SKF NOTE: My habit is to find an unfamiliar instrument or musical style and dig deep. Gene Krupa was the first drummer to make an impression. That led me to books. Who was Krupa? Where did he come from? How did he learn to play drums? Which drummers influenced him? Finding answers to those questions led me, step-by-step, to all the great early jazz drummers – Baby Dodds, Zutty Singleton, Dave Tough, George Wettling. And all the musicians in all the bands those drummers played with.
I used the same step-by-step process learning the history of jazz, blues, rock, country, folk — and so on. The same process studying the history of pianists, sax players, trumpeters, trombonists, bassists, songwriters, lyricists, and so on. All musicians are connected.
All that is going through my head yesterday driving home from Marco’s Restaurant, listening for the first time to Herb Ellis‘s Ellis in Wonderland. I almost said I never listened much to Herb Ellis, but that’s not true. I owned a few of his albums — mostly on the Concord Jazz label — and at one time I liked listening to the Mort Lindsey Orchestra as house band for the Merv Griffin Show. Herb Ellis was in that band with drummer Nick Ceroli, bassist Ray Brown, and a ton of great jazz brass and reed players.
Ellis in Wonderland, recorded 1955-56, swings. Strong soloists. Drummer Alvin Stoller plays “real good” (to borrow a Joe Morello descriptor) on Wonderland. Steady, swinging, nice sound on drums and cymbals, good support for the soloists. Yet, I’ve never listened much to Alvin Stoller. No special reason. Stoller’s name and reputation are familiar. In my mind I see him smiling on the pages of old Down Beat magazines in a drum ad or two. Wasn’t he in the Zildjian catalog at one time too?
But as I write I’m unable to find on the web a usable photo of Alvin Stoller.
Eyes on the road, I remind myself to study Alvin Stoller. Step-by-step. It’s a fun process. Just when I think I’ve heard all the 50s-60s jazz drummers – a drummer like Alvin Stoller shows up on a new, to me, album, playing his butt off. In so doing, Stoller presents me with a homework assignment.
Recorded live on April 21 and 22, 1961, In Person…at the Blackhawk is among my favorite Miles albums. Hank Mobley is on tenor sax – which makes this version of Miles’s band unique. The rhythm section is Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Jimmy Cobb on drums.
Right off the bat, Disc 1 Track 1, Sonny Rollins’s tune Oleo, the whole band takes off running as smooth as a Ferrari. A perfect rhythm section. And there’s Jimmy Cobb with his musical, slick use of brushes, motorvatin’ (to steal Chuck Berry’s lyric) the entire Quintet forward.
I listen close, admiring how the rhythm section sticks to the basics. Nobody’s showboating, each note, each chord is exactly right. Jimmy Cobb swings throughout, a lesson in the difficult art of playing simple. Knowing instinctively when one note is better than two.
This morning, May 25, I see Christian McBride’s Tweet: “Sir Jimmy Cobb. You swung loving energy to everyone. We will always love you. RIP.”
It seems to me, when the soul, the spirit of a great musician is transitioning to the spirit world from this world, they reach out with a burst of energy, a reminder, a parting thank you to everyone they touched while on Earth.
SKF: You had thirteen cents in your pocket when you got the call from McCartney. You were with Wings for three years making a six-figure income. And yet you’ve said that it created a turmoil within you. Why?
JE: I’ve got no idea. It’s hard to answer that. I could’ve locked into that scene, but I know the Lord had different plans for me. Now I look at what I’m doing and how my life has changed personally.
McCartney gave me a fantastic break with Wings. I’ll never take that away from him. He’s a fantastic guy to work for. These are things that never get into print. It’s always the mystique that, ‘Boy, Paul must’ve been a hard guy to work for. Joe must’ve gotten into a fight when he left.’
Let me tell you. Paul McCartney treated me like one of his family. When I first joined the band and moved to England I used to stay at his house to adjust. He didn’t want me staying off in some cold hotel room. He treated me wonderful.
I traveled all around the world. And it wasn’t Paul and. It was us. It was a family for about two-and-a-half years. If you can find anywhere to print any of that — you need to let people know that. It was Paul McCartney and Wings.
Deep down I think I knew that one day I’dd have to pursue my own career. I couldn’t ride off Paul forever. I just decided to pull up stakes. And it wasn’t easy to give up a situation like that. I could’ve really pursued different things while I was with Wings.
There was a sort-of-like peak. I joined the band. We did a couple of albums. Then we did that world tour.
For me, that’s when Wings peaked. I felt like: what else can I do? We did alot of things off that tour. There was a movie called The Paul McCartney Rockshow. We did an ABC Television special. It was like pulling all the stops out. This is the big one. Paul wanted to have his own band and go out and do it. And we sure did. I got alot in in two-and-a-half to three years.
SKF: Did you do anything to keep yourself physically and mentally in shape during the world tour?
JE: I didn’t do anything physically. And mentally, I didn’t have to. I had a gig most musicians dream about. I had people opening limousine doors for me. We flew on chartered jets. First-class. We had four bases when we toured the States: Texas, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. We’d play our dates and fly back to our hotel. People were always wanting to do stuff for you. I didn’t have to do anything but play. I had no other worries.
All I thought about was playing my gig at night. I didn’t worry about where my clothes were, what I was going to wear. We had people with trunks of clothing that were pressed and ironed and all sewn and custom made for the tour. You’d walk into a room and they’d ask, “What do you want to wear?” I didn’t have to do anything. It was a dream gig.
So people ask, “Well, why did you leave?” I was a kid who’d seen The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Now, you’ve got to understand. All that was going through my mind. I’m going, “Hey, I’ve got a chance. This is Paul McCartney. This guy is no slouch.” I’m not talking about working with some mediocre guy in the rock n’ roll business. There are a few people in the business who are on the top. And he’s one of them. I got a chance to work with him and he turned out to be a great guy. Alot of people in that situation don’t have to be great guys. But Paul made it as nice as possible. And it paid off, because all we had to concentrate on was what we were doing.
SKF NOTE: I always enjoyed looking at drum ads as soon as they arrived with Modern Drummer‘s advertising director. Print ads sometimes had great photos of drummers back when, as I’ve mentioned before, studying drum print ads for clues to drummer’ sound and technique was a favorite pastime for many young drummers.
SKF NOTE: Here’s the back story on my interviews with Joe English which began in 1980 and concluded years later. During his music career Joe played with some excellent bands — including his own. But he is perhaps best known for the music he made playing drums with Paul McCartney and Wings.
I’ve isolated from the full interviews Joe’s comments about his time with Paul McCartney. From his audition until Joe chose to leave the band and move back permanently to the United States.
Mostly this Q&A is verbatim. In a few brief spots our conversation veered away from McCartney and Wings. For clarity I’ve edited out those sidetracked moments. This excerpt begins with Joe answering my question about joining the band, “Was it an audition?”
Finally, I decided to post Joe’s recollections in two parts.
Joe English: No audition. Tony Dorsey met me in Nashville. He was with McCartney at Allen Toussaint’s studio, Sea-Saint. He said, “Man, I want you to have this gig.”
I said, “Tony, I don’t know the material.” And then I went right into a recording situation — which I hadn’t hardly been doing any of.
Tony said, “Don’t worry. You just watch me.” He was the arranger and was sort of directing the date. He stood in front of the drum booth and gave me every cue: when to stop, when to hit accents.
Scott K Fish: There were no [drum] charts?
JE: I didn’t read. We went ahead and did it and I guess my concept of playing was different. McCartney liked it and it jelled. So we went to New Orleans, and then to Los Angeles, to mix the album at Wally Heider [Studios]. And McCartney asked me to join the band.
That didn’t take much thought. I said, “Yes sir. I’ll take the job.”
I eventually had an apartment over in London. I was going back-and-forth, spending some time over there and some time at home.
When I moved to England we started to get into some heavy recording. The on-the-scene experience and the skill I got in recording with McCartney — hour upon hour, into the early morning, working at the board with him, recording and learning recording techniques — that was really fun. I couldn’t have asked for a better guy to work with for learning what songs are about, and learning what recording in the studio is about.
SKF: Was Wings like a real band situation? Or was it actually still Paul McCartney and his band?
JE: Well, I just came in on the first album. So I was sort of following. That was the Venus and Mars. From Wings at the Speed of Sound on out it was like we could have contributed as much as we wanted. I mean, I could have recorded my tracks and then just hung out in the hall and drank coffee.
On Wings at the Speed of Sound we mixed tunes where everybody had a fader at the board. It was a real band situation. It wasn’t like, “Hey, I’m Paul McCartney. I know more than you.” It wasn’t like that. If people had good suggestions it was used.
It was a real learning experience just to be in that situation. Working at Abbey Road with good engineers, actually watching the recording process go down. I soaked in as much as possible.
To this day, when I’m in the studio getting into some production stuff, some things will come out that I’d learned back then and forgotten about. I couldn’t even put a dollar value on what that experience was worth.
SKF: What did you think when you heard playback of yourself that first recording session in Nashville?
JE: I was pretty excited. I was just doing my job. Alot of people think that Joe English never did anything before Paul McCartney and Wings. I’d been playing years before that. And when I think back, McCartney was always up for getting something different. Alot of the stuff I played on the Wings albums was straight-ahead. But to McCartney, I guess it had just a little different edge.
I guess playing with Jaimo and living out in the country did something for my playing.
To hear it played back was nice. It was a feeling that I was moving forward in the music business all of a sudden. I just went purely for what I felt was needed at the moment. I guess what I felt the songs needed was sort of what McCartney was thinking they needed — because I got the job.
I guess that is a good way to check a guy out. Put him under pressure. It’s sort of like they wanted to see if that horse could run.
When I left Wings it was on a good note. We’re still friends right now. We don’t see each other. But every time I go over to England I call Paul and see him.
But I just could not give up the States. It’s the same thing with McCartney. You don’t see him moving over here.
I just thought I could do it in two places. That sort of wore thin after awhile.
SKF NOTE: Here’s a 1988 full page magazine Avedis Zildjian ad featuring Neil Peart. Neil’s retro look is interesting. We could almost be looking at a stage actor backstage at a Grease production. Good stuff.
Roy Haynes: “Young drummers who never got to see Papa Jo play missed the treat of their lives.
“Jo Jones had a feeling — a looseness. He had a happy sound. He was something to watch, especially with a big band like Basie’s. That was it! When I was about 16 years old, I would go to the RKO theater in Boston to see him. When he started his solo, it was something special — different. It wasn’t about playing fast. It was that warm sound.
“He ‘invented’ the sock cymbal. The way he played it was beautiful to listen to and watch. He didn’t have to play a solo; just a two-bar break was beautiful.”
Source: Roy Haynes, by Jeff Potter (Modern Drummer, February 1986)