Paul T. Riddle: Dedicated
Paul T. Riddle is a super, warm human being. He has been a member of The Marshall Tucker Band since before his high school graduation. We spoke at his hotel room in New Jersey and proceeded to cover everything from practice routines to “what-kind-of-drums-do-you- use?” to Paul offering suggestions on the “business” of operating a band. What Paul has to say is good solid advice to any musician, playing any kind of music.SF: Could you begin by telling me how and why you started playing drums.
PR: I started when I was about 10. I’m 26 now, and I really don’t honestly remember why the drums! My sister had this old vanity; I had a couple of rulers and I started beating on that and listening to old rock and roll records that she had. Then my dear mother bought me a practice pad and some sticks and I got my first set of drums when I was about 10. And I did study! There was a teacher in town named David Haddocks. He’s still in Spartanburg, South Carolina teaching and playing. I started taking lessons and read some old Haskell Harr books, learned the basics and studied my rudiments. My parents were just great. They were both hard working people and they told me, ‘You go pick out the drums that you want.’ You remember Kent drums? Well, that was the cheapest set of drums they had at the music store. Blue sparkle! I picked out those and brought my mother down and I said “That’s the set I want.” As we were leaving the store, there was this White Marine set of Ludwig drums and my mother said, ‘Those are beautiful!’ And I said, “Oh yeah, but those cost a lot.” So naturally, my mother and daddy got me the Ludwig pearls. That was my first set of drums.
I gave them to Tommy (Caldwell). He was a drummer as well as a bass player. A good fatback drummer. He just loved R&B and he could just sit down and play the old funky licks. He loved that kind of stuff. Anyway, I studied for about three years with David Haddocks, and he taught me to read. He was playing at a supper club in town. They had everything from bellydancers to floor shows! The band’s regular set was mostly old swing music. Dave was really interested in my playing, so eventually he got me to sit in with him. Every now and then, my Dad would take me to the club and I’d sit in on a couple of songs. As I got older, about 7th or 8th grade, I would play there on weekends. Dave would get other gigs and he’d let me sit in on weekends. It was great experience! I’m glad I came up playing just old standard swing, cha-chas, rhumbas, sambas, and different things. It was fun. I really wasn’t listening to rock and roll at all. Not when I was in junior high. I was interested in Dave Brubeck and Joe Morello. And I studied that Rudimental Jazz book, Joe Morello’s book? He had another book about that time. Studies in 3/4 and 5/4 that was really good. I just loved him. His drumming was so clean and precise. I always loved the way he played. Even though I was still young, I was really interested in it.
At the supper club, there was a show band. I was in the 8th grade, and there was only 2 other white guys in this big horn band, with chick singers. There were two trumpets, trombones, a sax, keyboards, and bass guitar. I was by far the youngest cat in the band! And we’d play these black clubs around town. I did that for a year or so, and I really liked that. We played about an hour of instrumentals like “Norwegian Wood”, like the way Buddy’s big band used to do it. Then we’d bring the chicks on and vamp everything on and off. That was fun! I’d never done anything like that. So, that was good experience as well.
SF: Were there any influences unique to South Carolina that you feel influenced your sound?
PR: I don’t think so. Not when I was coming up, because I was probably pretty much listenin’ to what other young players were listening to. Morello, Elvin, Buddy—just name them all! I don’t think it really was a big influence being from the deep South. There were a lot of good players in town! There always has been. There are still a lot of musicians around the area. Toy (Caldwell) and the rest of the band used to be on the scene a lot. I think everybody was pretty much listening to the same things. Maybe there was a little bit more gospel influence on the black end. Like the roots of jazz, maybe.
After those bands, I played in maybe one rock band. It was different for me, because I was playing light. I never played anything with just a real fatback beat. So, that was really different and then after I got out of high school, I met The Marshall Tucker Band! I was doing nothing at the time. Just going to high school, practicing and studying my rudiments. I hadn’t taken lessons for about three years. I didn’t play in the school band. I started to, but they wouldn’t let me advance. I didn’t want to go back to just doing quarter notes because I was really further along than that. So, I never took band. In the l l t h grade I heard through the grapevine that George McCorkle was looking for a drummer. George’s band at the time was hard rock! It scared the hell out of me because it was hard, hard rock! I had never played anything in that vein at all. And I tried it. George was one of those guys who’s a real dominant figure. I went to practice, and here I was in 11th grade, and George had been playing music for years. I’m 26 and George is 33 now. That age difference seemed so broad at the time. George was grinding it out and I was playing so softly. He said ‘Play louder! Louder!’ And I’m saying, “I’m trying. I’m trying!” I was a nervous wreck. That’s what it amounted to. But, George and I got along real well, and I finally learned the tunes, and learned to play a little louder.
George used to say, ‘Don’t you know this song?’ And I’d say, “Sure!” But, I never heard any of it, you know? I never listened to that stuff. I really didn’t. I just listened to jazz records. Brubeck, Basie, Buddy, Coltrane, Miles Davis. I just never had listened to real hard rock music. I didn’t really like it that much at the time. Anyway, things were going well with George and I. We were playing clubs and stuff. Right around this time Tommy Caldwell had gotten out of the service. He had heard about our band and just wanted to work and start something serious. So, we just hit it right off together! Tommy and I just fell in love with each other right off the bat. He was just a great person. I don’t know anybody who influenced me more, both musically and friendship-wise, than he did. Anyway, that’s when the band started. It was around ’71. We had this old place downtown in Spartanburg, and just rehearsed and rehearsed. Toy kept coming down standing outside the door listening. He said ‘Man, I gotta play with ya’ll.’ He just loved it. He liked the attitude. Everybody was serious about it. Eventually we got Jerry (Eubanks) to play horn and flute. Doug (Gray) started singing and that’s really how the band got together. We practiced for a long time in this old hole-in-the-wall, and then we rented a house out in the country and practiced everyday. Everyday! I was in school. Toy and Tommy were both plumbers. Their Daddy was a plumber and they used to work with him during the day. George was fixing teeth in the day time. He’s learned to do that in the Navy. Doug was a bill collector! His voice was great for that. His boss loved him. And Jerry was working in construction, I believe. We practiced every night. We’d start practice with a shuffle. Everybody took rides for bars and bars and just played. We’d do that sometimes for 45 minutes to an hour, and then we’d start another riff. Then we started working on our original material.
Jerry and I were the only people who had studied formally, what little formal training we did have. Toy had never studied at all, but, what can you say about Toy’s playing? Everybody’s trying to figure that out! Doug sang in the school choir, but that was about the end of his formal training. We were really serious to make it or break it. Toy was predominantly writing all the tunes at that time. We’d get gigs on the weekend in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and get away with playing our own stuff. That was good.
SF: What kind of equipment did the band start out with?
PR: I had my drums. George and Toy used to play through these old Ampeg amps for awhile. It was perfect because it into cars or maybe rent a van or something. One guy who’s been with me since that time is Steve Shropshier. Man, he used to lend me a dollar to buy drumsticks when I couldn’t buy them. He’s just a brother to me, and he still sets up my drums and takes them down. His nickname is Puff.
SF: Does he tune your drums?
PR: Well, he usually tunes the snare drum better than me. Sometimes I get aggravated and say “Aw, it’s ringing.” Or, “It’s not crisp enough.” Puff will say, ‘Get away. Just get away from that thing and let me do this.’ But, he’s great. He’s been there the whole time.
The band did that kind of thing for a year. I was a senior in high school. Then, for about another year we played clubs and did whatever we could to get by. We had about 10 original tunes, and we saved up $500 and went to Greenville, South Carolina and cut a demo. It had basically all the songs that were on our first album. So, we started thinking, ‘Well, where could we go?’ Capricorn Records in Macon, Georgia was the closest place and at that time, The Allman Brothers Band was starting to happen. Their first album was out at that time. So, we said, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’
There was a little rock club in our hometown. Wet Willie was playing there and they had two albums out at that time. We were up there that afternoon hanging out and having a beer talking to them. They didn’t have an opening act that night, so they said, ‘Why don’t ya’ll just come on up and play?’ So, we threw everything into the cars, went up there and they were just knocked out! Jimmy and Jack Hall just loved the band. They were just great people. They didn’t know us from a hole-in-the-wall. We just played our original tunes. They really helped us get our foot in the door at Capricorn Records. They went back and said, ‘Hey look. These guys are really legit and they’re plannin’ on bringin’ the tape down, and you oughta give it a listen.’ And they did. They listened to it, and they booked us into Grant’s Lounge in Macon. I never will forget that night. We’d already done our original songs, and the people from Capricorn hadn’t come in. When they walked in the door, Tommy turned around and said, ‘Let’s hit it!’ We just ran the tunes off again, and they were dancing in the aisles. We really knocked it out. After that, they wanted us to sign. I never will forget. We were in the office and had no legal help or anything. We were young, hungry and this was a great chance! We were sitting in that office and they were wooing us, of course. We didn’t know what the hell we were doing. All these long contracts. They looked like Chinese! We’d never really ever seen a nice studio before. Toy said, ‘Man, this is what we’ve been waiting for all our life.’ We just turned around and signed everything in front of us.
Phil Walden gave us a chance to go out and play concerts and that’s what we’d always wanted to do. I mean, that’s the only way you can make a living playing your own music, unless you’re studio musicians like Steely Dan. But, we wanted to work. We wanted to go out and play. We pretty much just jumped right on the concert scene with The Allman Brothers Band, and that was the trick! I mean, can you imagine what kind of opportunity that was? The music was so compatible. It wasn’t that we sounded alike, but it was extremely compatible. It blended. For us, this was the biggest step in the world, because we went out and played in front of large numbers of people right off the bat with our first record. It really did help us a lot.
Jaimo (drummer with The Allman Brothers at that time) was really a big influence on me. I was just out of high school and scared to death! I was 18! But, I’d never been anywhere. I’d been to South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and I think that was it! And there we were playing with The Allman Brothers Band. The first time I ever heard them was in the same club that we played at with Wet Willie. I was sitting there and they came out and had two drummers, and Duane started all this stuff. I couldn’t get over it. That was the first time I’d ever seen them play. God, it was amazing!! That was the funkiest band I’d ever heard.
Butch just blew me away. He was just so solid and real strong with his foot. Really kicked the bass. But, Jaimo was the first rock drummer I’d ever seen that used double-strokes, closed rolls, and tuned his drums up tight. He just blew me away! And when we were on the road together, Jaimo just gave me a lot of confidence. He always makes you feel important. I never will forget that. We get together now and man, we can hardly eat for playing and talking and listening to records. He’s just a real special friend to me.
Those days were great for our band. You can imagine the years it would probably have taken to break the band if we hadn’t had that kind of support from The Allman Brothers.
SF: To backtrack just a bit, for anybody who is at the point where you were when you went in to sign the recording contracts with Capricorn, what advice would you give them?
PR: Get good legal help. That’s the first thing I’d tell any young musician. Get somebody who they can trust for good legal advice, before they sign anything. I mean anything! Before they put their initials on any piece of paper at all. Even if they can read and clearly understand it. Their lawyer or legal advisor should be right there beside them before they do anything. That’s my advice to any young player. To anybody! That way you’re taken care of from the legal aspects and business end of it. You can just concentrate more on the music. It can really hamper your career if you’re worried about business and going crazy worrying about getting screwed on your contract. We didn’t have any experience in business or accounting at the time. It really takes away from your music.
In the last six or seven years we’ve had really good help. We’re incorporated and we have retirement funds and pension plans. The band’s taken care of, and it’s a good feeling. Our income is broken down into two corporations. The money that we make on the road keeps our salaries going with the crew. We pay our crews year ’round because they’ve been with us a long, long time. That’s one corporation. Our royalties and record money is another corporation. That’s pretty much the way its broken down for us.
SF: Does it take the band a long time to record albums’?
PR: On the Tenth album, we spent more time than we ever have and spent more money than we ever have. We enjoyed it. I mean, I wouldn’t change a thing.
SF: When I was listening to Tenth I found myself wishing you guys would stretch out more.
PR: Well, onstage it’s spontaneous everynight. It’s always different. We’ll just bring the music up and down, and the guitar solos will stretch out sometimes for ten minutes. Sometimes we’ll just play around. It depends on the crowd, and how the stage sounds, also. There are certain cues that bring us back into certain verses or choruses, but basically in the middle of a song, it just goes wherever it goes. It’s fun too, especially for the soloists.
SF: In other words, you’re not forced to play your hit songs the same as the record night after night?
PR: No. That’s the truth. Even in “Love Song,” our most familiar tune, Toy’s solo always has a different flavor to it each night. It’s in the same vein, of course, but it’s just a little different from night to night. And that’s fun! We’re so tight both musically and as friends. We play songs about our home like “Blue Ridge Mountain Skies.” They may be simple straight-ahead drumming tunes, but they’re so much fun to play, because I just shut my eyes and play along. The song means something. It’s not like I’m playing a gig for somebody. I’m saying something, too. That’s the difference I really enjoy about our band. I feel like I’ve just been so lucky to grow up with it and, still be a part of it, still contributing to the arranging and stuff.
Tommy, George and Toy had really been encouraging me to write. Tommy and I had just finished my first song right before he died. I’ve got that back in the closet. Toy and I are working on a song for the next record. If I hear a chorus line or something, I just hum it out to them or write a few lines down.
SF: You’ve told me that you don’t play a second instrument. Have you ever wanted to?
PR: I have. My childhood dream before all this started was to go to Berklee. That’s why I got my reading up, to get into the school, I guess. Back then I could read well! I could read charts and stuff. I always wanted to go to Berklee and study under Alan Dawson. I love those independent things that he does with his hi-hat.
SF: Many of your songs deal with the loneliness of being on the road. Yet, you don’t seem to be bummed out.
PR: No. It’s just that everybody misses home sometimes. It’s lonesome. The easiest part about being on the road is walking on that bandstand at 9:30. That’s the fun part. That’s the treat, getting up there and doing something I’ve always dreamed about. Y’know, I’m having fun out there, man!
SF: In the average year what is your schedule like between being home, on the road, and in the studio?
PR: Okay. We went into the studio around the middle of October, until the middle of November. We played a few dates before Christmas and then took most of Christmas off. After the first of the year, we went back out and started playing. We played about 10 days and then had 10-14 days off. This spring we have a month off, which is when the album is supposed to be released. The summer is really important to us. We usually do two dates at Saratoga Springs, New York; Garden State Arts Center in New Jersey; Pine Nob in Detroit; Merriweather Post in Washington and the Concord in San Francisco. These facilities all have 15,000 seats and up. And they’re great places to play. They’re made for music instead of basketball for a change. After the summer we’ll slow down, take a month off and start working on the album again. And when I’m home I’m at home. I live out in the middle of the woods. I married my high school sweetheart. Been married seven years in October. I love to play Racquetball. I’ve got a music room at home and my drums are set up. That’s pretty much where it’s at.
SF: What’s it like being married when you’re on the road so often?
PR: It’s easy for me, because Holly, my wife, grew up with it. She grew up with me! She went through all those changes I went through on the road. Adjusting to going from right out of high school on the road while all our friends were going off to college. They’d come home and everything was fine and dandy. I’d come home and I had a hard time adjusting to being in the spotlight. It was my problem. I thought everybody was treating me differently. I just wanted it to be the way it had been, but it really couldn’t. Naturally, anytime you’re in the spotlight that’s just part of it. I realized that I didn’t have to apologize for all the hard work that we’d gone through or for the time we spent. I started feeling good about myself, and the problem dissolved.
SF: Do you get much feedback from your fans?
PR: Yes, we do. 99% of it is positive. Sometimes I’ll get letters from drummers, young players just asking questions about certain things. What I’ll try to do if they leave a phone number is call them. That’s fun usually. I called one guy, he’d written me a couple of times and was a really nice guy. His little brother answered the phone. He says, ‘Oh no! He’s gonna die! He’s not here!’ He was starting to panic. I said, “It’s okay. Just take your time. Go see if he’s outside.” I could hear him running through the house just knocking things over, screaming his brother’s name. He wasn’t there, but I called him back and talked to him a couple of times. That’s kind of a treat to get to call kids like that. I enjoy talking to young players.
I’ve got a little cousin at home, his name’s Mark Burrell. He’s my project. But, he scares me to death. He’s gonna be an incredible drummer, man. He’s 14. I’m just pounding it into his head to study at school so he can go to a music school. But, I love to be around young kids like that, that are interested and they’re so thirsty for information, knowledge, and they want to learn so bad.
SF: That seems strange that you would steer someone towards music school after coming up with music the way you did.
PR: I just don’t want to mislead him or any young player. I don’t want to paint this beautiful picture of rock stars and limousines. I mean, let’s face it! How many drummers are in the bars around the corners? A dime a dozen! Great players. There’s probably one out there in the parking lot right now that’d blow us away!! I was lucky. I think the band was extremely talented and the music was there at the perfect time. The timing was so much a part of it. I mean, we worked hard. We didn’t get a gold record until we had five albums out! But, to us it wasn’t an overnight thing. We’d just been working so hard, so long. It was so gradual that it wasn’t a big deal.
I’ll tell a young player that if they’re really serious and want to learn the more technical aspects of playing, if they don’t have a good band that’s ready to get a record contract, then study hard so they can pick a good music school. It’s not like it was when I was in high school. I try to point kids in the direction to study hard. There are great music schools all across the country. When they graduate, they can make their own choices. If they’re not in a good band or doing well on the road, then they can compete with the guys in the studios and be in the running. If they don’t study, I think it would be extremely hard to do that. Or they might want to just play bars.
SF: How do you see your role as a drummer in the band?
PR: I’ve got to be real conscious of what Toy’s trying to say in a song. I don’t want to step on any thoughts he has. I have to listen with open ears. Also, kind of let them guide me in the direction they want the songs to go. Then we try to do that together as a unit.
I’m listening to the band all the time. I play with Toy’s leads many times with my left hand. I guess that comes from playing swing. It’s the old theory of the hi-hat being the timekeeper, accent with your bass drum, play around the lead player with your left hand and you ride with your right on the cymbal. I still use it a lot with the band. Toy likes it and it’s fun for me, too. It just gets you out of the straight-ahead bag.
SF: When you drum, you sound very aware of song structure. Playing one sound on the A choruses, switching to something else during the B section, and then returning to the original A.
PR: I think I really got into that playing in clubs. Changing from a verse to a chorus would just sound empty. In a club you needed to do something different. If I go to a ride or a swish, it’s just something I got in the habit of. That’s the only way I can explain it. It’s from playing clubs for so long.
SF: What are you listening to when you’re onstage?
PR: Everything! I really am. The way we’re set up, Toy’s lead guitar comes in at my right. Frank, the bassist, is to my direct left onstage. George McCorkle’s rhythm guitar is right in my monitor. He’s like a train! When his rig goes out I feel like I’m playing by myself. Oh, he plays so full and so loud! He’s a joy. I like a good bit of the lead vocal, also. Because I love to hear Doug sing. If it’s just a simple song for me, I just get into the words. Shut my eyes and sing along. I pretty much have everything in my monitors.
As far as the drum kit itself, it will vary from night to night. Usually, I’ll always have the bass drum and the snare drum in the monitor. Robin, our monitor man, will raise the volume on the toms. We’ll just get a basic sound or tone on the drums. Then we’ll play with the volume as the set goes along. Some nights, I don’t have him put the toms in there at all. Other nights, I want them in there. It depends on our volume. Also, the halls vary so much. It’s very important for drummers to be able to relate to the monitor man.
SF: Do you prefer playing on a rug or a hard surface?
PR: My riser is similar to formica. It’s got a light rug over it so it’s really pretty hard. I love hardwood stages usually. When I go into the studio usually the first thing they’ll do is take the carpet out of the drum booth and make it as loud as they can, because I like that real crisp sound, especially on the snare drum.
SF: Are you using the same drum kit onstage that you use in the recording studio?
PR: Yes. The exact same. Same heads tuned the same way. The toms are
9 x 13, 10 x 14 and a 16″ floor tomtom. A 22″ bass drum and a 5 x 14 wood snare. Sometimes in the studio, I will change the snare. I’ll use a metal one 5 x 14. Every now and then I’ll use Canasonic heads on the snare in the studio to get it dry and crisp. My concert toms are 8″ and 10″. I use Pinstripe heads. I’ve been using them now for about two years. I like the drums to ring naturally. I don’t have any certain scales to tune them to. I just tune them to where it feels good to me. They’re not too dead for me at all. I leave the white head on the bottom and put the Pinstripes on the top. Basically, I use the same amount of tension on top and bottom. It’s a nice resonance for me, but it doesn’t have that metallic over-ring. Y’know, they ring really nice; they’re warm sounding and the notes don’t run together. You can hear all the percussive sounds out of each note and still get that tone.
SF: I’ve seen you use some type of special front head on your bass drum during concerts.
PR: That was a design that Puff came up with. When we miked the bass drum on the front head there was a lot of leakage from the amplifiers. So, Puff made this leather piece that just has these leather straps that tie onto each lug around the front of the bass drum. There’s a little slit in the very middle of the leather head and you can stick a microphone directly through that slit. It’s set up so that it clamps inside the drum, right around the mike and there’s no leakage. So, the mike is right on the inside of the bass drum.
I don’t use that all the time now. We use a new P.A. system run by the people that do the Doobie Brothers. Actually, Kevin, our engineer on stage and in the studio, changed it. He didn’t want to use it anymore. He was using a different mike and I think it didn’t fit or something. Now I use a regular head on the front with a hole cut in it.
SF: Any special kind of cymbals?
PR: A. Zildjians. I use a 22″ medium ride or sometimes I use a ping. Lenny DiMuzio gave me a dark ride. I love it for the studio because I can mike it really tight without any overring.
SF: Is that the ride cymbal you used on the Tenth album?
PR: Yes. No tape on it at all. It’s clear, distinct and it still has some resonance to it. I also use two 18″ crash cymbals, one medium and one medium-thin. I’ve been using 14″ Quick Beat hi-hats live. They’re a little harsh for me in the studios, so I use New Beats.
SF: Do you deaden your drums in the studio?
PR: Not too much. Except for the bass drum. That’s padded down pretty much. But, the toms are left the same. The snare drum would be a little different depending on whether it needed the metal or wood drum, or that Canasonic head.
SF: Are you still endorsing Gretsch drums?
PR: Yeah. I love the sound of Gretsch drums. I must cheat and say that I’m using a Slingerland snare drum that I’ve had for years and years. It’s that old 5 x 14 with three airholes. I think they call it the Buddy Rich model.
SF: What do the three airholes do?
PR: I never have known, but they always put three airholes in that particular drum. Who knows? It kinda feels good on your leg if you’re wearing shorts.
SF: Do you still practice?
PR: Yeah. I find myself sometimes getting bored. I wanted to go back and get a teacher at home again and just start with my reading again.
SF:Given a choice, who would you study with?
PR: Alan Dawson. I’d still like to may be take some courses at Berklee. But, I still run through a few rudimental exercises before the gig. Paradiddles, doubles, singles, and triplets.
SF: Do you have any favorite stickings that you use?
PR: Yeah. I like to take the 3 paradiddle variations: the single, double and triple, and put them back to back on the drums. I love that. It’ll change each time on each accent and that’s just a good exercise to loosen up with to get your muscles working. I’ll just run around the drumset with singles, 5-stroke rolls and ratamacues. Stuff to loosen up the muscles. Double-stroke rolls, fives, sevens, nines, elevens . . . . just the basic stuff. I take Stick Control on the road. I always keep that around. God, that’s a great book. I just love the first few pages. It’s just amazing. You can stay on just the first page for days. It never ends.
That is the greatest book, really.
SF: Do you find that your fans generally ask the same questions of you?
PR: It used to amaze me. For some reason or another they would just think that I was so much into jazz. I was when I was young, but I don’t know if that really comes across on the records. Maybe I did a few left-hand independent things, or used traditional grip.
SF: Your “sound” does come across as being jazz influenced.
PR: Maybe that’s it. I guess it was just going back to the young days. Usually, those have been the questions from the younger players. They ask me if I was interested in jazz, or if I studied rudiments, or if I apply the rudiments to playing with the band, which I find myself doing a lot of times. Using paradid dles and different things in different phrases. But, it’s not a conscious thing. I’m not sitting there thinking, ‘Okay. Here comes a paradiddle. Here comes a ratamacue.’ I just tell people that you can use the sticking and it’s more convenient sometimes than using a single stroke.
SF: I just had a great idea. How about making a record with two bands like the Marshall Tucker Band and The Allman Brothers at the same time?
PR: Jaimo and I always talk about doing a drum record. I’d love to do that. There’s a lot of guys we’ve been on the road with that we could do that with. It’d be neat to do a Southern drummer record.
SF: Can you tell me about how you work with the bassist; the interaction between bass and drums?
PR: Well, this will be strange. We could talk about Tommy. Up until the time he died we were very close. He would hear things on the drums, because he was a drummer, too. We’d work things out together, kicks and certain phrases. It was just a treat to play with him. He was so musical and energetic on stage. He really drove the band hard. So, I have nothing but good memories of Tommy.
Now that Frank’s with us, we’ve been good friends for years also. His name is Franklin Wilkie. Being friends made it a lot easier on all of us as a band.
SF: That must have been a tough slot to fill.
PR: Yeah. He’s just been great. He plays differently than Tommy, although similar in some respects because he and Tommy were good friends. So, they had similar ideas about music, and being bass players, they traded ideas a lot.
SF: When Frank plays on the tunes that Tommy originally did, do you find yourself changing your drumming to adapt to Frank’s new bass lines?
PR: We decided immediately that we were gonna go on and that Frank was the natural choice. But, we decided that there would be things which needed the same kind of a feel that Tommy might have applied to a song. Rut, Frank has to interpret it his way. We wanted it to be different, but just as good in a different way. And it has been. Sometimes we’ll pattern things out. Sometimes, I’ll be playing with the bass drum right along with the notes that Frank’s playing. Other times, I ‘ l l play around with the bass drum and pretty much lay down the snare drum. Even if it’s something just straight-ahead in 4/4. It depends on the song.
SF: You’ve been talking a lot about “attitude.” How important is “attitude” to the success of a band?
PR: I think so much of it is attitude. I can sense in the dressing room some nights before we go out, everybody’s attitude. It’s just the mood sometimes. It depends on a lot of things. If we know the stage sounds good; if the soundcheck’s been good and everything is just in order, then everybody’s attitude is in the same vein. It’s that everybody’s feeling good and confident. We just go out and play the music and not t h i n k about anything else.
A lot of times there are a lot of things in the way, though. Including sickness.
But, our attitude is, it’s just fun because we know there’s gonna be new licks each night. Everybody experiments onstage. I mean, that’s where we can experiment. We learn the changes of a song in the studio and we really learn to play it onstage. That’s where the jams and spontaneity that we’re known for comes into play. Because we can’t rehearse those things in a rehearsal hall. They have to take place in front of people. And that makes all of our attitudes good because it’s not boring. It’s just like a new happening all the time.
We’ve never felt restricted about being able to try new things. People said the last album was really different for us, but I can’t tell. People ask me, ‘Is this going to be more of a country album, more rock and roll, jazz or what?’ I can’t really tell until the album’s done and I can hear it as a whole! We don’t go into the studio with the idea of, ‘This is gonna be the single.’ Usually, what happens with us is that the song we think is gonna be the single is the last song they think about.
SF: How do you feel about the word “quitting?”
PR: I never quit. I got that from Tommy’s attitude. He just lived a complete, full life. He was always the bandleader. When we were making pennies, he’d put them in pay envelopes and say, ‘Someday we’ll have a road manager and this will be the way it will be.’ He always had everybody’s spirits up, and he wasn’t a quitter! Tommy would always have that dream in our minds. It was just one step at a time. If there’s any kind of pressure, that’s the pressure I put on myself. To excel, keep going, keep reaching goals. I never stagnate.
SF: How about “commitment?”
PR: Totally. First thing I thought of was Holly, and then to the band and music. I commit myself to whatever I get into.
SF: When the band was first starting out, you had that goal to be a successful band. What were you willing to sacrifice to reach your goal?
PR: We gave up everything. We gave up money. I was living at home with my parents, luckily. I don’t know how they made it. Bless their hearts. I can remember going to Jerry’s house and we would sit down and eat cole slaw! Seriously. It was hard on them. It was easier for me because I was living at home, had the security of my parents and I knew where the next meal was gonna come from. But, they didn’t!
When the six of us got together, musically speaking, it was all or nothing. And it’s always been that way. The band would have dissolved right now if it hadn’t worked with Frank. If it hadn’t jelled together and that magic was lost, we would have done something differently or just let the band dissolve. Because everything we would have worked for would’ve been in vain. I mean, it would ruin the whole attitude that we strived to have, that rapport with the audience, that honesty, that vulnerability I was talking about that we have onstage. I think that would’ve been lost and it wouldn’t have been real anymore.
If we fall we’re gonna just all fall together. If we make it, we’re gonna make it together. That’s the way it’s been. And that’s why it’s still real special to all of us. It’s a good feeling, and that’s the truth. I think you’ve got to commit yourself totally to something if you’re gonna succeed at it.