After releasing their ninth studio album, Defying Gravity, in July 2017, the veteran chart-topping rock group Mr. Big set out on an international tour in support of the effort. As the group’s longtime drummer and founding member Pat Torpey continued playing live with Mr. Big despite his ongoing battle with Parkinson’s disease, he was joined onstage by the Ace Frehley and Burning Rain alumnus Matt Starr, who handled the majority of the drumming duties throughout the tour. Live From Milan, a twenty-two-song package recorded during the Defying Gravity tour and released July 13, faithfully preserves one of the last concerts Torpey played with Mr. Big before his passing on February 7.
Starr worked intimately with Torpey to handle the majority of the group’s set, which includes such Mr. Big hits as “Alive and Kickin’,” “Just Take My Heart,” and the chart-topping rock ballad “To Be With You.” When approaching Mr. Big’s material, Starr explains that he stays true to Torpey’s original parts. “The way Pat played reminded me a lot of Denny Carmassi on the first [self-titled] Montrose LP,” Starr says. “Every note had a reason, and if you took one note away, the whole thing changed. So it was clear to me how it had to be in Mr. Big. Pat was a very deliberate guy, and I appreciated that. There are some moments in a solo section or during the outro of a song where I might do something slightly different, but not much.”
Starr was asked to join Mr. Big after Billy Sheehan, one of the group’s guitarists, saw him play and sing AC/DC’s “T.N.T.” at a Hollywood jam. A year later Sheehan invited Starr to help out on an upcoming tour, and the drummer met up with the band to play a few songs. “It was a very emotional experience because Tim Heyne, the band’s manager, and Pat were both there,” Starr explains. “Usually after you play a song with a new band and it feels good, there are smiles and thumbs up. This was very different, because although it felt good together, the guy they really wanted, and the guy who had always done it, was in the room but unable to do it. It was important for me to play with confidence but also be mindful of this.”
In the opening pattern of “1992” off of Live From Milan, Starr plays a blazing tom groove that deceptively mimics a powerful double bass pattern. “I’m playing 16th notes between the floor tom and bass drums, with straight 8th notes on the floor tom,” he explains. “The snare is accenting the higher notes in Paul [Gilbert’s] guitar part. It seemed like a natural fit and appropriate for a band like Mr. Big.”
And while Starr is certainly capable of handling other Live From Milan standout moments, such as the blazing fills during the verse breaks in “American Beauty,” there are some Torpey-isms that the drummer might still need to shed. “Pat had this heel/toe thing he would do on the hi-hat that made a splashing sound,” Starr says. “When I saw him play it, that was the one time I told him, ‘I don’t think that’s gonna happen for me.’ He just laughed. He was a very articulate guy, but easygoing as well.”
As Starr continues to honor Torpey’s legacy on tour with Mr. Big, he reflects fondly on the late drummer’s impact. “Pat was a master of composition,” Starr says. “There was always a reason for every single note he played. He was extremely creative at coming up with fresh ways to support what Billy and Paul were doing on guitar without getting in the way. He was incredibly musical. And he was definitely a ‘less is more’ player. That said, he could play anything he needed to at any point if the song called for it.”
Matt Starr plays Ludwig drums and Paiste cymbals, and he uses Vater drumsticks, DW hardware, Humes & Berg cases, Canopus snare wires, Tuner Fish lug locks, and Drumtacs dampeners.
More New Releases
Catherine Sikora and Brian Chase
Untitled: After (Brian Chase)
At Your Birthday Party (John Poe)
Northern Chaos Gods (Reidar Horghagen)
Out of the Blues (Jim Keltner)
Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (Daniel Tracy)