SKF NOTE: My James Black interview appeared in the December 1982 Modern Drummer. The first person to get me excited about James Black’s drumming was Jaimoe. We were listening to records and Jaimoe asked me if I’d ever heard James Black. I said, “No.” He pulled out an old Riverside record of the Adderley Brothers, placed it on the turntable, put the needle on the record and said, “Listen to this!”
Many months later, Jim Keltner called me from New Orleans where he was touring with Bob Dylan. One of the first people Jim called when he was there was James Black. James came to the Dylan concert and he and Jim stayed up until the wee hours talking drums.
And in an MD interview (Colloquim III) with Freddie Waits, Billy Hart and Horacee Arnold, Billy Hart said, “I don’t care who goes to New Orleans, they’re in for a shock as long as James Black is there.”
The challenge for me at the time was I couldn’t find any of the James Black albums drummers were raving about. They were out-of-print and iTunes and Amazon weren’t invented. Outside of the albums I heard at Jaimoe’s house, the only James Black album I could get my hands on and study was Wynton Marsalis‘s Fathers and Sons album. Why the producers put James on a heavily muffled drumset is a mystery and a disappointment. He plays well, but to my ears he sounds as if he’s uncomfortable, forced to compensate for the deadened drums. As if, in split second timing, Mr. Black is hearing open drum sounds, creating open drum sounds; then compensating when his drumset doesn’t sound or respond the way he’s hearing.
A couple of caveats to the 1982 interview. Jaimoe’s name is spelled “Jaimoe Johanson” because that was his preference at the time I wrote the introduction to this interview. Jaimoe no longer uses a last name.
This was the first (and only?) time I worked with New Orleans based photographer Pat Jolly. She did a very good job.
This interview was done in two phone sessions. I was in my MD office. James Black was home, I believe, in New Orleans.