Willie Nelson, Brenda Lee, Waylon Jennings, The Box Tops, Burl Ives, Julie Andrews, Governor Jimmy Davis, John Denver, Danny O’Keefe, Bobby Goldsboro, The Gatlins, Dusty Springfield, Joe Tex, Don McLean, John Prine, Roy Orbison, Crystal Gayle, Tommy Roe, King Curtis, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Tammy Wynette, Earl Scruggs, Reba McEntire, Grady Nutt, Loretta Lynn, Ronnie Milsap, Dottie West, Kenny Rogers, Terri Gibbs, Sandy Posey, The Statler Brothers, Mel McDaniel, Bobby Womack, Ronnie McDowell, Bobby Bare, Roy Clark, Boots Randolph, Sweet Inspiration, Jerry Lee Lewis ….
And Gene Chrisman. Possibly you have never heard the last name in this list, but certainly most people will recognize the others. That list represents a sampling of people for whom Gene has supplied drums from the time he was a member of what was known as the 827 Thomas Street Band—Chips Moman’s Memphis studio address—to the present. From 1966, for a period of five years, working at that studio under Moman’s supervision, a small group of musicians knocked out hit after hit.
It could have ended there, but Gene wouldn’t allow that. In 1979, he moved to Nashville and continued his success. A testament to that success is the fact that he was chosen to work on two of the biggest projects in country music in recent years—Highwaymen, with Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash, and Class Of ’55, Memphis Rock & Roll Homecoming, with Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Johnny Cash.
At 46, he’s just getting ready to have his first endorsement with a drum company, and every time I tried to make an appointment with him, he had 10:00, 2:00, and 6:00 sessions. Ask him how he does it, and he can’t help you. He just does it. It doesn’t have anything to do with intellectual explanations. It is simply feel, and Gene is proof that, in this technological age, that is the priority even in the precision-perfect business of making records.
RF: How did the whole Memphis thing happen for you?
GC: I started fiddling around with drums in high school and picked it up off records. I beat my cardboard boxes and pots and pans, while I listened to Fats Domino, Little Richard, and all that stuff.
RF: Was that the only music you were interested in back then?
GC: Back then, yes. I hated country. When a country record came on, it turned me off.
RF: How did that change?
GC: I guess I just got over it. Now I enjoy country. Of course, “country” is not as it was before. You can do things in country now that you couldn’t do back when I was growing up. That kind of makes a difference. It goes back to the type of feel I was used to playing.
RF: What was your first professional gig?
GC: We just had a little band together— kind of a high school thing—which would play in parks and different things. Someway or another, the first record I did was up at the Chisca Hotel when WHBQ was up there. It was just two songs with Jody Chastain. That was a long time ago. I don’t even think about that anymore.
FR: What was that like?
GC: The first time I did something like that, I was scared to death.
RF: What was the material like?
GC: Just kind of a slow shuffle. There wasn’t much to it. Once I heard the song, doing it felt natural. I just figured out what to play and what the feel was. It was a little straight-ahead blues thing. It wasn’t too hard.
RF: How did you graduate into being a very well-known drummer in that area?
GC: I started playing clubs. I used to work some in West Memphis with Eddie Bond & The Stompers. Then I was working the Congress Club with Ray Scott. We worked there Friday and Saturday nights for a long time. The guitar player, Lee Atkins, went to work at the Five Gables, and I started working with him. We were like the house band there. Then Jerry Lee [Lewis] needed a drummer. He came and listened to me play, and he sat in and played a couple of his tunes. I already knew the songs from listening to the records.
RF: What year was that?
GC: The first time I worked with him was in 1960. I worked with him for about a year and a half, and then I quit. I enjoyed it at first, because I was young and got to see the country, but the longer I traveled, the more I got burned out on it. Three and four hundred miles, day in and day out, got old fast. It made me batty.
RF: After quitting, when did you return to him?
GC: It had to be ’62, because I was working with him when my son was born. In fact I was in Portland, Oregon, when I called home and my wife had gone to the hospital. I couldn’t get out until the next morning, and it was terrible. Talk about being worn out—this was the most tired I’ve been in my whole life. We worked in some club in Portland that night. I got through at 1:00, went back to the motel, and I had to get up at 5:00 to get the plane. I got to the airport, and it was completely fogged in; you couldn’t even see the plane outside. I stayed there until 3:00 or 4:00 that afternoon, and they finally chartered buses and took us to Seattle. The plane didn’t leave until about 1:00 the next morning. I finally got home around 7:00, went to the hospital, stayed 30 minutes, went home, and crashed. I believe I never went back to Jerry after that.
RF: During that second time with Jerry, you worked with another drummer?
GC: Morris Tarrant. It’s kind of weird working with another drummer. It can really be a mess, so I said, “Look, you play what you want to play, and I’ll just play the feel.” It worked out okay like that, but I don’t know why anybody has to have two drummers. It was alright, but it wouldn’t be something I’d want to do every day.
RF: Have you ever worked with another drummer on a session?
GC: One time. It was for Johnny Hallyday, and that was with Kenny Buttrey. It was the same type of thing. We faced each other with a baffle between us, but we had eye contact. We just about could feel what we were going to do. Most of the time, I played the feel, and let him play the fills and stuff. The tracks came off tight. We started late that evening and worked until the wee hours of the next morning.
RF: Did you do some of the recording with Jerry Lee back then?
GC: Yes, maybe two or three songs. One of them was “Hello Josephine,” which is the only one I remember coming out on an album. I don’t know what they did with the other stuff. Jerry did most of his stuff in Nashville then, although he started out doing it in Memphis. Sam Phillips had a studio up here in Nashville at one time. I did another session with Jerry at American Recording in Memphis with Jerry Kennedy in the late ’60s, where we only did two or three songs. We were doing so many projects back then, so he was just another artist. I respected the artists, but we did so many that they weren’t any different than anybody else.
RF: And you recently worked with him on Class Of ’55.
GC: Right. The artist I enjoyed the most on the Class Of ’55 was Carl Perkins. I don’t believe I’d ever worked with him before, but he sings good and I’ve always liked his records. Not that I haven’t liked the others, but Carl is a guy you can get close to. He’ll carry on conversations, whereas Johnny Cash won’t carry on much of a conversation with you, and I hardly ever saw Roy [Orbison], except when he got ready to cut. He’s kind of a loner and wouldn’t come around too much.
RF: What was the game plan after you left Jerry Lee?
GC: I quit and played some clubs again. Then I met Stan Kesler, and I started doing some recording with him down at a little place on Manassas called Echo.
RF: Do you remember cutting “Little Red Riding Hood” with Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs?
GC: I did play that session, although I didn’t do “Wooly Bully.”
RF: Did you think that was the silliest song you’d ever heard?
GC: It wasn’t no sillier than “Wooly Bully.” It was a monster record.
RF: You also worked with Sam Phillips.
GC: Right. I had done the thing with Jerry Lee, and every once in a while, Sam would do something. Stan did some cutting at Sun on Bobby Wood and a few projects.
RF: How did Chips Moman enter the picture?
GC: While I was working with Stan, Chips already had this little 2-track studio, and then they had a board put in. He just hired us all, because Reggie Young and Bobby Emmons were working with the Bill Black Combo. Bobby Wood and I were working with Stan, so it just went from there.
RF: What were you cutting back then?
GC: I think the first thing we did when Chips opened the studio was with Don Schroeder, who we called Papa Don. We cut James and Bobby Purify’s “Shake A Tail Feather,” “I Take What I Want,” and a whole album. That was when we cut Sandy Posey, too. I went to New York to do Aretha’s “Natural Woman,” but in Memphis, we cut Wilson Pickett’s “I’m ln Love,” Dusty Springfield’s “Son Of A Preacher Man,” King Curtis’s “Memphis Soul Stew,” The Box Tops’ “Cry Like A Baby,” Arthur Conley’s “Funky Street,” B.J. Thomas’s “Hooked On A Feeling,” Danny O’Keefe’s “Goodtime Charlie’s Got The Blues,” plus Elvis, Neil Diamond, and I can’t remember everyone who cut.
RF: In The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock & Roll, Chips’ American Recording Studios is described as having a drum booth that was actually a separate room.
GC: No, it wasn’t—not when I was there.
It was just in the middle of the floor. The drums were on a high rise, to start with. Right in front of me, there was a smaller baffle, and I was looking at Bobby Emmons, who faced me. To my left was the piano, and they had a vocal booth. So there was a booth, but they put the vocals in there, not the drums. Finally, they took the high rise out, and we just put the drums on the floor.
RF: It also said that Chips got his signature “live drum sound.” How did he get that?
GC: It was probably just letting everything bleed into that one overhead mic’ that caught the snare, the toms, the hi-hat, and the cymbals, and the one mic’ on the bass drum. Now you’ve got drum booths, and each drum is individually miked. It’s very different now from what it was back then.
RF: Is it better?
GC: I like the drums to be out in the open. Sometimes some of these booths here are so small that you can hardly get a set of drums in them. It kills the sound of them, too. You get in a cage with a lot of glass or hardwood, you hit one tom, and it bounces into all the mic’s anyway. I’d rather have it out in the room itself, if you can get them to sound right out there, which usually you can. If you’ve got a good engineer, you can make anything sound right.
RF: Is using a lot of mic’s better?
GC: I think it is, because when you’ve got one mic’, you can’t really tell what one drum sounds like. Now, each tom is miked, you’ve got overhead mic’s for the cymbals, the snare drum is miked, the bass drum is miked, and the hi-hat is miked. I usually have eight mic’s.
RF: Did your playing have to change with all the technical changes?
GC: Not a bit. But it sure sounds better now.
RF: What was it like working with Aretha?
GC: It was fun. I enjoyed working with her because I enjoy R&B anyway, but going to New York and getting to meet Jerry Wexler was a thrill. He had produced so many records I loved.
RF: During what period of Neil Diamond’s career were you working with him?
GC: We cut “Holly Holy,” “Sweet Caroline,” “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show,” and those wonderful songs. Tommy Cogbill produced that stuff. He, along with Chips, also produced Merilee Rush’s “Angel Of The Morning.” I’ll tell you, on the recent remake of that song, the track sounds almost like the one we cut.
RF: You worked quite a bit with B.J. Thomas.
GC: Some of the songs we cut were “Just Can’t Help Believing” and “Hooked On A Feeling,” and when Chips moved up here to Nashville, I came up and cut “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.” Then I did some other work with B.J. with Pete Drake producing. His Amazing Grace album was a big record, and I did “New Looks From An Old Lover” with him, a couple of other Gospel albums, and the Peace In The Valley album.
RF: What about Elvis?
GC: I did “In The Ghetto,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Don’t Cry Daddy,” and “Kentucky Rain.” I think we cut two albums and a whole bunch of stuff.
RF: Did you see him as just another artist?
GC: In a way, yes. We treated him just like we would anybody else. Just because it’s Elvis doesn’t change anything. I remember Elvis making a mistake somewhere in a song, and some of his guys said, “Don’t say nothing to him; it’s liable to upset him.” But when Chips said something about it and told him that we’d have to do it over again, Elvis was fine about it. It’s a thrill to work with somebody like that, but we treated him just like we treated any of the other artists. It was impossible to get close to him, though, because of all the people who were around him all the time. You couldn’t go up and carry on a conversation with all those people around. But it went real good. It was real easy, and everybody enjoyed it.
About a week or two after we cut Elvis, we went in and cut Roy Hamilton. Elvis called and wanted to meet Roy, so he and his entourage came over, and we just had a big get-together. Elvis is the one who brought the record of “Angelica,” which Roy Hamilton cut. We took pictures, talked, goofed around a lot, and cut the record of “Angelica.” I’ve always liked Roy Hamilton. When I first heard “Don’t Let Go,” I loved the song, and getting to meet somebody like that is kind of like working with Elvis.
RF: Everyone talks about Elvis having been real moody; people say that, if he was in a productive mood, he’d go all night, but you’d have to wait for him to get there and get into the mood.
GC: We used to start around 7:00 at night, and work until about 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. At about 11:00 at night, I’d start to turn into a zombie, because I’ve never liked late hours. I still don’t.
RF: How did you survive that?
GC: I don’t know. I’d just get a second wind, and by the time I’d be ready to go home, I’d be wide awake. I don’t ever want to go back to those days.
RF: Elvis also didn’t take to strangers. He liked the people around him that he knew. How was it when you first met him?
GC: He was pretty friendly to all of us. We kind of hit it right off. I don’t ever remember any pressure on any of the sessions. I remember that he did get sick with tonsillitis or something one week, and we had to cancel some sessions, but he was always on time. They’d say 7:00, and he’d be in right around then.
RF: Was that marching drum part on “In The Ghetto” your idea or Chips’?
GC: I think it was both of ours. I can’t remember which one of us it was who figured that out after listening to the demo. That wasn’t on the demo, but we came up with that. I think that was a real good song.
RF: Can you describe the Memphis sound?
GC: It was just a good feel. We tried to hit on a groove and let things play around the groove. That’s the way I like it today. I like to let the top-end instruments play around while the bottom end stays solid. To me, that’s what gives feel to a record. It’s not how much you do, but how much you don’t do.
RF: When and why did you leave Memphis?
GC: Chips closed down when he moved to Atlanta. I never wanted to go to Atlanta. I never have liked a big town or fighting traffic and all that. I stayed in Memphis and quit playing for about a year in 1972.
RF: What did you do?
GC: I just got a daytime job at a collection agency for a while, and then I went back working for a commercial air-conditioning filter company I had worked for years before.
RF: That’s unbelievable. You had just finished playing “In The Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds,” and you were working a day job?
GC: I was crazy back then. I’d had about all I could stand for a while. After about a year and a half, though, I started coming up here to Nashville to do sessions.
RF: Did that year and a half away un-crazy you? Why did you go back into it?
GC: You can’t get out of it once you’ve been in it. I think it did me good to get away from it for a while, though.
RF: Did you find Nashville less crazy?
GC: I think the late hours took it out of me more than anything else. It’s not so much like that here in Nashville.
RF: How did you get back into it again after working your day job?
GC: I think Chips did some stuff up here, so I did some sessions with him. Then Fred Foster called, so I did some stuff with him and Larry Gatlin, and some people he produced. Then Alan Reynolds called, so I started doing some stuff with Crystal [Gayle], like “Half The Way” and “Talking In Your Sleep.” I was going back and forth so much that, in ’79, I finally decided to move up here. I was the last one of the bunch to do it. I just hated to move, but I’m glad I did.
RF: Memphis had a whole different sound than Nashville. How did you feel about making that transition from R&B into country?
GC: I can still play on records and put that feel in it. A lot of times, I might not play verses or something like I would an R&B-type song. In country, you might play a rim on the verses and go to a backbeat on the chorus or something, but when you hit that chorus, it’s still going to have that good, driving rhythm. It’s just that you’ve got different feeling instruments that are going to play over that than what you had in Memphis. It might not be as heavy, although the way the country records are going now, they’re getting there. R&B is more of a groove feel, where country is not like that. It might groove on a chorus or bridge sometimes. Now Dan Seals’ “Bop” is like an older type rock ‘n’ roll thing. You can just get into something like that and whack all the way through it.
RF: Are you on “Bop”?
GC: No, that’s all Synclavier.
RF: So you really don’t feel that your approach is that different now from the way it was in Memphis?
GC: Not a whole lot.
RF: But that R&B thing is so often slightly behind the beat—that laid-back, lazy kind of feel—and a lot of country is . . .
GC: On top of the beat, yes.
RF: Was that difficult to get used to, or did you feel like you were losing your feel?
GC: Maybe I did for a while, because I had been off so long and I came back to something that was a little more on top. I had to adjust to it, but I still like a song that lays good. Then it feels good to me.
RF: How did you learn to be a recording drummer?
GC: I really don’t know.
RF: What kinds of things do you feel a recording drummer has to know that you learned along the way?
GC: Well, for one thing, it’s good to know where your verse starts and where your chorus starts. When I first started playing, I used to make a chord chart. I would write a bunch of I’s and put the little accents in. But now, after playing so long, I can hear most of the chords, and I write a chart just like the rhythm players write. If it’s got an accent somewhere down in the chorus that I need to know about, then I’ll know where it’s at instead of trying to guess.
RF: What about time?
GC: That’s the main thing to me—where the tempo lays. I’ve seen a lot of good records hurt when everybody would be feeling a groove and somebody would say, “That’s too fast,” or “That’s too slow.” I guess I concentrate more on tempo—that and the feel—and trying not to do too much in a record. I still like that laid-back feel.
RF: Do you mostly cut live, or do you do much overdubbing?
GC: I’ve done some overdubbing, but most of my overdubbing is percussion stuff. Recently, I overdubbed ten Marty Robbins songs they had recorded for a Christmas album back in ’74 and ’75, when he was alive. Something had happened to the bass drum track, and instead of just replacing the bass drum, I replaced the whole kit. It took me about three-and-a-half or four hours to do the whole album. It was really great, because I had never worked with Marty Robbins.
RF: What did you do with the Oak Ridge Boys?
GC: I worked on some of the Bobby Sue album, although not that particular song. I worked on the “American Made” single and “Thank God For Kids.”
RF: “Thank God For Kids” is a long way from Memphis. What are you concentrating on when you cut a song like “Thank God For Kids”?
GC: I’m more or less listening to how the song is laid out, what the other instruments are doing, and trying not to get in their way. Sometimes it’s not easy to do that.
When I feel everybody is going to lay into it, then that’s when I’m going to lay into it. When everyone else lays out, I’m going to lay out. Of course, in R&B, most of the energy is started right off, while something like “Thank God For Kids” starts out mellow and builds.
RF: What about working with different producers? That can be difficult.
GC: Sometimes it is, because you don’t really know what they want. I might get in trouble for saying this, but a lot of them don’t know what they want.
RF: How do you deal with that?
GC: You just try to go with them and do what they want, because they were the ones who called you and wanted you to work the session. I’ve talked to many musicians who feel the same way.
RF: Are there many times when people actually ask what you think is right for a song?
GC: Sometimes, but not often.
RF: What, to you, makes a great session?
GC: I think the best thing is picking the right players, getting a good song, and letting the musicians create the material. And good producers will let you know that. They’ll have their ideas, but producers will let the musicians have most of the input themselves.
RF: Had you worked with Mel McDaniel before?
GC: Oh yes. In fact, Jerry Kennedy is one of my favorite producers, because he lets the musicians create themselves. He’s got his ideas, but I’ve never known him to get in the way of ideas that we cut. For me, that’s a good producer. He’s simple and to the point, and he sells records.
RF: What of Mel’s have you done in the past?
GC: “Stand Up,” “Let It Roll,” and “Shoe String.” I started working with him after “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On.”
RF: “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On” was a big hit for Mel McDaniel, and a lot of people have the attitude that they want the same musicians back again who cut the big hit. Was there a lot of pressure on you when you came in after that?
GC: Not really, because I had worked with Jerry before when he was working with Reba McEntire, the Statlers, and different artists. He’s not a pressure producer. He’s really laid back and fun to work with. You know you don’t have that pressure on your back. You never know what people do and don’t like. I’ve been in that position you were talking about where I played on number-one records—two in a row maybe— and then I wouldn’t hear from those people anymore. You don’t know what goes through their minds.
RF: You have to learn not to take it personally.
GC: You can’t take it personally. You just have to go day by day, and it’ll work out. I’ve learned not to worry about it. I figure that, if this one doesn’t use me, somebody else will.
RF: Did you ever worry about it?
GC: I did at first. Of course, when I first moved to Nashville, it was slow, and I’m not one to go out and politic. If somebody wants me, I’ll do it. If no one wants me, I’ll stay at home, work in the garden, or go play golf. I’m not one to go up to somebody and say, “I’ve got a tape I played on . . . .”I’m not going to do it. I just can’t.
RF: Has equipment changed radically through the years for you?
GC: It never quits. I remember when I first got a set of drums. The hardware was terrible. It was some of the worst junk I have ever seen in my life. One thing I’ve enjoyed more than the drums themselves is the hardware, because back in the early days, I’d hit a cymbal and the whole thing would fall over, the bass drum pedal would fall apart, and the wing nuts would come off and go through the bass drum. The hardware and the drums, too, are so much better than they used to be. The hardware used to give me fits.
RF: You’ve never had an equipment endorsement, have you?
GC: No, I never have. I was just never one to pursue that kind of thing. It seems like something may work out with that soon, though. But if it doesn’t, I’ve got two sets of drums, and I can only play one at a time, anyway.
RF: How do you feel about the electronic stuff that’s out?
GC: It’s okay. It’s good on certain things. I’ve got a set of the Pearl electric drums, and I like them. They have their place, but they’re not something I’d want to use on everything. Sometimes they kill the groove of a song. I like a song that moves here and there—just a chorus or bridge that goes up a little bit and comes back a little for the verse. Something that stays constant drives me nuts.
RF: You don’t like a click track then?
GC: I hate a click track.
RF: Do you ever have to play with one?
GC: Just on jingles, which I don’t do a lot of. They’re okay, but I’m not crazy about them.
RF: What do you do when you have to play with a click track?
GC: It’s not usually for that long. I can sometimes stand it for 30 seconds, but it would be better if there were something else like a shaker that I could give a little with, instead of playing with a constant clacking in my ear. I runs me crazy. I’d rather play with a tambourine, off of a Linn or something, which makes a difference. A constant click is terrible. I’d quit before I’d get into click tracks.
RF: Do you miss live playing at all?
GC: Not really. I do it every once in a while. I’ve done some of the New Country Shows, but as far as getting out and doing a live show goes, I don’t think I’d like to do it again. I’m just not really into shows as much as playing records. I think I’ve got all that behind me.
RF: What have been some of the highlight sessions you’ve done through the years?
GC: I think one of the first sessions I can remember doing that I really enjoyed was with Dionne Warwick. That was back somewhere in ’68, and we cut “You’ve Lost That Loving Feelin,” “Hey Jude,” and the songs on that album. What I remember about her is that she’d put her vocal down, we’d go into the control room to listen to the playback, she’d go back and put a second harmony vocal on, nail it the first time, put a third harmony vocal on, and nail it. She’s amazing. Working with her was one of the highlights. I enjoyed working with Joe Tex when Buddy Killen used to come to Memphis. Joe was just so up all the time. I’ll never forget: Every session I’d come in, and we’d have that Kentucky Fried Chicken and orange juice. He was fun to work with. He never did a song the same way twice. You just had to go off the feel of him. It was great. I loved the R&B stuff we did.
King Curtis was great fun. I just loved the saxophone. It’s a little different to play on instrumentals than with vocalists. I enjoyed Herbie Mann, too. I’ll never forget cutting with the air conditioning off in the studio. Everybody was burning up, and I think some of the tracks lasted 13 minutes. Memphis Underground stayed number-one jazz album for over a year. It wasn’t really jazz, but more R&B, but that’s how they classified Herbie. We spent crazy days there.
I can’t remember who we did. It seems that sometimes we’d run through them like hotcakes. I did enjoy doing Neil Diamond. That was fun. He was just kind of laid back. I liked “Brother Love” right off. He didn’t want to do one of the songs. I can’t remember if it was “Holly Holy” or “Sweet Caroline,” but he didn’t want it to come out. I guess the producers overruled.
Bobby Womack was another guy I enjoyed working with. I remember “Fly Me To The Moon.” In fact, we’re just about to cut another album with him in Memphis with Chips.
RF: Do you think those days can be recreated?
GC: Probably. The whole group still sounds good working together, like Willie and Waylon. I did “Poncho And Lefty” with Willie and Merle, and that same session is where “Always On My Mind” was cut. We went down to Austin to cut Willie and Merle, and while Chips was there, we cut it at the last minute. I also did the Highwaymen with all of them, and “Women Do Know How To Carry On” and “Just To Satisfy You”—two of Waylon’s. I did “City Of New Orleans” with Willie, and it was the same group from Memphis—the same five players who do all the stuff: Reggie Young on guitar, Mike Leech on bass, Bobby Emmons and Bobby Wood on keyboards. Actually, Tommy Cogbill was on bass first, and they took turns.
RF: What is it like working with Willie?
GC: He’s a jewel to work with. Sometimes he cuts something just once. “Always On My Mind” was one take.
RF: Was he singing along with you?
RF: Would you consider going back to Memphis?
GC: Not moving, but I imagine we will go down there and cut. So now I’m here in Nashville, and I commute back to Memphis.
RF: Tell me about the Highwaymen sessions. Were Nelson, Kristofferson, Jennings, and Cash all there at once?
GC: Yes, they were all there. Usually when Chips cuts, whoever he’s cutting is going to be there, especially when you’ve got four guys and you have to know how you’re going to lay this song out.
RF: How was it cut? Was everyone singing and playing?
GC: I can’t remember all of them singing. I think it was one or two at a time, which guided us on how we were going to do it. We’d put a track down, and they’d get amongst themselves and figure out who was going to do which part where. I don’t remember if I was there for all the vocals on Highwaymen, but I was there for “Welfare Line.”
Then we went to Memphis and cut this Class Of ’55 album last September with Jerry Lee, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins at the old Sun Studio and the old American where we used to work way back. Dick Clark Productions videotaped it. Johnny Rosen brought his truck down, and David Cherry, Chips’ engineer, engineer edit in the truck. It went real well. I enjoyed going from one studio to another one. Ricky Nelson, The Judds, and John Fogerty came in on the finale with some others.
RF: You’ve been amazingly busy recently, and you’ve been doing a lot of Gospel. Is that different from cutting country records?
GC: Not a bit. The southern Gospel, which I do a lot of, has more of a dotted feel. I don’t do any contemporary Gospel. To me, it doesn’t have feel. A lot of it is like rock, and I hate rock music with a passion.
RF: Some of the country music is getting to be like that.
GC: I know it, but I think that’s why a lot of it is not selling. People seem to really love the more traditional music, like George Strait, Reba McEntire, or Ricky Skaggs. Country people like country music, which is why they show up at the Grand Ole Opry, and come out to see people like Roy Acuff and Ricky Skaggs.
RF: Players say that the usual span of success is five years. You’ve had a long career. It may not be as busy as it once was, but it’s been pretty consistent. Do you ever worry about its end?
GC: Not really. I’ll tell you, over the years I’ve paid my dues. As long as I’m able to do it, I’m going to do it, because I enjoy it. Sometimes you don’t always enjoy what you do, but overall, it’s great. I wouldn’t want to get out of the music business. If I were ever to quit drums, I’d have to stay in it somehow, maybe in production. I’d get some good players and let them do the creating, because I know how it feels when you put a monkey on musicians’ backs and try to chain them down. It doesn’t work, and you can usually tell it on the record. For now, though, I’d just like to continue doing what I’m doing, because I enjoy it. It’s still a thrill to play on number-one records.
RF: Are you surprised you’re as busy as you are?
GC: At my age of 46, it does kind of surprise me, because a lot of the players my age are not working.
RF: Why do you think that is?
GC: I really don’t know. I guess I have tried to stay up with what is going on with equipment and styles. You have to stay with the sound of the day. A lot of people don’t do that.