Although Mickey Curry is not a household name, except in his hometown of Guilford, Connecticut, his years of training and perseverance have landed him in the seat with Hall and Oates, one of the hottest bunds recording today. Curry’s hard-hitting, energetic style complements the creativeness of the two songwriters. Years of playing in bands and in the studio worked to condition Curry’s clean approach and professional attitude toward the drums.
EF: How long have you been playing the drums?
MC: Since I was twelve; about thirteen years.
EF: Do you read music?
MC: Yes, I’ve done some work with charts but I wind up throwing them away. I go over them a couple of times and then just do what I have to do.
EF: Did you formally study the drums?
MC: I originally just started playing; just picked up a pair of sticks.
EF: What made you decide to play the drums?
MC: I used to see the Dave Clark Five and the Beatles on television and I figured it would be too difficult to play guitar, so the drums were it. Later, when it came time for my brothers and I to take music lessons, I said I wanted to take drum lessons. My mother agreed because they were the cheapest. It was $4.50 for the lessons and $16.00 for the pad, sticks, and lesson book. I studied with the music teacher in school and he encouraged my parents to buy me a set of drums because he felt I had natural talent.
EF: Was he your only teacher?
MC: No, there was a guy in a little town about ten minutes from where I lived. He was amazing. He was the local drummer who played in all the little nightclub bands. His name was Nick Forte. He didn’t limit his teaching to just the drums; he taught me about tuning, percussion, and how to play the congas.
EF: What type of set do you use?
MC: It’s a Ludwig set with a 24″ bass drum; a 9 x 10 power tom; two rack toms, 9 x 13 and 10 x 14; and two floor toms, 16 x 16 and 16 x 18. The snare is 6 1/2″ with a Duraline head.
For cymbals, I’ve got a 22″ ride with a real big bell that I’ve had since I was twelve years old. I try, but I can’t break it. I also have 15″ hi-hats, two 18″ crashes, a 20″ crash and a 16″ medium crash.
EF: Why the Duraline head on the snare? Is it more durable?
MC: Yes, I can’t break them. I was going through the regular heads left and right, so we put the Duraline on. It’s got a great sound and a lot of crack. It’s kind of hard to play, though. You have to hit really hard to get any kind of sound out of it. But that’s the way I play for these guys.
EF: Is your set made of wood?
MC: The whole set is made of wood, with the exception of the snare drum. I need the big, loud crack that the wood set provides when I’m playing live.
EF: Is there any specific way that you tune the drums?
MC: I don’t really spend much time on tuning. I tune the bottom heads just a hair tighter than the top heads to get more of a ring out of the drum. I like for the drums to ring when I’m playing live, so that the overtones drive each other crazy and the snare rattles when I hit the tom-toms.
EF: Doesn’t this cause a problem for the rest of the band?
MC: No, because most of the time the sound engineers mix the ring out of the monitors.
EF: What kind of mic’s on your drums?
MC: I use Sennheisers; they’re real old. They’re similar to the microphones that Mike McDonald of the Doobie Brothers uses for his vocals.
EF: You’re using an electronic drum. What kind is it?
MC: It’s a Syndrum and it’s run through a Moog. I use it when we play “Private Eyes.”
EF: Do you like using electronics?
MC: Sometimes, but it depends on what sound I’m going for. It was always hard to get a good electronic drum sound in the studio but live, I think, you can use just about anything to get a good synthesized sound.
EF: On the past couple of albums, Hall and Oates have begun to incorporate the use of a drum machine. How do you feel playing along with it?
MC: I don’t find it hard at all, as long as I don’t let it antagonize me. I have it coming through the monitors real loud. I named our little machine “Gene Krupa” just to somehow relate to it. But they don’t sound like drums and they don’t breathe with a tune the way a drummer does.
EF: Who sets up the timing, and controls the machine when you’re playing live?
MC: Daryl and John set up the actual pattern for the song and John operates a foot switch to turn it on or off. I had it set up next to me on the drum riser, but I would get mad at it and kick it, so they moved it.
We just started using it live when “No Can Do” started taking off. We took one day to rehearse the song because we weren’t doing it when the tour started.
EF: Are you a visual performer when you play live?
MC: No, I usually don’t go crazy. I took a solo one night—I was particularly up that day, and I came running out in front of the drums, tapping real hard and fast on the mic’ stands, monitors, and John Oates’ head. I found out later that it was visually incredible, but you couldn’t hear a thing. They said I looked like a monkey.
EF: How do you feel about drum solos?
MC: I hate drum solos. I love just grooving, but that never comes out like a solo. With Hall and Oates, I do “Wipe Out,” the classic drum solo. I guess if I was a solo drummer and had my own band, like Buddy Rich, I could solo all night and the crowd would ask for more; but I’m not Buddy Rich.
EF: Who are some of your influences?
MC: When I was in junior high I used to listen to Santana, Chicago, and Tower of Power; all the funky big bands. Santana was amazing and I was awed by the fact that Mike Shrieve was only eighteen years old. But you can’t forget the guys who started it all; Maurice Purtill of the Glenn Miller Band, Gene Krupa, Warren “Baby” Dodds, and Dave Tough.
EF: In your opinion, who are the premier drummers of today?
MC: There are so many guys that are so good. Jeff Porcaro is a monster; I listened to him with Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, and Tim Moore. Jeff is incredible. When he played with Toto, he took the finesse of a studio drummer and put it in a rock and roll band.
Stewart Copeland is another fine drummer who found his own groove that nobody can touch. I love his style of playing. He drives it into the ground.
EF: Did you have to adapt to the sound that Hall and Oates require or are you just keeping to your own style?
MC: You always have to adapt to who ever you’re working with or else you don’t get any work. You can’t just go out and say “This is how I play. Take it or leave it.” They’re going to hire you because you have a certain sound that they want. I think that’s why I’ve been so successful in getting work in New York over such a short period of time.
EF: How did you come to be the drummer for Hall and Oates’?
MC: I got a phone call from a friend who was working with Mercury Records. He had just signed a band called Tom Dicky and The Desires and they needed a drummer, so I went down to New York to do the record with them. Now it just so happens that their manager, Tommy Mottola, is Daryl and John’s manager as well and he came to one of our sessions, heard me play, and decided I would be better for Hall and Oates.
EF: What other studio work have you done?
MC: I did an album with G. E. Smith, guitarist for Hall and Oates, and Brian Adams who is from Canada.
EF: What is your affiliation with G. E. Smith?
MC: We played together in the Scratch Band, in Connecticut. G.E. is another tie I had in New York. I didn’t hear from him for a couple of years and then he called me and asked me to come down and join his band. We rehearsed all summer and did a small tour that fall.
EF: Did the band cut an album?
MC: Yeah, it’s called In The World. That album has an amazing drum sound. We recorded at the Power Station; Bob Claremont produced it. I think Playboy picked it for one of the Top Ten Albums of the Year, which is a fluke because nobody really heard about it.
EF: How much control do you have in the studio concerning your drum sound?
MC: I have a distinct snare sound that I go for. It’s almost as if I were trying to keep on the Bonham tradition. I want a big, heavy drum that’s going to cut through anything. I want my snare drum to sound like it is a foot deep. But then again, you can’t tell an engineer or producer, who is probably the most important person in the studio, what you want, because he has a sound that he is going for. I’ve been pretty lucky as far as being satisfied with my personal taste in drum sound. So far, I’ve been working with people who want the sound that I have.
EF: Do you concentrate on what the bass player is doing while you’re playing or do you listen to everyone?
MC: Tom Wolk is the bass player I’m working with now, and he is the only guy I have to lock into while I’m playing. You get a groove happening, and that’s everything in this type of music.
EF: How important is technique?
MC: Technique is important. I don’t know if it’s so important that a ten-year old kid should have to go through an hour a day with a drum teacher and get all his sticking right or flunk the course. I’ve always felt that if you have it—you have it; if you don’t—you don’t. You have to be able to carry a groove and know the difference between a shuffle and straight-four time. You have to be able to play in half-time and double-time. There are certain things you have to do just to get by.
When you are learning how to play and you have the natural ability to play drums, technique will only add to the developing of that ability. There are a lot of drummers that aren’t very good at all, but are successful at what they do, just as, there are drummers who are technically amazing but just don’t have the drive or perseverance to make it work for them.
EF: What advice do you have for young drummers?
MC: Learn everything you possibly can about the drums. Listen to every record you ever loved. Ask your father for his favorite records and learn them, because those people knew what they were doing.