COZY Powell has so much energy that he can’t sit still. As we’re sitting in Paiste’s London office, I’m wondering how I’m going to transcribe the tape of our conversation when I get it home, because he’s talking so fast. I tease him about the fact that I have a speed control on my tape recorder. Thank goodness I can slow him down through modern technology.
He’s come in from his farm, which is 70 miles outside of London, and I wonder how he manages to be content living on a farm with the amount of energy he has. But to him, the peacefulness of his farm and the frantic pace of touring provide the perfect balance. The drums themselves offer Cozy the physical outlet his energy seems to need. “If I didn’t play drums, I’d go berserk, “he admits.
He’s not a technically oriented drummer and makes no pretense to feign interest in technical matters. It hasn’t seemed to make a difference in Cozy’s extensive career, though. He’s had a variety of experiences, which range from being a session player in the late ’60s to occupying the drumset for the likes of Jeff Beck, Rainbow, Michael Schenker and Whitesnake, interspersed with a smattering of solo projects.
RF: How and when did you start playing drums?
CP: I started at school. I joined the school band, made a lot of noise, ended up breaking the snare drum and was asked to play the cymbals instead because the cymbals were a lot harder to break. That was 1961 or 1962 in a place called Cirencester located in the West country where I come from. I always played in local bands three or four nights a week until all hours of the morning, and I’d arrive at school late, so I was asked to leave school. I did what most musicians did at that time; I joined a band in Germany and played the circuit.
RF: Were there more opportunities in Germany?
CP: There was no opportunity at all, virtually, in England unless you were in a professional band and had been around for a while. The competition was so strong that you really had to go abroad if you were an amateur or up-and-coming musician. Hopefully, you would get better as you went on. Finally, if you had gotten the recognition, you could come back to England and do well, which is what I did. I spent three years over there.
RF: How old were you when you went over there?
RF: You weren’t even legal. I remember hearing how George Harrison was deported because he hadn’t yet turned of age.
CP: That’s right. Fortunately, I was able to sneak in and out without their finding out, usually in the back of a van, underneath all the amps and stuff. The guys I was playing with were 18 and 19. Although 16 these days is not a big deal, in those days it was, especially playing the nightclubs, which have calmed down a bit since then. It was quite a weird scene, but it was an education.
RF: I understand the conditions were deplorable and the hours the musicians had to work were inhumane.
CP: We slept four of us in a room with an old boiler in the corner and rats running around. We didn’t care; we were so happy to be playing. I think we were paid somewhere between 25 to 30 pounds a week and we worked eight hours a night. I know it sounds like, “Oh sure, these guys are joking,” but it is true. If you wanted to be a musician in those days, you had to do that and use the most primitive equipment. I took a little job right after I left school just to earn some money to buy a kit. As soon as I had the money, off I was.
RF: Sometimes I think there was more dedication in those days. People were more interested in playing than in money.
CP: The competition was so strong and the chances of your making it were so remote that money wasn’t an issue. Even if you did make it and had a hit record, you still wouldn’t get any money because so many people were getting ripped off by various managers, agents and all the sharks that were around at the time. In those days, it was just a case of loving your instrument, and you practiced, practiced and practiced. That’s all I did for four years solid.
RF: How did you practice?
CP: I taught myself to play. I would go to see all the other drummers who played in the circuit. I would go out to all the different clubs and watch every one of them because everybody, good or bad, has something to offer. Another drummer might do some little lick that is really good, and so I took everybody else’s ideas. In the initial stage, I think everybody has to do that. I would listen to all the records. I would listen to the Buddy Rich stuff and the Louie Bellson stuff in the early days, but I didn’t sit down and work out how they played. I just stole the ideas they had and the amount of power they had. I’ve always developed that kind of style in my playing as opposed to being a jazz player. I can play some jazz-style things, but not like someone who is brought up that way. I came up the English rock way, which is completely different. And I thought I would prefer to be known as an English rock drummer, rather than trying to start getting too clever. A lot of English drummers tend to, after a certain age, get a bit snobby and start claiming they can do this and that. Without patronizing, American jazz musicians are so far ahead that we haven’t got a chance.
RF: Who were some of the drummers you dug watching?
CP: In those days, the two who influenced me the most were Brian Bennett from the Shadows and Bobby Elliot from the Hollies. People would ask why I wasn’t into Buddy Rich. I wasn’t aiming to be Buddy Rich. I just wanted to be the best in my field, so I watched the drummers who I thought were the two top pop drummers at the time. And it was easy to see them because they were playing the circuit in England. I just watched them, listened to the way they played, and just developed from there.
I came back to England in about 1968. I think I went to Germany in about 1965 and I was there for about three years. By then, we had gone down from playing eight hours a night to just four and that was easy. So when I went back to England, the English music scene was happening. Hendrix had come over from America, then Cream and all that sort of stuff, and I started doing some sessions. I got an “in.” The session scene in England then was such that you had to be “in” to get a session; you had to know somebody. I managed to wheedle my way in and a couple of people heard me and were impressed. Mickie Most was one of the producers who used me a lot, and I played on a lot of his records with various people.
RF: Did you enjoy doing sessions?
CP: I did because I was playing with all kinds of different people. I had learned the trade as far as playing the drums was concerned. I was still learning, but I had a very aggressive start, if you like, so if people wanted an aggressive drummer on an album, they’d book me. If they wanted a sort of straight, ordinary thing, they’d book one of the other drummers on the circuit. There were about eight of us who were doing a lot of the sessions in London at that time. So I’d do three or four sessions a day at different studios and I was making good money. Suddenly it went from nothing in Germany to a really good living.
RF: I would imagine that was very different from playing in bands.
CP: It was. I was sort of in and out of a lot of groups in those days so I was looking for the group to join, a bit like Simon Phillips does now. He does a lot of work for everybody and he’s a great, in-demand player. At that time, I was not as in-demand as he is now, but pretty well booked.
RF: You didn’t have to read for any of that?
CP: No. I could usually manage to get through a part. If there were a lot of time changes, I would try to work out what the part was, and if I really couldn’t get it, I would let the band run through it while I’d be fixing a bass drum pedal. “Carry on lads. I’ll be right with you.” They’d play and I have a very good memory. Usually if I hear a track once, I can remember it. I’d be fixing this bass drum until the end of the tune. “Sorry about that. Shall we go again?” And that’s the way I used to bullshit my way through sessions. I was never really dedicated enough to learn to read. There is a reason for that, because I don’t think drummers should read. That may sound like a stupid statement, but you play drums from the heart. Go back to the days in Africa where people would communicate with drums. They weren’t writing it all down. It was played.
Drums should be felt. Drums are a rhythm thing that you can’t write down. If you want all that sort of stuff, buy a LinnDrum, and then you’ll have it all in time and all perfect. Drummers seem to be a dying breed at the moment because of all these machines, but they should just drive the band. They should play from the heart and if they’re good, they will keep their jobs. If they’re not, they’ll be thrown out. Basically, it’s as simple as that. That’s what I think, anyway. So I didn’t read. People didn’t book me if they knew there was a lot of reading involved. I used to tell them, “There’s no point. I can’t do your piece justice. I would prefer that you just run through the tune once on the piano or give me an idea of the structure, and I’ll put my little style onto your piece of music,” which is how I got most of the stuff in the early days.
RF: Can you recall any particular tunes you played on?
CP: It was all English stuff. It was all singles. Some of the stuff I did I didn’t even remember until I heard it on the radio. It’s really strange. The big break came when Jeff Beck asked me to come down and have a play. He had a lot of drummers audition and all these other guys were tapping away at this little Hayman drumkit that was there. I brought my Ludwig kit down—the old red double bass drumkit—and set it up right in front of him. When it was my turn, I thought, “I’m just going to go for it, and if I don’t get the job, at least I will have left my mark. I’ve got nothing to lose.” Jeff was the sort of guy who would just be standing there saying, “Next.” A drummer has got to be in charge of the band, so I just started one of the tunes and he put the guitar down halfway through it and said, “You’ve got the job.”
RF: You were with him for a couple of years.
CP: We did an album which was never released. Then we did one in England and one in America.
RF: Are there particular rules of thumb for playing drums in a guitar-oriented band?
CP: Guitarists are all very moody characters, for a start. I don’t know why I’ve gotten on with guitarists more than anybody else, but I just seem to have that sympathy with them. I think you have to understand guitarists, basically. They’re a weird bunch. Nothing like those sort of general statements, is there? [laughs]
RF: That’s what a lot of people say about drummers.
CP: I suppose they do. But you’ve got to be mad to have two pieces of wood and hit things with them. Nobody sane would do that, would they? But back to guitar players: I think they want some- body with authority. They need somebody to kick them in the ass all the time. Most drummers who don’t get on with guitarists are usually the timid type or the type who aren’t going to say their piece. I’m not exactly known for my subtlety. If I don’t like something, I say so, but it seems to have done well for me in the past, working with guitar players. They can look back at me and see somebody who is going to drive them through the next part of the show or whatever, and that’s basically been what I’ve been all about.
RF: What about rules of thumb for playing with a soloist?
CP: I think the biggest thing you have to learn is sympathy for other people. You don’t just blast through when someone is trying to take a very delicate solo. I think a lot of drummers have a lack of feel in that area. When people start, the first mistake they make is trying to show off. “Look, I’m great.” I’m sure they are, but they just blow through everything everybody else is doing. You’ve really got to listen very carefully to a guitarist’s moods, because their moods usually come out in their playing. Being a drummer, you’ve got to be A, a drummer, B, a psychologist, and who knows what else. It’s a combination of things. Working with guitarists, I’ve always found that they’re always right, or at least you let them think that they are. Then you turn around and do it the way you want to do it. That’s usually the way it is. They’re very moody characters. Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore and Michael Schenker are very similar in some respects. They’ve all got the sort of image they try to keep up. I don’t mean Jeff, though. He doesn’t need an image. He’s the best in my book. But Ritchie and Michael tend to try to live up to an image they’ve created themselves. It’s a bit like creating a monster and having to try to live up to it. That’s what I’ve found. I’ve enjoyed working in all the bands I’ve worked with. People say that I move around a lot, but I’ve only moved around because the situations I’ve been in have gone over the top for some reason or another.
RF: Can you be specific? Why did you leave Jeff?
CP: Well, I didn’t actually leave Jeff. The whole band was fired because Jeff was going through a bit of a funny period at that time. He just desperately wanted to play with Timmy Bogert and Carmine Appice. He wanted to do that before he formed our group, but it was impossible for contractual reasons. Eventually, the chance came. We were cutting a single with Stevie Wonder. Stevie had written a song for Jeff, “Superstition,” which we cut. There was a big argument in the control room. Our bass player had a go at Jeff in front of everybody and, of course, you just didn’t do that in front of all the Motown heads—Stevie and all.
RF: Are you on “Superstition”?
CP: I don’t know. There were so many versions done that I don’t even know to this day whether that’s my playing. Stevie used to nick bits here and there. You’d do a track and you’d find the next day that the cymbals were taken off and something else put on. All I know is that I played on it the very first time he put it down. I remember the sessions well, though. I think we cut two or three tracks, of which “Superstition” was one. Jeff did a couple of bits and pieces of his album at that time. Then there was this big argument in the control room and Jeff said, “That’s it!” We flew back to London on a Saturday, and Monday morning a letter came through the post stating, “You are no longer required . . . “from Jeff’s manager, who was also a solicitor. I’ve forgiven Jeff since for that. In fact, I was with him just last night.
After that, I sort of had a built-in cynicism, if you like. I don’t really take anybody very seriously unless I’ve known that person for years and years. With Rainbow, it started off in all good faith, and then Ritchie started to become what I consider to be unprofessional—playing with his back to the audience, walking off stage, and not doing encores. If he wants to do that sort of thing, fine, but I wasn’t going to put up with it. He did an interview recently in an English trade paper where he said the same thing. “I know I must be unprofessional, but that’s just me.” Well fine, but when you’ve worked with a guy for five years, that’s enough of that prima donna nonsense. I was with Rainbow for five years—’75 to ’80— and five years of Ritchie Blackmore is a long time for anybody.
RF: I have heard rather crazy stories about him.
CP: Most of those stories are true. I knew what I was letting myself in for, but I took that as a challenge. I can say that I have been with Ritchie the longest any drummer has been with him. I was with him longer than Ian Paice, in fact, who was with him in Deep Purple. When Ritchie left Purple, he had been with them for about four years, so I have about a year on Paice. The reason I left the band was that Ritchie had gotten to the point where it was just getting silly, and he wanted to be too commercial in Rainbow. I’m not against playing commercial tracks, but at that time, Rainbow was known as a very hard rock band—one of the early forerunners of heavy metal. If you’re going to do that stuff, then do it. Don’t pussyfoot around. It was just making the band look like a joke. But Ritchie is Ritchie and he has to have his own way. It doesn’t matter who he hurts by getting it. So, I said, “Fine, you have your band,” exit one C. Powell and I’m off.
RF: You had your own thing going even before the Rainbow gig.
CP: I was in about six groups between Jeff and Rainbow. One was called Bedlam, which came to the States and did a very brief tour with Black Sabbath. There was another one called Big Bertha, and another one called Strange Brew, which never actually played. Then I did a drum single, which took a half an hour to do, in 1973. That was quite fun. It was called “Dance With The Devil” and I think it was in the Top 40 in just about every country in the world.
RF: Was that your composition?
CP: Not really. I mean, it was just a drum rhythm. I couldn’t really say I wrote it. It was just something that came info my head. It was Mickie Most’s idea. He said, “I’ve got this idea for a tune. Throw a few rhythms at me.” So I just sat and played a few things. He said, “I think we’ll do it like this.” He just said, “Play this; try that.” He did the producer’s job. We finished it and I thought no more about it. The next month, I noticed it at the bottom of the charts, creeping up and up and up and up. It was a very big hit over here, and in America it got up to about 38. Then we had two records out after that. The next one was called “Man In Black,” which was sort of a “Dance With The Devil, Part II.” It did nothing in America at all, but it did quite well over here and went into the Top 20. There was another one after that called “Na Na Na,” which had a vocal. I had a little band called Cozy Powell’s Hammer, and we did a few tours over here. That record was a hit as well and went into the Top 10. That brief period in my life lasted for about two years. Then I became so disenchanted with the music business that I realized I was not enjoying it, but was becoming a product of the charts. I’d had enough. I have always been interested in driving in the competition sort of thing, so I took a year off—’74 to ’75—and went motor racing. I didn’t touch a drumkit for a year.
RF: Do you feel the time away helped when you came back to it?
CP: Yeah, because I had so much enthusiasm when I came back. It was a good offer, musically, although financially it wasn’t a great offer. But I’ve always made my moves for the music, not the finance at all. If you don’t enjoy it and you get ten grand a week, the money will go down on booze, drugs or whatever else you have to take to make yourself feel better. It’s never been the money, although I’ve been accused of that in the past. But the thing with Rainbow looked so good that it enticed me back into the business after the motor racing. Ritchie’s ideas sounded so good and the first album we did was really good, I thought.
RF: What was it about the idea of the gig that was appealing to you?
CP: Ritchie said that when he left Purple it was because rock ‘n’ roll had become a bit boring. What he wanted to do was put on a really outrageous stage show with a lot of movement and a lot of power, which was right up my street. He spent a lot of money on the set, had big backdrops, a great rainbow that lit up, and it was very exciting. We were putting on a show—an event. It was the forerunner to Kiss and that whole thing.
RF: Do you think that heavy metal has changed much?
CP: Yeah, I think it’s changed for the worse. A lot of the bands I’ve heard play, without naming names, claim to be heavy metal and all sorts of things. For a start, the kids can’t play. They’ve maybe picked up their instruments for a couple of years and decide to form a band. Well, you have to start somewhere, but then they get a little bit of success via the media and they think that they can play. That is a sad thing. There are not that many honest musicians in those sorts of bands. I think it’s put the name heavy metal into an almost joke class. People say, “He’s in a heavy metal band. He can’t play. It’s just bash, bash, bash.” Most of those bands are like that. Maybe it’s a bit of snobbery on my part, but I don’t consider myself to be a heavy metal drummer. I might have been in a band that started to do that style, but I consider myself a hard rock drummer. The stuff I did with Rainbow was not really heavy metal. The band I’m with now, Whitesnake, is just a hard rock blues band.
RF: Can you differentiate between playing heavy metal and hard rock, technically?
CP: Heavy metal can be something that does not require a great deal of thought. You just hit everything in sight, but I think hard rock drumming is different. You start off playing rock, which is a definitive style of playing, and you just harden it up. I think, generally, heavy metal drummers are not particularly interested in how they play; it’s just how much noise they can make. So, if you like, it’s a bit of musical snobbery. A hard rock drummer is probably a better, more tasteful player than a heavy metal drummer. I could not say I’m a tasteful player, because I’m not. Jeff Porcaro is a tasteful drummer, and you couldn’t put me in the same class as him.
RF: You did solo projects after Rainbow.
CP: Right. The solo projects—I’d almost forgotten about them. I was offered a deal on the back of a Rainbow deal. Rainbow had been all over the world. In Japan, for some reason, they love drummers. They seem to really love me and I always seem to win the polls over there. I don’t know why, but I do. Also, drummers get more votes than guitarists, bands or anything else. Normally, it’s guitar players and singers that clean up, but it’s all different in Japan. So I got this record deal basically because of Japan and the success of Rainbow. It was called Over The Top and it featured players like Jack Bruce, Gary Moore and a few others. It sold very well over here and did quite well in Japan, so they asked me to do another one. That was called Tilt, which Jeff, Gary Moore, Jack and David Sancious played on.
RF: This was all prior to Michael Schenker?
CP: Over The Top was prior to Michael Schenker and Tilt was done while I was with him. When we had a bit of time off, I’d go into the studio and do a couple of tracks. After I had just left Michael, about two years ago, I started working on my third LP which was called Octypus. It wasn’t released in America. I think they put one ad in the trades and then it was immediately forgotten.
RF: How did the gig with Michael Schenker come about?
CP: I wanted to join Schenker because, again, I thought it would be Blackmore, Part II, but Schenker was younger and I thought he wouldn’t have quite the ego that Ritchie had and was still in the right frame of mind at that time. But Michael Schenker has been known to go up and down in his moods. At the moment, I hear he’s playing better than ever and has really straightened himself out. Michael is his own worst enemy, though, and has gone through serious phases in the last few years. When I left him, it was because he was not in control of his band anymore. I was more or less running the band. I didn’t mind doing it, but in the end, even I didn’t know what I was doing. It was just a joke. I stayed with Schenker for two years, until I just couldn’t take it anymore. My leaving received a fair amount of criticism. You probably don’t hear about all this in America because the English scene is really completely different, but over here it was big news—front-page stuff. Funny, all the bands I’ve been in during the last ten years haven’t really meant anything in America. Whitesnake is signed to Geffen, so hopefully that will change.
RF: How does your approach differ with Whitesnake, a more vocal-oriented band, as opposed to a guitar-oriented band?
CP: I don’t have to play as loudly, which is nice. I don’t have to battle against who knows how many watts of guitar scream. I’ve always played with guitar players who have seemed to get louder and louder by the week. Ritchie wasn’t actually the quietest bloke I’d ever met. Schenker is equally as loud. I would think, “Could you turn it down?” I hit the drums very hard, but I was still battling against the PA or whatever, and it drove me mad. With a vocalist leading the band, the band volume, although it’s still loud, has dropped fractionally, which gives me a chance. I say that in one breath, but in the next breath, I must say the pace of our show is very hard. It is frantic.
RF: With the volume being a little less, do you feel that you’re allowed to be more tasteful?
CP: I thought that when I joined, but I was just watching the video last night and it was nonstop bash, bash, bash. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing, but we’ll have to see.
RF: How do you pace a frantic show?
CP: It’s not easy to do. Obviously, if your show consists of mostly fast and furious numbers, you’ve got to try to figure out how you’re going to get through it. It’s a question of pacing the show. When the show is paced, you then adjust your pace to the show. Usually the first two or three numbers are just heads down, bang, go-for-it sort of things. I’ve got to get through the first two or three numbers without much of a break, so I’m talking about ten to 12 minutes of nonstop blast—flat-out playing. That is draining before the show even starts. When we play America, we’ll be supporting and not headlining, so it won’t be that bad.
RF: How do you keep that kind of energy happening?
CP: I try to keep fit. I gave up smoking a couple of years ago—no big deal. I went through a phase of rather heavy drinking and I’ve cut down on that. If you’re going to keep going, you have to take care of yourself. I’m 36, so I’m not exactly a young kid anymore, but I’m still competing with kids half my age. They have the energy naturally that I have to work at. When they say the older you get, the more experienced you are, it’s true because you have to pace yourself. It takes a hell of a lot more determination to do at 36 what you could do at 18, playing-wise. I do a lot of outdoor stuff to keep in shape. We have a few army units and I’ll go down for weekend courses every couple of months to try to keep myself fit. They’re special training courses for people in the service. I know a lot of the people because they used to do security at our concerts. They take me down to their headquarters and we do fitness things. We live outdoors in a tent for a week and that’s it. It toughens us up. I do a lot of walking—ten to 20 miles a day with a pack on—and it really does get me tough. It just gives me a little more of a chance to take on an American tour. It’s a bit like being an athlete. Some drummers have defied the laws, but they’re no longer with us. John “Bonzo,” a dear friend of mine, is unfortunately no longer with us. John was a big guy anyway, very strong, but it took him and it took Keith Moon. You can’t keep that up. If you’re going to start messing about with your body, it’s going to give up on you. I like to think that I can still do what I did ten to 15 years ago with relative ease, because I try to take care of myself.
RF: Your solos are quite extensive. Can you tell me what you think makes a good solo?
CP: I’ve always had solos in the past, even back to the Jeff Beck days. I want the solo to be something that is very explosive and unforgettable. Although my technical expertise is minimal, I will probably be able to fool most of the people most of the time by what I do. It’s not just a case of playing; it’s a case of using every trick in the book.
RF: Can you reveal what some of those tricks are?
CP: Well, it’s impossible to play the things you can play with an orchestra, so I use a tape of an orchestra as I play. In Rainbow, I used the 1812 Overture with the full Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. I would play to that, and there would be a lot of lights and effects. When you saw it, it seemed incredible. It was only me playing a drumkit, but when you get a 66-piece orchestra, choir, a few bombs and smoke, it’s unforgettable, whether you like drums or not. I’ve always tried to do a solo that’s spectacular. In the Michael Schenker Group, I did a thing where I incorporated the 1812 Overture and a piece of music from the 633 Squadron, which is a war film about the planes bombing Norway, trying to get a nuclear plant the Germans have. It’s a very famous piece of music and I would use the theme music in the set because it was very British. I’m now working on a new solo where I’m going to incorporate “Mars” from The Planets suite with a whole bunch of effects, maybe using lasers. It’s not very long—maybe eight or nine minutes—but there are great effects. The riser moves and the whole thing. I did that in 1975 with Rainbow and it was the first time anybody actually moved on stage with a drumkit. I had one that went up in the air and out towards the audience. Then everybody started doing that. I got a lot of my ideas from Nick Mason, who did a thing with Pink Floyd. He was the first one I ever saw use lights when he played, and I thought it was a very good idea to have strobe lights around the bass drum. It was a very simple effect, but I thought I would expand that. Not everyone in the audience is going to be a drummer. So I like to have the element of surprise and do something a bit spectacular.
RF: So you feel that showmanship is very important.
CP: Yes, really important. When you’re playing in a band, the showmanship is always going to come across, but you just hold it back a bit. When you have your chance and they say, “Take it away,” you hit with everything you have, whatever it takes. I’m not saying that I am trying to disguise my playing, and that if I didn’t use the effects I couldn’t play. I can play, but I like to really get it across, and the sort of bands I’ve been playing in, fortunately, give me the time and the money to spend on all these theatrical effects. It seems to come off. Plus, I enjoy it.
RF: Before you go on stage, is there anything you do to warm up for the pace ahead of you?
CP: Just 15 or 20 minutes of pull-ups and such to get going. You can’t possibly walk on stage stiff. I walk around a lot. If you think I move around a lot now, you should see me then. I pace up and down a room, up and down stairs, just to get it all going initially and get the heart rate up a bit, so when I do walk on, I’m immediately energetic. I don’t get stage fright anymore. I can walk onto an arena anywhere. It’s not a case of being blase and saying I don’t get nervous. Of course I get nervous, but I psyche myself up like racing drivers as they sit on the grid waiting for the green light. It’s the same thing as playing on stage. You walk in front of a lot of people and you have to do your job. It’s a very physical job, so you’ve got to work yourself up. I have to do something with both arms and both legs to push the band, so I have to be capable of walking on and doing it. I have to be in control from the minute we start. I can’t afford to let it be two or three numbers before I’ve got it together, because I’ll let the band down if I do that.
RF: What about keeping your equipment in good condition when you’re such a hard hitter?
CP: I’ve used a Yamaha kit for six years now. They’re very well made and very good drums. It’s a bloody good kit. Obviously, I have a lot of spares so the kit always stays in tip-top condition, although I’ve had the same kit for a long time.
RF: Can you detail the kit?
CP: It’s the same for live playing and in the studio. I use two 26″ bass drums, wood on the inside, chrome on the outside and all Remo Black Dot heads. I use two 15″ toms. One is tuned high and one is tuned down. The reason I use 15″ and not 14″ is because the 15″ toms are just a little deeper. There’s a 16″ and a 20″ tom, and a 14 X 5 1/2 wood-shell snare. All the hardware is Yamaha and the cymbals are Paiste. The cymbals are 15″ 2002 heavy hi-hat, a 20″ medium 2002, an 18″ heavy 602, a 20″ 2002 crash, an 8″ 2002 splash, a 24″ 2002 ride, a 20″ 2002 crash, a 20″ 2002 China type, an 18″ 2002 ride, a 20″ 602 medium ride, and an 18″ 2002 crash. I use particularly thick sticks. They’re more like baseball bats.
RF: Do you have any trouble keeping a grip on those?
CP: I’ve been using those a long time now. People laugh when they see them and ask, “How the hell do you play with these?” But it’s just a matter of practice really. I like to feel something heavy when I play.
RF: How long have you used two bass drums?
CP: Since 1967. I’ve always used two bass drums on stage and in most of the recordings I’ve done. This last album, Whitesnake’s Slide It In, is the first album I’ve done with a single bass drum. The tracks didn’t require it. It was just very simple. The drumming on the new album is nothing spectacular. There are some nice little fills here and there, but I was doing a job and the job didn’t require two bass drums. The stuff I’ve been doing lately requires me to keep a very simple rhythm and nothing more. And I’m quite happy to do that. I get my chance in the solo. The stuff I’m doing is very simple, though. It does make me laugh a little bit when I see drummers going on with a long explanation about how they worked out this triple-handed paradiddle. What’s the point? Who in the audience is going to know what one of these things is anyway? I don’t know and I’m a drummer. If you said, “Play a ratamaque,” I wouldn’t even know where to start. It’s all rubbish to me. I just play the drums. I don’t bother to get into theory. That might piss some people off who read this, but that’s how I feel.
RF: Do you think that there’s more feel involved with Whitesnake?
CP: Very much so. It’s basically just that—feel. The tracks are played in a certain way and there’s no point in my thundering away. It would spoil the song. The song is the most important part of anything you do. There’s no point in blasting away at some- thing. You don’t use a sledge hammer to crack a walnut, do you? So that’s the theory behind that. I just try to keep it as simple as possible. I think the art of being a really good drummer is keeping it nice and straight, so it just sits nicely. Tempo fluctuates no matter who you are. Some are worse than others, but everyone fluctuates. Other than that, the most important things are keeping it simple and feeling the song. After all, the drummer is only the fourth or fifth member of the band.
RF: Since you didn’t use the double bass on the album, will you take them on the road with you?
CP: Oh yeah.
RF: How did you teach yourself double bass?
CP: It came quite naturally to me, funny enough. I’d seen Ginger Baker play. Moonie also had two bass drums, although he very rarely played them both, but I thought the idea of the kit looked good. That was the first reason. Then I decided I’d might as well learn how to play them. Most drummers’ left bass drums have dust on them because they don’t use them. They’re just there for show or they might hit them at the very end of the song. I do actually use my bass drums. In fact, I can do most of the stuff with my left foot that I can do with my right. That’s just from practicing over the years and just taking a few chances now and again. It gives me a bit more power on the bass end, which is why I use them. You just have to adapt to going from your left bass drum to your hi-hat, which takes a couple of years to master. If you persevere at anything, you can do it.
RF: On the more personal side of things, you’ve weathered your share of ups and downs, and you said earlier on that you are a little cynical.
CP: I’m cynical about the business. I love playing music, and I think that music and the business have somehow become entwined. I don’t like many of the people in the business. That’s nothing personal there, but I don’t like most record company executives, most reporters and most other musicians. That’s kind of a sweeping statement, isn’t it? And people are asking, “Who does he think he is?” But I’ve been around for a long time, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go, and I don’t like what I’ve seen most of the time. The people I’ve known for years and years are fine, and there are a lot of people coming up who are great. There are also a lot of jerks in this business. People latch onto musicians in bands because it’s “in” this week. I think you really have to take care of yourself in this business. My idea of relaxing, if I can use that term, is going back to my farm on my own with my animals. They don’t answer back; they’re just there and it’s great. I can just wander about, see the fields and do things I wouldn’t dream of when I’m on the road, because all I see on the road is hotel rooms, debauchery, airports and the gigs. It’s just one long, continual chaos. I don’t care what people say; it is that. There’s no doubt about it. You look at it and think, “What am I doing here?” You go home to a farm and it’s so opposite. The farmer next door to me has never been further than 20 miles. He’s never been to London for example. He’s out in the fields every day, he’s been there for 60 years, he very rarely has a drink, and I come back and see him and think, “If he only knew what I’ve been up to in the last six months.” That, to me, is so completely different from a tour, and that’s what it’s all about for me. I’ve spent all my money on getting that place and it’ll take me a long time to pay it off, but that’s why I do it. Everybody needs a release and some time to unwind. That’s why I live there. I love London and I love big cities, but sometimes I have to get away to recharge.
RF: How have you maintained being such a nice, down-to-earth person having seen everything you’ve seen?
CP: Because I’ve been through most of the things you go through. Most of the bands who are superstars haven’t been playing for that long or haven’t had success for that long. I haven’t had superstar status, but I’ve been in enough groups that have been popular. Jeff Beck was the most popular band I was with in the States, so the first tour of America I did was with Jeff. I was thrown into a situation with that kind of adulation and I’ve never been in that type of situation again. Most of the people I know in the business who have been through it for a long time are nice people. You couldn’t wish for a nicer man than John Lord, our keyboard player. He’s an absolute gentleman. People who have been around for a long time haven’t any need to show off anymore. Maybe, as you get older, you suddenly realize there is no point to showing off. I’m sure most kids, if they do go through a phase like that, will come out of it and realize they’ve been a bit of an idiot. Then they’ll calm down.