Scott K Fish Interview: Jesse Sailes

SKF NOTE: It was Hal Blaine, I think, who recommended I speak with drummer Jesse Sailes when I was writing Modern Drummer’s History of Rock Drumming. I knew Jesse Sailes only from one B.B. King album. Hal, among others, said Jesse was one of the early pioneers of rock drumming.

This is a phone interview transcript. I hesitate to post it because, from my perspective as the interviewer trying to get background material from Mr. Sailes –this interview did not go well. That’s clear from Sailes’s first two answers. I was hoping to hear details of Jesse Sailes’s career as a studio drummer. 

When I knew that wasn’t going to happen, I improvised. I had almost zero background info on Sailes, making it a click above impossible to see if I could get him to be more talkative by asking questions specific to his work in the studios. But finding out specifics about his work in the studios was precisely the reason for the interview. Catch 22!

So here is a very uncomfortable Scott K Fish interview circa 1981. I did notice while retyping this transcript that Jesse Sailes mentions a West Coast studio drummer, Dave Mills. That’s a new name to me. I’m sorry I apparently didn’t follow up on Dave Mills with either Jesse Sailes or anyone else.


Jesse Sailes with Daniel Glass. Photo Credit: Daniel Glass.

Jesse Sailes with Daniel Glass. Photo Credit: Daniel Glass.

Scott K Fish: I wondered if you could run down for me some of the things that you were involved in in the late ’40s and ’50s.

Jesse Sailes: Oh Lord! That’s really hard to do.

SKF: Maybe some of the key records you were on?

JS: Wow! Offhand I really couldn’t tell you. One of my big things was The In Crowd with Dobie Gray. I did lots of stuff with B.B. King. It’s just hard to think of everything right now.

SKF: I can understand that. Were you involved mostly in playing with bands or groups?

JS: I was doing mostly recording around that time. And in ’54 I joined Teddy Buckner‘s band.

SKF: You’re still with Teddy Buckner, right?

JS: Oh yeah. We’re working out at Disneyland now.

SKF: So, you’ve been with him since 1954. You’d better be careful. That’ll turn out to be a steady gig!

JS: It’s just liable to! Yeah. We’ve been out to Disneyland going on 14 years now.

SKF: What years were you active in the recording studios?

JS: From about…. I started really around ’54 to ’61 or ’62, doing quite a bit.

SKF: Were you on the West Coast or in Chicago?

JS: The West Coast strictly. As long as I’ve been playing I ain’t never done no traveling. The furthest I’ve been was to San Francisco with Teddy’s band. Went there for three months, and then again for two weeks. That’s all the traveling I’ve done since I’ve been playing music.

SKF: Can I ask you what kind of music influenced you when you first started playing?

JS: All of it. I wasn’t into no one thing. I was studying all of it. In fact, when I started playing it was mostly swing. Then when the trend changed, I went on with the change.

SKF: So you were involved with a lot of blues and rock and roll?

JS: Yeah.

SKF: Did you like playing that music?

JS: Oh yeah! It was very interesting.

SKF: Was it a tough transition for you?

JS: No! Once you’ve studied it’s not hard to get into what’s happening.

SKF: How did you first run into Hal Blaine?

JS: Oh, we met in the studio.

SKF: Are you about the same age as Hal?

JS: No, I don’t think so. I think I’m a little bit older than Hal.

SKF: What do you feel was the drummers’ contribution to rock music of the ’40s and ’50s?

JS: That was the whole thing. Getting that beat going. Because that was what made the thing go. The rhythm. The drummer. That was really what made the rock deal go.

SKF: How many drummers on the West Coast, at that time, could make the change to rock?

JS: When I was coming up there was quite a few of us. Sharkey Hall, Dave Mills, Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer. Those are the maine ones. We were doing nearly all of the stuff.

SKF: You can’t remember what groups you recorded with?

JS: Well, here’s what I was doing. They’d call me into the studio to do a session. I really didn’t know who the group was. I’d just do the session and that was it.

SKF: Just a lot of ghost drumming for different guys?

JS: Yeah.

SKF: Did the recording scene change….

JS: Yeah, it started changing because a lot of groups started coming in with their own rhythm section.

SKF: So, from ’54 to ’61 how did the recording scene change?

JS: Well, some rhythms changed, and beats changed. You were always looking for new ideas to make things go. Rhythm things changed as time went by.

SKF: Did you work with charts or mostly by ear?

JS: Oh yeah, charts. Sometimes they’d just bring a sheet in and say, “Take it from there and see what you can come up with.”

SKF: B.B. King worked with charts?

JS: B.B. had nearly all charts. You rehearse in the studio. You run down the chart two or three times and then made a take.


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5 Responses to Scott K Fish Interview: Jesse Sailes

  1. Peter Kaye says:

    I enjoyed your interview with Jesse Sailes. He was a great drummer, kind of a private, good family man. I knew him when I was a kid – my mother would sometimes bring me along to sessions and Jesse would be playing drums. He always encouraged me in playing drums – I never had a real dad, but I sort of adopted people like Earl and Jesse, who became father figures to me. We went to a few of his Sunday barbecue / jam sessions that were awesome! He had time like a freight train! I’m glad to see Hal mention Jesse after all these years. There was a time when Jesse said that Hal would go around bad mouthing other drummers in order to get their gigs.

    Keep up the good work.

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