When Chris Parker was an aspiring young drummer, he figured that if he could play with Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, and Ray Charles, well, he’d have accomplished something truly special in his career. To be sure, it was a tall order for some white kid from Upstate New York. But all three legendary artists, you see, were big influences on Parker. Had not Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk passed away, they too would have been on the list, for they too had left their mark on him.
As it turned out, Parker got to record with Miles. The LP was The Man With The Horn. He also got to record with Aretha Franklin on La Diva. And a few months ago, on the Radio City Music Hall stage, he backed up the great Ray Charles.
We’re sitting in Parker’s New York City loft talking about how very fortunate he’s been to have already achieved three of his most important career ambitions when suddenly it occurs to me that none of the artists he’s mentioned as really big influences are drummers. I bring it up, and it’s as if Parker knew I ‘d confront him with the anomaly sooner or later.
“That’s because, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always tried to branch out and cover as much ground in music us I possibly could,” says Parker. “I never really wanted to be just a drummer, although playing drums is something I obviously treasure very highly. It’s also something I love to do, not to mention that it’s the instrument I make a good living playing. Bun I really love music in the broadest definition, which is something much bigger than just drums.”
Parker’s love of music prompted him to learn to play the trumpet, euphonium, bass guitar, and piano, in addition to, of course, the drums. It’s also been the reason why, as a drummer, he’s played everything from jazz to jingles, including rock, rhythm & blues, soul, country, pop, Gospel, and commercials.
Says Parker: “I guess you can say being a musician rather than simply a drummer has helped my career significantly. I think I view things with a larger perspective than other drummers. It’s also given me the ability to become pretty versatile and flexible as a drummer, because I’ve always enjoyed the challenge that goes with recording with different artists in different musical genres. The challenge is what makes it really fun for me. ”
The challenge perhaps is what also has led Parker to become one of the busiest and most respected studio drummers in the business. That’s not to say, though, that being a meticulous timekeeper, us well as having a beautiful knack for flair and color whenever he sits down behind a kit, hasn’t helped his career—quite the contrary. But even without Miles Davis and Aretha Franklin on the long list of artists he’s recorded with, it would still be a formidable one. Here’s a sampling: Gladys Knight & The Pips, Teddy Pendergrass, James Brown, Ashford & Simpson, Laura Nyro, Michael Franks, Melba Moore, Peaches & Herb, Peter, Paul & Mary, Deodato, The Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn, Barry Manilow, Paul Butterfield, Bette Midler, The Spinners, Rod Stewart, Luther Vandross, and Esther Phillips.
Don’t forget what Parker has said about wanting to cover as much ground as he could, either. In addition to all the session work he’s done (and still is doing, I might add), Parker was also a member of that superfine, supersweet unit, Stuff, back in the mid and late ’70s. That’s the group that contained the likes of musicians such as Cornell Dupree, Gordon Edwards, Richard Tee, Eric Gale, and Steve Gadd.
Presently, Parker has his own band, Joe Cool, which released a delightful record last year called Party Animals. The band toured Japan this past summer and achieved high marks across the board. “I’d like to do it all,” laughs Parker. “I only wish there was more time in the day.”
Parker is indeed eager, ambitious, and perhaps even driven, when it comes to music. With that in mind, I was sure there must be other goals—other accomplishments—he wished to see realized, and so I presented him with the question. Essentially, he said what any serious drummer would say—to play better, to learn even more about his instrument, to become more adept at programming electronic drums. But then, suddenly, he smiled and looked away from me. “Okay, there is one other goal I had in the back of my mind for some time now.” “Oh? What is that?” I pressed. Parker blushed. “To make the cover of Modern Drummer.”
RS: You’re known in music circles primarily as a session drummer, even though you’ve done tours with a number of artists. Was it always your ambition to be a successful studio drummer?
CP: Not really, no. I mean, I didn’t start out playing drums with the idea that I’d someday become a successful session drummer. I started out to play music and be an artist. I was, however, intrigued by the idea of doing a lot of different things as far as drumming was concerned. That ambition, I think, has been realized.
RS: Where did that ambition come from?
CP: Probably from listening to my father play all different kinds of music when I was a kid. He had a tremendous record collection—all different kinds of music could be found in it. He was, and still is, a drummer, and he always had his drums set up in the house. He also played clarinet and soprano. As early as I can remember, he was putting me on the drum stool with blocks on the pedals and everything. So I’d play along with all these records that he’d play. And in the process, I was exposed to many, many artists and lots of types of music, although jazz was perhaps the dominant music heard in my house. As I got older, I began to acquire my own taste; then I really wanted to hear and play everything. There are very few music forms I don’t like, with the exception of opera. Yet, there are even some operas I like listening to.
RS: A lot of session drummers ultimately find the “gun for hire” concept that’s frequently applied to session work tedious. Have you ever felt that way?
CP: No, not yet. So far, I’ve always taken each session as a challenge to my abilities as a drummer to give whomever I’m working with the best I can possibly give.
RS: What are the elements that make up, say, a respected, solid session drummer?
CP: Big, big ears. That might take up two or three elements right there. A good studio drummer is always listening to what’s going on, musically. Reading is definitely very important; a drummer today has to be a good reader. So what do we have? Ears, being able to read, and I guess, a sharp sense of musicality and versatility. But of all of them, I think having good ears is the most important. If you hear what the artist you’re working for wants, you can translate it into something from your musical and rhythmic vocabulary.
RS: It’s no secret that breaking into the inner circle of session work—the money gigs, so to speak—is quite difficult to achieve. How did you do it?
CP: When I was teaching a class recently to drummers at the Drummers’ Collective here in New York, that question came up a couple of times. There are a lot of ways to do it, of course. The way I did it, and the way I’d suggest for any aspiring session drummer to do it, is to go out and hear everybody play live that you can. And play live yourself as much as you can. You never know who might be in the audience listening to you. See, when you’re playing live, you’re performing. And in reality, when you step into a studio, that’s exactly what you’re going to be asked to do—perform. You should also practice at home as much as you can. Play with a metronome; use headphones. The more prepared you are, the more successful you’re going to be, for that first break will come. You simply have to be ready to give one thousand per cent when you’re called.
RS: Can you remember back to the very first session you did?
CP: Yeah, it was back in 1970. I had left school in New York and moved to Woodstock to join this band, Holy Moses. We got a record deal and went back to the City to record at Electric Ladyland. It was the first serious recording I ever did. It was definitely a thrilling experience for me. This was right after Jimi Hendrix had died. In fact, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding were still hanging around. Mitch Mitchell and I swapped cymbals. It was at Electric Ladyland that a lot of stuff I mentioned to you in response to the last question hit me in the face—things like: “Do you mean that I have to wear headphones, I have to do this performance again, and I have to tune my drums a certain way?” It was a grand education, and it really got my appetite going. I wanted to do a lot more recording, and I wanted to make sure that the next time around I was more prepared.
RS: What happened to Holy Moses?
CP: We made that record and then toured. We opened for the Jimi Hendrix film, Jimi Plays Berkeley. Then things kind of dissolved; the record company didn’t pick up its option to do another album with us.
RS: Were you still living in Woodstock?
CP: I was still living in Woodstock and hungry to do a lot more playing than I was doing at the time. So I started playing with anyone, anywhere. I think I was in five different groups simultaneously. My goal with all of them was to get back into the studio to record.
RS: At the time, Woodstock possessed a strong music scene.
CP: Oh, yeah. It was great, not only musically, but it was also where I met my wife. She’s been a great help and a great source of inspiration ever since. But you’re right about the music scene. There were people like Paul Butterfield up there, whom I eventually hooked up with—The Band, Jackie Lomax, and Happy and Artie Traum. And there were always a lot of people coming up there to record—Bonnie Raitt, Maria Muldaur, and people like them. They recorded at Bearsville Studios, where I eventually began to do a lot of session work. People who came up there to record would see me playing in any one of the five bands I was working with. Since they usually liked what they heard and might have needed a drummer, I often was asked to play on their records.
RS: Given the rapid rise of recent drum technology in the past few years, do you feel that the demands of a session drummer are greater now than ever before?
CP: Definitely. Session players must really open up to all the advances in electronics that are rapidly becoming tools of the trade. Today’s session drummers are being asked to do a whole lot more than they were asked to do, say, 15 years ago. If drummers don’t own drum machines of their own, for instance, well then they should at least get hold of the drum machine manuals and read them so that they could at least begin to learn to program. The Linn is here to stay; Simmons and DMX are here to stay. Things are crazier than ever. Technology is moving so fast. New equipment comes out today, and it’s obsolete next week. I’m exaggerating, of course, but I’m not too far off the mark. Then, you have to remember that all the other standards—having good time and good feel, being able to read and adapt to various recording situations, and the elements we discussed before—are all still as important as they ever were. I don’t think any drummer should feel threatened by all this. I know drummers who’d like to blow up the Linn factory. [laughs] They want to put an end to electronic drums, but electronic drums are here to stay. So it’s up to each drummer to stay on top of them. You obviously can’t buy every machine that comes out or every item that these companies make. But stay current, and most importantly, understand what the possibilities are for as many of these new instruments as you can. The bottom line is that electronic drums have their place in music, like it or not.
RS: How have electronic drums affected your career as a session drummer?
CP: Well, I was one of the first drummers, I think, to get the Simmons SDS-7 when it came out. I liked the idea behind the Simmons drums. I had tried the SDS-5, but didn’t like the playing surface. To me, the kit wasn’t right yet. I kept saying to myself, “Gee, why didn’t they take the idea one step further?” Then they came out with the SDS-7, which is really beyond just electronic drums. It’s really a drum synthesizer. I thought that was great. The whole concept was extremely intriguing to me. The very next day after I got my SDS-7, people were calling me up and wanting to know all about it. I had to learn how to use the SDS-7 properly and learn how to program, because almost at once, I started getting calls for dates where I was asked to bring the kit. It opened up a whole new type of session work for me. It’s a completely new instrument, and now that I’ve spent enough time with it, I’m really quite comfortable playing it. But I was up night and day learning the possibilities of it. To this day, I’m still intrigued by what Simmons has done. I truly love playing their drums.
RS: Is there a difference in the meaning of the terms “drummer/ programmer” and “drummer”? Or are all programmers, whether they play acoustic drums or not, essentially drummers in an indirect sort of way?
CP: That’s a very interesting question. But I’m not sure I have an answer to it. I think a drum programmer and a drummer are one and the same in a certain way. It’s true that anyone who has a knowledge of synthesizers or computers can program a pattern or a beat. But drummers who can program are going to come up with programs that are much more musical. Drummers are going to program drum machines as if they were playing the drums, not just pushing buttons. This, in turn, will make for much more interesting, realistic records.
RS: How far do you think electronic drums will penetrate contemporary music?
CP: I don’t know. I’m starting to see more and more people interested in the sound of acoustic drums again. I think some people are starting to miss the idiosyncrasies of a fat tom-tom or a fat snare drum. But going back to what I said before about electronic drums, a drummer is going to use both drum machines and acoustic drums in the recording studio and up on the concert stage. I think electronic drums have established themselves to such a point that their use will grow according to the way music grows. They’ll meet the demands—whatever they are—but without fully dominating a song’s rhythmic needs.
RS: What weaknesses, if any, do you see in the current assortment of electronic drums available today?
CP: I don’t think anyone as of yet has come up with a good, sound electronic cymbal or hi-hat. More work needs to be done with pedals, too.
RS: What kinds of electronic drum equipment do you own?
CP: The Simmons SDS-7, the Oberheim DX, and the Linn.
RS: Which one do you find yourself using most in the recording studio?
CP: The Simmons. Most of the people I work for either have someone they prefer to handle drum programming or don’t use them. Often I’ll be called to come in and play fills on the Simmons. Other times, I’ll be asked for a drum machine sound without using a drum machine and programming, which I can get on my Simmons. My time is good enough so that I can play a pattern that’s mechanical-like and similar to what you’d get out of a drum machine.
RS: Are there any specific guidelines you use in determining when to use your Simmons kit and when to use your acoustic kit, aside from what the artist or producer you’re working for asks you to play?
CP: I usually just relate to my experiences as a drummer. Although the Simmons kit is much more dynamic and much more sensitive than one might think, there’s still a dynamic range that really doesn’t allow for them, at least in terms of attack or execution. For instance, if the song I’m recording demands a light, very sensitive style of playing, I’m going to have to think twice about using my Simmons. I’m sure, however, that I could come up with exceptions if I put my mind to it. But generally speaking, if I’m asked to play much, much quieter than usual, or only up to a certain level of volume, I’ll probably use my acoustic kit. But let me think of an exception to this, because I know there are some. [pauses] Okay, I’ve got one. There’s stuff on the Michael Franks record, Skin Dive, where what was needed was something very, very light. So I programmed very, very light sounds with the sensitivity all the way up. I was still playing the Simmons, but it sounded as if I were playing on a small jazz kit.
RS: You mentioned the Drummers’ Collective before. Could you tell me what you did there?
CP: The Drummers’ Collective is right down the street on 15th Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. Rob Wallace and Paul Siegel run it. Essentially, it’s some space—13 or 14 practice rooms—where drummers can go, meet other drummers, and practice. Whenever I get the time, I go down there and practice, because it’s a bit too touchy to play here in my apartment, if you know what I mean. It gets loud and people get annoyed. The room I like at the Collective has two sets of drums in it, plus an electric piano and a bass amp. I can bring my Simmons in there and also practice piano. It’s a very conducive atmosphere or practicing and sharing ideas with other drummers. Whenever I practice there, I’ll stop for a few minutes, and I can hear what the other drummers are playing. I listen, and I am often inspired by what I hear.
RS: Haven’t you led seminars and given clinics at the Drummers’ Collective?
CP: I taught a master class there. I had six or seven students, and we met for five weeks for two and a half to three hours each week. I spent a lot of time organizing a course outline. The classes usually ended up dealing with the aspects of reading. I’d bring in the charts I had worked on that day, whether they were jingles, television shows, or record dates. I’d set up a drum machine or metronome, and then we’d go around the room, with each drummer taking a turn playing. All the students surprised me. Most of them were much further along than I had anticipated. I think they learned a lot, and so did I.
RS: Let’s talk equipment for a minute. Can you give me an overview of your present acoustic kit?
CP: I have a Yamaha Custom Recording Series kit. I use a Radio King snare drum or a Pioneer model Ludwig snare drum. Actually, the set combines acoustic and electric drums. So I have the Simmons setup, an acoustic snare drum, a double bass drum, five acoustic toms, and three electric toms.
RS: You endorse Yamaha, right?
CP: Yeah, I do.
RS: How long have you been using them?
CP: Since the first time I went to Japan, which was in 1976.
RS: Before Yamaha, what kinds of drums were you using?
CP: Before Yamaha, it was Gretsch and Slingerland, and before that, Ludwig. I’ve always had a Pioneer model bass drum and snare drum around. I’ve always bought old drums and refurbished them.
RS: Are you a collector of old drums?
CP: Yeah, I’d say so, although I didn’t set out to be. But I couldn’t resist certain snare drums when I saw them, as well as other great old drum items.
RS: What are some of the more interesting drums in your collection?
CP: Well, I have a Ludwig Super Sensitive model that’s from 1938, which I found at a flea market. I bought it for $1.50. I always check out flea markets and pawn shops. You can pick up some amazing things if you get lucky. I found a Radio King snare recently through a friend, Artie Smith. He’s the guy who moves my drums and sets them up.
RS: What kind of cymbals do you use?
CP: I have a stack of cymbals in my storage room that I pick and choose from. Lately I’ve been using a 20″ A. sizzle, an A. or K. crash-ride, and a 16″ crash. I also use 13″ or 14″ K. hi-hats. Then I use a Sabian hi-hat, one cymbal of which is flat with rivets in it that I use upside down. That’s permanently closed on the cymbal stand. Then I use 6″ and 8″ A. Zildjians that were supposed to be splash cymbals, but came out heavy. Nevertheless, they sound great. I also have some old A.’s and some really old K.’s that my father used back in the ’50s. They were made in Istanbul. I also have cymbals that came with toy drumsets. I use them in conjunction with a small splash cymbal or a small crash-ride. I sit the toy cymbal right on top; it has a great dampening effect. I get a nice, clean ride, but the overtones don’t build up as much. I also bought a cymbal that was supposedly Mel Lewis’s sizzle. It must have about 40 holes all around it. I gradually lost all the rivets, but it still sounds great.
RS: When was the first time you ever sat behind a set of drums?
CP: Oh, I guess it was when I was about three years old.
RS: Since your father was a drummer, was there any pressure for you to follow in his footsteps?
CP: There wasn’t any pressure that I noticed, just encouragement. The drums were always there. My father always had some kind of drum setup at the house for as far back as I can remember. Somewhere I have a recording my parents made of me playing along with my father’s Benny Goodman records. In the background you can hear my mother and father encouraging me, “Go on Chris! Go on!” And there I am crashing away. So the interest to see me play drums was definitely there, but my mother and father never forced me to do it.
RS: Does your father still play?
CP: Oh yeah. He works every weekend. He’s a painter, but he has a standing band.
RS: You also have other drummers in the family, right?
CP: Yeah, I have four younger brothers, three of whom are playing drums professionally. Eric, the middle brother, is touring with Joe Cocker. Tony plays with Tom Pacheco and a couple of funk bands out of Woodstock. Nicholas, my youngest brother, has been playing with Orleans and a group called Moodring. The only brother who doesn’t play is Jeff. He’s a graphic artist. He does, however, play the dobro. But as far as he’s concerned, there simply are too many drummers in the family as it is. The other interesting thing about my brothers is that they all live in Woodstock.
RS: It seems as if you had a fairly large influence on your brothers. Three of them became drummers like you did, and all four of them live in Woodstock where you used to live.
CP: Well, Woodstock is such an idyllic place to live; it really is. I’d still be there, except that I became a big fish in a little pond. I needed bigger, more demanding challenges and more variety of experiences. Those are about the two biggest reasons why I moved here to Manhattan.
RS: Over the years, you’ve grown up with and played various kinds of music. Which one do you enjoy playing most?
CP: I’d have to say jazz. It’s the most rewarding in terms of expression and creative output. I like the involvement it requires with the other players in the band. I also like the way the drummer needs to empathize with the soloists. There are not that many other musical forms where that’s a given. I enjoy the camaraderie that is usually present in a good jazz outfit.
RS: Speaking of camaraderie, there was a good deal of that when you first moved to New York City and met Will Lee, the bass player, along with other players like the Brecker brothers.
CP: That’s really true. I met Will through my sister-in-law. There was a gig in Woodstock, in which the band I was playing with all of a sudden didn’t have a bass player. I mentioned it to my wife and her sister. It just so happened my wife’s sister had met Will Lee. So she said, “Hey, I know a bass player.” We got in touch with Will. He did the gig, and he and I really hit it off. We’ve been best friends ever since. After that gig, Will convinced me to move to Manhattan. This was in 1975, I believe. So my wife and I found an apartment in the same building where Will lived. He was the only person I knew in New York, so we started playing together. As it turned out, Don Grolnick also lived in the same building. Then we found out that Steve Khan, the guitar player, lived nearby, and so did Mike and Randy Brecker. So we all started rehearsing together. We called the band the Carmine Street Band. When the Brecker brothers invited David Sanborn over to play, we eventually became known as The Brecker Brothers Band.
RS: Those must have been good days for you.
CP: Absolutely. They were great days. I’d rehearse with these guys during the day, and then at night, I’d head uptown and play with what became known as Stuff. So I was playing all the time and loving it.
RS: Stuff was a first-class act. Did you feel perhaps in awe of the talent you shared the stage with?
CP: I was definitely in awe of the musicians who played with Stuff.
RS: How did you manage to fall in with the group?
CP: I was doing a jingle at a local studio, and Gordon Edwards happened to be on the same date. He said to me, after it was over, “You sounded good. In fact, you sounded so good, why don’t you come up to this club where I have a band and sit in?” I was thrilled, so, of course, I accepted his offer. I couldn’t believe Cornell Dupree was there along with all these other great players—I mean, Richard Tee, Gordon Edwards, Cornell Dupree. Well, I’ll tell you, I couldn’t wait to play each night. I’d be the first guy there every single night. I’d set up my drums and just anxiously wait for the others. I was especially excited to play with Cornell Dupree, since I knew his work with King Curtis and Aretha Franklin. I mean, the whole time I was in Woodstock, it was King Curtis and Aretha Franklin records that I’d listen to. The drummers were Bernard Purdie, Roger Hawkins, and Al Jackson, Jr. They were great records.
RS: Stuff, or the Encyclopedia Of Soul, as the band was first called, had even more great players, namely Eric Gale and Steve Gadd.
CP: Of course. Gale and Gadd were two very important players in the group.
RS: Weren’t you kind of responsible for bringing Gadd into the fold?
CP: I ran into Steve and asked if he would sub for me, because The Brecker Brothers thing was beginning to take off. For a while, it was either me or Steve on drums with Stuff. But then it got to the point where people in the audience or people who bought our record—we had already recorded by then—kept asking where the other drummer was, so we began playing together. That was a lot of fun. Steve Gadd is an amazing drummer.
RS: Looking back, what was the best thing about your experience with Stuff?
CP: I think there were two things. One was having the opportunity to participate in this incredible dialogue Steve and I would have whenever we played together. And the other was the opportunity to have such great, great players play some of my compositions. The tunes that I brought into the group always started out, as Gordon Edwards used to say, like “ugly ducklings.” But as Stuff got to play them and find out what was possible to do with them, the songs became much, much better. And that inspired me to keep on writing more material.
RS: Do you miss Stuff?
CP: If there’s one thing I really miss, it’s playing live with the band, especially with Gadd. We had some incredibly hot nights on stage in those days.
RS: After your stint with Stuff, what was next?
CP: Well, I was still doing loads of sessions, and I went on the road with Boz Scaggs and Joe Cocker, and also Ashford & Simpson. But I wanted a band that would play my songs. So I formed what first started out as the Chris Parker Band. Later, the name was changed to Joe Cool. I also began studying harmony, theory, and composition during this time, in addition to seriously studying the piano.
RS: What musicians presently comprise Joe Cool?
CP: Will Lee plays bass, Jeff Mironov plays guitar, Rob Mounsey plays keyboards, and I, of course, play the drums. It’s a nice little band. I’m very happy with the way things have turned out for us so far. Party Animals was recorded in 1983 here in New York and released last year. We got pretty good reviews. The record was put out on a Japanese label called Canyon Records.
RS: The band has a fairly large following in Japan, from what I gather.
CP: Yeah, we do okay over there. As a matter of fact, we’re about to go over there and tour.
RS: Go back, for a moment, to songwriting. When and how did you get into writing your own songs?
CP: I began writing as a kid. I used to write songs for some of the real early bands I played in, but I was writing really basic stuff. I’d write songs exactly like the kind I was hearing on the radio at the time. If nothing else, the writing of those early songs provided me with good practice and discipline. I didn’t write at all when I lived in Woodstock. It wasn’t until I moved to New York City that I got back into songwriting again. I started to hear things in my head that I liked and thought enough of them to write them down. Also, my wife was writing lyrics and leaving them around the house. I’d pick up what she wrote, read the words, and say, “Hey, there’s a song here.” So then I would compose some music for them, all the time trying to capture the emotion that was packed in her words. Obviously, playing with Stuff and having those guys play what I wrote was just too good an opportunity to miss. So, I began to write tunes like “Sometimes Bubba Gets Down,” “The Way I Feel At First,” and “You’re A Great Girl.” A lot of different things inspired the tunes. But knowing that there was a band like Stuff that would play them if I persisted long enough was perhaps the greatest incentive I could have.
RS: How many of your songs did Stuff record?
CP: Four that I wrote alone or collaborated on with other members of the band.
RS: And how many of your songs are on the LP, Party Animals!
CP: There are, let’s see, two of them. The opening tune on side one is mine, “Turn Around, Relax,” and “You’re A Great Girl” appears on side two. The other tunes on the record were written by Rob Mounsey and Jeff Mironov.
RS: I know Party Animals was produced by the whole band. Are you interested in doing more producing in the future, perhaps even on your own? I ask that question because it would seem like that’s the most logical or natural step for you to take.
CP: Oh, I’d love to produce records in the future, no question about it. I’ve been there in the control room so many times, and I’ve seen so many different projects turn into records. I feel very capable and know that I can do a good job. I’m not saying I can handle the technical aspects of recording—the engineering part of it—but keeping the attitude and the atmosphere right and keeping the energy level up are things I’m sure I can do well. I’m good at keeping people motivated and focused, and making sure that they have the incentive to bring out their very best talents. Plus, I think I have good ears. I’ve logged a lot of studio time—a lot of listening time— in the last ten years or so. I know when something that’s been recorded sounds good. I have the ability to realize when the attitude and the energy are right in the recording studio. The experiences I’ve had producing Joe Cool and all the demos that came before Party Animals have all been very rewarding. Producing a record is quite a challenge. I think that’s why it appeals to me so much.
RS: Some musicians I know are literally obsessed with their instrument. It’s almost as if there’s an insatiable thirst to play or an addiction that prevents them from taking on anything else in life with nearly the same intensity. Would you put yourself in that category?
CP: Music is an extension of me, and I must say that it’s a very, very comfortable extension. But I don’t have just one, but two of them—two extensions of myself. The first is music, like I said, and in particular, the drums. The other is painting.
RS: Like your father.
CP: Yeah, like my father, [laughs] I guess I’ve emulated my father on both counts. But painting and music are two things that I’ve always done and always enjoyed. They are both two very important outlets for my creative impulses and expression that I couldn’t live without. When I come home after a full day, I knock off. I throw the cymbal bag in the closet, cool out, and possibly do some painting. But by the time I’ve had some dinner and spent some time with my wife, I’ll go in my little studio and start programming or think of how what I played that day in the studio might be played better the next time. I don’t mind practicing or working things out at home, unlike other musicians. I know some drummers don’t want to see a pair of sticks or a drum once they leave the studio after a day’s work. But I don’t fit in that category. I mean, when we go on vacation, I really start to miss my drums. I have a good example of what I mean. When my wife and I got married, we went away for six weeks to the British Virgin Islands. I started to go a little crazy after a week or so there. Eventually, I started sitting in with the local bands down there. It was really hard to say, “Excuse me, sir. Can I play your drums now?” The drummer and the rest of the band would look at me funny, but once we started playing, they were glad to have me. And when they didn’t want me to play anymore, my wife and I would still hang around. We’d dance then.
RS: Do you enjoy West Indian music?
CP: Oh yeah, I really like it. Reggae, calypso, and all the stuff that comes out of Brazil have been a very big influence on me. One place I’ve always wanted to visit is Brazil. The place and the music that’s down there totally intrigue me.
RS: Thus far, are you happy with the way things have gone in your career?
CP: I feel so lucky and so fortunate in a lot of different respects. My time, my sound, and my feel, as far as drums go, are all enough so that I’m still getting plenty of calls to come to the studio and record. I have the opportunity to play with great musicians day in and day out. I get to play my Simmons kit, which I love doing. I get to tour and travel with top-notch artists and performers. I think the only thing I want more out of my career is the time to do my personal projects. Sometimes, for example, I don’t have enough time to practice piano as much as I should be practicing for my lesson each week. There are usually too many recording dates. It’s not that I’m complaining. It’s just that the time conflicts can become so frustrating. I want to accomplish so much. But when I stop to think…like the other day I was getting frustrated over something, so I sat down and thought back to what had consumed my time. Well, I did the 50th Anniversary Show at the Apollo with all the Motown stars, plus Rod Stewart, Luther Vandross, and Boy George, and was around other stars like Billy Preston, Al Green, the Temptations, Patti LaBelle, Diana Ross, and Stevie Wonder. Then the following Sunday, I played with Ray Charles at Radio City. He didn’t yell at me, so I think I played alright. Then Yamaha had me demonstrating their new line of electronic drums. Michael Jackson was sitting about three feet away from me and said, “You sound nice.” When I realize how I spend my time and what company I’m usually in, then suddenly, the frustration goes away and I feel very happy and very proud.