Derek Hess plays drums with the Rossington Collins Band, a group made up of Lynyrd Skynyrd band members plus some new faces. Derek is one of those new faces, and we first met at a Rossington Collins concert in Holmdel, New Jersey on July 16, 1981. I’d arrived a few hours before showtime and began reading the concert program. “We’ve always been very determined people,” Gary Rossington says. “The word ‘defeat’ is not in our dictionary. We never learned how to quit. We’ve got some great musicians, people who care as much as we do, and we’re excited and proud of what we’ve put together.” To which Allen Collins added, “We have a goal to be the best band in the world and we will not be defeated.”
My first impression of Skynyrd was from a carpenter who used to blast “Free Bird” on a cassette machine while he hammered on the house across the street at 7:00 AM, after I’d just rolled in at 5:00 AM from a gig! So, I had closed my mind to what that band had to offer. But, I liked “Sweet Home, Alabama,” and when I heard the tape of the first Rossington Collins album Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere— I was impressed! Seeing them perform live was even more impressive because they are “a band” in the best sense. Team players who support each other so that the whole is greater than the parts.
Rossington Collins Band is not a remake of Lynyrd Skynyrd. The influence is there, to be sure, but this band is a whole different concept. Derek and I spoke after the concert and, later, over the phone. He’s great to watch onstage, sitting behind his big kit of canary-yellow Slingerland drums, making every note mean something, and never overplaying. During our phone interview we were fortunate to be able to discuss This Is The Way, the band’s second album, and Derek was very candid throughout, giving excellent insight into the inner workings of the Rossington Collins Band.
SF: How did you get with the Rossington Collins Band?
DH: A lot of people are probably wondering why I’m doing it and Artimus Pyle from Skynyrd isn’t. I’m from Jacksonville. I’ve been here all my life. It’s my home and likewise with Gary Rossington, Allen Collins and everybody that was in Lynyrd Skynyrd. I knew them back in the bar days. Me and Barry Harwood—the third guitarist in this band—had a real serious group going. People may have noticed that Barry did a couple of session things with Skynyrd on dobro and some other stuff. It was a matter of time. It seemed like the formula was waiting in line. Being from Jacksonville; knowing them for so long; I was kind of laying low when they were putting the group together.
Way back between the first and second Skynyrd albums, Ronnie and Gary approached me about joining the band. Bob Burns, their original drummer, did the first two albums and then they got Artimus. But me and Barry had a pretty serious group, something we believed in, and at the time Barry had a role in Atlanta doing session work and had some people interested in our music. So I thought it was looking up for us. If Gary and Ronnie had pressed me for an answer, I probably would’ve passed it up because they weren’t really doing anything. In all honesty, they weren’t one of my major idols in music or as a band. This was way before “Sweet Home, Alabama” caught my attention. Their albums progressed on and on until Street Survivor, and I think that was a great tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd.
SF: What was Gary and Allen’s concept for this band?
DH: They could’ve taken the easy way out and put a few more Skynyrd favorites in our repertoire. “Free Bird” came about really as a crowd pleaser. There was no denying they wanted to hear it and it was kind of owed to them. All in all, Gary and Allen really wanted to try something new and different. It was never discussed at any length, but from what I gather, the Skynyrd members were going to approach some studio players to do an album. I think they ended up on a project on which they were all doing various parts. Gary and Allen were the producers. Billy and Leon were playing on it too, so they decided, “What’s wrong with going with just what we’ve got?” They added to the four of them.
They had Barry pretty much already signed up. Dale Krantz came along and that was a story in itself. Any male, unless he was totally predominant, would be compared to Ronnie Van Zant. They figured they’d try something different, and they needed to polish it off with somebody playing drums.
SF: Is it true that you studied piano for several years?
DH: Yeah. I studied eight or nine years. I mess around on piano still. People go “God Almighty! You’re good!” It’s not that. I’ve got my favorite four licks. I can go on for about two minutes and then I’ve got to go on to the next one. That’s all I can do.
SF: Who were the drummers that influenced you?
DH: Well, a total group was usually more of an influence than just the drummers. I have to get into the whole feel of a group. Perhaps that’s from my music training outside of drumming. My drumming would be, in some instances, melodic. There’s a music approach going on besides pounding. I think I’ve really got an edge over a lot of drummers in a way, because I’m really aware of what’s going on in the whole unit: guitars, piano, or whatever. I really feel blessed with an ear for the music end of it as well as applying the percussion to it. There have been drummers that I’ve given ear to. Mitch Mitchell was tremendous; especially the material he had to work with with a three-piece band. I consider him a busy player, but he had plenty of room. He didn’t overdo it. It was damn right. Mick Fleetwood’s another influence. Any good funk drummer. I can’t think of a lot of names. A couple of tunes Rufus turned out I loved. Just the feel. Mainly, I’m attracted to the whole feel of the music that I’m hearing and drummers have a lot to do with that.
One major influence was The Band. They were my Beatles.
SF: What did you like about The Band?
DH: It’s really hard to put my finger on. They never really infiltrated down South that much. There is only one out of ten people who know who I mean when I mention The Band. They think I’m saying a band. But I was coming out of Grand Funk Railroad and this rock and roll bash era, ’67 to ’70, and I remember a friend turned me onto The Band. Their second album is the one that just ate me alive. They were a tremendous influence lyrically and musically. They just had a damn neat original approach all the way around.
SF: Do you think it had anything to do with them being together for so many years?
DH: Yeah, that’s just so obvious. They were older players and had such a mature approach. If I hadn’t had The Band to listen to I would’ve really been missing something. If I had to single out one group to meet, it would be them out of anybody.
SF: Did classical music influence you from your piano background?
DH: Some of it. When Tomita came out with Snowflakes Are Dancing, I really took to that. I probably took some of that music when I was into piano, but my mother always tended to influence the teacher to show me the boogie-woogie stuff or her favorites. But, I’ve got an ear for classical music. That Tomita album was Debussy’s music. He wrote some beautiful music. To me, it moved air a lot, if that makes any sense. I heard “weather” in it. Does that sound nuts? It was like the same feeling with an old song when you hear it years later. It rejuvenates like nostalgia. Debussy’s music was real nostalgic, but there was nothing for me to be nostalgic about! Like “Clare De Lune”—some of the music in there sounds like wind. There’s not one wind effect in it. I’m talking about the way the music rolls around; a force of nature-type effect.
I loved Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey and that era of music, too. Melodic stuff.
SF: Obviously you can read music. You’ve never had formal drum lessons, but have you ever cracked open a drum book and studied it on your own?
DH: If you laid out a basic rudiment pattern, or a school book, I’d have no idea what was going on. I swear. I could not do it. Sometimes I feel ashamed for not knowing, but . . .
SF: Well, it hasn’t affected your playing.
DH: I think I’ve got a real good consistency or feel for playing real good for a band. A band has got to have what we call that “battery.” Playing with a bass player like Leon Wilkeson is hog heaven. Drums and bass have so much to do with one another. Leon is just one of the cylinders, really. He has such solidity. He’s not a fancy bass player—he just has very moving patterns that make the songs feel good. He makes you play. It’s a real inspiration to play with a good bass player or a good rhythm section, if you’ve got a real solid foundation. I don’t care who you are—if the band is famous or if you’re doing complicated or complex material, to real simple, basic straight-ahead stuff: Feel is really where it’s at.
SF: Do you listen to a variety of music?
DH: When me and Barry first met in junior high school, he was playing clarinet and I played alto saxophone and piano. Saxophone was probably just a novelty or a whim that I went through for two years. I guess it kept my interest up. That was about when the Beatles came out. In the middle Sixties there were bands all over! The Yardbirds, Beau Brummels—they were just coming from everywhere. Now it seems like there’s ten-thousand times more. But I was listening to Joan Baez when I was eight or nine years old. I just loved her. She was just straight folk music back there. With the Glenn Miller music—that was just some pretty music, the woodwinds and the melody in three-part harmony. That just had an effect on me.
I went through a jazz/rock phase for a while. I still like a lot of it. There’s some incredible players out there. I actually got to where I probably disliked the runof- the-mill, Southern rock and roll. Or, I had a resistance to this type of music when I went through the Stanley Clarke/ Chick Corea phase. That music wasn’t any major influence, but I went through it and I still listen to groups like that. I ventured into that and got my chops up, and developed the ability to be able to wander a little bit, from side to side of the straight-ahead rock and roll.
I’m a Stevie Wonder idiot/fanatic, and Earth, Wind, & Fire, and I frequently listen to bluegrass and reggae. I’ve also listened to Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall, Clapton, Beck, and blues stuff.
SF: What were you doing in Jacksonville when Lynyrd Skynyrd was making it big?
DH: I was working in a music store for what seemed like half my life. Eight years running the drum department! Everybody’s thinking, “Oh, that’s a happening job you got.” I said, “The hell with that.” It was as much a drag as anything could’ve been. I mean, it wasn’t all bad, mainly because we had some real good guys working there that had a good time and got along real good.
SF: You were in Melanie’s band for a while, weren’t you?
DH: Yeah, I was. I tell you, she’s still as potent as they come. We did a real shortlived gig about two summers ago. I had a jazz-rock group that did some demo tapes. Well, the piano player, myself, and the guitar player had a group and went out and did a little road thing in different States for a while, and it was terrible. It was just depressing. We weren’t making any money, and it was awful! We could afford a sound man and that was it. The musicians were the roadies and the players. We had this booking agent that would jack us from Pensacola, Florida to somewhere in Tennessee on a Sunday to Monday. That means packing up Sunday, driving all night, getting there, setting up and playing that next night. It would just tear you up!
We gave that up pretty quick. Ricky Medlock and Blackfoot were up in Ohio, and they had a show with Melanie. She had her own band and was striking out on an electric go around for a time. She had a pretty good band, but they were having some problems. Blackfoot turned Melanie onto us. At that time we were on break in this club in Gainesville, Florida. Our guitar player said, “Ricky’s on the phone saying Melanie needs a band.” I just came off the wall. We ended up with her, put a show together, and went out and did some of her new material, plus some of her old things.
The highlight was a big show at Lake Geneva in Switzerland. That was probably my first big supercharge in front of a massive audience. There were about 12,000 the first night, and Melanie was headlining. It was like a miniature Woodstock. There were ethnic bands and some incredible music. Bands that had crazy-looking percussion instruments which I couldn’t believe. A lot of different cultures of music. We were probably the only thing relevant to rock music on the bill.
We lasted with her about six or seven weeks. We were really into the whole thing as far as our feelings and our sincerity, but they were just having problems financially. They couldn’t keep up salaries and I went into the hole real bad—and I’ve got a wife and two kids.
SF: How old are you now?
DH: Thirty. I’ve got a daughter who’s thirteen and a boy about six and a half. I came fresh out of high school and I was married at seventeen and had a kid at eighteen. That was all back in them band days. It was a struggle there for a while. Because of my overhead, I couldn’t fool around for long, so I went into this Godawful job. A friend of the family had a ship-service place, and I drove this truck around delivering to big freighters and tankers that would come into port. Jacksonville’s a major shipping port. It was miserable and depressing, probably my all-time low. I worked there through the hottest part of the summer into the coldest part of the winter in these awful trucks that didn’t have any heat in them. It would be freezing cold and I’d go to work at eight in the morning. It was eighteen or nineteen degrees before the sun really got going. I’d walk down this half-a-mile pier for three or four months. I hated it. All this was happening at the end of 1979. There was nowhere for me to turn. Our local band wasn’t doing anything. We were trying to get something together, and about three o’clock one morning the phone rang and it was Billy Powell, our piano player. I knew band together and intended to use Artimus as their drummer. Then Artimus tore up his leg real bad in a motorcycle accident, and there was internal conflict over material and direction. There was that morning phone call and Billy said, “You want a gig?”
SF: What did you think about when you were driving that truck?
DH: I thought about what I was going to do and about how miserable I was. Just nothing was happening.
SF: What did you want to do?
DH: I guess I really didn’t know. I was so inhibited because my life was at such a downhill thing, with the exception of the band we were trying to put together with the players from Melanie. So, when Billy called me in the middle of the week, he said, “Artimus has quit and you’re the natural choice. Would you be interested?” I’d already rolled off the bed by then. It was just like a rescue. Unbelievable. Then, after he pumps me up. Billy says, “It’s not for sure. Don’t count on anything. They might change their mind.” I said, “Don’t even bother me!”
I was rattling in the sheets because times were bad for me. In two or three days I was out there to rehearse. Allen’s got a building out in back of his house set up like a studio. We all knew each other and they respected the way I played. We just had to see if I was going to work. There was a stipulation hanging that if I worked out, and Artimus got better, he might join back up. Nothing personal, but I just don’t think I could function with a two-drummer band. A percussion player is one thing, but I don’t think I could play with another drumset player because of the way I play. Another thing, they said that if I was playing okay and they could live with my playing, it would suffice until Artimus could play again—then they’d pay me off and see me down the road! But, within four rehearsals that was over with. I was going to be the one and only!
SF: That must have been tough trying to get the band rolling again.
DH: It’s been hard all along. It hasn’t got that much easier yet, I swear. It seems like it was easier putting it together than keeping it going. But, last year Allen commented that this was the most happening thing he’d ever done and he was the most content. That’s a pretty bold statement. Aside from really trying to split off from what they’d done with Skynyrd . . . well, the only thing that’s ever brought Skynyrd into the picture is when it’s forced on us in the media or through promoters. Anything to publicize who they were and what we’re doing now. That’s the only time it’s ever fed off of. The media guys will feed off that much more than Gary or Allen will.
I mean, we’ve got a female singer, the material is different, but there are things that do feed through. It’s got to, because the majority of the players still play as they did with Skynyrd, but in a different set of gears. The three of us that weren’t in Skynyrd definitely have got to affect what’s different with this band. There’s just no way around it. Any three different people would have to change it to a degree.
SF: How long did you get to rehearse before the band first started touring?
DH: They had about six or seven definite ideas for arrangements of tunes which made up six or seven tunes on the first album. It was a matter of me learning them and the band finishing them up. The third or fourth day in my involvement, we were offered this big Superdome Show gig in New Orleans at the tail end of the Mardi Gras. It was The Dirt Band, Crystal Gayle, Jimmy Buffett, Willie Nelson, and us. Here I was four days into this group and we had three weeks to rehearse if we wanted to do it. I was in the band the last week in January. The show was February 18. We put together seven tunes and we smoked it pretty good. That was our first major showing. We got back, cut the album, and then put the regular tour out. Together we went on the road, off and on, probably three or four months.
SF: There were some dates on that tour that the band cancelled on, and I’m told that was primarily for musical reasons.
DH: Gary and Allen didn’t want to go back and do something which was stale to them. I’d love to do “Sweet Home, Alabama.” I love the song, but we just have never gotten near it. There are real touchy, detailed reasons for not doing that. There are people thinking that the band needs to do it. In my own opinion. Gary and Allen would probably rather not do “Free Bird.” Then again, maybe they like to because it was such an anthem type wrap-up to the Lynyrd Skynyrd show. It’s probably because people have just got to hear it. It was a monster. A real simple, basic song. It’s something that just always hits home. An identifying thing.
SF: How is it different backing up Melanie as opposed to Dale?
DH: In a way, Melanie occupied herself more by playing guitar. She always had something to grasp. I can’t imagine myself out there in front of people at the front of the stage with nothing to hold on to. Players and drummers always have something they can put their hands on. Melanie and Dale are the same in that they’re real foot stomping and get-it-outthere in their delivery, but there’s something different about them and it’s kind of hard to put it in words. I think Melanie tried to be dependant on herself only when she was a solo act. She really played the role of producer with the band in getting her material worked out, which was fine with me.
SF: So Melanie would give you direction as to what she wanted to hear from the drums?
DH: Yeah, She’d come from the producer’s angle as well as the singer’s.
SF: What’s the general songwriting/arranging procedure with the Rossington Collins Band?
DH: It varies quite a bit. We’ve been off a week since our last tour. We’ll probably sit around for another month, and then me and Leon will get out there and start plugging away. Just the two of us rehearsing. That’s usually how we’ll get into it. We just seem to be extremely dedicated to keeping the enthusiasm and momentum going. Then maybe myself, Leon, Barry and Billy will wind up at the studio, and when there’s an idea hit on, everybody will give the creator of the idea the floor. We’ll hit on that idea as long as we can get somewhere with it. Leon is a treasure at the end of a rainbow for a drummer. He’s real solid and we listen to each other extensively. We just hit on this communication level that our combined feel was one major hurdle that we went around. It came natural.
Every once in a while we’ll have an idea or a riif. “Fancy Ideas” from the second album is one of Leon’s, mine, and Barry’s. Me and Leon on our own, just warming up, hit on the basic concept and hook line. The rest of the song was written around that. I think Barry’s intro is really appropriate. The idea had been there anyway and he was just waiting for something to attach it to. Not forced on, but I think it was real fitting. Barry wrote lyrics for it and sang it. Dale wanted to sing it. I like what Barry did, but it seemed more fitting for Dale, and the song might’ve gotten more attention if she was singing it. A lot of people thought it was a real snappy track.
SF: Barry didn’t sing at all on the first album.
DH: Well, he shared vocals on “Don’t Misunderstand,” but he really got some lead vocal slots on the second album because of unpreparedness in trying to get the album finished. I think it’s a strong album through and through, but there was not really one outstanding top-40 single on it, which really put a hurting on it, unfortunately. It seems you need one or two, these days.
SF: How often is it that a band member comes in with a complete song with music and lyrics?
DH: Not real often. Probably because they’ve left it open for suggestions or arrangement ideas. Barry’s probably the one most apt to come off with something like that. He’s got songs that are done. There’s a song that was left off this album that was basically his called “This Ride’s On Me.” It was a great song! Anybody that heard it unfinished was looking for that song on the second album.
SF: Who decides what songs are going to be on the albums?
DH: Well, the last word is probably between Gary, Allen and Barry. The only reason that particular song probably didn’t get on is because it was undecided. I hope we’ll jump back on it for the third album.
SF: Is it hard for the band to make records?
DH: Well, I think it’s only as hard as it’s made to be. I just like to get down to business and most everybody in the band does. Without pointing fingers, last time, making the second album, I felt it wasn’t taken seriously enough. It was at first. but then the remaining four months of nonsense really put a hurting on things financially and morally.
SF: Does your drumset differ in the studio and in concert?
DH: Yeah. I’m tempted to use the same setup live because it’s more comfortable. It’s modified down some in the studio. I use one less floor tom and one less front tom. That’s about the only difference. Like when I had double bass drums, it felt crowded. One time I did a club gig with my four-piece set. I realized how much more open and free I felt, so that was the end of the double bass routine.
SF: I noticed in concert you’re using Pinstripe heads on the toms and a white batter head on your snare.
DH: I’ve been going with a new snare I got from Slingerland. It’s a wood shell with chrome wrap on it; twelve lugs. It’s the first snare drum that I’ve ever used a Pinstripe head on for a long run. It’s a big ol’ eight-inch drum. It sounds real good. I actually prefer a seven-inch drum with ten lugs instead of twelve. To me, a ten-lug drum is easier to tune and there’s less sensitivity to it.
I was always one to use the Remo Ambassador white heads on the toms because they have a more resonant tone. I think we ended up with some Pinstripes on them in the studio for this last record because we got a nice sound out of them.
SF: Do you muffle your drums in the studio?
DH: Very little. I like a little bit of tone. That’s why I use both heads. I always have two heads on my drums. I like a slightly live drum sound with a note. It’s got to have a definite note to it; a slight resonance.
SF: How much control do you have over what your drums are going to sound like on record?
DH: Well, that’s a sore spot with me. I have a lot of control over the sound of my drums when the basic tracks are being recorded. On this second album it sounds like they took a lot of horsepower out of the drums with the mix.
SF: Didn’t you have a chance to hear a test pressing?
DH: I did, but . . . we changed horses in the middle of the stream. The engineer that was on basic tracks, about half-way through, got up and went! We had to get another engineer to finish up. I was just ready to throw my arms up and say, “Let’s get the damned thing finished and out!” rather than go down there and pick on them. I wasn’t there for the final mix. But, while the tracks were being put down, we spent a lot of time getting drum sounds. On the record it’s like just half the meat they had. I had as good a drum sound as you could probably get in the beginning. The kick drum was just tremendous and moving. I didn’t like the meat of the whole sound. The album was pressed like two or three db’s less than the norm. If you had your stereo on volume four and put an album on after ours, it would sound like you just turned up the volume three digits.
There’s no question that the kick and the snare are playing a drastic part in humping the whole sound. The kick lost a lot of meat. It’s got a lot of depth but the wrong kind. It doesn’t have any top either—the slap that I like!
I came in on the first album mix right around “Get Away” and I was there for “Don’t Misunderstand Me.” To me, they sound the most solid. The kick sounds a little livelier than on the rest of the album. It was snappy sounding.
SF: Are you aware of what kind of mic’s are used to record your drums?
DH: I am. I used different mic’s on the toms this time. I can’t remember the model we used for the first album, but they were real teeny AKG mic’s. Real small, black and gold, about the size of a Chap Stik. We used a couple of those on the high toms this time and I think we used some kind of Sennheisers and they sounded better. Each drum was so defined, it was great. It probably would’ve helped if I’d had been down there for the mixing. The only communication I had with the engineer was that I gave him a ring a couple of times, long distance. I gave him some suggestions and ideas about what I wanted, which went in one ear and right out the other apparently. But, it’s history and it’s there from now on. They ain’t heard me quit griping about this album yet. They walk away when they see me coming!
SF: I read that The Rolling Stones asked the Rossington Collins Band to open for them and either Gary or Allen said, “No way. We own Florida. Let the Stones open for us.”
DH: That was just the Good Ol’ Southern boy obnoxiousness, I guess. I’m sure in certain ways they meant it and then in another way they didn’t. I remember Gary telling me about it. It was one of our more festive moments. He said, “You hear we’re doing some Stoney gigs?” I said, “Yeah, that’s great. We really need it.” The money was just real poor, but so what? In the end, there’s no question that we would’ve benefitted. People that would maybe not ordinarily have seen us live—we might have grabbed some fans onto our wagon. No question about it. Seeing us live and hearing our album are two different things, as it is with any group, especially when we’re better or more exciting live. That was such an ignorant move and ridiculous—and I told them that.
SF: Who’s the last word in the band?
DH: I guess Gary and Allen. I would kind of support Allen in regards to the Stones shows, in that it might’ve been classier for not doing it and not jumping on the opportunity just like anybody else would. That’s one way to look at it. But, knowing what I know now, and getting over the ethics of it, on paper it would have really come in handy.
SF: You were saying that you were impressed by Debussy’s music because it evoked sounds like air and weather. Do you try to create similar sounds on the drumset?
DH: No, I’ve never really been conscious of that. I think in a lot of my fills I’ll cater to what would be a missing music fill. A drum lick might replace a keyboard lick. I’ll never have the attitude that I couldn’t get better. I know there’s a bunch of drummers out there that could probably spin me dizzy, and I feel that I’ve plenty of room to grow.
SF: So, you’re thinking melodically when you’re playing drums and fills?
DH: Yeah. I guess unintentionally. It might be subconsciously coming out. Then there are times when I’ll play with a banging effect—just strictly drums. Most of my best work is usually spontaneous.
SF: Do you practice?
DH: Not much. I know I should but a lot of the things I’ll work out new will be right at a soundcheck before a show. I might hear something in my head right at that moment and try to capture it. I’ve captured a little extra chops for one bass drum sound. People think there’s two kicks going only for a split second and there ain’t. Like in the beginning of “Don’t Stop Me.” There’s as much footwork going on as there is hand work. It’s all single stroke, but it’s doublekick stuff and it’s a combination of hand patterns, that I transferred over. The kick’s doing normally what I would do with my right hand. I broke it down so that the hands are doing less and the foot’s making up for it.
SF: Do you have a drumset at home?
DH: My old Gretsch set is sitting right here, less a couple of pieces of hardware. It just seems like I’m so damn swamped in trivial daily chores that I can’t get out there and get some pieces. I’m missing the footpedal and I think the snare’s funky on it. That’s a poor excuse—but it’s set up. I just need to get down and crack them.
SF: Are you using Paiste cymbals’?
DH: Just the hi-hats. The rest of them are A. Zildjian Brilliants. I’ve got one ride and four crash. My ride is a 21″ medium weight. They’re real pingy sounding. They don’t swell up and roar while you’re doing a ride. I like a lot of closeto- the-bell playing anyway. So it’s really pingy like a San Francisco trolley car! The crashes are 15″, 16″ and two 17″. I like that explosive, real quick bash that quiets right down. That’s what smaller cymbals are good for. I’ve got a 15″ pair of Sound-Edge hi-hats but I’m probably going to have to use something else. They’re too top-endy for me. I like a fatter sounding hi-hat.
SF: What do you look for in choosing cymbals’?
DH: I think the only time you’re going to hear any contrast between cymbals is in the studio, because live it isn’t going to make much difference. Under all the volume and miking you might hear a little pitch difference, but a cymbal’s a cymbal when you’re running live, outside of a Pang cymbal or something special. There’s no way I could be convinced otherwise. I just mainly go for small sizes that have maybe a two-step difference in pitch. Nothing fancy.
SF: Why are you playing Slingerland drums?
DH: When I sold drums at the music store, I always thought Slingerland toms sounded good. Real resonant and easy to tune. I think they were ready to jump on a half-endorsement deal. I pretty much made my drums like I wanted them. The company was real cooperative. There’s nothing special to look at on them other than the yellow color; nothing that really looks any different from what’s in a Slingerland catalog. I’ve got a longer kick drum and the power toms are longer. I’ve got a 16 x 24 kick drum which sounds great. The toms are equal in depth. My 12″ and 13″ are both ten inches deep. The 14″ and 15″ are twelve inches deep. The floor toms are standard size and the cutaway toms are catalog items, except that I got them in chrome. My only dissatisfaction is that I’m having some hardware problems.
SF: You’re using Aquarian Cymbal-Springs aren’t you?
DH: Yeah. When you hit the cymbals they come back and get in place quick enough so that you can get it again. The whole concept is real clever. I like the way they protect the cymbals.
SF: You were married at seventeen, had your first child at eighteen. Now you’re still married with two children. How did you hold your marriage together?
DH: It was rough for a long time. I wasn’t out of town on the road a lot, but I was playing a lot at night back then. I’ll have to give my wife more of the credit for keeping it together than myself. She comes from a Lebanese family, and they’ve got a big family here. They’re real close, and her parents live about five miles from us and they’re crazy about the kids. They’re just real warm people and my wife has real close family ties. I think that backbone is what got her through it.
SF: So, your wife’s not a musician?
DH: No. She listens to a lot of stuff and she has a good ear. She knows what she likes. She definitely needs music around. She’s extremely level-headed.
SF: It sounds like your wife might have a strong spiritual background.
DH: Yeah, that’s true. I wouldn’t trade my home life for anything.
SF: When I was playing bars it used to get to me that I was very serious about my instrument and yet I was playing to a crowd of drunks. It seems that at many concerts the audience becomes an extension of that bar scene. How do you feel when you’re onstage and you see some young kid who just spent fifteen dollars on a ticket and can’t even stand up?
DH: I know what you mean. You’ve hit it on the head. I just kind of wonder what in the world has driven the kids to that. You always hear the innuendos about rock music mesmerizing and programming these kids to be out of control— which has to be true to some degree, I guess. They come there and they act just downright crazy and may not realize they’ve missed a good show. Once, we played at the Garden State Arts Center, and people were getting nuts like somebody was really going to get hurt bad up at the front. People were getting mashed and had to shimmy over the barricade just to stay alive! Then some guy got crazy and jumped onstage and wanted to fight Craig, our road guy. It looked hairy and everybody in the band could tell, and felt kind of delirious. I wondered, “Well, what if something really bad happened?” I think of the Stones at Altamont where that guy got stabbed to death. I think, “God, how would that feel?” I wondered if Mick Jagger ever thinks of that. Does he consider that the guy might be alive today had they not played there?
SF: When a crowd does get out of hand—or even before that happens—I wonder why guys in the band don’t have more of a control over the audience to keep that from happening?
DH: Usually Allen will go up to the mic’ and try to control them and it does come together. We’ll have a battle sometimes with the security. They will get the people all bent out of shape sometimes by making them sit down, drag them out because they stepped on their foot in the aisle—dumb things like that. We’ve actually stopped in the middle of songs to tell the security to leave them alone. I’m not saying the crowd doesn’t need to be controlled, but they’re not doing anything really outrageous at that point but they will if they keep getting picked on. Like if a fight breaks out the band will say, “Hey! You want to fight? Come up here!” But, it does concern me and I’m thankful nobody’s ever got hurt at our concerts.
SF: Tell me about your New Year’s Eve date with The Charlie Daniels Band.
DH: Well, my whole family was there. That band just delivered! They got up there and just chewed gum—it was that much effort. Not saying they didn’t put it out—they’re just tight! I love that bigband sound. They have backup girls and the horns just pumping! I was stomping a hole in the floor I loved it so much. At midnight, we went out and shook hands with the band and Charlie went up to the mic’ and they broke into “Sweet Home, Alabama.” As the twelve o’clock countdown was going on, the crew was slap ping amps around and adding amps and bringing guitars out and putting them on our guys and I was fit to be tied. I was thinking, “I gotta play. I can’t stand this.” Charlie has two drummers and I went up to one of them and said, “Get off!” He jumped right off smiling and handing me sticks. So our whole band was up there with them. It got picturetaken to death and the crowd just went ape.
SF: What are you looking forward to for yourself and the band?
DH: Keeping my sanity and ambition. As variable as things run, I keep a real short outlook on things. We’re back and we’ve got to start working up some new material for the studio. That’s the next major confrontation. Hopefully, we’ll come out with pop music, folks, that you’re going to love! We’re preparing this week to do a benefit for the Heart Fund. We cherish our fans and we’ll be back.