SKF NOTE: I remember very well how nervous, how uncomfortable I was asking 48-year old Joe Morello if he had lost his chops. The back story to this interview is here. Suffice it to say I was sitting right next to Joe in his living room. My friend, drummer Chris Conrade, was with me. Chris grew defensive on Joe’s behalf — which you’ll see in the following exchange.
I don’t think this part of the interview has been published. To put some perspective on this interview. It was March 7, 1978 — about 20 years before the internet began. My whole life was drums, my circle of friends and acquaintences was full of drummers and other musicians. Joe Morello was certainly not at the most visible point of his career. And I had heard from people I respected and other places that Joe was in a bad way and not playing anymore.
In 1978 I couldn’t just Google that question. Instead, I swallowed my fear and gave Joe an opportunity to answer the question in his own words. That’s the best way to kill rumors.
Scott K Fish: The impression I’ve gotten of Joe Morello is…. Well, I’ve heard people say things like, “Oh, he’s lost his chops.”
Joe Morello: Who me?
SKF: Yeah. Morello’s lost his chops. That’s why he’s not playing anymore. I feel like saying, “Bullshit,” because it’s such a drag.
JM: Is that what they’re judging me by? Do I have to prove it again?
When the group [Dave Brubeck Quartet] broke up I just did clinics because I only had to work maybe four or five days a month. That’s it. I didn’t need anything else. And I still do that. Not as much as I used to because there’s new cats coming up, and now with this rock thing, naturally the drum companies are out to push their instruments.
So let the other guys have a shot at it. What the hell. I don’t care. Give ’em a break. Let ’em do it. God’s been good to me. Give somebody else a chance.
I can still play if I want to play. But as far as my chops being gone? No. Not gone. I don’t think that I could keep a single stroke roll for ten minutes like I could do when I was playing every night. But again, who cares? Where are you going to use that anyway?
But when I was teaching and practicing and playing every night of the week — your endurance is up.
That’s nice to hear [sarcasm], because it really doesn’t bother me. I think that as far as my playing, I’m playing better than I ever played. Musically, I think.
SKF: I didn’t mention that “no chops” as a slur….
JM: No, no. That’s alright.
Chris Conrade: Part of being a person is never needing to defend yourself.
JM: That’s right. See, I don’t know what they’re talking about. Chops. What do they mean? What do they want me to do?
To close this part of the conversation I’ll tell you: my endurance, if I’d just woodshed about two hours a day I could get it back in about two weeks.
CC to SKF: I don’t even know why you mentioned that.
SKF: Because the impression I get from all of the press I’ve been reading… they paint a picture of Joe Morello as an embittered recluse.
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