I have raised a lot of eyebrows by admitting that I like Barry Manilow. I guess it’s not hip to like someone such as that. But I have been to enough Manilow concerts to know and respect his multifaceted talents as a writer, arranger, and performer of a variety of styles.
It is essential that musicians in Manilow’s band be capable of mastering all those styles from the very special way Barry likes his ballads played, to the jazz and show tunes in his repertoire. That drummer Bud Harner accomplishes that feat is something he considers both a blessing and a hindrance. If he had concentrated on only rock playing while he was growing up, maybe he would have had the success of his own group, which he tried to accomplish with Manilow co-members in 1982 to 1983 with an original band called Big Ric. Had that been the case, however, Bud never would have been asked to play with such artists as the Glaser Brothers, Jim Stafford, Paul Anka, short stints with Linda Carter and Suzanne Sommers and, of course, his longest running gig as Manilow’s drummer since 1980.
It wasn’t the plan. It was simply the product of an open mind. It wasn’t that he didn’t have goals or aspirations while growing up in Washington, D.C., or attending Millikin College in Decatur, Illinois. Bud was simply flexible enough to let the music take him where it meant for him to go. He’d still enjoy having his own band and he’d still like to continue to do studio work, but Bud’s priority is, and always has been, to play good music and give it his all.
RF: What were your aspirations when you were growing up?
BH: From the time I started with music when I was 11 years old, I knew I wanted to be a professional drummer, and that’s been it for the whole time.
RF: Did you have an idea or image of what you wanted it to be like, and what kind of music you wanted to play?
BH: I’ve gone through phases. I still go through phases. When I first started, it was the Buddy Rich kind of thing. He was my hero, and I wanted to be like him. Jazz was really what I grew up playing, because, in school, I was head of stage band and jazz band. When the Beatles came along, I wanted to be Ringo. I was always interested in both jazz and rock. I went from the Buddy Rich thing, and as that progressed, I got into the other jazz drummers who were around at the time, like Louie Bellson, Art Blakey, and the heavier jazz guys. In college, I was swayed over to the rock thing. By then, guys like Steve Gadd and John Guerin had come along, so I started to think along the lines of studio work. I felt, at that time, that the key to getting into studio work was getting to play with a big band. All through college, I played in the college jazz band, and my whole focus was on big band. We had guest artists at Millikin University, like Alan Broadbent, a piano player who had played with Woody Herman; Jay Daversa, the studio trumpet player in L.A.; and Don Menza, the famous tenor sax player. These guys are all studio players now, so I figured that was the key. When I got out here, I played at L.A. City College, Dick Grove’s, and free rehearsal bands constantly.
RF: Why did you come to L.A.?
BH: When we started having these guest artists at the college, I started getting the idea that that was where I wanted to go. I had always heard you had to go to New York, L.A., or Nashville to do studio work or play with a nationally known act, so I pretty much had it in my mind, although I did get sidetracked when I graduated college. I went to Nashville for a year and a half. A friend of mine at school became a recording engineer down there, working at a studio called the Glaser Brothers Studio. The owners of this place had an act called Tompall & The Glaser Brothers, and they needed a drummer, so this guy called me to ask if I wanted to come down. All I knew was that I wanted to play professionally, and this was a chance at a real professional job. I went down, got an apartment, and played for these guys. The brothers split up after a while, so I ended up with Jim Glaser, who has now had a lot of success in the country field. But after a year or so, I realized that all I was playing was country music, and I couldn’t do it for the rest of my life.
RF: Why did you feel that you couldn’t play country music for your whole career? Why was it not satisfying for you?
BH: I felt a little restricted by what there was for me to play. When I say restricted, that doesn’t mean easy. A lot of people have that misconception about country music. It’s very difficult, especially in the studio, to play country music. The bass drum and the bass player have to be so locked in that it’s intense sometimes. That was a great learning experience, because that idea of the bass drum and bass locking together has helped me out here also. But I was doing very straight country at the time. I was doing a lot of stick-and-brush-type stuff, where you’d have bass drum on 1 and 3, maybe a rim on 2 and 4, and 8th notes on the hi-hat—no fills. Maybe you’d switch from the rim to a regular full snare on the chorus, but that was it. What I was doing wasn’t real creative, which is not to say that guys like Larrie Londin and Kenny Malone aren’t creating. They do amazing things. But for me, the music I was playing at the time was restrictive. So I went back to Millikin to play with the jazz band for a little while to get my reading back in shape, because I didn’t read at all in Nashville. In Nashville, they use numbers for chord charts. They’d run the song down, and we’d record. I didn’t really read a chart, and I knew that, in order to come to L.A., I’d have to be prepared to read. I went back to Illinois for six months, got my reading back in shape, and went out to L.A.
RF: Did you have any family out here?
BH: No. I didn’t know anybody in L.A., except for one person, Richard Haxton, a songwriter I met in Nashville. I stayed at his house, and I had lists of names I had gotten from the jazz band director at Millikin, Roger Schueler. He suggested that I contact these people who had come out to guest at Millikin. I tried getting in contact with some of these people, and they were polite, but what could they do?
RF: Weren’t you scared to be in a strange big city?
BH: I was scared, but on the other hand, I was prepared for it. I had enough money saved up so that I could get to L.A., get an apartment, and live for six months without making a dime. I figured that if at the end of six months I wasn’t making enough to live on, I’d go back to Illinois or Washington, and try to do something else. Fortunately, at the end of six months, I wasn’t striking it rich, but I still had the same amount of money I had started with. That’s what young people who come out here have to be prepared for. They have to have some money put away so they don’t have to work in a store, and can devote their full time to playing.
RF: How did you go about finding people to play with?
BH: I went to Dick Grove because he had come out to Millikin, so I knew him and I figured he could give me some advice. I started playing in a big band at Dick Grove’s and took a couple of the improv classes. From there, I met some guys who were playing down at L.A. City College. They said to come down and meet the leader, who at the time was Woody James. I got a chance to play down there because they had heard about Millikin, and I became their regular drummer. I did that for about six months, and interestingly enough, it was out of that band that I got the lead for the first major gig I got on. It was Jim Stafford. It just happened that one of the saxophone players in the band knew Jim and knew he was looking for somebody. Jim’s girlfriend at the time, Deborah Allen, who has now become a well-known country artist, actually was who he was putting the band together for. It gradually became a combination of playing for Jim part of the time and Deborah part of the time, until eventually we played for Jim all the time. Right before that, though, I had been playing with the Rob Morris Band, which played all Glenn Miller stuff, and then I worked with Parker McGee, who I had also met in Nashville. He wrote some big hits for England Dan and John Ford Coley, such as “Nights Are Forever Without You” and “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight.”
He got his own record deal, got in touch with me, and I started playing with him. He did an opening-act tour where we opened for Billy Joel on some nights and Dolly Parton a couple of times. The first tour I ever did was with Parker, and it was a lot of fun. The tour ended and I was back to square one again, but that’s when I met up with the Jim Stafford person through L.A.C.C.
RF: It’s interesting how your country experience came in handy.
BH: Definitely. It was ironic that that came out of a jazz band. I worked with Jim for about a year, and that led to the Paul Anka gig. We played at the Hilton in Las Vegas with Jim, opening for Helen Reddy, and I met the house music director there, Joe Guercio, who later went on to be Paul Anka’s musical conductor. He remembered me and called me about three months after I had been there.
RF: So within your six-month trial period, you were definitely working.
BH: I was really lucky. I’ve met a lot of musicians who have come out and had a rough time. I think luck has a lot to do with what happens. But I was willing to do wedding receptions and stuff like that, which I did for those six months while I was playing around, and I was glad to have them. Fortunately, I met people who steered me in the right direction.
RF: At this point, were you reevaluating what you thought you wanted to do?
BH: I was quickly learning that big band wasn’t necessarily the route. That’s not to say it isn’t for some people, but it’s not the formula. I also learned that, financially, big bands weren’t the answer for me either, and that I could make a lot more money playing for acts.
RF: How long were you with Anka?
BH: I started with Paul in ’78 and worked with him through the summer of ’79. I did various gigs with him on and off after that. I got the call from Joe Guercio and went to Las Vegas to audition. It was very nerve-racking. I flew in and went right to Caesar’s Palace. He had another drummer at the time who was doing the Caesar’s Palace run, so I felt a little funny playing this other person’s drums while sitting in on the rehearsal. I didn’t know if this other person wanted to stay on the gig or if he was satisfied with Paul, so I felt a little awkward. I sat in and read a couple of the charts. Paul called me over to the side after I had played and asked if I would stick around for a few days to do some demos. They were paying for my room and everything, but I had planned on going up that afternoon and coming home that night, so I didn’t have any clothes with me or anything. What was I going to say, though? I said sure. I bought a couple of T-shirts and a toothbrush, and hung around. I was very excited and glad to be there. We did some recording one night after the show and it worked out well, so he offered me the job, which was going to start the following month. We started in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, at the Latin Casino. I thought, “This is the big time,” and it was. It was quite exciting. We played all over the world, and it was a thrilling time for me. By the summer of ’79, though, I’d had enough. I had done an Anka TV special and some recording. I had met more studio people, so I thought it was time to go back and pursue the studio work again. I left and was home for about six months, doing a little session work and getting by, when the Barry Manilow job came along. I had wanted to stay home to try to do studio work, but I felt it was too great an opportunity to pass up, so I decided to go ahead and try it.
RF: What was that audition like?
BH: I was recommended for the job by John Pondel, the guitar player for Barry, who was the guitar player for Anka when I was doing that. John has been in L.A. for a long time and is a highly rated guitar player. He recommended me, and I went down and auditioned. There were quite a few people auditioning. It came down to me and one other guy. The ultimate decision was left up to the band members, I think. The first time I went down, the leader, Vic Vanacore, pulled out charts, and the rhythm section just played. I think I read maybe four charts. Then, I left and the next guy did the same thing. Actually, they hired someone else first. That person lasted about a month, so they held auditions again. This time I didn’t have to go to the “cattle call,” so to speak. They listened to a bunch of other people, picked one other person, and I came down. They pulled out the charts, this time with Barry singing, and the decision was made.
RF: What do you think got you the gig?
BH: I had some help from the band, and when it got down to the last few drummers, I’m sure everybody had the same kind of help. They would make suggestions as to the kind of things Barry liked. For instance, on rock ballads, which, of course, are Barry’s trademark, he doesn’t like to hear 8th notes played on the hi-hat. It sounds easy, but this is tricky. He wants quarter notes on the hi-hat, which emphasizes the big backbeat, which is his trademark. Some people had problems with that, I was told later on. You’re so accustomed to playing 8th notes with the backbeat on 2 and 4 that, when you cut the 8th notes out and just play quarter notes, it’s a little awkward, especially at snail-pace tempos, which some of these songs are.
RF: How long did it take you to get that down?
BH: I didn’t have much problem with it. I think back to Nashville again. That real strict, tight playing helped me out, so I went in there with that in mind, and it worked.
RF: Were there any other tips that the band members told you about?
BH: Barry also doesn’t like a lot of cymbal crashes. Anka is kind of like that, too. They want it to sound like a record on stage, so when you play it on stage, you have to have it in mind that you’re playing it in the studio. It’s a totally different attitude going in the studio from going on stage.
RF: Can you be specific about some of those differences?
BH: Live, you have a little bit more freedom to play more fills. When you play more fills, the tendency is to hit the cymbal at the end of the fill. You can get away with a lot more playing live. On records, a lot of times, many fills and cymbal crashes will get in the way. They want a groove laid down to support the vocal. The vocal is the main instrument on a pop singer’s record so you have to get away from playing all the fills and cymbal crashes, and basically set up that pocket so the vocal feels comfortable and fits in. For young players, there’s nothing wrong with developing your chops and working up your Billy Cobham fills, but you’re not going to get a lot of gigs that way. When I go into the studio, I try to put all those fills and everything I’ve been working on for the past week out of my mind, and put down the basic track. If they want a fill, it’s usually the sparse, tasty fills that end up on the record and not the real fast 32nd notes. That’s great if you’re going to be a featured artist, but if you’re a backup musician in the studio or live, you can’t play that way.
RF: You said that you had wanted to stay home, but you couldn’t pass up this opportunity with Barry. What was appealing about the gig, aside from the obvious financial considerations?
BH: First of all, the players involved were all great, and it was good for me, playing-wise, to perform with these people. It was a chance to further my horizons, by meeting more people and doing more studio work. Fortunately, Barry gave me a shot in the studio, and I played on some top-ten records, which helped me as far as studio work went. One of the first records I played on with him was “I Made It Through The Rain,” which was a top-ten hit. It was very exciting to play on a record you hear on the radio all the time. Plus, I learned a lot from Barry’s concept of drums in the studio and his style of songs. I’ve been hired a few times on sessions, because they wanted the Manilow sound on a record. That’s something that I think Barry has to get credit for. He really established that concept of the huge backbeat on the ballads, from the very first record he made. I learned how to get that sound very quickly.
RF: Can you be specific about what goes into that?
BH: Back then, you didn’t have all the electronics that you do now, and that help a lot. Then, it was strictly acoustic drums, so the way I would get the sound was, first of all, to loosen the top head of the snare drum quite a bit, so the snare drum sounded real fat and kind of loose. Then on the board in the control room, they would put a lot of reverb and echo on the drum, and it would build. On the first chorus, it might not be that big, on the second chorus, it would be a little bigger, and by the end, we call it the Cannonball. They would go all out on the reverb on the snare to give it that huge sound. That was how it was done back then. Now, with electronics, as on this last album with Barry, I can trigger Simmons, for instance, and I can use a custom chip in the Simmons with a huge snare sound on it. With the modern digital delays and digital reverbs, there’s so much more effect you can add to the snare right off the bat, before you even get down to mixing, that makes it incredibly huge sounding. We did that on this last album. There’s one cut in particular that I’m real proud of called “He Doesn’t Care.” It has very powerful sounding drums. The toms were all acoustic triggering Simmons, Linn, and you name it. I really love the electronics, incidentally. I’m very into that and have all that stuff. It’s fun.
RF: Manilow always seems to be giving the drummers who work with him a shot at the records. That surprises me.
BH: I’ve talked with him about that. There are not too many drummers he likes. He likes a few of the L.A. studio scene drummers, and beyond that, there are just a handful of players he likes. There haven’t been that many drummers over the past six years who have played with him. Actually, it’s only been John Ferraro and I, and we have a similar style. We’re comfortable in the studio, too. If he takes a musician in the studio and sees right off the bat that this person is not used to playing in the studio, that’ll be it. Usually, he’ll start off doing some demos and use the musicians on the demos.
RF: It’s very unusual. John Ferraro hadn’t been with him that long, and he’s on a few cuts of Here Comes The Night.
BH: It is nice because most acts won’t do that. I think it’s smart, though, because it gives him the chance to work with the person who is going to play the record, ahead of time. There’s time to work stuff out, so you’re not just going in and meeting the guy that day, and then he’s playing on your record. In the case of John and Leon Gaer, the bass player at that time, they rehearsed ahead of time. They could work out the songs and then cut the record. And with this last album, we played a lot of the songs live, months before we went into the studio. When we went into the studio, we had a sound and a feel all worked out. When you go back to playing live and play the songs you cut on record, they’re going to sound like they sound on the record. It makes a lot of sense, even though, unfortunately, most artists don’t use their road musicians.
RF: Is Barry there during the recording?
BH: Yes. He’s there for the whole thing. Usually, for the songs I’ve played on, he’s been the producer, so he’s running the whole show. Another thing I like about working with Barry is that he’s a schooled musician and he knows what he wants. Even if he doesn’t know what he wants, he can say, “Let’s try this,” and he is able to communicate the technical term.
RF: As a player, how much do you actually get to associate with a Barry Manilow?
BH: I think it depends on how long you’re around. Sometimes musicians come on, do a tour, and that’s the end. You don’t really get to know a person that way. In the case of Paul and Barry, I was around for years, so I got to know Paul and I’ve gotten to know Barry over the years. When I was first with Barry, I would be nervous around him, but a lot of it depends on your personality and the personality of the star. You may work for someone for two years and never get to know that person, but in the case of Barry, a few of us who have been with him for a long time have gotten beyond the point of being nervous around each other. We’ll get together on the road, go out for dinner, and have a great time. It makes it a lot nicer, and it also helps in rehearsals because we’re not afraid to suggest things.
RF: Barry once told me that, in earlier days, he was very difficult to work with from the standpoint of being a perfectionist. Like you said, there aren’t a lot of drummers he likes and he’s probably very opinionated. I would imagine he has certain things that he wants done the way he wants them done. You said that now you are able to offer suggestions, but I would imagine he knows exactly what he wants.
BH: If there’s anything I’ve learned along the way, it’s how to approach things with the right attitude. Whether it’s studio work or live, you’re there as a hired musician. You’re there to give this person who hired you what he or she wants. If you’re a carpenter or a plumber, you’re there to provide a service. If you come in with the attitude of “I’m the greatest and I know what’s supposed to be done,” you’re going to have problems. It’s very difficult to learn that, because you do have your own thoughts and you have an ego. You have to in order to be in this business. During the first few days of rehearsal with Barry, I learned right off the bat, “This guy is going to have it his way. He knows what he wants and that’s it. Either I can give it to him the way he wants it or take a hike, and believe me, there will be a line around the block ready to give him what he wants if I don’t want to do it.” I approach it with that attitude. Now, through time, I’ve been able to throw my two cents in here and there. He’s willing to listen, because he knows me and he knows that I know what he likes. I can read his mind sometimes now.
RF: Being a sideman can be difficult, which is not to say it’s harder with Barry than anyone else. That’s just the name of the game. People want their own thing, so they can have the freedom to do whatever they want.
BH: Which is what John Pondel, Kevin DiSimone [keyboards and vocals], and I did with Big Ric. We had six months off, because Barry had gotten sick and canceled a European tour. So rather than go through all the motions of trying to get gigs around town, we decided to devote our time to writing our own songs and making our own tapes. Much to our surprise, at the end of about five months, we had the opportunity to sign with Scotti Brothers/ CBS Records to do our own album. Unfortunately, right when that happened, we got the word that Barry was going to be starting up again in a month. We had a big decision to make: whether to go back to the security and be with our friends or take advantage of this opportunity that fell in our laps.
RF: I’m sure the financial aspect of Barry was sizable and quite difficult to blow off.
BH: It was a very difficult thing to blow off. We talked about it for hours and hours to figure out how to approach this thing, and I think we did it wrong. In retrospect, we could have stayed with Barry, because months after he had left on his tour, we were still sitting around with lawyers dealing with the contract. We could have had half the Manilow tour done, and when we came home on a break, we could have recorded our album. Maybe that wouldn’t have worked. I don’t know. The three of us got together with Barry at his office and talked it out. We told him about what was happening. He was the perfect gentleman and was very encouraging. He even called Clive Davis to get a little information on the label we were signing with, and he was helpful. So we stayed home, and waited and waited. Finally, we were able to get in and record our album. It was a great experience, and it was fun. That’s when John Ferraro took over the drum chair.
RF: How did your own group feel, as compared to being a sideman? Were things radically different?
BH: Yes, I think so. First of all, the style of music we were playing was more new wave. It was kind of a progressive approach at the time, and it involved a lot more risk-taking than what we had been doing. Of course, now, Barry is doing all the things that we did back then with the electronics and new sounds. But for back then, it was a risk and a chance, and it felt good. When our record came out, we got a song on the charts, and we got very excited about that. It fizzled out after about three weeks, and we felt bad, but they were going to release another single. When that didn’t get on the charts, that’s when we felt depressed. We were still writing and trying to keep the thing going, but another problem we had was that we never played live. We just did it strictly from a studio viewpoint. I think that, if we had played out and gotten feedback from a live audience, it would have helped us a lot. We kept trying to get something off the ground, but it wasn’t working.
That’s when Paul Anka called, and we went back to work. John Pondel and I did it for about five or six months. This is where the problem came in. I was under the assumption that I was there temporarily and could leave at any time. Paul assumed that I was going to be staying. When Barry called John and me to come back, we had to leave Paul, and unfortunately, he had a lot of engagements lined up. We gave two weeks’ notice and found replacements for him, but he was very unhappy that we left, and I don’t blame him. It’s just unfortunate that we had to leave at that time, but we had no choice, because that was when the Manilow gig was starting.
RF: This may be a hard question to answer, but do people get hung up on the security of a band like that, and does it hold them back? How do you balance that creative thing with knowing you have to make a living, and at what point do you take those chances?
BH: It becomes more difficult if you get married, and have a family and a house with a mortgage, all of which I have. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to do these gigs that last a long time. You do get comfortable with the security, but at least with Barry, I’ve gotten to the point where I have some creative input. I feel comfortable with him, which is very important to me, so why should I throw that away when I know it’s comfortable and financially rewarding? The bottom line is that I would stay with Barry as long as he’s comfortable with me and I’m comfortable with him, and I have that opportunity. That’s not to say that during the off time I wouldn’t tour with somebody else, if it didn’t conflict, and that we won’t continue to work on our own group thing. We’re still doing that along with Ron Pedley, a newer member of Barry’s band.
RF: Your work with Barry is really from tour to tour, isn’t it?
BH: Right. When he tours again, he might have a whole new concept in mind, so there’s no guarantee that I’ll be back. Certainly, though, if I were offered another tour that might conflict with something he has coming up, I would definitely call him first and see what he wanted.
RF: The staging has changed from tour to tour. On this last tour, you were much more visible.
BH: When I first started with him, there was a wall in front of the band. On the next tour, we were on the round revolving stage and the band was in a pit. This time, the band was totally exposed and a part of the show, which I like. He wanted it to look more like a group than a singer and backup musicians, so we disposed of the music stands and memorized all the songs. The only hard thing about that is if he wants to throw in another song, which he does all the time. He might let us know at sound-check and say, “Can we try ‘Somewhere In The Night’ tonight,” which we might not have played for months. We do have the books up there with us, so we grab a chart and run over it during soundcheck. It’s exciting that way and a little more challenging. He doesn’t do the same things every night. There’s a spot where he switches “Memory,” “Even Now,” and “Weekend In New England.” That’s another difficult thing, because he wants to do new songs and people want the old things.
RF: What are some of your favorite Manilow songs to play?
BH: I think “Even Now” and “Trying To Get The Feeling” are great songs, and I like “Somewhere In The Night.” Those are all ballads, but I think they’re just such great songs that I enjoy playing those. I also like playing some of the up-tempo jazz things like “Cloudburst.” We used to do “Moody’s Mood,” which was fun. We used to play “New York City Rhythm” a lot, which we played toward the end of this tour, which was fun. There is one song on the Barry album that we never play live. It’s called “Twenty Four Hours A Day,” and I like it a lot. That was actually the first song I recorded of his, but we never played it live. It’s a big hit now in Brazil.
RF: On the most recent Manilow album, the credits say that Barry played drums on “I’m Your Man.”
BH: That’s a drum machine. He came up with the lick on the Linn, and he was really excited about it. When we play it live, I’ve programmed his lick on the Linn, and I play along with the Linn on that song.
RF: And Pete Moshay is listed as drum programmer?
BH: He’s the drum tech on the tour, and he’s very experienced with electronics. We did a lot of the Manilow recording sessions out on the road. If you notice, some of the tracks were done in Detroit, one was in Baltimore, and a couple in New York, so I would have to go to a session while on tour. Since I didn’t have my usual cartage guy, Pete would set up all the gear and get sounds up on all the drums before I’d get there. When we talked a while back for the Update section, I mentioned that we’d had problems with the Simmons, but Pete Moshay wasn’t on the gig back then. I think that a lot of the problems we had were because we had inexperienced people handling the drums. Since Pete has come on, we haven’t had any problems with any of the electronics.
RF:How electronic are you these days?
BH: I’ve gotten a lot more electronic in the last year. I mentioned the song “He Doesn’t Care” before. I did all the programming on that, and I like the way that came out. I’m very excited about the electronics, and I’m buying new equipment all the time. I have a rack and I’m triggering the Simmons SDS7 from acoustic drums through the MX1. Also, I’m beginning to use the MX-MIDI, which allows me to trigger synthesizers. I also just bought the Rev 7 reverb unit that Yamaha makes. It’s getting so that, when you go to a session now, the drummer provides the sound for the engineer, whereas before it was always the engineer who came up with the sounds. To do modern recording, drummers have to have an effects rack, just like a guitar player or keyboard player.
RF: When we talked for Update, you mentioned that it was Barry who requested the full electronics.
BH: People don’t realize how totally up to date he is. After we had a few little problems with the electronics, I suggested going with the acoustic kick, snare, and floor tom. Also, I felt that on certain songs it would just sound better. That way, I could switch from acoustic drums and, when it got all big and powerful at the end, kick on the Simmons. It’s very effective that way.
RF: Speaking of acoustic drums, did you enjoy performing the Paradise Cafe material?
BH: Yes. It was enjoyable, and it was a change. For that particular segment of the concert we would go down front and play, which was fun. I just used a snare drum, a hi-hat, and a cymbal, and played brushes through the whole thing.
RF: There are so many different things going on in Barry’s show that make me realize that you’ve been amazingly flexible throughout your career.
BH: Sometimes I feel that it’s a hindrance that I like and play all styles. I say that mainly because of this group thing. Sometimes I feel that, if I only knew street rock ‘n’ roll and that’s what I went after from day one, maybe that would be what I’d be doing now and I’d have my own happening group. But because I play all styles, if I get a call for something, I have no hesitation about taking any job.
RF: But if you didn’t know all these styles, you could never have gotten the Manilow gig.
BH: That’s the other side of it. Since I know all the styles, I’ve gotten the amount of work I’ve gotten, and for jobs like Barry Manilow and Paul Anka, you have to be able to play every style.
RF: There are lots of people who have never gone to a Manilow show, so they only think he does ballads. That’s not the case, though. You’ve got jazzy things happening with “Cloudburst” and the more ’40s jazz with Paradise Cafe. With “Some Kind Of Friend,” you’ve got the rock, and with songs like “New York City Rhythm” or “Copacabana,” you’ve got the Latin happening. Then, of course, there are the power ballads, and then you’ve got something like “Memory,” which I don’t consider a rock ballad at all.
BH: Right. It’s almost a concert piece.
RF: On “Memory,” the drums don’t come in until halfway through the song.
BH: Right. And towards the end, what I’m playing is “Bolero,” so I’m actually playing like a concert band drummer would. I’m just playing snare drum and kick drum, and I approach that strictly like a concert band piece.
RF: I didn’t realize that you had to be an ace reader for this gig.
BH: Oh yes, and constantly reading. That, again, has helped me to do Barry’s studio sessions, too. This past year he did this TV movie Copacabana, and I played on all of that. Talk about styles. That started out in a modern-day disco, and then it went back to the ’40s. I really had to cover modern rock-sounding things using electronics and old-fashioned swing dance music with brushes.
RF: Did he come in with very specific charts on this TV movie?
BH: Artie Butler did the music, and he had it all written out. Some of the dates were just rhythm section—myself, Neil Stubenhaus, Randy Kerber, and John Pondel—and we would cut the basic tracks first. Then there were sessions where we were in the big room with the whole 60-piece orchestra, sight reading.
RF: Was that nerve-racking for you?
BH: It was, only because I’m not used to doing that. I’d like to do more of it. It was good experience.
RF: Speaking of things you’re not used to doing regularly, what about this jazz festival you’ve done in the past couple of years?
BH: This particular festival is at Millikin, where I went to college. The director of jazz, Roger Schueler, invites alumni from the college who are now working professionally to be guests at this festival. It’s a high school competition of stage bands where we judge the bands, and on Saturday night, we play with the college band. I get more nervous for this thing than I do playing for 20,000 people with Barry, because there’s a certain level of expectation that these kids have and I haven’t played big band in years. When I go back there, the cobwebs come out, so before I go back there, I make sure that I play with friends and do some reading. I’ve also done the Elmhurst College jazz band festival, too, which Steve Houghton did this year. It’s fun for me to go back and talk to the young people there. I try to be as encouraging as I can.
RF: I think it’s very encouraging for young people to see a guy who came out to L.A., worked hard, and succeeded.
BH: I think there are a few key things to have in mind before you come out. You should have enough money put away so you can live for a while, and you must have the right attitude. You should be willing to play a bar mitzvah. I’ve run into people who say, “I don’t want to do that. I want to do session work or play with …” Those two are the main ones. But you’ve got to get around and meet as many people as you can. Be willing to play for free for a while, because you never know if the person you’re playing for free for will turn you on to a gig one day.
I consider myself a survivor. I’m not a famous person, but I’m not unknown either. Recently, I did a TV special one day, flew to Illinois that weekend to do the jazz festival, and the following week I played for Don Rickies at the Century Plaza Hotel. The week after that, our own rock band started recording. The only way I’ve been able to survive is to take anything that comes along and make the best of it. When I do clinics and such, I always emphasize that I don’t want to become Billy Cobham or Steve Gadd. I listen to those guys and love them, but my aspiration is not to be a famous person. There are a lot of people like me around who make comfortable livings and are successful, even though you may not hear about them all the time. What I really want people to know is that it’s possible. I have a family, and I want to make a good living at what I love and that’s playing drums.