Terry Bozzio has the chops to be an orchestra percussionist, a jazz fusion burner, or a rock and roll showman, and he’s shown off each of those sides of his talent during an eventful career.
Bozzio was born in San Francisco 29 years ago, and his accordion-playing father moved the family to nearby Fairfax when he was in third grade. He attended Drake High School in San Anselmo, and the College Of Marin in Kentfield, California. After playing in the pit orchestra of Godspell for eight months in 1973, Terry joined the Latin fusion band Azteca. From there, he auditioned for, and was picked to join, Frank Zappa’s band, beginning what Terry calls “unbelievable musical education, beyond my wildest dreams.”
Terry did an album and a short tour with the Brecker Brothers in between dates with Zappa. After leaving Frank, he auditioned for Thin Lizzy, and was offered that gig, hut couldn’t quite agree to terms with the band. Terry then joined ex-Zappa colleague Eddie Jobson in U.K., recording a couple of albums and again touring the world. The drummer now seeks a record deal for his new band in Los Angeles, Missing Persons (Ken Scott produced the band’s 4-song EP). Terry is also taking students in the Los Angeles area at this time.
TB: The first time I got interested in drums was when I saw Ricky Ricardo Jr. on the I Love Lucy show, playing bebop with his father, or some dixieland or something, and then Cubby O’Brien on the Mickey Mouse Show. And I always wanted to play drums, but I could never get a set. I think I had a toy drum set when I was really young, but they never would give me a real drum set. And that kind of persisted on into the time of the Beach Boys and surf drum music. By that time I had a set of bongos, which I would sort of take apart, and put a sheet of paper over one of them with a rubber band, and make it sound like a snare drum. And I had a crumpled up “High Voltage” sign from a telephone pole that simulated a closed hi-hat. And I would work out all the riffs and stuff. And then finally when the Beatles came out I knew I had to be a drummer. I sort of pressured my father into getting me drum lessons. I studied with this guy Todd, who’s quite a good drummer and teacher who plays with the Marin Symphony from time to time. And then for about six months, I studied with this other guy, Ken Blewer, who worked at “Drumland.” Then I quit and just played rock and roll with garage bands through high school. My last year in high school I started to read seriously and play in the band and stuff. I made it from intermediate to advanced band in one semester. You know, I really got into it. Then I graduated high school and went to College Of Marin summerschool. And I started studying traps with this teacher Chuck Brown, who I stayed with for three years or so. He was great. He taught me a lot about discipline and reading and everything. While I was at College Of Marin I played with all their trips, instrumental ensembles and the jazz band, and sort of turned my back on rock and roll. I just listened mainly to classical and jazz, and those were the only two things I pursued. I majored in music, and I was really gung ho—I was almost a straight A student. And then some friends of mine, Mark Isham, and this other trumpet player who introduced me to Mark, they sort of turned me on to Miles and Coltrane and Tony and Elvin, and that situation. Those guys, and the people who played with them, are really my main influence in jazz. Out of College Of Marin I played Godspell for about a year, and then joined the band Azteca.
RT: Did you have to join Local 6 to do the Godspell shows?
TB: Yeah. I joined Local 6 right away when I got out of college. I think I had to join to do some symphony gigs. My dad popped for it, because it is hard when you’re first starting out. I remember that three hundred dollar fee or something, and then they don’t guarantee you any work. It’s kind of a strange thing. But I was real lucky with working around here. Those shows paid real well for a long time. And Godspell was set up in a way where the band is sort of up on these funny little platforms, and kind of hidden from the audience. There were only 16 songs in a two hour show. So 16 three minute songs leaves you tons of time, right? So I would go up there with headphones and a cassette recorder, and practice and work out Tony Williams Lifetime licks from this tape thing, and write them all down. My whole way of learning at that point was sort of to take all the drummers that I loved, like Tony and Eric (Gravatt) mainly, and whenever they would do a lick that I thought was really cool, I would write that lick out, and practice it, and learn the technique involved, and then make up my own licks using those techniques. And that’s probably the main way I learned to do what I do, at least musically. That’s a good thing to do, because that way you don’t get stuck with just doing their licks, but it does open up a lot of doors. Because when a lot of people start, they hear things and they don’t know what the hell is going on. You just have to listen to that section over and over to get it.
RT: So you did study the rudiments of drumming.
TB: Yeah, I mean I never entered contests or did any of that stuff. And at the time that I was studying, I always played matched grip. So I got a lot of flack, even from Chuck Brown and students at school and stuff, or teachers at school who always thought the proper way was the traditional left hand thing. But I could always do all those rudiments. I’d studied Haskell Harr’s books. And then I got into Stick Control, which I thought was a little bit better practical application of that, rather than having all the fancy notation. And I studied that, and I studied out of Ted Reed’s book Syncopation, and Louie Bellson’s books, and this other book Portraits In Rhythm by Anthony Cirone. That’s a real good book for dynamics, and classical snare drumming. Chuck Brown took me through a lot of that stuff. I got a scholarship while I was at College Of Marin for ten lessons with Lloyd Davis of the San Francisco Symphony. He used to play with Dave Brubeck, so he was sort of like a jazz and classical drummer. I studied with him for awhile with that Morris Goldenberg snare drum book. I sort of went through that with him, and some other mallet things. And I was pretty thorough at the time, you know, with reading and the classical technique. I played Bartok’s “Sonata For Two Pianos and Percussion.” I played the timpani part for that. And I played with the Marin Symphony for awhile. I did a lot of things at the College Of Marin, lots of classical pieces. I really enjoyed that. And I thought I was going to continue on to do that, but my first love was always just being able to sit down and burn at the drums, and that’s what’s overcome me in the long run.
RT: Did you record any with Azteca?
TB: No. They had recorded their second album, and the drummer wasn’t working out, so Mell Martin heard about me and called me up. And I went in and auditioned for them and got the gig. But it really wasn’t right. At that time I was young and wild, and all I cared about was Tony Williams. And so I was sort of throwing in everything including the kitchen sink, and they were trying to make some commercial Latin music. And they were much older and more mature than myself. They used to call me The Kid. “Take it easy, kid, you’re playing too much.”
RT: Did Zappa hear you in Azteca?
TB: No. When I was in Azteca I met Eddie Henderson, and I started playing with him and all these other black jazz people around San Francisco. I played with Woody Shaw, and Julian Priester, Joe Henderson, and Luis Gasca, and really had a ball. That was a lot of fun in those days. And Eddie used George Duke on one of his albums, and George said that Frank was looking for a drummer. So Eddie turned me on, and I phoned George. I had to fly myself down to LA just to audition like the rank and file rest of the people that auditioned for Frank. It was scary, you know, it was ridiculous. I walked in, and I’m this little kid from San Francisco. I walk into Frank’s huge warehouse with this big stage, and all this equipment and road cases and stuff. And these ridiculous charts spread all over the stage. And I thought I could pretty much read anything, you know. But I mean this was like the hardest stuff you’d ever want to see. You know, just the odd groupings and odd times, and he had melodic things written out around the toms and the drums, so you didn’t have to read just rhythmically—you had to read melodic things as well. I thought, “Man, I can never do this. I’ve lost.” But then I thought, “Well, I’ve spent the airfare to go down here. I’ll give it a try.” I watched a couple other drummers audition, and they were sort of trying to flaunt their chops rather than really listen to what was going on. So I said, “Well, at least I’ll listen.” I went up there, and I fumbled through some charts the best I could. There’s not too many drummers who could sight read that stuff, so when a real hard part would come, I would just stop and say, “Oh, this is this,” and I’d play it for him. And he said, “Right, now stick it in with the rest of it.” And I would. We jammed a bit and he said, “Okay, you sound real good. I want to hear you when I’m finished with the rest of the guys.” And everybody there split, so he said, “Well I guess you’ve got the gig if you want it.” It was great. He blew my mind by taking me to the Record Plant, and out to dinner and everything, and showing me this huge studio, and the Hollywood way of studio life which I had never been exposed to. From there it was like an unbelievable musical education, beyond my wildest dreams. Because Frank, to me, is the heaviest at what he does.
RT: If you had a drum set in front of you, could you play “The Black Page” right now?
TB: Right now, no. But I could in about twenty minutes. I’d just have to remember it. With Frank, the audition is a lot of pressure, but the way he works isn’t like studio work. It isn’t like having to go in and read a chart and play it perfectly in two takes, like I would imagine Steve Gadd or some of these other people have to do. It’s more like you rehearse for about a month or two before you go out on the road. And he’s constantly throwing everything at you. You have to be really good with your ears, because he’ll play these really strange things, and you have to be able to play them right back. And then do them in double time, or half time, or put it over three. And he dissects things, and builds them back and forth sort of like an erector set. He’s constantly changing the music. He was always bringing in bits and pieces of music, and a lot of the stuff is hard, but sightreadable. And other things just aren’t. And “The Black Page” was obviously something that wasn’t. This was like his sadistic side going, “Okay Bozzio, let’s see if you can handle this.” Because to him, at that point, it was the hardest piece of drum music he had ever written, with the most complex rhythms and the most bizarre things. He’s almost taunting everyone to see if the things he writes can actually be performed. So I could read the rhythms, but the melodic thing was nuts, because he wrote it specifically for my big double bass, five tom-tom set. And there were all these notes going up and down, and whatever.
RT: Did Frank ever present anything to the band that could not be performed?
TB: Well, it depends. Frank hires different performers to perform certain functions in his band. Napolean Murphy Brock and Ray White and people like that, they aren’t necessarily heavy-duty classical musicians. Whereas the rest of the band sort of has to be, as well as having rock and roll and all these other influences to draw upon that he kind of demands. So he was always bringing in things and saying, “Okay, you guys can’t do this.” But I felt I could always do whatever we did, and I did. I did his orchestra concert at Royce Hall, this 40-piece orchestra that had four other percussionists besides myself on drum set. After you get your feet wet with his music, much of it is all the same. It’s like it reaches a point of difficulty that you’re used to working with, and then it’s no sweat—once you can learn to recognize sevens and nines and put them over whatever other denominator you want. Now he’s better than that. He’s got this thing called “Herb’s Vacation.” I don’t think it’s been recorded yet, but it’s ridiculous. Vinnie Colaiuta, who is now my favorite drummer, plays that with the bass player and one other person. It’s really off the wall. It’s ridiculously hard, some parts are very fast, and it’s melodically very difficult. It’s like Zappa said, “This is to make ‘The Black Page’ obsolete.”
RT: Did you leave Zappa to join the Brecker Brothers’ band?
TB: No, I did that on a break, as a matter of fact. When Zappa’s band played with the Brecker Brothers, it was automatic hook up, you know. We just really dug each other, and had loads of fun playing in the solos and stuff. And they sat behind me, and watched me burn through all these shows in New York. They said, “Look, we’re going to be doing some stuff, and we’d like you to come and play with us.” So when we had a break with Zappa—he wasn’t doing anything all through the summer—I was contacted by them, and I said I’d do it. So we went out on tour. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in my life, muscially, playing with them. With Zappa there’s a lot of depth and kind of a different thing. But for me, coming from jazz and fusion music, that was my chance to really get my rocks off and play all the stuff that I had digested from listening. So we went out, and with Neil Jason and Barry Finnerty, we just burned every night for a whole month. When I finished that tour and their album, I went back with Frank. And that was when he had hired Mars, and Wolf, and Ed Mann, and Adrian Bellew, and we did that year, which was my last year with Frank.
RT: Did you record anything after that with Frank?
TB: I know Sheik Yerbouti was done during the last gigs I played with Frank. But then it wasn’t released for quite some time, until after I was with U.K. Frank’s situation is pretty screwed up with that. I was on a lot of those Warner Brothers albums, but there were no credits or anything. Warner Brothers just did the artwork and shoveled those albums out one after another, with no information on them. And a lot of it was stuff I had done when I first got with Frank.
RT: You said that you came from jazz and fusion music.
TB: I was real big on fusion in the early seventies, but now I think it’s really suffering. It’s sort of been commercialized and pigeon-holed, and it’s dying a horrible death. And also, it’s just one of those things where it’s an audience of musicians—music for musicians. They inevitably either outgrow the material that you’re doing, or else they get to the point where they don’t want to learn what a certain person may have to offer, and they move on. Or at least that’s the case with myself. When I was really keen on learning how to play, and getting my technique, and learning about music, I was super-enthusiastic about things like the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Miles Davis and all these people. I mean I lived and slept that music. But now, after playing with Frank and sort of getting back into rock and roll and developing those aspects of my person, I really don’t find that fusion has that much to offer to me anymore. And I think that’s sort of the truth with that audience in general. For instance, I didn’t really consider U.K. a fusion band. I thought the first album was good, but I don’t think they had that much to say musically, compared to what Mahavishnu or Chick Corea were doing in the early seventies. But I found that U.K.’s audience was all of these young kids who were dying to have that kind of music played, because they were learning how to play. They were musicians. And it’s just not music that can be accepted by a lot of people. Frank kind of puts it in a funny space too. He feels that people buy music or listen to music because it reinforces their lifestyle. So this sort of goes along with what I’m saying, but he thinks fusion music is probably listened to by people who drive a Mazerati and think they’re a little cooler than the normal person. People who wouldn’t want to hear the Doobie Brothers, or whoever else is being played or is popular.
RT: You replaced Bill Bruford in U.K. I’m always interested in how these things come about.
TB: The middle year I was with Zappa, Eddie Jobson was in the band, and we hit it off real well. As a matter of fact, Frank wanted myself, Patrick O’Hearn and Eddie, to form a band that he was going to name “The Cute Persons.” This is right before Zoot Allures. He wanted us to put out our own album. And he was changing the name of his band from “Frank Bozzio continued from page 24 Zappa and The Mothers” to just “Zappa.” And so he wanted to have it “Zappa and The Cute Persons.” But none of us were together enough to sit down and write some music. We were all just sort of learning how to play fusion and things like that. So we never really got it together, and there wasn’t that much time. Frank kept us pretty busy. But we always liked each other, and were real good friends, me and Eddie and Pat. While I was with the Breckers, Eddie got a call from his management company saying that U.K. was going to be formed. And it was he and John Wetton, and Bill Bruford, and Alan Holdsworth. When it didn’t work out with Bill and Alan, because they were wanting to play fusion and jazz and Eddie wanted to make it more commercially acceptable, they asked Bill and Alan to leave under the conditions that they’d retain the name and performance rights to the songs. Bill was compensated with a cash settlement, and the promise by E. G. Management that they would back him as leader of his own new band. They hired me because they wanted me to sort of add the high-energy rock and roll thing. They were changing their direction away from the more fusiony jazz like things they had done on the first album. So Eddie and I were sort of like old friends, and when we worked together with U.K., it got kind of tough, because there were a lot of ego problems among the three people. At that point I wanted to start writing, but they had pretty much established the direction of the band, and it was impossible for them to allow me to come in with my new direction. They did capitalize on my showmanship. I guess being somebody’s exciting rock drummer is what I do best, so they sort of let me share the limelight in that. It was good, but it just got to the point where I knew I had to come and do my own thing. And Eddie and John really couldn’t get along, so they sort of broke it up.
RT: The audience on the U.K. live album sounds great. Are audiences in Japan much different than they are here?
TB: Yeah, in general. I guess ever since the war they’ve sort of been heavily influenced by the American way of life. They’ve become very industrialized, and man, they just have unbelievable respect and admiration for anything from the west. It doesn’t even have to be good. I mean they can tell the difference between good and bad, but they just seem to be such a warm people in general. Their whole way of life, and their thinking and upbringing is completely different from that sort of critical western world thing. And you can go over there and re-enact Beatle-like fantasies, because there’s always tons of people asking for autographs everywhere you go. It’s real easy to get a big head. It’s great.
RT: When I saw U.K. in Oakland, you were using your Roto-tom set. How long have you been using those, and do you still use them?
TB: Yeah, I’m a convert. Zappa wanted me to use a full set of Roto-toms so I could be seen more. After the first tour with him he said, “Hey, check these new things out.” And I said “Yeah, these are great.” But at the time I didn’t have the mentality or the people to build me some sort of tom-tom holder where I could get them set up in a way that was comfortable for me to play. They were very flimsy, and I had no idea how to really engineer the whole thing. But by the time I got with U.K., and after hearing how good they sounded with Bruford on the first U.K. album, I said, “Yeah, definitely I want to get into this.” I had an excellent roadie by the name of Graham Davies, and he is sort of a race car mechanic and what not. So I would give him these ideas, and he would realize them for me with different knick-knacks and what-nots. Mainly, he used that Roto-tom adaptor and little pieces of steel rod. We got a 360-degree flexible type of Roto-tom holder. And I used all Rotos and I continue to do that. I’m now using Tama drums though; fiberglass bass drums and their chrome snare drum. I use Paiste cymbals, and I continue to use the Camco pedals. I use all Remo black-dot heads, and the Pro Mark drum sticks. I use the 808s or the 707s, whatever is available.
RT: The Camco bass drum pedal. Is that the chain pedal?
TB: No, I had the chain for awhile, around the time of the “Black Page” with Zappa. I did that while I was on the road in New York. I had them all converted because I thought they would be great, but to me they weren’t right. I have a way of playing where I’ll sort of hit once and the bass drum will rebound twice, and that’s how I get a double stroke. It isn’t actually my foot going “boom boom” two times. I couldn’t make the chain drive do that. I had to do it with my foot two times, and it was very uncomfortable for me. So I switched back to the nylon straps. And I use those Rogers black nylon beater balls. I use those because I like the attack they have. You know how the fiberglass and wood beater balls are really destructive to heads. I couldn’t use one for one song without ruining the head. What I do is, I cut out a piece of a broken drum head, about four inches square, and tape that onto the spot where the beater ball hits. You can get a little more mileage, and also it adds a little more to that clicky attack sound which is good for live. The Rotos are great for live too, because the microphone just can’t hear the depth of a tom-tom.
What really gives the depth to a tom-tom is a room, and unfortunately you’re in too big of a room for it to be effective. The only thing that really cuts through in a live concert situation in a big arena is the attack. You can sort of EQ in the bottom and the depth to a Rota, on the board, whereas you can’t really get the same attack out of a two-headed tom-tom to compensate for the presence that you need. So that’s my main reason for using the Rotos— they have a ton of attack.
RT: Do you feel that the stick response is as good on the Rotos?
TB: Not as good as a double-headed tom. But I also have kind of gotten away from the little notes, you know what I mean? I use mainly single strokes for everything, and a lot of flams and stuff. I never use a lot of fast sort of hand to hand combinations, or anything that could be lost with the use of a Roto-tom. And they usually don’t come through when you do that kind of thing on a tomtom anyway. But in most electronically boosted situations, the Rotos are much better, I think, than the regular toms.
RT: Earlier you mentioned Mark Isham and Peter Maunu. You did an album with them called Group 87.
TB: Right, yeah. It was right after high school when we met. And Mark was responsible mainly for turning me and Pete and practically everybody else on to Miles and Coltrane and all these people. We used to jam all the time and we would play Tony Williams Lifetime music and stuff. We’re best friends, and musically we’re all sort of in the same head space. I quit Zappa to join that band, Group 87. It was originally going to have Peter Wolf as well, but what ultimately came about was Peter went back with Frank Zappa. And then, when we had further discussions, they didn’t want to pursue a rock and roll band avenue, which I wanted to. I had worked at all this stuff, wearing the devil’s mask and everything with Frank, and had developed that within myself, and I wanted to play rock and roll. I wanted to play good music as well, but I didn’t want to forfeit that side of my career. And they said, “Well, what we do best is play instrumental music, and that’s what we’re happy to do if that’s the case.” They didn’t have enough trust in my vocals or my lyric writing, which was probably a good thing at the time, because we had never really written together as a band. So I dropped out. But since they’re my best friends, and I love them and their music, I said, “Look, call me when you get the date, and I’ll play on the album. I’m just going to have to look for some other things because I don’t think that this is going to be what I want to do ultimately.” They finally got the dates set up, and during a break I had with U.K., we made that Group 87 album. I love their music and stuff, but unfortunately I’m very business minded, and that music doesn’t fit into any pigeon-hole that the business people of the music world, like the record execs, can put it in.
RT: Which leads us to your new band, Missing Persons.
TB: Right. I finished with U.K., and said, “I’ve just got to do my own thing.” But during the last year with U.K., my wife Dale, and Warren (guitarist Warren Cucurullo), had made a few little tapes, and brought them out to me while I was on the road. I travel with Dale—I bring her just about everywhere. She has an incredible voice, and I said, “This stuff is quite interesting, and bizarre, and we’re going to form a band.” The chemistry is amazing between us. So we’ve been writing, and have gotten it together. Ken Scott is really interested in us. He produced our four-song EP, and now a few record companies and distributors are interested, and so we’re just hashing out all of that stuff.
RT: So you’re doing a lot of composing?
TB: Yeah. My wife and myself and Warren all write. It’s sort of a group effort. We sort of hash things around. Different people come up with different aspects of the final product. We’ve been using different keyboard players, keyboard bass and stuff, but pretty much all the music they play is my own. I tell them what they need to play. We’ve just gotten all this music together, and we’re trying to sell it now.
RT: You are a lyricist aren’t you?
TB: Yeah, I started getting ideas about writing after being with Frank. He’s an amazing person, you know. And just being around him you can sort of see how everything is done. If you’re really astute enough, you can leave there with enough knowledge to really do whatever you want. But I suppose the thing that’s against everyone who’s played with him is that he’s so strong and so popular. People compare what you did with him to whatever you’re doing now. It’s going to take years of strength and keeping at it before it’s sort of equal in the eyes of a fan. Also, nobody works as hard as Frank. Out of all the people I’ve met in the world, he’s amazing.
RT: Are you singing a lot these days?
TB: I’m only singing background so far with this band. My wife hasn’t really sung before; we’ve been just sort of developing her talents. She’s a front person, and I want to get that together before I start to sing. From the audience’s standpoint, it’s really hard to sell something from behind the drums. I think ultimately maybe I’ll sing two or three numbers a show or something, because it is a nice break, and gives some variation to what’s happening. But aside from that, I think the main thing to get it across should be her. I’m not looking to do a U.K., or a Zappa, or a Brecker Brothers, or anything like that. I’m sort of trendy in what I like. I like the more modern, simpler things. Like I really like Gary Numan, and Ultravox, and Brian Eno—things they do. And Susie and the Banchees have a nice album out right now. The Peter Gabriel album that came out last year is one of my favorite things, and David Bowie’s new stuff is great too.
RT: I heard that Jerry Marotta didn’t use any cymbals on that Gabriel album.
TB: On tour he had a real dead ride cymbal that he used at the ends of certain songs, but yeah, mainly it was just hi-hat and tom-toms and stuff, which is a nice concept. I’ll leave it at that. I’m more drumistic than I am ride cymbal oriented. I’m not using a ride cymbal now. I have two of these combination China double cymbal things. There’s such a myriad of things you can do with cymbals. I have one crash on either side—an 18″ and a 20″, 2002, that I use for the normal sustained crash sound. But basically I’m using these dark Chinas, with an inverted thin hi-hat cymbal inside. So it’s like double cymbals, and they rattle against each other, and sort of Bozzio continued from page 95 get this dead, white-noise thing. So the attack is there, but the sustain is gone—it immediately dies out. I have two of those kind of up high. And then I have, on my right side, an 18″ and a 20″ dark crash Paiste that are sitting on top of each other, so they also get this kind of whitenoise sound. And on top of that I have a closed hi-hat that I use for ride purposes, and then a cymbal bell. I found that since I’m not playing jazz anymore, the only thing I want a cymbal for is to sort of have a click or a white noise kind of crash, or a ping like a cymbal bell. I don’t use the normal ride sound. I don’t want that. I found that I sort of OD’d on that in my years with Zappa and I don’t really like the way it sounds when you play it back. I don’t think it fits into a modern approach to music. I use a lot of hi-hat, and try to be melodic with my sounds and with the beats that I do. Sort of like what I did with U.K. on “Rondevous 602,” and what I did with Group 87.
RT: You have the bell of a cymbal that’s been cut out?
TB: No, it’s what Paiste calls an 8″ bell cymbal. It’s quite thick, and if you hit it in just the right place, it sounds very close to a cymbal bell, especially when you’re playing live. Through the PA it’s close enough. And that way it eliminates having this huge 22 inches of metal that I’m not using there, and which I’m very tempted to hit, but which washes everything out. So yeah, I just use that, and Rotos, and two Tama 24″ fiberglass bass drums, and their deep chrome snare drum. Ultimately I’m going to have a setup of Syndrums. I had an interface with U.K. that allowed me to trigger my toms and snares and bass. The microphones would send a signal to the Syndrums and trigger those. So I could double my bass drum sound. And I’m using those Snypers now, by Tama. I use a couple of them on my bass drums, and I’m going to have a Synare on my snare. So essentially I’m going to double the acoustic sound of my drum set with synthesized things, to fatten it up and also to have strange effects. It’s unfortunate—I’ve never really been recorded for a drum solo. I did some great ones with Zappa, and I did some good ones with U.K. too, but none of them have ever gone on record. But in this film I did, Baby Snakes, with Zappa, there’s a huge section of a drum solo that I did. He sort of cut out my use of Syndrums, but I do some interesting things with them. I used to make them do all kinds of strange things, and play in a kind of free space way with them. Also, I would set up different things with a square wave sound that would keep kind of a pulse. I would play on top of that and let that keep the beat. I’d always make some kind of structure like a composition, for my solos, that I could do whatever I wanted technically within. Just to use all the techniques I like, and all the textures that I like, and have sort of kept with. You learn all this stuff, and certain things filter through that you think are effective and you use, and other things you just don’t. It seems like marching, and buzzes, and double strokes, and presses, and all these things, I’m just totally far away from. But flams, and more African influenced percussive things I’m more into.
RT: So your solos are never exactly the same, but you have a sort of framework.
TB: Yeah. I’ll start out with a theme maybe, something to grab the audience’s attention. I never really keep a beat in my solos either, because I play time all night behind the songs, and when it comes time for a drum solo, I usually play more of a free space kind of thing. Sometimes I go into certain sections of time, but for the most part I don’t. And I would do like maybe one statement, and then improvise a section, or have a certain section that would always be impro vised on certain instruments. Like a certain technique of maybe cross sticking on tom-toms. And then go to another section that would be maybe a lot of cymbal jabs with snare drum beats in between, doubling the cymbals with my feet. On other sections I would play a phrase on my tom-toms, answer with my double bass fills, and then sort of build it to a peak and end. It always seemed to be fairly effective, and at least different than whatever anyone else was doing, which I’m proud of. Especially when you have to fit within the confines of doing a rock drum solo at a rock concert. You can’t go out there and use everything. It’s sort of hard. Most people just do the same double bass “booga-booga” bullshit, with the Gene Krupa stuff on top of it, that’s been done for years. The audience sort of expects that, and when you do something different, and it still holds their concentration, and they like it and accept it, it’s real pleasing. When I first went out with Frank, I used to do everything; just play whatever I wanted every night, and be completely free. I was more jazz influenced and avant-garde influenced at that point. I would do a lot of just anything that came into my mind. The solos were always different every night. And then, because they were a little bit more intellectual, sometimes the audience couldn’t relate to them. Like if I started out with a bang, and then tapered out to nothing on the general scheme of things, they couldn’t relate to that. So you have to come up with structures and compositional themes and things that they can relate to, and that are effective and so-called exciting.
RT: Are you doing any sessions in Los Angeles?
TB: Not many, no. I’m not that kind of a person. I tried, you know. I’d love to do that stuff. I’ve only done maybe a half a dozen or a dozen sessions since I’ve moved to L.A. It’s a weird situation because the sound and whether you’re good or bad is up to whoever is in control, and if they just happen to like what I do, that’s great. But for the most part, what I do is not acceptable for the things that I get called for. I’m always finding that I’ll just sort of play the role of a Steve Gadd, or a Jeff Porcaro, or whatever the music calls for. You have to have that kind of head to do that kind of work. You have to be very open, and you have to have a variety of sounds available, so that you can please whatever jerk is sitting behind the control board. If someone wants the heads on, or if they want the heads off, or if they want a bright cymbal or if they want a dead cymbal . . . I mean I’m not into going in there and having them play the latest record through the control room, and trying to get my snare drum to sound like that. I’m not into that. I don’t really enjoy it, although the money is great. I would do it if it was offered to me, but I don’t really pursue it. I’ve made a few phone calls to try and get into that, but when it didn’t just come, like everything else that I’ve ever done just came, I’m not going to force it, and hang out and go, “Yo babe, let’s track,” with all those guys down there. I’m just not that kind of person.
RT: Do you ever rehearse in front of a mirror to work on your stage appearance?
TB: Before I got a drum set I saw Ringo Starr on the Ed Sullivan Show, and sort of sat in front of a mirror in our dining room in a chair, and completely mimicked him. By the time I got a drum set, nobody had to tell me how to play. I already knew how to cross my right hand over my left hand, and play four beats with my right foot. I knew all the things. I would just work it out in the mirror and go, “Yeah, this is what he did.” But ultimately I’m just sort of an emotional person, and that’s just what I do. No one ever told me to play that way. And I guess if anyone’s responsible, it’s Frank, for sort of building my confidence, and giving me the opportunity to go crazy. I’d jump off my stool in drum solos, and I used to wear makeup and the devil’s mask, and sing about Punky’s whips, and spit and fight and kick my way through shows. Once I got that bold, and saw that people liked it , I just kept doing it. It is just part of my nature. I’m not that way for the most part. I’m basically very shy and conservative. But when I get out there behind the drums, I get to let loose, and that’s what I do. It’s loads of fun. I live for it. I’ll tell you the truth: I just live for performing.