Neil Peart on Tony Williams’s ‘Fred’


Neil Peart circa 1991

SKF NOTE: My friend and music writer par excellence, Chip Stern, had a very good, albeit short-lived, idea for a drummer’s magazine. I did some writing for Chip’s magazine, but I don’t know that any of it saw the light of day.

Leonard Feather had a longstanding Down Beat magazine feature called Blindfold Test. Feather’s concept: play a handful of unannounced recordings for a musician and get their objective reaction.

Chip used the Blindfold Test concept, calling it Trading Fours, as part of his drummer magazine.

Recently I found an August 1989 manuscript of a Trading Fours I did with Neil Peart. I think this exchange took place in Neil’s home.

In honor of Tony Williams’s birthday, I thought this would be a perfect time to post Neil’s thoughts on Tony’s classic song, Fred.

Song Title: Fred. Drummer: Tony Williams. Album Name: Believe It. The New Tony Williams Lifetime. Columbia PC 33836. Released: 1975

Scott K Fish: [During our listening Neil asked if it was Billy Cobham.] Why did you think it was Billy Cobham?

Neil Peart: The first explosive fill reminded me of Billy. And the type of rhythmic feels too. But, wonderful drumming, for a start. It’s spectacular. The kind of stuff that always blows my mind. And the flaws in it just kind of humanize it; to make you feel closer to it. You don’t feel so intimidated by incredible, superhuman perfection.

SKF: Do you think you know who it was?

NP: Tony Williams was my second idea — just because of the sprawling fills. I’m not a big student of that music because of not being such a big fan. But one thing I always thought with Tony Williams is that he could make a fill sprawl all over the place time-wise, and then (snaps fingers) come back in. Which is enormously effective, from a drummer’s point of view, to hear that pulled off.

There’s so much rhythmic intricacy in that that really impresses me. He has so many different feels to pull out of the same pocket. I really admire that. It gets tedious in any field of music to hear the same feel applied to the same rhythmic subdivisions all the time. And he’s got a lot of different little triplet inflections there; different ways of pulling the beat around between hand-and-foot syncopation which are really, really a joy to hear.


Tony Williams

SKF: How did you enjoy the sound of his drums and cymbals?

NP: I wondered what the era of that was — recording wise.

SKF: The mid-Seventies.

NP: So it was quite modern then. But, a bit of a harsh sound, subjectively speaking. I prefer to hear a smoother tonality. The drumming is so spectacular that it kind of negates any of those subjective viewpoints. You wonder which point of view to listen from. Again, I’m a bit hypercritical now, just being in the process of making a record. I tend to put myself in the producer’s chair and think, “Well, if I was producing these guys, what would I tell them to do?”

Who is playing guitar?

SKF: Alan Holdsworth.

NP: I’m very surprised. A couple of things were very reminiscent of Alan. But then he just got into all that 16th note noodling which, melodically, to my mind, is beneath him. He’s capable of so much more.

Alan Holdsworth is one of my number one favorite guitar players for his ability to phrase. He phrases so often like a saxophone — which I love. I think taking that approach of phrasing to another instrument — in the same way that Sinatra did it in vocals. He took a wind player’s phrasing and applied it to vocals so effectively.

The same thing with Alan Holdsworth. I love his sense of melody. The tone of his guitar is usually much sweeter than this too. The tone seemed so shallow. His is usually so rich and deep. It’s not a performance of his that I would be impressed by compared with others.

SKF: Do you think this was a live performance?

NP: Live off the floor, certainly. Yeah. Just because of the flaws. They learned the arrangement, but I don’t think they rehearsed it that many times (laughs).

SKF: No click tracks?

NP: Definitely no click tracks. But that’s not relevant in this kind of music.

Tony nails down the feel. No problem. There was no wandering in that. There was just a few minor flaws — as you pointed out while we were listening. Tony crashed a cymbal a little ahead of where he was supposed to. That’s natural enough.

It was the same on the Joe Morello piece where his sticks clicked. I’ve left things like that in our records in live performance.

In the context of this, where you’re hearing so much virtuosity from Tony Williams, to hear a flaw like that — or with Joe Morello — to hear a tiny little flaw really humanizes it. It doesn’t detract at all from the incredible virtuosity of the instrument that’s demonstrated there. They’re kind of nice to see. It reduces us all to the same plane.


About Scott K Fish
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1 Response to Neil Peart on Tony Williams’s ‘Fred’

  1. Pingback: Monster Drumsets: Against the Spirit of Gretsch (1978)? | Scott K Fish

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