’ve got to be into playing a simple groove. If you’re not naturally attracted to the idea of playing with another drummer, then maybe that’s why you don’t feel you’re especially successful at it.
AN: Well, certainly we do create results in life. Our thoughts create the reality. If I have a negative thought about it, I may very well create a negative result. You’ve definitely got to be into the fact that it’s two people sounding like one. There’s a very subtle perfection in two drummers playing together. You have to appreciate it, and there were moments when I certainly got off on that. Drummers are used to playing alone, so two drummers have to behave themselves. You’ve got to constantly be weaving in and out of one another. When you play alone, you’re steering the ship by yourself, and if you decide you’re going to do a drum fill here, you do it. I could never do what I did with Roxy Music, for instance, with two drummers. I had manipulated that whole show to where I had certain licks I wanted to play in certain places, and I could be as out to lunch as I wanted. Not that I could forget about my responsibilities as the timekeeper, or any of that stuff, but I did it in my own weird little way. Having two drummers in a band is like having two drivers in a car, if you accept the fact that the drummer is the leader of the group. I suppose in Modern Drummer, at least, we accept that the drummer really sets the mood. So, if you accept the drummer as the leader, then it’s like having too many chiefs. At some point there will be a clash of egos, because, I guess, drummers each want to control their group a certain way. I certainly do.
RM: These days, a lot of drummers are playing with another drummer in the form of a drum machine. The first time I ever heard a drum machine used in a song was on the Ron Wood album.
AN: It had been done before. It was my idea in that instance, but that was because I had just been with Sly. The Fresh album was done with a drum box. Eight months later when I was with Ronnie, I suggested that we try it.
RM: Many drummers are still opposed to the idea of working with a drum machine. How were they viewed back then?
AN: Well, back then everyone associated those little drum boxes with organ players at Holiday Inns who couldn’t afford a band. When I first started using it with Sly, I was turned off. I thought, “I waited all these years to play with one of the hottest bands in the music business, and now I’m in the studio overdubbing drums all by myself through a drum machine.” So it took some getting used to. But then I saw that it affects the groove in certain ways. Your timing is perfect. A drum machine takes away from the music sounding live and high-energy, but it also does something else on another level as far as keeping the groove very consistent. It’s a challenge for drummers to work with, I think, because the minute you play with a metronome— that’s what it is in essence—you discover where you speed up and slow down playing certain kinds of licks, or where you get off of playing straight time. It points out to you where you have bad habits immediately, because you’re out of sync with the machine very quickly. Then you have to stop the recording and start again if the discrepancy is too great. So it’s good discipline for a drummer to be able to play with one of those. And now, ten years later, it’s the “in thing,” except now they’ve got them sounding like real drums.
Everyone’s making records now with these things. Seventy-five percent of the work I’m doing in the studio now consists of playing along with an electric drum of some sort. The people making the records like it because they can make up the drum part and get it on tape in an hour with no musicians hanging around. Not dealing with the human aspect saves a lot of time and money in the studio. Some producers don’t feel that they have as much control over a session if there are five musicians out there all playing live. By using the drum machine and then taking each instrument separately, they can concentrate fully on each instrument as it goes on the record. I don’t mind this myself. I’ve had to find a way to like it, which I did even with Sly. After a few days, I managed to get into the challenge of playing perfectly in meter. It takes the responsibility off the drummer of having to keep perfect meter through the whole four minutes. I think as players adapt more and more to playing with a drum box, it won’t make them feel restricted. Once you get the knack of it, it’s sort of fun.
RM: When the machines really hit a couple of years ago, a lot of drummers resisted them. But there were also people like Jeff Porcaro who were saying, “If you want to use the machine, fine. Hire me to program it.”
AN: Well, during the Roxy tour, Phil Manzanera said to me, “You should get a Linn and become familiar with it. Consider it a part of your instrument. You can program the Linn and also have ideas about playing your drums over the Linn— where to mix in real drums, and what works well on the drumkit with a drum machine and what doesn’t.” He’s right. It is what’s happening. I guess I should be open to being familiar with the machine and working for the same fee that I would if I were playing the drums. They’re going to hire someone to do it, so it may as well be the drummer.
RM: When you are called into a session to overdub on a track that was done with a drum machine, do they usually want you to duplicate the part that the machine played? What would be a typical situation? What happened on Roxy Music’s Avalon, for instance?
AN: On Avalon, a drummer couldn’t have reproduced what the machine was doing because they set up some patterns that were very unusual—tom-toms coming out of nowhere—so they used the Linn as its own instrument. I was just asked to play along with it; not copy it. I find that you don’t have to copy these machines. You can play something different and it won’t sound like a fight going on. Most people basically have a bass drum going on “1” and “3” and a snare drum going on “2” and “4”, so it’s a simple beat, just to keep time. It’s easy to play around that; it doesn’t really get in the way of anything you would want to do. Most of the time, in pop music, the foot is landing on the “1” and the “3” anyhow, with whatever additional notes are going on. You inevitably will end up playing a bit more than the machine, I think. But if it’s all in time, it usually won’t conflict.
On Avalon they weren’t really using the drum machine to sound like a drumkit. They had much more going on than what a drummer could play. I just played pretty much a straight beat through a lot of that record. I felt that some of the songs on that album would have carried fine without real drums even. So I played less than the drum machine on that record. Then they mixed them so you could hear both in the mix. There’s no typical situation though.
RM: Is there any psychological benefit to playing with a drum machine as opposed to playing with a click track?
AN: Probably there’s a little psychological benefit. I think that what might make it easier with the drum machine is that you have the 8th notes on the hi-hat going, as well as a bass drum and a snare drum, as opposed to the click, which would just be quarter notes. It’s easier to lock in with something that sounds like a drumset. There’s more flow. It sounds a little more musical. For me personally though, I think that I should be equally effective with the machine or the click, because I’ve played so much with both. I can lock into either and get off on it.
Every record I did for CTI was with a click, and I thought that was amazing. It was supposed to be jazz—free, improvised, musicians playing for musicians— and there was a click; that perfect dance tempo. I got off on it though. I just had to find the challenge of trying to play as free as I would normally play without the click. Another funny thing about the CTI gig was that the artist was never there. We would just be handed the music. You wouldn’t know if it was going to be for a George Benson record, an Esther Phillips record, or this one or that one. We would cut track after track, and in the section of the song where that person would solo, it would say on the chart, “Solo.” We would just leave 32 bars there for a solo and then go back to playing the melody or something. It was like a factory. I’m not putting Creed Taylor down for that, because he helped a lot of artists. But after dreaming for years about playing on CTI albums, I got there and it was like making disco records.
RM: If you have your choice, how do you feel about overdubbing in a studio by yourself as opposed to interacting with other musicians?
AN: Well, it really depends on my mood. If I’m in a good mood and I’m not tired, then it’s fun to be in a studio with other players. I’ll respond at the moment to what other people do, and it will show up on the tape. But if I’m with musicians who take an eternity to get their parts together and I’m ready to get a take within the first half hour, I may lose some of my enthusiasm for the track by the time they’re ready. I would rather that those people get their parts together with the Linn, and then let me come in and do it fresh. But if they’re all good players, it’s more fun to play together.
RM: How much do you depend upon the other people for inspiration?
AN: Well, I suppose I never depend on them. In other words, I’m prepared to go in, not be inspired by anyone, and still find a way to turn myself on. It’s a lot more fun if you’re with great players because they play things that just make everything fall into place around them. They have that sixth sense of what’s right for making records. It obviously is much better if you’re inspired by other players. But it seems that a lot of the work I do consists of going off to far corners to play with bands or groups of people who don’t have a drummer. And oftentimes, they’re looking towards me to provide that something special. In other words, I often may be the strongest player on a lot of the work that I do, and I find that they’re bringing me in to be that special ingredient or the inspiration to turn them on. Sometimes that load is difficult to carry. Oftentimes, I’m doing projects like this and wishing to myself that I were surrounded by stronger players, because I feel that too much responsibility is being put on me to turn everyone else on. I can do it, but it tires me.
I’ve seen takes drag on for six hours over one song just because the other players weren’t able to get a concept together quickly on what to play to make that record gel. That is sort of an art in itself which has nothing to do with technique or chops. The art of making records is just knowing what to play where to make the record hang together. And if you’re with people who are used to thinking in terms of making a four-minute record and what to do to accomplish that quickly, it’s much easier.
RM: Listening to a lot of your work, I wouldn’t have guessed that a click or a drum machine was used. It felt too good. Although I later discovered that machines were, in fact, used on some of it.
AN: It’s certainly possible to groove just as heavily with a click track or a drum machine. A lot of people have the idea that it’s somehow not going to feel as good, but that isn’t true. It’s certainly possible that it could hinder players on a certain session so that they somehow aren’t able to override the presence of that click, and you have something sterile sounding. The first time I had to play with a click track, I was a nervous wreck. I mean, I really had problems. I was hung up on listening to the click, and if I couldn’t hear it, I inevitably went out of time with it. You just have to get over the nervousness of it because this machine is going. You know it’s perfect and you know you’re not, because you’re human. I make believe in my mind that the machine is Ralph MacDonald, and he has a cowbell, and everyone accepts that “Ralph” has perfect time, so we will follow him. I can sort of play behind the click a hair so that the record can still have the tension of a backbeat that’s slightly behind the beat. I’ve learned where I can sometimes get a little on top of the click. Sometimes doing a fill, I get on top. But I’ve learned to listen as I’m playing the fill, so that as I start the time again, it’s an even transition. I’ve discovered a way to play around these ma chines so they don’t inhibit me. That was the challenge for me with these machines—to record and not have the track feel sterile. How do you play with something that’s perfect? What makes the difference between some records that feel stiff and others that don’t? It’s a good question and I’m not sure what the answer is. I just know that I’ve managed to find a way. Part of it may be psychological. I often overpower the click—not with volume; with attitude. I almost make it sound as if the click is playing with me as opposed to me trying to keep up with it. I get an internal rhythm going in my head and the click is just part of that. I’ll start singing to myself and get a train motion going. The head is first and the body is second. Once I get that motion going, I just let the hands follow that train-like rhythm. There’s a looseness in my body that’s listening to this little message in my head which is in tune with the click, so my hands don’t have to dominate the situation. There’s a flexibility in there that allows me to play along with this thing but it doesn’t interfere with the feeling. This is hard to put into words. Each drummer has to find a way not to be put off by this electric drum, but instead to incorporate it into the beat. Needless to say, when drummers practice, they should practice with a metronome, because if you fall into a situation with an electronic click, you’ve got to at least be able to execute simple stuff in perfect time.
RM: I remember when people would warn against practicing with a metronome. They felt that either you would depend on it and wouldn’t be able to play without it, or you would sound like a machine. Now, all of a sudden, people realize that a metronome is great to play with.
AN: When I practice, it’s always with a metronome, because it makes you understand the time value of notes. There’s a certain conviction when you’re playing perfectly in time and each note has its full value. It’s the difference that makes a drummer sound real good. When you listen and say, “It’s so simple but it sounds so good,” it’s because the notes are being given their full value of time. It’s putting the air in between the notes, and it’s all that air which makes the note itself sound good, because the note after it didn’t come too soon. It’s almost as if it’s not the notes we play, but it’s how we break up the silence that creates the feeling. When you breathe that air between each note and things are even, it sounds great. That’s the real fine line that makes the difference between the drummers who really sound good and the ones who have all the chops and technique, but who are missing that intangible thing.
I think that a big part of it is understanding that every note has to have its time and its space to live. When I practiced with the metronome, it pointed out to me just how fine the space is in there. When you feel those spaces in between the notes, it really brings meaning into what you’re doing. And I stretch the time as far as I can. I put as much space as I can between every beat. If you can tune into those subtleties, that’s the difference between the studio players and all the other drummers. You’ve got to have that sense of time and space. And it doesn’t even necessarily mean that slight speeding up or slowing down can’t happen. It can, but there’s still that inside thing.
When I went to Berklee for summer session, I was a chops fanatic, playing every thing as fast as I could, hours and hours a day. I was 19 and I met Fred Buda, who was the professor there with Alan Dawson. He said, “Here, play this for me very slowly.” He put a metronome down to 60, and he said, “Play a paradiddle.” I was fumbling. He said, “You thought you had chops. You could play fast, but it’s bullshit. You don’t have chops. Anyone can play fast—it’s like a muscle spasm.” He was right, and he opened up a whole new world for me. And so he gave me this book called Accents and Rebounds, and for three months, he had me playing the exercises down at 60. I thought, “Is this all I’m going to be doing?” But I slowly got into it to the point where the click itself was like this big around each beat. I could hear the difference if I was at the beginning, the middle or the end of each click. I was so tuned into it that I had pulled it apart. I had magnified it to where I really began to see what this thing about time was. For three months, I diligently did two or three hours a day of just Accents and Rebounds at a very slow tempo. He made me see what control and real chops are, and he taught me about being able to play evenly. That’s when my playing started to change.
As far as that comment about sounding machine-like or depending on it is concerned, do you know what’s happened to me from working with this thing so much over the years? I hear an imaginary click now when I play the drums, even if it’s not there. It’s almost like I’ve got this friend now. It’s a sixth sense. The minute I play something and my hands speed up or slow down, I know it.
RM: You called yourself a “chops fanatic.” Did you assume that having more technique was the answer to everything?
AN: Yes, because I started taking lessons in the fourth grade. The first three years I studied drums, I never owned a drumkit. I just had a pad, and I was learning the rudiments and learning to read. That sort of training tends to make one very chops conscious. I didn’t have a drumkit until the seventh grade. But I continued studying and I was very study/technique oriented. Through all those years in high school, I was constantly inflicting my exercises and drum lessons on the band—trying to play things that were not musical, but were drumistic. It went too far; I became too chops conscious.
I remember an audition with Al Kooper. Ricky Marotta, who I grew up with, turned me on to the audition. He had been playing with Al, but he was leaving. I was into this chops thing when I went down to the audition. I was trying to imitate the Tony Williams’ Lifetime. All Al Kooper wanted was a simple backbeat, so I blew that audition, and a few more like it. Ricky brought it to my attention very quickly. He said, “This is all bullshit. Save it for your basement. This is rock ‘n’ roll. They don’t want to hear all that.” Fortunately, I was open enough to realize, “Yeah, a friend of mine is telling me that; another drummer.” So I wised up.
Ricky is not technically oriented at all. He’s just a natural. He picked up drums at 19, learned one beat, played it through everything, and it always sounded great and felt great. Here I was practicing my butt off for hours every day to see how fast I could play paradiddles, and Ricky was working more than me when we were 19 or 20. He was out just playing that simple beat, being paid lots of money, and people were loving it. I was still trying to imitate Tony Williams, and I wasn’t working, [laughs] I thought, “This isn’t right.” I had always played in bands, and I knew that music had to feel good. I wanted to make things feel good with a lot of chops; I wanted to incorporate both. But I was open enough to see what was happening and immediately revamped my program, which was not a problem for me. I had started out playing simple, but I’d gotten away from that. I had been taking so many lessons and was putting so much energy towards developing chops that I started to inflict it on the musicians I was playing with. So it wasn’t hard for me to get back to the simple approach.
I am a product of the Beatles. Pop music is what turned me on. I’m not a jazzer at heart who had to sort of get into this other head of playing simple. I was born musically when the Beatles came out. So I knew about playing simple but I just got away from it. That was an important lesson. I knew that if I wanted to work, it just had to feel good. All these chops didn’t matter. And Ricky, my good friend, was the best example of a guy with no chops but who could always make the music feel good.
Shortly after that, I got the job with Carly Simon. She was a Russ Kunkel fan. Russ was on her first album, so she wanted a drummer who could sound like Russ. He was one of the first simple players who made it sound great. So I thought, “Okay. Survival. Carly Simon loves Russ Kunkel.” I went out, got the records he was on, and checked out his whole trip. “Okay, this is what she wants. She’ll get it.” And I got onto that track.
So since then, I’ve learned to rebuild. I think you have to transcend notes and technique. When I play under ideal conditions, it’s no longer just notes. It just becomes one big feeling. The drum ceases to become a separate object. It’s not notes, drums, a drummer, and a stool. It all becomes one. That’s how I have played for the last ten years. I have to put that technical stuff out of my mind. It’s for practice at home. When you play, you’ve got to go just for the feeling—the attitude. Then, you sort of learn how to incorporate some of the drumming chops inside of the groove without breaking up that feeling. That’s been the real art of it for me, over the years—slowly incorporating the slicker parts of drumming into rock ‘n’ roll, which is a raw, uncivilized, barbaric feeling. The challenge is to keep that attitude going when you’re playing, but also to fit in your favorite licks without breaking that up. Sometimes, I still catch myself trying to force myself to play something which I’m finding difficult, and for a second I’ll continue to try to do it because it’s like “Damn it. I want to do that.” But if it’s not feeling right, I have to immediately forget it. Just let your hands fall in with the rest of the music. Don’t try to inflict your exercises onto the music. Just find the basic common denominator there among everyone. Find that root first, and then, when you have that foundation, you can start to elaborate a little. You just have to let yourself go with the flow of the music. Drummers seem to be the worst offenders of trying to inflict lots of technique into music. It interferes with the music a lot. And most drummers go through a stage like that. I did. Thank God I saw the light and understood what had to be done to take care of business.
RM: A lot of people really don’t have any conception of what drums are all about. They hear Buddy Rich described as “the world’s fastest drummer” and assume that being fast is the most important criteria for being a drummer.
AN: Yeah, except he’s not just a guy with fast hands. It’s musical when he does it. You can’t explain that to a drummer who is obsessed with playing fast. You’ve got to want to play the other way, or see the beauty in it. See, oftentimes, drummers don’t realize that it’s enough to just make the music feel good. When you think about it, the drummer has almost more responsibility than any other member of the band. They’re relying on the drummer to make the music feel good. I have to remind myself sometimes that if I’m just making everyone feel good, that’s a lot. Even if I’m not using any chops or technique, or playing anything fancy, if everyone around is tapping their feet because it’s got a good feeling, that’s a lot. It’s what we’re supposed to do.
RM: I’ve often heard you defined as a “studio drummer.” Is that how you think of yourself?
AN: Well, to blow my own horn, I think I have the good aspects of what that expression “studio drummer” means, in that I have a certain amount of finesse required to work in the studio, and the discipline to play something over and over for six hours, fine tune it, and not lose the feeling. The part of that term that insinuates “drummer/robot” or “autopilot,” no. I hope I’ll always escape that. I’ve never been a part of the nine-to-five working crowd of session musicians in New York City. I don’t work that much doing, say, jingles in the morning, then in the afternoon doing a record date for this one, and that evening, a record date for someone else. I never became a part of that. For many years, I chased it because I wanted to work in my own back yard, but it never materialized. Maybe that’s just as well, because I had spread myself too thin, I might have started to drum in the “autopilot mode.” So, in the good sense, I think I’m a “studio drummer”—capable of doing what has to be done in a studio. If there’s a connotation to the term “studio drummer” that would insinuate any lack of emotion, I’m sure I’ve escaped all that. I haven’t worked enough to get fed up. I care about every session I do, and I still have the enthusiasm I had ten years ago. I haven’t lost that from being overworked.
The down side of not being a regular working player in New York City is that, in between all the projects I do that people see and hear about, there’s a lot of idle time for me. People think I am much busier than I really am because I’ve been on John Lennon, George Harrison, Ronnie Wood, and Roxy Music albums. They assume I’m working 52 weeks out of the year and turning down tons of records. It’s not true. I go off and do these projects, and there’s an intense amount of work for two weeks, a month, six weeks, or until that episode is finished. Then I return home to New York City, and often there’s nothing happening for me for weeks at a time. I’ve even gone months at a time where I’ve been waiting for the next project to kick in. I don’t have that filler work to keep me going here in New York. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble out there in Modern Drummer-land. It’s just that the projects I’m associated with— all this superstar, elite, upper echelon rock ‘n’ roll—create an illusion. In fact, there are big gaps in between these projects.
RM: Do you think that maybe people don’t hire you because it just doesn’t occur to them that you might be free?
AN: Yes, that probably happens. And I’ve been told by a lot of people that they just would never have thought of calling because (a) they didn’t know how to get in touch with me or they thought I lived in England or Los Angeles, or (b) that I would have been too out of their price range. It’s funny—a lot of people feel that I’m connected with so many special things that they’re a little intimidated about having me on something that they feel isn’t so special. I do sense that with people.
RM: For years, I assumed that the thing to do was to be on a couple of hit albums, and after that you would have it made. Yet, apparently it can almost be a reverse thing. If
you make it too big, you can actually jump above where most of the work is.
AN: That’s a good point. What it does prove is that being on one, two, three, or any number of top-10 albums with major artists has nothing to do with consistency in work. What enables someone to work is being part of a camp or a clique and being constantly available—not on the road. There are drummers I know who work six days a week, constantly, and have incomes well over six figures, but I don’t know if any of them have been on a top-10 album in the last two years. I’m not saying they haven’t—maybe they have, but the fact is that they’re part of the working crowd. The contractors know them, the producers know them, and the other musicians know them. Being on the hit records doesn’t guarantee work. For instance, I was on Anticipation, but I wasn’t in New York when the record was happening. I was out touring with Carly. So that record didn’t give me any momentum locally. And then, of course, I went off with Sly. That Fresh album I did with him was certainly the most important record of my career. It was me all over the record. Everyone knew me personally, and loved all those beats. I got compliments from here to China. But yet, come back home to New York and work? “Andy Newmark, oh yeah. Where does he live? Is he from California? Oh yeah, he lives here but he’s on the road with Sly.” So, being on these records doesn’t mean you have your bread-and-butter turnover work. For that stuff, you must stay in town. If they think you’re on the road, they cross you off the list.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have both. Steve Gadd is constantly on big albums with valid artists, and he’s working constantly. I feel that Steve had a crowd—Ralph MacDonald, Richard Tee, Eric Gale—and wherever they went, they went together. Toto is another example of a rhythm section that can move together. That kind of teamwork helps make your work flow more consistent.
RM: You and Willie Weeks used to work together a lot. I was sensing at one point that the two of you were in the tradition of drummer/bass player teams.
AN: That’s true. That was the closest I got to having a partner. We were a great team. He never said “boo” and I talked a blue streak. We played off each other perfectly as people. But he never could deal with the session mentality. He doesn’t like being around new people every week. If you’re a session player, every time you’re around a bunch of new people, you’ve got to find out where they’re at immediately, find the common link to communicate with them on, and make them feel relaxed. With most session players—myself included—you’ll find that on the personality side there’s this aspect that might be considered jive. But most of the good session players who work a lot have this “radar,” so that the minute they’re around strangers, they know how to make them feel at ease, find out what plane they’re on, and be on that plane for the duration of the session. I’ve always thought of it like being a good whore [laughs] who knows how to make a customer feel extra special. They tune right in to what will turn someone on. It’s coldblooded, but session musicians are like that. For the time you spend with people, charging them these exorbitant rates of money to play the drums, you find out just what it is that turns them on and give it to them.
RM: That comparison should guarantee that you will not become a busy New York studio drummer, [laughs]
AN: What the hell [laughs]; at 33, I don’t know if it’s that important to me anymore.
RM: A lot of people have never seen you. You seem to have this tendency to work for people who are notorious for not performing very much. Carly Simon is extremely stage shy and she basically gave up live performance. Harrison only did one tour. Roxy’s not known for touring a lot, at least in the States. Even when Sly did tour, he didn’t always show up.
AN: True. I find the winners. I’m sure there’s a reason why I get next to these types. Everything happens for a reason. We align ourselves, whether we know it or not, with where we want to be in life. It’s all a product of our own thinking. But, in fact, the non-performing aspect of those situations you mentioned was always a disappointment to me, because I love playing live.
RM: Suppose Brian Ferry called up tomorrow and said, “From now on we’re going to spend three months of the year recording, and then we’ll back up that album with a nine-month tour. You’ll be employed with Roxy Music 52 weeks out of the year.” Would you be willing to make a commitment like that, or do you, in fact, enjoy the freedom?
AN: I like that freedom to do different things. What I don’t like is all the space in between. So, I would probably say, “Okay, you can count me in for a year.” I don’t know if I could do it for a second year, but I’d probably give it a shot. Those particular people that you mentioned are nice people. I get along with them off stage as well as on stage. So I could go off’ with Brian Ferry or Roxy Music for a year.
RM: Have you ever considered starting your own band?
AN: Yes, there was a time when I might have tried to get something going with Willie. But we were always making decent money and we didn’t want to blow off everyone to pursue this band thing. Although, Toto made records and carried on doing session work. If their records hit, great. If their records didn’t hit, they still were doing work for other people. I’d probably like to have an outlet to do a band trip like that , but I wouldn’t want it to be the only thing I was doing. I’m quite happy working for other people. When I play with Roxy, for example, I’m just a paid employee, but there’s nothing frustrating about it. I don’t feel like I’m being limited. No one ever tells me how to play. People basically hire me to play the way I play, which is a wonderful position to be in. I’m thankful to be paid to do something I enjoy and not even be heavily monitored by those who are hiring me.
I read about a lot of musicians who feel that they have to have their own bands to create the music they feel is important. It’s funny. Even if I’m not playing music that seems that important, as long as I’m getting off on what I’m doing, I usually can find a way to enjoy it. And yet I meet musicians who are going through tremendous changes and emotional upheavals because they’re working for people and it’s not what they like playing. I haven’t experienced that too much. Having your own band means having the headaches of running a band. Musically, I enjoy most situations, except I don’t have the headaches. Most of the time, I’m thankful to be just a hired hand.
RM: Do you ever feel insecure about whether or not you’ll get enough calls for work?
AN: Of course I worry about that stuff. But I’ve learned to live with all those things that scare musicians from being musicians, or that make parents tell their children, “There’s no security in t h a t . Get your college degree.” It’s all true, except now at 33, I’ve learned to live with it better than when I was 22. After 15 years now of doing this full time, I have an inner faith that, since I’ve managed to make a reputation for myself, and I’ve done this well for this long, it’s not going to all end tomorrow. I’m not doing anything that should screw it up; I’m not an alcoholic, a drug addict or out of my mind. I know w i t h i n myself that it will all work out in the end. The worry has been under control for years.
RM: Worry is usually fear of the unknown, like “What will happen if I don’t work for four months?” I guess at this point there have been periods where you didn’t work for four months, and here you are.
AN: Yes, life goes on and you save a little money, so you have money for those droughts. I f you’re going to get into a business like this, you’ll have to learn to cope with periods of unemployment. You have to learn to groove whether you’re working or not.
RM: You said that the Beatles really started you off on music. The Beatles hit when you were in the eighth grade, but you’ve also said that you started taking drum lessons in the fourth grade. What inspired you to do that?
AN: All the kids at school started playing instruments in the fourth grade. That’s when the school provided instruments. I tried the clarinet for a few weeks and I tried the accordion for a few weeks. I wanted to play an instrument but neither of them stuck. Then I wanted to take drum lessons. There was a kid at school in the eleventh grade who was giving drum lessons a couple of blocks from my house. I don’t know what the attraction was at ten years old to take a drum lesson once a week for half an hour, but I immediately got into it. I would go home after school, get the pad, sit on the edge of the couch, and practice for one hour every night. I was determined to go back and do my lesson perfectly. I don’t know what really motivated me to do that because I wasn’t a big music listener.
And then in eighth grade, February, Sunday night at 8:00, my life changed. Within myself I was as hysterical as any of those girls screaming about the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. I wasn’t showing it on the outside but I was tingling all over. I was so excited. That was when music began for me. It was an incredible time. The world needed something and we decided it would be the Beatles. It gave me an identity. It gave my whole age group—all of us—a reason. There was a feeling coming from their music which seemed to say everything I felt. Yet I didn’t know why or what I felt; I just knew that what they were doing seemed to express everything I was feeling.
In an overall sense, I’m just imitating Ringo. I’ve resigned myself to that now when I think about where the roots are for me. It’s that simple. I just wanted to be in a band like the Beatles. This is why I do it and I don’t want to let it turn into just a business. I feel that I have pretty much kept on the track. I still chase after the situations, as uncomfortable as they may be, of going off with this band, and going off with that one, and being on the road. I could settle into a New York existence and be a middle-class businessman with a house in Westchester who plays the drums. But I’m still hanging on to this dream. I do want to be on stage, and I do want to jump around. I still have this feeling in me that I want to express in front of people—that exuberance of simple music that feels good and makes people want to jump up and down. I try to keep a grip on those real, basic elementary things about it. If I lose that, then I think I’ll have to go into another business and leave the drumming alone.
Mind you, I also seem to have an infamous reputation about money. There are a lot of people who are afraid to deal with me on a business level because they’ve heard stories of “Look out for him. It’s like dealing with a lawyer.” So in that sense I’ve been business-minded, but only because I felt that, for what we do, musicians have always been taken advantage of since day one. So I had to do that for survival. But music is still very special to me—the feeling. Music is fun when I’m actually playing the drums.
RM: I wonder what your thoughts would have been if you knew, watching the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, that someday you would be playing drums with some of those people.
AN: It was a dream come true. I won’t play that down. I met George Harrison at Ronnie Wood’s house, and I must admit I was blown away. I was certainly well-behaved and polite. I didn’t zoom in on the guy, assault him and question him. It was, “Andy, I’d like you to meet George.” “Hi, nice to meet you.” I turned away and walked back to my drums and thought, “Holy shit! WOW.” I was tingling all over. Then riding home in the car, “WOW. Willie! Hey man, WE MET ONE OF THE BEATLES.” It was fabulous. And then to have George at Ronnie’s studio after that playing with us, and chatting with him—I just sat there spellbound, listening to him reminisce about the Beatles.
Then Paul McCartney came down to Ronnie’s, and it was the same thing all over again. He hung out, played some instruments on a track, overdubbed some stuff and started talking to me. He was the musician in the Beatles who could play everything. He had some ideas about new drum beats, and I remember him talking to me about it. He was super cocky and confident—he knew he could play every instrument in the studio, even upside down, which he has to because he’s left-handed. Within like three hours, he played everything but the drums on this track. He was like a one-man show.
RM: How exactly did you end up on George’s Dark Horse album?
AN: George came back around to Ronnie’s house one night and asked Willie Weeks and me, “Do you want to come out to my house for a couple of weeks and play?” So we moved into Friar Park, which was this old monastery that he and Patti had converted. It looked like a castle. There are miles of carvings of nuns and priests in the woodwork, and it all tells a story. It was done beautifully. Beautiful grounds, too. The man who owned it before George created different parts of the world on each part of the property. In one place he had Japanese gardens and lakes, and somewhere else he had English gardens. It was like Disneyland. The studio was in the top of his house. It wasn’t like a studio; it was more like a living room. It had a fireplace, candles, carpeting and stained-glass, church windows. And here I was sitting there, playing rock ‘n’ roll with this guy in the top of a mansion. [laughs] God, it was fantastic.
RM: How did you become involved with the Double Fantasy sessions with John Lennon?
AN: Not because I knew John. He came to the George Harrison show we did at Nassau in 1975, and I was introduced to him, but we didn’t chat. That was the only time I ever met him. Then, five years later, I got a phone call. I was in Europe with Roxy Music. It was producer Jack Douglas’ office that called me. Jack had sat down with John and they talked about players, and I think the first player they went to was Hugh McCracken. I think they asked Hughie who he thought would be suitable and Hughie suggested me, to my surprise, because I hadn’t even worked that much with Hugh. I was in a really cheap Coney Island-type town on the coast of Italy called Remini. It was my wife who told me that Jack Douglas’ office called and wanted to book me for some sessions on John Lennon’s new album. I immediately dropped the phone. I called her back about half an hour later after I pulled myself together. I said, “Okay, let’s start again. Were you serious or were you putting me on? It’s a joke, right?” She said, “No, here are the numbers and the dates. They want you to call.” So I called Jack Douglas’ office and spoke to Stan Vincent, who was contracting the dates. He said, “Yeah, Jack’s co-producing John’s new record at the Hit Factory, 12:00 to 6:00 with a possible two hours’ overtime starting August 2nd. Are you available?” I was thinking, “I’ll swim across the Atlantic if I have to.” He said, “Okay, what about money? What’s your deal?” I said, “It doesn’t matter. Whatever you’re paying anybody is okay.” I would have done it for demo scale. I just thanked my lucky stars that the Roxy Music tour was over ten days before the date started. I didn’t even tell the guys in Roxy. I was just walking around a foot off the ground, thinking, “How did I get this call? This man doesn’t know me.”
The first thing I said to John when I met him was, “Why am I here and not Jim Keltner?” He said, “I’ll tell you, I needed to start with new people. I love Jim and I always will; I’m very close with him and his family. But I needed a different kind of working environment. I spent too many hours, days, months, and years in the studios with those guys. When we would record, it would be an excuse to get out of our heads on everything. It would take us eight hours and we would get one track if we were lucky. And now I have to get away from all that. I need to find new people, fresh people, and be able to come in and work with people who I can tell what to do. I was too tight with Jim and all the others to ever get on their backs and say, ‘No, I don’t like it.’ I don’t know you, so I can come in and from day one be the boss—be the employer. That’s what I need, and that’s why all of you are here. I’m the employer and you’re the employees.” It was very businesslike. It was great though. We were getting two tracks a day without blinking an eyelash. He was putting us through our paces and really taking care of business. His big buzz for the day was having a cup of Brazilian coffee with a lot of sugar in it, and he’d be fine. He wasn’t getting high at all. You could tell. He was there bright and early every morning at 10:00 AM. We’d show up at 12:00. He’d already redone vocals, done overdubs, and planned out the work for the day. When we’d walk in, he’d be saying, “Alright, come on.” It wasn’t a loose 12:00; he wanted us there and was raring to record at 12:00 on the button. We’d steam right ahead until 7:00, and at that time, they’d bring in trays of sushi that would fill an entire table. It was like a dream. I love sushi. They’d bring in tons of it every night, and then we’d resume work.
It was very democratic. We’d do one of his songs, and then we’d do one of Yoko’s. He would produce her track. He insisted that the same amount of time and respect be given to her from us, and he set the pattern by doing that himself. He took it all seriously. It wasn’t like, “Look, it’s my old lady. Go along with it. I know it’s not real great.” There was never an undercurrent of that from him. He was unified with her and that was that. “Right, okay, now one of Yoko’s songs” and he’d go behind the board and produce the track. He made us give her as much respect and concentration as we gave to him. Her music didn’t warrant it, but yet we managed to somehow get good tracks out of basically weak songs because he pushed us a little. She depended much more on the musicians being creative for her songs than John did for his, because he just wrote great songs. You knew what to play right away. Yoko’s things needed more help; more innovative playing from us. So we’d go back and forth—John, Yoko, John, Yoko—like clockwork every day for a month.
The first day in the studio, everyone was very nervous. We got in, we all met each other, we chatted a little , and then John said, “Well, come on, come on. Get your stuff set up. Let’s go. We’re here to make records.” He cut through a lot of the formalities very quickly. We started playing a song called “I’m Stepping Out,” and it really wasn’t coming together. We were nervous and no one knew quite what to do, how he wanted the song treated, if it was going to be high-energy rock ‘n’ roll, or if it was going to be controlled rock ‘n’ roll. No one knew where his taste was or how to interpret this song. He put his guitar down after about 20 minutes and said, “Okay, it’s not happening. I’m going inside.” He proceeded to sit down behind the board and said, “Okay, drummer, what’s your name? Andy. Okay. Let’s hear your drums. Everybody else shut up. Give me your bass drum,” and I played the bass drum. “Okay, give me your snare drum.” I’d see him in there patching the cables. He basically had taken the helm, just like that. He said, “Okay, let’s hear the hi-hat. Now give me the tom. Right, your drums sound like a drumset now. What are you playing in this song, Andy?” “Well, this is what I was doing.” “Alright, look, I don’t like it. Here’s what you’re going to play. I want this on the foot. I want this on the snare. When you do a fill, I don’t want it to be any busier than ‘dat, dat, dat, dat.’ No ‘diddle, diddle, dum.’ Now in the chorus you can double up on the snare drum.” And within five minutes, he had Andy Newmark completely sorted out. “Okay, who’s the bass player? Tony Levin. Get in there. Let me hear your bass. What are you playing? Okay, I don’t want you to . . . ”
He whipped everybody into shape, and within an hour and a half, there was a record with great sound and a great groove. He got us all in sync together, let us know how he thought and how he liked instruments to be played, with the attitude he liked. Despite five years of changing diapers, within two hours, he was back into record-making, but, I’m sure, with more conviction, more control and more confidence than he ever had in the past. From what he described to me later on, his earlier solo-album sessions were like an accident looking for a place to happen. But now, he really took charge in no time and did it in a way that didn’t alienate anyone. He didn’t offend us, because right from the first hour, he started with that real honest approach. It was, “Andy, that drum part stinks. Here’s what I want you to play.” But he would never offend you by it. He had a way of dealing with you that didn’t offend you because it was the truth. There wasn’t all this circling around and being polite, or diplomatic, or “Andy, what do you think about maybe trying something a little…?” It was none of that. It was just, “That’s really awful. I don’t want any of that on my record. Give me something else. No, I don’t like that either. Give me something else. Okay, I like that. Let’s live with that for a minute.” He didn’t hurt your feelings. You knew he wasn’t there to try to tear you apart or play games—he just wanted to make a record. He had everyone very impressed by the end of the first day. He really knew what he wanted.
All the takes on Double Fantasy were fourth or fifth takes, because he was singing while we did it and he wanted takes fast. He wasn’t into spending four hours on a song. His idea of making a record was, “Look, here’s a song. It’s real simple. You guys know how to play your instruments. Forget about all the frills. Just accompany me.” You knew that he was going to start taking the thing within 20 minutes, and in an hour he wanted it done. It changed your whole approach to the recording because you knew you didn’t have three hours to fuss around. It made you go for a gut performance in the recording because you knew you didn’t have time to get fancy. He wanted the basic feeling, and if he had to sing it more than five or six times, he’d get fed up and say, “Right, forget it. That’s enough. We’ll do it another time. Let’s try a new one.” He wanted it fresh. So it made us all very much on our toes because we knew it was going to be history in an hour, and knowing it was a John Lennon record, you knew a lot of people were going to hear it.
It was probably the greatest month in my career. Getting up to go to work every morning for that record was really exciting. And of course, whenever there was leisure time, there would be the old Beatle stories, who he referred to as the “Bs.” The “Bs” was his band. He could put them all in his back pocket. I’m not being nasty; it’s just that I’ve met all of them and I know the general personalities. The min ute you met John, you knew he was the boss. You got that sense of depth in him and a wisdom that wasn’t just from having one life on this planet, but many past lives. The minute I met him at that session and I looked in his eyes, I got this really overpowering feeling from him that he was very clear, and there was a lot of calm strength there. He was the leader.
The stories were all related to things that were happening at the moment. We’d be cutting a record and he’d say, “Yeah, I remember trying to do this part in ‘Penny Lane.’ I couldn’t play it and I got so pissed because Paul could always learn things so fast.” Or, “Yeah Andy, do that beat that Ringo did on such-and-such,” or “Gee, the Bs could never make records this fast. When we were making such-and-such record…” There were constant referrals to the past and how different it was, and Beatlemaniac that I was, I was hanging on to every word.
RM: Would you say that he spoke of the Beatles with affection?
AN: Yes. He loved the group. He always spoke affectionately of them. He was proud of them.
RM: In his own interviews he tended to play down the Beatles.
AN: I think he’d had time to put it in perspective. He always spoke like he was very proud of them. Enough time had elapsed so that he could look back and see the effect they’d had on the world. He had become old enough, I guess, to see it for what it was, and he seemed proud of the Beatles.
RM: Was there going to be a tour after Double Fantasy?
AN: Yes, they told me that they were planning a world tour, but it would just be two or three cities in each country—New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, maybe ten major cities in the world, and they would possibly do a satellite broadcast. We recorded enough material in August for at least two records. The first record, Double Fantasy, came out in November, and John carried on working on the next record, which he wanted to put out in February or March. He wanted to follow up Double Fantasy right away with another LP, because it was all part of a continuing story, and then go on the road. I don’t know how much we would have been “on the road,” but he wanted to go out and play. It seemed to be a lot of fun for John to have music and records as part of his life again. It seemed to be integrated in a way that was healthy for him. He finally had his domestic and professional lives in balance.
RM: I understand that they are going to release the rest of the Double Fantasy music, under the title Milk and Honey.
AN: So I hear. I hope that whoever supervised the final overdubs and mixing after John’s death did a tasteful job.
RM: I was going to bring this up earlier when you were talking about Sly and how important Fresh was for your career. It seems to me that another thing that you are known for is being on Double Fantasy.
AN: Yeah, that was a big record and it was certainly more recent. I would have to say that was a very important record. It wasn’t innovative musically, but it was a very important record because Lennon’s the one who started all this, and it was the last record he ever made.
RM: You mentioned to me once that career-wise, after Lennon died, you felt that everything else would be downhill.
AN: Yeah, after he died, it just sort of seemed to cap ten years for me, from 1970 to 1980. Just doing the record with him seemed like a peak to me; it was like the top of the mountain. I finally worked with this person who was sort of responsible for all that happened to me. So prior to his death, I thought, “Well, this will be like a little family situation with the people playing on this record.” It looked like there would be pretty steady involvement on his projects for the next year between recording and touring. I was just getting lulled into feeling good about being part of that little family situation when he was killed. So that kind of pulled the rug out from what I had been gearing up to in my mind.
Needless to say, I had to rearrange my thinking, but I found that my thinking was kind of a feeling of not wanting to go on. All of a sudden, everyone else who I might have gone to work with didn’t seem to stand up to John Lennon. It was like I had done it all, and I didn’t want to backtrack. I wanted to carry on with what we had been doing. I had very little enthusiasm to play at that time. John’s death, along with the fact that I ended a ten-year marriage with my wife the day after John was murdered, ended a major chapter in my life. So, not having much enthusiasm for anything, I did very little playing for over a year. I must have been putting a vibe in the air that I didn’t want to be bothered, so people weren’t calling me; it just seemed like I was being left alone. Maybe people thought they shouldn’t call me, but for whatever reason, it was very quiet and I didn’t care. I was more concerned about my emotional survival than I was about going out and playing, although maybe work is the best therapy in times like that. I didn’t particularly want to be in the studio, or around musicians, or playing rock ‘n’ roll.
RM: Are you still resigned to the fact that nothing will ever match that?
AN: I would like to think that there will be more great experiences in my career, but let’s face it, there was only one Beatles, and the impact they had on my life can never be duplicated.
RM: So what have you been doing lately?
AN: Roxy Music kept me pretty busy for the last year, and I’m currently working on Brian Ferry’s solo album. Also, I just did an album with ABC, and that was a new experience for me. It marked the beginning of a new chapter, because the members of ABC are in their early 20’s. All of a sudden, for the first time in my life, I found myself being looked up to as one of the elder statesmen of rock ‘n’ roll. In other words, they’ve been seeing my name on the backs of albums since they were 12 years old. So for them to meet me was like me meeting Bernard Purdie, Chuck Rainey, or Sly. For the first time, I was on the receiving end of that exchange between the younger and the older. They would sit me down and want to know what it was like when the Beatles came out. They didn’t know. They would listen to me with their mouths open. “What was Sly like? What was this like? What was that like?” And they would bring records in from their collections and say, “Andy, what about this track here from 1972 . . . ” I felt like the granddaddy, and that’s the first time that that ever happened to me. But it was a nice feeling. You have to eventually assume the responsibility of being one of the older guys. That is a responsibility in itself. It was a nice feeling to be the oldest one of the group as opposed to being the young kid who’s just coming up . . . although I guess it’s just another nail in the coffin. [laughs]
RM: It’s nice that you can work with “old veterans” like Roxy Music, and still relate to new groups like ABC.
AN: Music is changing fast and furiously. A lot of people who I’ve grown up with just don’t dig what’s happening in pop music anymore. These kids today have all their own bands, dances, and subculture. They’ve got their own thing happening. One thing which certainly relates to drummers is that the tempo has changed. The happening groove today is three times faster than the groove was five or six years ago. The new rock ‘n’ roll is not a funky, nice, middle, meaty tempo where you can get some air in there and play artsy kinds of fills. The happening groove today is real fast 8th notes, like “Maniac,” and the kids have dances for that now. They’re not thinking about that slower stuff that we got off on for so long.
So for drummers, it’s a big change. It’s not as drastic as the change from bebop to 8th notes in the ’50s. All of a sudden a new world of musicians came along who were into 8th notes. We haven’t changed from 8th notes, but the feeling has gotten real fast now. There’s a whole new attitude when you’re playing rock ‘n’ roll at that tempo than what we were doing a few years ago.
RM: Have you listened to any early Beatles records lately? When I go back to the first few albums, I’m surprised at how fast they were, and then I start remembering that rock was pretty fast then.
AN: Yeah, you’re right. It was faster then, which means maybe what’s happening is that the cycle’s starting over again—the 20-year cycle. Maybe it’s going to evolve again, and maybe in a few years the tempos will start to drop. Some artist may come along who has much more of a mid-tempo groove, and all of a sudden things will start to slow down again. Maybe it’s just a repeat of the cycle.
RM: A moment ago, you mentioned that you feel a new chapter is starting for you.
AN: The new chapter is starting very slowly. It’s been three years now since John died. The last 18 months have been pretty busy since I went back on the road with Roxy Music. It seems I’m developing a momentum again. It’s nothing that’s particularly exciting to me; it often feels like whatever I’m doing, it’s all something I’ve done before. Maybe that’s just called growing up and accepting that you have to push yourself to find new challenges in your work. What I’m experiencing might be just what any person would experience after doing something for 15 years. I’m not crying the blues or complaining; I’m just acknowledging how I honestly feel to myself. But I’m not panic-stricken about it or particularly down about it. I’m taking it in stride, and probably it’s just that I’ve been doing this for so long now that it’s bound to be repetitious. There’s no excuse though. They say people who are bored are boring. As a drummer, I know if I were to start practicing, opening up new doors for myself and my instrument, and putting in a few hours a day, I could probably start getting back into creating new things, finding new ways to play old things, or finding a different slant on the drums so that it would become more interesting again for me. But I just don’t play now unless I’m working. You get what you give. If you start practicing on your instrument, you’re going to start opening up new avenues in your head, and it becomes more enjoyable because you start getting back more. But if you’re not putting in the time, what can you expect? You keep playing the same old licks and could feel a little tired of hearing yourself playing the same old licks.
RM: I’ve seen plenty of bored musicians, but when I saw you play with Roxy a few months ago, you didn’t look or sound like you were bored.
AN: Yeah, on stage it is more exciting. I tend to get a lot more turned on because I have one hour to really blow it all out and have a good time. If I know people are getting off on the band I’m on stage with, I get excited. There is an energy that comes from the audience. I usually manage to entertain myself on stage, for the most part. At least I did for that five-week stretch. I managed to keep myself pretty happy just doing it once a night for an hour and ten minutes. I had to work at that though. I really had to dig into the music and find new ways to play it every week. I was constantly changing my approach because it would be easy to fall into just playing exactly the same every night. And then I probably would get bored or look like I wasn’t having fun, but I constantly tried to change the way I was playing those songs. If you had heard me play those songs a month earlier, you would have heard a lot of different parts.
One of the reasons I’m able to sound kind of fresh is that I don’t work so much, so that when I work, I’m not sick of the drums. There’s enough space in between my projects so that I have some kind of enthusiasm at that moment because I haven’t played for a week, or two, or three since my last project. It’s the way I’ve managed to replenish my spirit and rejuvenate myself, so that I can go in with some freshness or enthusiasm. Just hearing the drums again after a two-week silence, the sound comes back at you different. It’s a little fresh.
Andy Talks About His Drumset
A four-piece drumset tends to make me play more groove conscious. Ninety-five percent of the time, I’m playing only hi-hat, snare and bass drum. So by not having too many other options around me, it keeps my approach more groove oriented. In fact, I’ve even gone to sessions and been on stage with just a bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat, and one little cymbal that could act as a ride and a crash combined, because to me that’s what my drumming comes down to really.
I always had a problem having a second mounted tom-tom, because it never allowed me to place my ride cymbal exactly where I wanted it. I had to put my cymbal up higher and further to the right of the drum, and that’s not where I like to play my ride cymbal. So by not having that tom-tom there, I actually get to have my ride cymbal in the most comfortable place for me to play it.
I also don’t feel the need to play fills with lots of drums. I don’t put down those who do it, but a couple of extra tom-toms tuned to various notes just don’t do that much for me. I think it sounds great when other people do it, but I don’t like the sound so much that I want to crowd my drumset with more toms. I like what happens to me when I play a real basic drumkit, because it alters my approach, as it would any drummer. You have to work within limitations, and when you put governors around yourself, trying to extract the most out of a little is a big challenge. Pop music is the same three or four chords over and over again, and the challenge is to find a new way to play those three or four chords and get something new out of it. It’s the same idea with getting the most out of a little drumset as opposed to having lots of drums.
Also, I might add, in the studio, engineers get off on a small drumkit immensely, because it’s a much more easily controlled sound. There’s less spill into other microphones. It’s a tighter drum sound and much easier to work with.
I play a Yamaha kit. I have a 24″ bass drum for a big sound—I have a very, very heavy foot. A big part of my sound is the bass drum. I have an 8 x 12 tom-tom mounted on the bass drum, and I have a 16 x 16 floor tom. I also have a 9 x 13 tom-tom, which I sometimes will use in place of the 8 x 12, depending on what I’m doing. Generally I lean towards the 8 x 12, because I get a high note from it. If I’m only going to have two drums, I like a big difference in pitch, so I’ve got high and real low. I have the Recording series, and I also have the same kit in the Tour series. I have a Yamaha snare drum, which is 5 1/2 x 14. I’ve never been able to play snare drums deeper than the regular depth of 5 1/2″. When I play live, I tune the snare drum real tight, and 99% of the time, every time I hit it, it’s a rimshot, because it gives me a lot more volume and cuts through anything. With a deeper drum, I seem to lose that real sharp crack that I can get out of a 5 1/2″ drum, which is a very fast response and very piercing. With a deeper drum, I tend to get a mushier sound.
I use Remo white-frosted Ambassador drumheads, top and bottom. The bass drum has a blanket inside, folded up neatly, and the front head has a hole cut out about a foot in diameter in order that microphones can be placed in front of the drum. Those Remo heads are very important to my sound. I’ve played on lots of strange drumkits because I very rarely get to take my own. So I always take a case full of Remo heads to wherever I’m going in the world, put them on whatever drums I’m recording with, and I always sound like me. I’ve used those heads on everything I’ve ever been on, and a lot of people think they can recognize me on a record. They feel very strongly that they know it’s my sound when they hear it. I’m sure the heads have something to do with it. I get a very warm, thick sound from those heads and I won’t play any others.
I tune my snare drum tight for a highpitched crack. It’s not tuned to any kind of note. In fact, if you hit the drum softly, it won’t sound very good, but if you hit it at the volume I hit it at, it works on stage. In the studio, I tune it way down and usually put a little piece of tape or a little Kleenex or something on the side just to take some of the ring out.
With the toms, I tune both sides identically, so that if I hit the top of the drum or the bottom, it’s the exact same pitch. There would be no right or wrong side to hit—they’re tuned the same. I tune the floor tom to the lowest possible note before the sound starts to distort and buzz from being too loose. With the mounted tom-tom, I look for the note that will ring the longest. I like the toms to resonate for the full life of the drum. So I find the note that will ring the longest on the high tom. That’s usually not its lowest note and certainly not its highest note. It’s the place where the note seems to go on for the longest amount of time. I don’t put any muffling on the tom-toms. I like them to be very natural and have their own decay. The bass drum is not tuned to anything. The head is very flat. There’s no pitch at all because I have a blanket inside. So I tune it down as low as I can before the head actually starts to wrinkle, and then I’ll go up half a turn on each lug to take it out of that area.
I guess you can say, in the toms I look for a note that has a life to it and a ring and a decay. The bass drum and the snare drum are noteless—it’s a “thump” and a “crack.” I want a thump that hits me in my gut. Hopefully, people fall over if they walk in front of the bass drum when I hit it—their knees crack or demolecularize. The snare drum is tuned to kill many decibels of your hearing ability if you happen to come into the room without protection over your ears.
The cymbals are Zildjians. I use one 20″ ride cymbal. I have a K., and I also have an A.—I switch back and forth. I use two crash cymbals: one over the little tom and one over the floor tom. Those two cymbals could be any combination of 16″, 17″, and 18″, depending on the music I’m playing. The hi-hat cymbals are the smallest that Zildjian makes—they’re 13″ New Beats. All of my cymbals are high pitched. The crashes are all bright, very high ended and die away very quickly—a quick explosion and it’s gone. The hi-hats are small so that I get a very high-pitched “tick.” The ride cymbal is also high pitched. I like to get a “ping” that is distinct so that each beat is distinguished. I find that with a lot of cymbals, if I start riding on them, they just turn into a big wash. Something else I should add is that I don’t use the ride cymbal a lot because there’s so much more definition in the hi-hat as far as keeping a rhythm section locked into something. The hi-hat is much more deliberate. If I do play the ride cymbal, I very rarely play in the middle or on the edge. I always play on the bell, because the bell cuts through.
For sticks I use Regal 5A wooden tip because I think that wood is more natural than nylon. When I’m playing the snare drum, I play with the back end of the stick, because it makes it fatter and bigger. I feel I’m getting more of the meat of the stick into the drum, and if you ever watch me play, you’ll see that I’m often flipping the sticks; it’s become a completely involuntary action now. I use the proper end of the stick on the hi-hat, but when I go to the cymbal, I usually use the back end of the stick because I get more volume out of the bell using the back end. So if you see me play, you often see the stick being flipped around depending on whether I’m coming back to the hi-hat or going up to the cymbal. When I play matched grip, I tend to use the back end of the stick also. If I’m playing my left hand in a legitimate grip, then I use the proper end of the stick on the drum.
There’s a mentality that’s woven through all that I’ve talked about, and that is that there’s nothing in the middle in my drumset. It’s either super low or super high—super bottom or super top. Everything cuts through the band. The bass drum and the floor tom are like volcanoes. The high tom is high, like a timbale. It cuts. The snare drum is a high-pitched crack, and all my cymbals are high, quick explosions. The hi-hat has definition, just by the nature of it. And when I play the ride cymbal, it’s on the bell because the bell has much more punch to it. So there is an attitude here that shows through the whole drumkit, and that is that every note on the kit is designed to have an impact. There’s no middle-of-the-road in the drumset.