Craig Krampf draws an interesting parallel between sports and music: “I’ve always said that the career of the musician is like the professional athlete. A certain amount of musicians and athletes are good enough in grade school to make high school ball. From there, the survivors and the ones with talent and determination get a chance to play college ball. From there, we go to the farm teams—the station wagons, the touring, the one-nighters, playing rotten, stinking clubs. You hope and pray that you’re good enough to get the call to the big leagues. When you get the call to the big leagues, it’s up to you as to what you do with it. You can be involved in the big leagues on a second-division label, but all of a sudden, you start getting yourself involved with pennant winners. There’s nothing like that feeling. I think it was Tony Concepcion who said that playing with great players and being on a pennant-winning team bring out the best in you. The same holds true with music, where all of a sudden, you’re doing sessions and playing on projects with excellent musicians. That brings out something in you. In a couple of circles, I’m known as the Pete Rose of rock, for my age and for my enthusiasm. Let’s hear it for Phil Niekro, Pete Rose, and Kareem. The toll on Kareem’s body at 38 is incredible, but he is playing better now than he was at 28. Kurt Rambis is a great inspiration to me. He plays with wild abandon. The passion level of his jumping over folding chairs for the ball is incredible.”
Craig is known for playing with abandon. He is the perfect combination of raw and polished: perfect in his time and all the necessary recording techniques, but with the guts, heart, and soul of an 18-year-old zealous rock ‘n’ roller.
The energy Craig transmitted as an 18 year old with the Robbs, who were regulars on Dick Clark’s Where The Action Is, is no different from what you see in Steve Perry’s video of “Strung Out.” More than 20 years have passed, but Craig hasn’t changed. Certainly, he’s aged chronologically.
He’s also become wiser because of some career scars perhaps, having gone through the farm teams, but his spirit hasn’t changed now that he’s entered the big leagues.
I couldn’t help but be charged by his energy the first time Craig and I met. We talked for hours about the ’60s, his work with the Robbs and Flo & Eddie, the life back then, his more current work with Kim Carnes and Steve Perry, producers, technology, his wife Susie, and their three girls, Carrie, Katie, and Courtney. I looked forward to having an opportunity to write about all of it.
Four years later, there’s so much more to add to the list. Aside from his ongoing work with Carnes, he’s become one of the busiest session drummers in Los Angeles, working on such projects as Santana, Jane Wiedlin, The Motels, Dwight Twilley, and Rocky III. Songwriting has become an even bigger part of his life, having co-written Steve Perry’s hits “Oh Sherrie” and “Strung Out.” In fact, Craig copped a 1983 Grammy for Best Original Score as co-writer of Flashdance‘s “Where The Heart Is.”
When we got together for this interview in February, Craig was excited. He had just won a battle waged between technology and creativity, and he wanted to talk about it. He showed me recently acquired footage from Action days, and despite our laughter at the styles of the day, the haircuts, and the rawness of the music, we couldn’t deny an explosive passion on the screen before us. Did that exist anymore? Craig admitted that, until a couple of weeks ago, he hadn’t felt it for quite a while. As we sat and talked, the exuberance of a very animated, enthusiastic Craig Krampf came on full force.
RF: Watching that Robbs video makes me think about how different things were back then. Do you ever feel that what you heard back then was guts and heart, while what we often hear now is machines?
CK: There are still sessions and recordings that are operating on guts. To me, records, musicians, and artists must have passion. I’m friendly with drum machines. I was one of the first to realize that they’re not going to go away, so you should make them your friend and use them. I recommended them. What’s starting to get to me a little right now is that they don’t play with passion. Machines can be intense, but there’s a difference between intense, and playing with your heart and with passion. That’s the main thing I miss about computer tracks. As far as changes go, sonics are much better nowadays and the technical things are different, but the music is not necessarily that different. When the Stray Cats were popular, I said, “Man, they’re just doing Gene Vincent,” so I had my daughters listen to an old Gene Vincent/Eddie Cochran album. The first thing they commented on was, “Daddy, it sounds awful.” I said, “Don’t listen to the sound of the record. Listen to what’s being played. You hear in Gene Vincent exactly what the Stray Cats are doing, but now it sounds better.” They said, “Yeah, you’re right Daddy.” I did it last year with Wham! and Culture Club. I was hearing a lot of Motown in their music, so I brought out some old Four Tops records and Supremes records for my kids to hear bass lines.
The first recording I did was on two-track: Yes, I am that old. Then there was three-track, which came in for a minute, and then it went pretty much right to four-track. It was amazing to have four tracks to deal with. Engineers had to get their balances correctly, and the performance had to be there. There was hardly any overdubbing. It was basically live. There are still records being done live—not as often as I think they should be, but there are. There are some tracks on Kim’s new album. Val [Garay, producer] at times still likes to capture the live moment. There are a couple of songs on Kim’s album that are drum machines and computers, but even on those tracks, after that computer thing is built, he still lets the guitar, the bass, and the vocals sing all at the same time to capture as much live as he can. Still, in my mind, that doesn’t beat a full band playing and trying to reach the moment at the same time. This week, two out of the three tracks we did with Kim were live.
RF: Didn’t you once tell me that Kim sings live, too?
CK: She still does and those are still her greatest vocals, I think. We cut two songs. The passion from everybody involved was amazing. That’s something I still feel recording is all about. I was involved in a project the week before with Chuck Plotkin and a band from Chicago called Idle Tears. It was all live. Those are the moments. I experienced a slight depression in January due to the fact that last year was very mixed up. A year ago, I was working constantly but never playing my drums. I worked for two or three months in a row and never touched my drumset. I was “drummer in a briefcase”—computing, programming, triggering. You nave to be able to do that to stay alive as a session drummer now, because it’s come to be a part of it. What I’m just beginning to notice now, though, is that maybe it’s settling down and people are starting to use real drums again. I guess I was somewhat out of touch with my instrument. I played on some great cuts last year, but we just watched a video of when we used to work 300 one-nighters a year, and every single night, I was playing. I was working last year but not playing. At the beginning of January, it was just getting fired up again, and I guess the chops and my mind hadn’t clicked in.
This may sound corny, but about a week ago, it was like I was re-baptized to my instrument. Most of the tracks cut this month were live, acoustic drums on live performances. About two weeks ago, it just all clicked in. My passion for the instrument came back. Finally, I was working with some people who wanted and allowed live, acoustic drums. There was one moment in particular at 2:00 one morning when the bass player started playing a riff. I started playing, guitar players joined in, and we had an incredible jam. Plotkin ran out into the middle of the studio and said, “What’s this? What’s going on?” He started conducting madly. We all were watching each other, because we didn’t know where it was going, and before our eyes, a song was being born. The communication, which I believe music is, was at a peak level that I hadn’t experienced in years. That jam is now going to be a song on this album. You listen to 21 minutes of this jam and there are mistakes, but it doesn’t matter. The level of passion on this tape is awesome. That was the night I became reacquainted with my instrument. It was something that, at times as a session musician, isn’t allowed. The clock is running, it’s a very expensive business, you’re there to cut songs, and that’s what you have to do. For four or five hours, we jammed. This is what we used to do in the garage. At times, I envy all those drummers who are still out there in the garage, hoping to make it to the level I’m at right now. Don’t forget your beginnings. We all got into the music business in the first place to play our instrument and create. Somewhere along the line, somehow, you can lose touch with that. The music industry loses touch with it. Artists and producers lose touch with that. Why did we all start?
RF: Why did you start?
CK: In retrospect, it’s really funny. I look at my daughters and they may not have a clue as to what they want to be in life, but maybe they do. In looking back, my dad was an accountant, and he wasn’t happy with his job. My mom was pregnant with my older brother, and all of a sudden, my dad said, “Florence, I’m not happy with this job. I’m changing jobs.” She thought he was stark-raving mad, and she was very scared. He became a railroad man, shoveling coal into steam engines, and he was happy. He found what he wanted to do in life. He would have liked to have been a musician, but during the Depression, they could not afford the 50¢ a month rental on a trumpet. He had a love for music though, and I can remember that, when I was a young kid, every time he was paid he brought records home. I was too young to read, so I would take a crayon and mark the songs I wanted to hear. I go back to Milwaukee at Christmastime, and those records are still in the basement with my crayon marks on them—Frankie Laine’s “Mule Train,” 1949. That was a big record with me. Today, I hear songs on the Muzak in the supermarket, and I embarrass my children by singing along with them. I have firsthand recollections of songs from the late ’40s and early ’50s. Music was in me when I was that young. My older brother, Carl, started accordion lessons when he was 10. Somehow there were drumsticks in the house, although I don’t know how they got there. I started pounding on two wooden chairs, and then literally Mom’s pots and pans. When I was eight, my mom and dad saw a Sears drumset for $40. That was pretty expensive, but Grandma said, “Go ahead and get it for the kid.” It’s Grandma’s fault. Carl would play polkas and waltzes, and I would drum along. I knew what to do. I don’t know how, but I guess from listening to records, I knew that the snare drum went on 2 and 4, and the kick drum went on 1 and 3. Then at ten, I started accordion lessons. I’m glad I did, because it taught me melodic music. But I was still drumming, and finally, Dad bought me a real drumset. Drumming-wise, I guess we’re talking about 33 years. I played accordion for five years, but then I just couldn’t relate anymore, and I was a drummer.
RF: What was the music that was stirring that passion?
CK: If you look back at the charts from ’51 and ’52, you see hit songs like “Lisbon Antiqua,” “Poor People Of Paris,” or “Mockingbird Hill. “There was no rock ‘n’ roll. Then all of a sudden, there were the beginnings of rock. My brother and I had a radio in our room, and if the humidity was right, we could pick up the South on the radio, down to Nashville, Tennessee, and Little Rock, Arkansas. The passion was there then. We’d say good night to our parents, lay down in the dark, and turn on the radio, pick up Little Rock, and hear some black music like I never heard before in my life. It was getting to me! I wasn’t hearing that around Milwaukee. Or we’d pick up the Grand Ole Opry and some of the Nashville things, which had the start of some rockabilly influences. It was killing me. Then rock started happening with Bill Haley. The first time I heard Elvis Presley, I thought he was black. I didn’t know white people could do that. I was shocked when I saw his picture. I’d hear George Hamilton IV, Sonny James, and Guy Mitchell singing the blues with a country influence. I’ll never forget the first night my brother and I heard Little Richard. We went crazy—passion, emotion. It moved my body and stirred my soul like nothing I had heard up to that time. I’d see Ricky Nelson at the end of The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, and watch the reaction of the girls in class: “Did you see him last night?” I was sitting there kind of thinking, “God, I’d love to do that.” It was so cool. These guys were all cool. The first records we bought were Duane Eddy and Buddy Holly & The Crickets. Buddy Holly changed my life. It was the first group that played and sang. There were Fender guitars and loud drums. They were white, and it was a band. His death strongly affected me. We were setting up some idols at that time, and we didn’t think they would die. Rock ‘n’ roll was only six or seven years old. Then we got into this period for a while with people like Frankie Avalon and Bobby Vinton, and we lost some of the passion. Then the Beatles, the Stones, and the English invasion brought back that passion.
RF: Did you ever take drum lessons?
CK: I started taking lessons when I was in my freshman year of high school. I realized that I had to read better. I started with the band director, who couldn’t really show me chop things but could show me reading things. Then I took from a real drummer for a couple of years. I had played for about six years before I started taking lessons, though. I was also a good athlete in grade school, and I was captain of a lot of the teams. I think I could have possibly had a career in sports. I went out for the freshman football team and made it. I was going to be an end, but in one of the first games, one of my friends was lying there at the bottom of the heap with a bone sticking out of his leg. At that moment, I said, “Krampf, you couldn’t play drums if that happened to you, could you?” I guess that was one of the first of many, many crossroads in my life. I turned the uniform in, and I made a commitment towards being a drummer.
RF: How had you taught yourself?
CK: I played, I watched, and I listened. Listening was very important. I was quite a jazz freak in the ’50s because rock was so new, so I was learning more from the jazz players. I was 11 or 12 when my mom and dad took us to a nightclub to see Dave Brubeck. People were looking at my mom and dad like, “What kind of parents are these dragging their young children out to a nightclub?” We begged them to go, and that night, Brubeck and his band were snowed in in St. Louis and had trouble making their plane connection. I think they arrived at 11:30, and we were barely managing to stay awake. All of a sudden, in walked Joe Morello and I freaked. My parents let us stay. Then my brother and I subscribed to a jazz performance series in Milwaukee where they would bring in one jazz act a month. I just watched and listened.
RF: How did the Robbs come about?
CK: There was a time when Carl got very busy with school, and I got a phone call to appear with this band named Dee Robb & The Robbins. They needed a drummer to open a show for the Dave Clark 5, so all of a sudden, I was playing in front of 11,000 people at the Milwaukee Auditorium! We were asked to go around the Midwest and open shows for them, so we had a chance to experience the English invasion. That was my first mini tour, and it was becoming more serious to me. The band was getting more popular, and we did some more recording. We went on the road in the summer of 1965 for RCA and Dupont Fashions, but during this tour, we lost our guitar player to the Viet Nam war. We went back to play Milwaukee, he had his physical, they put him on a bus, and all of a sudden, we were a four-piece band. Then it was just the Robbs. Dee, who had just been a singer, picked up the guitar, and we finished the tour that way. It was getting in my system, and when I went back to school, the playing was becoming more and more important. I was carrying 16 units, I was teaching 40 drum students a week, and I was playing every night. Finally, I knew I had to spend more and more time with music, so I told my folks that I was going to drop out of college. It was a shocking experience for all of us. Being a parent now, I can understand. Parents want what is best for their children. I guess they just wanted to make sure that I knew what the hell I was doing. My brother said it best: “You gave us music and instruments from early on. Whether you know it or not, you raised musicians.” They thought about that one, I thought about that one, and it was right.
RF: How did the association with Dick Clark come about?
CK: We won a battle of the bands contest in Chicago, which was unknown turf for us. There was some original material, but mainly covers, which was how it was back then. We got to be on this big rock ‘n’ roll show, and the Where The Action Is tour came through, with Lou Christie, the Turtles, the Rascals, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, and the Shangri-Las. We got to play one day on the show, and Dick Clark said to the promoter, “Why are the Robbs on the show?” The promoter explained that we had won a battle of the bands, but Clark was a little disturbed. We went out on stage, and it was mass hysteria. The girls went crazy. Clark watched this and realized something was happening. He put us on the show the next day, and the same thing happened. By the third or fourth day, people were chanting for us all by name and carrying signs. Clark got back to the West Coast, called the promoter, and asked where he could get hold of us because he wanted us to move to California and be regulars on Where The Action Is. The promoter was very fast-thinking and said, “I manage them. I’ll take care of it for you.” So the promoter came to us and said, “If you sign a contract with me, I can get you on Where The Action Is.” It was our first youthful experience with a crooked manager.
RF: What about recording?
CK: Backtracking a little, the Where The Action Is tour came through Chicago, where they were going to film a segment. Clark said he wanted us to appear on this and asked if we had a song we could do. We quickly went in and recorded an original we had written, “Race With The Wind,” produced by Lou Reizner, who produced the famous green album by Rod Stewart. Mercury heard about us and immediately signed us. A week later, the record was on the radio. The year before that, we had done some recording where the producer kept telling me I was rushing, slowing down, or dragging. Of course, I thought I had great time. It was really my first experience under the microscope. If this cocky kid had really thought about it, my time was probably off.
RF: Certainly, once you moved out to California, there was a lot of recording for Action.
CK: We would go in and record 20 songs in one night. Our first sessions out here were with Armand Steiner, an early L.A. pioneer. Where The Action Is just covered other people’s songs, so we’d work up these songs, go in, and record them. Occasionally, if we had a new record out, we could do an original. We had some great producers like Lou Reizner, Leon Russell, Snuff Garrett, Steve Barri, P.P. Sloan, and Steve Douglas. We were always bubbling under the Billboard charts: 104, 102, 101—oops, we’re off the charts. We had some local hits, like “Race With The Wind,” but it was never a hot 100. The closest thing to a hit we had was called “Bittersweet,” which was top five or top three in every market it was out in. The record company could not coordinate the sales and the campaign, though. After every single, I’d call my mom and dad and say, “This is the one. I know it.”
RF: Why do you think success eluded the band?
CK: I think part of the reason was that most of the producers had a concept of what they wanted us to be. This holds true to this day with producers. I don’t think what we were live was ever captured on record. It was, “You’ll do this now.” They never once asked us, “Does this song fit the band?” Back then, you’d be given a song, the producer believed in it, and you’d record it. We were a hard-ass rock ‘n’ roll band, but that was never caught on record or on Action. When people got to see us live, it was, “Oh my God.” We did heavy touring back then, which is something I’m glad to have been a part of. It was 80 one-nighters in a row with seven, eight, or nine acts. This was before buses had beds in them. We’d sit up on the seat, sometimes trying to sleep on the luggage rack or floor if we just couldn’t stand it any longer, for 80 one-nighters in a row. I literally got home from that tour, went to bed, and woke up two days later. We all were exhausted, but it was a wonderful period. It was fresh and alive. Passion was there.
RF: The band eventually got into recording engineering and such.
CK: After 17 singles with no success, we decided to turn our garage at the ranch in Chatsworth into a 4-track studio. We sunk every penny we had made into recording equipment, and we thought that, if we recorded ourselves, people might see what we were. We were bitten by the recording bug, and within a year, we went from 4-track to 8-track to 24-track. All this time, we were playing in the studio, and this is where finally some things were making sense, like, “Maybe if I use this kind of head or this kind of tape, I can get this ring out.” We were all learning engineering, and we were producing ourselves. I finally realized, “That snare drum beat peaked the meter at O and this one peaked at …” All of a sudden, I became aware of consistency. I would record and watch the meters. I realized that my touch was concerned, and to this day, I’m proud of the fact that my snare drum beats will peak the meters the same every single time, if that’s what is called for.
Del Shannon and Brian Hyland had us play on some records, and when I was learning, Del would say, “Krampf, that was a great fill. Now cut it in half. Great, now cut it in half again.” And to myself, I was thinking, “Doesn’t he know that I just played something brilliant? How can he cut my art?” I still had all that cockiness, but that was the learning process of, “Wait a minute. It’s their record, not mine. He’s the producer. I have to do what he needs.” We kept on recording, and the place got so busy that the three Robb brothers became excellent engineers. I was a pretty good one, too, although I never knew technically what I was doing, but I could do it by feel and guts.
At this time, I was sitting out on the mountaintop in Chatsworth, thinking, “What is the premise of my life? Is it to be a recording engineer? No, the premise of my life is to be a rock ‘n’ roll drummer.” It was a very hard decision, but finally I had to go to the three brothers and say,” I have to do more than play for the acts that record at this studio.” I was breaking up the relationship—the band—and leaving. We had been close through all those years, and it was very difficult. It was another crossroads. I had to find out about my drumming. A year later, they bought a studio in Hollywood [Cherokee], and a year after that, they were driving Cadillacs and Corvettes, and I was on food stamps, wondering if I made the right decision. But it was drumming I had to do. That was where the passion was. It was not in engineering.
RF: That must have been a rough time for you.
CK: During this time, I was doing demos for $25 a song. We needed the money. I got married in 1971, and my wife was pregnant with our first child in ’73. I took odd jobs to pay for the birth. I worked as an orderly in a hospital for a while. Then I got a job as a truck driver for my father-in-law’s company. From truck driver I was promoted to shipping clerk, and from there, I was promoted to purchasing agent. Susie’s mom and dad started to rest a little easier: “Maybe the kid’s finally going to find out he has a great job.” Then Little Richard called. He said, “We play Madison Square Garden, and we leave tomorrow.” He was going to pay me $400 a week, and the tour was for a month, so all I knew was that I was going to make $1,600. Where the money was going to come from after that, I had no idea. Carrie was four months old, and I said to Susie, “I have to go.” I went into the office the next day and said, “I know this is short notice, but I’m really not happy doing this. I’m a musician. I’ve got to go on the road. I’m leaving with Little Richard, and we’re leaving tonight.” I could see Susie’s dad’s face say, “Oh my God, we thought the kid was saved.”
So I left with Little Richard. We didn’t have any rehearsal. The very first night at Madison Square Garden was in front of 18,000 people. All of a sudden, Richard’s bodyguard came up to me in the dressing room and said, “Richard wants to give you his blessing.” He took me into the shower room and there was Richard, sitting on a chair. He said, “You know the songs. You grew up with them. You’ll be alright. Watch my shoulder for tempo. You know those songs. They’re all in you.” And he was absolutely right. He had to feel the bass drum, so my bass drum was literally resting against his piano bench, and for the entire year that I was with him, we were that close. We went out in front of 18,000 people and played “Lucille,” “Keep A Knockin’,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Tutti-Fruitti,”—all the hits—and he was right. It was in me. I knew all those songs. So I came home with $1,600, and we had enough for a while. Richard wouldn’t work for a month, and all of a sudden, he’d call and we’d go out on the road. It was thrilling to be four feet away and hear that voice that made such an impression on me as a child. People say to me, “Krampf, what you did on ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ was so unbelievable. You didn’t play 8ths on the hi-hat.” I played the 8th-note hi-hat part on my snare drum, kind of like a swamp New Orleans thing. That was straight from Little Richard and “Lucille.” To this day, one of my favorite snare drum fills is after the intro to “Lucille,” before Richard’s voice comes in. I use it constantly.
RF: Then you worked with the Hudson Brothers, and after that, Flo & Eddie.
CK: Working with Flo & Eddie was a wonderful experience because we lampooned rock ‘n’ roll, and it gave me my sense of humor back about the music business. It was coming back to the fun element, which was why, once again, I started in the first place.
RF: You had a very big disappointment called the Alien Project.
CK: I was getting a band together. I heard about a singer named Steve Perry, got a bass player and a guitarist, and when the four of us played, it was magic. We were literally three hours old when Chrysalis wanted to sign us. We were six hours old when Chrysalis and Columbia wanted to sign us. Once again, Susie and I were back on food stamps, and we were expecting our second baby. I was borrowing money from friends to keep the lights on and to pay for rehearsal time. The last night, we played for Columbia and management. They were extremely excited, and about five days later, the bass player was killed in a car wreck during the Fourth of July weekend. I told Steve, “Right now, you don’t feel like singing and I don’t feel like playing drums, but you’re going to quit? Come on. Let’s let a month go by, and we’ll carry on.” It blew his brains out, and in retrospect, he was probably right. The band had magic. He said it would never be the same. Herbie, from Journey, had heard the tapes. He had wanted to manage our band. He knew that this had happened, so he made the offer to Steve to join Journey. I was blown out by the death and also by seeing what people were calling the best band out of L.A. go down the tubes. Obviously, it wasn’t meant to be.
At this time, Chrysalis Records knew what happened. Nick Gilder needed a drummer, and the guy from Chrysalis hooked us up. I worked with Nick and Mike Chapman on “Hot Child In The City,” which was a hit record. I had played on the Hudson Brothers’ “So You Are A Star,” which got to number 19, but this was my first number one. After all those years of wanting to be part of a hit record, I was, and it felt phenomenal. Working with Mike Chapman was a tremendous education. He’s a great producer. I learned a lot, not just about my craft, but about producing, the philosophical aspects of recording, and capturing the moment. He did a lot live, and Mike can draw out the best performance from you. He just has a way of communicating with people that makes you want to play your ass off, and he is able to capture that passion on tape. We toured a lot with Gilder. It was a funny thing. That record was a curse and a blessing at the same time. It got branded a teeny-bop record, and we opened for the Cars and Foreigner, but we were actually a hard-ass rock ‘n’ roll band.
RF: So, when did your recording career blossom?
CK:You do need a couple of breaks. There is some luck involved in this, but the important thing to stress is that you have to be ready. You never know when the break or the phone call is going to come. It might be your only shot for a while, so you’d better be prepared to make the most of it when it comes. A great accident occurred. A drummer was hired for a session, forgot about it or canceled the morning of the session, and the producer called and said, “I hear you’re the hottest rock ‘n’ roll drummer in town.” I said yeah. He said, ” I have this project. The drummer didn’t show up. How soon can you be here?” I said, “Probably in about an hour.” He said, “Make it a half an hour, and you’ll get the whole project.” I ran down, had the drums sent over, and started doing a lot of work for this producer, George Tobin. I was ready. My chops were ready, and my attitude was together.
Another great accident was that Kim recorded the Romance Dance album with George Tobin, and I don’t know why, but by the end of the album, Kim wanted the album mixed by somebody else. That’s when Val Garay got hold of the album. He had no idea who was playing on the tracks. He put up the drum faders and said, “Who is this?” Kim told him, and very soon after that, I came home and Susie said, “Some guy named Val Garay called.” Of course, I was aware of his engineering work with James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt. He was producing Randy Meisner, and he wanted me to be the drummer. In the meantime, a lot of producers who were working out of George Tobin’s studio started using me.
RF: Was this what you wanted to do at this point? What about the passion of playing live?
CK: I was bitten by the recording bug. It was just great to be part of records that were hits. That was a great feeling. It had escaped me with the Robbs and a lot of other acts. I was absolutely thrilled. There are musicians who maybe want to stay real cool about it, but to this day, if I’m driving in the car and hear myself on the radio, I feel like rolling down the window and saying to the person next to me, “Yo. That’s me!” I don’t think that thrill will ever go away.
RF: What did you do to get your impeccable time down?
CK: Susie bought me a metronome as an anniversary present in 1975. I got a metronome late in life, but I started working on it. Then, I started doing some sessions with a keyboard player and a bass player named Eric Scott. Some of the tracks were good, but some of them weren’t so good. Eric and I determined that, if we were really going to do this, we had to work at it. Someone who works at the grocery store puts in eight hours a day, so if I’m not working, I should be putting in time on my craft. I really got serious about rehearsing, touch, watching meters, tempos, and time.
RF: You have two contrasting sides of you—the session guy who has to be polished with perfect time, and the raw, garage band rock ‘n’ roller. That seems to be your trademark.
CK: And that’s something I hope I never lose touch with.
RF: But when you’re talking about sessions, how do you bring the two together?
CK: It’s Rambis hurdling the first row of folding chairs for a rebound. It’s Kareem, whose body is tired at 38. You just have to search within yourself and keep the passion alive within yourself. I just never want to get stereotyped.
RF: As what?
CK: By some people who still have that concept of session players. Martha Davis from the Motels had it. That album All Four One went through a lot, and they recorded for nine months. Just like a coach shakes up a baseball lineup, Val thought some new blood would help. I had a feeling that Martha thought we were sterile studio players. I think that, within an hour after we played, she realized we were just as crazy, if not crazier, than her other band, and that we played with some reckless abandon and fire.
RF:When did you actually become part of Kim’s rhythm section?
CK: That was during Romance Dance. That was her first real rock ‘n’ roll venture. She went on the road after that with a different band, but I started to work with Val and Randy Meisner. On her next album, Val was going to be the producer. Val and I got along. He liked the way I played, and he established a band, just like Peter Asher established a crew that worked together. Producers like to work with certain people, and years ago, I used to wonder, “How do I break into that clique?” You don’t break into cliques. You start your own. I never thought about it that way, but before I knew it, to the outside world we were being viewed as a clique. In our own eyes, we were just a bunch of guys who got along musically and personality-wise, who started playing on many hit records. The Mistaken Identity album is very dear to my heart. It was a great creative album. It was songs, and it was rehearsing. It was great musical communication with the band playing lots of different things. There was a lot of experimenting, and breaking new ground in the rehearsal hall and the studio.
RF: Such as what?
CK: We had done half the album and had “Bette Davis Eyes” in the can. That was the second or third take. It was all live, including Kim’s vocals. There’s only one overdub on that record, and that’s the Synare in the solo spot. There was going to be a guitar solo on that record, but we got done with the track and it didn’t need a solo. So Val said, “Why don’t you go out and play that drum.”
We were cutting “Mistaken Identity” as a heavy R&B song. We tried it all day, and it just wasn’t working. Kim came in and said, “This is not for me. This is for somebody else.” Since it was going to be the Christmas break, people started to party heavily, and an hour or so later, the keyboard player, Bill Cuomo, went out to his keyboards and started riffing the song at a quarter of the tempo with a dreamy, eerie, weird feel. I went out, and one by one, we came out into the studio and started jamming. We recorded it live—one take at 4:00 in the morning. Kim had a hand mic’, and was standing about three or four feet away from me, singing the lead vocal. I had goosebumps and my eyes were watery. It was one of those special moments that, unfortunately, happen all too infrequently. I don’t know if it can happen all the time, but maybe people should be allowed the chance to let it happen more.
RF: Can you think of any other goose- bump times?
CK: [laughs] Every cut we did on the Richard Simmons album, particularly when he went up to the mic’ and said, “Work, you fatties,” was magical. Seriously, there are moments that stand out in one way or another, not necessarily goosebumps, but magical. One was “Strung Out” with Steve Perry. At that time, in ’81 or ’82, he was just cutting to have fun. He said, “I have the weekend free, and I’m coming to L.A. Krampf, can you get a band together, a studio, and an engineer?” He came to town on a Thursday night, and Steve, Billy Steele and I started writing. We finished “Strung Out” the next day, we wrote another song, found two oldies, and went into the studio. He just wanted to record, without worrying about it, without being careful, and without that meticulous concern that sometimes goes into the recording process. It was just to have fun. Most of the players hadn’t met Steve before, but I think “Strung Out” was one take, all live, with a live vocal. There are clams, but it feels great. It almost didn’t make his solo album. The album was literally being mastered when somebody suggested pulling out “Strung Out.” It has that magic—that looseness—and it was a fun track.
“Only The Lonely” was great. That song killed me. I think that was another one that was done within three takes. It may have even been a first-taker. Once again, it was all live. The magic moments happen when things are going down live. There’s no way you can have a magic moment getting a bass drum track. It’s when you hear the vocalist making the same commitment that you’re making.
RF: Aside from “Strung Out,” you co-wrote three other songs on Steve Perry’s solo album. You guys have kept in close touch all these years.
CK: Talking about Steve makes me think about the theme of why we got started in this business in the first place. To say the least, Steve became a superstar with one of the biggest bands in America, and the drain on his professional and personal life has been quite taxing. When they’d be out on the road for nine months out of the year, I’d get calls from the bus, where he’d say, “Krampf, you were always the guy who said we can’t forget our beginnings and we can’t forget why we did this. You don’t know how many nights I think of that statement.” I think of that statement when it’s tough to keep going in the studio if I’m involved in a project that maybe isn’t a great creative outlet. It gets tough sometimes.
I think I had three or four days off in January. I’m not complaining, but I was coming off a lot of sessions that were using machines and computers. Yes, you can create with the use of machines, but you don’t always agree, and that makes it tough. You just wish producers and artists would trust you more. If your car is broken, you take it to the mechanic and he’ll recommend a valve job or whatever. Please, if you have a question about the drum track, come to us drummers. We can recommend if we think this track should be a machine track or if this track should be live.
RF: Are you allowed to do that in any of your situations? Let’s talk about working with different producers.
CK: Some people will listen, but other people have their minds made up. They’re sent a songwriter’s demo and it sounds great, so the producer and the artist fall in love with what’s on the demo. A lot of times, I have to cop the demo. Sometimes I almost get the feeling that I’m in a top-40 band, learning songs. Sometimes the demo uses a drum machine. It feels great, and the artist and producer want to use a drum machine. I’m not saying that’s necessarily wrong. If there is some magic there, of course, copy it. But other times, I’ve heard demos where I think, “Oh my God, that drum track isn’t grooving.” If the producers and artists are free enough, I can make suggestions, and sometime they’ll take my advice but sometimes they won’t.
After you work for somebody, you get to know what that person expects from you. With that, you also know some of the limitations and what the artist expects from you. I probably do more snare drum fills than tom-tom fills. That comes from years ago, playing live, when the sound systems were never that good and the toms weren’t miked, so they didn’t sound as loud as the snare drum. I thought, “Screw it, I won’t do tom fills. I’ll do snare fills.” To this day, I do a lot more snare drum fills than tom fills. Recently, I did an album where I was doing that, and the artist asked if I could play more tom fills. After we were working on the second or third song, I finally realized he was serious, so I made an adjustment.
Even if there are certain confinements set up by a producer like, “I want this one to sound like a machine,” you still want to play the shit out of it. I’ve played on some tracks that literally had no fills and nothing but 2 and 4, but I’ll say to myself, “I’m going to play the shit out of that 2 and 4.” You still go for it. When I work for a new artist or producer, sometimes I don’t really know why he or she hired me and what that person is looking for. Sometimes I scare people a little bit, too. Sometimes they don’t know how I work. If I don’t have a real grasp on a song, sometimes I’ll be slightly timid about it, and maybe it won’t be until the red light goes on that I really, really play it. Other times, I’ll need to search and stimulate my brain for ideas. Sometimes that means playing a lot. That has scared people, too. “Krampf, you’re playing too much.” I’m just searching for a part. If you don’t mind, just let me have a couple of run-throughs playing a lot, and maybe within that, I’ll find the part.
RF: Don’t you ever feel that you’d like to be part of a group, so you wouldn’t have to deal with any of those issues?
CK: At times, I do. That has escaped me. I’ve played in many bands, but never to that kind of degree of big success. And there is something special about playing live before people. Watching Springsteen, Dire Straits, and ZZ Top, that’s passion— playing live for people, feeding off people, getting worked up. In the studio, you don’t have the crowd to inspire you. You’ve got to look for your inspiration within yourself and from other musicians. Hopefully, everybody will be feeding everyone else: from the artist, from the producer, from the song, and from the sounds. Sometimes things aren’t all there, but you still have to do a good job. As corny as it sounds, when I get in a little trouble with my inspiration, I say to myself, “Records are forever.” That fascinates me. What I play at this given moment in time and space has a potential for lasting forever. Some alien is going to pull out a record with the name Krampf on it two hundred years from now. I want that alien to say, “That guy played his ass off.” At times, if I’m tired and we’re doing take after take, and for some reason, it’s just not coming together, I realize that I don’t ever know what’s going to be the take. The drums can’t really be fixed, so the drummer has to be there all the time, from the minute the red light comes on. It does get tough, but you’ve got to use whatever tricks you can—besides drugs and alcohol—to make that happen. Don’t fall into that trap. It’s the love of the music that should be inspirational.
RF: You have a lot of positive energy, and I would imagine that people love having you around.
CK: I think attitude is so important on sessions. For me, success came late, but maybe not. Maybe it was all according to time. I can remember reading an interview a long time ago with a session player who said, “For some strange reason, session musicians happen in their mid to late 30’s.” When I was 28 and 29, thinking that I was ready and wondering why it wasn’t happening, I still had that ray of hope that it could happen. There are exceptions. For instance, Jeff Porcaro was young and Vinnie Colaiuta was young, but if you look around, most of us now are in our 30’s. Why is that? Is it because we’re getting our chops ready? Yes. I think finally there’s more finesse. But more important, I think it’s attitude. Maybe in your 30’s you start to mature a little bit and maybe you’re a little more ready to handle situations where a producer may say something to you perhaps not in the kindest way. Maybe finally the attitude is together, and there’s a better fix on life and who you are.
RF: Are you ever too old?
CK: To me, it’s still fun. Going to work isn’t a chore. Maybe I love it more than I ever have in my entire life right now.
CK: I am doing what I feel is one of the primary things I have been put on this earth to do. I am fulfilling myself and fulfilling the talent I’ve been given. Music still kills me. There are some times when nothing else stirs my soul like music. Are you ever too old? Buddy Rich is wonderful. Go Buddy.
RF: But are you ever too old to rock ‘n’ roll?
CK: Not if you keep your mind young and realize that you can never stop learning. If you start shutting yourself off from new ideas and new music, maybe. Sometimes I may not like everything my daughters play at the house, but I try to stay in touch with everything that’s happening. If you don’t have preconceived notions and you remain open, I think you can keep the youthful ideas and enthusiasm flowing. I don’t know. The Stones are in their late 40’s. I think one of them is even 50 now. How about that! Earlier, we said we never thought about what would happen to older rock stars. Now there are old rock stars and they’re out there still doing it, so the passion and fire must still be alive.
RF: You had an awful lot of disappointments coming up, and while it’s paid off, I wonder what, through all of it, made you keep the faith?
CK: The love of music. Every single that I called my mom about and said, “This is the one,” bombed, and it was devastating, but are you going to give up? What are you a musician for? Are you in it for the success and the glory, or are you there for the love of music?
RF: But you have to make a living, too.
CK: And sometimes it’s rough, but there are survivors. Sometimes I meet young musicians, and they set up a time limit. I agree that you should have goals, but there are those people who say, “If I’m not part of a hit group or have a hit record in two years, I’m quitting.” That’s not the love of music. Most of the survivors I know have done whatever they have to do to get by in the rough times. I mentioned that I worked in a hospital and I drove a truck. You do what you have to do to survive. But all along, it’s the love of music that makes you keep on coming back to your instrument and makes you know that this is what you want to do in life. Once or twice, I made mistakes along the way. Once I joined a band because I was lured by an unbelievable record contract, and I joined the band without liking the music. I hoped that maybe somehow I could change it, but I was swayed for a second by money. Six months later, I quit. It has got to come from the love of music. There are going to be a lot of rough times. There’s no way around it. Somehow if you can maintain a positive attitude, you’ll make it. It’s hard sometimes. Sometimes through the starving, I’d look up and say, “You gave me this talent. Why can’t I make a living by it? What am I doing wrong?” There are moments where you do feel like giving up. You think, “I’ve had enough of this and enough of putting my family through all of this,” but somehow you have to look for help or inspiration from things. My wife, thank God, through a couple of those rough moments, believed in me more than I believed in myself. It was great having a supportive person there. We’re a team and that’s important. It’s got to be hard if the person you’re having a relationship with says, “When are you going to grow up and get a real job?” When my inspiration is low, sometimes I’ll come out of the shower and put on ZZ Top, Bruce, or Dire Straits, and that helps remind me that it’s all about the love of music. I may need a shot of inspiration from time to time, but I’m really grateful that I’m making a living and supporting a family doing something I love. Even after 18-hour days, it’s never a job getting up and going back. It’s always, “Oh boy, I get to play today.”