This conversation took place one night while I was sitting at home in New Jersey and Jim was at home 3000 miles away in California. There’s a special anxiety or apprehensiveness that precedes an interview. An interviewer is, in a sense, a Peeping Tom. He’s required to confront a stranger—usually a celebrity—and pry into that person’s life. Whether an interviewer’s intentions are honest or dishonest, he’s still prying, and there’s forever a feeling that reminds me of Dorothy’s first encounter with the Munchkins and The Good Witch of the North. Dorothy has landed in Munchkinland; she steps out of her house and hears the Munchkins, but they won’t come out of hiding. She wants to know why. Dorothy realizes why when Glenda (the Good Witch) asks her, “What they want to know is, are you a good witch or a bad witch?” Dorothy answers, “I’m not a witch at all!” The Munchkins laugh in disbelief and don’t come out of hiding until Glenda puts her stamp of approval on Dorothy. The unspoken question of every person I’ve interviewed seems to be: “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?”
I came very close, I feel, to convincing Jim Gordon that I was a good witch. We spoke a long time. His most visible periods of drumming were with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen, and the legendary group Derek & The Dominos. But the invisible part of Gordon’s career is that of one of the busiest and most talented studio drummers of the late ’60s and ’70s. Jim is a thoroughly trained musician, as comfortable with percussion, mallets and piano as he is with a drumset.
Jim Gordon is the product of many hours of self-discipline and hard work. He didn’t “luck in” to the studio scene. His father wasn’t in the music business. He knew the requirements of a first call studio player and he met those requirements. He learned from the masters before him, like Earl Palmer and Hal Blaine, and he, in turn, is a role model for many of the top studio drummers who have come after him.
SF: Could you pinpoint the event in your life that made you decide to become a professional drummer?
JG: When I was a kid I took drum lessons, because when I was eight, I was tapping on all kinds of things. I made a little drumset out of tin cans and sticks, so my folks gave me lessons. I got into a few orchestras with some youth bands, got a taste of some recording, and decided that that’s what I’d really like to do.
Then I started playing in some clubs in L.A., playing rock ‘n’ roll when I was fifteen or sixteen. I really enjoyed playing the rock ‘n’ roll more than jazz. From there I got a job playing with The Everly Brothers, and from there I said, “This is great. This is for me.”
SF: How old were you when you joined The Everly Brothers?
JG: Seventeen. I was on the road with them while going to school at the same time. We’d travel during the summer. I took a year of college when I was about eighteen and I was going to be a music teacher. I decided that when I was about fifteen, I guess. I started doing little demo dates. I was in a band with a guy named Mike Post. We worked around and one thing led to another and I just decided that this is what I wanted to do.
SF: Did you have a lot of encouragement from home?
JG: No, actually. Well…it wasn’t too bad. They put up with my playing. But, no, there wasn’t too much encouragement. They wanted me to be a lawyer or something.
SF: Did you study keyboards or other instruments?
JG: I sure did. All through high school and into college for a year.
SF: Did that help your drum playing?
JG: Yeah, it did. And I listened to a lot of records. When I was really young I used to play to all these records like Bill Haley and The Comets, Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, all those guys. I just loved it. I was a real fanatic about it.
SF: How did you meet The Everly Brothers?
JG: I was working at this club down in Hollywood and their bass player happened to drop by, heard me play, and asked me if I wanted to be in The Everly Brothers’ band. They gave me their book. I took it home and checked it out, gave it some thought and said, “Yeah. I really want to do that.” It was a big thrill. We toured in a little bus all over the Midwest. That’s where they played mainly. We went to England a lot. We played over there in ’63 and ’64 and that was great! I met The Beatles and we did a great tour with The Rolling Stones, Bo Diddley, Little Richard and The Everly Brothers.
SF: Did you study jazz drumming?
JG: Oh yeah. I tried to play most everything I could. I was gearing myself to be a studio musician, so I tried to really play all the different styles I could find so I’d know what I was doing.
SF: Were you able to associate with studio drummers?
JG: I did some stuff with The Everlys over at Warner Brothers and I got to meet Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer. I talked to them as much as I could. When I got in the studios I started out playing a lot of percussion, like tambourine, timpani, xylophone, vibes and instruments like that. So, I got to work with Hal and Earl a whole lot, and sometimes Shelly Manne or Larry Bunker. I got to sit back and watch them work. Then Hal started getting real busy and started asking me if I wanted to do some of his dates. I said, “Say no more!” I got some of his accounts and from there, people started listening to me and I got to work around.
SF: You had no problem with timps and mallet instruments?
JG: I studied all that. I wasn’t great but I could certainly get by.
SF: How good was your sight reading on those instruments?
JG: Not bad. I studied marimba with a real good teacher in town named Earl Hatz. He really ran me through the mill with four mallet things and lots of Mozart and Bach. So I did okay, but I really wanted to play the drums.
SF: How did you divide your time between studying drumset and all those other instruments?
JG: Actually, the mallets came later. I spent most of my time on the practice pad and my drumset. Then I ran into Jim Horn working a gig in the Valley. Jim said, “You ought to get into recording. You play real good. Do you play any mallets or anything like that?” I said, “Yeah, a little bit.” He says, “Well, that’s a good way to get in. Tell them you’re a real versatile kind of player, and that you could cover what they needed to have covered.” That helped me to decide to really get into playing vibes and stuff. I also did some symphonies when I was in junior high and high school, and in the Junior Philharmonic, Burbank Symphony and places like that. I was real lucky that my high school music teacher was a percussionist, and he was also my private teacher. Bob Winslow. We had a percussion ensemble after school and that gave me a lot of experience.
SF: When you were in the studio with Hal and Earl, were you able to speak to them about what they were doing and why they were doing certain things?
JG: Absolutely. Those two were real friendly and open. There was a ton of work around in ’63, ’64 and ’65. More than they could cover. So if anybody could play halfway decent, they were real willing to share with you.
SF: Was there much chart reading in the studios at that time?
JG: There were both. There were two kinds of dates. You’d have the arranger come in with everything all written out—and that was real standard. We’d do four or five tunes in three hours for a group like Gary Puckett and The Union Gap. All that stuff was written out. There was stuff like The Beach Boys and The Mamas and Papas—which Hal did—where they’d play the tune and you’d either write yourself a little chart or make up a part. I thought that was more creative.
SF: Was it that the drummers in the ’60s bands like The Beach Boys just couldn’t play well enough at that time?
JG: They could play. The Beach Boys all played on their first records over there at Capitol when it was still a studio. But, then this idea came along to hire studio musicians. You could get a better product and a more professional job, so they started calling Hal, and Joe Osborne on bass, me and Earl and those kind of guys.
SF: How many singles and albums are you on where nobody knows you’re the drummer?
JG: All together? Maybe two hundred albums. I don’t know. A lot! I did a lot of records.
SF: Did it bother you that a listener would think he was hearing the drummer with Gary Puckett and The Union Gap, for example, when it was really Jim Gordon?
JG: No, that didn’t bother me. Not at all. Everybody in town had a little community here. Everybody would talk to each other about what they were doing, and we all knew what we were doing, and that seemed to take care of anything like that. But, it didn’t bother me. Sometimes I’d be out and say to somebody, “Hey, that’s me on that record.” And the people would say, “Oh sure! Yeah. Yeah.” So I gave up on that.
SF: Are there any of your records from that time that you feel are landmarks that you like to go back and listen to?
JG: Yeah. There was a Judy Collins album called Who Knows Where The Time Goes, which is a real good album. Great songs. I like that sound back then. I thought Gary Puckett’s records were pretty good too. I liked that big band rock ‘n’ roll sound that they had back then. They recorded it all live. The singers, the strings, all the brass—everything was live in the studio.
I liked Phil Spector a lot. I played percussion on a lot of his music. Some of The Righteous Brothers and The Ronettes. I thought Phil Spector was real good.
SF: How was he to work with?
JG: Oh, he was crazy. He’d have six guitar players, three piano players, two drummers, five percussionists and we’d all get in there and play a tune for four or five hours and get this incredible sound.
SF: Would he direct the whole thing?
JG: Yeah, he would. He’d have an arranger who’d have a chart written out and then Spector would come in and change whatever he didn’t like. It was real interesting.
SF: Hal Blaine did a bunch of those dates too, didn’t he?
JG: Yeah, he did. Hal and Earl and Frankie Capp. I was on percussion then. Maracas, bells, and things like that. Then I started getting in playing drums and pretty much got away from playing percussion.
The live things were real interesting, and the Union Gap and Beach Boys stuff. Bobby Darin was kind of interesting; I did a bunch of stuff with him. There was The Sunshine Company, a bunch of stuff at Warner Brothers, the Everly Brothers, Nancy Sinatra, Ann Margaret—all kinds of far-out artists they’d bring in.
SF: You did some stuff with Gordon Lightfoot, didn’t you?
JG: I sure did. They used to cut the tracks up in Toronto where Gordon lives and I would come down here and overdub drums onto the tracks for his first few albums. Then they started taking me up to Toronto to play with him up there. Those were very methodic little tunes. He had everything all worked out. He was a very methodical man.
SF: Were there any sessions where you looked at a chart and thought, “Oh my God! There’s no way I’m going to get through this”?
JG: Yeah, I used to have nightmares about that. Like the next one is going to be the one I can’t read. But, it never happened. Remember Friends of Distinction? They had a few hits that were very difficult to read. The bass drum pattern was usually the same as the bass guitar. Everything was completely written out, and they were a real challenge. The thing that bothered me was going in and reading somebody’s chart who didn’t know anything about writing for drums. You have to figure out, “What does he want?” You have to kind of interpret what he’s got written down. Those are kind of frustrating.
SF: Do you get asked by drummers, “How do I get into the studio?”
JG: Quite a bit. I tell them to try to get in with a songwriter or a publishing company and do demos. That’s how I got in. I worked for Lenny Waronker when he was working for his Dad at what is now United Artists. We used to go in and do songwriter demos all day long and get ten dollars a tune and five dollars an overdub. Believe me—to get those overdubs you’d learn a lot. The guy would come in and play his tune. You’d make out a little chart, cut it, and do that for maybe ten tunes a day, maybe three days a week.
At that time, I’d tell people that that was probably the best way to do it. Get hooked up with a songwriter; get him on your demo dates. If they liked the tunes and they liked the way you play, then they’ll call you back again.
SF: When you decided to concentrate on playing studio drumset, were there any technical things that you found most useful?
JG: Paradiddles. The paradiddle is probably the most important one to me. I always tried to subdivide everything. I always tried to make a logical pattern out of anything I did, and tried to make it logical and equal so it didn’t ramble. And I’d try to divide the tune into sections and make phrases out of it so it would all be even.
SF: You mean you would look at a pattern on a chart and think, “If I play this with my bass drum and this with my hi-hat…” Is that how you’d subdivide a chart?
JG: Right. Usually off of the right hand playing either sixteenths, eighths, or quarters. Then I’d fill in the snare from there and the bass drum. It’s real logical.
SF: Hypothetically, let’s say you arrive at the studio for a date with a singer. You’ve never heard the music or seen the charts. What’s the first thing you like to do when you get into the studio? What do you like to lock into or listen for?
JG: I listen to the bass player. That would be the first thing to lock into. I don’t really like to play the same bass pattern as the bass player. I like to play something that goes along with it. Then I try to lock into the guitar. I listen to guitars quite a bit, the rhythm guitar, and also the vocalist to see what kind of rhythm feel he has and how he’s phrasing. There are a million ways of playing eighth notes, and if you’re not playing the way the guy’s phrasing it, then I don’t feel that’s right.
SF: Are you conscious of the song lyrics?
JG: Oh sure. And the chord progression, too. That would determine what tone you’re going to use; whether you’re going to use your hi-hat or your ride cymbal, tom-tom rides, where the fills go, and the timbre of the drums.
SF: How many different drumsets did you use?
JG: I had two. I would use one as much as I could, but when there would be a conflict I’d have them bring the other one over so I could go to another date. I had two sets that basically sounded alike and, luckily, two sets of cymbals that were pretty close too. I started out with a Ludwig set. My first set was a little 20″ maple bass drum, an 8 x 12 tom and a 14 x 14 tom. Real good little set. I used that a lot. Remember “These Boots Are Made For Walking”? I used that set on that record. Then I went to a 22″ bass, 8 x 12 and 9 x 13 toms and a 16″ floor tom. I liked Diplomat heads but then I went to Ambassadors.
Now I’ve got two sets of Camco that I play. Camco’s a marvelous drum. I just bought a little 10″ Tama rack tom that’s marvelous too. I mount it on a cymbal stand.
SF: That sounds like a Jim Keltner set-up.
JG: It is, kind of. Jim and I really started together. He was with a group. I was working for Warner Brothers and they had me come in and play drums on his album because they didn’t think he could play! I couldn’t understand why they wanted to use me. But, Jim took it real well. Then he started to do sessions and we ran into each other a lot. We were good buddies. I was about twenty or twenty-one when we met. Jim’s probably a little older. But, he plays so different than I do. He came from like a real jazz influence where I was more influenced by rock ‘n’ roll. So, when we played together we fit in real well.
SF: Has your cymbal set-up varied from the ’60s to today?
JG: It’s pretty much the same. I use a 22″ Zildjian ride now which is kind of a medium. I use Paiste hi-hats that are 14″. I like 15″ crashes a lot and I’ve got two really nice 18″ Zildjian crash cymbals that are pretty well matched that I use onstage. I’ve got some 16s, 17s, a couple of 18s. I’ve got a real nice Chinese cymbal—a Paiste—which is great for roaring. It sounds like the ocean. And I’ve got a real nice 20″ ride which just cracked on me. I’m heartbroken about it. I’ve got a few half-cymbals that I still try and use, too!
SF: Is the stick size important to you?
JG: Yeah. It depends on what I’m doing. If I’m working a little club I like a light stick, but I mainly use Regal Tips. I love Regal Tip 5Bs and 5As. I think they’re great sticks, and I’ve got a few with wood tips, but I like the plastic tips a lot.
SF: Are you still using a four- or five-piece set?
JG: With this band I have 10″, 12″, and 13″ toms, two 16″ toms, a regular snare and probably a couple of Syndrums. I like Syndrums. I have a set of those that are really nice. I’m using Pinstripe heads now, which I like very much, except I use an Ambassador on the snare. I use a one-headed bass drum. I’d love to use two heads. I used two heads with Derek and The Dominos. I had a 24″ Camco. I loved that. Now I use a 22″ with a blanket for miking. I’m using three crashes and a ride…possibly a fourth crash…two 16″s, a 17″, and a 22″ ride. And that’s about it. It’s a nice-sized kit. It’s not real big. I’d love to play a giant one, but how do I play it? My music just doesn’t lend itself to that.
SF: Have you ever experimented with double bass drums?
JG: Yeah, I did for a while. I had two 22″s. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t up my alley. I’m a simpler player than that, I think. I like to play a little simpler than sixteenths on the bass drum all the way through.
SF: What brand foot pedal are you using?
JG: I use a Pearl. I’ve got a Camco hi-hat, but I’m thinking about using a Tama. They make good stuff. I’ve got a couple of Ludwig cymbal stands and a couple of Yamaha cymbal stands. They seem to work real well.
SF: Have you ever considered or been asked to endorse a drum?
JG: Yeah, Camco. I almost did. I went down to their new factory. I shouldn’t tell you this, but I didn’t want to. At that time I thought I was going to play Yamaha, because they’d asked me to play the drums and give them some criticism. They’re real good drums, too. The ones I’ve played have had incredibly heavy rims and the shells were usually six-ply, maybe. Not real thick. But they were nice, they were a fairly “airy” drum, which I like, and that’s what I find my Camcos are. They tend to breathe a little bit. I always liked that sound that you’d get from a Remo white frosted skin. Almost a little buzz to it. With the clear heads and the Pinstripes it’s a clearer tone and there’s not that air in there. But, recording-wise, those Pinstripes sound good.
SF: Today, many drummers want to avoid going on the road with a band to get into studio drumming. You were a top studio drummer who decided to go on the road. Why?
JG: I did about seven straight years of sessions and I was just getting tired of it. I heard this little band called Delaney & Bonnie & Friends and I said, “Wow!” I’d been working with Leon Russell a little bit in the studio. He always had me up to his house to jam. Keltner would also be up there. They made that the original Delaney & Bonnie & Friends album. I said, “Gee, that’s a great band.” I thought it would be a neat thing to get back into playing some music like that instead of regimented—or whatever it is—charts. I wanted a change and I really wanted to get out and play with a lot of people.
We were mostly on the road for a year and a half with that band. We played a little club in the Valley called The Brass Ring and then we started touring a little bit. We went over to England and Delaney and Bonnie had worked with Eric Clapton, so he invited us all to play over there and we did a tour. That’s where we did the live album. That’s the only album I did with Delaney and Bonnie. Eric was on that. Then we came back and toured the States a bit and the band kind of fizzled out. Everybody went their own way.
SF: Did you enjoy being on the road?
JG: Yeah I did. I always liked that. I still do. It never really bothered me. I guess it was because I started out on the road when I was so young. I like to travel and I like to see the different people and different places to play. I always regarded it as a challenge. To play consistently every night was kind of refreshing.
SF: Was it different touring in the ’60s than it is now?
JG: Well…I don’t know. Now it’s back to buses more or less. But it was all buses back then. In the ’70s everybody flew and now there are all these charter buses that you can rent.
SF: What did it take to put together Delaney & Bonnie to go on the road? Was there much rehearsal?
JG: Quite a bit. We worked a lot in a club three or four nights a week. We’d get together and rehearse before the tour for maybe a solid month, every day, all day. Just jamming and playing together and living together. I think that’s a good way to do it. You get to know everybody and get to understand how you interact with each other as players.
SF: Would you agree that there are not too many people willing to put bands together like that anymore?
JG: Yeah. It’s different now. I’m in a band that’s starting to get a little action and we rehearse once a week. But, they’re all studio players and it seems to be all the rehearsing that’s necessary. I don’t know why. Any more than that seems like too much. It gets redundant almost. It seems to have changed. I know with Joe Cocker, when I was with Mad Dogs, we rehearsed a couple of weeks before we went on the road. With Derek and The Dominos we rehearsed a good six months.
SF: In the ’60s and ’70s putting a band together was almost the thing to do. Maybe today players are inclined to want to take an easier way out, or try to get into the studio because you hear all the stories about studio musicians making all this great money without going on the road.
JG: I know what you mean. Unfortunately, I think all this studio work hurt bands a lot. There aren’t as many bands as there should be because everybody wants to get into the studios and make all those bucks.
SF: Maybe it’s economically more difficult to put together a band now.
JG: I think so. Sure.
SF: What—in ballpark figures—did it cost to put a band like Delaney & Bonnie & Friends on the road?
JG: Not very much. All tolled, rehearsal studios and everything, maybe five thousand. Everybody had their own instruments—we’d get like $125 a week or something, and we’d rehearse. If we got a deal to go on the road, if we got bookings, we’d just go.
SF: At that time, what could a band expect to draw out of a concert?
JG: Delaney & Bonnie? I would say maybe $15,000, and that was doing good!
SF: What was the total touring entourage?
JG: A road manager, maybe two roadies, maybe a crew of four or five, which we’d pick up through a sound company or a light company.
SF: Did you have to set up your own equipment?
JG: I did with Delaney & Bonnie, but after that I didn’t. I had a drum roadie.
SF: Who’s in your new band?
JG: It’s really a good little band. There’s a guitar player by the name of Larry Rolando; a bass player, Jerry Sheff, who used to be with Elvis; Denny Timms, a piano player who plays with the Moore Brothers; myself; and our singer/songwriter’s name is Steven Luce. We’re managed by Alive Enterprises now. We’re in the midst of negotiating some kind of a deal to get an album out. We’ve been together about four or five months now. We play in town about two days a week at different clubs. We’ve got some good reactions and we’re kind of like a rock ‘n’ roll band.
SF: Do you sing when you play?
JG: No I don’t. Never have. I’m a terrible singer. I sing in the shower.
SF: What do you sing in there?
JG: Oh, anything I can think of. I try to write songs. I play piano and guitar a little bit. I don’t really have a voice. I never really concentrated on it.
SF: Are you writing for the new band or helping to arrange tunes?
JG: Oh yeah. Steve will come in with an idea or a set of changes. We’ll maybe write a bridge or put some patterns into it or just work the tune up all together. It’s really a neat way to work. I’m really happy doing this thing. It’s going to be good, I think.
SF: Are you planning on going on the road?
JG: Absolutely. We’ll try to get an album out first.
SF: What’s the history behind Derek and The Dominos? You must’ve loved that group.
JG: Oh yeah. It was terrific. It was one of the best bands I was in. It was Eric’s idea. We did a couple of tours with Eric when he was with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends. When Delaney & Bonnie broke up, I got a call from George Harrison to go over and do his All Things Must Pass album in London. So did Carl Radle and Bobby Whitlock. Bobby had gone over to write songs with Eric. He was over there earlier. Carl and I went over to work on All Things Must Pass, and from there I started jamming a little bit with Eric, and he asked us to be in his band. We all were living out at his house and rehearsing everyday. We learned all these songs and went out on the road.
SF: So, it was six months before you did your first concert?
JG: We worked some clubs around England, little mecca ballrooms and discotheque. We’d hustle back from Eric’s house and drive out and do the gig, then go back and rehearse everyday. It was about six months before we got over to doing the album in Miami. From there we only did one tour. We did the American tour before the album was released. Nobody knew who we were. Eric didn’t want his name involved with the band at all. He wanted it to be like a band instead of “Eric Clapton and such and such.”
SF: He doesn’t seem to be too comfortable with fame.
JG: He handles it very well, but I don’t think he likes it. I don’t know. He’s always saying that he’s not as good as he should be. He’s very tough on himself. But, he’s a great player!
SF: How was the crowd response when Derek and The Dominos was touring?
JG: They liked it very much. Everybody seemed to like it a lot. We always filled the place wherever we played. We didn’t play real big places, sometimes 3,500, maybe 7,000 at the most. But it was always packed.
SF: I know Duane Allman helped out a lot on the album. Did he do any touring with the band or jamming onstage?
JG: He did play on a couple of dates. He almost joined the band. Eric was trying to get him to join the band, but Duane decided to stick with The Allman Brothers. He kind of dropped out and went down South. We were recording the album in Miami and The Allman Brothers were doing an outdoor concert. Tom Dowd says, “C’mon. You’ve got to go hear this band.” We all went down and heard them and Eric invited the band to come back to the studio after the concert. They came back and we all started jamming, and Duane just never left!
SF: How long was Layla in the making?
JG: Two weeks.
SF: Were you comfortable with the Derek and The Dominos live album?
JG: Yeah, I didn’t think it was so bad. I thought it was a really good tight band. The singing was great, Eric’s playing was fine, and the tunes were all great. Yeah, I thought it was really good. I took a big drum solo on that album and that was a real thrill for me!
SF: You hadn’t been doing many solos on the records.
JG: Oh no. I remember when we were in Liverpool one night, Eric said, “Why don’t you start with a drum solo?” I said, “Oh. Okay.” And from then on they just kept it in the act. It was really fun.
SF: Do you enjoy soloing?
JG: Not really, no. I like ensemble playing, actually. I like to fill a lot, and play around chord changes, but I’m not crazy about solos. Sometimes they get redundant, but there are some great soloists out there.
SF: What are you thinking about during a solo? I imagine to open a concert it would be a free-form solo until you led the band into the song.
JG: Right. That only lasted a couple of dates, then we would play an uptempo rock thing, a boogaloo. The band would stop and I’d go into my solo. I try to play phrases and more or less play the tune, then kind of go off on some kind of tangent. It wasn’t always prepared. I liked to do it spontaneously. I had a few things that were prepared, but then there’d be a portion of it where I’d try to divide the beat or do some kind of syncopated, polyrhythmical thing around what I’d laid down as the basic flow of the solo. Then I’d try to get into some kind of technical thing; some type of snare drum rudimental dexterity thing. Then lead back into the time and back into the tune.
SF: Do you have any favorite drum soloists?
JG: I like Buddy Rich. I like Billy Cobham a lot. He’s amazing. I like the drummer who used to be with Black Oak Arkansas, Tommy Aldridge. I think he’s marvelous. I used to like Tony Williams a lot. I used to go see him all the time.
SF: What do you feel is a comfortable balance between developing a good ear and becoming an ace sight reader?
JG: I think developing an ear is the most important thing you could possibly do. If you know how to read, you’ve also got to be able to interpret. If you can’t read, you’ve got to be able to hear. If you can’t hear, and figure out the tunes, and figure out what you should play—you’re not going to be able to play!
SF: It seems as if your development was pretty well-balanced in that respect.
JG: Yeah, I listened a lot. I like to listen more than to read, actually. To make up a part. I always find that that’s really fun to do.
SF: Why do you think some people quit the music business?
JG: I don’t know. No jobs. Money. Not being able to get a break. That’s a big part of it. Being at the right place and having someone that can get you work or be able to hear you. But, I think it’s a shame if somebody’s got a talent in music and they can’t make it. I’ve encountered a lot of people like that. It’s real sad if they have to get some other kind of job.
SF: But, what’s the difference between yourself, a successful player, and a person with equal talent who doesn’t make it?
JG: I don’t know. I think it’s a shame, actually. It’s like that date— I hate to bring this up—that I did with Keltner, where they wouldn’t let him play. To me it was just plain ridiculous because the guy was definitely a great player. I think it’s a shame, but if I was in that position—which at times I have been—where nobody would listen to something, I don’t think I could give up. Because I can’t see me doing anything else but music. I guess that’s the difference.
SF: Have you ever felt like “I don’t want to do this any more,” or have you walked away from the drums for a while?
JG: Not too often. Maybe once or twice, but it didn’t last very long! I’ve never taken another job. But, I’ve taken like a little break. But, I want to play. When I did take a break—I always went back to music. I would find myself playing around the house, looking for some kind of job or just doing something. I think if you’re going to be a musician, you’re going to have to be a musician, come what may. Unless you can’t make any money. If you’re starving to death, that’s a different story.
SF: Did you ever get into teaching drums?
JG: No, I haven’t. I’ve thought about it. I did a couple of seminars at a music institute here in L.A., which was a lot of fun. Question and answer. I took some charts down and showed them different ways that people write drum music in the studio, and tried to explain the way I thought about tuning my drums.
SF: Are you meticulous about tuning your drums?
JG: Well, I do it mostly by ear. I was always told that instead of striking a drum, you were supposed to draw the sound out of the drum. I try and play it that way. It’s always worked for me! Tuning was, and still is, a big part of my sound. I try to get that sound that I like.
SF: Do you like the studio flat, dead sound?
JG: No I don’t. I like the drummer with Foreigner’s sound a lot. I like Alex Van Halen’s drum sound. Amazing drummer, that kid. The flat sound I don’t particularly care for that much. It works well for all kinds of things that are going on now, but I don’t like it.
SF: Are you ever forced to use that sound in the studio? I’ve heard that many times it’s the engineer that determines how the drums will sound.
JG: That’s true. Especially nowadays. I know some engineers who have their own drumset. They tune it the way they want to hear it and you’ve got to play it. It’s a little weird because it’s usually flat, taped and dead, but they get a good sound out of it. The tone is almost like electronic drums in a way. It’s all done in the booth.
SF: Are you still practicing?
JG: I practice occasionally with the metronome. I try to keep my stick control up and I try to work on new beats. I try and play as much as I can. That’s the main thing. Playing in a band, rehearsing with a bunch of guys, or even getting together and playing in a living room with the snare drum—which I do occasionally—is good for me.
SF: When you’re not playing drums what do you like to do to keep yourself occupied?
JG: I play my piano a little bit. I like to jog and hang out. Mostly I try to play.
SF: Are there things that you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet?
JG: I’d like to write a little bit more. I don’t get to write as much as I’d like to. I’d like to find a lyricist, and write some songs, and get out and try to do some demos on them and see if I could sell them. That’s really enjoyable. I got a few things published, but it’s just so hard to find anybody who has any lyrics these days. It seems to me that they’ve already got all their songs all done. So, I just plug away and keep going over melodies and chord changes and hopefully I’ll run into somebody.
SF: Do you find areas in drumming that young players are not paying attention to that they should in order to become professionals?
JG: Yeah. Reading for one thing. I think that’s important. And developing an ear to pick up a tune. To be able to be a quick learner. To be able to come up with a part that’s going to work and not have to make the rest of the band go over and over it for your benefit.
SF: Do you think that’s from not listening much?
JG: Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not understanding music. Not listening to the changes or the melody instead of just the rhythm pattern. One of the most valuable things that I ever did was pick up the guitar and play rhythm guitar. It really helped me to understand that kind of a time feel and what they go through to play the rhythm. And also piano as a percussion instrument.
SF: I think young drummers might feel that they’re having enough of a challenge trying to master the drums, without the hassles of learning a completely different instrument.
JG: Well, that may be something you have to do a little farther along after you’ve kind of gotten control of the instrument. For starting out, I guess rudiments are the most important thing. Get a metronome and play a little bit with that. I used to come home from school and play my rudiments all night long.
SF: Did it benefit you all-around to be able to associate with musicians of the high calibre you’ve been with?
JG: Absolutely. Musically and spiritually. I think that you meet somebody who’s reached the status that some of these people have and they’re really very responsible people. They seem to be very caring and concerned about other people. I found it real rewarding to work with people like that.
SF: Was it a tough adjustment from being a studio player to per forming onstage before thousands of people?
JG: Yeah, it was kind of a strange adjustment. I got real self-conscious about my playing. People would say, “You sounded real good,” or “That was a great set,” and I’d say, “No it wasn’t. It was terrible.” I’d brood about it and say, “Well, I’ve got to do better next time.” Yeah, it was kind of an adjustment. I was real concerned about doing a good job all the time, and not making many mistakes.
SF: What do you think would be the toughest adjustment for a human being in going from anonymity to fame?
JG: Maybe accepting what you do and coping with what you have to go through to do it. There’s more than just playing the set that night. You’ve got the whole day, and traveling, and whatever people who you have to interact with, and you have to kind of take a careful look at yourself and not go off the deep end. It’s so easy to go overboard in one direction or another, or let yourself go in certain ways that in the long run can be really damaging to you. So you have to kind of keep a focal point on yourself and not let it drift too far on either side of where your values are, and how you’re going to influence other people who you run into.
SF: Was that something you had to work on or did that come to you pretty easy?
JG: Yeah, I always tried to keep an even keel on what I was doing. But, it’s not easy. I’ve seen so many people who have gotten a little bit of success and then they just turn around and throw it away. I know I’ve done that too. And they say, “What did I do that for?” All of a sudden, you’re not doing that anymore.
SF: Why would someone throw away success?
JG: I’m not really sure. Maybe it’s tension or something. I don’t think it’s something that you say consciously. I think it’s something that happens subconsciously.
SF: You mentioned before about the spiritual aspect of yourself. Is that something that’s important to you?
JG: Yeah, it is. I believe in God and Jesus very much and try and stay above board on all that. It’s not easy. The Bible is definitely something to help you. I find that every time I study something from the Bible, or even hearing some of these people on television who talk about it—Bible studies or something like that—it’s real uplifting. I really feel that.
SF: Has the spiritual part of your personality always been with you, or is that something that developed later on?
JG: Well, lately . . . I don’t know. I always went back and forth. I’ve always believed in God, but I questioned myself a few years ago, because there were a lot of my friends questioning themselves. I thought, “Maybe I should ask a few questions again, and see where I’m at.” So, I bought a Bible and started getting into it again a little bit and found it real helpful. I go to church from time to time and enjoy that very much. But, I’ve always tried to be with God. I don’t think I’ve ever been away from spiritualism in one way or another. It would be kind of tough not to have something to believe in.