Point Of View
A superlative drummer and percussionist, Barriemore Barlow has a provocative style that is considered by many to be at the vanguard of rock-oriented drumming. In the early ’70s, Barlow came to prominence as a key feature of Jethro Tull, where he integrated irregular rhythmic excursions, exquisite dynamics, and an affinity for melodic experimentation within Tull’s esoteric sound.
Citing “creative differences” with vocalist Ian Anderson, Barlow grew frustrated with the band’s apparent lack of progress in the late ’70s. He eventually departed Tull to satisfy his own pursuits, as well as to contribute to projects with other artists.
I met with Barrie at his home, which is situated on the banks of the Thames River about 30 miles due east of London. The village that he resides in is an unofficial musicians’ community, with Barrie’s friend and neighbor Ian Paice living just a stone’s throw up the road from him. While I was planning this interview, I anticipated a discussion primarily concerning Barlow’s infinite knowledge of drumming, his background, and his career experiences thus far. What I actually gained was an insight into his strong character and spirit, not to mention his comedic personality. Any topic we addressed that day was responded to by Barrie’s relentless penchant for controversy or his equally sharp-witted humor.
Without the benefit of witnessing his physical gestures and smiling face as he answered the questions that follow, one might think him a bit cynical, but that really isn’t the case with Barrie. He has experienced both good and bad throughout his career, and he is nothing short of direct when discussing those experiences.
When he comments on a question posed to him, he may or may not convey what you want or expect to hear. Instead, Barrie gives it to you straight.
BB: Oh yes, it was a great experience. I learned a lot about life, I learned a lot about music, and I learned a lot about America. It’s a great way to see the world, and it’s nice to do it in first-class style, you know? I mean, the thought of getting on a Greyhound bus and schlepping around the States supporting someone just doesn’t appeal to me.
TS: But you probably would have “roughed it” in the beginning if it had been necessary?
BB: Probably, yeah. But I didn’t have to do that, even in the early days. It was all handed to me on a silver platter. I joined Tull on the crest of a wave, and I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there for the first three or four years—certainly not until I started to stamp my own impression on the band.
TS: After your departure from Tull, was it intentional that you played mostly session projects rather than involving yourself in another band situation?
BB: Well actually, I started a band while I was still in Tull. John Glascock—who was Tull’s bass player at the time—and I were like brothers. He had to leave the band to have a massive heart operation, which affected his circulation afterwards so that the feeling in his fingers wasn’t the same as it had been. In spite of that, we were still writing together. After he left the band, I brought in Dave Pegg of Fairport Convention as his replacement. Dave’s a great player, but the music started to become folky. Tull had leanings in many directions, and one of those leanings was this sort of folk element. The balance was tipping over too much in that direction for my taste.
Now John had previously been in a band called Carmen, which was where I met him when they supported Tull for a three-month U.S. tour. I loved that music, but they eventually disbanded. Later on, when I was really fed up with Tull’s music, I called John and said, “Do you fancy getting together to do some playing? We can bring in David Allen, too.” David was the keyboard player from Carmen. John was elated about it, and just two days later, John died. That just blew my mind completely. I mean, I cried and cried. When we were doing the last gig of that U.S. tour—Tull had to do two more gigs after getting the news—I was crying while I was playing, all the way through the show. That really did me in.
The first thing we did at the end of the tour was to attend John’s funeral. In the meantime, I had arranged for David Allen to come over to England, which he did, and I got this wizard guitar player named Robin Hill. We tried to pick up the pieces and continue this band situation. Since I still had a European tour to do with Tull, I was down at Shepperton Studios rehearsing with that group. Tull rehearsals would always start promptly at 10:00 A.M. and last until precisely 6:00 P.M. I’d have the new band come in at 6:30 using Tull’s gear, which I got clearance for, and we’d go on from there. The band consisted of Chris Glenn from Michael Schenker’s band, Tommy Ayres on keyboards, who’s played with just about everyone, David Allen, and Robin Hill. It was keeping me pretty busy having two types of material going on at once, but I loved it.
When Tull’s European tour finished, I continued rehearsing with this band for about six months, and then David Allen went off and tried to do a deal with our material for himself, using the tapes that we had made. That was one of the hardest lessons I learned when that project went down the tubes. And that was after I had kept the geezer in my house for four months, fed him, and treated him like a guest.
Then I called Zal Clemson, who was the guitarist for the Alex Harvey Band, and we ended up playing together for about ten hours a day for three months in my studio. We were just going absolutely bananas getting it all out of our systems, and it sounded fantastic. We put a band together around what we were doing, and that band was called Tandoori Cassette. Have you ever heard of Tandoori Cassette over in the States?
TS: In retrospect, was Jethro Tull an over-all satisfying experience for you, and if so, on what levels?
TS: To be honest, no. But the name sounds very intriguing.
BB: Well, it was a happening band back in the early ’80s. The rule was: “If you’ve heard it before, don’t play it.” It was roughly commercial as well, so that people would be leaving a gig singing the melody lines. We had Charlie Toomahai from Be Bop Deluxe, who was the bass player and singer, and keyboard player Ronnie Levy from Jack Bruce. I used to call him “Ronnie Never-Played-The-Same-Thing-Twice Levy.” Sometimes it was awful, but usually it was incredible.
TS: It sounds exciting and spontaneous.
BB: It was, and we were hitting the university circuit. I had done all the big venues and all that business already, and it was really nice to work that university circuit. They’re still my favorite type of gigs. We had so many managers and record companies chasing us, but they all seemed to want something for nothing.
TS: In what respect?
BB: Well, managers did none of the actual work for us. I organized the road crew, got the P.A., and financed the whole thing, but they couldn’t sell it, probably because it was based over here in England and because the music was a bit ahead of its time. When I played the first Tears For Fears album, The Hurting, during the making of Yngwie’s album, and nobody understood it, I said, “Just hang on and give it a few plays. This album is going to do pretty well.” Over here, it was a big smash. Lo and behold, Tears For Fears’ next album was an international success. So the moral is: You have to be in the right place at the right time, and Tandoori Cassette was in the right place but at the wrong time. We weren’t teenagers who could afford to go on and on, living off unemployment insurance, because we’ve got mortgages, kids, and everything that goes with it, and that’s the business side that sets us apart from these young people. Also, we didn’t have anyone but me as our financial backer, and I had to turn the tap off when I was $50,000 down on Tandoori Cassette.
TS: Did you ever recoup that money?
BB: No, but it was great to be playing that music. I mean, on a good night, it was as good as, if not better than, anything I’ve been in. From that point, we decided that we’d have to call it quits, and I just started doing other things. The phone just started ringing. I had played with Robert Plant in the middle of the Tandoori Cassette period. What Robert was doing wasn’t a patch on what Tandoori Cassette was doing, but Robert was earning money, you know.
The more I work with other people and see the business side of the “business,” the more I respect Ian, in retrospect. For example, from the songwriting point of view, he used to come into rehearsals and say, “Martin, you play that; John, you play that; David, you play this,” etc., and by the time they all worked their parts out, I already knew what was going on. I’d play probably the first thing that came into my head, and nine times out of ten, that was what we kept. But if there was anything he didn’t like, he always had a good alternative, which is great. It’s sort of like Zappa without reading music.
TS: Since you brought up Ian Anderson again, I was wondering if you and he ever had any extreme differences of opinion about how things should be played, given that you seem to have some pretty definite ideas and a strong personality of your own?
BB: We had differences every single day [laughs], but it was pretty healthy. I mean, he used to let me have my way all the time. Apart from some of the tempos of things, I played things pretty much as I felt they should be. Ian’s got a ridiculous way of looking at tempos; I mean, there are certain tempos that move people . . . certain hidden tempos like disco tempos. He would invariably want things much slower than I would want them to be. Perhaps those tempos suited the timing, but listening back to that music, it’s had its day— you know, the over-arranged pomp rock where you’re struggling to hear the melody. All those bands of that ilk ran out of steam. I think, in some ways, it was easier to write a bar of 7/4 or 5/4 than to come up with a hook melody.
TS: Since that music sounds dated to you, I gather that you probably don’t listen to much of it anymore.
BB: Oh yeah, it sounds very dated, and I can’t stand to hear any of it. I’m on ten Tull albums, and there are probably four songs I could possibly bear to listen to now. But I play the Tandoori Cassette rehearsal tapes all the time!
TS: Do you think Tandoori Cassette will ever resurface?
BB: Well, I don’t know. Tears For Fears and Depeche Mode are doing what we were doing. There’s a lot of drama in that music, and lyrically it’s excellent. The only music and musicians that I really admire are the innovators, and sadly, the drummers—the innovative drummers—that have most captivated my ears over the past 15 years are now doing nothing.
TS: Who in particular are you referring to?
BB: Artie Tripp, for one. He’s a chiropractor now. I actually sent him a drumkit over to L.A., with a note saying, “Please get off your ass and start doing it again.” Now Michael Giles—I probably mentioned him in the last interview—is doing demonstrations for Roland. It’s so hard to keep inventing fresh things while keeping a commercial thing happening, and the only innovative players that have actually combined that innovation and commercialism from the drumming point of view are guys like Phil Collins and Stewart Copeland. Copeland had a unique style that was very commercial, which was great—lovely. His timing was all over the place, but it didn’t matter; it was a different type of sound.
It’s very hard because, for a start, each drummer is at the mercy of a bunch of other musicians—at least the majority of drummers are—and those musicians in turn are at the mercy of the record companies. The record companies have to see profit, and they have to be convinced that there’s a marketplace for that product. So as you can see, at the end of the line is the poor drummer, who not only has to please the musicians collectively, but the band also has to please the record company in order to get a deal. Or they at least have to have some gimmick, you know what I mean? It’s that image side of it; it’s packaged like the selling of washing powder, regardless of what the ingredients are. It’s frustrating at times.
But having said all that, I’ve done pretty well within this business, compared with some of my heroes like Tripp. Now Phil Collins has done incredibly well in the business, although I think he could have used some restraint at the Live Aid gig. I mean, it should have been renamed “The Phil Collins Show With Special Guests: The Rest Of The World.” Sorry Phil, I love you, but come on! Can you imagine the money it cost to fly that Concorde across there, and the whole point was to save money to give to these needy people? And then they put him in the “Stairway To Heaven” number, and they already had Tony Thompson in there. Phil should have taken his own band—which is fantastic— and done his own thing instead of all that silly shit. Everybody said, “Isn’t it wonderful?” but the whole sentiment behind the day was to be prudent, yet generous— not extravagant or ego-seeking. I mean, Phil is a great drummer, he’s written some great songs, and I admire him very much, but I think he made an ass of himself that day.
TS: You were saying that you’ve managed to keep afloat in this business despite the hardships that some of your personal heroes have had to endure as drummers.
BB: The thing I said about the phone ringing is ironic, because I get a lot of offers from heavy metal bands left, right, and center. Without hurting anybody’s feelings, I don’t dig that sort of music. My eight-year-old son can play that. This sort of music was basically invented and perfected by Zeppelin and Purple, and everything else is just a pretense of that. If you take perhaps 100 heavy metal bands over the last ten years, perhaps there are 20 songs worth listening to out of the whole lot, as far as I’m concerned. All the bands sound the same. It’s the whole sort of Spinal Tap thing. I laugh at these bands like Motorhead and all the American metal bands that are trying to do all that. It really is a sad indication of America’s intelligence that heavy metal is so popular there. I think heavy metal appeals to the not-so-bright, and I think we should all do something about improving our personal education—not just musical—to make the world a better place.
TS: That’s a pretty subjective opinion.
BB: I know it is. I’m not saying that you have to agree with it.
TS: I just don’t think it’s fair or accurate to generalize. There are some great heavy metal players and bands, just as there are some inferior metal musicians and bands.
BB: Yeah, there are some ace players in a select few bands. Yngwie is a great player—an incredible player—but he’s completely wasting his time. He fills every bar with 1,000 notes. But then again, there was no one more guilty than I was of filling every bar with something back in the early days. So I understand that.
TS: I guess you might rationalize that approach by saying that it was appropriate for Tull’s music. It complemented the music rather than dominated it.
BB: I suppose so. Ian would have preferred me to leave more space, but for myself, I felt, “If I’m going to leave more space here, there had better be something else hot happening.” And if I didn’t think there was anything hot happening, I’d be inclined to fill it.
TS: Obviously, your playing has gone through some transitions over the years, resulting in a more pared-down style. It’s especially evident on Yngwie Malmsteem’s Rising Force LP.
BB: That’s because Yngwie got such a shitty drum sound on that.
TS: Well, one of my questions pertains to what it was like for you to be produced by Yngwie, so maybe you could elaborate on that now?
BB: Well, not only was Yngwie—at 20 years old—producing Rising Force as a first-time producer, but it was his first solo album as well. Now I’ve never liked any of Ian’s [Anderson] production work, but Ian was far more experienced than Yngwie. I am still full of admiration for Yngwie and his talent, but Yngwie was lost and it comes out on the sound of the album. That LP doesn’t compare with the majority of other albums it had to compete with soundwise, and Yngwie is the first to admit it now. It’s sad, because I know all the parts that were recorded on that album and you can’t hear them! You can hear every guitar note. It’s like that with the Tull albums; whenever Ian put a tambourine on something, it would drown out everything else because Ian was doing it, which is a bit of a piss-off.
I’d like to do something live with Yngwie because that material would probably sound better live, and it’s very challenging music. I think, in about three or four years, Yngwie will be incredible— incredible as far as the material he’ll be capable of producing. Success seems to be synonymous with how many units are moved. Well, it doesn’t mean that in my book. Success is what you’re capable of doing and what you actually accomplish. The fact that a given album doesn’t sell more than 1,000 copies is irrelevant; if it’s a great album, it’s a great album.
TS: Would you consider involving yourself in a band situation at some point in the near future?
BB: Well, I’m actually in a band at the moment. It’s the John Miles Band, and we just got back from Germany where we’ve been playing. We recorded the album Translation, which was supposed to have been aimed at the American audience, and the playing is all the things that I’m knocking. Anyway, I really respect John as a multi-instrumentalist, and we’ve even written a couple of things together.
TS: Let’s talk about writing for a minute.
BB: Well, I started writing with Tandoori Cassette, and even with Tull I had a thousand ideas.
TS: Did those ideas ever see the light of day?
BB: Oh yes, we used a stack. In fact, one of the things Ian said about me in probably the one interview where he didn’t knock me was that I was the only guy in the band, other than himself, who actually added anything musically, other than playing the actual parts. He was referring to the arrangements and that sort of thing.
I’m not just a drummer. I don’t just sit there and play the drums. I used to be that way, but now that I’ve started writing and playing keyboards—my daughter started teaching me how to play keyboards—I’m sort of a very poor man’s Phil Collins.
TS: Do you consider yourself a musician first and a drummer second?
BB: I don’t know. I was one of the first people to use Simmons drums and utilize the machinery to program drums. I’ve been doing that for such a long time, and now that I’ve begun writing, I don’t see the separation. Because of all the technology, I see it all as people writing music. Today, a guitarist can easily write a drum part due to all the available machinery. Now this is great for music, but it’s tough for drummers. I think a drummer has to be capable of programming, and that’s part and parcel of writing. That’s where my head has been at for the last four years or so because all the single-stroke rolls, how fast you can play the bass drums, and that business has all been done. Simon Phillips, among others, can do all that expertly. What’s most important to me is the total thing: what the instruments are playing, what the voices are doing, and what the lyrics are saying.
TS: I had heard that you were beginning to work on a project with John Entwistle last summer.
BB: All the things I said before about musical direction applies to this; it wasn’t really the right thing for me. I didn’t feel too inspired by the music I heard—the form of the music, the structure—that he was about to embark on. John wanted to form a band—to start all over again—but I’d rather form a band with a bunch of young kids, basically. Half of me feels very mature, but the other half feels very young, and when I’m playing, I feel like a young kid. I still get the same buzz out of it as I did then. In fact, there’s a whole new movement of young players that I think are really very good.
TS: Who, for instance?
BB: That drummer with Big Country is great—Mark . . . the guy with the completely unpronounceable surname.
BB: That’ll be his downfall, I’m sure, [laughs] He should change his name to Smith or something. I saw a really good young drummer a couple of weeks ago named Mitchell Archer, who’s playing with a band called the Alliance. There are a lot of musicians in general who are coming up that I like.
TS: In your last Modern Drummer interview [’79], you expressed a strong interest in electronics. That was during the time when electronics were beginning to emerge as an entirely new option for drummers, and you said that you intended to become more involved with that end of the music.
BB: Well, it’s true. I have gotten more involved in that.
TS: It’s apparent in your work on Plant’s The Principle Of Moments.
BB: That was very tame compared to Tandoori Cassette.
TS: What combination of electronic drums were you using—a drum machine as well as Simmons?
BB: Yes, drum machines were triggering Simmons, plus playing on top of that, so it was like playing with another drummer. You know exactly what the other “drummer” is going to play, so you can play in and out of that, which is super.
Many drummers still think that the rhythm machines and click tracks are a threat, but I think the best way to consider them would be as your best friend: They’re reliable; they’re always there. You can still get a lot of feel as well. If there’s just a machine recorded, then it’s very static, but if you have the combination of both, you can hold back, lay back the snare drum beat just a fraction, and still make it swing. That’s nothing new for me to say. It’s no revelation; it’s happening every day. But I don’t think that heavy metal thing makes use of this sort of approach.
TS: It provides an alternative form of music. If everything was on the same level and of the same quality, it would get pretty boring.
BB: Absolutely, yeah. But I consider most heavy metal to be the same; it’s as boring as some of the mindless disco music. That’s why I consider synth bands like Tears For Fears and Depeche Mode so refreshing to hear.
TS: So that’s basically the type of music you’re into these days?
BB: Well actually, I’ve listened to synth music for so long that I’ve started to appreciate guitarists a lot more—rhythmic guitarists, like Zal Clemson. He’s the best guitarist I’ve ever worked with. I tend to judge people on their ability to tap their foot in time, regardless of what they’re playing on the guitar. If, while doing a fast run, a guitarist’s foot goes out of time and starts tapping along with the fast run, I know it’s going to be hard work playing with that bloke.
That’s sort of a personal judgment of mine. I think that, whatever instrument you play, you ought to be able to play the drums—at least to be able to hear where the beats and bars fit. I think American musicians are more like that anyway, because of the whole gutter feel inbred in American musicians. When I say American, I’m referring to New York and L.A. musicians. I think a lot of midwestern musicians—at least the ones who are playing that sort of pompous stuff in the Tull vein—don’t mean anything to me. That’s not to say that I’m not very good friends with Kerry Livgren [keyboardist, Kansas]. I did his first solo album, and that was great—really good.
TS: That midwestern, post-progressive, art-rock type of music has definitely seen its day. It seems to be a rehash of what all the ’70s classically and technically oriented British bands popularized.
BB: Absolutely, yeah. That’s the whole point. You’ve got to go for something new. I think Terry Bozzio would echo many of my sentiments, and he’s definitely succeeded in doing that with Missing Persons. I think there’s a bit of a question mark as far as the sound goes on Missing Persons records, because what Terry is capable of playing doesn’t come across on record. That’s due to the production.
TS: Could you expand a bit on the value of the right type of production work with respect to drums?
BB: Okay. When you design a part—no matter what the instrument is—I think you ought to have an actual sound color in mind when you play that part. When you hit that bass drum at a particular point, rather than it just being a bass drum sound happening, I think you ought to have in mind a sound and a color inside the whole song that that particular note is playing at that time. Peter Gabriel looks at music that way. I admire him very much. He’s getting good sounds as much as anything.
TS: Do you think the key is spending the required time obtaining the right sounds?
BB: Sometimes it is, yeah. I mean you can’t just harness that. It is more important in many respects than the actual musical content, because you get great sounding records where the musical content is zilch.
I think the production value is very important. I don’t know all the answers; if I knew all the answers, I’d be making those kinds of records and enjoying the success of those records. I dearly wish I was a part of a situation that’s innovative and happening, and that the heavy metal bands would stop ringing me up. [laughs]
TS: Some of your comments would indicate that you’re often unwilling to compromise yourself for the cash. Since you feel so strongly about being involved in tasteful and exciting musical formats, have you tried your hand at producing? That seems to be a direction that many drummers choose.
BB: Yes, I do have an interest. I’ve coproduced some things, and I produced an album for a guy years ago. I think the reason why drummers go on to become producers—this is my explanation of that phenomenon—is that drummers tend to look at music as a whole. Remember when I referred to the way Ian used to come in and assign parts to different people, and by the time they had learned their parts, I knew the whole thing? Well, I think that’s true of many drummers, and one of the greatest arts of production is the ability to detach yourself from the music and listen to it as a whole. Drummers can do that because they’re not involved with the harmonic thing.
TS: I think the objectivity you are referring to was more valid in the past, when drummers were almost exclusively drumming— just laying down the drum tracks. The current trend seems to lean towards drummers becoming more well-rounded musically— certainly a lot less isolated than they were in the past. I think other musicians are beginning to realize the influence and importance that a good drummer wields in the studio, as well as on the total musical picture.
BB: Maybe; I don’t know. I do know that, in this day and age when you have total recall in computer mixes, I don’t think it’s that hard to be objective.
TS: Well, you’ve got your own studio right here. [Barrie’s studio is a converted barn adjacent to his home.] What do you primarily use it for?
BB: It’s a writing suite, really, and a pre-production studio. I, as well as my friends, use it to get ideas and arrangements ironed out very cheaply before going into a big studio, which costs an arm and a leg. That’s where Tandoori Cassette wrote all the music. It’s a 16-track—no big deal— but it’s got a great room for getting live bass drum sounds. I started it off about five years ago, and I slowly built it up. But as soon as I get some piece of equipment, I always want something better.
TS: Since you brought up the subject, do you want to discuss the type of equipment you use when playing?
BB: zzzz . . . [feigning a snore]
TS: [laughs] I’m sure a lot of your fans would be interested.
BB: [laughs] Okay—a combination of acoustic and electronic drums.
TS: Any particular types?
BB: I play anything that sounds good.
TS: What does your primary kit consist of?
BB: Believe it or not, I haven’t got a complete kit at this point.
TS: That doesn’t surprise me at all, since you’re in the habit of sending various pieces of your equipment to your friends!
BB: Yeah, I have gotten rid of quite a few things. But when Simmons first came on the scene, I got rid of all my acoustic drums, apart from an old Vistalite Ludwig kit, because Simmons was all I wanted to know about. I lived and breathed Simmons drums for three years, and I went through 14 bass drums because they kept breaking on me. And I used a Ludwig snare drum—thank you very much, Bill. Now that everybody’s using Simmons, I’ve come full circle, and I’m using half and half.
TS: Can you make any references to sizes?
BB: Oh boring!
TS: It’s just that some drummers are into the specifics.
BB: I was the same when I was a kid, I suppose—reading all those drum catalogs in bed at night.
TS: What about your cymbals?
TS: What particular type, or sizes of your crashes, for instance?
BB: [laughs] Get out of here! . . . [pauses] Actually, I’ve got Paiste, Zildjian, and Sabian cymbals, and there are good ones by all those brands. The sizes are picked according to the job I want them to do at that particular time. I just pick out what will work well, regardless of the sizes or the brand that’s painted on them.
TS: You once said that you had a tendency to be rough on your equipment, and that you broke a lot of your cymbals.
BB: I do, plus my bass drum pedals. I rehearsed with Robert Plant for about three weeks, and I broke 200 pounds’ worth of drumsticks, but that was on the old Simmons. But talking about all that is boring.
TS: I also remember your mentioning that you had an affection for exotic instruments, like the glockenspiel.
BB: You can sample all those sounds these days. During the last sessions I did, I MIDIed up my drums to an Emulator, which had prerecorded sounds. The advantage is that you can get all those analog and digital sounds, but you can play them so you get all the feel as well as getting all these incredible sounds, all clean. You don’t have to mike anything up. You can play it from the keyboards if you want.
The options are endless these days, and that’s what makes it more exciting.
TS: You just mentioned working with Robert Plant. I’d like to touch on your work on The Principle Of Moments LP. The two cuts you played on were really the most adventurous and experimental tracks on the album. That’s partly due to the innovative drumming, and also because the songs sound as if they were constructed around the rhythms. You threw in some odd-time signatures here and there as well. The track “Stranger Here Than Over There” is reminiscent of Tull’s “Sea Lion,” where you also played totally unexpected and unpredictable rhythms.
BB: I don’t know where those parts and patterns originate from. They’re not contrived. It’s impossible to explain how those things come about. They just come out of thin air, and when they come, you just extemporize on them. I guess ideas like that are drawn from your experience to date.
TS: Maybe ”Sea Lion” was not structured on your playing, but it certainly sounds as if the rest of the band is following your moods and timing.
BB: I think the string parts might have been done that way. That’s very astute of you to pick that track out. I remember the string arranger at that time, David Palmer, who was also the director at the Wahl Academy of Music, didn’t know what the hell was going on with the song. Everything that I played just came out of thin air; it was the first thing that came to mind.
TS: You must have had something to do with the writing of “Stranger Here Than Over There,” although you weren’t credited on the album. It seems that happens often with drummers. They often play a vital role in the ideas and arranging of the music, but they rarely get acknowledgement.
BB: That’s right, I didn’t get any credit for that. It seems that, of all players, drummers are always getting the raw end of the deal. You know, in my opinion, drummers are the one type of musician who plays just for the love of playing. It doesn’t matter if they’re playing in a pub or in Madison Square Garden; with drummers, it doesn’t affect them. They love it, and that’s the whole point. Because of that, they’ll stand for being shat on left, right, and center. I’ve been taken advantage of, and just about every drummer I know has also been, with the exception of two drummers—Ian Paice and Phil Collins. But in early Genesis, even Phil never got any of the writing royalties, and with that sort of music, what Phil was playing was just as big a part of the writing as the bloody lyrics and the top lines. Since he never got credit for that, I imagine that strengthened his resolve to go out on his own and do it for himself.
Ian Paice always gets his just rewards. The fact that he holds out may make him a bit unpopular, but he’s very together— very business-minded. He’s also a great drummer. He’s the best European rock drummer.
TS: You’ve just got to look out for yourself. After all, this is a business.
BB: That’s right. But I find it hard to be like that.
TS: I guess that’s because you’re basically a …
BB: Real nice guy. [laughs]
TS: We were just discussing your playing. There’s more than just a touch of jazz influences in your particular style, especially in mid-’70s Tull material.
BB: Well, I admire the jazz players, particularly the drummers. I think it’s the most technically demanding of all drumming, and for that reason alone, I admire it tremendously.
TS: Which drummers do you admire?
BB: Tony Williams. I mean, there are so many great jazz drummers. In general, jazz music goes along with what I was saying about Artie Tripp and Michael Giles—penniless innovators who, in my opinion, haven’t reaped their just rewards from the business. And you get the heavy metal bands driving around in Cadillacs, you know? Sadly, it’s always going to be that way.
TS: What about the strong suggestion of jazz in your playing? Did you listen to much of it, growing up in England?
BB: Yeah, because there really wasn’t anything else to listen to, and I’m really that old. [laughs] Like many other players, I learned a lot by buying all sorts of records and copying from them. Before Jethro Tull became “Jethro Tull,” I played with the group when I was a teenager, and it was all blues, jazz, and swing music—the sort of Jimmy Witherspoon thing, so the bebop side of playing was part of that music. And I used to buy all the Buddy Rich albums thinking that he was incredible, and he is absolutely incredible.
I like music that has everything in it: melody, rhythm, harmony—the whole thing. I won’t actually allude to any particular artist or person. It’s just certain things that I like. I certainly do admire and feel intimidated by the technical prowess of those great players though.
TS: In your last interview, you said that you’ve never been satisfied with your own playing and that you thought you never would be. Are you now more content with what you’ve accomplished over the years?
BB: With some of the things I’ve recorded, yes, I think my playing is okay, and with other things, I don’t know. With all the criticizing I do about everything else, I should be able to constructively criticize my own performances, but I feel the least qualified to do that. I leave that to other people. But I’ve been more relaxed about things, certainly, since leaving Tull.
TS: What are some of the personal goals that you have concerning your career?
BB: I’d love to play with Stevie Winwood. I’ve met him a couple of times, but I’ve been so overwhelmed by his presence that I haven’t felt like saying, “How about letting me have a play with you?” I actually belonged to the same Boy Scout troop as he did in Birmingham. I think he has a fabulous voice. I’d also like to do some more work with Robert. But really, I’d like to be able to compose my own things from start to finish—innovative, reasonably commercial music—and I’m working towards that. That’s the ambition. I’d like to be the master of my own destiny, and also work with people that I admire.
TS: You strike me as the type of person who has interests outside of music. Is there anything else that occupies your time and energies?
BB: I think being a father is the biggest thing, really. I consider being a parent and guiding my children a great responsibility. That’s why I try to be aware of the world; kids ask you questions and you try to give very balanced answers. So when I’m not playing, I spend my time with my kids, trying to guide them.
TS: It’s great that you have the type of career that affords you the flexibility to spend time with your children.
BB: That’s right. But sometimes I’m away a lot. With Tull, in ten years, we did 17 American tours, six European tours, a couple of Far East tours, and ten albums. Occasionally, I did little sessions in between it all, so I missed a lot of my kids’ earlier years. But I do consider myself fortunate to be able to make a living doing what I like doing most, so that’s great. Then again, I can also find 1,000 complaints, can’t I? [laughs]